As Cold as on Mars

Burrr… Feeling the chill of this week’s arctic blast?  Much of the country is expecting historic, record breaking low temperatures.

These temperatures, unusual for us here on Earth, are normal for daytime on the planet Mars: minus 13-degrees Fahrenheit (-25 in Celsius). If you think that’s chilly, the Martian nighttime temperature drops precipitously to a minus 125-degrees F.

MARSSNOW

Image captured by Viking 2 of frost on the Martian surface.

Baton Rouge is expecting a balmy 15 degree Fahrenheit for a low, so enjoy while it lasts.

MAVEN: Countdown Has Begun

MAVENlaunch

  MAVEN is scheduled to launch in approximately 1 hour.  If you are in Florida or South Georgia  today you may be able to catch a glimpse of the liftoff. There are some thick clouds over Cape      Canaveral Air Force base but the forecast is 60% favorable for launch during a two hour window.                                                                                                .

MAVEN, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, will study the upper Martian atmosphere to find out how the air on the red planet has changed over time. This discovery may help us understand when and how long Mars might have had an environment that could have supported microbial life in its ancient past.

Pale Blue Dot

NASA just released a panoramic image of Saturn and some of its closest moons, but it also includes the tiny, blue dot we call home – planet Earth, some 900 million miles away.  Taken by the Cassini probe now orbiting Saturn, the image also captures our companion worlds Venus and Mars.  The panorama was pieced together from natural-color photographs taken in July.

Each pixel in the photograph represents about 45 miles. Seven out of Saturn’s 53 known moons are visible in their planet’s seven rings. There’s Prometheus, Pandora, Janus and Epimetheus near Saturn’s slim F ring. There’s Enceladus in the bright blue E ring. There’s Tethys, a yellow bulb, and Mimas, just a crescent, wedged between rings.

Cassini at Saturn 1

Venus is located to Saturn’s upper left, which is seen as a bright, white spot.  Mars, a pale red dot, is above and to the left of Venus. There are 809 stars captured by Cassini’s lens in this image.  And we Earthlings are on the blue dot at Saturn’s lower right.

This cosmic portrait had been planned for months and on July 19, NASA announced that all the conditions were right for such a picture, including that on this date, Saturn completely eclipsed the sun, allowing Cassini’s sensors to image this portrait.  The cosmic photo is a composite of 141 images taken over four hours, selected out of 343 images total. The photograph was then digitally enhanced to pull from the blackness Venus, Mars, Earth, Saturn’s moons, and all the stars in the frame. Most of the objects in the photograph, including Earth, were brightened by 8 times relative to Saturn; some of the stars were brightened by as much as 16 times.

This was also the first time that humans were told in advance that Earth was being put before a camera. So, in what was called NASA’s “Wave at Saturn” campaign, the Cassini’s Imaging team asked us all to turn out for the July 19 picture day to wave and smile for the camera in the cosmos.

Cassini at Saturn 2

NEW COMPLETE VIEW FROM BEYOND SATURN

PIA17172_full_PLANETS_690w

“On July 19, 2013, in an event celebrated the world over, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft slipped into Saturn’s shadow and turned to image the planet, seven of its moons, its inner rings — and, in the background, our home planet, Earth.”(NASA)

Remember when we wrote about the Casini Spacecraft photographing the Earth from the other side of Saturn?   Well, now all the data and pixels have been put together with a lot of hard work from the project scientists and the amazing result is here:

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/figures/PIA17172_fig1.jpg

Go look at the amazing image from across the solar system. You will be amazed…. Zoom in and look at the planets and other objects in the background.

How many habitable planets?

Looking at the latest analysis of the data from the Kepler Spacecraft the number of habitable planets are potentially now one in five. 

Habitable zones are neither too hot nor too cold

Analysis by UC Berkeley and University of Hawaii astronomers shows that one in five sun-like stars are potentially habitable.

“When you look up at the thousands of stars in the night sky, the nearest sun-like star with an Earth-size planet in its habitable zone is probably only 12 light years away and can be seen with the naked eye. That is amazing,” said UC Berkeley graduate student Erik Petigura, who led the analysis of the Kepler data.

When the  James Webb Space Telescope is launched, hopefully in 2018, it should be able to look at these habitable plants and see in even more detail the surface of the planets. One of the four James Webb science themes is Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life.

It’s just a matter if time until we discover that first other ‘Blue Marble.’

 

Why Do We See Only One Side of the Moon?

Why Do We See Only One Side of the Moon

Here at the Irene W. Pennington Planetarium we have several shows that include information about the moon.  One of the things I’m asked about is why do we only see the one side.  Some people seem to think that moon doesn’t rotate at all; some people think the “dark side” of the moon is always dark.   So let’s clear some things up about the moon and illuminate why that “man in the moon” always faces us.

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The Life and Times of Planet X?

Planet X is not out there

When I was younger I remember hearing about the discovery of a new planet dubbed Planet X.  At the time I heard about this “Planet X” it was supposed to be the tenth planet in our solar system.  But then, as time went on, I never heard about it again.  The years went by and I forgot about Planet X.  It’s like it exited the galaxy without a goodbye.  And then it seemed there was this resurgence in the name or in the very concept of Planet X.  A band came out with name Planet X that got my attention and then two films came out that dealt with a rogue planet: Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” and Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth.”  So whatever happened to this new planet that seemingly came and went?  Whatever happened to Planet X?

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MAVEN MISSION TO PROTECT U.S. PROPERTY

Maven(2)An exception from the federal government shutdown has been granted to NASA’s MAVEN mission “in order to protect U.S. property”. The property or properties we are talking about are on the planet Mars; the rovers Curiosity and Opportunity. If MAVEN’s launch window, which is only from November 18th through December 19th or 20th, is missed the next opportunity won’t come along until 2016. This delay would cause major problems since MAVEN’s communication equipment will take over the jobs that Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey have been doing and will allow us to continue to communicate with both rovers. Both MRO and Odyssey have passed their planned lifetimes. Preparation for the launch of NASA’s MAVEN mission has resumed and will continue on an emergency basis.
Besides being equipped to communicate, MAVEN will also probe the Martin upper atmosphere for clues to how the atmosphere has thinned and where its water has gone. MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission.

COMET ISON PASSES MARS TODAY AND HAS ITS PICTURE TAKEN…. MAYBE.

Mars Express will take photos of Comet ISON’s coma, the atmosphere that surrounds ISON’s nucleus.  Also, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been tracking ISON and may be able to get a look as well through October 2nd.

These cameras were designed to shoot high-resolution photos of Mars but scientists are going to attempt to use them to catch a glimpse of ISON as it passes.  A lot depends on how bright ISON is as it gets closer to the sun.  Keep your fingers crossed….

The high-resolution imaging science experiment (HiRISE) is one of six science
instruments for NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

 

This illustration shows comet ISON closely passing Mars on October 1, 2013. Credit: NASA