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The Day the Earth Smiled

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself).  At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic.  This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.
The dark side of Saturn, its bright limb, the main rings, the F ring, and the G and E rings are clearly seen; the limb of Saturn and the F ring are overexposed. The “breaks” in the brightness of Saturn’s limb are due to the shadows of the rings on the globe of Saturn, preventing sunlight from shining through the atmosphere in those regions.  The E and G rings have been brightened for better visibility.
Earth, which is 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side. An arrow indicates their location in the annotated version. (The two are clearly seen as separate objects in the accompanying narrow angle frame: PIA14949.) The other bright dots nearby are stars.
This is only the third time ever that Earth has been imaged from the outer solar system. The acquisition of this image, along with the accompanying composite narrow- and wide-angle image of Earth and the moon and the full mosaic from which both are taken, marked the first time that inhabitants of Earth knew in advance that their planet was being imaged. That opportunity allowed people around the world to join together in social events to celebrate the occasion.
The Curiosity Rover, with its tracks and landing site in Gale Crater.  Imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 27th 2013.

The planet where it rains rocks
The close proximity of COROT-7b to its star (just 1.6 million miles) keeps it gravitationally locked in place just as the moon is to the Earth, meaning the same side of always faces the star. As such, it stays very, very hot there (about 4,220 degrees Fahrenheit). That kind of heat vaporizes rocks, and that’s exactly what happens on COROT-7b. Using computer modeling, the team at Washington ran through four different scenarios with four different starting compositions (since the exact makeup of the planet is unknown) with the same result each time.
Just as water vaporizes in our atmosphere only to condense at higher, cooler altitudes and fall back to the Earth as rain, so do the sodium, potassium, silicon monoxide, magnesium, aluminum, calcium and iron of COROT-7b. When they condense, however, they condense into rock clouds that rain little pebbles of different types of rocks. What’s more, the type of rock is dependent on altitude. The atmosphere gets colder the higher up the rock vapor goes. Since each rock or mineral has a different boiling point, the materials with the highest boiling points will condense out at lower altitudes, while the ones with lower boiling points can rise higher as vapor before condensing back into rocks.
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Image credit: Ron Miller

Neptune, seen from the Keck Observatory in the infrared (wavelength 1.17-1.3 microns), 11 August 2004.  (Program ID N19N2.)

This blog’s Hubble week now moves into gifs from Hubble photos.  Here is Saturn and its southern aurora.  Photographed 8 January 2004 in the UV, proposal ID 10083.

borealis: Jovian aurora, photographed by Hubble Space Telescope, spring 2005.
Looking at the north pole of Jupiter. I believe that the bright dots at bottom left are the origins of magnetic flux tubes to Europa and Ganymede, and the bright streak at right is the link to Io.
From Visit 3 of Proposal 10140.
Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScl. Animation: AgeOfDestruction.

Uranus, photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope through various filters.  Of note is what appears to be a cloud centre-right; Uranus looked almost completely featureless in Voyager’s pictures, but at least at some wavelengths, there is something going on in the atmosphere. The rings are also clearly visible in the last few frames (892nm methane filter).  Assuming I made no interpretational blunders with HORIZONS data, Miranda is the small moon at the bottom of the frame, and Ariel is near the top.
Photographed 24 August 2006, Proposal ID 10805.


tick: Neptune and Triton, photographed 5 times by Hubble Space Telescope, August 2002.
Note that Triton has a retrograde orbit, opposite to the direction of the planet’s spin. More gifs. More Neptune. More Triton.
Contrast decreased for reasons of art.
[From Proposal 9393].
Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScl. Animation: AgeOfDestruction.

Seen through a methane band.

Last week, this Tumblr went on a Hubble binge.  This week: Keck!  (Yes, in a desperate bid to keep the daily updates going, I’ve started using ground-based observations.)  We start with Jupiter, seen from the Keck Observatory at Mauna Kea in Hawaii on 4 June 2010, at wavelengths of 1.95-2.3 microns (i.e., infrared).  The gif covers about 30 minutes of real time.  (Program ID C304N2L.)
What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.
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