Shining Boulders

khepryiceThese images from the Rosetta orbiter around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko show what appear to be a shiny rock outcrop in the Khepry region (top image) and a lone boulder in the Hatmehit region (bottom image). There have been 120 such areas like these found on the comet.

These particular images were taken last September from about 20 km.

What are the shiny objects? They are thought to be exposed patches of water-ice!

Panspermia anyone?

Check out the full story: Exposed water ice detected on comet’s surface

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Ceres Orbital Image 11


Here is another image of the mysterious bright spots on Ceres. This image was taken by the Framing Camera on the Dawn Spacecraft.

The image was taken from a distance of 4,400 km / 2,700 miles with a resolution of 410 meters / 1,400 feet per pixel.

What are those spots? Nobody knows for sure – yet.

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

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See Mercury in the Morning Sky


This morning the planet Mercury is at maximum western elongation. This means we will be able to see Mercury in the early morning just before sunrise especially for the next few days.

Yes, western elongation means Mercury will be in the eastern sky before sunrise. It can be a little confusing at first. The western/eastern elongation is the position relative to the Sun not the Earth.

So western elongation means Mercury is west of the sun and that being true will rise in our eastern sky before the sun. Mercury this morning will reach an altitude of 22 degrees before sunrise. If you have a good view of the eastern sky you will get to see it (for the next few days at least) in the twilight before the Sun gets too bright. I know, it’s early morning for the northern hemisphere but so worth it. I am pretty close to a mountain range and that interferes so I’m taking a drive to get a better look IF the clouds stay away.

In September the planet will reach eastern elongation so it will appear in the western sky just after sunset.

Check it out if you can.

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

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Charon’s Discovery


Yesterday was the anniversary of the discovery of Pluto’s moon Charon. The moon was found by astronomer James Christy while using the 1.55 meter telescope at the US Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station on 22 June 1978 and announced to the world on 07 July 1978 by the IAU.

Above is the image the moon was spotted in. The image above is Pluto, the image on the left shows a “bulge” near the top that is not in the iamge on the right. The so-called bulge would appear and disappear over time and the period between subsequent “bulges” corresponded to the rotational period of Pluto.

It also turns out this “bulge” was seen and confirmed in hindsight on photographic plates going back to 29 April 1965.

Just think in a few short weeks we will be treated to a very good look at this moon.  Quite a difference between then and now already and we haven’t seen anything yet!

Image: USNO  / NASA

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Dark Pole on Charon


In the latest images from the LORRI imager aboard the New Horizons spacecraft we can now see that Pluto’s moon Charon has a dark pole. Why a dark pole? It’s another mystery.

“This system is just amazing,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, from the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “The science team is just ecstatic with what we see on Pluto’s close approach hemisphere: Every terrain type we see on the planet—including both the brightest and darkest surface areas —are represented there, it’s a wonderland!

“And about Charon—wow—I don’t think anyone expected Charon to reveal a mystery like dark terrains at its pole,” he continued. “Who ordered that?”
That’s not all, Pluto’s terrain is more variable than anyone could have guessed.

Check out the update at NASA they have a short video and montages of Pluto.

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Martian Clouds

marsclouds2The THEMIS instrument on the Mars Odyssey orbiter gives us this image of clouds on Mars (see NASA’s explanation below).

On 23 June 2015 the Mars Odyssey Orbiter will complete 60,000 orbits around Mars. That means the spacecraft has traveled 1.43 Billion km / 888 million miles and that does not include the travel to the planet. According to David Lehman, project manager for the Mars Odyssey at JPL: “The spacecraft is in good health, with all subsystems functional and with enough propellant for about 10 more years”.

The image shown here is a cropped version, click it to see the original version.

Here’s NASA’s caption:
Pavonis Mons stands about nine miles (14 kilometers) high, and the caldera spans about 29 miles (47 kilometers) wide. This image was made by THEMIS through three of its visual-light filters plus a near-infrared filter, and it is approximately true in color.

THEMIS and other instruments on Mars Odyssey have been studying Mars from orbit since 2001.

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Saturn and Dione


A Cassini image of Saturn with moons Dione in the foreground and Enceladus just above the rings seen to the right hand side.

The iamge was taken in visible light with Cassini’s wide angle camera from a distance of 77,000 km / 44,000 miles to Dione.

Click the image for a larger version. One of those images that would make a great framed poster.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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Happy Solstice!


Today the Sun reaches its most northern point in the sky in the northern hemisphere and the lowest in the southern hemisphere.

Put another way,  for the northern hemisphere: the June solstice is when the subsolar point or that point where the sun is perceived to be directly over head, is at the northern most latitude it will attain before due to the tilt of the Earth on its axis and is on the Tropic of Cancer (23.44 deg). After the June Solstice the Sun will day by day become lower in the northern sky until the December solstice when it rises to its lowest point of the year.

The southern hemisphere experiences the opposite, so today the Sun is at its lowest point and after today will gradually reach higher in sky until the December solstice.

The moment of the June Solstice occurred  today concurrent with the publishing of this post at 16:38 UTC.  US Naval Observatory.

Note: I am going by the USNO time, it’s being reported in other media the time is 16:39 UTC – see

My typical June solstice tradition is to take a nice long walk at sunrise, heavy rain made me skip the walk.


Image: Creative Commons

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An Interview with Venetia Burney Phair

For those of you who don’t know, Venetia Burney Phair was an accountant and taught economics and math to school girls.

She at age 11 is the person who gave Pluto its name. This interview was recorded in 2006.

Sadly Venetia  passed away on 30 April 2009.

This interview and more is  available at the New Horizons site.

Audio: NASA

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