Category Archives: History

First Image of Orion


A photograph made 30 September a famous day in astronomy.  On 30 September 1880 Henry Draper took the very first photograph of a nebula.  He used an  11 inch telescope to take a 51-minute exposure.

I can imagine Draper was more than a little excited when he developed the plate.  Judging from the major stars in the image there is very little rotation evident.  Pretty nice mount on that refracting telescope!

A Hubble image of the Great Orion Nebula also known as  M42 (see SEDS)

Magellan’s Venus Anniversary

The Magellan spacecraft arrived at our neighboring planet, Venus 25 years ago today – 10 August 1990.

Magellan mapped 84 percent of the planet during its first 8-month mapping cycle and during a mission extension was able to bring the total to 98 percent.

The mapping was a big step in imaging quality over earlier missions with resolutions of around 100 meters.

The mission came to a close in October 1994 when Magellan was purposefully crashed into the surface of the planet to gather information on the atmosphere.  This was the first spacecraft to be crashed on purpose.

Take a look around at the Magellan webpage.


This Magellan full resolution mosaic, centered at 12.3 north latitude, 8.3 degrees east longitude, shows an area 160 kilometers (96 miles) by 250 kilometers (150 miles) in the Eistla region of Venus. The prominent circular features are volcanic domes, 65 kilometers (39 miles) in diameter with broad, flat tops less than one kilometer (0.6 mile) in height. Sometimes referred to as “pancake” domes, they represent a unique category of volcanic extrusions on Venus formed from viscous (sticky) lava. The cracks and pits commonly found in these features result from cooling and the withdrawal of lava. A less viscous flow was emitted from the northeastern dome toward the other large dome in the southwest corner of the image.

Image and caption: NASA / JPL

Inside M1


This a Hubble view inside M1 also known as the Crab Nebula.

The designation M1 means it is the first entry in the very famous Charles Messier’s Catalog of Nebulae and Star Clusters.

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant, left over from the Guest star of 1054. Check out the SEDS page for M1 for more images and information.

Hubblesite’s description of the image.

Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) / W. P. Blair (JHU)

Mountain in a Moat


A nice close up of a portion of terrain on Pluto’s moon Charon.

Look in upper left of the inset (click the image to enlarge as always). Almost looks like a mountain sized boulder just got stuck in surface and depressing the local area from weight and/or some sort of latent heat. It is cold enough for methane and nitrogen ice, I’d think the surface would be pretty solid. It will be interesting to hear what the experts think.
Later today there will be new pictures from Pluto after a news conference – can’t wait.

Go here for the New Horizons caption and a full screen version of the image.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Amazing Charon


The comparative lack of cratering and large scale geologic features make Charon simply amazing and gives the moon a youthful appearance.

New Horizons description (the link has a larger version of the image as a “tif” file – so worth the look):

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers).

A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon’s curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep.

Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon. South of the moon’s equator, at the bottom of this image, terrain is lit by the slanting rays of the sun, creating shadows that make it easier to distinguish topography. Even here, however, relatively few craters are visible, indicating a relatively young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.

In Charon’s north polar region, a dark marking prominent in New Horizons’ approach images is now seen to have a diffuse boundary, suggesting it is a thin deposit of dark material. Underlying it is a distinct, sharply bounded, angular feature; higher resolution images still to come are expected to shed more light on this enigmatic region.

The image has been compressed to reduce its file size for transmission to Earth. In high-contrast areas of the image, features as small as 3 miles (5 kilometers) across can be seen. Some lower-contrast detail is obscured by the compression of the image, which may make some areas appear smoother than they really are. The uncompressed version still resides in New Horizons’ computer memory and is scheduled to be transmitted at a later date.

The image has been combined with color information obtained by New Horizons’ Ralph instrument on July 13.

New Horizons traveled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto system.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Image Credit:  NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto’s Mountains


Excellent picture! This was taken near the north pole, a cap of methane ice diluted with a slab of nitrogen ice. To lean more about the location and composition of the planet in general click here.

From New Horizons:
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system — and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI). That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today. . . . Read more at New Horizons.

Images: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute



Here is the Pluto moon Charon from 1,500,000 km. Moon or binary companion to Pluto that is. We’ve defined a planet perhaps we should look at moons too.

Anyway, don’t want to get going on that, so again this completely fulfills my hope for a really strange place.

The dark area is a mystery.

This image was enhanced by me, you can see the original here.

Congrats to the New Horizons team et. al. for this amazing mission.
Images: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute



WOW! Just look at that! Pluto from 800,000 km taken by the LORRI imager aboard New Horizons.

Completely fulfills my hope for a really strange place.

What is that at the top? Another dark patch or is there depth to it?

If you would like to see the “non-enhanced by me” version – click here.  Look at the terrain this is amazing!

Images: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute