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Astronomy & Space

A Warhol-like have a look at the Whirlpool, courtesy of Spitzer – Astronomy Now

July 2, 2019 • By

The gorgeous Whirlpool galaxy, also called Messier 51, is a favorite goal for novice astronomers, two galaxies within the means of gravitationally merging, one a spectacular face-on spiral, the opposite a way more compact however nonetheless extremely luminous starswarm. Each function supermassive black holes of their cores. On this Andy Warhol-like sequence of photos, a visible-light view at far left, captured by the Kitt Peak Nationwide Observatory’s 2.1-metre (6.8-foot) telescope, exhibits M51’s spiral arms and the mud lanes that obscure background stars. The second body from left combines two visible-light wavelengths with infrared information from Spitzer, emphasising the mud lanes within the spiral arms. The third panel from left exhibits M51 in three wavelengths of infrared mild (from 3.6 to eight microns), highlighting reddish mud clouds largely made up of carbon together with a bluish haze representing the blended mild of billions of stars. The far-right panel extends the infrared view to a wavelength of 24 microns, highlighting areas the place the mud is extraordinarily sizzling. The intense reddish-white concentrations point out areas the place stars are within the means of forming and heating the encompassing surroundings.

A number of views of the Whirlpool galaxy. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The infrared views of M51b, the smaller companion, present a close to complete absence of the mud lanes seen within the decrease spiral. The faint blue haze might mirror the blended mild of stars ejected from each galaxies by the continuing gravitational interplay.


Astronomy & Space

Planet-hunting TESS spacecraft finds exoplanet smaller than Earth – Astronomy Now

June 30, 2019 • By
The TESS spacecraft has discovered three planets orbiting a small star 35 gentle years from Earth, together with one smaller than Earth and two barely bigger. All three orbit too near their solar for water to exist as a liquid, however the system might maintain clues concerning the evolution of Venus-like worlds. Picture: Goddard House Flight Heart

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite tv for pc, or TESS, has found an exoplanet smaller than Earth orbiting a small star 35 gentle years from Earth. The exoplanet is about 80 p.c the scale of Earth and orbits its host solar, an M dwarf often known as L 98-59, each 2.25 days, receiving 22 instances the photo voltaic radiation as Earth receives from the Solar. Two different planets within the L 98-59 system full their orbits each 3.7 and seven.5 days respectively.

“The discovery is a great engineering and scientific accomplishment for TESS,” stated Veselin Kostov, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard House Flight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. “For atmospheric studies of small planets, you need short orbits around bright stars, but such planets are difficult to detect. This system has the potential for fascinating future studies.”

Not one of the newly found planets orbits within the star’s liveable zone the place water can exist as a liquid and as such they’d not be candidates for all times as it’s recognized on Earth. The floor temperature of the small innermost planet, L 98-59b, is round 330 C (620 F). The 2 extra distant planets, with radii of 1.four and 1.6 instances that of Earth, are additionally hellish by Earthly requirements with temperatures starting from 230 C (440 F) to 130 C (260 F).

Whereas nicely contained in the liveable zone, all three planets occupy the so-called Venus zone the place planets with preliminary Earth-like atmospheres might expertise the kind of runaway greenhouse impact answerable for a Venus-like ambiance.

“If we viewed the Sun from L 98-59, transits by Earth and Venus would lead us to think the planets are almost identical, but we know they’re not,” stated Goddard astrophysicist Joshua Schlieder, co-author of as paper describing the observations in The Astronomical Journal.

“We still have many questions about why Earth became habitable and Venus did not,” he stated. “If we can find and study similar examples around other stars, like L 98-59, we can potentially unlock some of those secrets.”


Astronomy & Space

NASA provides go-ahead for flying drone to discover Saturn’s moon Titan – Astronomy Now

June 28, 2019 • By
Artist’s idea of the Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s moon Titan. Credit score: NASA

NASA officers introduced that the company will transfer ahead with the event of a plutonium-powered robotic quadcopter drone to discover Saturn’s moon Titan, a hazy world lined with dunes and methane lakes that scientists say is paying homage to the traditional Earth.

The Dragonfly mission will launch in 2026 and attain Titan in 2034, descend by means of its thick ambiance and deploy a rotorcraft to make a number of hops throughout the moon’s alien floor over a 2.7-year mission, surveying dune fields and craters.

“Titan is a very Earth-like place, despite the fact that the materials are very different at this very low temperature, and the bedrock is water ice and the sand dunes are made of organic sand grains, and the liquid on the surface is liquid methane,” mentioned Elizabeth Turtle, principal investigator for the Dragonfly mission on the Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Laboratory.”

Most of what scientists learn about Titan got here from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and a European Area Company probe named Huygens, which made the primary touchdown on Saturn’s largest moon in 2005.

Cassini made 127 flybys of Titan in its 13-year tour of Saturn earlier than its mission led to September 2017, unveiling the moon’s floor for the primary time to see lakes of methane with rugged shorelines, streams and sand dunes. NASA’s Voyager probes couldn’t see by means of Titan’s hazy veneer after they flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981.

“One of the great things about Dragonfly is with the cameras it has looking forward and downward, as Dragonfly is flying over the surface, it’s going to be taking pictures and sending them back to Earth,” mentioned Curt Niebur, lead programme scientist for NASA’s line of New Frontiers missions. “So we’ll really get the expertise of flying together with Dragonfly, trying down at this alien, but very acquainted sort of floor that has these rivers and mountains.

“I think that’s going to be a tremendous experience for the public, and I think everybody’s really going to enjoy it,” Niebur mentioned.

The colourful globe of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, passes in entrance of the planet and its rings on this true coloration snapshot from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Area Science Institute

Titan’s thick ambiance makes getting right down to the bottom tough, however as soon as there, Titan’s soupy ambiance will make for a wonderful flying setting, scientists mentioned.

“Flying on Titan is actually easier than flying on Earth,” Turtle mentioned. “The atmosphere is four times denser, at the surface, than the atmosphere at the surface of Earth, and (Titan’s) gravity is about a seventh of the gravity here on Earth. So it’s actually easier to fly on Titan. If you put on wings, you’d be able to fly on Titan.”

Cassini found climate methods on Titan, together with rain storms and winds that seem to generate waves within the methane lakes.

“You get the rain coming down, collecting into really larger lakes, the size of Earth’s Great Lakes, filled to great depth with all this liquid methane. and it really creates a kind of weather cycle, just like we have on Earth, just without the liquid water,” Niebur mentioned.

However many questions on Titan stay unanswered. It’s the Photo voltaic System’s solely moon with a dense ambiance — made primarily of nitrogen — however Titan’s orange haze hides its floor from typical cameras. Cassini peered by means of the ambiance with an imaging radar to disclose enormous land plenty, oceans and different floor options.

The temperature at Titan’s floor hovers round -184 levels Celsius (-300 levels Fahrenheit), a lot too chilly for liquid water on the floor. However there’s proof that Titan harbours an underground ocean of liquid water.

The Dragonfly drone will carry cameras, drills, seismic and climate sensors, and spectrometers to look at the composition of Titan’s rocks and soil, gathering 4 fundamental varieties of measurements. Vacuum-like suction gadgets on the craft’s touchdown skids will suck up floor materials for evaluation in an on-board miniature oven, which is able to sense any natural compounds or biosignatures within the soil.

A plutonium energy supply, often called a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG, will cost the craft’s battery to energy the devices, eight electrically-driven rotors and a high-gain antenna to beam information on to Earth.

“What really excites me about this mission is the fact that Titan has all of the key ingredients needed for life,” mentioned Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate. “Liquid water and liquid methane, we’ve advanced natural carbon-based molecules, and we’ve the power that we all know is required for all times.

“So we have, on Titan, an opportunity to observe the processes that were present on early Earth, when life began to form, and possibly even conditions that may harbour life today,” Zurbuchen mentioned. “We may be able to look for biosignatures there today.”

Dragonfly’s mobility will permit it to journey as much as 80 kilometres (110 miles) throughout Titan over the course of 20 or extra hops.

Concerning the dimension of a Mars rover, the flying drone will permit scientists to discover a wider vary on Titan than a mission restricted to the floor. Dragonfly will first contact down in Titan’s equatorial dune fields, then journey to a crater to analyze a area the place distant sensing observations from Cassini counsel the presence of water ice outcrops.

And in contrast to a rover on the floor, an instrumented drone is not going to be stopped or delayed by obstacles like rocks and steep slopes.

NASA chosen Dragonfly over a competing proposal named the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Pattern Return, or CAESAR, mission to develop into the fourth mission within the company’s New Frontiers programme. CAESAR would have flown a spacecraft to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the identical comet first explored by Europe’s Rosetta mission, and picked up a pattern from its nucleus for return to Earth.

The three earlier New Frontiers missions developed by NASA are all presently working in house.

The New Horizons spacecraft launched in 2006 and carried out the primary up-close flyby of Pluto in 2015, then continued farther into the outer photo voltaic system to come across a 22-mile-long (35-kilometer) world within the Kuiper Belt named Ultima Thule on 1 January this yr.

NASA’s Juno orbiter launched in 2011 and arrived at Jupiter in 2016 to review the large planet’s ambiance and magnetosphere, and the OSIRIX-Rex mission lifted off in 2016 and reached the asteroid Bennu late final yr, the place the spacecraft will retrieve a pattern for return to Earth.

Company officers introduced Dragonfly and CAESAR as finalists from an preliminary record of 12 mission proposals for the fourth New Frontiers mission in December 2017. NASA is committing as much as $850 million to design and develop the Dragonfly mission, excluding launch and operations prices.

When these bills are absolutely accounted, the mission is predicted to price round $1 billion.

Artist’s idea of the Dragonfly car at Titan. Credit score: NASA/JHUAPL

“Dragonfly will be the first drone lander with the capability to fly over 100 miles through Titan’s thick atmosphere,” mentioned NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Titan is in contrast to some other place in our Photo voltaic System, and probably the most similar to early Earth.

“This revolutionary mission would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago,” Bridenstine mentioned. “A great nation does great things. We will launch Dragonfly to explore the frontiers of human knowledge for the benefit of all humanity.”

However Dragonfly is a dangerous mission.

“This mission is bold,” Zurbuchen mentioned. “We do these bold missions that change not only what we know, but how we think what’s possible that we can do.”

Dragonfly will probably be constructed and managed at APL, which oversaw the event of the New Horizons probe and NASA’s Parker Photo voltaic Probe, which  launched final yr and has already set a file for the closest spacecraft to the Solar.

“When we got the proposal for this mission, the first proposal, the science was so compelling that we looked at all the risks that were there — and there were quite a number of them — and we just basically said we want to give them a chance,” Zurbuchen mentioned.

In a convention name with reporters Thursday, NASA officers mentioned a number of of the early dangers they recognized early with the Dragonfly idea, such because the potential for hydrocarbons to clog the probe’s science devices.

“Titan is rich in hydrocarbons,” Niebur mentioned. “Usually, when we have a NASA mission, we are struggling to find trace amounts of these things, and Titan has so many that the concern was raised that that vacuum cleaner system that sucks up the sample and deliver it to the instrument could get clogged or contaminated.”

The Dragonfly group redesigned the pattern supply system over the past year-and-a-half, throughout a preliminary “Phase A” examine funded by NASA.

“All these risks, 10 risks or so, that were there were eliminated,” Zurbuchen mentioned. “So it’s a team that has proven itself, a team that’s highly diverse in all dimensions, and therefore innovative, and brought together by a strong principal investigator.”

“One of the things about Dragonfly that is not necessarily apparent at first sight is that, while this is a new way of exploring a different planet, this is actually technology that is very mature on Earth,” Turtle mentioned. “There’s so much technology development in terms of rotorcraft here on Earth, in terms of autonomous flight, and indeed a lot of the instrumentation that we will fly on Dragonfly is based on instrumentation that is sitting on the surface of Mars right now, that has flown in space before. So really what we’re doing with Dragonfly is innovation not invention.”

Turtle’s group initially proposed launching Dragonfly in 2025, however NASA is giving the mission an additional yr to organize for launch.

“We felt at NASA … that the team could benefit greatly by some additional time to work through some of the challenges,” mentioned Lori Glaze, head of NASA’s planetary science division. “There was a very tight schedule, and we thought having a little extra time would help with that.”

The unique Dragonfly trajectory featured a flyby of Earth in 2026, one yr after its launch in 2025, adopted by additional gravity help flybys with Venus and Earth to slingshot towards Saturn, concentrating on a direct entry into Titan’s ambiance in 2034.

With a launch in 2026, engineers have deleted the primary Earth flyby from the trajectory, and Dragonfly will nonetheless attain Titan in 2034.

The spacecraft will plunge into Titan’s ambiance for a two-hour descent, utilizing friction and a parachute to decelerate earlier than the rotorcraft releases from its aeroshell and flies itself to the floor, touchdown straight on its skids.

Dragonfly’s exploration will probably be restricted to the equatorial areas of Titan, away from its methane oceans. The northern hemisphere, the place Titan’s largest seas are situated, will probably be in winter when the spacecraft arrives, with the Solar and Earth under the horizon.

“The big question that remains about the materials on the surface of Titan is the composition of the solid materials,” Turtle mentioned.

The Cassini spacecraft’s radar was in a position to resolve Titan’s methane seas and establish their chemical composition.

“The big outstanding question is what the nature of these solid surface materials are, and that’s where the keys to understanding the prebiotic chemistry that is so abundant on Titan lies, in the solid surface materials,” Turtle mentioned.

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


Astronomy & Space

Methane detected on Mars; origin not but recognized – Astronomy Now

June 26, 2019 • By
The Curiosity Mars rover shot this “selfie” on 12 Could. Picture: NASA

This week, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover discovered a stunning consequence: the most important quantity of methane ever measured throughout the mission – about 21 components per billion models by quantity (ppbv). One ppbv signifies that for those who take a quantity of air on Mars, one billionth of the amount of air is methane.

The discovering got here from the rover’s Pattern Evaluation at Mars (SAM) tuneable laser spectrometer. It’s thrilling as a result of microbial life is a vital supply of methane on Earth, however methane will also be created by way of interactions between rocks and water.

Curiosity doesn’t have devices that may definitively say what the supply of the methane is, or even when it’s coming from an area supply inside Gale Crater or elsewhere on the planet.

“With our current measurements, we have no way of telling if the methane source is biology or geology, or even ancient or modern,” mentioned SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The Curiosity crew has detected methane many occasions over the course of the mission. Earlier papers have documented how background ranges of the fuel appear to rise and fall seasonally. They’ve additionally famous sudden spikes of methane, however the science crew is aware of little or no about how lengthy these transient plumes final or why they’re completely different from the seasonal patterns.

The SAM crew organised a distinct experiment for this weekend to assemble extra data on what may be a transient plume. No matter they discover – even when it’s an absence of methane – will add context to the current measurement.

Curiosity’s scientists want time to analyse these clues and conduct many extra methane observations. In addition they want time to collaborate with different science groups, together with these with the European House Company’s Hint Gasoline Orbiter, which has been in its science orbit for just a little over a yr with out detecting any methane.

Combining observations from the floor and from orbit may assist scientists find sources of the fuel on the planet and perceive how lengthy it lasts within the Martian environment. Which may clarify why the Hint Gasoline Orbiter’s and Curiosity’s methane observations have been so completely different.


Astronomy & Space

Juno orbiter captures extra gorgeous views of Jupiter – Astronomy Now

June 24, 2019 • By

Throughout its 20th move by Jupiter, NASA’s Juno orbiter captured 4 gorgeous pictures of the large planet that have been compiled right into a close to face-on view, exhibiting its turbulent northern hemisphere in exceptional element. The pictures have been captured on 29 Could at altitudes starting from 18,600 kilometres (11,600 miles) to eight,600 kilometres (5,400 miles) at northern latitudes spanning 59 to 34 levels. Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill created this picture from knowledge offered by the spacecraft’s JunoCam imager.

Jupiter as imaged by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. Picture: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill

Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2011, the solar-powered Juno braked into polar orbit round Jupiter in July 2016. Since then, it has been finding out Jupiter’s ambiance, its magnetic discipline and inside construction in nice element, sending again a gentle stream of knowledge that features pictures captured by the JunoCam instrument. Supposed primarily for public outreach, JunoCam pictures can be found to the general public for processing.


Astronomy & Space

Mars 2020 rover able to rock (hunt) and roll – Astronomy Now

June 22, 2019 • By

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover now has the six wheels it must rove concerning the purple planet. On 13 June, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., put in the rover’s port and starboard “mobility suspension,” the wheels and rocker bogies that may enable the robotic to trundle throughout the floor and drive over small rocks and obstructions. Mentioned David Gruel, the Mars 2020 meeting, check and launch operations supervisor at JPL: “Now that’s a Mars rover. With the suspension on, not only does it look like a rover, but we have almost all our big-ticket items for integration in our rearview mirror. If our rover had one.” Over the subsequent few weeks engineers plan to put in the rover’s robotic arm, the SuperCam instrument and a 17-motor mechanism for caching rock and soil samples.

The rover’s wheels, every powered by its personal motor, are fabricated from aluminium and measure 52.5 centimetres (20.7 inches) in diameter. Each options 48 cleats to enhance traction on rock or sand. The entrance and rear wheels are also outfitted with steering motors that may enable the rover to show a full 360 levels in place. Launch is focused for July 2020 with touchdown in Jezero Crater on Mars on 18 February 2021.

The rover’s starboard, or right-side, wheels and suspension are moved into place for set up.The rover is seen to the proper. Picture: NASA


Astronomy & Space

Japanese spacecraft to hold European rover to martian moon – Astronomy Now

June 20, 2019 • By
A notional rendering of a small rover exploring one in all Mars’ two moons after supply by a Japanese spacecraft. Picture: CNES

The Japanese Martian Moons eXploration mission, or MMX, will carry a German-French rover to one of many crimson planet’s two moons in 2024. The spacecraft will slip into orbit round Mars in 2025 and deploy a lander that can goal both Phobos or Deimos, exploring the floor in unprecedented element to be taught extra concerning the formation and evolution of the photo voltaic system.

An settlement to incorporate the rover within the MMX mission was introduced on the Paris Air Present in Le Bourget by officers representing the Japanese Area Company (JAXA), the French Area Company (CNES) and the German Aerospace Middle (DLR).

“The world-first exploration of the Martian moons with a rover is a major technical challenge that we are tackling within the framework of our strong and proven partnership with Japan and France,” stated Pascale Ehrenfreund, chairman of the DLR Govt Board. “Together, we want to push the boundaries of what is technically feasible in robotic exploration and expand our knowledge about the origin of the solar system.”

DLR is chargeable for growing the rover’s physique and its robotic locomotion system, together with a spectrometer and a radiometer that can assist decide the composition of the martian moon’s floor materials. The French house company is growing cameras and the rover’s service module. The robotic might be operated collectively by DLR and CNES.

The MMX mission will comply with Japan’s profitable Hyabusa2, which has been finishing up close-range observations of the asteroid Ryugu for the previous 12 months, deploying a sequence of small landers and transferring in to gather samples for return to Earth in 2020. The MMX spacecraft will try to gather floor samples from Phobos by deploying a small lander that can use pressurised fuel to fire up and seize floor materials.


Astronomy & Space

ALMA spots merging galaxies in toddler universe – Astronomy Now

June 18, 2019 • By
An artist’s impression of merging galaxies often known as B14-65666 some 13 billion mild years away. Picture: Nationwide Astronomical Observatory of Japan

The Atacama Massive Millimeter/submillimeter Array has noticed what seems to be two galaxies crashing collectively some 13 billion years in the past, the earliest instance of a galactic merger but detected.

ALMA detected radio indicators indicating the presence of oxygen, carbon and mud within the object, often known as B14-65666 within the constellation Sextens, the earliest galactic detection of such indicators. Information evaluation signifies the radio missions had been divided into two blob-like areas the place the Hubble Area Telescope earlier revealed two star clusters.

The ALMA indicators point out the blobs are literally two galaxies shifting at totally different speeds which might be within the means of merging. The researchers estimate the whole mass of the system at lower than 10 % of the Milky Means’s, reflecting the intense youth of the parts. Even so, B14-65666 is producing stars 100 occasions extra actively than the Milky Means, yet one more indicator that two galaxies are merging.

This composite picture of B14-65666 reveals the distribution of mud (pink), oxygen (inexperienced) and carbon (blue) as detected by ALMA, together with stars (white) that had been imaged by the Hubble Area Telescope. Picture: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NASA/ESA Hubble Area Telescope, Hashimoto et al.

“With rich data from ALMA and HST, combined with advanced data analysis, we could put the pieces together to show that B14-65666 is a pair of merging galaxies in the earliest era of the universe,” mentioned Takuya Hashimoto, a postdoctoral researcher on the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Waseda College.

“Detection of radio waves from three components in such a distant object clearly demonstrates ALMA’s high capability to investigate the distant universe.”