It may not look like much but it’s actually quite a lot: that bright smudge is Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) as it approached Mars to make its historic and much-anticipated close pass on Sunday, Oct. 19! The mountain-sized comet shot past Mars at an estimated distance of 88,000 miles traveling about 35 miles a second… that’s 20 times faster than a bullet fired from a 9mm handgun.
While the comet didn’t put on a big show in our sky here on Earth (although some photographers did capture it quite nicely in telescopes) the rovers on Mars and spacecraft in Martian orbit were keeping their electronic eyes on it… and NASA’s Opportunity rover, now nearly 11 years on Mars, was the first to send back a confirmed image!
If you’re loving this fantastic image of the Red Planet as much as I am, then be sure to give thanks to MOM!
Don’t call home just yet though; this is a view from India’s Mars Orbiter Mission – MOM for short – which successfully entered orbit around Mars on September 24 after a ten-month journey to meet up with our neighboring planet.
(Of course if you want to call your own mom I’m sure she’d love to hear your voice.)
In-situ spacecraft “selfies” are always a treat and this one is awesome times two: taken by the Philae lander piggybacked onto ESA’s Rosetta, it shows one of the spacecraft’s 14-meter-long (46-foot) solar arrays glinting with reflected sunlight while off in the distance is the “rubber duckie” Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko!
Where do you suppose this rocky, jagged peak is located? Sierra Nevada? The French Alps? The Himalayas? Actually this craggy mountain is located much, much farther away than any of those Earthly ranges (although it’s currently getting closer by the day) – this is a peak on the 4-km-wide nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, imaged by ESA’s orbiting Rosetta spacecraft 435 million km away!
I wonder when ski season opens?
Here at Lights In The Dark I typically keep the articles and information to exploration occurring within our Solar System. But there have been amazing advances in the discovery of worlds far beyond our own family of planets and this recent news is quite fascinating: astronomers have spotted what appears to be a large gaseous exoplanet in the process of formation around a star only 335 light-years away — literally one of our own cosmic neighbors! Not only is this serendipitous, but also provides insight to how the planets and moons in our own Solar System may have formed, 4.6 billion years ago.
This Monday will mark the 25th anniversary of Voyager 2’s visit to Neptune, its historic close approach to the distant ice giant having been made back on Aug. 25, 1989. To mark the occasion, the Lunar and Planetary Institute has released a newly-restored, high-resolution map of Triton, Neptune’s largest moon and the last solid body to be visited by Voyager.
In addition to commemorating Voyager 2’s visit, the new map of Triton is also a sort of “teaser” to how we might expect to see Pluto and its moon Charon when they’re visited in July 2015 by New Horizons – which, by the way, will coincidentally be crossing the orbit of Neptune on Monday, Aug. 25.
The annotated version of the full planetary map, created by LPI’s Dr. Paul Schenk from Voyager 2 images, can be seen below:
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