Congratulations! It’s a baby… moon? A bright clump spotted orbiting Saturn at the outermost edge of its A ring may be a brand new moon in the process of being born, according to research recently published in the journal Icarus.
“We have not seen anything like this before,” said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University in London, lead author of the paper. “We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.”
We’ve known for quite some time now that lakes of liquid methane and ethane exist on the frigid surface of Saturn’s overcast moon Titan. While the sheer presence of large amounts of liquid on another world is fascinating, one thing that’s particularly intrigued scientists about these hydrocarbon lakes is their uncanny stillness — in many radar images they appear to be literally as smooth as glass, with no indication of movement or wave action of any sort. And although liquid methane isn’t water and probably behaves differently, with Titan’s substantial atmosphere it only makes sense that some sort of waves would get kicked up across lakes so vast, even from the most moderate seasonal breezes.
Now, a research team led by Jason Barnes of the University of Idaho has released findings showing what might be wave action — however small — captured by instruments aboard NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during several Titan flybys. And with the summer season approaching, this just might mean it’s “surf’s up” on Titan!
This is pretty neat — it’s a visualization of the Moon’s phases and libration all throughout 2014, made by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Visualization Studio. They’ve done these several times in the past, and this is the latest one.
For accuracy you just can’t beat it: the global terrain map you see in the rendering was made with actual images and measurements of the lunar surface obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LROC camera and laser altimeter. It’s the most detailed imaging of the Moon’s surface available!
So you know about the phases, but why is the Moon rocking back and forth like that? That’s the libration effect I mentioned — read more below:
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It’s getting so a spacecraft can’t take a decent picture these days without SOMEONE getting in the way! (*Ahem* MOON.) But then it just might be the lunatic we’re looking for…
The image above is one of five that were downlinked by NASA’s Lunar Atmospheric Dust Environment Explorer — aka LADEE (that’s “laddie” à la Mr. Scott, not “lady” à la Jerry Lewis) — and was taken on Feb. 8 with its wide-angle star tracker camera. We see a small portion of the lunar terrain illuminated by reflected light from the Earth from the spacecraft’s position about 156 miles above the Moon, which is about 100 miles lower than the ISS orbits above the Earth.
While not a particularly detailed image of the Moon like something we’d see from LRO, it’s still neat to see it close up and on its night side! The star tracker instrument is mainly a calibration tool for navigation… but that doesn’t mean it’s blind. (Just a wee bit farsighted.)
We don’t get to hear a lot about Ganymede these days, what with everyone paying so much attention to Titan and Enceladus and Europa and several other moons out there. Which is too bad because 1. Ganymede is plenty fascinating in its own right; and 2. it’s the LARGEST MOON IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM (and we shouldn’t forget it!) That’s why I was so happy to see this news come out today: geologists have created the first map of Ganymede that focuses exclusively on its complex geology, as observed close-up by the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft during their respective flybys. The resulting global map — which reminds me of some of the ornate illustrations that Giovanni Schiaparelli made of Mars in the 1880s — is a colorful layout of the many different terrains found across icy Ganymede, providing evidence of its complex history and a guide to future exploration missions.
Image credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Ctr/Wheaton/ASU/NASA/JPL-Caltech
Prometheus is at it again! On Feb. 5, Cassini acquired a series of images with its narrow-angle camera of Saturn’s reflective and ropy F ring, around the inside of which travels the shepherd moon Prometheus. As it orbits Saturn it regularly arcs outwards toward the inner edge of the F ring and tumbles back inwards again, a scalloping orbit by a potato-shaped moon that yanks at the fine icy particles of the ring with its gravitational tug. However faint they might be, these tidal forces are enough to pull the wispy ring particles into long strands, gaps, and clumps that follow Prometheus’ passage before eventually settling back down again.
On this day in 1966, the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft made the first successful soft landing on the Moon and, 7 hours later, transmitted its first images of the lunar surface back to Earth. The image above is the Luna 9 lander’s first view.
It was the very first time we had ever seen images taken from the surface of another world.