Bright Spots of Ceres


The Dawn spacecraft took this image of Ceres on 04 May 2015 from 13,600 km / 8,400 miles. This image was taken as part of a sequence by the Framing camera.

The image shows a couple of the “mystery” bright spots. Still looks like ices, however it is too soon to tell. The resolution is improving and we just need to be patient and enjoy the great views coming our way.

For now we still get the fun of speculation. You will notice a dark spot next to the bright area in the center of the picture above the center line. It looks like a hole of some sort, but it could be artifact as there is another to the right and right on the center line, again difficult  to tell.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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Blue Sunset on Mars


The Curiosity rover took this picture of the Martian sunset. The image was taken on 15 April 2015 from Gale Crater.

The image was taken by the “left-eye” of Curiosity’s Mast Camera on the rovers 956th Martian day. The image has been processed to remove artifacts and was white-balanced. The image does a pretty good job of showing what we would see if we were on the planet and someday perhaps we will.

The Martian atmosphere has fine particles of dust that allow blue light to penetrate the atmosphere than longer wavelengths like yellows and reds which are scattered. This is unlike we see here on Earth where the scattering effect is alomost the other way around. The effect is also more pronounced at sunset than at mid-day. So on Mars blue sunsets are the norm.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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Kids Can You Draw?

The CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite or CHEOPS set to launch in 2017 will measure the bulk density of exo-planets from the size of super-Earths to around Neptune already known to be in orbit around stars. The mission will accomplish this by using ultra-high precision photometry.

ESA is holding a fun contest open to kids ages 8 to 14 and the winners (around 3,000) will get their entries engraved on metal plaques that will fly on Cheops. Very cool.

The video gives the details also available below (and on the video site):
Continue reading

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What’s Up May 2015

I always appreciate being able to see Mercury and when it is visible all you have to do is look up, surprising how many people have never seen Mercury or at least recognized that’s what they are looking at.

You only need a pair of binoculars to see the four large moons of Jupiter and this time of year it’s comfortable enough to go out on successive nights and see the changes in orbital position.


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Ceres Latest Image


The Dawn spacecraft took a series of images between 24 and 26 April 2015.  The image above is the seventh in the series.   See the rest at NASA’s Ceres site.

None of the images shows the mystery bright spots so far. Still very interesting. I like the anaglyph (available here from NASA). Either way, have look at the central peaks in the triple craters in the center of the image. They look, well not as craggy as most , this image was taken from 8,400 miles and we are going to get much better looks into the craters as time goes on.

I don’t see too much in the way of “bright” rays from any of the craters so far which is quite interesting too.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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Akari’s View of Cygnus

The JAXA mission Akari recently released an all-sky survey. The mission observed 99 percent of the entire sky over a period of 16 months at four far infrared wavelengths: 65, 90, 140 and 160 micrometers.



This particular image of the constellation Cygnus was constructed from three wavelengths: 65 micrometers coded as blue, 90 for green and 140 for red. The result is very nice and much different that we see when we look up at this very familiar constellation.
From ESA (Space in Images):

The constellation of Cygnus is one of the most recognisable in the northern hemisphere. During the summer months, the stars of its long neck stretch along the Milky Way and its wings sweep from side to side.

Switch to the invisible wavelengths of the far-infrared and the Milky Way’s river of stars disappears to reveal tendrils of cold dust. Shown here, in this image from Japan’s Akari space observatory, are the central regions of Cygnus, and it can be seen that the Milky Way displays a rich stock of dust.

This dust is part of the interstellar medium, which also contains gas. These infrared images reveal the detailed distribution of the interstellar medium, highlighting areas where bright, new stars are about to emerge in the Milky Way.

Far-infrared light is the key wavelength range for investigating stars and planet formation. When the interstellar medium gathers together under the attraction of its own gravity, it forms a giant molecular cloud. These can be hundreds of light-years across. Denser parts, just a few tenths of a light-year across, are known as molecular cloud cores. These are where stars and planets form.

Akari images, such as this one, are the only images in which scientists can closely examine the entire giant molecular cloud with the resolution of a molecular cloud core.

Credit: JAXA and ESA. I should note that ESA is a participant in the Akari mission.

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Loki’s Lava Lake

An international team of scientists using the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory in Arizona have used high-resolution methods to make detailed observations of a lava lake on a moon of Jupiter!

Loki is one of the largest volcanic features on the moon Io. The name comes from the Norse god associated with fire and chaos.


About the image:
The LBT image of the lava lake of the volcano Loki on Jupiter’s moon Io (orange) laid over a Voyager image of the same structure (dark shade), as captured by space probe Voyager 1 (dark shading).


From the excellent release at Max-Planck-Gesellschaft:

Io, the innermost of the four moons of Jupiter discovered by Galileo in January 1610, is only slightly bigger than our own Moon but is the most geologically active body in our solar system. Hundreds of volcanic areas dot its surface, which is mostly covered with sulfur and sulfur dioxide.

The largest of these volcanic features, named Loki after the Norse god often associated with fire and chaos, is a volcanic depression called patera in which the denser lava crust solidifying on top of a lava lake episodically sinks in the lake, yielding a raise in the thermal emission which has been regularly observed from Earth. Loki, only 200km in diameter and at least 600 million km from Earth, was, up to recently, too small to be looked at in details from any ground based optical/infrared telescope.

Read the rest at Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

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Saturn Weather



Saturn’s atmosphere is very active and the storms are much less noticeable than Jupiter but they are no less interesting.

From NASA:
Saturn’s surface is painted with swirls and shadows. Each swirl here is a weather system, reminding us of how dynamic Saturn’s atmosphere is.

Images taken in the near-infrared (like this one) permit us to peer through Saturn’s methane haze layer to the clouds below. Scientists track the clouds and weather systems in the hopes of better understanding Saturn’s complex atmosphere – and thus Earth’s as well.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 17 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Feb. 8, 2015 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 794,000 miles (1.3 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 47 miles (76 kilometers) per pixel.

If you click the image you will get a larger version. There is an odd feature in the dark spot towards the upper part of the planet. Is it a part of the cloud wall? An updraft of some sort?


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The MESSENGER spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury and ended its mission on Friday 30 April 2015.

Launch Date: Tuesday, 03 August, 2004
Launch Time: 2:15:56.537 a.m. EDT
Location: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Orbital insertion: March 18, 2011 becoming the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

Spacecraft impact with Mercury: 15:26 EDT, Friday 30 April, 2015 (predicted time)

The image above depicts the predicted impact site on a topographically color-coded map of the Mercury surface. The tallest areas are colored red and are about 3 km / 1.9 miles higher than the blue areas showing low-lying areas for example: crater floors.

There is a new crater on Mercury, MESSENGER crater (not the official name just my thought) is estimated to be 16 meters / 53 feet in diameter as it impacted at 3.91 km/sec / 8,700 miles per hour.

The large, 400-kilometer-diameter (250-mile-diameter), impact basin Shakespeare occupies the bottom left quarter of this image. Shakespeare is filled with smooth plains material, likely due to extensive lava flooding the basin in the past. As of 24 hours before the impact, the current best estimates predict that the spacecraft will strike a ridge slightly to the northeast of Shakespeare. – NASA

Click here to see the elevation profile provided by NASA

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

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