Blog Archives

On the Lunatic Fringe: LADEE’s First Pictures of the Moon

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA's LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA’s LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

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.)

Read more about this in my Discovery News article.

OMG Saturn.

Image of Saturn in eclipse from July 19, 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Image of Saturn in eclipse from July 19, 2013. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Go get some extra socks handy because this new image of Saturn is going to knock ‘em clean off your feet.

Seen in eclipse against the light of the Sun, Saturn and its rings seem to glow with a magical light in this picture, painstakingly assembled from 141 separate wide-angle images taken by the Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013. The view is over 400,000 miles wide and Cassini was on the night side of Saturn, almost a billion miles away.

And you know what’s even cooler? You’re in this image. We all are, in fact.

Read more here.

A Cosmic Quotation Mark? No, It’s Just Another Moon of Saturn

Saturn's double-colored moon Iapetus

Saturn’s double-colored moon Iapetus

What looks like a single open-quote (or backwards comma) is really Saturn’s two-toned moon Iapetus, seen here in RGB composite color made from raw images acquired by Cassini on Aug. 30 from a distance of about 1.5 million miles.

With a leading side stained a dark reddish hue and a trailing side bright white, the 914-mile-wide Iapetus (eye-AH-peh-tus) is — almost literally — the yin-yang of Saturn’s family of moons.

The color variation on Iapetus is due to the fine coating of dark material that falls onto its leading hemisphere, possibly sent its way by smaller, distant Phoebe. This dark coating of dust causes that half of Iapetus’ surface to warm up ever-so-slightly-more than the other, making the water ice evaporate and redepositing it on the other side. This in turn just reinforces the whole cycle…a positive feedback loop.

Find out more about Iapetus here.

Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute. Composite by Jason Major.

This is the World Waving at Saturn

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)

On July 19 did you wave at Saturn as Cassini was aiming its camera back our way? If you did (and if you sent a photo of you waving to JPL, like I did) you’re in this awesome new image, a compilation of 1400 submitted photos from assembled into a mosaic of Earth, a planet-wide wave to a spacecraft 900 million miles from home.

Read the rest of this entry

The Frightful Fallacy of “False Color”

Neptune in "False Color" (NASA/JPL)

Voyager 2 image of Neptune in “false color” (NASA/JPL)

I rarely ever reblog posts, but this is an excellent criticism on the term “false color” and its oft-maligned perception by the modern public, and also a support of coloration techniques used in astronomy to produce the beautiful — and scientifically valuable — space images we have all come to enjoy (and expect!) By Dr. Robert Hurt, Visualization Scientist for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope project. Check it out….

Take the lovely image of Neptune above. It shows the planet through three filters: red, green, and an infrared color that is absorbed by methane gas. That final filter is assigned to the red color of the image, so everything we see as red (or white) reveals high altitude clouds and haze that sit above Neptune’s methane layer. That’s pretty cool, and it is revealed through very real colors, just not exactly the ones our eyes see.

What is false about that? Absolutely nothing!

Read the full article here.

(HT to Whitney Clavin for the tweet!)

Want to see a BILLION-pixel view of Mars from Curiosity?

Section of the first NASA-produced gigapixel image from Mars (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Section of the first NASA-produced gigapixel image from Mars (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Well, here you go. Don’t say I never gave you nothin’. ;)

Actually this is a NASA-produced image made of 850 frames taken by Curiosity’s MastCam, showing the view from the rover as of late October/early November 2012. Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) rises in the distance, and the mountainous rim of Gale Crater can be seen along the horizon. Click the image (or the previous link text) to see a pan-and-zoom 360-degree view.

And the total number of pixels? 1.3 billion. (But who’s counting?)

The Horsehead Nebula Like You’ve Never Seen It Before


New Hubble infrared image of the Horsehead nebula region. Click for a larger version.

Holy Horsehead, Batman! You’ve probably seen photos of the famous Horsehead nebula in Orion many times before, but NOTHING like this!

Astronomers have used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the iconic Horsehead Nebula in a new, infrared light to mark the 23rd anniversary of the famous observatory’s launch aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery more than a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers. It is shadowy in optical light. It appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light.

The nebula is part of the Orion Molecular Cloud, located about 1,500 light-years away in the constellation Orion. It is one of the nearest and most easily-photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.

Read the rest of this entry


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