Observers in eastern Australia, all of New Zealand, and parts of the South Pacific will see the planet Uranus pass behind the waning crescent Moon in the early morning of June 12, 2015. The precise timing of the event depends on your location. In Adelaide, Australia, Uranus passes behind the Moon at 18:49 UT, just after moonrise, and emerges from the dark part of the crescent Moon’s face at 19:57 UT. In Sydney the occultation begins at 19:01 UT and ends at 20:17 UT.
Observers in the rest of the world will see Uranus close to the crescent Moon in the eastern pre-dawn sky. This presents an excellent opportunity to spot this distant ice giant with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. Slooh will be presenting live views of the event courtesy of our Australian feed partners. Join us to watch live views of the Solar System in motion!
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has returned images from its final close approach to Saturn’s oddball moon Hyperion, upholding the moon’s reputation as one of the most bizarre objects in the solar system. The views show Hyperion’s deeply impact-scarred surface, with many craters displaying dark material on their floors.
During this flyby, Cassini passed Hyperion at a distance of about 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) at closest approach. Cassini’s closest-ever Hyperion flyby took place on Sept. 26, 2005, at a distance of 314 miles (505 kilometers).
Hyperion is the largest of Saturn’s irregular, or potato-shaped, moons and may be the remnant of a violent collision that shattered a larger object into pieces. Cassini scientists attribute Hyperion’s peculiar, sponge-like appearance to the fact that it has an unusually low density for such a large object — about half that of water. Its low density indicates Hyperion is quite porous, with weak surface gravity. These characteristics mean impactors tend to compress the surface, rather than excavating it, and most material that is blown off the surface never returns.
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Using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL), mission scientists have solved a lunar mystery almost as old as the moon itself.
Early theories suggested the craggy outline of a region of the moon’s surface known as Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms, was caused by an asteroid impact. If this theory had been correct, the basin it formed would be the largest asteroid impact basin on the moon. However, mission scientists studying GRAIL data believe they have found evidence the craggy outline of this rectangular region — roughly 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers) across — is actually the result of the formation of ancient rift valleys.
“The nearside of the moon has been studied for centuries, and yet continues to offer up surprises for scientists with the right tools,” said Maria Zuber, principal investigator of NASA’s GRAIL mission, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. “We interpret the gravity anomalies discovered by GRAIL as part of the lunar magma plumbing system — the conduits that fed lava to the surface during ancient volcanic eruptions.”
The “man in the moon” appeared when meteoroids struck the Earth-facing side of the moon creating large flat seas of basalt that we see as dark areas called maria. But no “face” exists on farside of the moon and now, Penn State astrophysicists think they know why.
This mystery is called the Lunar Farside Highlands Problem and dates back to 1959, when the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3 transmitted the first images of the dark side of the moon back to Earth. It was called the dark side because it was unknown, not because sunlight does not reach it. Researchers immediately noticed that fewer “seas” or maria existed on this portion of the moon that always faces away from Earth.
Wright, Steinn Sigurdsson, professor of astrophysics and Arpita Roy, graduate student in astronomy and astrophysics, and lead author of the study, realized that the absence of maria, which is due to a difference in crustal thickness between the side of the moon we see and the hidden side, is a consequence of how the moon originally formed. The researchers report their results in today’s (June 9) Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Scientists, using cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), have created the largest high resolution mosaic of our moon’s north polar region. The six-and-a-half feet (two-meters)-per-pixel images cover an area equal to more than one-quarter of the United States.
Web viewers can zoom in and out, and pan around an area. Constructed from 10,581 pictures, the mosaic provides enough detail to see textures and subtle shading of the lunar terrain. Consistent lighting throughout the images makes it easy to compare different regions.
“This unique image is a tremendous resource for scientists and the public alike,” said John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “It’s the latest example of the exciting insights and data products LRO has been providing for nearly five years.”
“Creation of this giant mosaic took four years and a huge team effort across the LRO project,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the LROC at Arizona State University in Tempe. “We now have a nearly uniform map to unravel key science questions and find the best landing spots for future exploration.”
A team of scientists working with the CosmoQuest virtual research facility (CosmoQuest.org) has demonstrated that it is possible for everyday people to map the Moon with the same quality as a group of experienced professionals. These crowd-sourced results are being published in the journal Icarus and highlight the ability of citizen scientists to advance planetary research. CosmoQuest is a second-generation citizen science site run out of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) by Dr Pamela L. Gay.
While “crowdsourcing science” may sound like they are handing out lab sets and white coats, CosmoQuest has actually done something much more impactful.
They handed over the moon.
CosmoQuest’s MoonMappers research portal invites the public to learn about the lunar surface and aid professional researchers in mapping craters and other features on the Moon. MoonMappers is led by researchers Stuart Robbins (University of Colorado – Boulder) and Irene Antonenko (the Planetary Institute of Toronto). CosmoQuest community members are the first citizen scientists to demonstrate volunteers’ ability to accurately identify planetary surface features.
A meteorite with the mass of a small car crashed into the Moon last September, according to Spanish astronomers. The impact, the biggest seen to date, produced a bright flash and would have been easy to spot from the Earth. The scientists publish their description of the event in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The Moon lacks the atmosphere that prevents small rocks from space from reaching the surface of the Earth. The result is very visible – vast numbers of craters large and small cover the whole of our nearest neighbour and record 4.5 billion years of collisions that span the history of the Solar system.
Although there is almost no chance of a very large object striking the Moon or planets, collisions with smaller objects are very common even today. The odds of seeing one of these by chance are pretty poor, so scientists have set up networks of telescopes that can detect them automatically.