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.)
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
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!
Cassini couldn’t make it to the mall this year to do any Christmas shopping but that’s ok: we all got something better in our stockings than anything store-bought! To celebrate the holidays the Cassini team has shared some truly incredible images of Saturn and some of its many moons for the world to “ooh” and “ahh” over. So relax, sit back and marvel at some sights from a wintry wonderland 900 million miles away…
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!
Yes, I said hexagon. If you haven’t heard, our solar system’s second-largest planet has another curious feature besides its sprawling rings; it’s also in possession of an uncannily geometric six-sided jet stream encircling its north pole — at the heart of which lies a churning hurricane-like vortex over 1,800 miles wide. This hexagon has been known about since the days of Voyager, and now NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has presented us with the highest-resolution look yet at this odd atmospheric phenomenon.
It’s a labor of love: using hundreds of thousands of real images taken by NASA’s Cassini, Galileo, Voyager, and other space exploration missions to create a stunning feature-length, high-definition IMAX movie that showcases the beauty of our Solar System on the big screen like never before. This is the achievement of “In Saturn’s Rings,” a project by filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren that’s been years in the making and, based on this latest teaser trailer, beautifully executed.
The footage is made entirely from real photographs using Ken Burns-style photoanimation and multiplane photoanimation. No computer-generated images, painting, cloning, tweening, morphing, texture maps, camera projection or 3D models were used… even the “stargate” titles are made using photos – an 8,000-photo mosaic of all-sky zoomed really fast gives the blurred appearance. And, according to van Vuuren, “a computer is actually not even required to do this – it could all be done exactly using photoanimation techniques from 100 years ago.”
(Of course 100 years ago, touring Saturn with a nuclear-powered spacecraft was only a distant sci-fi dream!)
Learn more about the non-profit In Saturn’s Rings film project on the official website here, and help get the ‘real’ orchestral score recorded (Adagio for Strings by the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra) by donating to the Kickstarter campaign here.
“A film is – or should be – more like music than fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings.”
– Stanley Kubrick
In theaters summer 2014.
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.