Jupiter’s Triple Moon Eclipse and Ceres Comes Into View

There has been a lot to talk about with our home solar system lately.  Spacecraft approaching dwarf planets, robots on Mars, and all kinds of orbiters giving new insights and views we had never expected.  It’s a heavy news year for Planetary Science, and the great stories keep creeping up!

Today we have an update on the Dawn spacecraft approaching Ceres.  The picture I posted on January 20th  (shown below) was from 380,000 Km away, comparable to the distance between Earth and the Moon.

Credit: Dawn/JPL-NASA

Now, about 2 weeks later, Dawn is only 145,000 Km away, and the view is much clearer!

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI

This is officially the clearest picture ever taken of Ceres, and gives us just a small taste of the massive meal we will get when the craft arrives and maps the surface completely a month from now!

The other amazing space photo brought to my attention by my good friend Blair Philbey was this Hubble image of the triple eclipse of Jupiter.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Not only can we see the cloud bands of Jupiter in fine detail, but we also see three of the big Galilean moons in their splendour as they pass between Earth and the gas giant.  Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto are the four largest moons of Jupiter in order of increasing distance from the planet, and only Ganymede is absent in this rare eclipse.

How rare? This triple eclipse only happens once or twice per decade!

Each of the Galilean moons orbit Jupiter quickly, ranging from 2 days (Io) to 17 days (Callisto), and they zip across the face of the planet in as little as an hour.  In fact this event, with all three moons eclipsing on January 24th, only lasted 42 minutes.  Even Hubble had to act quickly.

One point of note is the detail visible in the three moons.  We can clearly see Io’s Sulphur-rich yellow-Orange surface, Europa’s Icy yellowish tinge, and Callisto’s dark brown cratering.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

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