Total Lunar Eclipse

A total lunar eclipse will take place on October 8, 2014. It is the latter of two total lunar eclipses in 2014, and the second in a tetrad (four total lunar eclipses in series).

Lunar eclipses occur when the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, however, for a total lunar eclipse to occur, the Moon and Earth have to be on the same orbital plane with the Sun — this is known as a syzygy. During a total lunar eclipse, the Moon travels completely into the Earth’s shadow (umbra). Even though the Moon is immersed in the Earth’s shadow, indirect sunlight will still reach the Moon. As sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere it gets absorbed and then radiated out (scattered). The atmosphere filters out most of the blue-colored light. What’s left over is the orange- and red-colored light. From the Moon’s perspective the Earth’s edge appears to glow bright orange or red. This red-colored light passes through our atmosphere without getting scattered, projecting indirect, reddish light onto the Moon.

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Credit: NASA/SVS

Moon Phase and Libration

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been in orbit around the Moon since the summer of 2009. Its laser altimeter (LOLA) and camera (LROC) are recording the rugged, airless lunar terrain in exceptional detail, making it possible to visualize the Moon with unprecedented fidelity.

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 Credit: NASA/GSFC/Ernie Wright (USRA)

Moon Phase and Libration

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been in orbit around the Moon since the summer of 2009. Its laser altimeter (LOLA) and camera (LROC) are recording the rugged, airless lunar terrain in exceptional detail, making it possible to visualize the Moon with unprecedented fidelity.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Ernie Wright (USRA)

Jupiter’s Irregular Satellites

The planet Jupiter has 67 confirmed moons. This gives it the largest retinue of moons with “reasonably secure” orbits of any planet in the Solar System. In fact, Jupiter and its moons are like a miniature solar system with the inner moons orbiting faster than the others. Eight of Jupiter’s moons are regular satellites, with prograde and nearly circular orbits that are not greatly inclined with respect to Jupiter’s equatorial plane. The remainder of Jupiter’s moons are irregular satellites, whose prograde and retrograde orbits are much farther from Jupiter and have high inclinations and eccentricities. These moons were probably captured by Jupiter from solar orbits. There are 17 recently discovered irregular satellites that have not yet been named.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Lowell Observatory/J. Spencer/JHU-APL

Jupiter’s Irregular Satellites

The planet Jupiter has 67 confirmed moons. This gives it the largest retinue of moons with “reasonably secure” orbits of any planet in the Solar System. In fact, Jupiter and its moons are like a miniature solar system with the inner moons orbiting faster than the others. Eight of Jupiter’s moons are regular satellites, with prograde and nearly circular orbits that are not greatly inclined with respect to Jupiter’s equatorial plane. The remainder of Jupiter’s moons are irregular satellites, whose prograde and retrograde orbits are much farther from Jupiter and have high inclinations and eccentricities. These moons were probably captured by Jupiter from solar orbits. There are 17 recently discovered irregular satellites that have not yet been named.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Lowell Observatory/J. Spencer/JHU-APL

Stereoscopic View of the Lunar Surface

Apollo 11 carried a number of cameras for collecting data and recording various aspects of the mission, including a 35-mm surface close-up stereoscopic camera. It was designed for the highest possible resolution of a 3-inch square area with a flash illumination and fixed distance. Photography was accomplished by holding the camera on a walking stick against the object to be photographed. The camera was powered by four nickel-cadmium batteries that operated the motor-drive mechanism and an electronic flash strobe light.

There are many details seen in these pictures that were not known previously or that could not be seen with similar definition by astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin in their careful inspection of the lunar surface. The photographs taken on the mission with the close-up stereoscopic camera are of outstanding quality and show in detail the nature of the lunar surface material. From the photographs, information can be derived about the small-scale lunar surface geologic features and about processes occurring on the surface.

Image Credit: John Lloyd/NASA

July 20, 1969: One Giant Leap For Mankind

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin descending the ladder and stepping onto the Moon.  Neil Armstrong's “one small step” onto the lunar surface was actually a 3-foot jump down off the lunar module’s ladder to the ground.

Credit: NASA

July 20, 1969: One Giant Leap For Mankind

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin descending the ladder and stepping onto the Moon.  Neil Armstrong's “one small step” onto the lunar surface was actually a 3-foot jump down off the lunar module’s ladder to the ground.

Credit: NASA

Titan’s Atmosphere

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found

Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material. Much as with Venus prior to the Space Age, the dense, opaque atmosphere prevented understanding of Titan’s surface until new information accumulated with the arrival of the Cassini–Huygens mission in 2004, including the discovery of liquid hydrocarbon lakes in Titan’s polar regions.

The atmosphere is largely nitrogen; minor components lead to the formation of methane and ethane clouds and nitrogen-rich organic smog. Titan’s lower gravity means that its atmosphere is far more extended than Earth’s and about 1.19 times as massive. It supports opaque haze layers that block most visible light from the Sun and other sources and renders Titan’s surface features obscure. Atmospheric methane creates a greenhouse effect on Titan’s surface, without which Titan would be far colder. Conversely, haze in Titan’s atmosphere contributes to an anti-greenhouse effect by reflecting sunlight back into space, cancelling a portion of the greenhouse effect warming and making its surface significantly colder than its upper atmosphere.

Titan’s clouds, probably composed of methane, ethane or other simple organics, are scattered and variable, punctuating the overall haze.The findings of the Huygens probe indicate that Titan’s atmosphere periodically rains liquid methane and other organic compounds onto its surface. Clouds typically cover 1% of Titan’s disk, though outburst events have been observed in which the cloud cover rapidly expands to as much as 8%. One hypothesis asserts that the southern clouds are formed when heightened levels of sunlight during the southern summer generate uplift in the atmosphere, resulting in convection. This explanation is complicated by the fact that cloud formation has been observed not only after the southern summer solstice but also during mid-spring.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s Rings and Enceladus

Saturn’s most distinctive feature is the thousands of rings that orbit the planet. Despite the fact that the rings look like continuous hoops of matter encircling the giant planet, each ring is actually made of tiny individual particles. Saturn’s rings consist largely of water ice mixed with smaller amounts of dust and rocky matter. Data from the Cassini spacecraft indicate that the environment around the rings is like an atmosphere, composed principally of molecular oxygen.

The ring system is divided into 5 major components: the G, F, A, B, and C rings, listed from outside to inside (but in reality, these major divisions are subdivided into thousands of individual ringlets). The F and G rings are thin and difficult to see, while the A, B, and C rings are broad and easily visible. The large gap between the A ring and and the B ring is called the Cassini division. One of Saturn’s moons, namely; Enceladus is the source of Saturn’s E-ring. The moon’s geyser-like jets create a gigantic halo of ice, dust, and gas that helps feed Saturn’s E ring.

Enceladus has a profound effect on Saturn and its environment. It’s the only moon in our solar system known to substantially influence the chemical composition of its parent planet. The whole magnetic environment of Saturn is weighed down by the material spewing from Enceladus, which becomes plasma — a gas of electrically charged particles.  This plasma, which creates a donut-shaped cloud around Saturn, is then snatched by Saturn’s A-ring, which acts like a giant sponge where the plasma is absorbed. 

Credit: , NASA/JPL/SSI

The Cassini spacecraft’s narrow angle camera captured Saturn’s moon Rhea as it gradually slipped into the planet’s shadow – an event known as “ingress”. 
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The Cassini spacecraft’s narrow angle camera captured Saturn’s moon Rhea as it gradually slipped into the planet’s shadow – an event known as “ingress”.

Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Our Two Faced Moon

Because the Moon is tidally locked, it was not until 1959 that the farside was first imaged by the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft (hence the Russian names for prominent farside features, such as Mare Moscoviense). And what a surprise -­ unlike the widespread maria on the nearside, basaltic volcanism was restricted to a relatively few, smaller regions on the farside, and the battered highlands crust dominated. Of course the cause of the farside/nearside asymmetry is an interesting scientific question. Past studies have shown that the crust on the farside is thicker, but why is the farside crust thicker? This mystery is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem.
Now scientists may have solved the 55-year-old mystery. The general consensus on the moon’s origin is that it probably formed shortly after the Earth and was the result of a Mars-sized object hitting Earth with a glancing, but devastating impact. This Giant Impact Hypothesis suggests that the outer layers of the Earth and the object were flung into space and eventually formed the moon. The moon, being much smaller than Earth cooled more quickly. Because the Earth and the moon were tidally locked from the beginning, the still hot Earth — more than 2500 degrees Celsius — radiated towards the near side of the moon. The far side, away from the boiling Earth, slowly cooled, while the Earth-facing side was kept molten creating a temperature gradient between the two halves. This gradient was important for crustal formation on the moon. The moon’s crust has high concentrations of aluminum and calcium, elements that are very hard to vaporize.
Aluminum and calcium would have preferentially condensed in the atmosphere of the cold side of the moon because the nearside was still too hot. Thousands to millions of years later, these elements combined with silicates in the moon’s mantle to form plagioclase feldspars, which eventually moved to the surface and formed the moon’s crust. The farside crust had more of these minerals and is thicker.
The moon has now completely cooled and is not molten below the surface. Earlier in its history, large meteoroids struck the nearside of the moon and punched through the crust, releasing the vast lakes of basaltic lava that formed the nearside maria that make up the man in the moon. When meteoroids struck the farside of the moon, in most cases the crust was too thick and no magmatic basalt welled up, creating the dark side of the moon with valleys, craters and highlands, but almost no maria.

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser, Penn State/A’ndrea Elyse Messer

Our Two Faced Moon

Because the Moon is tidally locked, it was not until 1959 that the farside was first imaged by the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft (hence the Russian names for prominent farside features, such as Mare Moscoviense). And what a surprise -­ unlike the widespread maria on the nearside, basaltic volcanism was restricted to a relatively few, smaller regions on the farside, and the battered highlands crust dominated. Of course the cause of the farside/nearside asymmetry is an interesting scientific question. Past studies have shown that the crust on the farside is thicker, but why is the farside crust thicker? This mystery is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem.

Now scientists may have solved the 55-year-old mystery. The general consensus on the moon’s origin is that it probably formed shortly after the Earth and was the result of a Mars-sized object hitting Earth with a glancing, but devastating impact. This Giant Impact Hypothesis suggests that the outer layers of the Earth and the object were flung into space and eventually formed the moon. The moon, being much smaller than Earth cooled more quickly. Because the Earth and the moon were tidally locked from the beginning, the still hot Earth — more than 2500 degrees Celsius — radiated towards the near side of the moon. The far side, away from the boiling Earth, slowly cooled, while the Earth-facing side was kept molten creating a temperature gradient between the two halves. This gradient was important for crustal formation on the moon. The moon’s crust has high concentrations of aluminum and calcium, elements that are very hard to vaporize.

Aluminum and calcium would have preferentially condensed in the atmosphere of the cold side of the moon because the nearside was still too hot. Thousands to millions of years later, these elements combined with silicates in the moon’s mantle to form plagioclase feldspars, which eventually moved to the surface and formed the moon’s crust. The farside crust had more of these minerals and is thicker.

The moon has now completely cooled and is not molten below the surface. Earlier in its history, large meteoroids struck the nearside of the moon and punched through the crust, releasing the vast lakes of basaltic lava that formed the nearside maria that make up the man in the moon. When meteoroids struck the farside of the moon, in most cases the crust was too thick and no magmatic basalt welled up, creating the dark side of the moon with valleys, craters and highlands, but almost no maria.

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser, Penn State/A’ndrea Elyse Messer

(Source: news.psu.edu)

The Moon sets over La Silla Observatory

Credit: ESO/B. Tafreshi

Why the Moon Landings Could Have Never Ever Been Faked

Ganymede and Callisto are similar in size and are made of a similar mixture of ice and rock, but data from the Galileo and Voyager spacecraft show that they look different at the surface and on the inside. Just like Earth and Venus, Ganymede and Callisto are twins, and understanding how they were born the same and grew up to be so different is of tremendous interest to planetary scientists.

Ganymede and Callisto’s evolutionary paths diverged about 3.8 billion years ago during the Late Heavy Bombardment, the phase in lunar history dominated by large impact events. Impacts during this period melted Ganymede so thoroughly and deeply that the heat could not be quickly removed. All of Ganymede’s rock sank to its center the same way that all the chocolate chips sink to the bottom of a melted carton of ice cream. Callisto received fewer impacts at lower velocities and avoided complete melting. Ganymede is closer to Jupiter and therefore is hit by twice as many icy impactors as Callisto, and the impactors hitting Ganymede have a higher average velocity.

Image Credit: NOAA/GSD

(Source: swri.org)

Fire and Ice

Saturn’s largest and second largest moons, Titan and Rhea, appear to be stacked on top of each other in this true-color scene from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Titan is likely differentiated into several layers with a 3,400-kilometre (2,100 mi) rocky center surrounded by several layers composed of different crystal forms of ice.Its interior may still be hot and there may be a liquid layer consisting of a “magma" composed of water and ammonia between the ice Ih crust and deeper ice layers made of high-pressure forms of ice.

Rhea is an ice-cold body of weak density (1.236 g/cm3), indicating that the moon consists of a rocky nucleus counting only for a third of the mass of Rhea, the rest being mainly some ice-cold water.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

Rhea: Saturn’s Mysterious Moon

Rhea, the second largest moon of Saturn, is a dirty snowball of rock and ice. The only moon with an oxygen atmosphere, thin though it may be, Rhea is one of the most heavily cratered satellites in the solar system.

A very faint oxygen atmosphere exists around Rhea, the first direct evidence of an oxygen atmosphere on a body other than Earth. The atmosphere is thin, with oxygen measuring about 5 trillion times less dense than that found on Earth. Oxygen could be released as the surface is irradiated by ions from Saturn’s magnetosphere. The source of the carbon dioxide is less clear, but could be the result of similar irradiation, or from dry ice much like comets.

On March 6, 2008, NASA announced that Rhea may have a tenuous ring system. This would mark the first discovery of rings about a moon. The rings’ existence was inferred by observed changes in the flow of electrons trapped by Saturn’s magnetic field as Cassini passed by Rhea. Dust and debris could extend out to Rhea’s Hill sphere, but were thought to be denser nearer the moon, with three narrow rings of higher density. The case for a ring was strengthened by the subsequent finding of the presence of a set of small ultraviolet-bright spots distributed along Rhea’s equator (interpreted as the impact points of deorbiting ring material).However, when Cassini made targeted observations of the putative ring plane from several angles, no evidence of ring material was found, but there’s still something around Rhea that is causing a strange, symmetrical structure in the charged-particle environment around Saturn’s second-largest moon.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI,Gordan Ugarkovic

Enceladus and Saturn

Cassini Narrow Angle camera (NAC) clear filter frame colorized to approximate the appearance of Saturn’s limb and emphasize Enceladus’ grayish color in contrast. 

Image credit: Gordan Ugarkovic

Enceladus and Saturn

Cassini Narrow Angle camera (NAC) clear filter frame colorized to approximate the appearance of Saturn’s limb and emphasize Enceladus’ grayish color in contrast.

Image credit: Gordan Ugarkovic