Tag Archives: Moon

Cassini’s Final Hours

15 Sep

Launched in 1997 the joint spacecraft Cassini-Huygens will soon end its mission to capture images and data from some of the furthest reaches of our Solar System.

A collaborative effort between NASA, ESA and ASI (Italian Space Agency) has seen orbiter (Cassini) and lander (Huygens) return some of the most fascinating pictures of Saturn and her surrounding bodies.

Time spent on this mission dates back to the 1980s with some scientists working on the project for more than a Saturnian year (29 Earth years).


Cassini, named after Italian astronomer and mathematician Giovanni Cassini.


After its launch the spacecraft finally reached Saturn’s orbit in July of 2004, 5 months later, once preliminary experiments were complete, the Huygens lander probe separated from the orbiter at the end of the same year. Named after Christiaan Huygens the scientific probe’s mission was to land on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan and collect samples from a moon other than our own for the first time.

Cassini has continued to send back pictures and data from orbit high above the colossal Saturn for another 13 years, until today.

Mission staff will be ending Cassini’s life when they send the craft careering into Saturn’s gaseous atmosphere on September 15th 2017. The team will steer Cassini between the outer rings of the planet avoiding collision with any of her moons as not to contaminate their biological structures.

Coverage of the final stages of this mission will begin at 9am GMT (4am EST) and continue throughout the morning to early afternoon and you can watch it all via the NASA streaming website here or read an incredible account of the mission’s story via the BBC website.

Below is a series of photographs highlighting key moments during the Cassini mission over the past 19 years.


Assembly, Test and Launch team 1997 vs September 2017.


The hexagonal pole of the planet Saturn.


Yes, this really is a photograph.


A stunning, eerie image of Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons.


That’s no Moon! Well actually it is. Mimas, looks straight out of science fiction.


Jets spew from the south pole of Enceladus, a frozen but perhaps not baron world.


A series of fly-by images of Enceladus.


Dione seems to dwarf its close celestial neighbour Rhea.


The last image of Titan taken from Cassini.


Give us a wave. The last image taken by Cassini of a full Saturn, September 11th 2017.


The final shot of Saturn’s atmosphere before Cassini entered it’s death plunge, courtesy of Jason Major and NASA.

You can view the extended image gallery of the Cassini-Huygens mission from the NASA website.

All pictures courtesy of NASA, ESA and Italian Space Agencies


Tonight’s SuperMoon

23 Jun

It has been an appalling Summer for skywatching this year. Unannounced rain and general overcast cloud cover has restricted us from viewing the heavens above this season. There is some hope for any keen amateur astronomers though and it comes in the form of our familiar friend the Moon.

Many of you would have gazed up at the shimmering disc in the sky, probably on many occasions too, but today is a special day for the Moon, the celestial body will come to its closets point on its orbit around us. Granted, this event is pretty common but nonetheless incredibly spectacular for anyone watching. There will be other SuperMoons in the future of course, in fact there is one due in July. However our cosmic neighbour wont be passing as close as it is time around.

The scientific name for this event is ‘Perigee Moon’ it marks the coincidence where a new or full Moon is at it’s closets proximity to the Earth. The Lunar surface will appear 30% brighter to us and 14% larger in the night sky. According to experts the best time to view this phenomenon is both at moonrise and moonset when it appears at its very massive.

The next SuperMoon of this magnitude wont be occurring until August 2014. So, weather permitting, keep an eye on the night sky this evening, you may just be surprised to see an old friend looking a little different.

GRAIL Mission: Endangered by Weather

8 Sep

NASA has today had to place its new mission to the Moon on hold after high winds placed the rocket vehicle in danger.

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission was set to depart at 12.37 GMT from NASA’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida earlier today. Unfortunately, in a bold move by the space agency, the rocket’s launch was provisionally postponed at fear for the two probes inside.

GRAIL is a lunar bound mission being sent in order for scientists to map out the Moons gravitational surface in unprecedented detail. Two probes will be ejected from inside the Delta 2 rocket after exit from the Earth’s atmosphere and then team up together orbiting the rocky body as a synchronised couple. Both Probes, worth $258m each, will work collectively in an effort to cross section the moon from crust to core to help understand how all rocky planets and other celestial bodies are formed. A similar mission Gravity Recovery and Climate Change (GRACE) has already mapped Earths bumpy gravity field in attempts to understand why it forms in the way it does.

Man has always had a fascination with its earthly neighbour, unsurprisingly. The rocky form takes up the most space in our sky after the sun, its same face has stared down at us for millennia and its behaviour has always wanted to be tamed.

Michael Florent van Langren made the first map of the surface in 1645, thirty five years after the first telescopic observation was made by legendary astronomer Galileo Galilei. Over three hundred years later the first man-made object reached our orbiting partner, the Soviet Luna 2 module crashed into the surface in 1959.

Then came a defining moment in history when NASA led a team of astronauts to the exterior of the Moon to collect sample rocks and to mark it as the first celestial body, other than the Earth, to be graced by humans, in the entire Universe.

Another manned operation to the surface will be in a number of years but for now NASA has GRAIL.

Weather reports forecast that on September 9th 2011 the rocket holding the two probes will have a 40% chance of departure when its launch opportunity opens at 12.33 GMT. A second chance for takeoff will come at 13.12 GMT on the same day, if neither of these time zones present a successful mission outlook then the launch will be placed on hold once more.

NASA have until October 19th 2011 in this preliminary launch window until this mission will be placed on the literal back burner of a stand by launch pad.