Dance of Saturn’s Auroras. The first set of images by Hubble shows an active aurora dancing around Saturn’s north pole on April 5. Next follows a quiet time from late April to mid-May. The aurora flares up again from May 20.
If I had my way there would always be a space probe orbiting every planet in the solar system. You just can’t beat the box seat views. NASA just released new photos and a movie of Saturn’s auroras taken in tandem by the Hubble Space Telescope and Cassini orbiter.
Ultraviolet and infrared images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and Hubble Space Telescope show active and quiet auroras at Saturn’s north and south poles. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Colorado/Central Arizona College and NASA/ESA/University of Leicester and NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Lancaster University
The Hubble took in wide views from Earth orbit of the ringed world’s north polar auroras in ultraviolet light while the orbiter photographed the show up close in ultraviolet, infrared and visible light last April and May. During that time the sun was very active, sending gusts of solar wind in Saturn’s direction. As you watch the video you can see that Saturn’s auroras are as changeable as Earth’s as they respond to bursts in the solar wind.
This is how the aurora would look to the human eye on Saturn. The display was photographed by Cassini on Nov. 29, 2010. Saturn’s atmosphere is dominated by hydrogen which gives off red and purple light when excited by high speed particles arriving from the sun. The streaks are stars that trailed during the time exposure. This particular aurora was 870 miles (1,400 km) high. Credit: NASA
The Cassini and Hubble photos are taken at wavelengths not visible with the human eye and are shown in false color. If you could see them for real, Saturn’s auroras would look like curtains with red at the bottom and purple at top. Earth’s are green and red due to the emission of light from oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the upper atmosphere. Hydrogen dominates the ringed planet’s atmosphere; when energized by gusty solar winds, the atoms release light of different colors.
Earlier photo by the Hubble Space Telescope of Saturn in ultraviolet light showing activity at both poles. Credit: NASA/ESA
“The movie also shows one persistent bright patch of the aurora rotating in lockstep with the orbital position of Saturn’s moon Mimas. While previous images had shown an intermittent auroral bright spot magnetically linked to the moon Enceladus, the new movie suggests another Saturn moon can influence the light show as well,” according to the NASA press release.
A question that remains to be answered is why the upper atmospheres of the gas giant planets Jupiter and Saturn are warmer than expected considering how far they are from the sun. The new images are helping scientists understand how and where auroras play a role in raising the heat.
The big picture in the southern sky this Saturday morning at dawn shows the moon just a degree below Saturn with Mars at upper right in the south and Venus very low in the southeastern sky. Stellarium
A very nice, close pairing of Saturn and the waning 3rd quarter moon will happen Saturday morning at dawn. With late sunrises still the rule, this should be a very easy event to catch even through a parted window shade.
At closest, the two will be just two moon widths or 1 degree apart. Saturn’s in Libra the Scales, a dim constellation that precedes the brighter, more picturesque Scorpius the Scorpion. You can see part of the scorpion to the lower left of the duo. In particular, look for the bright red supergiant star Antares.
Both Libra and Scorpius are late spring-early summer constellations, visible at nightfall in May when the butterflies fly. It’s thoughts like these that lift our spirits on cold winter nights. I had the same feeling two nights ago when I happened to be out observing around 11:30 p.m. and caught sight of a “new” star flashing in the northeastern sky – Arcturus. If there were ever a vanguard of spring, this star is it. Arcturus creeps higher every frigid night until the snow is gone, the leaves turn out and jackets are shed.
Mobile phone shot of Venus in twilight Monday morning. Credit: Sean Cassidy
While you’re out enjoying Saturday’s conjunction (by the way, Saturday’s named for the Roman god Saturn) stay out a little longer to enjoy the reappearance of Venus low in the southeastern sky about 40 minutes before sunrise. Sean’s photo will help you know what to expect.
Now on to 2014 and a brand new host of celestial offerings. For the record, the majority of events listed are western hemisphere-centric and visible with the naked eye or binoculars. Times and dates are Central Standard or Central Daylight as noted. Clear skies!
1 – The very first day of the year offers the opportunity for North American observers to break their personal “youngest crescent moon” record. The moon will be just 12 hours old from the Midwest and 14 hour from the West Coast.
Watch for meteors from the Quadrantid shower before dawn on Jan. 3. Credit: John Chumack
3 – The peak of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower with a sharp maximum occurring at 1:30 p.m. (CST) on 1/3. Best time for viewing from North America will be 5-6:30 a.m. Jan. 3. The evening crescent moon will not interfere; eastern hemisphere skywatchers will have a dark sky at peak.
5 – Jupiter at opposition to the sun in Gemini and closest and brightest for the year. The planet rises at sunset and stays up all night. Great time for telescope viewing!
11 – Venus passes between the Earth and sun at inferior conjunction. For a week on either side of this date, you can see the planet as an exceedingly thin crescent in the daytime sky.
14 – Venus reappears very low in the eastern dawn sky 30 minutes before sunrise about this time
31 – Mercury at greatest elongation east of the sun and well-placed for viewing during evening twilight. Joined by a very thin crescent moon this day.
14 – Give that special someone a big kiss under tonight’s Valentine’s Day full moon
26 – Spectacular close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus at dawn as seen from Europe and Africa. The two will be separated by only 0.3 degrees.
10 – The waxing gibbous moon occults the 3.6 magnitude star Lambda Geminorum for North America this evening.
Demonstration and path of the Erigone occultation of Regulus
20 – Asteroid 167 Erigone occults the bright star Regulus for observers living in a 45-mile-wide (72 km) band from New York City into Ontario, Canada. For those in the center of the path, Regulus will blank out for 12 seconds. The whole event will be easily visible with the naked eye. More information HERE.
20 – Spring (vernal equinox) begins in the northern hemisphere at 11:57 a.m. (CST)
Ganymede and Io will cast their shadows on Jupiter’s cloud tops for North and South American skywatchers on March 23. Credit: Created with Claude Duplessis Meridian software
21 – Saturn and the waning gibbous moon in close conjunction only 0.3 degrees apart as seen from Europe and Africa. Western hemisphere observers will see them about 3 degrees apart.
22 – Venus reaches greatest elongation of 47 degrees west of the sun in the morning sky. Despite its great separation from the sun, the planet will stand only about 15 degrees high at sunrise from mid-northern latitudes.
23 – Double shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede occurs from about 9:10-35 p.m. CDT. Easy to see in a small telescope.
8 – Mars at opposition and closest to the Earth since 2008. March-April will be the best time to observe the planet, when it’s up all night in the constellation Virgo near the bright star Spica and shining at magnitude -1.5, nearly as bright as Sirius.
The first of two total lunar eclipse in 2014 happens overnight April 15-16. Credit: NASA
15 – Total eclipse of the moon! The moon slips into Earth’s inner shadow starting at 12:58 a.m. CDT with maximum eclipse at 2:46 a.m. More information HERE.
15 – Asteroid Vesta at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 5.5. It should be easily visible with the naked eye from a dark sky site.
22 – Peak of the annual Lyrid meteor shower this morning with rates of 10-20 meteors per hour. Look to the south in wee hours before dawn. Some interference from the last quarter moon.
29 – Annular solar eclipse visible from Australia, the Southern Indian Ocean and Antarctica. More information HERE.
6 – Early morning peak of the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower with rates of around 30 per hour. Each flash represents the burn-up of a small crumb left by Halley’s Comet.
10 – Saturn at opposition and brightest and closest for the year shining at magnitude 0. The rings will be inclined some 22 degrees to our line of sight, almost wide open. The planet will appear noticeably “out of round” in binoculars and present a beautiful sight in any size telescope.
24 - Possible big-time meteor shower from comet 209P/LINEAR when Earth passes through dust trails it deposited a century ago. Expect a peak between 2-3 a.m. (CST) with rates of 100+ per hour possible. No interference from the morning crescent moon.
25 – Mercury at greatest elongation east of the sun and easily visible low in the northwestern sky during evening twilight for observers in mid-northern latitudes.
3 – Triple shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede from 18:05 – 19:44 Greenwich time. Eastern Europe is favored. Not visible from the U.S.
21 – Start of summer (summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere at 12:51 a.m. CDT
Venus and the thin crescent at dawn on June 24. Stellarium
21 and for several days around this time – The International Space Station remains in sunlight throughout its orbit for northern hemisphere observers allowing us to see it on multiple passes throughout the night.
24 – Close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus at dawn. With the moon so close you can use it to spot the planet even after sunrise.
5 – First quarter moon and Mars in conjunction less than a degree apart at dusk.
5 – Asteroids Ceres and Vesta – targets of NASA’s Dawn Mission – are less than 1/5 degree apart in Virgo during early evening hours. A rare event!
12 – The first of three “Super Moons” of 2014. The moon reaches perigee, closest to Earth, only 21 hours before it’s full and will appear slightly larger than a typical full moon.
29 – Peak of the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower with a maximum of 20 per hour after midnight.
10 – Biggest Full Moon of the year! The moon turns full at 1:09 p.m. CDT. Nine minutes earlier it will have arrived at its closest point to Earth in 2014 of 221,765 miles (356,896 km).
12-13 – Peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower with rates of around 60-80 per hour. Spoiled this year by a bright moon just two days past full.
Comet Oukaimeden may glow around 8th magnitude in late August 2014 when it rises with the winter stars before dawn. Stellarium
18 – Spectacular close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in the morning sky. They’ll be just 1/4 degree apart as seen from Europe and slightly wider by the time the pair rises for North and South American observers.
23 – Beautiful grouping of the thin crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus in the morning sky
25 – Mars and Saturn just 3.4 degrees apart in conjunction in the evening sky
27 – Comet C/2013 Oukaimeden should be within reach of binoculars in the morning sky near Orion.
29 – Neptune at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 7.8 in Aquarius
5 – Venus passes just 0.7 degrees north of Leo’s brightest star Regulus this morning in the east before sunrise.
8 – The final Super Moon of 2014 occurs 22 hours after perigee
22 – First day of fall (autumnal equinox) begins at 9:29 p.m. CDT in the northern hemisphere
Diagram show the moon’s path through Earth inner umbral shadow during the Oct. 8 total lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA
7 – Uranus at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 5.7 in Pisces
8 – Total eclipse of the moon, the second visible from the U.S. this year. Partial eclipse begins at 4:15 a.m. CDT with totality occurring from 5:25 – 6:24 a.m. Only the East Coast will miss a small portion of this eclipse. More information HERE.
19 – Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring encounters Mars. It will pass close enough that the coma may envelop the planet with a potential meteor storm to boot. Mars will be 151 million miles from Earth at the time and located in the constellation Ophiuchus and visible low in the southwestern sky at dusk.
18 – Comet C/2012 K1 PANSTARRS should be nearing peak brightness of magnitude 5.5. Mid-northern latitude observers can watch for it low in the southern sky in Puppis before dawn.
22 – The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks this morning with up to 25 meteors per hour visible. With the moon a day before new, dark skies will rule.
Diagram showing the visibility of the Oct. 23 partial solar eclipse. Credit: NASA
23 – Partial solar eclipse visible across the U.S. and Canada during late afternoon hours. At maximum for the central U.S. about half the sun will be covered by the moon. Click HERE for more information.
1 – Mercury reaches greatest elongation west of the sun and shines brightly at magnitude -0.5 in the morning sky for skywatchers in mid-northern latitudes. Best morning appearance of the year.
17 – Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. This year is an off-year for the Leonids with only 10-15 meteors visible per hour. Glare from the thick waning crescent moon will interfere somewhat.
7 – Double shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Io occurs from 10:18 – 10:27 p.m. CST. They shadows will be on exactly opposite sides of the planet.
14 – Peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the richest and most reliable meteor showers with rates topping 100 per hour. Expect maximum activity overnight Dec. 13-14. Some interference from the last quarter moon after midnight.
21 – Start of winter (winter solstice) at 5:03 p.m. CST
If you know of an important event that I may have missed, please drop me a line at email@example.com
Tomorrow morning Dec. 29, 2013, Mars will be in conjunction less than a degree south of the double star Gamma in Virgo. You can enjoy the naked eye view or use your telescope to split the star into two equally bright components. The map shows the sky around 6 a.m. CST or 1.5 – 2 hours before sunrise. Stellarium
Mars will slide only 3/4 of a degree south of the striking double star Gamma Virginis tomorrow morning. Also known as Porrima, the close proximity of star and planet will certainly get your attention if you’re willing to risk the winter chill. They’re ideally placed too – high in the southern sky before the start of dawn.
If you have any trouble finding this temporary “double”, just follow the celestial steppingstones of crescent moon, Saturn and Spica to lead you there.
Porrima is a true double star where each component revolves around the pair’s common center of gravity. They complete an orbit in 169 years. Credit: Damian Peach
Right now, Porrima’s two equally bright stars (both are magnitude 3.6) are separated by 2 arc seconds. To split them apart you’ll need a 3-inch (80mm) or larger scope magnifying around 150x. They’re a beautiful sight – two tiny, close set pearls glimmering in black velvet.
While you’re at it, don’t miss looking at nearby Mars as well as Saturn and the lunar crescent. Heck, they’re all laid out for us like a four-course meal.
Diagram showing the orbit of the secondary companion around the primary star in the Gamma Virginis double. The two were too close together to split in any but the largest telescopes in 2005. Since then they’ve been opening up. Look for the pair to be approximately north-south of one another in your telescope. Credit: www.dibonsmith.com
Porrima’s stellar twins are similar to the sun but hotter and nearly identical in size. They go around each other every 169 years in an elliptical orbit that cyclically brings them closer together and farther apart as seen from Earth. Closest approach happened in 2005 when the duo was separated by the same distance Jupiter is from the sun or about 500 million miles. When farthest apart, around the year 2080, they’ll be twice Pluto’s distance from each other.
Right now the duo is “opening up” and easier to see in small scopes, but you’ll need to use higher magnifications. Let us know how you fare.
Ornament hanging from a Christmas tree? Cassini peers up at Saturn’s south polar region from 44 degrees beneath the ring plane last July. The black, curved stripes are the shadows of the rings on the planet’s atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL
Merry Christmas everyone! It’s been a joy to share the sky with you the past year. Thank you for sharing your comments, observations and photos. I hope this day finds you with family, friends and maybe even the stars.
We’ll soon step into a brand new year filled with eclipses – two lunars and a partial solar – an extremely close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, a Mars opposition and much more. In a couple days I’ll have a complete month-by-month list of upcoming astronomical highlights.
Seen from STEREO-B, Earth, Jupiter and Venus line up inside a 2-degree-wide circle in conjunction on Dec. 24. Jupiter and the Earth were especially close – just 0.4 degrees or slightly less than one full width apart. Credit: NASA
Did you know that today the Earth is in conjunction with Venus and Jupiter today? Too bad you have to floating in outer space to see it. NASA’s STEREO-B probe, which looks back toward Earth from the opposite side of the sun, photographed a very compact grouping of the three worlds on Christmas Eve.
The three planets early this Christmas morning as seen by STEREO-B. Credit: NASA
Today they’re still very close with Jupiter practically on top of Venus. Coincidentally, a similar near-overlap of the two planets (as seen from Earth) on June 17, 2 B.C. was one possibility for the famed Star of Bethlehem we explored in yesterday’s blog.
Saturn’s largest moon Titan slowly covers smaller Tethys with its prominent Odysseus Crater in Nov. 2009. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Feeling hemmed in by winter? Held back by cold? Time to consider a Web vacation to Saturn’s largest moon Titan. One thing’s for sure, the place has a lot of atmosphere. Thickly cloaked in a blanket of air composed of 98% nitrogen, Titan’s atmosphere is so dense (1.45 times that of Earth) and gravity so weak, that humans could fly by donning a pair of homemade wings and flapping like a bird. Since many of us have dreamed of flying on our own power, who would have guessed Titan would be the closest outpost to offer that opportunity.
In this photo taken in near-infrared light, we see Saturn’s ring plane cutting across the foreground. Dark land features are visible on Titan’s surface beneath this haze. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Titan spans 3,200 miles (5,150 km) across or almost exactly 1 1/2 times the size of the moon. Besides nitrogen, the atmosphere also contains 1.4% methane and a smattering of hydrocarbons like ethane and propane. Ultraviolet light from the sun cooks these into an orange, smoggy moon-wide haze; to image the surface requires infrared cameras and telescopes that can “see” in haze-busting infrared light.
Low winter sunlight catches the edge of Titan’s south polar vortex in this photo taken by the Cassini space probe in July and recently released by NASA. Click for a closeup color photo. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Today it’s summer in the orange moon’s northern hemisphere and winter in the south. During Cassini’s long stay at Saturn (since 2004), it’s seen seasonal changes on Titan. When it first arrived, a hood of high clouds named the north polar vortex, swirled above the north pole. A similar hood – the south polar vortex – recently formed over the south polar region. Scientists believe it’s related to the beginning of southern winter.
Watch the south polar vortex spin in this animation compiled of Cassini photos. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
The vortex spins around once every 9 hours hours, some 42 times faster than Titan’s 16-day rotation period, floats above the regular cloud deck, high enough for its curving edge to catch the last of the sun’s rays. A beautiful sight!
According to NASA, scientists think these new images show open cell convection – air sinks in the center of the cell and rises at the edge, forming clouds at cell edges. No one knows exactly what creates the vortex,but it does appear to be a seasonal feature.
Besides a thick atmosphere, methane clouds and hydrocarbon haze, Titan dazzles with thousands of lakes filled with liquid natural gas – ethane and methane – that range in size from pond-size to larger than Lake Superior. Only Titan’s extremely cold surface temperature of -290 F (-179 C) and substantial atmospheric pressure can turn what are normally gases on Earth into liquids and keep them that way.
Clouds cross the sky above lakes filled with ethane and methane near Titan’s north pole in this image/diagram made by Cassini. The Kraken Sea is as large as Europe’s Caspian Sea. Credit: NASA
A most fascinating world where humans might one day fly of their accord and even ply boats across hydrocarbon lakes beneath a peach-colored sky.
A very nice conjunction/pairing of the moon, Mercury and Saturn happens tomorrow morning Dec. 1. This map shows the sky facing southeast 45 minutes before sunrise. Stellarium
Feeling well rested? If your answer is yes, I invite you to spend some of your sleep surplus watching a wonderful celestial gathering tomorrow morning. Mercury, Saturn and a very thin crescent moon will bunch up low in the southeastern sky at mid-dawn.
The crescent, just a day and half before new, passes almost directly between the two planets some 2 degrees below Saturn and 3 degrees to the right of Mercury. To see the trio, find a place with a wide-open vista to the east-southeast and start looking about an hour before sunrise.
As always, bring binoculars to help out in case Mercury’s too low to see at first. A little bit of optical aid will also show the full outline of the moon more clearly. This dim part of the lunar globe is illuminated by sunlight reflected off Earth or earthshine.
ISS astronauts, including guitar-playing Chris Hadfield, in festive spirits last Christmas. Credit: NASA
The International Space Station (ISS) got a visit this week from the Russian cargo craft Progress 53 Friday. The unmanned delivery vehicle ferried 2.9 tons of food, fuel and supplies for the station crew, including 1,763 pounds of propellant, 48 pounds of oxygen, 57 pounds of air, 925 pounds of water and 3,119 pounds of spare parts, experiment hardware and holiday gifts.
Last month, the ISS cruised the morning skies. Now it’s back in the evening for many locations and easier to see at dusk. But only for a few brief nights. I’ve listed all evening pass times for the Duluth, Minn. region below, but you can always find out when and where it flies over your house simply by dropping by Heavens-Above or typing in your zip code on Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys page.
The station travels from west to east and can take anywhere from a couple minutes to 5 minutes to cross the sky depending on its angle to the horizon. A small telescope magnifying around 40x will easily show the shape of the ISS if you’re quick enough to track it.
* Tonight Nov. 30 starting at 7:35 p.m. Low, brief pass above the planet Venus in the southwestern sky. Maximum altitude: 33 degrees. One fist held at arm’s length equals 10 degrees.
* Sunday Dec. 1 at 6:46 p.m. Bright pass from southwest to southeast. Max. altitude: 42 degrees
* Monday Dec. 2 at 7:35 p.m. Very low pass across the western sky. Max. altitude: 14 degrees
* Tuesday Dec. 3 at 6:45 p.m. Travels from southwest to north-northeast. Low. Max. altitude: 32 degrees
Nice! Watching Comet ISON rise along with Mercury and Saturn, outside the Isaac Newton Telescope, Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos on a mountaintop in La Palma Saturday Nov. 23 at 6:45 Greenwich Time. Details: Canon 7D, 70mm f/4, 10 seconds at ISO 400. Credit: Alan Fitzsimmons
Another beauty. This one taken from a mountaintop observatory with a 300mm lens by Juan Carlos Casado of Spain on Sunday Nov. 24. He “stacked” or composited four photos to enhance the brightness of the comet against twilight. Click to enlarge.
Comet ISON is now next to impossible for many of us to see as it competes with morning twilight and horizon haze. Some of you tried for the comet Saturday morning without success, but those in more tropical latitudes had the edge. Two contributors combined the best of two worlds: low latitude and a view from a mountaintop! The pictures they took show ISON with a pinpoint head and thin tail glowing at about magnitude 3.
Comet ISON will now be under constant view by NASA’s sunwatching spacecraft. This picture was taken on Nov. 23 at 3 a.m. CST by a coronagraph on the STEREO A (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) and shows the comet, Mercury and Earth. The sun is hidden off to the right; gases expelled from its corona spread to the left. Click to see more photos. Credit: NASA
NASA’s STEREO Ahead spacecraft has also been shooting high resolution images of the comet as it tracks across the same field of view as Earth and Mercury. We should be able to follow ISON in good resolution via space telescopes and coronagraphs (instruments designed to block the glaring solar disk) all the way through the end of the month, when it finally return to view at dawn.
Venus in a blue sky just 5 minutes after sunset on Nov. 23, 2013. Credit: Bob King
As we await ISON’s next move, five bright planets await your eyes the next clear night. We’ll begin with Venus. Yesterday it took little effort to spot this sapphire just five minutes after sunset a fist and a half high in the southwestern sky. A half hour later even those who pay little attention to the sky couldn’t have missed it. On Dec. 10 Venus reaches its greatest brilliancy for the year.
Jupiter comes up around 9 p.m. local time in Gemini the Twins. Because we see it against a dark sky, the planet appears almost as bright as Venus but it’s really about 6 times fainter.
You can use Jupiter to help you connect the “dots” to Gemini the Twins, a constellation with two bright stars representing the brothers Castor and Pollux. The pair lies just to the upper left of Jupiter. Once you’ve spotted them, follow the trickles of fainter stars to the right of each star fill in the rest of the constellation.
Jupiter clears the trees and buildings around 9 p.m. local time. Watch for it in the dual stick-figure constellation Gemini the Twins across from Orion. Stellarium
Next up is Mars which rises in the constellation Virgo around 1 a.m. My recommendation? Don’t bother with it until an hour before sunrise when the planet’s high in the southeastern sky above Mercury and Saturn. That way you get to see all three morning planets at the somewhat reasonable hour of 6 a.m.
To find Mercury, Saturn and Mars at dawn, look high in the southeast for Mars. Reach your balled fist to the sky and slide 3 fists down to Spica and another two fists to Mercury and Saturn. Stellarium
Find a place with a wide view to the southeast. Mars is easy to see by color and brightness, but Mercury may require binoculars at first until you know just where to look. Saturn will appear dimmest in part because it’s so low in twilight.
On Tuesday morning Nov. 26, the two planets will have switched positions and still be close.
Tomorrow morning the two will be very close together and nearly in conjunction. The time of closest separation is 7 p.m. CST Monday when neither is visible from the western hemisphere. Skywatchers in the eastern hemisphere will see them at dawn on the 26th separated by only 1/3 of one degree.
Cropped view of the new natural color Saturn pictures by Cassini showing Earth and the moon. Click for complete version. Credit: NASA/ JPL-Caltech/SSI
Stop it NASA, you’re killing me. More amazing Cassini pictures of Earth seen from Saturn? Yes! The agency released new photos in natural color today showing the ringed planet backlit by the sun and accompanied by seven of its moons, Venus, Mars and the Earth.
“In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Full view of Saturn, its rings, seven moons and three planets shot by Cassini on July 19, 2013. Click for giant version.
141 individual images were assembled into a high-resolution mosaic that with one click will fill your entire screen. The final result sweeps 404,880 miles (651,591 km) across Saturn and its inner ring system all the way out to the E ring, the planet’s second outermost ring.
The E ring shines like a halo around Saturn and the inner rings. Because it’s so tenuous, it’s best seen with light shining from behind it the same way sunlight illuminates your breath on cold mornings. Geyser-like sprays of ice particles from the moon Enceladus (left side of hi-res image) continually resupply the ring; you can even see the sprays by zooming in.
Cropped portion of the photo shows Mars and Venus as starlike points of light above and below the E-ring. The moon Janus and associated Janus ring are also shown. Click to enlarge. Credit:
All the photos were taken during the July 19 “Wave at Saturn” campaign when earthlings waved and shouted “cheese” at Cassini as it snapped pictures for the panorama almost 900 million miles away. While beautiful to look at, the image also provides scientists with a bonanza of information about ring structures only visible when the sun shines through them instead of reflecting off the rings.
“The E ring in particular shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus’ gravity,” explained Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. Curious clumps are also seen in the A-ring near the bottom of the mosaic.
Click HERE to relish several versions of the new Saturn images and learn more about what they reveal.
(Note to class: We are “GO” 4:30 a.m. Weds. Nov. 13 for Comet ISON viewing!)
Mercury is now visible low in the southeastern sky below Virgo’s brightest star Spica. The planet will rise higher in the coming days and get easier to see. To find it, sweep the area to the lower left of Spica 5-10 degrees above the horizon with binoculars. This map shows the sky about 50 minutes before sunrise facing southeast. All maps: Stellarium
As the arc of dawn swelled in the eastern sky, we thought we were done observing. Jim, Eric, Greg and I had come to this dark place Sunday morning to look for comets in our telescopes. Clouds were causing trouble, but we exploited every starry hole we could find, eventually adding Jupiter, Mars and double stars to our list.
Comet ISON lines up with the planets Mercury and Saturn 5-10 degrees above the southeastern horizon on Nov. 23. Don’t take the comet’s appearance too literally. It’s hard to know how bright it will be on the date.
Then Mercury showed up. Sure enough, below Spica in Virgo, a tiny “star” winked between cloud banks barely bright enough to see with the naked eye. Binoculars made quick work of it, and through the telescope we saw a thick crescent made gooey by atmospheric turbulence.
Mercury pairs up with Saturn on the 25th and 26th. The wire-thin crescent moon joins the crew on Dec. 1.
Mercury enters a traffic jam of early dawn sights: comets ISON, Lovejoy, Encke and the planets Mars and Jupiter. Any more and I think I’ll bust. But there will be more. Much more. As Comet ISON speeds sunward toward its close with our star on Nov. 28, it will join Mercury and the planet Saturn. Once ISON’s departed the scene, Mercury and Saturn will have a close conjunction on Nov. 25 and 26. And it’s capped off finally on December with the crescent moon passes between the two planets before sunrise. Wow! I’m out of breath and I haven’t even stepped outside yet.