I'm back from two weeks' vacation, so it's time to catch up on the status of all our intrepid planetary missions, from Akatsuki to the Voyagers and hitting the Moon, Mars, asteroids, comets, and Saturn in between.
Now that I have a reasonable-resolution global color view of Pluto, I can drop it into one of my trademark scale image montages, to show you how it fits in with the rest of the similar-sized worlds in the solar system: the major moons and the biggest asteroids.
Now that Cassini has returned to Saturn's equatorial plane, it has lots of opportunities to observe Saturn's moons. For about a week, Cassini has been taking regular sets of images of Iapetus, which I've assembled into an animation.
At last! Cassini is orbiting in Saturn's ring plane again. I do enjoy the dramatic photographs of Saturn's open ring system that Cassini can get from an inclined orbit, and we won't be getting those again for another year. But with an orbit close to the ring plane, Cassini can repeatedly encounter Saturn's icy moons, and icy moon flybys are my favorite thing about the Cassini mission.
Last year, rumors swirled that NASA may be so pinched for dollars that the agency might end the Cassini mission early. Today, Cassini received the welcome news that it has formally been funded through the planned end of its extended-extended mission in 2017. A huge congratulations to the Cassini mission!