This just in: solar system is still beautiful and mysterious

21 September 2006

Though nothing that happens in this time zone ten hours behind Greenwich and (since we don’t do daylight savings) six hours behind the East Coast could really be called ‘breaking news,’ there are several interesting astro-pieces today.

Astronomy Picture of the Day features a photo which is more art that science; it is an unretouched image, but one that takes some interpretation to figure out, since it appears to place the space shuttle and space station very near the Sun. It makes for an interesting contrast with some photos of the space station passing between the observer and the Moon. In both cases, though, I think it confuses our sense of the scale of space. Check out a scale model or see any of Guy Ottewell’s astronomy books for clarification. Or build your own.

The second photo is from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, with really high-resolution and stereo cameras. For the umpteenth time, we have pictures of the Face On Mars showing that the original Viking image was really a combination of academy-award winning lighting and artifacts of digital image processing and not a giant anthropomorphic sculpture. There are plenty of websites stating that this is just the latest ploy by the massive conspiracy, but I’m not going to link to them. Phil Plait does, and has great discussion of this stuff. Malin Space Science Systems, the company that built many of the cameras for Mars missions also has a detailed description of the digital image processing, but unless you want to develop your own off-the-wall theory, it isn’t very interesting. And lest you think that planetary scientists are devoid of humor, here’s a last image for you.

At any rate, for those who consider astronomy to be void of rhetoric, I submit the foregoing as examples.

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