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Emily LakdawallaDecember 31, 2008

A Moon Among Stars

I just walked outside and looked up -- it's now dusk in Los Angeles -- and saw a crescent Moon above a brilliant Venus in a lavender sky. Utterly beautiful. I managed to find Jupiter in a part of the sky that was still yellow with sunset, but couldn't see Mercury. Hopefully all of you will have paused after sunset during whatever festivities you're enjoying tonight to take a look at the sky show.

If not, I can still show you a pretty picture of a moon among stars. Thanks very much to Eric Hartwell for pointing this one out to me. Happy 2009, everyone! Welcome to the International Year of Astronomy!

Enceladus among stars

NASA / JPL-Caltech / SSI

Enceladus among stars
Extremely unusual circumstances were required to get this shot of Enceladus floating in front of a field of stars. The Cassini spacecraft is flying in space, of course, and regularly captures images of star fields. It also regularly captures images of Enceladus. But Enceladus is so brightly reflective that, under normal circumstances, it is impossible to see both features on Enceladus' surface and a dense field of stars in the same image. To see Enceladus' surface, the camera team would select a short exposure setting; to see the stars, they would select a long exposure setting. This photo is possible because Enceladus was actually in Saturn's shadow when it was taken; the only light reaching its surface (and reflecting from there to Cassini's camera) is sunlight that has first been reflected off of Saturn or its rings. A long exposure revealed both Enceladus' surface and the background field of stars.

Read more: Enceladus, Cassini, pretty pictures, astronomy by planetary missions, Saturn's moons

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
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