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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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Hidden Ice Found on Mercury!

MESSENGER's latest image of Mercury

MESSENGER image of Mercury

Who says Mercury’s too hot to be really cool? Even three times closer to the Sun than we are, lacking atmosphere and with scorching daytime temperatures of 425 ºC (800 ºF), Mercury still has places more than cold enough to hide ice. This is the most recent announcement from the MESSENGER mission team: (very nearly) confirmed ice on the first rock from the Sun!

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How Big Is The Solar System?

Margot Trudell's graphic design thesis project shows the vast distances of the Solar System.

“You may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
– Douglas Adams

Standard classroom models and textbook illustrations of the Solar System, regardless of how pretty they are, all share one thing in common: they’re wrong. Ok, maybe not wrong, but definitely inaccurate… especially in regards to scale. And understandably so, as it’s nearly impossible to portray in a convenient manner the sheer amount of space there is between the planets and their relative sizes. Even if a model manages to show one or the other in a straightforward, linear fashion, it usually doesn’t show both.

This one does.

Read the rest of this article here.

Onward to the Edge: a Space Musical

Can’t see the video below? Click here.

A perfect accompaniment to Carl Sagan’s birthday (he would have been 77 today) here’s a wonderful music video created by John D. Boswell as part of his Symphony of Science project. Featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox and Carolyn Porco, this takes you on an inspirational journey around our solar system, and reminds us – very much in the spirit of Mr. Sagan – of our place in the Universe and what it feels like to look back at our planet from oh-so-very far away.

I’m not a huge fan of AutoTune but in this case I’ll gladly make an exception.

“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” 

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

The Symphony of Science is a musical project of John D Boswell, designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form. The project owes its existence in large measure to the classic PBS Series Cosmos, by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steve Soter, as well as all the other featured figures and visuals. Continuation of the videos relies on generous support from fans and followers. You can make a donation if you wish to contribute support to the project. 

Three Weeks on Jupiter

Can’t see the video below? Click here.

Check out this fascinating new-and-improved video of Jupiter’s swirling cloud belts in action, made up of Voyager 1 image data acquired from January 6 through January 29, 1979. Digital artist Björn Jónsson assembled this high-definition animation from 58 images skillfully color-composited and tweened together to create a smooth video.

The movie is based on 58 orange-green-blue color composites obtained on every Jovian rotation from January 6 to January 29, 1979. Over this period Voyager 1’s distance from Jupiter dropped from 58 to 36 million km so the resolution and sharpness of the frames increases from start to finish. The 58 frames were tweened, increasing the number of frames by a factor of 8 (that is, 7 synthetic frames are inserted between each real frame). – Björn Jónsson

Be sure to check out the video in fullscreen HD 720 on YouTube too!

Voyager 1 was launched in September of 1977 and made its closest pass by Jupiter on March 5, 1979. Completing its Jovian encounter in April, Voyager 1 sent back almost 19,000 images of the giant planet and its moons before continuing on to pass by Saturn. It is now the most distant active spacecraft – and man-made object – still sending back data from the edge of the solar system nearly 11 billion miles away.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Processed by Björn Jónsson

And as an additional bit of coolness, listen to the “sounds” of Jupiter recorded by Voyager as it passed through its powerful magnetic field!

A Matter of Scale

Can’t see the video below? Click here.

One of the things that fascinates me so much about the Universe is the incredible vastness of scale, distance and size.

On Earth we have virtually nothing to compare to the kinds of sizes seen in space. We look up at the stars and planets in the night sky but they are just bright points of light. Some brighter, some larger, some slightly different colors. But they’re still just points from where we stand. Even from space, seen by telescopes or by astronauts in orbit….still just points.

But they’re so much more than that, obviously.

Our planet Earth is big. (To us.) Most of the other planets are bigger. (To us.) Our star, the Sun, is much bigger still.

(Again, to us.)

Other stars, other suns, are even bigger than that. And this video gives a wonderful illustration of just what sort of scale is involved.

Featured on today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day this video by YouTube user morn1415 shows the comparative sizes of most of the planets in our solar system with our Sun, and then with other stars in our galaxy. It’s a great perspective on the actual scale of those little points of light in the night sky, and therefore the distances that must be involved as well. (And why it’s not so easy to find other Earth-sized planets!)

After all, in the grand scheme of things, we’re not very big at all. (Except to us.)

Enjoy!

Video by morn1415

*yes, there’s no Uranus and the planets (except Venus) are rotating the opposite directions. Don’t get too caught up in the example. :)

From the LITD Archives: Voyager’s Valentine

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990

On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the outer 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 labeled left to right, top to bottom.

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, asteroids and comets reside. In fact, Voyager 1 still has another 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

It was the unique perspective above provided by Voyager 1 that inspired Carl Sagan to first coin the phrase “pale blue dot” in reference to our planet and in the title of his book. And it’s true…from the outer solar system, Earth is just a pale blue dot in the black sky, just another light in the dark. It’s a sobering and chilling portrait of our world…but inspiring too, as the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts are the furthest man-made objects in existence. And getting further every second. They are still transmitting data back to us, although faintly, as they are very far now…almost 10 billion miles away. (Update: Voyager 1 is currently 17,422,962,000 km (10,826,126,670 miles) away from us…that’s over 116 times the distance between the Sun and Earth. It is the most distant manmade object in existence.)

And who says long-distance relationships can’t work? ;)

Read more about the Voyager spacecraft here.

Image: NASA

Originally posted on February 12, 2010. Read on LightsInTheDark.com

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