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Voyager’s Long-Distance Valentine

This is from a post I originally published in 2010. I’ll keep trotting it out until it’s not cool anymore. (Which I don’t think will ever happen.)

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the orbit of Pluto and turned its camera around to take a series of photos of the planets. The image above shows those photos, isolated from the original series and are left to right, top to bottom: Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

From that distance, over 4 billion miles from the Sun, the planets each appear as little more than a bright dot against the vastness of interplanetary space. And Voyager was still a long ways off from reaching the “edge” of our solar system, the bubble of energy emitted by the Sun in which all of the planets, moons, and asteroids reside. In fact, Voyager 1 still has an expected five years to go before it crosses that boundary and truly enters interstellar space.*

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

– Carl Sagan

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The Brightest Lights: 12 Awesome Space Stories of 2013

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

What a year for space exploration! With 2013 coming to a close I thought I would look back on some of the biggest news in space that I’ve featured here on Lights in the Dark. Rather than a “top ten” list, as is common with these year-end reviews, I’m going to do more of a month-by-month (hence the 12) to help recollect some of the amazing stories and sights that 2013 has brought us. And with some of the big headliners we’ve seen this year it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller (but no less fascinating) discoveries — so I’ll be sure to include some of those too. After all, when it comes to learning about the Universe there’s no “little” news!

Ready? Let’s go!

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Experience Earthrise with Apollo 8

On December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 entered lunar orbit making astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell the first humans in history to travel around the Moon and see first-hand its hidden far side. During their 10-orbit voyage they captured one of the most well-known and iconic images of the Space Age: the blue-and-white sphere of Earth floating in the blackness of space beyond the Moon’s cratered limb. It was the first time a person had ever taken such a magnificent photo of the two worlds, and thanks to the trove of data acquired by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter we can now recreate the exact moments that the historic event took place, down to the position of the Apollo 8 spacecraft and the conversation between the three men aboard.

The video above, released today by NASA, lets us all experience what it was like to catch a glimpse of the Earth from within Apollo 8 45 years ago. Check it out — preferably in full-screen, high-definition. It’s worth it.

“The vast loneliness up here at the Moon is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize what you have back there on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand oasis in the big vastness of space.”

— Jim Lovell, live Apollo 8 telecast, Dec. 24, 1968

Want to see more photos from Apollo 8? Visit the Project Apollo Image Archive here.

A Portrait of Earth and the Moon from 4 Million Miles Away

Earth and the Moon from Galileo, Dec. 16, 1992 (NASA)

Earth and the Moon seen by Galileo, Dec. 16, 1992 (NASA)

21 years ago today, December 16th, 1992, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft took this image of Earth and the Moon from a distance of about 3.9 million miles (6.2 million km). It’s one of the few images ever captured that singularly show both worlds in their entirety.

And to think that when this image was taken, our planet’s human population was 5.49 billion — 1.7 billion less than it is today. To put that into perspective, it wasn’t until 1830 that Earth had 1 billion people living on it. The next billion wasn’t reached until 100 years later. (Source)

(Needless to say, Earth itself hasn’t gotten any larger.)
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“Take Us Home, Scotty…” Juno Takes the First Video of Earth and Moon From Space

If this doesn’t tug at your heart’s space strings, I don’t know what will.

What we’re seeing here is a video made from images captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it flew past Earth on October 9, 2013. This is the first time a video has been made of the Moon orbiting our planet from beyond the Earth-Moon system*, and, in effect, it’s what a future human space traveler would see as they return home.

Amazing.

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Happy Birthday, ISS!


It’s been 15 years since the first piece of what we now know as the International Space Station left the surface of our planet. It was Russia’s Zarya module, launched aboard a Proton rocket on Nov. 20, 1998, and the U.S. followed suit two weeks later with the Unity module sent aboard the shuttle Endeavour. Since then, in what is truly an international effort, the Station was assembled piece by piece until its ultimate ‘official’ completion in 2011 (more research instruments and upgrades have been added since then, of course.)

iss027e036656Orbiting the planet 16 times every day and consistently occupied since 2000, the ISS is not only an invaluable space research lab but also a testament to what we humans can do when we cooperate successfully and focus our energies and abilities toward a common goal, overcoming the challenges of national politics, economic difficulties, and even the barriers of language and culture. It is a lofty achievement, but the work that is done there each day is for the benefit of everyone.

And don’t forget about the view! Our planet is quite beautiful from 260 miles up — and the video above, assembled from time-lapse photos taken from the ISS and edited by David Peterson, shows that wonderfully. See a collection of photos taken from the Space Station here.

“Station is truly an engineering marvel and a testament to what we can accomplish when we all work together. I think one of the most enduring legacies will be the international cooperation we have achieved in building and operating it. It has provided us the framework for how we will move forward as we explore beyond our home planet, not as explorers from any one country, but as explorers from planet Earth.”

– Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana

Read more about the 15th anniversary of ISS here, and check out a cool infographic of Station facts and figures below:

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NASA’s Juno Spacecraft to Fly By Earth Today, Destined for Jupiter

Juno will fly by Earth on October 9, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

Juno will fly by Earth on October 9, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

Today’s the day! NASA’s Juno* spacecraft, launched back on August 5, 2011 (I should know, I was there) will get a little help from its friends (that’s us!) as it passes by Earth to get a gravitational power-boost on its way to Jupiter.

The exact time of Juno’s closest approach is 3:21 p.m. EDT (12:21 PDT / 19:21 UTC).

But wait, you ask… why would Juno come back to Earth after 2 years to get to Jupiter? Isn’t that losing distance? It might seem that way, but in space travel it’s all about saving energy. Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) explains:

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