Monthly Archives: March 2014

Oppy’s Selfie

MER Rover Opportunity on Martian day 3609. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity gives us this “selfie”. Okay, so it’s the rover’s shadow, it still counts if you are on Mars because there’s no mirrors.

The image was taken on the 3,609th day on the surface of Mars! That would be 20 March 2014 here on Earth.

Here’s the press release – you can get larger versions at the link too:

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity caught its own silhouette in this late-afternoon image taken by the rover’s rear hazard avoidance camera. This camera is mounted low on the rover and has a wide-angle lens.
The image was taken looking eastward shortly before sunset on the 3,609th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity’s work on Mars (March 20, 2014). The rover’s shadow falls across a slope called the McClure-Beverlin Escarpment on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, where Opportunity is investigating rock layers for evidence about ancient environments. The scene includes a glimpse into the distance across the 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater.

Saturn Storm

The churning atmosphere of Saturn. Copyright NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

I was having a look at the ESA Space in Images page and they had this image of the stormy atmosphere of Saturn. We tend to be more used to seeing this sort of activity in the atmospheric bands of Jupiter, Saturn shares similar storm processes (and banding) although the colors tend to be more muted. The image colors were enhanced to tease out the visual details as explained below in the ESA caption.

Like a swirl from a paintbrush being dipped in water, this image from the Cassini orbiter shows the progress of a massive storm on Saturn. The storm first developed in December 2010, and this mosaic captures how it appeared on 6 March 2011.

The head of the storm is towards the left of the image, where the most turbulent activity is shown in white, but towards the centre you can also see the trace of a spinning vortex in the wake of the storm.

This image, centred at about 0º longitude and 35º N latitude, has had its colours enhanced to help reveal the complex processes in Saturn’s weather. The white corresponds to the highest cloud tops, but to the human eye the storm would appear more as a bright area against a yellow background.
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Mars at Opposition

If you’ve noticed Mars being especially bright (for Mars), you would be correct. If you’ve NOT noticed Mars being especially bright it would be a good time to have a look if you are out and about.

On 8 April 2014 Mars will be at opposition and six days later it will be at it’s closest to us. Don’t expect it to be bigger than the full moon this time around.


Rosetta Updated

There is a nice video out that shows what we might expect to see during the approach and encounter with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

As the video showed the comet is just now becoming visible and in fact Rosetta did get a couple of pictures of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta is about 5 million km / 3.1 million miles from the comet and this image comes from 60-300 second exposures. Nice and steady!

Rosetta’s first sighting of its target in 2014 – narrow angle view  Image and caption: ESA
Rosetta’s first sighting of its target in 2014 – narrow angle view Image and caption: ESA

The camera is working great!  I especially like the globular cluster! It is M107.

See more at the Rosetta site.

Video source

C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)

Hubble Sees Mars-Bound Comet Sprout Multiple Jets
Hubble’s latest look at comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) on its way to a close encounter with Mars.


Hubble gives us this updated image of C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring). The image is all the better knowing the comet is somewhere around a magnitude 18 or so making it thousands of times fainter than we can see. Clicking the image will take you to Hubblesite. Clicking here will take you directly to the Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)image page at Hubblesite.

From Hubble:

Comet Siding Spring is plunging toward the Sun along a roughly 1-million-year orbit. The comet, discovered in 2013, was within the radius of Jupiter’s orbit when the Hubble Space Telescope photographed it on March 11, 2014. Hubble resolves two jets of dust coming from the solid icy nucleus. These persistent jets were first seen in Hubble pictures taken on Oct. 29, 2013. The feature should allow astronomers to measure the direction of the nucleus’s pole, and hence, rotation axis. The comet will make its closest approach to our Sun on Oct. 25, 2014, at a distance of 130 million miles, well outside Earth’s orbit. On its inbound leg, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 84,000 miles of Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, which is less than half the Moon’s distance from Earth. The comet is not expected to become bright enough to be seen by the naked eye.

A New Dwarf Planet

Dwarf Planet 2012 VP113 in three different images stacked together, it's the red, blue and green dots. Image: Courtesy Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo.
Dwarf Planet 2012 VP113 in three different images stacked together, it’s the red, blue and green dots. Image: Courtesy Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo.

A new dwarf planet has been found in our solar system, its name: 2012 VP113. The new dwarf planet is a long ways out, coming no closer to the sun than 80 AU.

Not just that, but it sounds like there is a potential of a new planet out there, possibly up to 10 times the size of the Earth! This remains to be seen though.

This from the Carnegie Institute:

New work from Carnegie’s Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory reports the discovery of a distant dwarf planet, called 2012 VP113, which was found beyond the known edge of the Solar System. This is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud. What’s more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects.

Read the rest of the press release at the Carnegie Institute (more images too).

Four Moons

Four moons of Saturn at once!  Click for larger. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Four moons of Saturn at once! Click for larger. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

We get to see four of Saturn;s moons in this Cassini image. NASA describes them below. They do not comment on one of more spectacular shots of the rings Cassini has taken; they show up better in the larger versions at the NASA website.

Two pairs of moons make a rare joint appearance. The F ring’s shepherd moons, Prometheus and Pandora, appear just inside and outside of the F ring (the thin faint ring furthest from Saturn). Meanwhile, farther from Saturn the co-orbital moons Janus (near the bottom) and Epimetheus (about a third of the way down from the top) also are captured.

Prometheus (53 miles, or 86 kilometers across) and Pandora (50 miles, or 81 kilometers across) sculpt the F ring through their gravitational influences. Janus (111 miles, or 179 kilometers across) and Epimetheus (70 miles, or 113 kilometers across) are famous for their orbital dance, swapping places about every four years. They are also responsible for gravitationally shaping the outer edge of the A ring into seven scallops.
This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 47 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Oct. 11, 2013.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 810,000 miles (1.3 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 47 degrees. Image scale is 47 miles (76 kilometers) per pixel.

The “Other Earthrise”

The less famous Earthrise image. Credit: LOIRP
The less famous Earthrise image. Credit: LOIRP

Very nice! This is an Earthrise image taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 in 1966. The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) just released the newly enhanced image they call: the “Other Earthrise.

The image is actually one of two images taken. The first of the pair was released by NASA is of course famous and one you’ve probably seen before.

There is a great story and more images at Moon Views – The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP).

Ready to Go

A gallery of images (hopefully) is lead off with a long exposure photo by Bill Ingalis (Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalis) showing the gantry arms moving into position to secure the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in preparation for a 26 March 2014 launch. The gallery shows the Soyuz roll out.

The spacecraft will transport Expedition 39 Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos), Flight Engineer Steven Swanson (NASA), and Flight Engineer Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos) to the International Space Station where they will participate in a six-month mission.

If all goes well I will have viewing links up before the launch. Fingers crossed for the ISP to hold it together though.