For an astronomy enthusiast, I’ve certainly been lax in keeping track of all the excitement going on in the Solar System the past couple of months. Here’s a quick roundup:
- The Saturn probe Cassini has been performing wonderfully since it arrived last year. On Christmas Day, Huygens was successfully released toward Titan for a landing on Jan 14. (That’s tomorrow as of this writing.) Also check out this lovely photo of a shepherd moon gravitationally attracting material from Saturn’s rings, and a haunting closeup of “Half-and-Half” Iapetus.
- On Jan 3, the Mars Rover Spirit celebrated one earth-year on Mars. Spirit is now up atop the Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater, exploring the sloped terrain for odd stones and exposed bedrock.
- The Mars Rover Opportunity, still a good two weeks from its own one-year anniversary, has left Endurance Crater and is now closely studying the wreckage of its own crashed heatshield from descent.
- Comet Machholz is just barely visible to the naked eye near Orion and the Pleiades: familiar stellar territory to any amateur skywatcher. Machholz himself describes his discovery of the comet.
- And just yesterday, Deep Impact was successfully launched. This Fourth of July it will arrive at comet Tempel 1 and fire an impact projectile at its nucleus, creating a crater and dust cloud which will allow the probe and earth-bound scientists to study the comet’s composition.
More coverage tomorrow: Huygens will finally land on Titan, the Fuzzy Moon.