Space Porn

Moon river: Cassini spots river of methane on Titan

One of the more unique features of Earth, at least as far as current space exploration has been able to show us, is a “hydrologic system,” or a stable system of liquid transformation from solid to liquid to gas and vapour. On Earth, this system is one made up of water, where precipitation forms rivers, which flow into seas and oceans, and then evaporate back into a gaseous state to restart the whole system over again.

We do however have one very close neighbor which shares a similar feature. Jupiter’s moon Titan, a cold world distant from our sun, has a hydrologic system made of methane.

NASA JPL has released a photograph of a “mini Nile” which empties into a smallish a sea called the Kraken Mare, about the size of the Caspian here on Earth. Like the Nile, it is formed of a large number of tributaries feeding into one relatively straight river basin. Scientists speculate that the straightness of the main column may suggest that the river actually marks a fault line in the bedrock of the moon. Whether this indicates some sort of tectonic plate, as it might on Earth, remains a mystery.

Whereas the Nile river is some 4,100 miles long, this newly-photographed river is a scant 200 miles. But the similarities between the features of these two worlds are striking. This also represents the first time an active river has ever been photographed at this resolution outside of our Earth system.


The top 6 news-worthy NASA JPL missions. Have you heard of Juno, yet?

As my attention is turned more and more to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, I have to admit that I’m getting confused with all the various missions. Now that I’m starting to get regular press releases from JPL, they’re all starting to run together. After only last year bemoaning the loss of the Space Shuttle program, it is shocking to discover just how much is really going on in space!

So, while the JPL website lists all its programs in alphabetical order, I thought I’d take the time to list out the more news-making missions here:

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Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover

The subject of probably the most intense media coverage since the dawn of the Shuttle Program, Curiosity is only the second full mission and third landing on the planet Mars. The rover is currently en route for Aeolis Mons, the mysterious mountain in the middle of Gale Crater.


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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Critical to many missions on and near Mars, the MRO takes  satellite-level photos and readings of the Martian surface. Some of the best pics of the Curiosity landing were taken  from right here on this satellite.


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This one’s a joint venture of NASA and the European Space Agency, orbiting around Saturn and her moons. Any awesome photo you’ve seen in the last ten years of Saturn most likely came from this satellite.


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It’s not enough to understand the planets, we also need to understand asteroids. Hence Dawn’s mission to understand the geography and dynamism of Vesta, an asteroid nearly the size of Pluto. Soon, it will be turning its attention to the “dwarf planet” Ceres.


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Voyager I & II

The furthest-traveled piece of human engineering in the history of mankind, the Voyager mission includes two travelers, each of which has entered into the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the outer edge of the effects of our sun’s solar winds and considered to be the “official” edge of our solar system. Voyager 1 has already breached the heliosphere and entered interstellar space.


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Here’s a sneak preview of one mission that’s only just now getting started in earnest. While we’ve seen a lot of the atmosphere of Jupiter and her tumultuous storms, no one has yet peered into the heart of the gas giant. That is,  until Juno gets there. Juno’s mission and instrumentation involves complex but proven means of pushing the clouds aside for a glimpse of the deep inside of Jupiter. The spacecraft has only just now turned from orbiting Earth to its slingshot trajectory that will propel it towards its destination. Stay tuned!