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  • Around the Solar System
    Posted by Heather Goss 4:00 AM on Aug 20, 2010

    Many spacecraft are traveling around the solar system.  At these great distances they often spend most of their mission time traveling rather than making great discoveries, yet there's always something, perhaps small, but fascinating going on as we watch the planets whirl around the Sun.

    Cassini-Huygens (or now, the Cassini Equinox) is probably my favorite space mission right now, if only because it has arrived (long ago) at its destination and sends back outstanding images with some frequency.  NASA and JPL just released images from its latest flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus, as well as two others, Tethys and Dione, on August 13. Cassini primarily used its Composite Infrared Spectrometer to determine if heat is radiating from Enceladus' "tiger stripes."  NASA published Wednesday what it boldly described as images "revealing light and dark contrasts worthy of chiaroscuro painters like Caravaggio."  Well alright, let's see these things!

    blog post photo
    Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

    The image above features the Penelope crater on Tethys, about 90 miles wide.  Below is one of the tiger stripes -- fissures releasing water vapor and organic particles -- on Enceladus.

    blog post photo
    Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

    Meanwhile, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team held a mission briefing on Thursday to release new information that our moon is shrinking, that is, still shrinking.  LRO has imaged cliffs on the lunar surface that reveal information about its tectonic activity as well as its interior makeup.  The cliffs, or "lobate scarps," are fairly young (perhaps only 100 million years, or a quarter of the moon's age), and tell a story of the moon's surface shrinking about 300 feet.  Read more about it here.

    A few quick hits:
    • MESSENGER flips our perspective, taking this fascinating photo of the Earth and our moon from its seat near Mercury.  The spacecraft will finally enter Mercury's orbit on March 18, 2011.
    • Neptune reaches opposition on Friday. Next year it will have completed one full orbit around the Sun since it was first discovered in 1846.
    • The August issue of Icarus describes how mud volcanoes could help the search for life on Mars.

    Tags: os99, cassini, LRO, MESSENGER

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