Photo of the Day

A quadruple Saturn moon transit.

Saturn, like the Earth, is tilted with respect to its orbit around the Sun. Our tilt is about 24 degrees, and Saturn’s is about 27. This means that twice every Saturn year (which are roughly 30 Earth years in length) we see Saturn’s rings edge-on. They can get so thin they practically disappear! That happens in September of this year, and as you can see from the image above image, our viewing angle of the rings is currently very shallow.

The icy particles in the rings orbits over Saturn’s equator, just as the moons do. That means that if we’re seeing the rings nearly edge-on, the orbits of the moons are that way as well. This makes transits — moons moving across the face of the planet — more common. So on February 24 of this year, Hubble was able to snap a spectacular series of images of four of Saturn’s moons projected on Saturn’s visage. You can see how the moons moved in the image below, showing the time-sequence Hubble took of the event.

Satellites Collide in First-Ever Mid-Space Crash

I’m pretty surprised that this is only the first time this has happened.

In an unprecedented space collision, a commercial Iridium communications satellite and a defunct Russian satellite ran into each other Tuesday above northern Siberia, creating a cloud of wreckage, officials said today.

The international space station does not appear to be threatened by the debris, they said, but it’s not yet clear whether it poses a risk to any other military or civilian satellites.

“They collided at an altitude of 790 kilometers (491 miles) over northern Siberia Tuesday about noon Washington time,” said Nicholas Johnson, NASA’s chief scientist for orbital debris at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The U.S. space surveillance network detected a large number of debris from both objects.”

(via Danger Room)

Obama’s Support of NASA

From Wired:

Sen. Barack Obama condemned the current administration’s handling of NASA and called on Congress to take action before next Friday to protect the United States’ access to the International Space Station.

At issue is a waiver for a section of the Iran, North Korea, Syria Nonproliferation Agreement that bans payments to Russia for Soyuz spacecraft to transport U.S. astronauts to the ISS after the Space Shuttle is retired in 2010.

The current waiver is set to expire at the end of 2011. If Congress doesn’t renew the waiver before Friday, there would be a gap in Soyuz availability before Orion, the Shuttle’s replacement, is ready in 2015. Chris Shank, a key aide to NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, recently told the Orlando Sentinel that “if we do not get the exemption on this, we are going to have to abandon the station, and that if we do this it will hurt the U.S. space program not the Russians.”

In Obama’s letter, sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Monday, he also urges Congress to fund one additional, already authorized, Shuttle flight and to demand NASA take no further actions that would preclude extending the Shuttle program beyond 2010. The alternative is to leave the $100-billion facility to the other countries involved and miss out on the benefits, he wrote.

(via Clusterflock)

The Baikonur Cosmodrome

From The Big Picture:

When NASA’s last scheduled Space Shuttle mission lands in June of 2010, the United States will not have the capability to get astronauts into space again until the scheduled launch of the new Orion spacecraft in 2015. Over those five years, the U.S. manned space program will be relying heavily on Russia and its Baikonur Cosmodrome facility in Kazakhstan. Baikonur is an entire Kazakh city, rented and administered by Russia. The Cosmodrome was founded in 1955, making it one of the oldest space launch facilites still in operation. Here are collected some photographs of manned and unmanned launches from Baikonur over the past several years.

Solar System Quilt

Pure 19th century awesomeness:

This Solar System quilt was made by Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, in 1876. It is 89″ long and 106″ wide. The wool top of this applique quilt is embellished with wool-fabric applique, wool braid, and wool and silk embroidery. Included in the design is the appliqued inscription, “Solar System,” and the embroidered inscriptions, “E. H. Baker” and “A. D. 1876.” The lining is a red cotton-and-wool fabric and the filling is of cotton fiber.

(via Boing Boing)

Hurricanes, as Seen From Orbit

From The Big Picture (of course):

Hurricane Ike just rolled across Cuba, and soaked parts of Haiti – both regions still reeling from recent Hurricane Gustav. Ike appears to be weakening now, but is headed tward the Gulf Coast of the U.S., and may yet strengthen. The crew aboard the International Space Station was able to take a photo of Ike from 220 miles overhead last Thursday – one in a long series of great NASA photographs of hurricanes from space.