Posts Tagged ‘Lights in the Dark’


April 29, 2015

I always thought it was remarkable that astronomers found little, bitty Pluto at all – and now we are getting color photos of Pluto and Charon.  Captured by Ralph and Alice – perfect.

plutocharon_colorPluto and Charon photographed by the cameras Ralph and Alice on the New Horizons spacecraft.

In a historic first – just one of many that will be made over the next several months, to be sure! – the New Horizons spacecraft captured its first color image of Pluto and its partner/satellite Charon on April 9 from a distance of 71 million miles – about equivalent to that between Venus and the Sun. The orange blobs above are the two worlds locked in an orbital dance a mere 12,200 miles apart… that’s 20 times less than the distance between Earth and the Moon!The image was captured with New Horizons’ “Ralph” instrument, a Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) built for the mission by Ball Aerospace (which is a spinoff of the same company that became famous in the U.S. for its glass canning jars.)

Ralph is one of six science instruments aboard New Horizons; it is paired with “Alice,” an ultraviolet imaging camera. (Think Ralph and Alice Kramden.) When New Horizons makes its close pass by Pluto and Charon on July 14 these cameras will capture details of the icy worlds like never before seen.


Ralph will be the main eyes for New Horizons during its July flyby. it will capture images of Pluto’s surface to a resolution of 250 meters (850 feet) per pixel and also be able to map surface temperatures as well as scan for the presence of nitrogen, water, and carbon monoxide.

“This is pure exploration; we’re going to turn points of light into a planet and a system of moons before your eyes!” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is flying to Pluto — the biggest, brightest and most complex of the dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt. This 21st century encounter is going to be an exploration bonanza unparalleled in anticipation since the storied missions of Voyager in the 1980s.”

Read more: Closing In on Pluto: An Interview with Principal Investigator Alan Stern

Traveling over 31,000 mph New Horizons is now within 1 AU of Pluto and Charon and getting closer every day, every hour, every second. This image is only a hint at what we’ll soon be seeing from this far-flung member of our planetary family!

Read more on the New Horizons mission site here.

This post is reblogged from Lights in the Dark – thanks.


What am I looking at?

February 22, 2015

This post is re-blogged from Lights in the Dark, with thanks.

There was no viewing of the event in my neck of the woods – it’s still snowing.

Three Worlds, One Shot: a February 2015 Conjunction Event

Conjunction of the Moon, Venus, and Mars on Feb. 20, 2015. © Jason Major.

Did you have clear skies last night? If so, you may have been able to catch the sight above: a conjunction of the crescent Moon and the planets Venus and Mars in the western sky!

I captured the photo above with a Nikon D7000 and a Sigma 150-500mm lens. Venus is the brighter object at left, Mars appears dimmer and redder above. Part of the Moon’s “dark side” can be seen due to Earthshine – sunlight reflected off Earth onto the Moon. (Sometimes romantically called “the old Moon in the new Moon’s arms.”)

Although the worlds were only within a degree or two of each other in the sky they were in reality very far apart (obviously). The actual distances from Earth to each at the time of the event? Moon: 363,784 km; Venus: 213 million km; Mars: 329.1 million km.