Ladee pounded round the far side

NASA’s LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) has ceased to be. Controllers confirmed on Friday that the probe impacted on the Moon’s far side following the 28 day extension to its 100 day primary mission.

LADEE was launched in September to investigate the almost non existent atmosphere of the moon but also carried a demonstrator of a laser based communication system which is hoped could one day replace radio as a method of communication, especially if manned missions to an asteroid beyond lunar orbit and eventually Mars are to go ahead. The best demonstration was the transmission of the Mona Lisa to the Lunar reconnaissance orbiter in January 2013.

The laser-based communication system worked wonderfully, says team member Mihaly Horanyi at the University of Colorado, Boulder.”We had a really high rate of data transmission. You could have watched Netflix on the moon if you wanted to.”

LADEE’s primary mission though was the atmosphere. The main discovery that the moon has a thin layer of dust encircling it caused by micrometeorite impacts confirmed what was suspected. However it still couldn’t explain what caused the mysterious rays seen by Apollo astronauts just before sunrise or sunset

Mysterious light rays documented by the crew of Apollo 17


While this doesn’t mean they don’t exist it just demonstrated the limitations of the orbiters detectors. However the information gathered by the craft will have real impacts on NASA’s future human spaceflight plans.
Over the next few days and weeks the LRO will be trying to find the impact site to see what remains. Although managers believe the spacecraft has vapourised due to the speeds it was travelling.

Repost: Apollo 13: Eyewitness to the Explosion

By Mike Klesius

Odyssey, You Have a Problem.”
If five men in Houston had realized what they were seeing through a telescope on the evening of April 13, 1970, they could have radioed those words to the crew of Apollo 13, who was still trying to grasp what had just happened: an oxygen tank on their spacecraft had exploded en route to the moon.George Wyckliffe Hoffler was at the time a young NASA flight surgeon assigned to study cardiovascular data gathered from the Apollo astronauts during their spaceflights. On the second night of the mission, Hoffler was taking a break from studying for his medical boards, and had joined four other NASA employees on the roof of building 16A at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Johnson Space Center. There they watched a television monitor hooked up to a 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a television camera mounted in place of the eyepiece. The monitor showed two dots flying in formation on their way to the moon: the brighter of the two was the spent third stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle; the dimmer one was the Apollo 13 spacecraft, which had separated from the third stage two days earlier.

The Apollo 13 spacecraft, as seen through the telescope, immediately after the oxygen tank blew. Credit: NASA

Every ten seconds the TV camera integrated, or updated, the image. “Between one ten-second integration and the next one,” says Hoffler, now retired in Titusville, Florida, “we can’t say exactly what second that was, the less bright dot was not a dot anymore. It was an expanded sphere, reflecting light. A disc. And I remember the guy who was in charge of the thing, Andy Saulietis,…he said, ‘What in the world is that?’ Every ten seconds it continued to grow a bit, and then started to fade as the gas dissipated into the vacuum of space. We watched it for two or three minutes I guess. In retrospect, none of us had the presence of mind to call next door to Mission Control and say, ‘Hey guys, you’ve got a problem.’ ”

What they were seeing was oxygen from the ruptured tank venting into space. In the vacuum, there was no atmospheric pressure to contain the expanding vapor. “We calculated the diameter of that reflecting sphere of gas surrounding the spacecraft to be approximately 25 miles. And it just blew out in just a few seconds,” says Hoffler. “It was under pressure, and when the cannister blew, the gas molecules jetted out with enormous velocity.” In this extended recording, astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise remain calm as they report various readings to mission control. Lovell finally looks out the window to say that he sees some sort of gas being vented into space.

Hoffler notes that the anniversary of Apollo 13, which launched on April 11, overlaps with the April 12 anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight as the first human in space in 1961, as well as the first flight of the space shuttle, launched on April 12, 1981. When offered the suggestion that April was a good month for human spaceflight, he says: “It was a bad month too.”

Read more:

Repost: Ocean discovered on Enceladus may be best place to look for alien life

Researchers have discovered a deep saltwater ocean on one of the many small moons that orbit Saturn, leading scientists to conclude it is the most likely place in the solar system for extraterrestrial life to be found.

Gravitational field measurements taken by Nasa’s Cassini space probe revealed that a 10km-deep ocean of water, larger than Lake Superior, lurks beneath the icy surface of Enceladus at the moon’s south pole.

David Stevenson, a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said the body of water was so large it “may extend halfway or more towards the equator in every direction. It might even extend all the way to the north.”

The presence of a saltwater ocean a billion kilometres from Earth more than satisfies Nasa’s long-held mantra of “follow the water” to find signs of alien life, but water is not the only factor that makes Enceladus such a promising habitat. The water is in contact with the moon’s rocky core, so elements useful for life, such as phosphorus, sulfur and potassium, will leach into the ocean.

 The first hint that Enceladus might harbour a subterranean ocean came in 2005 when Nasa’s Cassini spacecraft photographed extraordinary jets of water vapour blasting out of fissures in the moon’s south pole. The source of the water was a mystery, and an ocean of liquid water was only one possibility.

The latest discovery, reported in the journal, Science, gives scientists the strongest indication yet that the source of water vapour coming from Enceladus is a large body of water underneath the surface of the icy moon.

An international team led by Luciano Iess at the Sapienza University in Rome inferred the existence of the ocean after taking a series of exquisite measurements made during three fly-bys between April 2010 and May 2012, which brought the Cassini spacecraft within 100km of the surface of Enceladus.

As Cassini sped past the Saturnian moon, researchers used Nasa’s Deep Space Network of giant antennas to monitor signals reaching Earth from the spacecraft’s onboard radio. They looked for subtle shifts in the frequency of the radiowaves, which revealed whether the spacecraft was speeding up or slowing down. The measuring technique exploits the Doppler effect, which explains why the siren of a police car has a higher pitch as it approaches, and a lower pitch as it heads away.

Cassini, the scientists discovered, sped up and slowed down by a few millimetres per second as it flew past Enceladus. Some of the change in speed was down to variations in the gravitational field of the moon as a result of different densities of material under the surface.

After taking account of other factors that could alter the spacecraft’s speed, such as drag from the plumes of water vapour, and even the modest pressure produced by sunlight, the researchers created a map of the gravitational field of Enceladus.

The shape of the gravitational field pointed to something more dense than ice – but less dense than rock – deep beneath the south pole of the moon. “Given the kinds of materials we know are used to make bodies like this, the natural thing to look for is water, because water is more dense than ice, and because it’s a natural thing to have in that environment,” said Stevenson.

When scientists first speculated that Enceladus might contain an ocean of water, one of the greatest puzzles was how the ice could be heated to make liquid water. Stevenson and his colleagues believe that gravitational forces that act on Enceladus as it orbits Saturn essentially knead the planet, producing enough heat inside to melt the ice. The process is known as tidal heating.

Enceladus is not the only moon in the solar system to have a subsurface ocean. Europa, a much larger moon that orbits Jupiter, has a more extensive, global ocean under the surface. But Enceladus has excited scientists because the vapour plumes from the south pole are known to contain organic molecules. These, along with basic elements, a source of heat and liquid water, make Enceladus a prime candidate in the search for alien organisms.

“The question is what conditions do you need to form life and, of course, we don’t know what temperature the ocean is today, nor do we know what it was back in the geological past. But it’s conceivable that it was warm enough, with circulation of water coming from the silicate core as well, to allow life to form even if today that ocean is maintained by antifreeze and is slightly below the freezing point,” said Jonathan Lunine, a member of the team at Cornell University in New York. The antifreeze in question is salt, which reduces the temperature at which water freezes.

In 2008, Nikolai Brilliantov, a mathematician at Leicester University, worked out how water vapour jets might blast out of Enceladus if it harboured an underground ocean. Confirmation of the ocean made Enceladus the most likely place so far to find extraterrestrial life.

“There are definitely regions on Enceladus where the conditions are such that life could exist. You have liquid water, you have chemicals and you have heat. And that is enough for life. To my mind, this is the best place we can expect to find life elsewhere in the solar system,” Brilliantov told the Guardian.

“On Mars there are some signs of water in the past, but now we have very, very serious indications that liquid water exists in Enceladus,” Brilliantov said. “It’s technically possible to send a probe that could drill a hole and test the water to see if we are alone in the universe or if something else lives here.”

Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at Nasa’s Ames Research Centre in California, said: “There are now several lines of evidence – the geysers, the plume chemistry, and now gravity – that indicate a substantial body of liquid water. For astrobiology this is confirmation of what we expected and is good news. My one view is that Enceladus should be the priority.”

Writing in the journal Astrobiology this week, McKay makes the case for an Enceladus flyby mission to return samples of the water vapour plumes and look for biomolecular evidence of life. “With samples of the organic material from the plume, we could search in terrestrial laboratories for organic biomarkers that would be conclusive evidence for life,” he writes.

Anti-vaxxers play the Trump card *Boom* Autism!


America has a problem and that problem is celebrity. We live in a world where morons like Trump can spout this drivel and people will believe it. There is a massive issue over there with the topic of vaccinations. In 1998 a group of Doctors published a paper in the Lancet. In it, the authors claimed to have identified a new syndrome, autistic enterocolitis, raising the possibility of a link between a novel form of bowel disease, autism, and the MMR vaccine. The authors noted that the parents of eight of the twelve children linked what were described as “behavioural symptoms” with MMR, and reported that the onset of these symptoms began within two weeks of MMR vaccination.

Now the paper did state there was a link with Autism and the gastronomical problems. However it did not show a link between the MMR vaccine . This wasn’t good enough for the papers lead Dr Andrew Wakefield who decided in a press conference that there was a link and that the MMR vaccine should be dropped. Cue a massive media panic and fewer and fewer parents giving their children the MMR vaccine, or worse, just not getting their children vaccinated.

This wasn’t much of a problem at the time however there was a big Measles outbreak in Swansea in 2013 linked to the decline caused by the MMR controversy.

Eventually though the truth got out that Wakefield was a fraud, he received payments from groups who were trying to bring down the MMR and the companies that produced it, had filed patents for a rival single jab vaccine and had falsified the data. The paper was retracted and Wakefield barred from practicing medicine in the UK. Eventually we realised as a nation we were duped and began vaccinating children.

In the US however the problem is the findings and the belief that vaccinations cause autism gained traction and became a personal interest of “celebrity” Jenny McCarthy.

McCarthy’s son has autism (although further research using information available suggests a mis-diagnosis) although at first she didn’t mention a link between vaccines and Autism however she then decided it did and cited Wakefields paper as exhibit A (Wakefield also wrote the foreword to her book.) Reaction to this was not that kind with many outraged at her claims and her defending Wakefield following his outing as a fraud.

The anti-vaccination movement is still strong in America and very Vocal, even though New York is in the middle of a measles outbreak there hasn’t been a significant drop in the rates of people being vaccinated. However enough have refused it to cause a disease once thought eradicated in the US to come back with a vengeance.

The Centre for Disease control recently published a new report with revised higher estimates of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. This prompted Wig-wearing-bigoted-loudmouth-Scottish-natural-beauty-hater Donald Trump to take to Twitter

Reaction was, well it’s the Internet and Trump is a prat so you work it out. However he is a believer in the idea that if you give a child 3 vaccinations their immune system gets all screwed up and Autism happens. You would think there would be lots of science done over this with charts and case studies, there is, and there’s absolutely no truth in this idea whatsoever.

What may be true thanks to a study at the Autism Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine is that Autism may begin before the vaccines, and before the child is born. If this is proven then you would think the Anti-vaxxers would call it a day. But since they’ve continuously ignored any scientific research with vaccines and autism in general it’s unlikely this is far from over.

Meanwhile the world is beginning to represent the map in the Pandemic game, all because celebrities know how to get the public to believe them, that governments are too slow and useless to put out the correct information and state their case clearly and because we trust the word of a washed up “celeb” over experts.

Flatulent Goats and Flowery Twats

  It’s a relatively crass name for a post and now the actual blog, so what the hell is going on?

It all started yesterday, but first we need to go back a bit. Unless you live in a cave or just  use Facebook for Candy crush and writing about how much you heart  celebrities you will  be aware of a page called “I fucking Love science.” It’s kind of a big deal with a website and  soon a TV show.

There’s a few critics of it, some (well 6,000) have complained that the many images on the  page have been used without the original owners permission. Others dislike how many people on it don’t actually “fucking love science” and just like pretty and often wrong pictures and Neil DeGrasse Tyson quotes and it’s more a pack mentality.

Either way I casually pay attention to it but really I can get the information in text form and actually understand the subject in more depth. It’s not to say I don’t like it, on the contrary. If it reaches one person and encourages them to read a bit more or even become more interested in Science so they truly fucking love it, then it’s served its purpose.

What I do prefer more is the profile of the actual creator of IFLS Elise Andrews. A woman who got the worst of the internet when those people who fucking love science only love it when it’s not been done by women. Now since I only follow it I just get the public posts. But these in itself deserve its own page. Peoples opinions online are like arseholes, everyone has one and they’re usually full of it. She must get an awful lot of abuse not just from genuine haters but also what appears to be an army of trolls. Most are the usual “God will send you to hell” but occasionally you do get a corker:
Now obviously we just mock these people, but what about the ones who are civil and not foaming? now the chances are you’re not going to change their minds. If that was the case Ken Ham would be the New Dawkins and not just a nutjob who doesn’t believe in evolution but thinks as a species we’re getting dumber, which would be a sign of evolution in itself.

I’ve been looking at creationists recently, mainly due to their vocal opposition and general butt hurt over the new ‘Cosmos’ and there was a “debate” of sorts with Professor Alice Roberts and a creationism over evolution. The poor soul must be smarting today because every argument about an intelligent designer was shot down, mainly by Professor Roberts showing elements of our physiology that was designed by an idiot, not someone intelligent. However both sides stopped and no-one has changes, Professor Roberts isn’t wearing sandals and condemning us to hell and “Christ21Cent” (Rather cheap for a messiah) isn’t in a lab coat preaching evolution.

This raises the question, what’s the point in rising to a challenge? Bill Nye and Ken Ham debated evolution and all that happened was Ham got more publicity and more donations. No-one changed their minds. This is the main problem.

If you hold a belief so strong that fact based evidence isn’t going to change your mind then you’re not going to be convinced by anyone, not even a world authority on the subject. You can try to change their mind but it will leave you exhausted and annoyed.

But in honour of these cranks, I’m pleased to reveal Blog 2.0 the awesomely named FLATULENT EXPRESSION OF TORTOISES!

Evangelicals Still Don’t Know What to Do With the Big Bang

By Karl W. Giberson

When a major discovery confirmed the Big Bang this week, some evangelicals ignored it, while others claimed it’s already in the Bible. But the theory’s Catholic history suggests there’s a better way to look at it.

The “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the universe got a big boost this week when scientists reported the discovery of 14-billion-year-old echoes of the universe’s first moments—the first proof of an expanding universe, and the last piece of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Creationists and other conservative religious believers have a curiously ambivalent relationship with the Big Bang—unlike evolution, which is universally condemned. Young-earth creationists mock the Big Bang as a wild guess, an anti-biblical fantasy that only atheists determined to ignore evidence of God’s creation could have invented. In contrast, creationists who accept that the earth is old—by making the “days” of creation in Genesis into long epochs—actually claim that the Big Bang is in the Bible. Some of them are rejoicing in the recent discovery.

The leading evangelical anti-science organization is Answers in Genesis (AIG), headed by Ken Ham, the guy who recentlydebated Bill Nye. AIG’s dismissive response to the discovery is breathtaking in its hubris and lack of insight into how science works. They call for Christians to reject the discovery because the “announcement may be improperly understood and reported.” This all-purpose response would also allow one to deny that there is a missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777.

Secondly, Answers in Genesis complains that the predictions being confirmed in the discovery are “model-dependent.” They fail to note that every scientific prediction ever confirmed, from the discovery of Neptune, to DNA, to the Ambulecetus transitional fossil is “model-dependent.” The whole point of deriving predictions in science is to test models, hypotheses, theories. Finally, AIG suggests that “other mechanisms could mimic the signal,” implying that, although the startling prediction was derived from Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the inflationary model of the Big Bang, it could have come from “some other physical mechanism.” No alternative mechanism is suggested.

The AIG response declares instead that “Biblical creationists know from Scripture that the universe did not begin in a big bang … we know from Genesis 1 that God made the earth before He made the stars, but the big bang requires that many stars existed for billions of years before the earth did.”

Not all biblical literalists take such a hard-line stance. Like Ham, the popular Christian apologist Hugh Ross is a biblical literalist who rejects all forms of evolution: Ross believes that the “days” of creation in Genesis are vast epochs and thus the universe can be billions of years old. Ross heads the organization Reasons to Believe, which is often attacked by AIG and other young earth creationist groups for having a “liberal” view of the Bible.

Ross, an astronomer by training, was delighted by the discovery of the gravitational waves and told the Christian Post that “The Bible was the first to predict big bang cosmology.” Ross, in fact, is convinced that many ideas in modern science—including the inflationary model for the Big Bang confirmed by the recent discovery—were actually predicted by the Bible. He argues—to the dismay of Hebrew scholars—that the word “bara,” translated “create” in Genesis 1:1, means “to bring into existence that which did not exist before.” Ross has ingeniously located much of modern physics in the Bible, including the laws of thermodynamics and the Big Bang.

The initial response from the Discovery Institute, the headquarters of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, maligned the motivations of the cosmologists searching for the gravity wave, claiming they found more theologically friendly models of the Big Bang “disturbing,” and wanted to refute them. The recent discovery of the gravity waves—after years of searching—is being trumpeted by the scientific community because it “saves the jobs of a thousand people at two national labs who are having to justify their expensive failure.

Despite his organization’s snarky cynicism, the Discovery Institute’s director, bestselling ID author Stephen Meyer, was in the this-new-discovery-proves-the-Bible camp. Meyer went on the John Ankerberg show to extol the theological virtues of the Big Bang. Using the same arguments as Hugh Ross, Meyer finds both the Big Bang and even the inflation model in the Bible: “We find repeated in the Old Testament, both in the prophets and the Psalms,” he told the Christian Post, “that God is stretching or has stretched out the heavens.” Meyer says this “stretching” means that “Space expanded very rapidly,” and the recent discovery provided “additional evidence supporting that inflation.”

Meyer and Ross are right that English translations of the Bible do speak of the heavens being “stretched out.” But to suggest that this is what has been confirmed by the recent discovery is simply not possible. A typical biblical passage supporting this claim is found in Isaiah 40:22 where we read that God “stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” Does this really sound like an event at the beginning of time when the universe experienced a momentary burst of expansion? And what do we make of the apocalyptic vision described in Revelation 6:14 that, at the end of time, “the sky rolled back like a scroll”?

The biblical authors—and most ancients—understood the sky over their heads to be a solid dome—an inverted bowl resting on a flat earth for the authors of Genesis, a crystalline sphere surrounding a round earth for Aristotle and most Christians until the scientific revolution. The Hebrew word used in Genesis for the sky is “raqia” which means “bowl” or “dome.” It does not mean “space-time continuum” and it is not something that could be “inflated.” It could, however, be “stretched out like a tent” or “rolled back like a scroll.”

These divergent responses are full of hubris in both directions, making extravagant claims for or against scientific discovery, embracing or rejecting science on the basis of existing religious commitments. But these extremes aren’t the only ways for religious believers to respond to major scientific breakthroughs. Not every scientific idea has to have a theological interpretation, although the tendency to fit new science into ancient religious frameworks is often irresistible. And the Big Bang is certainly no exception.

The Big Bang theory, in fact, was developed in the 1920s by a Catholic priest who was also an acclaimed physicist, the Monsignor Georges Lemaître. It was ridiculed and rejected by Lemaître’s atheist colleague, Fred Hoyle. Hoyle applied the derisive term “Big Bang” to Lemaître’s theory in a 1949 BBC interview—a nasty label that stuck.

Hoyle, who labored heroically to produce an alternative theory, didn’t like the theological implications of the universe beginning suddenly in a moment of “creation.” It sounded too much like the first verse in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And, as Hoyle and others noted, Lemaître was a priest who might reasonably be suspected of trying to smuggle Catholic theology into science.

Hoyle’s concern was amply illustrated in 1951 when Pope Pius XII declared that, in discovering the Big Bang, science had indeed established the Christian doctrine of the “contingency of the universe” and identified the “epoch when the world came forth from the hands of the Creator.” “Creation took place,” the pope said. “Therefore, there is a creator. Therefore, God exists!”

Both Lemaître and the Vatican’s science advisor were horrified by the Pope’s confident assertion that physics had proven God. They warned him privately that he was shaky ground: the Big Bang was not a theory about the ultimate origin of the universe and should not be enlisted in support of the Christian belief in a Creator. The pope never mentioned it again.

Ironically, in this dispute, the atheist Hoyle was on the side of the pope in seeing a linkage between the Big Bang and God. It was Lemaître and the pope’s science advisors who saw clearly that scientific theories, no matter how well-established, should not be enlisted in support of theological notions. And, as the Catholic Church learned in the Galileo affair, scientific theories should not be opposed on theological or biblical grounds.

These lessons have been learned by Catholics, for the most part, as evidenced by the relative scarcity of prominent Catholic science-deniers. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same things for many evangelical Protestants, many of whom belong to truncated religious traditions that began after Galileo, or even after John F. Kennedy. They lack the accumulated wisdom that restrains the pope from inspecting every new scientific discovery and either rejecting it because it counters a particular interpretation of Genesis or enthusiastically endorsing it because it confirms this or that doctrine. And when the pope strays, his advisors quickly get him back on track. Catholic thinking on science is informed by the pontifical academy of science, an advisory group with no counterpart in Protestantism.

Ken Ham and his colleagues at Answers in Genesis, Hugh Ross and his colleagues at Reasons to Believe, and Stephen Meyer and his colleagues at the Discovery Institute are too quick to embrace, reject, or gloss with theological meaning the latest scientific discoveries. Rather than rushing to the Bible to see whether its ancient pages can accommodate the latest science, they would do well to heed this caution from Lemaître, as he spoke of the theory that he discovered:

“We may speak of this event as of a beginning. I do not say a creation … Any preexistence of the universe has a metaphysical character. Physically, everything happens as if the theoretical zero was really a beginning. The question if it was really a beginning or rather a creation, something started from nothing, is a philosophical question which cannot be settled by physical or astronomical considerations.”


Karl W. Giberson holds a Ph.D. in physics from Rice University and teaches writing, science, and religion at Stonehill College. He is the author and coauthor of numerous books, including Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, and lectures widely on science and religion.

This article first appeared on the DailyBeast website

NASA gets artsy

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

One of the things I like about NASA missions isn’t just the information and new discoveries but also the images. Who can forget the Apollo 8 Earthrise, pale blue dot or the images from the surface of Mars.

Now most of the ones the public are aware of are carefully picked by officials, there are several versions of Earthrise alone. However missions now dump all the images onto the website and are easily found under the RAW images. I usually find these better than the ones that are sent out or used in publications. For example this lovely image of Saturn:

This was taken by Cassini 2 days ago from a distance of 1.7 million miles. Black and white has a tendency to make interesting photos but this captures the patterns on the planet and all the details of the ring system.

Sometimes though, the ones released or featured are amazing, take for example Curiosity currently trundling around Mount Sharp on the surface of Mars. While this too has lots of RAW images sometimes NASA just have to do something different. And when they do you get something like this:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

The twilight sky over Mars. Just noticeable (although click it and get a bigger one) is a small bright star in the sky. Except to paraphrase Obi Wan Kenobi – That’s no Star. It is infact here, Earth, zoom in? and you see this:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

Earth and the Moon would appear as two incredibly bright stars in the Martian sky, this image was made up of three separate images taken from the mast camera (Mastcam) and stitched together and cleaned up the originals are a bit “noisy”:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sometimes it’s best to clean them up. Finally the newest image from Curiosity’s mastcam:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Saturns shadows and rings

Click to *Picard voice* Zoom in

Shadows and Rings

Among the interplay of Saturn’s shadow and rings, Mimas, which appears in the lower-right corner of the image, orbits Saturn as a set of the ever-intriguing spokes appear in the B ring (just to the right of center).

Scientists expect that spokes will soon cease to form as Saturn approaches northern equinox. The exact mechanism of spoke formation is still the subject of debate, but ring scientists do know that spokes no longer appear when the Sun is higher in Saturn’s sky. It is believed that this has to do with the ability of micron-sized ring grains to maintain an electrical charge and levitate above the rings, forming spokes. Thus, these may be some of the last spokes ever imaged by Cassini.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 38 degrees below the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Oct. 22, 2013.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.6 million miles (2.6 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 146 degrees. Image scale is 93 miles (150 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit or . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at .

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

That’s some moon

On 18 June 2009, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to map the surface of the Moon. Since then it’s brought back some spectacular images thanks to its cameras including the Apollo landing sites.

In December 2011 the orbiter was put into an elliptical orbit with the  periapsis (point where the LRO is closest to the surface) near the south pole, and the apoapsis (point where LRO is furthest from the surface) near the north pole.
This allowed the LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance orbiter cameras) to take extensive and highly detailed images of the northern hemisphere of the Moon, from 60°N latitude to the pole itself, and came up with this:

You saw the whole of the moon

Now that’s some detail, but wait, it gets better.
Now the LROC are clearly able to pick up something as small as a lunar rover and the trails from the astronauts in pretty good detail considering the height of the orbiter. So what happens when you use them on nearly half the moon?

You end up with a 931,070 x 931,070 image of the moon. It contains 681 BILLION pixels
The LROC Northern Polar Mosaic (LNPM) is likely one of the world’s largest image mosaics in existence, or at least publicly available on the web, with over 680 gigapixels of valid image data covering a region of the Moon (2.54 million km², 0.98 million miles²) slightly larger than the combined area of Alaska (1.72 million km²) and Texas (0.70 million km²) — at a resolution of 2 meters per pixel!

You can explore it over at the LROC site here.