David Kirkpatrick

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.

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.

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

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”.

November 22, 2009

Beautiful space image — Centaurus A

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:17 am


This image of the central parts of Centaurus A reveals the parallelogram-shaped remains of a smaller galaxy that was gulped down about 200 to 700 million years ago. The image is based on data collected with the SOFI instrument on ESO’s New Technology Telescope at La Silla. The original image, obtained by observing in the near-infrared through three different filters (J, H and K) was specially processed to look through the dust, providing a clear view of the centre. The field of view is about 4 x 4 arcminutes.

October 3, 2009

… like pearls on a string

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 7:47 pm

Beautiful interstellar images from the European Space  Herschel space observatory:

Cold gas in the Milky WayHerschel PACS image

Cold gas in the Milky WayHerschel SPIRE image

March 20, 2009

Solar Orbiter science investigations chosen

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:16 pm

A release from this morning:

NASA and ESA Select Science Investigations for Solar Orbiter

WASHINGTON, March 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA and the European Space Agency have selected 10 proposals for science instruments to fly aboard a spacecraft that will study the sun from a unique vantage point in space.

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

The European-led mission, called the Solar Orbiter, will be positioned about one-fourth the distance Earth is from the sun. The location ultimately will enhance the ability for scientists worldwide to forecast space weather.

Space weather can produce electromagnetic fields on Earth that induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines, causing wide-spread blackouts and affecting communication cables that support the Internet. Severe space weather also produces energetic solar particles and the dislocation of Earth’s radiation belts, which can damage satellites used for commercial communications, global positioning and weather forecasting. Additionally, space weather poses risks to astronauts.

“These selections provide the highest scientific value to help answer questions about our life giving star, the sun,” said Dick Fisher, director for NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington. “This collaboration will create a new chapter in heliophysics research and provide a strong partnership with the international science community to complement future robotic and human exploration activities.”

The continued development of the selected investigations beyond initial design of the instruments, known as Phase A, will depend on technical feasibility, cost and schedule commitments from the principal investigators. Continuation also will depend on available NASA program funds and ESA’s Cosmic Vision mission down-selection process to be completed in early 2010.

“The announcement of the preliminary payload selection for Solar Orbiter is a positive step toward the realization of a joint mission aimed at collecting unprecedented data about our star,” said Marcello Coradini, ESA coordinator for solar system missions in Paris. “We are delighted to continue our tradition of partnership with NASA, which already has enabled us to carry out extraordinary scientific missions.”

Of the 10 selected instrument proposals, three will receive NASA funding:

* Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager; Russell Howard, principal investigator, Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. This instrument will provide revolutionary measurements to pinpoint coronal mass ejections or CMEs. CME’s are violent eruptions with masses greater than a few billion tons. They travel from 60 to more than 2,000 miles per second. They have been compared to hurricanes because of the widespread disruption of communications and power systems they can cause when directed at Earth.

* Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment; Donald Hassler, principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. This instrument will provide an extreme ultraviolet spectrometer or optical instrument that will measure different wavelengths of light emitted from the sun. Data will advance our knowledge of the sun’s dynamics to better understand the effects on Earth and the solar system.

* Suprathermal Ion Spectrograph; lead co-investigator Glenn Mason, Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia, Md. This experiment will measure energetic particles ejected from the sun. Data will be compared to other solar and interplanetary processes to understand solar system space weather. Understanding the connections between the sun and its planets will allow better prediction of the impacts of solar activity on humans, technological systems and even the presence of life itself in the universe.

The investigations are part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand how and why the sun varies, how planetary systems respond and the effect on human space and Earth activities. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the program for the agency’s Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate.

  For more information about the Solar Orbiter program, visit:


  For more information about the Living with a Star Program, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://sci.esa.int/

December 10, 2008

James Webb Telescope news

The latest on the James Webb Telescope from NASA.

The release:

James Webb Telescope Mirrors Chill Out at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

HUNSTVILLE, Ala., Dec. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The first of 18 mirror segments that will fly on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope arrived this week at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., to prepare it to meet the extreme temperatures it will encounter in space.

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

The X-ray & Cryogenic Facility (XRCF) at the Marshall Center is the world’s largest X-ray telescope test facility and a unique, cryogenic, clean room optical test facility. Cryogenic testing will take place in a 7,600 cubic foot helium cooled vacuum chamber, chilling the Webb flight mirror from room temperature down to frigid -414 degrees Fahrenheit. While the mirrors change temperature, test engineers will precisely measure their structural stability to ensure they will perform as designed once they are operating in the extreme temperatures of space.

“Getting the best performance requires conditioning and testing the mirrors in the XRCF at temperatures just as cold as in space,” said Helen Cole, project manager for Webb Telescope mirror activities at XRCF. “Optical measurements of the 18 mirror segments at cold temperatures will be made and used to create mirrors that will focus crisply in space. This will allow us to see new wonders in our Universe.”

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is a large, infrared-optimized space telescope that will be the premier observatory of the next decade. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. Its instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range.

The Webb Telescope will have a large mirror, 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter, made up of 18 segments about 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) in size. The telescope’s home in space will be about one million miles from Earth. The completed primary mirror will be over 2.5 times larger than the diameter of the Hubble Space Telescope’s primary mirror, which is 2.4 meters (7.8 feet) in diameter, but will weigh roughly half as much because it is made of beryllium, one of the lightest applicable metals known to man.

The amount of detail a space telescope can see is directly related to the size of the mirror area that collects light from the universe. A larger area collects more light and can see deeper into space and at a much higher resolution than a smaller mirror. That’s why the telescope’s primary mirror is made up of 18 mirror segments that form a total area of 25 square-meters (almost 30 square yards) when they all come together.

What’s unique about the large primary mirror is that each of the 18 mirrors will have the ability to be moved individually, so that they can be aligned together to act as a single large mirror. Scientists and engineers can also correct for imperfections after the telescope opens in space, or if any changes occur in the mirror during the life of the mission. Precision testing, like this test cycle in the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility, provides detailed measurements to fabricate and deliver a high resolution mirror.

“Beginning today, we kick off exclusive testing of the James Webb Space Telescope mirrors which will run though 2011. Our one-of-a-kind facility can provide the environment which allows us to optically measure infinitesimally small changes in the mirrors as they cool,” said Jeff Kegley, XRCF testing manager.

The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to launch in 2013. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is managing the overall development effort for the Webb telescope. The telescope is a joint project of NASA and many U.S. partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

  For related images to this story, please visit:


  For more information about the James Webb Space Telescope, please visit:


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

August 23, 2008

ESA satellite to map Earth’s surface and core

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 7:21 pm

The release from the European Space Agency:

GOCE Earth explorer satellite to look at the Earth’s surface and core

22 August 2008
ESA PR 34-2008. The European Space Agency is about to launch the most sophisticated mission ever to investigate the Earth’s gravitational field and to map the reference shape of our planet – the geoid – with unprecedented resolution and accuracy.
The Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) will be placed onto a low altitude near sun-synchronous orbit by a Russian Rockot vehicle launched from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Northern Russia, some 800 km north of Moscow. Lift-off is scheduled to take place at 16:21 CEST (14:21 UTC) on Wednesday 10 September. The launcher is operated by Eurockot Launch Services, a joint venture between EADS Astrium and the Khrunichev Space Centre (Russia).

ESA’s 1-tonne spacecraft carries a set of six state-of-the-art high-sensitivity accelerometers to measure the components of the gravity field along all three axes. The data collected will provide a high-resolution map of the geoid (the reference surface of the planet) and of gravitational anomalies. Such a map will not only greatly improve our knowledge and understanding of the Earth’s internal structure, but will also be used as a much better reference for ocean and climate studies, including sea-level changes, oceanic circulation and ice caps dynamics survey. Numerous applications are expected in climatology, oceanography and geophysics, as well as for geodetic and positioning activities.  

To make this mission possible, ESA, its industrial partners (45 European companies led by Thales Alenia Space) and the science community had to overcome an impressive technical challenge by designing a satellite that will orbit the Earth close enough to gather high-accuracy gravitational data while being able to filter out disturbances caused by the remaining traces of the atmosphere in low Earth orbit (at an altitude of only 260 km). This resulted in a slender 5-m-long arrowhead shape for aerodynamics with low power ion thrusters to compensate for the atmospheric drag.

GOCE is the first Core Mission of the Earth Explorer programme undertaken by ESA in 1999 to foster research on the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and interior, on their interactions and on the impact of human activities on these natural processes. It will be the first in a whole series of Earth Explorer missions with five launches to take place within the next two years.

Two more Core Missions, selected to address specific topics of major public concern are already under development: ADM-Aeolus for atmospheric dynamics (2010), and EarthCARE to investigate the Earth’s radiative balance (2013). Three smaller Earth Explorer Opportunity Missions are also in preparation: CryoSat-2 to measure ice sheet thickness (2009), SMOS to study soil moisture and ocean salinity (2009) and Swarm to survey the evolution of the magnetic field (2010).

On the occasion of the launch of GOCE, ESA will open a Press Centre at ESA/ESRIN in Frascati, Italy from 14:00 to 20:00, hosting a launch event from 15:30 to 18:15.

A live televised transmission of the launch will bring images from Plesetsk and from mission control at ESA/ESOC in Darmstadt, Germany to broadcasters (further details on the TV transmission at http://television.esa.int). ESA senior management and programme specialists will be on hand at ESRIN for explanations and interviews. The general public can also follow the video transmission web-streamed at: http://www.esa.int/goce.

GOCE positioned for check

GOCE positioned for alignment check