Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.
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Last week gave us a celestial triple header, all in one night. The Moon was full and Mars was at opposition (at its closest point to Earth). But the pièce de résistance was when the Moon occulted or passed in front of Mars on the evening/morning of December 7th/8th. Our astrophotographer friends were out in full force to capture the event.
Our lead image comes from prolific amateur astronomer and photographer Alan Dyer, who observed the occultation from his home in Alberta, Canada, and created this composite view of the night’s activities. “While this composite makes it look like Mars was doing the moving,” Dyer explained on Flickr, “it was really the Moon that was passing in front of Mars. But for this sequence I set the telescope mount to track the Moon at its rate of motion against the background stars and Mars, to keep the Moon more or less stationary on the frame while Mars and the background sky passed behind it.”
Here are some more great views from around the world:
The on-again, off-again detection of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus appears to be off-again – for now. The latest study, based on data from the SOFIA telescope, reveals that the flying observatory didn’t see any signs of phosphine. According to the results, if there is any phosphine present in Venus’s atmosphere at all, it’s a maximum of about 0.8 parts per billion, much smaller than the initial estimate.
However, the team that made the initial detection of phosphine, which was announced in 2020, disagrees with the researchers’ interpretation of the SOFIA data.
Planetary scientists have greatly anticipated using the James Webb Space Telescope’s infrared vision to study Saturn’s enigmatic moon Titan and its atmosphere. The wait is finally over and the results are spectacular. Plus, JWST had a little help from one of its ground-based observatory friends in helping to decode some strange features in the new images. Turns out, JWST had just imaged a rare event on Titan: clouds.
A tiny spacecraft is ready to head out for a big job: shining a light on water ice at the Moon’s south pole.
Lunar Flashlight is a cubesat about the size of a briefcase, set to launch on December 1 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, sharing a ride with the Hakuto-R Mission to the Moon.
The tiny 14 kg (30 lb) spacecraft will use near-infrared lasers and an onboard spectrometer to map the permanently shadowed regions near the Moon’s south pole, where there could be reservoirs of water ice.
“If we are going to have humans on the Moon,” said Barbara Cohen, Lunar Flashlight principal investigator, “they will need water for drinking, breathing, and rocket fuel. But it’s much cheaper to live off the land than to bring all that water with you.”
NASA just released a new supercut of high-resolution video from the Artemis I launch on November 16, 2022. Much of the footage is from cameras attached to the rocket itself, allowing everyone to ride along from engine ignition to the separation of the Orion capsule as it begins its journey to the Moon.
If you like shiny things, some of the most gorgeous objects in space are globular clusters, with their bright, densely packed collections of gleaming stars. And if you like globular clusters, you’re in luck: two different Hubble images of globular clusters were featured this week by NASA and ESA.
Here’s an absolutely stunning new view from the James Webb Space Telescope of a dusty spiral galaxy, NGC 1566. Amateur (but expert!) image editor Judy Schmidt took the raw data from JWST’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and teased out this eerie, spider-web-like view of this distant galaxy. The swirling and symmetrical arms are so full of dust that not many stars are visible.
The Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal in northern Chile, is undoubtedly one of the premier ground-based observatories. But a new infrared instrument recently installed on the telescope has made the VLT even better.
The Enhanced Resolution Imager and Spectrograph (ERIS) was delivered to Chile in December, 2021 and the first test observations were carried out beginning in February of this year. ESO, the European Organization for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, an international organization which coordinates the use of VLT and several other observatories, says this infrared instrument “will be able to see further and in finer detail, leading the way in Solar System, exoplanet and galaxy observations.”
The Orion spacecraft made its first close flyby of the Moon on Monday, November 21, coming as close as 81 statute miles (130 km) from the lunar surface. As the Artemis 1 mission’s uncrewed spacecraft flew past the far side of the Moon, Orion’s orbital maneuvering system engine fired for 2 minutes and 30 seconds to successfully put the capsule into the desired orbit for the mission, called a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.
“This burn is setting Orion up to orbit the Moon, and is largest propulsive event so far, as Artemis is hunting the Moon,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis Mission Manager at a briefing on Monday.