David Kirkpatrick

February 4, 2011

One more thing to do this Sunday — check out the sun

Hot from the inbox:

NASA Releasing First Views of the Entire Sun on Super SUN-Day

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA will score big on super SUN-day at 11 a.m. EST, Sunday, Feb. 6, with the release online of the first complete view of the sun’s entire surface and atmosphere.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

Seeing the whole sun front and back simultaneously will enable significant advances in space weather forecasting for Earth, and improve planning for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system.

These views are the result of observations by NASA’s two Solar TErrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft. The duo are on diametrically opposite sides of the sun, 180 degrees apart. One is ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind.

Launched in October 2006, STEREO traces the flow of energy and matter from the sun to Earth. It also provides unique and revolutionary views of the sun-Earth system. The mission observed the sun in 3-D for the first time in 2007. In 2009, the twin spacecraft revealed the 3-D structure of coronal mass ejections which are violent eruptions of matter from the sun that can disrupt communications, navigation, satellites and power grids on Earth.

STEREO is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the mission, instruments and science center.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations.

The STEREO imaging and particle detecting instruments were designed and built by scientific institutions in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland.

To view the image with supporting visuals and information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/stereo

For information about NASA and other agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

SOURCE  NASA

Photo:http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photoarchive.ap.org/
NASA

Web Site: http://www.nasa.gov

Advertisements

September 16, 2010

NASA’s LRO finds diversity in the moon’s past

Here’s a release hot from the inbox. (I’m in light blogging mode for the middle of this week due to multiple projects, so I’m taking the easy way out here. Of course presenting the entire release is standard procedure with this blog anyway, so, um, enjoy!)

The release:

NASA’s LRO Exposes Moon’s Complex, Turbulent Youth

GREENBELT, Md., Sept. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The moon was bombarded by two distinct populations of asteroids or comets in its youth, and its surface is more complex than previously thought, according to new results from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft featured in three papers appearing in the Sept. 17 issue of Science.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)
(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

In the first paper, lead author James Head of Brown University in Providence, R.I., describes results obtained from a detailed global topographic map of the moon created using LRO’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). “Our new LRO LOLA dataset shows that the older highland impactor population can be clearly distinguished from the younger population in the lunar ‘maria’ — giant impact basins filled with solidified lava flows,” says Head. “The highlands have a greater density of large craters compared to smaller ones, implying that the earlier population of impactors had a proportionally greater number of large fragments than the population that characterized later lunar history.”

Meteorite impacts can radically alter the history of a planet. The moon, Mars, and Mercury all bear scars of ancient craters hundreds or even thousands of miles across. If Earth was subjected to this assault as well — and there’s no reason to assume our planet was spared — these enormous impacts could have disrupted the initial origin of life. Large impacts that occurred later appear to have altered life’s evolution. The approximately 110-mile-diameter, partially buried crater at Chicxulub, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, is from an impact about 65 million years ago that is now widely believed to have led or contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs and many other life forms.

Scientists trying to reconstruct the meteorite bombardment history of Earth face difficulty because impact craters are eroded by wind and water, or destroyed by the action of plate tectonics, the gradual movement and recycling of the Earth’s crust. However, a rich record of craters is preserved on the moon, because it has only an extremely thin atmosphere — a vacuum better than those typically used for experiments in laboratories on Earth. The moon’s surface has no liquid water and no plate tectonics. The only source of significant erosion is other impacts.

“The moon is thus analogous to a Rosetta stone for understanding the bombardment history of the Earth,” said Head. “Like the Rosetta stone, the lunar record can be used to translate the ‘hieroglyphics’ of the poorly preserved impact record on Earth.”

Even so, previous lunar maps had different resolutions, viewing angles, and lighting conditions, which made it hard to consistently identify and count craters. Head and his team used the LOLA instrument on board LRO to build a map that highlights lunar craters with unprecedented clarity. The instrument sends laser pulses to the lunar surface, measures the time that it takes for them to reflect back to the spacecraft, and then with a very precise knowledge of the orbit of the LRO spacecraft, scientists can convert this information to a detailed topographic map of the moon, according to Head.

Objects hitting the moon can be categorized in different “impactor populations,” where each population has its own set of characteristics. Head also used the LOLA maps to determine the time when the impactor population changed. “Using the crater counts from the different impact basins and examining the populations making up the superposed craters, we can look back in time to discover when this transition in impactor populations occurred. The LRO LOLA impact crater database shows that the transition occurred about the time of the Orientale impact basin, about 3.8 billion years ago. The implication is that this change in populations occurred around the same time as the large impact basins stopped forming, and raises the question of whether or not these factors might be related. The answers to these questions have implications for the earliest history of all the planets in the inner solar system, including Earth,” says Head.

In the other two Science papers, researchers describe how data from the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment instrument on LRO are showing that the geologic processes that forged the lunar surface were complex as well. The data have revealed previously unseen compositional differences in the crustal highlands, and have confirmed the presence of anomalously silica-rich material in five distinct regions.

Every mineral, and therefore every rock, absorbs and emits energy with a unique spectral signature that can be measured to reveal its identity and formation mechanisms. For the first time ever, LRO’s Diviner instrument is providing scientists with global, high-resolution infrared maps of the moon, which are enabling them to make a definitive identification of silicate minerals commonly found within its crust. “Diviner is literally viewing the moon in a whole new light,” says Benjamin Greenhagen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., lead author of one of the Diviner Science papers.

Lunar geology can be roughly broken down into two categories – the anorthositic highlands, rich in calcium and aluminium, and the basaltic maria, which are abundant in iron and magnesium. Both of these crustal rocks are what’s deemed by geologists as ‘primitive’; that is, they are the direct result of crystallization from lunar mantle material, the partially molten layer beneath the crust.

Diviner’s observations have confirmed that most lunar terrains have spectral signatures consistent with compositions that fall into these two broad categories. However they have also revealed that the lunar highlands may be less homogenous than previously thought.

In a wide range of terrains, Diviner revealed the presence of lunar soils with compositions more sodium rich than that of the typical anorthosite crust. The widespread nature of these soils reveals that there may have been variations in the chemistry and cooling rate of the magma ocean which formed the early lunar crust, or they could be the result of secondary processing of the early lunar crust.

Most impressively, in several locations around the moon, Diviner has detected the presence of highly silicic minerals such as quartz, potassium-rich, and sodium-rich feldspar — minerals that are only ever found in association with highly evolved lithologies (rocks that have undergone extensive magmatic processing).

The detection of silicic minerals at these locations is a significant finding for scientists, as they occur in areas previously shown to exhibit anomalously high abundances of the element thorium, another proxy for highly evolved lithologies.

“The silicic features we’ve found on the moon are fundamentally different from the more typical basaltic mare and anorthositic highlands,” says Timothy Glotch of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y., lead author of the second Diviner Science paper. “The fact that we see this composition in multiple geologic settings suggests that there may have been multiple processes producing these rocks.”

One thing not apparent in the data is evidence for pristine lunar mantle material, which previous studies have suggested may be exposed at some places on the lunar surface. Such material, rich in iron and magnesium, would be readily detected by Diviner.

However, even in the South Pole Aitken Basin (SPA), the largest, oldest, and deepest impact crater on the moon — deep enough to have penetrated through the crust and into the mantle — there is no evidence of mantle material.

The implications of this are as yet unknown. Perhaps there are no such exposures of mantle material, or maybe they occur in areas too small for Diviner to detect.

However, it’s likely that if the impact that formed this crater did excavate any mantle material, it has since been mixed with crustal material from later impacts inside and outside SPA. “The new Diviner data will help in selecting the appropriate landing sites for potential future robotic missions to return samples from SPA. We want to use these samples to date the SPA-forming impact and potentially study the lunar mantle, so it’s important to use Diviner data to identify areas with minimal mixing,” says Greenhagen.

The research was funded by NASA’s Exploration Systems Missions Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. LRO was built and is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. LOLA was built by NASA Goddard. David E. Smith from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA Goddard is the LOLA principal investigator. The Diviner instrument was built and is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. UCLA is the home institution of Diviner’s principal investigator, David Paige.

For images and more information about LRO, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/lro

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

September 3, 2010

Beautiful space image — Supernova 1987A

Sometimes when I run a “beautiful space image” post the beauty is in the awe-inspiringness of the image, and other times the photo might not be much to look at, but it is just amazing on its own merits.

And then sometimes it really is just beautiful.

From the third link, enjoy …

A team of astronomers led by the University of Colorado at Boulder is charting the interactions between Supernova 1987A and a glowing gas ring encircling the supernova remnant known as the “String of Pearls.” Credit: NASA

Also from the link:

The team detected significant brightening of the emissions from Supernova 1987A, which were consistent with some theoretical predictions about how supernovae interact with their immediate galactic environment. Discovered in 1987, Supernova 1987A is the closest  to Earth to be detected since 1604 and resides in the nearby , a  adjacent to our own Milky Way Galaxy.

The team observed the supernova in optical, ultraviolet and near-infrared light, charting the interplay between the  and the famous “String of Pearls,” a glowing ring 6 trillion miles in diameter encircling the supernova remnant that has been energized by X-rays. The gas ring likely was shed some 20,000 years before the supernova exploded, and  rushing out from the remnant have been brightening some 30 to 40 pearl-like “hot spots” in the ring — objects that likely will grow and merge together in the coming years to form a continuous, glowing circle.

September 2, 2010

NASA’s going to the sun

And announcing the first five solar missions. No need to rush and book reservations, though, since this mission is a good eight years from launch.

News hot from today’s inbox.

The release:

NASA Selects Investigations for First Mission to Encounter the Sun

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA has begun development of a mission to visit and study the sun closer than ever before. The unprecedented project, named Solar Probe Plus, is slated to launch no later than 2018.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)
(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

The small car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun’s atmosphere approximately four million miles from our star’s surface. It will explore a region no other spacecraft ever has encountered. NASA has selected five science investigations that will unlock the sun’s biggest mysteries.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics —  why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?” said Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington. “We’ve been struggling with these questions for decades and this mission should finally provide those answers.”

As the spacecraft approaches the sun, its revolutionary carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures exceeding 2550 degrees Fahrenheit and blasts of intense radiation. The spacecraft will have an up close and personal view of the sun enabling scientists to better understand, characterize and forecast the radiation environment for future space explorers.

NASA invited researchers in 2009 to submit science proposals. Thirteen were reviewed by a panel of NASA and outside scientists. The total dollar amount for the five selected investigations is approximately $180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests.

The selected proposals are:

— Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation: principal investigator, Justin C. Kasper, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. This investigation will specifically count the most abundant particles in the solar wind — electrons, protons and helium ions — and measure their properties. The investigation also is designed to catch some of the particles in a special cup for direct analysis.

— Wide-field Imager: principal investigator, Russell Howard, Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. This telescope will make 3-D images of the sun’s corona, or atmosphere. The experiment actually will see the solar wind and provide 3-D images of clouds and shocks as they approach and pass the spacecraft. This investigation complements instruments on the spacecraft providing direct measurements by imaging the plasma the other instruments sample.

— Fields Experiment: principal investigator, Stuart Bale, University of California Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. This investigation will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions, and shock waves that course through the sun’s atmospheric plasma. The experiment also serves as a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit the spacecraft’s antenna.

— Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun: principal investigator, David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. This investigation consists of two instruments that will take an inventory of elements in the sun’s atmosphere using a mass spectrometer to weigh and sort ions in the vicinity of the spacecraft.

— Heliospheric Origins with Solar Probe Plus: principal investigator, Marco Velli of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Velli is the mission’s observatory scientist, responsible for serving as a senior scientist on the science working group. He will provide an independent assessment of scientific performance and act as a community advocate for the mission.

“This project allows humanity’s ingenuity to go where no spacecraft has ever gone before,” said Lika Guhathakurta, Solar Probe Plus program scientist at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “For the very first time, we’ll be able to touch, taste and smell our sun.”

The Solar Probe Plus mission is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand aspects of the sun and Earth’s space environment that affect life and society. The program is managed by NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., with oversight from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Division. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., is the prime contractor for the spacecraft.

For more information about the Solar Probe Plus mission, visit:
http://solarprobe.gsfc.nasa.gov/

For more information about the Living with a Star Program, visit:
http://science.nasa.gov/about-us/smd-programs/living-with-a-star/

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

Cool space image — galaxy NGC 4666

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:05 am

Enjoy

This visible light image, made with the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-meter telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, shows the galaxy NGC 4666 in the center. It is a starburst galaxy, about 80 million light-years from Earth, in which particularly intense star formation is taking place. The starburst is thought to be caused by gravitational interactions with neighboring galaxies, including NGC 4668, visible to the lower left. A combination of supernova explosions and strong winds from massive stars in the starburst region drives a vast outflow of gas from the galaxy into space — a so-called “superwind”. NGC 4666 had previously been observed in X-rays by the ESA XMM-Newton space telescope, and these visible light observations were made to target background objects detected in the earlier X-ray images. This picture, which covers a field of 16 by 12 arcminutes, is a combination of twelve CCD frames, 67 megapixels each, taken through blue, green and red filters. Credit: ESO/J. Dietrich

Hit the link up there for more about NGC 4666, and a (sorta cheesy) video of its location in space. And for even more info, here’s the release.

August 28, 2010

Cool space image — Orcus Patera

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:58 pm

Orcus Patera is a crater on Mars with an unusual elongated shape:

From the link:

Orcus Patera is an enigmatic elliptical depression near Mars’s equator, in the eastern hemisphere of the planet. Located between the volcanoes of Elysium Mons and Olympus Mons, its formation remains a mystery.

Often overlooked, this well-defined depression extends approximately 380 km by 140 km in a NNE–SSW direction. It has a rim that rises up to 1800 m above the surrounding plains, while the floor of the depression lies 400–600 m below the surroundings.

Hit this link for a much larger version of the image.

August 7, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Antennae galaxies

A space image two-fer today!

Enjoy …

From the link:

The X-ray image from Chandra shows huge clouds of hot, interstellar gas that have been injected with rich deposits of elements from supernova explosions. This enriched gas, which includes elements such as oxygen, iron, magnesium and silicon, will be incorporated into new generations of stars and planets.

The bright, point-like sources in the image are produced by material falling onto black holes and neutron stars that are remnants of the massive stars. Some of these black holes may have masses that are almost one hundred times that of the Sun.

The Spitzer data show infrared light from warm dust clouds that have been heated by newborn stars, with the brightest clouds lying in the overlap region between the two galaxies. The Hubble data reveal old stars in red, filaments of dust in brown and star-forming regions in yellow and white. Many of the fainter objects in the optical image are clusters containing thousands of stars.

Beautiful space image — the sun in a solar flare

A solar flare from August 1, 2010 no less (last Sunday).

Enjoy …

On August 1, 2010, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the news-making solar event on August 1 shows the C3-class solar flare.

Great Ball of Fire

On August 1, 2010, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the news-making solar event on August 1 shows the C3-class solar flare (white area on upper left), a solar tsunami (wave-like structure, upper right), multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more.

This multi-wavelength extreme ultraviolet snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun’s northern hemisphere in mid-eruption. Different colors in the image represent different gas temperatures. Earth’s magnetic field is still reverberating from the solar flare impact on August 3, 2010, which sparked aurorae as far south as Wisconsin and Iowa in the United States. Analysts believe a second solar flare is following behind the first flare and could re-energize the fading geomagnetic storm and spark a new round of Northern Lights.

Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

August 6, 2010

Get ready for the Perseid Meteor Shower

Filed under: et.al. — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:42 pm

The Perseids are always worth a trip away from the lights of the city to get a better look. The action happens around midnight August 12th-13th.

From the link:

The show begins at sundown when Venus, Saturn, Mars and the crescent Moon pop out of the western twilight in tight conjunction. All four heavenly objects will fit within a circle about 10 degrees in diameter, beaming together through the dusky colors of sunset. No telescope is required to enjoy this naked-eye event: sky map:

Planets Align for the Perseid Meteor Shower
Enlarge
The planets will hang together in the western sky until 10 pm or so. When they leave, following the sun below the horizon, you should stay, because that is when the Perseid  begins. From 10 pm until dawn,  will flit across the starry sky in a display that’s even more exciting than a planetary get-together.

August 2, 2010

Ever heard of a white hole?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:22 pm

Me neither.

(And to be clear, the link goes to the physics arXiv blog and an astronomy story and not a NSFW site.)

July 15, 2010

Is it a planet? Is it a comet? I don’t know!

News from NASA hot from the inbox:

NASA Finds Super Hot Planet With Unique Comet-Like Tail

WASHINGTON, July 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed the existence of a baked object that could be called a “cometary planet.” The gas giant planet, named HD 209458b, is orbiting so close to its star that its heated atmosphere is escaping into space.

Observations taken with Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) suggest powerful stellar winds are sweeping the cast-off atmospheric material behind the scorched planet and shaping it into a comet-like tail.

“Since 2003 scientists have theorized the lost mass is being pushed back into a tail, and they have even calculated what it looks like,” said astronomer Jeffrey Linsky of the University of Colorado in Boulder, leader of the COS study. “We think we have the best observational evidence to support that theory. We have measured gas coming off the planet at specific speeds, some coming toward Earth. The most likely interpretation is that we have measured the velocity of material in a tail.”

The planet, located 153 light years from Earth, weighs slightly less than Jupiter but orbits 100 times closer to its star than the Jovian giant. The roasted planet zips around its star in a short 3.5 days. In contrast, our solar system’s fastest planet, Mercury, orbits the sun in 88 days. The extrasolar planet is one of the most intensely scrutinized, because it is the first of the few known alien worlds that can be seen passing in front of, or transiting, its star. Linsky and his team used COS to analyze the planet’s atmosphere during transiting events.

During a transit, astronomers study the structure and chemical makeup of a planet’s atmosphere by sampling the starlight that passes through it. The dip in starlight because of the planet’s passage, excluding the atmosphere, is very small, only about 1.5 percent. When the atmosphere is added, the dip jumps to 8 percent, indicating a bloated atmosphere.

COS detected the heavy elements carbon and silicon in the planet’s super-hot 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit atmosphere. This detection revealed the parent star is heating the entire atmosphere, dredging up the heavier elements and allowing them to escape the planet.

The COS data also showed the material leaving the planet was not all traveling at the same speed. “We found gas escaping at high velocities, with a large amount of this gas flowing toward us at 22,000 miles per hour,” Linsky said. “This large gas flow is likely gas swept up by the stellar wind to form the comet-like tail trailing the planet.”

Hubble’s newest spectrograph has the ability to probe a planet’s chemistry at ultraviolet wavelengths not accessible to ground-based telescopes. COS is proving to be an important instrument for probing the atmospheres of “hot Jupiters” like HD 209458b.

Another Hubble instrument, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), observed the planet in 2003. The STIS data showed an active, evaporating atmosphere, and a comet-tail-like structure was suggested as a possibility. But STIS wasn’t able to obtain the spectroscopic detail necessary to show a tail, or an Earthward-moving component of the gas, during transits. The tail was detected for the first time because of the unique combination of very high ultraviolet sensitivity and good spectral resolution provided by COS.

Although this extreme planet is being roasted by its star, it won’t be destroyed anytime soon. “It will take about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate,” Linsky said.

The results appeared in the July 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute, operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington, conducts Hubble science operations.

For illustrations and more information about HD 209458b, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA
Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

Interesting space image — the Lutetia planetoid

Great close-up look at an asteroid.

Fig. 1: A playground for geologists: The surface of the asteroid Lutetia is covered in craters. In some places, parallel grooves can also be seen.

Image: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS Team/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The ESA space probe Rosetta flew past the Lutetia planetoid at around 6 p.m. CEST on Saturday. The OSIRIS camera system, built and developed under the direction of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, provided unique images of this rendezvous. They not only show a large number of craters on the surface of the celestial body, but also individual rocks and parallel grooves.

With a resolution of around 60 metres per pixel, the images provide a fascinating view of Lutetia. “This is a completely new world, which no-one has ever seen before,” says Max Planck researcher Holger Sierks, Head of the OSIRIS team. The planetoid, whose longest axis measures around 126 kilometres, is oval in shape. Its surface is marked by many craters, both large and small; in one of the larger craters, the images even show evidence of a landslide. In some parts, parallel grooves cover the cosmic rock, the origin of which is still unknown.

The camera system had already focused on the asteroid on Saturday morning. At approximately 6 p.m. the Rosetta space probe was within 3,162 kilometres of the asteroid. “Both the wide-angle and the telephoto camera worked perfectly,” reports Sierks. The Control Centre of the European Space Agency ESA passed the data collected during the fly-by directly to the Max Planck Institute, where researchers worked all day and into the night filtering images from the raw data. On Saturday at around 11 p.m. they presented their initial results.

During the coming days and weeks the scientists want to further evaluate the images. It should then be possible to determine the colour of the asteroid and thus the chemical composition of its surface in more detail. They will also use data from other measuring instruments which were active during the fly-by as well.

Since 2004, the Rosetta space probe has been en route to the Churyumov/Gerasimenko comet, and the plan is for the Philae lander to touch down on the comet in 2014. In September 2008, Rosetta passed the planetoid Steins.

Fig. 2: Zooming in on Lutetia: A sequence of images taken during the fly-by.

Image: ESA 2010 MPS for OSIRIS eam/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Related links:

[1] Further information on the Rosetta space probe

July 13, 2010

Beautiful space image — NGC 2467

Enjoy

Caption: A colorful star-forming region is featured in this stunning new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 2467. Looking like a roiling cauldron of some exotic cosmic brew, huge clouds of gas and dust are sprinkled with bright blue, hot young stars. Strangely shaped dust clouds, resembling spilled liquids, are silhouetted against a colourful background of glowing. Like the familiar Orion Nebula, NGC 2467 is a huge cloud of gas — mostly hydrogen — that serves as an incubator for new stars. This picture was created from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys through three different filters (F550M, F660N and F658N, shown in blue, green and red). These filters were selected to let through different colours of red and yellow light arising from different elements in the gas. The total aggregate exposure time was about 2000 seconds and the field of view is about 3.5 arcminutes across. These data were taken in 2004.

Credit: NASA, ESA and Orsola De Marco (Macquarie University)

Usage Restrictions: None

Related news release: Hubble snaps sharp image of cosmic concoction

July 7, 2010

Beautiful space image — NGC 3603

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:45 am

Enjoy

Credit: NASA, ESA, R. O’Connell (University of Virginia), F. Paresce (National Institute for Astrophysics, Bologna, Italy), E. Young (Universities Space Research Association/Ames Research Center), the WFC3 Science Oversight Committee, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

From the link:

Most of the stars in the cluster were born around the same time but differ in size, mass, temperature, and color. The course of a star’s life is determined by its mass, so a cluster of a given age will contain stars in various stages of their lives, giving an opportunity for detailed analyses of stellar life cycles. NGC 3603 also contains some of the most  known. These huge stars live fast and die young, burning through their  fuel quickly and ultimately ending their lives in supernova explosions.

And here’s one more from the same group:

Caption: The core of the star cluster in NGC 3603 is shown in great detail in an image from the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) camera on the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image is a color composite of observations in the WFPC2 filters F555W (blue), F675W (green) and F814W (red). This view shows the second of two images taken ten years apart that were used to detect the motions of individual stars within the cluster for the first time. The field of view is about 20 arc seconds across.

Credit: NASA, ESA and Wolfgang Brandner (MPIA), Boyke Rochau (MPIA) and Andrea Stolte (University of Cologne)

Usage Restrictions: None

Related news release: Hubble catches stars on the move

July 6, 2010

Beautiful space image — primordial cosmic microwave background radiation

Here is the first full-sky image from Europe’s Planck telescope released by the European Space Agency:

From the link:

Dominating the foreground are large segments of our Milky Way Galaxy (the bright horizontal line running the full length of the image is the galaxy’s main disc, the plane in which the Sun and the Earth also reside). Behind that is the primordial cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, a key target of the Planck mission. A formal release of fully prepared CMB images and scientific papers is expected by the end of 2012.

June 18, 2010

Beautiful space image — a star is born

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:54 am

Literally. This is an image of the birth of a star

From the link:

Astronomers have glimpsed what could be the youngest known star at the very moment it is being born. Not yet fully developed into a true star, the object is in the earliest stages of star formation and has just begun pulling in matter from a surrounding envelope of gas and dust, according to a new study that appears in the current issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

\

June 16, 2010

Massive space storm coming in 2013 according to NASA

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:46 pm

Via Kurzweil.net — This news a little daunting. NASA isn’t typically known for hyperbolic statements. OF course if we’re wiped out by “Planet X” in 2012 it’s a moot point anyway.

Nasa warns solar flares from ‘huge space storm’ will cause devastation
Telegraph, June 14, 2010

In a new warning, NASA said a super storm in 2013 would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services, and national security unless precautions are taken.

According to Dr. Richard Fisher, director of NASA‘s Heliophysics division, it could damage everything from the power grid, GPS navigation systems, major satellites, emergency services systems, hospital equipment, banking systems, and air traffic control devices, to everyday items such as home computers, and iPods.

Also see: How to survive a solar storm
Read Original Article>>

June 14, 2010

Amazing space image — the sun

Hot from the inbox:

X-Ray image of the sun

Hit this link for a much, much larger version (too big for this blog).

The release:

GOES-15 Solar X-Ray Imager Makes a Miraculous First Light

GREENBELT, Md., June 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Solar X-Ray Imager instrument aboard the GOES-15 satellite has just provided its first light image of the sun, but it required a lot of experts to make it happen.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

Scientists and engineers from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been working to bring the Solar X-Ray Imager (SXI) instrument to full functionality since the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-15, formerly known as the GOES-P satellite, achieved orbit.

GOES-15 launched on March 4, 2010 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. On April 6, 2010, GOES-15 captured its first visible image of Earth and on April 26, GOES-15 took its first full-disk infrared image.

“Since the early checkout of GOES 15 (P) and the anomalous turn on of the Solar X-Ray Imager, the team has been aggressively pursuing all avenues to recover the instrument,” said Andre’ Dress, GOES N-P Deputy Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Frankly, we were down to our last straw when all the teams’ hard work and efforts finally paid off.  We now believe we have a full recovery of the instrument’s functionality!  It’s an incredible story and a true testament of our NASA/contractor teams’ expertise, hard work and determination.”

On June 3, the GOES 15 Solar X-Ray Imager finally came on-line. Scientists and engineers had subjected SXI to a series of long duration turn on tests in the hopes of clearing the short. About 16 hours into the testing, the instrument voltages returned to normal values and SXI now appears to be functioning properly.

“We were facing a tough problem when we first attempted to bring SXI on-line,” said

George Koerner, SXI program manager at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC) Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, Calif., where the Solar X-ray Imager was designed and built. “But because of our ability to bring together subject matter experts from both government and industry, to move forward step by step, and to work as a team patiently and persistently, together we achieved mission success. This is an enormously satisfying outcome.”

Since its recovery, several test solar images have also been subsequently taken successfully. The GOES team continue to assess the health of the instrument. This new round of testing will assess SXI’s total functionality. That functionality means the team will capture images of the sun with the camera to assess whether the camera is properly processing image data.

“I don’t think most people realize how important these space weather instruments are in our everyday life,” Dress said. “This data is used by the U.S. Department of Defense, NOAA, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in protecting our space assets, land-based assets and directing flight paths for the FAA.”

GOES-15 will join three other NOAA operational GOES spacecraft that help the agency’s forecasters track life-threatening weather and solar activity that can impact the satellite-based electronics and communications industry. NASA’s testing of the spacecraft and its instruments will continue through the entire post-launch test period expected to end in late August 2010. This will be followed by a series of NOAA Science Tests. The GOES series of U.S. satellites are developed by a joint NASA-NOAA-Industry partnership, launched by NASA (with industry partners), and operated by NOAA.

For the first GOES SXI image, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GOES-P/news/xray_imager.html

For more information about the GOES-P mission and program on the Web, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/goes-p

Photo:  PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

June 8, 2010

Life on Titan?!

Filed under: et.al. — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:19 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Obviously a lot more research needs to happen before we get too excited, but evidence of life on one of Saturn’s moons is still pretty exciting.

Have We Discovered Evidence For Life On Titan
Space Daily, June 8, 2010

Results from the Cassini mission suggest that hydrogen and acetylene are depleted at the surface of Titan, which, along with other studies, could indicate the presence of methane-based life.
Read Original Article>>

May 24, 2010

Phoenix Mars Lander, RIP

Like this release hot from the inbox explains, the Phoenix Mars Lander exceeded its planned useful life by a gigantic margin.

The release:

Phoenix Mars Lander Does Not Phone Home, New Image Shows Damage

PASADENA, Calif., May 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has ended operations after repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft were unsuccessful. A new image transmitted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows signs of severe ice damage to the lander’s solar panels.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

“The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime,” said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix’s science activities will continue for some time to come.”

Last week, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site 61 times during a final attempt to communicate with the lander. No transmission from the lander was detected. Phoenix also did not communicate during 150 flights in three earlier listening campaigns this year.

Earth-based research continues on discoveries Phoenix made during summer conditions at the far-northern site where it landed May 25, 2008. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later.

Phoenix was not designed to survive the dark, cold, icy winter. However, the slim possibility Phoenix survived could not be eliminated without listening for the lander after abundant sunshine returned.

The MRO image of Phoenix taken this month by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on board the spacecraft suggests the lander no longer casts shadows the way it did during its working lifetime.

“Before and after images are dramatically different,” said Michael Mellon of the University of Colorado in Boulder, a science team member for both Phoenix and HiRISE. “The lander looks smaller, and only a portion of the difference can be explained by accumulation of dust on the lander, which makes its surfaces less distinguishable from surrounding ground.”

Apparent changes in the shadows cast by the lander are consistent with predictions of how Phoenix could be damaged by harsh winter conditions. It was anticipated that the weight of a carbon-dioxide ice buildup could bend or break the lander’s solar panels. Mellon calculated hundreds of pounds of ice probably coated the lander in mid-winter.

During its mission, Phoenix confirmed and examined patches of the widespread deposits of underground water ice detected by Odyssey and identified a mineral called calcium carbonate that suggested occasional presence of thawed water. The lander also found soil chemistry with significant implications for life and observed falling snow. The mission’s biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes and poisonous to other forms of life.

“We found that the soil above the ice can act like a sponge, with perchlorate scavenging water from the atmosphere and holding on to it,” said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “You can have a thin film layer of water capable of being a habitable environment. A micro-world at the scale of grains of soil — that’s where the action is.”

The perchlorate results are shaping subsequent astrobiology research, as scientists investigate the implications of its antifreeze properties and potential use as an energy source by microbes. Discovery of the ice in the uppermost soil by Odyssey pointed the way for Phoenix. More recently, the MRO detected numerous ice deposits in middle latitudes at greater depth using radar and exposed on the surface by fresh impact craters.

“Ice-rich environments are an even bigger part of the planet than we thought,” Smith said. “Somewhere in that vast region there are going to be places that are more habitable than others.”

NASA’s MRO reached the planet in 2006 to begin a two-year primary science mission. Its data show Mars had diverse wet environments at many locations for differing durations during the planet’s history, and climate-change cycles persist into the present era. The mission has returned more planetary data than all other Mars missions combined.

Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001. The mission also has played important roles by supporting the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The Phoenix mission was led by Smith at the University of Arizona, with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin in Denver. The University of Arizona operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., in Boulder. Mars missions are managed by JPL for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

For Phoenix information and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

May 2, 2010

Beautiful space image — the sun

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:34 am

Wow.

SDO First Light composite image from March 30, 2010.

A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credit: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team

As usual, hit the link up there for a larger version of the image and more information.

Update 5/3/10: I haven’t read the Bad Astronomer (see blogroll) in while and happened to yesterday only to find a post with this image and more explanation, plus another very cool image from the SDO.)

April 19, 2010

SETI to release radio data on search for extraterrestrial life

Hot from today’s inbox, news from SETI that tremendously expands the brainpower brought to bear on its massive collection of radio telescope data.

The release:

SETI Institute Announces Public Availability of Radio Telescope Signal Data in Latest Milestone for Director Dr. Jill Tarter’s 2009 TED Prize Wish to Enlist all Earthlings in Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 19 /PRNewswire/ — SETI Institute, an interdisciplinary scientific organization that explores the nature of life throughout the universe, announced that starting today it will make large quantities of astronomical radio telescope data accessible to astronomers and other scientists as part of an effort to build a global community of searchers for evidence of extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Today’s announcement represents the latest milestone in SETI Institute’s mission to facilitate mass collaboration in the search for civilizations beyond earth.  The radio telescope data will be released by setiQuest, a program formed in 2009 after SETI Institute Director Dr. Jill Tarter was awarded the 2009 TED Prize, whose benefits included $100,000 and the assistance of the global TED community to help realize her “One Wish to Change the World.”  Accepting the prize, Dr. Tarter asked the TED community to “empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.”

After months in development, the setiQuest program has reached the point where it is able to invite the global scientific community to access radio signal data collected by SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA).  Commissioned in 2007, the Allen array is operated jointly by SETI Institute and the University of California at Berkeley. It is a “Large Number of Small Dishes” (LNSD) telescope array designed to conduct surveys for both conventional radio astronomy by the university, as well as for SETI Institute’s research.

SETI Institute analyzes the ATA radio data in real time with special software to detect technological signals from a distant extra-terrestrial civilization.  The process is analogous to listening to one hundred million radios, each tuned to a different channel and attached to an antenna that is highly sensitive to just one millionth of the sky, to find faint signals.

To date, SETI Institute’s methods have focused on the search for what are called narrowband signals. One of the benefits of opening the ATA data to the global scientific community is to invite development of techniques to analyze broadband signals.

The radio telescope data will be made available through setiQuest’s website, www.setiquest.org, in the form of files containing streams of data samples from specific targets in space. Data can be accessed by registered participants in the setiQuest program.  SETI Institute hopes that by making the ATA data widely available, scientists around the world will develop new and innovative ways to process the massive quantities of radio signals streaming from space every second.

SETI Institute search programs have processed data in real time and discarded it shortly after the observation. They are capturing these new data sets to invite the public to expand the search. Now, setiQuest will provide a day’s worth of ATA data each week, and will leave the data on its website for up to six months.

While astronomers and specialists with experience in digital signal processing (DSP) may by the likely initial population of scientists and technologists with an interest in setiQuest, the program welcomes scientists and technologists of all disciplines.  Those interested in learning how they can be part of the setiQuest project can find more information at www.setiQuest.org.

For more details of the progress of Dr. Tarter’s TED Prize wish, visit http://www.tedprize.org/jill-tarter/.

About SETI Institute

The mission of SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. At SETI Institute biologists, physicists, chemists, astronomers, ecologists, planetary scientists, geologists, engineers, technologists, and educators join forces in the quest to find life elsewhere. This includes the search for potentially inhabited planets in our Solar System and beyond, laboratory and field investigations of the origins and early evolution of life, and studies of the potential of life to adapt to future challenges on Earth and in space. For more information about SETI, visit www.seti.org.  For information about setiQuest, visit www.setiquest.org.

Source: TED Conferences

April 9, 2010

Beautiful space image — M 66 of the Leo Triplet

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:08 am

A gorgeous galaxy:

Click for larger image

Hubble has snapped a spectacular view of M 66, the largest “player” of the Leo Triplet, and a galaxy with an unusual anatomy: it displays asymmetric spiral arms and an apparently displaced core. The peculiar anatomy is most likely caused by the gravitational pull of the other two members of the trio.

The unusual spiral galaxy, Messier 66, is located at a distance of about 35 million light-years in the constellation of Leo. Together with Messier 65 and NGC 3628, Messier 66 is the member of the Leo Triplet, a trio of interacting spiral galaxies, part of the larger Messier 66 group. Messier 66 wins in size over its fellow triplets — it is about 100 000 light-years across.

Be sure to hit the link up there for an absolutely humongous version of the image. Here’s some additional background.

March 18, 2010

Beautiful space image — dust in the solar neighborhood

Very nice. And yes, I’ve been posting more space and nanotech images than usual of late.

The image spans about 50° of the sky. It is a three-colour combination constructed from Planck’s two highest frequency channels (557 and 857 GHz, corresponding to wavelengths of 540 and 350 micrometres), and an image at the shorter wavelength of 100 micrometres made by the IRAS satellite. This combination visualises dust temperature very effectively: red corresponds to temperatures as cold as 10° above absolute zero, and white to those of a few tens of degrees. Overall, the image shows local dust structures within 500 light-years of the Sun.

Credits: ESA/HFI Consortium/IRAS

Hit the link up there for the full release on this image

March 17, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Berkeley 59 cluster

Check this out

WISE Captures a Cosmic Rose

A new infrared image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows a cosmic rosebud blossoming with new stars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

From the link:

A new infrared image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows a cosmic rosebud blossoming with new stars. The stars, called the Berkeley 59 cluster, are the blue dots to the right of the image center. They are ripening out of the dust cloud from which they formed, and at just a few million years old, are young on stellar time scales.

The rosebud-like red glow surrounding the hot, young stars is warm dust heated by the stars. Green “leafy” nebulosity enfolds the cluster, showing the edges of the dense, dusty cloud. This green material is from heated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, molecules that can be found on Earth in barbecue pits, exhaust pipes and other places where combustion has occurred.

Also hit the link for a much larger version of the image. I was going to run it here, but it’s a little too big for this blog’s format.

March 13, 2010

Dwarf star has 86% chance of crashing our solar system

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:33 pm

But we have a little time to make arrangements. The collision is expected in the next 1.5 million years.

From the link:

A new set of star velocity data indicates that Gliese 710 has an 86 percent chance of ploughing into the Solar System within the next 1.5 million years.

And:

Today, Vadim Bobylev at the Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg gives us the answer. He’s combined the Hipparcos data with several new databases and found an additional nine stars that have either had a close encounter with the Sun or are going to.

But he’s also made a spectacular prediction. The original Hipparcos data showed that an orange dwarf star called Gliese 710 is heading our way and will arrive sometime within the next 1.5 million years.

Of course, trajectories are difficult to calculate when the data is poor so nobody has really been sure about what’s going to happen.

What the new data has allowed Bobylev to do is calculate the probability of Gliese 710 smashing into the Solar System. What he’s found is a shock.

He says there is 86 percent chance that Gliese 710 will plough through the Oort Cloud of frozen stuff that extends some 0.5 parsecs into space.

That may sound like a graze but it is likely to have serious consequences. Such an approach would send an almighty shower of comets into the Solar System which will force us to keep our heads down for a while. And a probability of 86 percent is about as close to certainty as this kind of data can get.

March 8, 2010

Things that make you go “oh, my”

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:54 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Oh my, indeed.

Dark, dangerous asteroids found lurking near Earth
New Scientist Space, Mar. 5, 2010

NASA‘s WISE mission has spotted 16 formerly hidden near-Earth objects with orbits close to Earth‘s.

WISE is expected to discover as many as 1000 near-Earth objects, but astronomers estimate that the number of unknown objects with masses great enough to cause ground damage in an impact runs into the tens of thousands.
Read Original Article>>

February 25, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Small Magellanic Cloud

Just incredible

From the link:

Today ESO has released a dramatic new image of NGC 346, the brightest star-forming region in our neighbouring galaxy, the Small Magellanic Cloud, 210 000 light-years away towards the constellation of Tucana (the Toucan). The light, wind and heat given off by massive stars have dispersed the glowing gas within and around this star cluster, forming a surrounding wispy nebular structure that looks like a cobweb. NGC 346, like other beautiful astronomical scenes, is a work in progress, and changes as the aeons pass. As yet more stars form from loose matter in the area, they will ignite, scattering leftover dust and gas, carving out great ripples and altering the face of this lustrous object.

NGC 346 spans approximately 200 light-years, a region of space about fifty times the distance between the Sun and its nearest stellar neighbours. Astronomers classify NGC 346 as an open cluster of stars, indicating that this stellar brood all originated from the same collapsed cloud of matter. The associated nebula containing this clutch of bright stars is known as an emission nebula, meaning that gas within it has been heated up by stars until the gas emits its own light, just like the neon gas used in electric store signs.

Many stars in NGC 346 are relatively young in cosmic terms with their births dating back only a few million years or so (eso0834). Powerful winds thrown off by a massive star set off this recent round of star birth by compressing large amounts of matter, the first critical step towards igniting new stars. This cloud of material then collapses under its own gravity, until some regions become dense and hot enough to roar forth as a brilliantly shining, nuclear fusion-powered furnace — a star, illuminating the residual debris of gas and dust. In sufficiently congested regions like NGC 346, with high levels of recent star birth, the result is a glorious, glowing vista for our telescopes to capture.

NGC 346 is in the Small Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy some 210 000 light-years away from Earth and in close proximity to our home, the much larger Milky Way Galaxy. Like its sister the Large Magellanic Cloud, the Small Magellanic Cloud is visible with the unaided eye from the southern hemisphere and has served as an extragalactic laboratory for astronomers studying the dynamics of star formation.

This particular image was obtained using the Wide Field Imager (WFI) instrument at the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at the La Silla Observatory in Chile. Images like this help astronomers chronicle star birth and evolution, while offering glimpses of how stellar development influences the appearance of the cosmic environment over time.

More information

ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 14 countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, and VISTA the largest survey telescope. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 42-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

February 18, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Andromeda galaxy

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:01 am

Just enjoy …

Andromeda Galaxy

The immense Andromeda galaxy, also known as Messier 31 or simply M31, is captured in full in this new image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The mosaic covers an area equivalent to more than 100 full moons, or five degrees across the sky. WISE used all four of its infrared detectors to capture this picture (3.4- and 4.6-micron light is colored blue; 12-micron light is green; and 22-micron light is red). Blue highlights mature stars, while yellow and red show dust heated by newborn, massive stars.

Andromeda is the closest large galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy, and is located 2.5 million light-years from our sun. It is close enough for telescopes to spy the details of its ringed arms of new stars and hazy blue backbone of older stars. Also seen in the mosaic are two satellite galaxies, known as M32, located just a bit above Andromeda to the left of center, and the fuzzy blue M110, located below the center of the great spiral arms. These satellites are the largest of several that are gravitationally bound to Andromeda.

The Andromeda galaxy is larger than our Milky Way and contains more stars, but the Milky Way is thought to perhaps have more mass due to its larger proportion of a mysterious substance called dark matter. Both galaxies belong to our so-called Local Group, a collection of more than 50 galaxies, most of which are tiny dwarf systems. In its quest to map the whole sky, WISE will capture the entire Local Group.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Be sure to hit the link up there for a truly massive version of this image. Unbelievably beautiful.

Head below the fold for the release from yesterday’s inbox with links to this image. (more…)

February 4, 2010

Beautiful space image — NGC 3603

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:28 am

I’ll let the image do the talking here:

SO is releasing a magnificent VLT image of the giant stellar nursery surrounding NGC 3603, in which stars are continuously being born. Embedded in this scenic nebula is one of the most luminous and most compact clusters of young, massive stars in our Milky Way, which therefore serves as an excellent “local” analogue of very active star-forming regions in other galaxies. The cluster also hosts the most massive star to be “weighed” so far.

Hit the link above for more on this gorgeous space image.

Older Posts »