Space shots revisited
Sep. 4, 2009 at 10:10 PM ET
NASA / ASU
This image from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Apollo 12 landing
site (with the Intrepid descent stage) as well as the Surveyor 3 lander, the ALSEP
experiment package and tracks leading to other surrounding points of interest.
Broader views of the universe are among the richest payoffs to result from space exploration, as demonstrated by the latest installment of "Month in Space Pictures." But those views becomes even richer when you see them from a completely different perspective. Some of the latest gems from space do just that, energizing scientific sleuths and confounding conspiracy theorists in the process.
Here's a quick sampling of completely different perspectives to peruse during the long Labor Day weekend:
A picture from the Apollo 12 mission in 1969 shows commander
Pete Conrad alongside the Surveyor 3 probe, with the Intrepid
lunar module on the horizon. New imagery from NASA's Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the scene as it looks today.
Revisiting past space shots
- Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3 spotted: One of the interesting things about the Apollo 12 mission, which will be the focus of 40th-anniversary remembrances in November, is that the Intrepid lunar module touched down within walking distance of the unmanned Surveyor 3 probe. The touchdown demonstrated that NASA could make something close to a precision landing on another celestial body. Now yet another unmanned NASA probe, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, has taken a picture of the whole scene from above - including Surveyor 3 in its crater as well as the Apollo 12 leftovers and the astronauts' tracks going back and forth. The amazing picture, released on Thursday, follows up on LRO imagery of other Apollo landing sites.
- Apollo 15, too: You'd think that all that orbital imagery of Apollo landing sites would have finished off any claims that the moon missions were faked - but some conspiracy theorists reasoned that if NASA could fake the original missions, they could fake the LRO pictures as well. To take this view, you'd have to assume that the LRO imaging team at Arizona State University and all the other scientists working on the mission were in on the conspiracy. But now researchers from India have announced that their own moon orbiter, Chandrayaan 1, took pictures of the Apollo 15 site before contact was lost. They say the pictures reveal the tracks of the lunar rover. "Happy now, you conspiracy retards?" Gizmodo asks in its item on the imagery (with labeled and unlabeled photos).
- Spirit rover ... and Mars Polar Lander? NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is still working on its plan to free the Spirit rover from its Martian sand trap. In the meantime, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken pictures of the probe and its surroundings near the Home Plate plateau from high above. The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla drills deep into the imagery to point out the rover and its tracks. Emily and others are also working mightily to look for traces of the long-lost Mars Polar Lander in MRO imagery.
- Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter: NASA's eye in the Martian sky is currently in precautionary safe mode due to some technical glitches, but this week the team behind MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, released more than 1,500 pictures recorded between April and August. There's a special section for the September data dump, or you can graze through the full HiRISE catalog.
- Neptunian moon spotted by Voyager: Philosophy professor (and amateur imaging whiz) Ted Stryk found a golden oldie in 20-year-old imagery from the Voyager 2 mission: a sequence of pictures showing the tiny moon Despina and its shadow passing over Neptune's disk. Another amateur astronomer, Tony Farkas, turned up the coolness dial by converting that sequence into an animated image.
Moving sights from the cosmos
- Asteroid with two moons: While we're on the subject of animated images, check out this view of the asteroid 1994 CC, which has not just one but two tiny moons. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory reports that 1994 CC is only the second triple-asteroid system to be discovered in the near-Earth population.
- Eclipses on other worlds: I love to watch eclipses on other worlds, such as this view of a partial solar eclipse as seen by NASA's Opportunity rover on Mars (involving Deimos). Here's a short video clip showing several solar eclipses, starring Phobos as well as Deimos, and here's a "lunar eclipse" in which Mars' shadow blots out Phobos. All this is a buildup to last month's unusual eclipse clip, showing the shadow of one Jovian moon (Io) passing over the surface of a sister moon (Ganymede). Astroengine's Ian O'Neill also links to a subtler video that shows Ganymede blotting out Io.
- Saturn's moons on the move: Emily Lakdawalla's roundup of imagery featuring Saturnian moons includes some must-see animations, including shadows of Saturn's rings passing over Janus and Epimetheus, plus some interplay between Saturn's F-ring and the shepherd moons Prometheus and Pandora. Here's the larger version of Mike Malaska's animation, created from images sent back last month by the Cassini orbiter.
- Virtual telescopes: This week I got a look at the latest release of WorldWide Telescope, the free astronomy program produced by Microsoft Research. (Msnbc.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.) This "Aphelion" release draws upon data from the Galaxy Zoo project to add realism to its 3-D renderings of galaxies and provides a wide-scale look at the universe that meshes quite well with the "cosmic web" we've come to know and love. "You now have this crispness to the way the unverse shapes itself," WWT co-creator Jonathan Fay told me. Other features make the software more valuable for professional astronomers. "It's not just a curiosity," Fay said. "You could actually use it to follow up on scientific research." Stay tuned for more about WWT and other astronomy programs such as Sky in Google Earth, Celestia and Stellarium in the months ahead.
Big pictures from space
When we publish our "Month in Space Pictures" roundup, folks usually ask where they can get bigger versions of the images for printing out or using as computer-monitor wallpaper. Click on the links to learn more about the latest, greatest images in our Space Gallery:
Stay tuned for still more fantastic space shots on Wednesday, when the first big batch of pictures from the upgraded Hubble Space Telescope is due to be released. (We were given a preview in July when the Hubble team shared this picture of Jupiter's Great Black Spot.) In the meantime, check out our Space Gallery for more of the universe's greatest hits.Join the Cosmic Log team by signing up as my Facebook friend or hooking up on Twitter. And reserve your copy of my upcoming book, "The Case for Pluto." You can pre-order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Borders.