Lost in Space
OK, for days now, weeks really, I have been trying to write a column about the war and the economy. I start out by marshaling my arguments, and in a few paragraphs I am ranting and spitting because it all boils down to…we’re really hosed on both fronts. Since that’s tremendously depressing and other people are saying it better I think I’ll give up for now and do a quick tour of recent developments in the rest of the solar system. Tomorrow I can get back to how to stock a bomb shelter, for today, escapism. (Though I suppose stocking a bomb shelter could be considered escapism as well.)
First off, a nice Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter picture of an avalanche on Mars has been taken (above.) This is one of the few images of active geologic processes ever taken on Mars, and the first ever taken of an avalanche. It’s ice and dust cascading down a hillside in the north polar region of Mars, some of the dust clouds are hundreds of feet across. The surface of Mars is much less active than Earth’s surface, so changes like this are rare indeed. Click on the image above (and any image in this post) to read more details and see higher resolution versions of them.
Moving out from Mars, we have a picture of Jupiter and its moon Io snapped by the New Horizons probe on its way to Pluto:
Pretty cool, eh? The little blue plume to the right on Io is actually a volcano erupting. Even better, this volcano has a name…Tvashtar. It was fortuitous that Tvashtar was erupting when New Horizons flew by, this picture will be studied for years by scientists.
The fact that the New Horizons probe was able to take scientifically important images of Jupiter as it flew by on its way to Pluto is a wonderful example of just how far we have come in terms of getting every last bit of bang for our buck when it comes to space exploration. This way even if the New Horizon mission subsequently fails, and these things happen, at the very least some good will have come of it. People often think that spending in space is money wasted, when in fact when it comes to knowledge gained, spending in space is possibly the best value for our tax dollar around. The spinoff from space exploration is amazing, and a topic for a column itself someday.
Epimetheus is about 110 kilometres in diameter. That gives it a surface area a little smaller than the Netherlands or Switzerland, or somewhat larger than the state of Maryland. Epimetheus is of course airless, freezing, and not even large enough to have collapsed into a sphere. On the plus side the view of Saturn and its rings and moons would be awesome.
Lastly, we come to the spider on Mercury…
What the heck is that? Well, it’s a crater photographed on Mercury flyby by the Mercury Messenger probe. What are the troughs emanating from the crater? No one knows, nothing like this has ever been seen before. The troughs might not even be related to the crater. When the Messenger probe goes into orbit around Mercury in 2011 this mysterious feature will be getting a lot more study.
This is one of the things I most love about space exploration, we just keep on discovering stuff that no one ever imagined…proving that reality (or God’s creation as it were) is far more magnificent and wondrous that our puny imaginations can conceive of. And this is just in our own solar system, who knows what we will find when we get probes to the stars. I hope I’m still blogging then.
(All of the above images were produced by NASA and are legally used in accordance with its policies. )