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Yes, Obi-Wan, That’s a Moon

Composite image of Mimas made from raw Cassini images acquired on Jan. 30, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major)

Composite image of Mimas made from raw Cassini images acquired on Jan. 30, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major)

Saturn’s 250-mile-wide icy moon Mimas shines in direct sunlight and reflected light from Saturn in this image, a composite of raw images acquired by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Jan. 30, 2017 and received on Earth today, Feb. 1. This is a bit of a “Frankenstein” job I made, assembled from five separate narrow-angle camera images taken in various wavelengths so the proportions are slightly off here and there, but the general placement of surface features are about right and the lighting is accurate to the scene. Mimas’ south pole is within the deeply shadowed area at the bottom; north is up.

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What’s So Super About a Supermoon?

Full Moon rising over the Conimicut Point Light in Warwick, RI. Sept. 16, 2016. © Jason Major.

Full Moon rising over the Conimicut Point Light in Warwick, RI. Sept. 16, 2016. © Jason Major.

You’ve probably heard the news or read the headlines: the full Moon on November 14 will be a “supermoon,” and in fact the biggest and brightest one since 1948 and until 2034. But what does that really mean and what can we expect to see in the night sky?

In all honesty it won’t be that much different from the garden variety, mild-mannered regular full Moon. (But it will still be no less beautiful to look at!)

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Juno Just Hours from Jupiter Arrival

Juno will reach Jupiter in 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL

Juno is on its way to enter orbit at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL

After nearly 5 years of traveling through space NASA’s Juno spacecraft is just a few dozen hours away from entering orbit around Jupiter, the Solar System’s largest, most massive, and most extreme planet.

“We are ready,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “The science team is incredibly excited to be arriving at Jupiter. The engineers and mission controllers are performing at an Olympic level getting Juno successfully into orbit. As Juno barrels down on Jupiter, the scientists are busy looking at the amazing approach science the spacecraft has already returned to Earth. Jupiter is spectacular from afar and will be absolutely breathtaking from close up.”

Learn more about the mission and find out how to watch the long-awaited event live below:

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Astronaut’s Green Thumb Grows the First* Flower in Space

"Space Flower," the first flower grown on orbit (NASA)

“Space Flower,” the first zinnia flower grown on orbit (NASA)

Say hello to the first* flower unfurled in space! This picture, shared on Jan. 16, 2016 by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, shows a plant that has – thanks to some TLC from Kelly – managed to produce the first-ever zinnia blooms in low-Earth orbit and in fact the first flower grown outside of Earth’s biosphere. (Edit: read disclaimer below.)

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Japan’s AKATSUKI Will Get a Second Chance at Venus Next Week

Note: this is a repost of an article from Feb. 2015 with a couple of updates.

Illustration of AKATSUKI/Planet-C by Akihiro Ikeshita. (JAXA)

Illustration of AKATSUKI/Planet-C by Akihiro Ikeshita. (JAXA)

If any of you remember it back in Dec. 2010 Japan’s Venus Climate Orbiter spacecraft AKATSUKI (aka Planet-C), after a five and a half month journey through space, failed to enter orbit around Venus due to a faulty thruster nozzle. It sailed right past the cloud-covered planet, going into orbit around the Sun. Fortunately, JAXA mission engineers were able to determine the cause of the problem and come up with some work-arounds for a second — and final — attempt on Monday, Dec. 7.

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