“The first TV image of Mars, hand colored strip-by-strip, from Mariner 4 in 1965. The completed image was framed and presented to JPL director, William H. Pickering. Truly a labor of love for science!” -Kristen Erickson, NASA Science Engagement and Partnerships Director
“There are so many stories to this image. It is a global image, but relates to an individual in one glance. There are stories on social, economic, population, energy, pollution, human migration, technology meets science, enable global information, etc., that we can all communicate with similar interests under one image.” -Winnie Humberson, NASA Earth Science Outreach Manager
“Whenever I see this picture, I wonder…if another species saw this blue dot what would they say and would they want to discover what goes on there…which is both good and bad. However, it would not make a difference within the eternity of space—we’re so insignificant…in essence just dust in the galactic wind—one day gone forever.”
-Dwayne Brown, NASA Senior Communications Official
“I observed the Galactic Center with several X-ray telescopes before Chandra, including the Einstein Observatory and ROSAT. But the Chandra image looks nothing like those earlier images, and it reminded me how complex the universe really is. Also I love the colors.” -Paul Hertz, Director, NASA Astrophysics Division
“This image from the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a unique view of the Moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth in 2015. It shows a view of the farside of the Moon, which faces the Sun, that is never directly visible to us here on Earth. I found this perspective profoundly moving and only through our satellite views could this have been shared.” -Michael Freilich, Director NASA Earth Science Division
“Pluto was so unlike anything I could imagine based on my knowledge of the Solar System. It showed me how much about the outer solar system we didn’t know. Truly shocking, exciting and wonderful all at the same time.” -Jim Green, Director, NASA Planetary Science Division
“This high-resolution, false color image of Pluto is my favorite. The New Horizons flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015 capped humanity’s initial reconnaissance of every major body in the solar system. To think that all of this happened within our lifetime! It’s a reminder of how privileged we are to be alive and working at NASA during this historic era of space exploration.” – Laurie Cantillo, NASA Planetary Science Public Affairs Officer
“The Solar System family portrait, because it is a symbol what NASA exploration is really about: Seeing our world in a new and bigger way.” – Thomas H. Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate
This month, at sunset, catch elusive Mercury, bright Venus, the Zodiacal Light, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter between midnight and dawn!
Both Venus and Mercury play the part of “evening stars” this month. At the beginning of the month they appear low on the western horizon.
The Moon itself joins the pair from March 18th through the 20th.
The Moon skims by the Pleiades star cluster and Taurus’s bright red star Aldebaran on the next few evenings, March 21 through the 23rd.
Jupiter, king of the planets, rises just before midnight this month and earlier by month end.
Even through the smallest telescope or average binoculars, you should see the 4 Galilean moons, Europa, Io, Callisto and Ganymede.
The March morning sky offers dazzling views of Mars and Saturn all month long.
Through a telescope, you can almost make out some of the surface features on Mars.
Look a little farther into Mars’ future and circle May 5th with a red marker. When our InSight spacecraft launches for its 6 month journey to the Red Planet, Mars will be easily visible to your unaided eye.
Keep watching Mars as it travels closer to Earth. It will be closest in late July, when the red planet will appear larger in apparent diameter than it has since 2003!
You are in for a real treat if you can get away to a dark sky location on a moonless night this month – the Zodiacal Light and the Milky Way intersect!
The Zodiacal light is a faint triangular glow seen from a dark sky just after sunset in the spring or just before sunrise in the fall.
The more familiar Milky Way is one of the spiral arms of our galaxy.
What we’re seeing is sunlight reflecting off dust grains that circle the Sun in the inner solar system. These dust grains journey across our sky in the ecliptic, the same plane as the Moon and the planets.
Much of the western United States began the morning with the view of a super blue blood moon total lunar eclipse. In this silent time lapse video, the complete eclipse is seen over NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, located at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains near Pasadena, California.
This Jan. 31 full moon was special for three reasons: it was the third in a series of “supermoons,” when the Moon is closer to Earth in its orbit – known as perigee – and about 14 percent brighter than usual. It was also the second full moon of the month, commonly known as a “blue moon.” The super blue moon will pass through Earth’s shadow to give viewers in the right location a total lunar eclipse. While the Moon is in the Earth’s shadow it will take on a reddish tint, known as a “blood moon.”
If you were captivated by August’s total solar eclipse, there’s another sky show to look forward to on Jan. 31: a total lunar eclipse!
Below are 10 things to know about this astronomical event, including where to see it, why it turns the Moon into a deep red color and more…
1. First things first. What’s the difference between solar and lunar eclipses? We’ve got the quick and easy explanation in this video:
2. Location, location, location. What you see will depend on where you are. The total lunar eclipse will favor the western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia on Jan. 31. Australia and the Pacific Ocean are also well placed to see a major portion of the eclipse, if not all of it.
3. Color play. So, why does the Moon turn red during a lunar eclipse? Here’s your answer:
4. Scientists, stand by. What science can be done during a lunar eclipse? Find out HERE.
5. Show and tell. What would Earth look like from the Moon during a lunar eclipse? See for yourself with this artist’s concept HERE.
6. Ask me anything. Mark your calendars to learn more about the Moon during our our Reddit AMA happening Monday, Jan. 29, from 3-4 pm EST/12-1 pm PST.
7. Social cues. Make sure to follow @NASAMoon and @LRO_NASA for all of the latest Moon news leading up to the eclipse and beyond.
8. Watch year-round. Can’t get enough of observing the Moon? Make a DIY Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator that will keep all of the dates and times for the year’s moon phases right at your fingertips HERE.
Then, jot down notes and record your own illustrations of the Moon with a Moon observation journal, available to download and print from moon.nasa.gov.
9. Lesson learned. For educators, pique your students’ curiosities about the lunar eclipse with this Teachable Moment HERE.
10. Coming attraction. There will be one more lunar eclipse this year on July 27, 2018. But you might need your passport—it will only be visible from central Africa and central Asia. The next lunar eclipse that can be seen all over the U.S. will be on Jan. 21, 2019. It won’t be a blue moon, but it will be a supermoon.
Quadrantid meteors, a West Coast-favoring total lunar eclipse and time to start watching Mars!
This month the new year’s first meteor shower fizzles, Mars meets Jupiter in the morning sky and the U.S. will enjoy a total lunar eclipse!
Most meteor showers radiate from recognizable constellations. Like the Leonids, Geminids and Orionids.
But the Quadrantids are meteors that appear to radiate from the location of the former Quadrans Muralis constellation, an area that’s now part of the constellation Bootes.
The Quadrantids’ peak lasts for just a few hours, and sadly, this year their timing coincides with a very bright, nearly full moon that will wash out most of the meteors.
You can look in any direction to see all the meteor showers. When you see one of these meteors, hold a shoestring along the path it followed. The shoestring will lead you back to the constellation containing the meteor’s origin.
On the morning of January 6th, look in the south-southeast sky 45 minutes before sunrise to see Jupiter and fainter Mars almost as close as last month’s Jupiter and Venus close pairing.
Mars is only one-sixth the apparent diameter of Jupiter, but the two offer a great binocular and telescopic view with a pretty color contrast. They remain in each other’s neighborhood from January 5th through the 8th.
Finally, to end the month, a great total lunar eclipse favors the western U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii and British Columbia on January 31st. Australia and the Pacific Ocean are well placed to see a major portion of the eclipse–if not all of it.
Happy New Year! And happy supermoon! Tonight, the Moon will appear extra big and bright to welcome us into 2018 – about 6% bigger and 14% brighter than the average full Moon. And how do we know that? Well, each fall, our science visualizer Ernie Wright uses data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to render over a quarter of a million images of the Moon. He combines these images into an interactive visualization, Moon Phase and Libration, which depicts the Moon at every day and hour for the coming year.
Want to see what the Moon will look like on your birthday this year? Just put in the date, and even the hour (in Universal Time) you were born to see your birthday Moon.
Our Moon is quite dynamic. In addition to Moon phases, our Moon
appears to get bigger and smaller throughout the year, and it wobbles! Or at
least it looks that way to us on Earth. This wobbling is called libration, from
the Latin for ‘balance scale’ (libra). Wright relies on LRO maps of the Moon
and NASA orbit calculations to create the most accurate depiction of the 6 ways
our Moon moves from our perspective.
The Moon phases we see on Earth are caused by the
changing positions of the Earth and Moon relative to the Sun. The Sun always
illuminates half of the Moon, but we see changing shapes as the Moon revolves
around the Earth. Wright uses a our software library called SPICE to calculate
the position and orientation of the Moon and Earth at every moment of the year. With his
visualization, you can input any day and time of the year and see what the Moon
will look like!
2. Shape of the Moon
Check out that crater detail! The Moon is not a smooth sphere.
It’s covered in mountains and valleys and thanks to LRO, we know the shape of
the Moon better than any other celestial body in the universe. To get the most
accurate depiction possible of where the sunlight falls on the lunar surface
throughout the month, Wright uses the same graphics software used by Hollywood
design studios, including Pixar, and a method called ‘raytracing’ to calculate
the intricate patterns of light and shadow on the Moon’s surface, and he checks
the accuracy of his renders against photographs of the Moon he takes through
his own telescope.
3. Apparent Size
Moon Phase and Libration visualization shows you the apparent size of the Moon.
The Moon’s orbit is elliptical, instead of circular – so sometimes it is closer
to the Earth and sometimes it is farther. You’ve probably heard the term
“supermoon.” This describes a full Moon at perigee (the point when the Moon is
closest to the Earth in its orbit). A supermoon can appear up to 14% bigger and brighter
than a full Moon at apogee (the point when the Moon is farthest from the Earth
in its orbit).
Our supermoon tonight is a full Moon very close to perigee, and will appear to be about 14% bigger than the July 27 full Moon, the smallest full Moon of 2018, occuring at apogee. Input those dates into the Moon Phase and Libration visualization to see this difference in apparent size!
4. East-West Libration
Over a month, the Moon appears to nod, twist, and roll. The
east-west motion, called ‘libration in longitude’, is another effect of the
Moon’s elliptical orbital path. As the Moon travels around the Earth, it goes
faster or slower, depending on how close it is to the Earth. When the Moon gets
close to the Earth, it speeds up thanks to a push from Earth’s gravity. Then it
slows down, when it’s farther from the Earth. While this speed in orbital
motion changes, the rotational speed of the Moon stays constant.
that when the Moon moves faster around the Earth, the Moon itself doesn’t rotate
quite enough to keep the same exact side facing us and we get to see a little
more of the eastern side of the Moon. When the Moon moves more slowly around
the Earth, its rotation gets a little ahead, and we see a bit more of its
5. North-South Libration
Moon also appears to nod, as if it were saying “yes,” a motion called
‘libration in latitude’. This is caused by the 5 degree tilt of the Moon’s
orbit around the Earth. Sometimes the Moon is above the Earth’s northern
hemisphere and sometimes it’s below the Earth’s southern hemisphere, and this
lets us occasionally see slightly more of the northern or southern hemispheres
of the Moon!
6. Axis Angle
Finally, the Moon appears to tilt back and forth like a metronome.
The tilt of the Moon’s orbit contributes to this, but it’s mostly because of
the 23.5 degree tilt of our own observing platform, the Earth. Imagine standing
sideways on a ramp. Look left, and the ramp slopes up. Look right and the ramp
Now look in front of you. The horizon will look higher on the
right, lower on the left (try this by tilting your head left). But if you turn
around, the horizon appears to tilt the opposite way (tilt your head to the
right). The tilted platform of the Earth works the same way as we watch the
Moon. Every two weeks we have to look in the opposite direction to see the
Moon, and the ground beneath our feet is then tilted the opposite way as well.
So put this all together, and you get this:
Beautiful isn’t it? See if you can notice these phenomena when you observe the Moon. And keep coming back all year to check on the Moon’s changing appearance and help plan your observing sessions.
Follow @NASAMoon on Twitter to keep up with the latest lunar updates.
While millions of
people in North America headed outside to watch the eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, hundreds of scientists got out telescopes, set up instruments, and
prepared balloon launches – all so they could study the Sun and its complicated
influence on Earth.
eclipses happen about once every 18 months somewhere in the world, but the
August eclipse was rare because of its long path over land. The total eclipse
lasted more than 90 minutes over land, from when it first reached Oregon to
when it left the U.S. in South Carolina.
This meant that
scientists could collect more data from land than during most eclipses, giving
us new insight into our world and the star that powers it.
A moment in the Sun’s
During a total solar
eclipse, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, is visible from Earth. It’s
normally too dim to see next to the Sun’s bright face, but, during an eclipse, the
Moon blocks out the Sun, revealing the corona.
Image Credit: Peter Aniol, Miloslav Druckmüller and Shadia Habbal
Though we can
study parts of the corona with instruments that create artificial eclipses, some
of the innermost regions of the corona are only visible during total solar
eclipses. Solar scientists think this part of the corona may hold the secrets
to some of our most fundamental questions about the Sun: Like how the solar
wind – the constant flow of magnetized material that streams out from the Sun
and fills the solar system – is accelerated, and why the corona is so much
hotter than the Sun’s surface below.
where you were, someone watching the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21 might have
been able to see the Moon completely obscuring the Sun for up to two minutes
and 42 seconds. One scientist wanted to stretch that even further – so he used
a pair of our WB-57 jets to chase the path of the Moon’s shadow, giving their
telescopes an uninterrupted view of the solar corona for just over seven and half minutes.
telescopes were originally designed to help monitor space shuttle launches, and
the eclipse campaign was their first airborne astronomy project!
scientists weren’t the only ones who had the idea to stretch out their view of
the eclipse: The Citizen CATE project (short for Continental-America Telescopic
Eclipse) did something similar, but with the help of hundreds of citizen scientists.
Citizen CATE included
68 identical small telescopes spread out across the path of totality, operated
by citizen and student scientists. As the Moon’s shadow left one telescope, it reached
the next one in the lineup, giving scientists a longer look at the way the
corona changes throughout the eclipse.
accounting for clouds, Citizen CATE telescopes were able to collect 82 minutes
of images, out of the 93 total minutes that the eclipse was over the US. Their
images will help scientists study the dynamics of the inner corona, including
fast solar wind flows near the Sun’s north and south poles.
The magnetized solar
wind can interact with Earth’s magnetic field, causing auroras, interfering
with satellites, and – in extreme cases – even straining our power systems, and
all these measurements will help us better understand how the Sun sends this
material speeding out into space.
Exploring the Sun-Earth
used the eclipse as a natural laboratory to explore the Sun’s complicated
influence on Earth.
High in Earth’s
upper atmosphere, above the ozone layer, the Sun’s intense radiation creates a
layer of electrified particles called the ionosphere. This region of the
atmosphere reacts to changes from both Earth below and space above. Such
changes in the lower atmosphere or space weather can manifest as disruptions in
the ionosphere that can interfere with communication and navigation signals.
One group of
scientists used the eclipse to test computer models of the ionosphere’s effects
on these communications signals. They predicted that radio signals would travel
farther during the eclipse because of a drop in the number of energized particles.
Their eclipse day data – collected by scientists spread out across the US and
by thousands of amateur radio operators – proved that prediction right.
experiment, scientists used the Eclipse Ballooning Project to investigate the eclipse’s effects
lower in the atmosphere. The project incorporated weather balloon flights from
a dozen locations to form a picture of how Earth’s lower atmosphere – the part
we interact with and which directly affects our weather – reacted to the
eclipse. They found that the planetary boundary layer, the lowest part of
Earth’s atmosphere, actually moved closer to Earth during the eclipse, dropped
down nearly to its nighttime altitude.
A handful of these
balloons also flew cards containing harmless bacteria to explore the potential
of other planets with Earth-born life. Earth’s stratosphere is similar to the surface of Mars, except in one main way:
the amount of sunlight. But during the eclipse, the level of sunlight dropped
to something closer to what you’d expect to see on Mars, making this the
perfect testbed to explore whether Earth microbes could hitch a ride to the Red
Planet and survive. Scientists are working through the data collected, hoping
to build up better information to help robotic and human explorers alike avoid
carrying bacterial hitchhikers to Mars.
Image: The small metal card used to transport bacteria.
EPIC instrument aboard NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite provided awe-inspiring views of the
eclipse, but it’s also helping scientists understand Earth’s energy balance. Earth’s energy system is in a constant
dance to maintain a balance between incoming radiation from the Sun and
outgoing radiation from Earth to space, which scientists call the Earth’s
energy budget. The role of clouds, both thick and thin, is important in their
effect on energy balance.
Like a giant
cloud, the Moon during the total solar eclipse cast a large shadow across a
swath of the United States. Scientists know the dimensions and light-blocking
properties of the Moon, so they used ground- and space-based instruments to
learn how this large shadow affects the amount of sunlight reaching Earth’s
surface, especially around the edges of the shadow. Measurements from EPIC show
a 10% drop in light reflected from Earth during the eclipse (compared to about
1% on a normal day). That number will help scientists model how clouds radiate the
Sun’s energy – which drives our planet’s ocean currents, seasons, weather and
climate – away from our planet.
We’ve selected two finalists for a robotic mission that is planned to launch in the mid-2020s! Following a competitive peer review process, these two concepts were chosen from 12 proposals that were submitted in April under a New Frontiers program announcement opportunity.
What are they?
In no particular order…
CAESAR, or the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return mission seeks to return a sample from 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – the comet that was successfully explored by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft – to determine its origin and history.
This mission would acquire a sample from the nucleus of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and return it safely to Earth.
Comets are made up of materials from ancient stars, interstellar clouds and the birth of our solar system, so the CAESAR sample could reveal how these materials contributed to the early Earth, including the origins of the Earth’s oceans, and of life.
A drone-like rotorcraft would be sent to explore the prebiotic chemistry and habitability of dozens of sites on Saturn’s moon Titan – one of the so-called ocean worlds in our solar system.
Unique among these Ocean Worlds, Titan has a surface rich in organic compounds and diverse environments, including those where carbon and nitrogen have interacted with water and energy.
Dragonfly would be a dual-quadcopter lander that would take advantage of the environment on Titan to fly to multiple locations, some hundreds of miles apart, to sample materials and determine surface composition to investigate Titan’s organic chemistry and habitability, monitor atmospheric and surface conditions, image landforms to investigate geological processes, and perform seismic studies.
The CAESAR and Dragonfly missions will receive funding through the end of 2018 to further develop and mature the concepts. It is planned that from these, one investigation will be chosen in the spring of 2019 to continue into subsequent mission phases.
We also announced that two mission concepts were chosen to receive technology development funds to prepare them for future mission opportunities.
The Enceladus Life Signatures and Habitability (ELSAH) mission concept will receive funds to enable life detection measurements by developing cost-effective techniques to limit spacecraft contamination on cost-capped missions.
The Venus In situ Composition Investigations (VICI) mission concept will further develop the VEMCam instrument to operate under harsh conditions on Venus. The instrument uses lasers on a lander to measure the mineralogy and elemental composition of rocks on the surface of Venus.
The call for these mission concepts occurred in April and was limited to six mission themes: comet surface sample return, lunar south pole-Aitken Basin sample return, ocean worlds, Saturn probe, Trojan asteroid tour and rendezvous and Venus insitu explorer.