The Moon is packed with all sorts of interesting features that only come to light — literally, in some cases — when very high-resolution imaging is done. For example, the lunar far side has a bunch of small volcanoes, some only a few hundred meters across, like this one:
[Click to enlunenate.]
The image is about 500 meters across, so this is a hill you could climb pretty easily, even though the low Sun angle implies the slope is greater than 13° (remember, the Moon has 1/6th the Earth’s gravity so that would be a pretty easy hike). Those boulders on the top are weird; they only appear to be on one side, and there doesn’t seem to be anything in that direction that would be a source of them. There are none on the plains around it, or at the bottom of a nearby crater, either. The source must be the volcano itself, I’d wager. Note the crater at the top of the mound, too – you might think that’s the volcanic vent, but in fact it’s not centered on the dome, indicating it’s a coincidental impact crater.
If you’ve ever wanted see what it would look like to orbit the asteroid Vesta in 3D, now’s your chance. You have to have red/green glasses, but I bet after seeing all the anaglyph posts I’ve made, a lot of you do. Anyway, this animation was made by NASA/JPL using data from the space probe Dawn when it was orbiting Vesta at a height of about 2700 km (1700 miles):
Very cool. I was struck the most by how the gigantic mound in the center of the south pole basin has actual and substantially-sized craters in it from impacts! Airless bodies have craters all over them — unless they resurface themselves, like Io’s volcanoes do or they have undersurface oceans like Enceladus and Europa — so it’s natural to see craters on a mountain. But usually mountains are relatively small, so big craters would wipe them out. But that mound on Vesta is huge — it rises 23 km (14 miles) above the basin floor! So there’s easily room on it for big craters.
Vesta’s a weird place, and I’m glad we’re studying it so closely. Even more closely than before in fact, since a couple of months ago Dawn dropped to only 750 km from the surface. The images it’s returning now are really amazing… as you can see for yourself!
Image and video credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Well, today is certainly shaping up to be "jaw-dropping pictures of Atlantis day"! How so? Well, I already posted the stunning image of the Orbiter’s descent as seen from space, and just the other day I mentioned how I was hoping Nathanial Burton-Bradford would make more 3D images… so guess what? Get out your red/cyan glasses: here’s the plasma-lit descent of Atlantis as seen from space in 3D!
Wow! The ISS astronauts took several pictures of the Orbiter as it descended. Nathanial took two of them from NASA’s spaceflight gallery and combined them to make this anaglyph. If you click between the two original shots (here and here) you can see they were taken a few seconds apart; the motion of the stars, the Earth, and the plasma plume change a little bit (click between them rapidly and you’ll actually get a feel of the motion. Weird).
The other pictures at the NASA page are amazing as well. Funny, when I first heard of the plasma picture I poked around NASA’s site and couldn’t find any other images, but clearly I either missed them or they weren’t up yet. I’m glad Nathanial dug deeper! In his shot, you really get a sense of how far away the Orbiter was from the ISS. In fact, there is a layered feel to the whole scene, with the stars far away, the ISS in the foreground, and the Earth itself stretched out from below you to the horizon.
If you don’t have red/cyan glasses, this one shot makes it worth the effort. It’s truly amazing. More than just a gimmick, a picture like this really gives you a visceral sense of what you’re seeing. Truly wonderful.
Tomorrow morning, July 21, at 5:56 a.m. EDT (09:56 GMT), the Space Shuttle Orbiter Atlantis is scheduled to set wheels down on Earth one last time. When it launched, though, pictures were taken as the rocket rolled that allowed Nathaniel Burton-Bradford to create a 3D red/cyan anaglyph:
[Click to enlaunchenate.]
I posted another 3D image he made of Atlantis, too, and he has one of the ISS he just made as well. If you don’t have red/cyan glasses, you can search for ’em online. They’re pretty cheap, and I do sometimes link to pictures like this… like in Related Posts below. It’s totally worth a buck, just for that moment of "wow".
Credit: NASA, Nathanial Burton Bradford
Nathanial Burton Bradford takes images from NASA and other science sources and creates 3D red/blue anaglyphs from them. If you have a pair of those glasses, then feast your eyes on this tremendous one he made of Atlantis from yesterday’s 360° pitch maneuver:
Cooool. What really makes this one is the Vertical Stabilizer (the tail fin, if you like) popping out right at you. Nathanial’s also done one of the launch itself. He says he’s looking for more, so I can’t wait to see what he comes up with. Check back on his Flickr pages to see for yourself.
Credit: NASA, Nathanial Burton Bradford
I love anaglyphs (3D pictures) and I love astronomy animations and I love Jupiter, so how much do you think I love this anaglyph animation of Jupiter?
[Note: the embedded version here shows it as two separate animations. Go to the YouTube page and you’ll see a 3D label at the bottom of the player. Click that, and you can set the animation to be red/green or lots of other options. Currently, I can’t seem to embed the video that way, so again I urge you to go to the YouTube page.]
This is from Chris Owen, an amateur astronomer equipped with a 25 cm (10″) Newtonian ‘scope (the same kind I had for about 20 years!). The animation shows Jupiter over the course of about 2.5 hours, with one exposure taken every five minutes. You can also watch Europa and Io, two of Jupiter’s big moons, orbiting the planet as well. He created the animation straight, then converted it to 3D. You can see the original on his DeviantArt page — that’s a 3 Mb image, which is why I didn’t embed it, but click it to see because it’s cool.
I like the 3D version; you really get a sense that Jupiter is a ball, and it’s nifty to be able to see the two moons as being farther away than the planet itself, proven positively by seeing Europa physically go behind Jupiter as it orbits. Note too that these observations were made last year, before the Southern Equatorial Belt disappeared.
While these animations are a bit of fun, I suspect they will actually give people more of a sense that these objects aren’t just points of light in the sky, but worlds. I’m a fan of things that give people a deeper connection to the Universe, so I really like these anaglyphs!
I’ve already posted some beautiful closeups of Phobos, a moon of Mars, taken by the Mars Express space probe, after the European Space Agency aimed the spacecraft at the tiny moon. The closeups are beautiful, but now the ESA has posted a stunning full-body shot of Phobos:
[As usual, click the pix to embiggen.]
The resolution is an amazing 9 meters (30 feet!) per pixel. Clearly, Phobos has been through a lot. Mars orbits near the inner edge of the asteroid belt, which may explain how battered its surface is. The grooves were once thought to be ripples from a big impact that created the whopping crater Stickney (not seen in this view, but you can see it really well here), but are now thought to be from boulders rolling around in the low gravity of the moon, perhaps ejected rocks from various impacts landing back down in the feeble gravity.
Note the one winding path going from the upper left to lower right: that looks very much like a boulder bounced its way across the surface! The curvy path is an indication of the changing gravity field of Phobos: it’s not a smooth sphere, but a lumpy potato, so the surface gravity — what you’d think of as "down" if you were standing there — changes greatly depending on position.
They also put together this stunning 3D anaglyph. You can really see the depth of the craters and grooves on the surface. Run, don’t walk, to get a pair of red/green glasses for this one! Phobos really pops out of the screen. The depth and clarity of the 3D is amazing!
This pass of the moon was designed to obtain as much scientific data as possible before the launch of the Russian mission called Phobos-Grunt, which will land on the moon and send a sample of its surface back to Earth for study. Phobos looks an awful lot like an asteroid itself, and its origin is still something of a mystery. More data like these — and obtaining a sample of its surface material! — may clear up its story once and for all.
Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to hang out near the Cassini Saturn spacecraft and get the same view it does, then put on your red/green glasses and check out this anaglyph of the moon Prometheus:
Mmmm, threedeealicious. Click to enjovianate.
Prometheus is a bit weird. OK, it’s a lot weird. It’s an irregularly-shaped elongated spud of a moon, measuring about 119 x 87 x 61 km (71 x 52 x 37 miles) in size. The long axis always points toward Saturn due to tides; basically the change in Saturn’s gravity from the front end of Prometheus to the back end acts like a stretching force on the moon, keeping it aligned. The tip on the right always points toward Saturn, and the long side we see in the image is the leading half of the moon, always facing ahead into the direction it orbits. Think of it as facing into the wind if that helps any.
Prometheus is a shepherd satellite, meaning its orbit gets it near Saturn’s F ring, where it helps keep the ring particles in place. It does this along with Pandora, another smallish moon. Prometheus orbits Saturn inside the F ring. When it gets close to the ring, it gives a little bit of its orbital energy to any ring particles that are on the inside edge of the ring, which boosts them to a slightly higher, slower orbit. Pandora does the opposite; it orbits outside the ring, and it steals energy from ring particles on the outside edge, which drops them into a slightly lower, faster orbit. Together, the two moons shepherd the F ring particles, corralling them and keeping the ring narrow. The animation shows the effects of Prometheus on the inner edge of the ring.
Just so you know, I think this is one of the coolest things ever. Shepherding moons were theoretically discussed for a long time, but we didn’t have any evidence of them until Voyager swept past Saturn a few decades ago, and now Cassini has the chance to study them in detail. It’s such a weird thing, and there it is playing out in the solar system for us to examine! It’s a good reminder that Nature is sneaky, and a lot more clever than we are. I’m glad we’re clever enough to catch up with it, too.