Rings and Seasons of Saturn : On Saturn, the rings tell you the season. On Earth, today marks a solstice, the time when the Earth’s spin axis tilts directly toward the Sun. On Earth’s northern hemisphere, today is the Summer Solstice, the day of maximum daylight. Since Saturn’s grand rings orbit along the planet’s equator, these rings appear most prominent – from the direction of the Sun – when the Saturn’s spin axis points toward the Sun. Conversely, when Saturn’s spin axis points to the side, an equinox occurs and the edge-on rings are hard to see. In the featured montage, images of Saturn over the past 11 years have been superposed to show the giant planet passing from southern summer toward northern summer. Although Saturn will only reach its northern summer solstice in 2017 May, the image of Saturn most analogous to today’s Earth solstice is the bottommost one. via NASA


P-8 days (6 July, 2015)

Earlier this afternoon (July 6) the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory released three new images of Pluto. Taken on July 1 and July 3, the spacecraft was at a distance of 9.2 and 7.8 million miles, respectively.

The three images, taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, show over two-thirds of Pluto’s surface, including the hemisphere that will be imaged in high definition during next week’s flyby. 

Created using data gathered recently by the RALPH instrument, Pluto’s reddish-brown hue is clearly visible in the true-color image. This confirms previous observations that showed significant color differences in Pluto and Charon’s surface. 

The official website of the New Horizons mission can be seen here.
How far are we exactly until the 7:49 am EDT flyby of Pluto on July 14? Click here for the official countdown clock.

Through the Clouds : On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space when the space shuttle Challenger launched on mission STS-7 from Pad 39A, Kennedy Space Center. One of her jobs was to call out Roll program seven seconds after launch. Ill guarantee that those were the hardest words I ever had to get out of my mouth, she said later.


NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day 2015 July 6 

Colorful Clouds Near Rho Ophiuchi 

Why is the sky near Antares and Rho Ophiuchi so colorful? The colors result from a mixture of objects and processes. Fine dust illuminated from the front by starlight produces blue reflection nebulae. Gaseous clouds whose atoms are excited by ultraviolet starlight produce reddish emission nebulae. Backlit dust clouds block starlight and so appear dark. Antares, a red supergiant and one of the brighter stars in the night sky, lights up the yellow-red clouds on the lower center of the featured image. Rho Ophiuchi lies at the center of the blue nebula on the left. The distant globular cluster M4 is visible to the upper right of center. These star clouds are even more colorful than humans can see, emitting light across the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Milky Way from a Malibu Sea Cave

(via APOD; Image Credit & Copyright: Jack Fusco )

What’s happening outside this cave? Nothing unexpected – it’s just the central band of our Milky Way Galaxy passing by. As the Earth turns, the band of our Galaxy appears to rotate and shift along the horizon. The featured image was taken by a photographer who professes a passion for locating sea caves, and who found this spectacular grotto in Leo Carrillo State Park near Malibu, California, USA. After some planning, he timed this single shot image through the 10-meter high cave entrance to show the Milky Way far in the distance. In the foreground, several rocks about one meter across are visible. Visible in the background starscape are millions of stars including the relatively bright and orange Antares, situated just to the right of the image center.


P-8 days (6 July 2015) – weekend sees final flight plan uploaded, computer glich for New Horizons.

With just over a week to go before its historic flyby, New Horizons has had a busy weekend.

On Friday, mission managers at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, sent the spacecraft its final flyby flight plan. Data acquired in recent weeks was used to tweak the timeline, which has been devised over the last few months.  This came just a few days after the mission was given the all-clear to fly by the icy world.

Then, on Saturday, July 4, normal communications with the spacecraft was disrupted when New Horizons’ computers entered safe mode. While a hardware or software glitch was initially the cause, controllers at APL have determined that “a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby.”

The probe functioned normally under the anomalous scenario by switching to its backup computer and reestablishing contact with Earth. A continuous telemetry feed of spacecraft health was then streamed to Earth. 

According to APL, New Horizons should return to data collection as early as Tuesday, July 7, exactly one week before its flyby will occur.

With New Horizons so far away from Earth, it takes over four and a half hours for a signal to reach the probe, and vice versa. Communications requiring round-trip signals take nearly nine hours.

In recent weeks, the spacecraft has taken increasingly sharp images of the dwarf planet, with the most recent colour images being released last week. While the reddish hue of Pluto has been known for decades, observations by New Horizons has given the planet a new nickname – the “other” red planet.

The mission is scheduled to come within 7,800 miles of Pluto’s surface at 7:49 am EDT, July 14, 2015.

The first image shows a color movie of the probe closing in on the Plutionian system, and is based off of these images. In the second image above, Pluto and its moon, Charon, grow larger to New Horizons’ LORRI imager. Taken from May 28 to June 25, the spacecraft ‘s distance to the dwarf planet decreased from 35 million miles to 14 million miles.

Check our New Horizons archive by clicking here.

M64: The Black Eye Galaxy : This big, bright, beautiful spiral galaxy is Messier 64, often called the Black Eye Galaxy or the Sleeping Beauty Galaxy for its heavy-lidded appearance in telescopic views. M64 is about 17 million light-years distant in the otherwise well-groomed northern constellation Coma Berenices. In fact, the Red Eye Galaxy might also be an appropriate moniker in this colorful composition. The enormous dust clouds obscuring the near-side of M64’s central region are laced with the telltale reddish glow of hydrogen associated with star forming regions. But they are not this galaxy’s only peculiar feature. Observations show that M64 is actually composed of two concentric, counter-rotating systems. While all the stars in M64 rotate in the same direction as the interstellar gas in the galaxy’s central region, gas in the outer regions, extending to about 40,000 light-years, rotates in the opposite direction. The dusty eye and bizarre rotation is likely the result of a billion year old merger of two different galaxies. via NASA


The Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from Kennedy Space Center at 12:12 p.m. (EDT) on June 25, 1992. Five NASA astronauts and two scientists/payload specialists were aboard, beginning a 13-day trip that would feature extensive research in the U.S. Microgravity Laboratory I. Altogether, 31 experiments were completed, and the crew landed on July 9.