Across the universe: NASA hopes new posters inspire future astronomers

Courtesy NASA If you’re one of the more than 1.5 billion Earthlings self-isolating because of COVID-19, a new series of posters from NASA are aimed at inspiring you to take a trip across the universe. NASA took a page from the National Park Service and created a collection of 14 posters they hope will inspire a new generation of innovators and explorers they’ve called Visions of the Future. The posters and NASA The posters were originally inspired after the Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab was on vacation at the Grand Canyon and saw some old Works Progress Administration (WPA) posters inviting travelers to come and see the Grand Canyon. The director asked if NASA could give a similar treatment to a series of posters they were doing on the exoplanets. “The old WPA posters did a really great job delivering a feeling about a far-off destination,” one of the JPL illustrators, Joby Harris says, “They were created at a time when color photography was not very advanced, in order to capture the beauty of the national parks from a human perspective. These posters show places in our solar system (and beyond) that likewise haven’t been photographed on a human scale yet — or in the case of the exoplanets might never be, at least not for a long time. It seemed a perfect way to help people imagine these strange, new worlds. So NASA created a series of WPA-inspired posters showing off the far reaches of the galaxy to inspire people to realize the stars aren’t as far as we used to think. “The point,” David Delgado, a creative strategist at JPL says, “was to share a sense of things on the edge of possibility that is closely tied to the work our people are doing today. The JPL director has called our people “architects of the future.” In addition to these posters, NASA has a host of other things to do at home. Take the tour The Grand Tour The Grand Tour makes reference to the route taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft that went out to visit our four outer planets. NASA’s Voyager mission took advantage of a once-every-175-year alignment of the outer planets for a grand tour of the solar system. The twin spacecraft revealed details about Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – using each planet’s gravity to send them on to the next destination. Voyager set the stage for such ambitious orbiter missions as Galileo to Jupiter and Cassini to Saturn. Today, both Voyager spacecraft continue to return valuable science from the far reaches of our solar system. Mars Credit NASA The designers of the posters say that this one of Mars was the very last poster that they created in the series. They hid a few “easter eggs” inside, saying that the rover has spelled out JPL on the ground in Morse code. NASA’s Mars Exploration Program seeks to understand whether Mars was, is, or can be a habitable world. Missions like Mars Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Science Laboratory and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, among many others, have provided important information in understanding of the habitability of Mars. This poster imagines a future day when we have achieved our vision of human exploration of Mars and takes a nostalgic look back at the great imagined milestones of Mars exploration that will someday be celebrated as “historic sites.” Earth Credit NASA You’re already pretty familiar with this place. There’s no place like home. Warm, wet and with an atmosphere that’s just right, Earth is the only place we know of with life – and lots of it. JPL’s Earth science missions monitor our home planet and how it’s changing so it can continue to provide a safe haven as we reach deeper into the cosmos. Venus Credit NASA “We tried a few different designs for Venus, starting with the surface, but the intent was to show things people might find pleasant, and Venus’ surface is anything but. The scene is of a city in the clouds as it transits Mercury across the sun. The Morse code for the number 9 is written on the side (signifying the inhabitants are ‘on cloud 9’),” says Lois Kim who did the typography of this poster. The rare science opportunity of planetary transits has long inspired bold voyages to exotic vantage points – journeys such as James Cook’s trek to the South Pacific to watch Venus and Mercury cross the face of the Sun in 1769. Spacecraft now allow us the luxury to study these cosmic crossings at times of our choosing from unique locales across our solar system. Ceres Credit NASA The big sign in this poster is inspired by the gateway in Reno that announces it as “the biggest little city in the world.” “We kind of thought that might suit Ceres. It’s the biggest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and probably has a lot of water ice underground,” says creative strategist David Delgado Ceres is the closest dwarf planet to the Sun. It is the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, with an equatorial diameter of about 965 kilometers. After being studied with telescopes for more than two centuries, Ceres became the first dwarf planet to be explored by a spacecraft, when NASA’s Dawn probe arrived in orbit in March 2015. Dawn’s ongoing detailed observations are revealing intriguing insights into the nature of this mysterious world of ice and rock. Jupiter Credit NASA NASA says that the auroras on Jupiter are something to behold. They show up 100 times more powerful than on Earth and form a glowing ring bigger than the earth around each of its poles. NASA’s Juno mission is already out studying the gas giant. The Jovian cloudscape boasts the most spectacular light show in the solar system, with northern and southern lights to dazzle even the most jaded space traveler. Jupiter’s auroras are hundreds of times more powerful than Earth’s, and they form a glowing ring around each pole that’s bigger than our home planet. Revolving outside this auroral oval are the glowing, electric “footprints” of Jupiter’s three largest moons. NASA’s Juno mission will observe Jupiter’s auroras from above the polar regions, studying them in a way never before possible. Enceladus Credit NASA Enceladus is one of Saturn’s 62 moons, and the home of the galaxy’s “Cold Faithful.” NASA’s Cassini mission found that the small icy moon is home to a global ocean. The discovery of Enceladus’ icy jets and their role in creating Saturn’s E-ring is one of the top findings of the Cassini mission to Saturn. Further Cassini mission discoveries revealed strong evidence of a global ocean and the first signs of potential hydrothermal activity beyond Earth – making this tiny Saturnian moon one of the leading locations in the search for possible life beyond Earth. TITAN Credit NASA Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and about the size of Mercury. It is the only body in the solar system to have a nitrogen-rich atmosphere besides Earth. It’s also the only other body in the solar system that has seasons. Frigid and alien, yet similar to our own planet billions of years ago, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere, organic-rich chemistry and a surface shaped by rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane. Cold winds sculpt vast regions of hydrocarbon-rich dunes. There may even be cryovolcanoes of cold liquid water. NASA’s Cassini orbiter was designed to peer through Titan’s perpetual haze and unravel the mysteries of this planet-like moon. Credit NASA Moving on to another moon, this one around Saturn’s neighbor, Jupiter. Scientists believe that the surface of Europa is one of the most promising places in our solar system to find an environment suitable for some form of life beyond our own blue planet. Astonishing geology and the potential to host the conditions for simple life make Jupiter’s moon Europa a fascinating destination for future exploration. Beneath its icy surface, Europa is believed to conceal a global ocean of salty liquid water twice the volume of Earth’s oceans. Tugging and flexing from Jupiter’s gravity generates enough heat to keep the ocean from freezing. On Earth, wherever we find water, we find life. What will NASA’s Europa mission find when it heads for this intriguing moon in the 2020s 51 Pegasi b Credit NASA 51 Pegasi b is widely accepted as the first exoplanet to be discovered. It’s about 50 light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus. While there is much debate over which exoplanet discovery is considered the “first,” one stands out from the rest. In 1995, scientists discovered 51 Pegasi b, forever changing the way we see the universe and our place in it. The exoplanet is about half the mass of Jupiter, with a seemingly impossible, star-hugging orbit of only 4.2 Earth days. Not only was it the first planet confirmed to orbit a sun-like star, it also ushered in a whole new class of […]

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