Postcards from Alien Worlds

Mars Phoenix image

I’m checking NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander website daily to get updates on the mission and new photos to look at. I find it really fascinating and quite a technological feat to shoot a complicated machine into space, have it travel millions of kilometers over periods of months or years and then land it on another planet. And it still works after everything it went through (well, sort of, there are already some minor problems.) Anyway, I was getting some of the latest photos from the site. The stereoscopic camera on Phoenix only shoots black and white photos, but there is an array of red, green and blue LEDs near the camera. This allows to shoot the scene three times, with different lighting and thus later on compose a colour picture. I tried this myself today with one of the pictures, but it’s of course only a very rough approximation, and nowhere a scientific process. It’s especially difficult since the photos aren’t labeled, so you don’t know with what colour light they were illuminated. I tried some reasoning, since the primary colour on Mars is red, the brightest photo of the series should be the red channel from my naive understanding and so on. The result is what you can see above.

This got me thinking about my favourite space pictures, so here’s a little rundown of some of them, in no particular order. Click on the images to view high-resolution versions.

Huygen\'s view of Titan

  • Huygen’s view of Titan’s surface (2005) – Titan is a moon of Saturn with a very dense atmosphere. The European Huygens probe wasn’t actually able to take colour photos, so the colour in this image was generated from spectra reflection data. Doesn’t look very spectacular, but it’s the first image returned from the surface of another planet’s moon.

Cape Verde on Mars

  • Panorama from “Cape Verde” (2007) – A postcard from Mars taken by the rover Opportunity. The two rovers currently still active on Mars took a lot of great panoramic pictures, I limited myself to only showing two of them here.

Gibson Panorama by Spirit

  • Gibson Panorama (2006) – Here’s my favourite picture taken by the Mars rover Spirit. The fisheye creates a really cool visual effect together with those sharp angled rocks. A very alien landscape.

Solar System Portrait

  • Solar System Portrait (1990) – This mosaic is the first and so far only one to show our solar system from the outside. It was taken by the Voyager 1 probe which is currently the farthest human-made object from Earth, at a distance of 15,800,000,000 km.

Jupiter as seen by Cassini

  • Jupiter (2000) – This image mosaic of Jupiter made by Cassini was taken on the way to Saturn, using a gravity assist from the solar system’s largest planet. The cloud structures and colours are really a strange sight, they remind me of marble patterns. Only at a very different scale, the Big Red Spot pictured here is larger than Earth.

Saturn and Earth

  • In Saturn’s Shadow (2006) – This picture has been my desktop background for quite a while now. It’s not only a remarkably surreal picture of Saturn’s back side viewed against the sun (taken by the Cassini orbiter), but if you look closely on the full-size image, there’s a tiny bunch of bright pixels just above the top left of Saturn’s main rings. That’s Earth. Talk about small and insignificant …

Venera 13

  • Venus (1982) – This is a view taken by the Soviet Venera 13 lander. The USSR launched a lot of landers to Venus in the 70s and 80s, some of them made it through and took images in this very hostile environment (extreme pressure and very high temperatures.) These missions were pretty interesting, but you don’t hear a whole lot about them anymore unfortunately. Check out the website on the image link, this guy digitally improved the old Soviet images from the landers.

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3 Responses to “Postcards from Alien Worlds”

  1. MartinMr Says:

    Hi there, great pictures :-) .
    In the piece “In Saturn’s Shadow”, I thought that Earth is this tiny little blue sphere on the left side, a little bit lower than the middle. On the inside Border of the Big blurred ring.
    Are you sure that earth is the bright dot ?

  2. robotriot Says:

    Hi Martin, thanks for your comment.

    According to the original picture description here http://ciclops.org/view.php?id=2230 this is Earth’s location: “Interior to the G ring and above the brighter main rings is the pale dot of Earth.” If you take a look at this picture on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Saturn_outer_rings_labeled.jpg you can see which ring is the G ring, so it should be clear when compared to the other picture. I don’t know what the bright dot is you refered to, it isn’t even mentioned in the original description. Maybe it’s one of Saturn’s moons?

  3. MartinMr Says:

    Big thanks for the links and explanation

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