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Terra Cognita

Posted By Bill Dunford

29-07-2013 1:18 CDT

Topics: pretty pictures, many worlds, Mercury, the Moon, Mars, Titan, asteroids, asteroid 1 Ceres, asteroid 4 Vesta, Pluto, Mariner 10, MESSENGER, Soviet lunar missions, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA Mars missions before 1996, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Voyager 1 and 2, Cassini, New Horizons

Nothing is more fatal to the progress of the human mind than to presume...that there are no mysteries in nature and there are no new worlds to conquer.

--Humphry Davy

Davy was a noted chemist of the 19th century. When he made his observation about the human need to explore, a few blank spaces on the map of the world still remained, places that still offered raw mystery to anyone brave enough to undertake the expedition.

We're short on such places now--with two important exceptions: the sea floor and the sky. That's where an explorer can still lay eyes for the first time on places that no one else has ever seen.

We live in a golden age of planetary exploration. Day in and day out, telescopes and robotic spacecraft are discovering new countries on Mercury, Mars, and even our own moon. In just the last few years, Saturn's moon Titan has gone from a featureless orange ball to a world wrapped in dune seas and methane rivers. Asteroids have grown from points of light to spinning mountains of stone. Quiet spheres of ice have been revealed to harbor geysers and underground oceans.

There's more to come. In particular, the next couple of years will offer two encounters with pure exploration. As you read this, the Dawn spacecraft is firing its ion engines in order to reach the Solar System's largest asteroid, Ceres, for the first time. No mere space rock, Ceres is large and complex enough to hold plenty of surprises. Then there's Pluto. Call it a planet or not, we'll have our first close look at it when the New Horizons mission buzzes by the little world and its five (or more?) moons in 2015.

The frontier still awaits.

Terra Cognita

Original images by NASA / JPL / SSI / JHUAPL / STScI / SwRI / GSFC / ASU / MSSS / MAIIGAiK / Processing by Val Klavans / Montage by Bill Dunford

Terra Cognita
Pushing back the frontiers of the unknown. On the left: destinations in the Solar System as seen by historic robotic spacecraft and telescopes. On the right: the same worlds as seen by recent missions that have filled in some of the blank spaces on the map. Click the image for the full-size version.
 
See other posts from July 2013

 

Read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, many worlds, Mercury, the Moon, Mars, Titan, asteroids, asteroid 1 Ceres, asteroid 4 Vesta, Pluto, Mariner 10, MESSENGER, Soviet lunar missions, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA Mars missions before 1996, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Voyager 1 and 2, Cassini, New Horizons

Comments:

Judy Schmidt: 07/29/2013 10:52 CDT

Hopefully James Webb goes on as planned and we can see some incredible HST to JWST comparisons.

Bob Ware: 07/29/2013 07:32 CDT

Beautiful comparisons! Thanks!

KC: 07/29/2013 08:54 CDT

It would have been appropriate to include more of the stark differences between Voyager and Cassini images of Saturn's icy moons. Nice contrast of the bodies shown! 2014 & 2015 will be exciting times!

Bill Dunford: 07/29/2013 09:53 CDT

Judy - I know that I can't wait. Thanks, Bob. KC - Oh, there's a long list!

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