By now you probably know about the lakes of liquid hydrocarbons on Titan. Thanks to Cassini, we know that Saturn’s largest moon is the one other place in the solar system where liquid can be found in stable amounts on the surface, except that it’s not water like we have here on Earth, but rather liquid methane. (Thank you for not smoking!) Now, radar measurements by Cassini show that Titan’s lakes are nearly all found in one 600 x 1100-mile region around its north pole — a true “land o’lakes!”
The animation above, made up of colorized radar data acquired over the past 9 years that the spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn, takes us on a flyover tour of Titan’s northern lakes region. Fasten your seat belts!
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.
Yesterday sure was interesting. As the astronomical world, from scientists to journalists to enthusiasts alike, watched online in near real time as ISON came within its closest pass of the Sun — in literally ever — the comet, having spent the previous several hours brightening steadily, suddenly went dim as it traveled deep into the Sun’s outer corona. It appeared that it had fallen apart, disintegrating* into a smear of bright particles just as it began to round the Sun. Even as astronomers looked to spot a sungrazing ISON in several of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory’s imaging fields, nothing was to be found, leading many to pronounce the billion-year-old icy visitor from the Oort Cloud dead on arrival.
But then, just as the Twitterverse was lamenting the loss of this year’s most famous comet, something reappeared… and even now, a full day later, they’re still not quite sure what.
Making a big splash (pun intended) in the space news world today is the report that NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has found traces of water in samples of Martian soil! The samples were scooped from an area nicknamed “Rocknest” in October 2012 and analyzed with the SAM instrument suite (read more on that here.)
Now it’s not a lot of water, definitely not a cupful or even remotely resembling what we’d call damp, but it is water — about 2% of the soil particles’ mass contains water molecules, and it’s estimated that this is indicative of the surface material across the entire planet. Obviously the implications of this are huge! (Think: resources for future explorers, for one!)
“We made it! 35 years and 13 billion miles.” Those were the words of project scientist Ed Stone today during a NASA news conference about the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which, after traveling the far reaches of our Solar System for decades on end, has finally passed the physical boundaries of the heliosphere and entered interstellar space.* (Yes, for real this time!)
It is truly, as astrophysicist Gary Zank said, “our first step into the galaxy.”
Watch the video below:
What does the Earth and Moon look like from other planets in the solar system? Just more pretty little lights in the dark…
So did you get out and Wave at Saturn on The Day the Earth Smiled? If you did (and even if you didn’t) here’s how you — and everyone else on Earth — looked to the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn, 898.4 million miles away.
As Carl Sagan famously said, “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.” On that bright point of light, the entirety of our world — past and present — resides. And just below it and to the left is the Moon… still to date the farthest that humans have ever physically ventured.
It’s a sobering image, but also quite beautiful… as well as deceiving in its simplicity as only now do humans have the technology to witness the entire planet and its lone moon as such tiny specks of distant light. Still, during the exploration of our solar system, it’s important to take a moment to look back home.