BepiColombo Meets Mercury for the First Time on October 1

New research suggests that Mercury is still contracting and shrinking. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/Carnegie Institution of Washington/USGS/Arizona State University

BepiColombo made a quick visit to Venus in August and is on to its next rendezvous. On October 1st it’ll perform a flyby of Mercury, the spacecraft’s eventual destination. This visit is just a little flirtation—one of six—ahead of its eventual orbital link-up with Mercury in late 2025.

The quick visit will yield some scientific results, though, and they’ll be just a taste of what’s ahead in BepiColumbo’s one-year mission to Mercury.

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A High Resolution, Cross-Eyed Look at the Entire Surface of Mars

Mars global map.

A group of amateur and professional astronomers have collaborated to create what may be the highest resolution global map of Mars ever created with images taken from Earth.

The images were taken with the 1-meter telescope at the Pic-du-Midi observatory in the Pyrenees of France, during several nights in October and November, 2020 when Mars was at opposition, or its closest approach to Earth.

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This Martian Lava Tube Skylight is 50 Meters Across. The Biggest Lava Tube on Earth is Only 15 Meters Across

This is the collapsed ceiling of a Martian lava tube. It measures 50 meters (150 ft) across, much larger than any Earth lava tubes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA’s Mariner 9 was the first spacecraft to orbit another planet when it reached Mars in late 1971. It got there only a few weeks before the Soviet Union’s Mars 2 and Mars 3 spacecraft, despite being launched 11 days later than those missions. Unfortunately, there was a major dust storm when Mariner 9 arrived, and NASA had to wait until January before the spacecraft could get good images.

When it did get those images, they revealed a surprise: volcanoes and lava flows cover large portions of the Martian surface.

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Time Flies. NASA Releases a Mosaic of TESS’ View of the Northern Sky After Two Years of Operation

This detail of the TESS northern panorama features a region in the constellation Cygnus. At center, the sprawling dark nebula Le Gentil 3, a vast cloud of interstellar dust, obscures the light of more distant stars. A prominent tendril extending to the lower left points toward the bright North America Nebula, glowing gas so named for its resemblance to the continent. Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS and Ethan Kruse (USRA)

NASA’s TESS planet-finding spacecraft completed its primary mission about 3 months ago. TESS’s (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) job was to search the brightest stars nearest to Earth for transiting exoplanets. It found 74 confirmed exoplanets, with another ~1200 candidates awaiting confirmation.

It surveyed 75% of the sky during its two-year primary mission, and now NASA has released a composite image of the northern sky, made up of more than 200 individual images.

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Machine Learning Software is Now Doing the Exhausting Task of Counting Craters On Mars

The tiny black speck in the lower left corner of this image within the red circle is a cluster of recently formed craters spotted on Mars using a new machine-learning algorithm. This image was taken by the Context Camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in a region called Noctis Fossae, located at latitude -3.213, longitude: 259.415. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Does the life of an astronomer or planetary scientists seem exciting?

Sitting in an observatory, sipping warm cocoa, with high-tech tools at your disposal as you work diligently, surfing along on the wavefront of human knowledge, surrounded by fine, bright people. Then one day—Eureka!—all your hard work and the work of your colleagues pays off, and you deliver to humanity a critical piece of knowledge. A chunk of knowledge that settles a scientific debate, or that ties a nice bow on a burgeoning theory, bringing it all together. Conferences…tenure…Nobel Prize?

Well, maybe in your first year of university you might imagine something like that. But science is work. And as we all know, not every minute of one’s working life is super-exciting and gratifying.

Sometimes it can be dull and repetitious.

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The Newest Picture of Jupiter and Europa Captured by Hubble

This latest image of Jupiter, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope on 25 August 2020, was captured when the planet was 653 million kilometres from Earth. Hubble’s sharp view is giving researchers an updated weather report on the monster planet’s turbulent atmosphere, including a remarkable new storm brewing, and a cousin of the Great Red Spot changing colour — again. The new image also features Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Credit: NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M. H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley) and the OPAL team.

The venerable Hubble Space Telescope has given us another gorgeous picture of Jupiter and its moon Europa. The incredibly sharp image was captured on August 25th, and shows some of the stunning detail in Jupiter’s stormy atmosphere. Hidden in all that stormy activity is something new: a bright white storm plume travelling at about 560 km/h (350 mp/h).

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Vera Rubin’s Monster 3200-Megapixel Camera Takes its First Picture (in the Lab)

The complete focal plane of the future LSST Camera is more than 2 feet wide and contains 189 individual sensors that will produce 3,200-megapixel images. Crews at SLAC have now taken the first images with it. (Jacqueline Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory has taken another step towards first light, projected for some time in 2022. Its enormous 3200 megapixel camera just took its first picture during lab testing at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The camera is the largest ever built, and its unprecedented power is the driving force behind the Observatory’s ten year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST).

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Neptune & Triton – August 31, 1989.

Processed using calibrated orange, green, and blue filtered images of Neptune and Triton taken by Voyager 2 on August 31 1989. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kevin M. Gill

Image-processor extraordinaire Kevin Gill has reached back in time to give us a new image of Neptune and its moon Triton.

When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew past Neptune and Triton in August 1989, its cameras were very busy. Kevin has taken separate color-filtered images from that visit and calibrated and combined them to give us a new, almost haunting look at the planet and its largest moon.

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Wow! An Actual Picture of Multiple Planets Orbiting a Sunlike Star

This image, captured by the SPHERE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, shows the star TYC 8998-760-1 accompanied by two giant exoplanets. This is the first time astronomers have directly observed more than one planet orbiting a star similar to the Sun. The image was captured by blocking the light from the young, Sun-like star (on the top left corner) using a coronagraph, which allows for the fainter planets to be detected. The bright and dark rings we see on the star’s image are optical artefacts. The two planets are visible as two bright dots in the centre and bottom right of the frame. Image Credit: ESO/Bohn et al, 2020

We’ve detected thousands of exoplanets, but for the most part, nobody’s ever seen them. They’re really just data, and graphs of light curves. The exoplanet images you see here at Universe Today and other space websites are the creations of very skilled illustrators, equal parts data and creative license. But that’s starting to change.

The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) has captured images of two exoplanets orbiting a young, Sun-like star.

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