Explanation: Goodbye Earth. Earlier this month, ESA's interplanetary Rosetta spacecraft zoomed past the Earth on its way back across the Solar System. Pictured above, Earth showed a bright crescent phase featuring the South Pole to the passing rocket ship. Launched from Earth in 2004, Rosetta used the gravity of the Earth to help propel it out past Mars and toward a 2014 rendezvous with Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Last year, the robot spacecraft passed asteroid 2867 Steins, and next year it is scheduled to pass enigmatic asteroid 21 Lutetia. If all goes well, Rosetta will release a probe that will land on the 15-km diameter comet in 2014.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Explanation: Where can a telescope take you? Four hundred years ago, a telescope took Galileo to the Moon to discover craters, to Saturn to discover rings, to Jupiter to discover moons, to Venus to discover phases, and to the Sun to discover spots. Today, in celebration of Galileo's telescopic achievements and as part of the International Year of Astronomy, NASA has used its entire fleet of Great Observatories, and the Internet, to bring the center of our Galaxy to you. Pictured above, in greater detail and in more colors than ever seen before, are the combined images of the Hubble Space Telescope in near-infrared light, the Spitzer Space Telescope in infrared light, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory in X-ray light. A menagerie of vast star fields is visible, along with dense star clusters, long filaments of gas and dust, expanding supernova remnants, and the energetic surroundings of what likely is our Galaxy's central black hole. Many of these features are labeled on a complementary annotated image. Of course, a telescope's magnification and light-gathering ability create only an image of what a human could see if visiting these places. To actually go requires rockets.