Tag Archives: Venus

Cassini’s Solar System Scrapbook

Cassini has completed its second-to-last ring plane crossing.  There’s only one more left before the final and fatal atmospheric entry.  But before it goes, Cassini completed a sort of family scrapbook of the solar system, by adding Neptune.  Here are some highlights of Cassini’s solar system scrapbook (which skips Mercury because it’s far too close to the Sun for Cassini to photograph):

Venus, Earth, and Mars

Venus, Earth and Mars, the only rocky planets easily observable from Saturn, as seen during the equivalent of a total solar eclipse around Saturn — Saturn is backlit by the Sun here. This was captured July 19, 2013.

Earth (and Moon), closeup from last image

This is a mega huge zoom in on the picture above.


Captured just before an Earth gravity assist maneuver, this is the Moon as seen on August 17, 1999. The spacecraft did not attempt to photograph the Earth during closest approach.

It’s worth also adding this. It’s the last image Cassini will ever take of Earth, captured April 12, 2017.


This was captured on December 29, 2000, while Cassini was grabbing a gravity assist boost from the giant planet.


There’s really no end of good Saturn pics, but I quite like this one, taken last year as Saturn approached the summer solstice in its northern hemisphere.


This blue planet against Saturn’s rings is not Earth. That little blue dot is the larger of the two “ice giants”, Uranus. I sincerely hope this is not the closest we’ll get to it in the 21st Century; it’s an astonishingly bizarre world that would seriously test a lot of basic science about planetary formation, magnetospheres, and so forth. This was captured April 11, 2014.


This is the most recent addition to the scrapbook, a zoom-in enhanced version of an image taken Aug. 10, 2017, commemorating Voyager 2’s flyby on August 25, 1989 and the 40th anniversary of the mission’s launch on August 20, 1977. This is Neptune and its largest moon, Triton.


Call it a consolation for not nabbing Mercury; Cassini captured this image of the dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, 2015, just as New Horizons was making its closest approach. (Naturally, New Horizons got much better pictures!)


It’s bittersweet, waiting for the end, but it helps to remember the amazing things Cassini has been doing.  Like Voyager 1 before it, Cassini is leaving behind portraits of our solar system.


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Akatsuki is in business!

The Japanese space probe that wouldn’t quit, Akatsuki, has completed its commissioning phase and is now beginning its primary mission around the planet Venus.  It arrived at Venus five months ago, and five years after it was originally scheduled to do so.  A faulty engine valve prevented its orbit insertion burn from happening, but JAXA mission controllers didn’t give up; they developed a plan using maneuvering thrusters that would give Akatsuki a second chance for orbital insertion.  And last December, it made it.  JAXA is very optimistic about the spacecraft; after completing the in-orbit checkout, they believe it will definitely last its two-year primary mission, and perhaps even make it to the next decade.  To commemorate the start of its operational phase, Akatsuki’s mission team released this infrared image of Venus, showing clouds on the nightside of the planet in unprecedented detail.  (Akatsuki is not the first spacecraft to reach Venus, but it has the best infrared camera ever sent there.)


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Space History for Jan 10: Venera 6

In 1969, six months before the Apollo Moon landing, and a year and a half after the last Russian and American attempts to robotically explore the planet Venus, Venera 6 was launched.  It was the last of the Venus atmosphere probes launched by the Soviet Union, except for the balloons launched by the Vega mission.  After Venera 6, the USSR would concentrate their planetary efforts on the herculean task of surviving landing on the hellish surface of Venus.

Venera 6 reach Venus on May 17, 1969, and survived approximately 51 minutes before succumbing most likely to the pressure.  Previous attempts had exhausted their batteries before sinking deep enough to be crushed in Venus’ extraordinarily thick atmosphere, so Veneras 5 & 6 (in those days, the USSR always built probes in pairs, in case of mishap) were equipped with much smaller parachutes.  This allowed them to fall to their full crush depth before running out of battery life, enabling measurements as deep as possible within the Venusian atmosphere.

It was a feet that would not be surpassed until late in 1970, when Venera 7 survived long enough to transmit some data from the surface of Venus.

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Akatsuki update: WELCOME TO VENUS!!!

Confirmation came in today: Akatsuki, the plucky little probe that wouldn’t give up, is definitely orbiting the second planet from the Sun!  It’s in a much higher orbit than it was originally designed for, but due to better-than-expected performance from the overtaxed RCS engines, it’s a better orbit than they had hoped for after the salvage maneuver.  They will be able to nudge it down into a lower orbit over time, and hopefully even get much of the originally planned science out of the mission.  Here’s the first image it has sent back from Venus orbit:


Also, while we’re on the subject of successful things in space, Cygnus “SS Deke Slayton II” arrived at the ISS today and has been berthed at the nadir port of the Unity node.  Deke Slayton II will remain at the ISS through January.

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Akatsuki — the little probe that . . . could?

Akatsuki has a long and interesting history.  Japan’s first probe to the planet Venus, the spacecraft was launched in in 2010 with an aim of inserting into Venus orbit six months later to commence a two-year mission studying the unique weather of our planet’s twin.  (Fraternal twin, definitely.  Venus is an unbelievably hostile environment.)


So what happened?  Five years ago, Akatsuki encountered Venus and fired its main engine for orbital capture, but something went badly wrong.  The spacecraft began spinning, and the computer automatically shut down the engine to prevent catastrophe.  Analysis of the flight data suggests that the ceramic nozzle of the hypergolic main engine had shattered, causing the engine plume to billow out in unpredictable directions, resulting in the spin.  The computer righted the spacecraft, but by then it was too late; Venus was now far behind.

But Japanese flight controllers are astonishingly stubborn, and they did not give up.  They knew that the spacecraft would get another chance, if only they could coax it to last way past its original design lifespan.  For five years later, it would be in position to take a second crack at Venus orbit insertion.

That moment came yesterday.  Using a carefully choreographed routine that uses its reaction control motors in ways never intended, the spacecraft was programmed to ease into Venus orbit with a twenty-minute burn.  So far, we know the spacecraft carried out the burn, and is still alive.  It won’t be until sometime tomorrow that we know what orbit it’s in — and crucially, whether it’s now orbiting the Sun or Venus.  But the early indications are very good!  And JAXA has posted some truly adorable graphics to celebrate.  This one is my favorite, showing Akatsuki and Venus cuddling up together.  😉


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The most beautiful Jupiter-Venus-Moon conjunction photo

I looked out during the conjunction, but the seeing here is lousy due to haze from Canadian wildfires, so I haven’t even attempted bringing my telescope out.  But fortunately, other folks were much better positioned.  Of all the pictures I’ve seen, this one, featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day on July 2 was the most stunning.  It’s not the best view of Jupiter and Venus, since it has to keep the Moon properly exposed, but seeing three three worlds — and also four more worlds, orbiting Jupiter and clearly visible with a little magnification! — is really quite amazing.  It’s beautiful.


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Stargazing with the kids

My daughter has an assignment to watch the Moon over the new four night and see how it changes.  Which, unfortunately, may be difficult given the weather forecast, but maybe we’ll watch it on a webcam if it’s raining.  So tonight we went out to see the Moon.  She observed that it was a thin, waxing crescent, and Venus was nearby.  Then I got my telescope out, and we looked at it through that.  Both of my daughters loved it; it’s amazing — the Moon is the most familiar object in the night sky, and yet seeing it through a telescope is astonishing.  Transformative, the first time, but it never loses its charm.  Tonight, it was difficult to see Earthshine with the naked eye, but through the telescope it was quite obvious.  Then we looked at Venus (too bright to make out the crescent shape) and Jupiter.  Jupiter’s quite nice right now.  The seeing was good tonight as well, and I was able to go all the way up to my most powerful lens without any difficulty.  The cloud bands were clearly visible, and we could see all four Galilean satellites.  That’s another thing that tends to be transformative, the first time you see it, because the moons are something you can’t see with your naked eye — and yet clearly, there they are.  I only wish Saturn were also up, because that’s always a winner as well.  But it is bedtime, and we can’t stay up long enough for the darker sky targets.  Little ones need rest, before they go to school tomorrow.  😉

Oh, and the CRS-6 Dragon capsule has returned safely to Earth.  So that’s your space news for today.  😉

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