Monday, March 24, 2014

Wheels in the sky

Did you know that you can see all kinds of recent pictures of the moon, courtesy of the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter?  They in fact released a mosaic image of the north pole of the moon, something that blows my mind.

(artist rendering of LRO, from NASA page)

It got me thinking about other orbiters we have. Because we do have other orbiters.

For instance, there's the Cassini mission to Saturn. The Cassini orbiter is doing a flyby of Saturn's moon on April 7. Its first flyby of Titan was on July 2, 2004. In 2005, the Huygens atmospheric entry probe separated from the then-Cassini-Huygens spacecraft and landed on Titan, taking 350 pictures that were relayed back to Earth, and measuring things like temperature and atmosphere (Titan has lots of methane). The European Space Agency has a flash video interactive 3D model of the Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft.

Then there's the Messenger (Mercury Surgace,Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) orbiter, currently at the planet Mercury. It was launched in 2004 and did an Earth flyby and two Venus flybys, before reaching Mercury orbit in 2011. Its official mission page is here on the NASA website, and you can visit Messenger's page here to see a gallery of photos, explore orbital data, and read an FAQ on the mission. Just last week we got the news that Mercury is still shrinking, in line with predictions scientists had made about it after the Mariner 10 flybys in 1974 and 1975.

And, not an orbiter, but certainly important, is the Voyager mission. Voyager 1 reached interstellar space in 2013, and has enough power to continue running and sending data back until 2020. It's currently at 125 AU (an AU is the distance between the Earth and the Sun, 149,597,870,700 kilometers) Both voyager craft are carrying the Voyager Golden Record, which contain sounds from Earth and also have etched upon them Science Things meant to indicate where Earth was, communicate the importance of Hydrogen to us, that kind of thing. This web site contains all the sounds and images on the golden records, and this is the NASA voyager page on it. It's kind of nifty looking, and the asterisk looking thing is a diagram to define the location of our sun based on 14 known pulsars.

The Pioneer Plaques had the same asterisk thing on it, but differ from the Golden Records in that they *gasp* have nekkid people on them! Can you believe people would DO such a thing?! Heavens to Betsy. These plaques went out with Pioneer 10 (1972) and Pioneer 11 (1973). Pioneer 10 completed the first mission to Jupiter, and reached a distance of 67 AU from the sun by the mission end in 1997. Pioneer 11 lost power in 1995, though you can browse pictures taken by it, and apparently all other spacecraft, according to the drop down menu, here on the NASA site.

picture from Wikipedia


  1. I can never hear about Voyager without thinking of the very first (and very bad) Star Trek movie that came out in the 1970s. :-)

    1. Oh I know, isn't it terrible? ;) Every time I mention Voyager in the NASA context, I have to double-check myself because of it. Like "That can't be rigth"!