Explanation: Shrouded in a thick atmosphere, Saturn’s largest moon Titan really is hard to see. Small particles suspended in the upper atmosphere cause an almost impenetrable haze, strongly scattering light at visible wavelengths and hiding Titan’s surface features from prying eyes. But Titan’s surface is better imaged at infrared wavelengths where scattering is weaker and atmospheric absorption is reduced. Arrayed around this centered visible light image of Titan are some of the clearest global infrared views of the tantalizing moon so far. In false color, the six panels present a consistent processing of 13 years of infrared image data from the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) on board the Cassini spacecraft. They offer a stunning comparison with Cassini’s visible light view.
Explanation: Before local midnight on August 12, this brilliant Perseid meteor flashed above the Poloniny Dark Sky Park, Slovakia, planet Earth. Streaking beside the summer Milky Way, its initial color is likely due to the shower meteor’s characteristically high speed. Moving at about 60 kilometers per second, Perseid meteors can excite green emission from oxygen atoms while passing through the thin atmosphere at high altitudes. Also characteristic of bright meteors, this Perseid left a lingering visible trail known as a persistent train, wafting in the upper atmosphere. Its development is followed in the inset frames, exposures separated by one minute and shown at the scale of the original image. Compared to the brief flash of the meteor, the wraith-like trail really is persistent. After an hour faint remnants of this one could still be traced, expanding to over 80 degrees on the sky.
Explanation: The brief flash of a bright Perseid meteor streaks across the upper right in this composited series of exposures made early Sunday morning near the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Set up about two miles from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the photographer also captured the four minute long trail of a Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe into the dark morning sky. Perseid meteors aren’t slow. The grains of dust from periodic comet Swift-Tuttle vaporize as they plow through Earth’s upper atmosphere at about 60 kilometers per second (133,000 mph). On its way to seven gravity-assist flybys of Venus over its seven year mission, the Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the Sun will steadily decrease, finally reaching a distance of 6.1 million kilometers (3.8 million miles). That’s about 1/8 the distance between Mercury and the Sun, and within the solar corona, the Sun’s tenuous outer atmosphere. By then it will be traveling roughly 190 kilometers per second (430,000 mph) with respect to the Sun, a record for fastest spacecraft from planet Earth.