Archive for the ‘M. Stars’ Category

Io and All That

June 29, 2013 3 comments


Time was when the Galileo spacecraft was the hottest ticket on the block; now, its successor mission, Cassini-Huygens, after having successfully sent back wiga-ziga bytes of information and some of the most spectacular photographs ever taken in space, is winding down. Jupiter and Saturn, the two planets most likely to hold thrilling secrets, have been investigated with something very like a microscope.

Not that there’s nothing new to be learned from these planetary systems, particularly if Jupiter’s moon Europa can be imaged with ice-piercing radar (in the hopes of finding living creatures in its sub-surface ocean). But RT is a bit worried that people’s enthusiasm for space exploration is lagging. The practical benefits of space cannot be ignored, and RT is all for putting bases and then colonies on the Moon and Mars, but he still remembers the real thrill of space when it erupted into the public’s consciousness in the 1960s–the hope that we will be transformed for the better by what we learn and experience, that in the great endeavor of moving out into the solar system and stars we will be challenged, humbled, and vindicated in our hopes for ourselves and the world.

OK, RT is getting off his soap box. But to help remind people of why space-travel is necessary, he offers the above photo, taken some time ago by the Galileo spacecraft, and still one of the most gorgeous images sent back by our robotic explorers.  RT


Photograph: Io and Sodium Cloud (9 November 1996); Galileo Spacecraft; NASA. Public Domain.


Enceladus & Saturn’s Ring Shadows

June 15, 2013 1 comment

File:Enceladus backdropped by ring shadows on Saturn.jpg

as the summer comes in, something beautiful from a cool location… RT

PhotoRing shadows line the face of distant Saturn, providing a backdrop for the brilliant, white sphere of Enceladus. Captured by Cassini space probe, 28 June 2007. NASA; Public Domain.


Cat’s Eye Nebula



Here’s another eyeful, the Cat’s Eye Nebula, photographed from the Nordic Optical Telescope (which is, please note, located in the Canary Islands).

The CEN (NGC 6543) is a planetary nebula, which means it is a ring of gases that is being ionized by a nearby star, in this case the remnants of a red giant (or possibly a binary star system) that died in an extremely complex process. What is certain is that the CEN has the most intricate halo of gases ever observed in a planetary nebula.

Here is RT’s effort at reconstructing the star’s death: the original star expanded into a red giant, sending out long trails of its outer material into space, where they encountered interstellar gas and dust that broke the trails up into spectacular streamers and knots of gas. Then the star began a series of explosions, ejecting more material to form a set of shells surrounding the star. These events took place 1,500-1,000 years ago; the CEN is located 3,000 light-years from earth.

What a masterpiece of stellar art!   RT


Photograph: The Cat’s Eye Nebula (photographed 9 September 2004); author: Nordic Optical Telescope and Romano Corradi (Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, Spain). WikiCmns; Public Domain.


New Horizons–Pluto & Beyond

March 14, 2013 1 comment

File:Atlas V 551 roars into blue sky.jpg

The math behind the New Horizons space mission is boggling: launched in early 2006, the spacecraft is in transit to the dwarf planet Pluto and its five known natural satellites, two of which were discovered after the mission launch. Pluto orbits more than 48 times as far from the Sun as does the Earth, and when New Horizons sweeps by its destination in 2015, it will have been en route for more than nine years. That’s right, folks: Pluto lies more than 5.7 billion km (3.54 billion mi) from Earth.

And though the distant Plutonian system is NH’s goal, it has already had quite a cruise getting to where it is (at present, about five astronomical units from its destination). The spacecraft has flown by the small asteroid 132524 APL, measuring its chemical composition (the asteroid turns out to be S-type), and Jupiter and its moons (September 2006), sending back some spectacular photos from the encounter.

File:NH Jupiter IR.jpg

But this is the boggling part: after photographing Jupiter and its court, New Horizons began its years-long, deep-space cruise. And after the Pluto flyby, there may be more: NH might be able to study some Kuiper Belt objects. The incentive is great: not many spacecraft have gotten this far carrying a science payload this sophisticated.

And here’s the kicker: New Horizons is the first of NASA’s New Frontier missions, which will also study Jupiter and Venus.



Photo: TopLaunch of the New Horizons space probe, January 19, 2006. WikiCmns; NASA, Public Domain. BottomJupiter detail via LEISA infrared camera, re-mapped to visible colors and contrast-enhanced. Taken by New Horizons probe. WikiCmns; NASA/JPL; Public Domain.


Cassini sees Venus … while orbiting Saturn


wow!  RT

(reposted from jf)


Cassini sees Venus … while orbiting Saturn.

Space Walk!!!

January 23, 2013 Leave a comment


It’s been decades since Alexei Leonov became the first person to walk in space (on March 18, 1965), but somehow the thrill of seeing someone floating (or working) in space has never vanished. The gentleman in this picture is commander Sergey Alexandrovich Volkov (photographed by Flight Engineer Dmitriyevich Oleg Kononenko) during expedition 17 to the ISS. Kononenko is at the end of the manual Strela crane operated by the commander; the crane has a mass of around 45kg. An orange safety lifeline along the boom fastens the men to the Space Station.

It’s remarkable what we can accomplish when we set our minds to it.   RT

(And, for the record, the first woman to walk in space was Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya–on July 17, 1984.)

Photograph: WikiCmns, NASA, Public Domain.


The Keck Observatory

January 19, 2013 2 comments



More cool, this time from Hawaii. The telescopes of the W.M. Keck Observatory, located near the summit of Mauna Kea, combine to form the largest observable telescope in the world. Each of the primary mirrors is composed of 36 hexagonal segments that work together as a single unit, and the two primary mirrors can work together as a single astronomical interferometer. How much observational power does all this amount to? Here’s a single fact: the Near Infrared Camera for the Keck I telescope is so sensitive it could detect the equivalent of a single candle flame on the Moon. Chew them beans.   RT


PhotoThe twin Keck Telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii. WikiCmns; NASA; Public Domain.