NASA / JPL / SSI
|Click for slide show: The Cassini spacecraft
looks beyond Saturn toward the icy face of Mimas,
the innermost of the planet's major moons. Click on
the image for other highlights from September.
The final frontier can be as close as your computer, thanks to a constellation of Web sites jam-packed with dramatic views of the cosmos. We're serving up a tall stack of the latest and greatest in our Month in Space roundup, but there's always at least one shot that comes in just a little too late to make the cut.
This month's last-minute addition is a stunning view of Saturn, with its icy moon Mimas visible as a white pearl beneath the rings. The imagery was captured by the Cassini orbiter on Sept. 4 as it flew past the planet at a distance of 1.7 million miles (2.7 million kilometers). After processing the data, the Cassini team released the natural-color image just today.
It's hard to pick out all the delicious details in space images that are scaled down to fit on a Web browser. Fortunately for photo fans, larger versions are almost always available. For example, the pairing of Mimas and Saturn comes in bigger sizes from NASA's Photojournal. And if you're looking for bigger versions of the photos in the Month in Space slide show, suitable for downloading, here are the places to go:
- Galactic gems: The European Southern Observatory has bigger images and more information about the "Thousand-Ruby Galaxy."
- Monster storm: You'll find the international space station's view of Hurricane Ike at NASA's Human Spaceflight site - and you'll find the latest about the hurricane season in our weather coverage.
- Farewell, Jules Verne: Human Spaceflight has pictures of the Jules Verne cargo ship's departure from the space station. The craft is due to make a fiery descent through Earth's atmosphere on Monday, and you can get the latest about sighting opportunities from the European Space Agency and SpaceWeather.com. (The latter site can also tell you when and where to look for the space station as well as China's Shenzhou 7 spaceship.)
- Amazon gold: NASA's Earth Observatory highlights the space station's view of the Amazon and its tributaries shining in the sun.
- Superman in space: Look to Human Spaceflight for a bigger view of NASA astronaut Gregory Chamitoff's weightlifting feat. As usual for astronauts, Chamitoff has brains as well as brawn: Starting Monday, he's scheduled to take on the whole planet in an Earth vs. space chess match, and you can help decide which moves to make.
- Visualize dark matter: The Royal Astronomical Society provides much more about the dark matter disk, including links that take you to a larger image. We've already discussed how you can learn much more about dark matter.
- Martian layer cake: The HiRISE Web site provides wallpaper-size renditions of Mars' north polar layered deposits, as seen by the high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
- Making tracks: The Mars Exploration Rover Web site is the place to go for Opportunity's fond look back at Victoria Crater. Next up: Endeavour Crater.
- Double shuttle: AP's view of Atlantis and Endeavour on their launch pads will make you do a double-take, and you can check Kennedy Space Center's Media Archive for more double-shuttle views.
- Clash of clusters: Hubblesite has more imagery and information relating to the space telescope tag-team approach to studying dark matter.
- Translucent ice: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera provides an eerie picture of Martian ice formations.
- Deep blue sea: Oh, for a trip to the Italian islands! NASA's Earth Observatory can give you a bigger splash of Mediterranean color.
- Sentinels of the stars: A picture from AFP highlights the clear skies at the European Southern Observatory's facilities in Chile, and the ESO itself offers more perspectives from Paranal.
- Naked moon: Another cool image from Cassini gives the Saturnian moon Enceladus its turn in the spotlight.
- Supplies on the way: AP captured the liftoff of a Soyuz rocket sending supplies up to the international space station. Check out this story about the storm that held up the Progress cargo ship's eventual arrival.
- Sea of sand: Yet another picture from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter focuses on Mars' otherworldly sand dunes.
- Under a rocket's skin: Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace typically provides oodles of information about its rocket ventures, and you can look through the venture's Web site for more pictures of a rocket racer under construction. Check out our earlier story about the first flight tests of the Armadillo-powered racer.
- Stacks of storms: NASA's Earth Observatory shows you exactly which tropical depression are where in a satellite image of the planet during a particularly stormy period in September.
- First sunspot: It turned out that this week's sunspot was short-lived. SpaceWeather.com provides an animated image that shows just how quickly it faded away. Now scientists have to wonder whether the sunspot signaled the start of the next 11-year solar cycle after a long lull in activity - or merely signaled a false dawn.
So what's ahead? We've already mentioned the Shenzhou 7 mission, which could come to a climax this weekend with a spacewalk. The next opportunity for SpaceX to launch its Falcon 1 rocket also opens up this weekend, on Sunday. I'll be keeping an eye on SpaceX's fourth attempt to reach orbit - and so will my colleagues who track the final frontier online, including writer/publisher Charles Lurio. After more than a year of sending out his newsletter by e-mail, Lurio has finally set up a Web site for The Lurio Report. Welcome to the Web, Charles!