When I was just nine years old I can remember watching the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune. My mom called me downstairs to watch the news, and I saw on our TV the beautiful blue orb of Neptune. I can remember being so excited to see the first close up images of this wonderful world, something that had never occurred before in all of human history. This experience had a profound impact on me as a child; an impact that has lasted a lifetime.
In a delightfully similar fashion, in just a few hours of the time of writing this the NASA New Horizons spacecraft will fly by the dwarf-planet Pluto, giving shape and detail to a world that has captured the imagination of all of humanity since it was discovered in 1930. It gives me great pleasure to know that I can share the same kind of experience I had when I was nine, with my own children now. They will bear witness as Pluto unfolds with all of its beauty.
Until now, Pluto has been a tiny point of light on a photographic plate, or a handful of pixels captured by the most powerful telescopes on Earth. That has all changed over the past few weeks as the New Horizons spacecraft has dramatically approached pluto at an astonishing velocity. This approach will reach its crescendo the morning of July 14th. Later that evening, New Horizons will phone home to let us know if passed safely through the Pluto system. Following that signal, over the next few days, we are no doubt in store for some stunningly beautiful images Pluto and its moons.
Already, New Horizons has sent home progressively more detailed and more beautiful images of Pluto and its moons over the past few weeks. With each passing day, a new exciting discovery has been made, and has been a new opportunity to inspire us all. The latest image of pluto (at the time of writing) shows beautiful variation on the surface, including dark and light regions that will be the subject of study for some time. Pluto in a very real sense, is now a fully fledged world, and dare I say, a Planet!
Stay tuned here, and to my twitter feed @StellarAperture, I will be posting daily over the next week to cover this historic event. I don’t want to miss a minute of it.
If you want to watch the coverage live, NASA will be live broadcasting the coverage tomorrow on NASA TV. For schedules and other info check out the link below:
Absolutely the most wonderful thing about science is the unknown. When the universe throws us a curve ball, and displays something unexpected, we gain an opportunity to learn and grow. Over the past two days the primordial comet ISON has keep our attention as it screamed past the sun, appearing first to perish in the Sun’s unyielding power, and then surprise and delight us with it’s triumphant return on the other side. For the time being it seems that this time, Icarus braved the Sun and came through with wings intact.
It remains to be seen how much of ISON has survived, and how bright it may or may not be in our sky as it travels back away from the Sun. But these are just more mysteries for us to solve, and that is what makes science a truly satisfying endeavor. The fact that we don’t know the details, that ISON surprised us with changes hour by hour yesterday and today, makes the comet a perfect example of the beauty of science. It is the unknown that keeps us excited and on the edge of our seats waiting for the mystery to unravel. Whatever the outcome, ISON will have much to teach us about the outermost reaches of our solar system.
The solar system, and indeed the whole of the universe, is full of wondrous things waiting to be discovered. The universe has a way of disrupting our confidence in our knowledge, keeping us humble in the face to the vast unknown, and that is what makes the whole experience worthwhile.
This is an exciting time for citizen science and the new world of crowd funded space exploration. Following closely on the heels of the recent KickStarter campaign from Planetary Resources to launch the first publicly funded space telescope, two new KickStarter projects aim to send CubeSat class spacecraft into deep space.
The portrait of Earth taken from the Cassini during the world wide Wave At Saturn event last Friday has been released! In addition, over the weekend, a similar portrait from the Messenger spacecraft was taken of the Earth-Moon system. Official images are shown below. Click on the images below for the official photos and other content. Continue reading “Earth Portraits from Cassini and Messenger Released”