Category Archives: Satellite Imagination

history and science of the natural satellites of the solar system

Satellite Imagination: Pioneer’s Near Miss

In 1961, UCLA grad student Michael Minovitch (image here) figured out the gravity assist maneuver for space travel. The young mathematician, working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), crunched some numbers. And the numbers showed that if a rocket was aimed … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: Honoring a Wife

Pluto has been demoted from planethood, but before that determination and after, it has been carefully studied. As much as a point of light on a photographic plate can be studied. Clyde Tombaugh really picked a needle out of a … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: Before Kuiper’s Belt

As we read in the last edition of this series, Seth Nicholson’s satellite discoveries spanned nearly four decades. Let’s dial the clock back a bit from the discovery of his last, Jupiter XII, and take stock of the situation just … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: Nicholson’s Quartet

Detecting natural satellites of Jupiter is darned difficult. The planet is bright. The satellites are small and dim. Most of Jupiter’s moons orbit in irregular paths, nudged by the sun. Some even orbit backwards. If you blinked, you might lose … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: Unnamed Moons

Galileo discovered the first satellites (except for our Moon) in the solar system. In the opener of the “satellite imagination” series, you get a piece of the story connected with that. You might think that moons half a billion miles … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: Photographers At Work

Phoebe was the first of Saturn’s moons encountered by the Cassini space probe. In 2004, Earthlings got delicious images of the moon from just a few thousand miles away. Before Cassini, our view of this moon for the past 105 … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: End of the Age of the Eye

In 1892, we can note the last human eye discovery of a solar system satellite. The eye belonged to Edward Emerson Barnard who, working at the Lick Observatory in California, found a fifth satellite of Jupiter. Hereafter, every subsequent satellite … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: The Galileo Code and the New World(s)

    Author Jonathan Swift (right) had quite an imagination. In his novel Gulliver’s Travels he notes two Martian moons, “the innermost is distant from the center of the primary exactly three of his diameters, and the outermost five.” There … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: Mathematics And A Missing Planet

It would be the coolest thing to discover a planet, don’t you think? A moon wouldn’t be too bad either. For the inner eight planets of the solar system, as of the early twenty-first century, humankind has pretty much uncovered … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: The Herschel Years

After Giovanni Cassini first espied Tethys and Dione in 1684, satellite discoveries dried up for more than a century. Astronomers didn’t think to look for new planets either. Lack of imagination? Perhaps so, because many famous astronomers viewed them. They … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: Meet The Louisians

When I was in college my friend Mark, an astrophysics grad student, took me to the Mees Observatory, our university’s in-state research telescope. Among other things, we viewed Giovanni Cassini’s Louisian Stars—named for King Louis XIV, the astronomer’s patron at … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: The Dutch Connection

With my daughter’s telescope, I can barely pick out Titan. It moves a lot more slowly in its orbit than Jupiter’s moons. We certainly can’t detect that pretty orange atmosphere. It’s just a point of light. In the image to … Continue reading

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Satellite Imagination: The Galilean Moons of Jupiter

Like many astronomers, amateur and otherwise, I would love to go visiting planets and moons. For me, it’s especially the moons. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen. My wife Anita would never let me strap in for a space mission, … Continue reading

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