Thursday, November 04, 2010

New Worlds

(The animated GIF above was created by Emily Lakdawalla and appears in her blog) There are certain days in history where mankind gets its first closeup look at a world. Today is one of them. The EPOXI spacecraft which used to be known as Deep Impact, flew past comet 103P/Hartley 2 taking touristy snapshots as it zipped past the comet like a tourist driving quickly past the Grand Canyon. Admiring these images reminded me of a few other landmark days like this one that I remember. For example, July 20, 1976 when the Viking 1 lander landed on Mars and sent the first closeup images of Mars surface. Another July 20 springs to mind when in 1969 we watched Neil Armstrong plant the first human footprints on another world. And there are flyby's of Jupiter by Pioneer and later Voyager or the photos of Titan's surface when Cassini's Huygens lander touched down on that distant world. In the not too distant future, we'll see closeup images of Pluto when the New Horizons spacecraft flies past that ex-Planet and new Martian vistas when the next lander/rover arrives there in a year and a half or so. And the Messenger orbiter will be returning the highest resolution images of Mercury soon as well. We should also not forget the spacecraft orbiting our Moon and other planets like LRO, MRO, Cassini and many others. We live in a wonderful time when we get to see new worlds for the first time ever as well as seeing worlds we're used to seeing closeup even better than before. Those faint points of light in the sky at night are real places to be studied, someday with our own rock hammers, eyeballs and boots.

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