Jupiter is the most massive planet in our solar system, and in composition it resembles a small star. In fact, if Jupiter had been between fifty and one hundred times more massive, it would have become a star rather than a planet. On January 7, 1610, while skygazing from his garden in Padua, Italy, astronomer Galileo Galilei was surprised to see four small “stars” near Jupiter. He had discovered Jupiter’s four largest moons, now called Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. In 2003 astronomers discovered 21 new moons orbiting the giant planet. Jupiter now officially has 67 moons. Jupiter has stripes that are dark belts and light zones created by strong east-west winds in Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. Within these belts and zones are storm systems that have raged for years. The southern hemisphere’s Great Red Spot has existed for at least 100 years, and perhaps longer, as Galileo reported seeing a similar feature nearly 400 years ago. Three Earths could fit across the Great Red Spot. Jupiter’s core is probably not solid but a dense, hot liquid with a consistency like thick soup.

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Throw-Away Photographs Shot During Neil Armstrong’s Visit to the Moon.

Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin snapped a total of 122 70mm color photographs using modified Hasselblad 500EL cameras during their short visit on July 21, 1969. However, not all of them were pretty.

American Photo magazine writes that the photographic record left by those two men shows a very human picture of that first landing. Some of the “dud” photos show accidental shutter preses, focusing errors, lens flare, and even photobombed landscape shots.” [x]


You can find the entire collection of 122 photographs on this NASA website, listed in chronological order.

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The Universe in a Jelly Bean Jar Interactive Flash Site. [Click images to enlarge.]

"Most of the Universe is dark. The protons, neutrons and electrons that make up the stars, planets and us represent only a small fraction of the mass and energy of the Universe."

Check it out here to learn more about the observable cosmos, black holes, galaxy clusters, supernovas, missing baryons, and more!

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What is a lunar eclipse tetrad and where will you be able to see it [starting tonight]? | Video Credit: ScienceAtNASA | Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech, & Joe Rao/Space.com

On April 15, 2014, an extraordinary series of total lunar eclipses will begin in the United States. This series, called a lunar eclipse tetrad, will result in four red moons over the course of a year and a half. NASA explains the significance behind this phenomenon, and sheds light on how the moon transforms into a bright red orb. Via TED-Ed

When and where it will be visible:

The first total lunar eclipse of 2014 occurs in the overnight hours tonight (April 14) and will be visible across most of North America, South America, Hawaii and parts of Alaska. Depending on your location, it begins either late tonight or in the wee hours of Tuesday, but as with every skywatching event, you can only see it if Mother Nature cooperates.

Tonight’s lunar eclipse runs from 12:53 a.m. EDT (0453 GMT) to about 6 a.m. EDT (1000 GMT). If bad weather spoils your view, or you live in Europe or elsewhere outside the visibility zone, you can always watch live webcasts of the total lunar eclipse on Space.com, courtesy of NASA, the Slooh community telescope, the Virtual Telescope Project.

What happens during lunar eclipses?

Lunar eclipses happen when the moon is in the full moon stage and passes through part or all of the Earth’s shadow, darkening the moon’s typically bright glow. During a total lunar eclipse, the moon is entirely immersed in Earth shadow, and can take on a dusky “blood red” colour due to the scattering of sunlight through the edges of Earth’s atmosphere. Such moons are sometimes nicknamed “Blood Moons.”

Tonight’s lunar eclipse is the first of four consecutive total eclipses of the moon between April 2014 and September 2015 in what scientists call a lunar eclipse “tetrad” series. The next total lunar eclipse will occur on Oct. 8 and is also expected to be visible from much of North America. Via Space.com

Read more about 2014’s Lunar Eclipse Tetrad:

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NASA Releases Images of Earth by Distant Spacecraft [Click images to enlarge & read descriptions - Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.]

Color and black-and-white images of Earth taken by two NASA interplanetary spacecraft on July 19 show our planet and its moon as bright beacons from millions of miles away in space. 

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured the color images of Earth and the moon from its perch in the Saturn system nearly 900 million miles (1.5 billion kilometers) away. MESSENGER, the first probe to orbit Mercury, took a black-and-white image from a distance of 61 million miles (98 million kilometers) as part of a campaign to search for natural satellites of the planet. 

In the Cassini images Earth and the moon appear as mere dots — Earth a pale blue and the moon a stark white, visible between Saturn’s rings. It was the first time Cassini’s highest-resolution camera captured Earth and its moon as two distinct objects. 

It also marked the first time people on Earth had advance notice their planet’s portrait was being taken from interplanetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet. More than 20,000 people around the world participated. 

"We can’t see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Cassini’s picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth." 

Pictures of Earth from the outer solar system are rare because from that distance, Earth appears very close to our sun. A camera’s sensitive detectors can be damaged by looking directly at the sun, just as a human being can damage his or her retina by doing the same. Cassini was able to take this image because the sun had temporarily moved behind Saturn from the spacecraft’s point of view and most of the light was blocked. 

A wide-angle image of Earth will become part of a multi-image picture, or mosaic, of Saturn’s rings, which scientists are assembling. This image is not expected to be available for several weeks because of the time-consuming challenges involved in blending images taken in changing geometry and at vastly different light levels, with faint and extraordinarily bright targets side by side. 

Read more here.

A Beautiful End to a Star’s Life via NASA

Composite image of planetary nebula NGC 2392 - Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/IAA-CSIC/N. Ruiz et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

Stars like the Sun can become remarkably photogenic at the end of their life. A good example is NGC 2392, which is located about 4,200 light years from Earth. NGC 2392, nicknamed the “Eskimo Nebula,” is what astronomers call a planetary nebula. This designation, however, is deceiving because planetary nebulas actually have nothing to do with planets. The term is simply a historic relic since these objects looked like planetary disks to astronomers in earlier times looking through small optical telescopes.

Instead, planetary nebulas form when a star uses up all of the hydrogen in its core – an event our Sun will go through in about five billion years. When this happens, the star begins to cool and expand, increasing its radius by tens to hundreds of times its original size. Eventually, the outer layers of the star are carried away by a thick 50,000 kilometer per hour wind, leaving behind a hot core. This hot core has a surface temperature of about 50,000 C, and is ejecting its outer layers in a much faster wind traveling six million kilometers per hour. The radiation from the hot star and the interaction of its fast wind with the slower wind creates the complex and filamentary shell of a planetary nebula. Eventually the remnant star will collapse to form a white dwarf star.

Now days, astronomers using space-based telescopes are able to observe planetary nebulas such as NGC 2392 in ways their scientific ancestors probably could never imagine. This composite image of NGC 2392 contains X-ray data fromNASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in purple showing the location of million-degree gas near the center of the planetary nebula. Data from the Hubble Space Telescope show – colored red, green and blue – the intricate pattern of the outer layers of the star that have been ejected. The comet-shaped filaments form when the faster wind and radiation from the central star interact with cooler shells of dust and gas that were already ejected by the star.

The observations of NGC 2392 were part of a study of three planetary nebulas with hot gas in their center. The Chandra data show that NGC 2392 has unusually high levels of X-ray emission compared to the other two. This leads researchers to deduce that there is an unseen companion to the hot central star in NGC 2392. The interaction between a pair of binary stars could explain the elevated X-ray emission found there. Meanwhile, the fainter X-ray emission observed in the two other planetary nebulas in the sample – IC 418 and NGC 6826 – is likely produced by shock fronts (like sonic booms) in the wind from the central star.

A paper describing these results is available online here and was published in the April 10th, 2013 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The first author is Nieves Ruiz of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC) in Granada, Spain, and the other authors are You-Hua Chu, and Robert Gruendl from the University of Illinois, Urbana; Martín Guerrero from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC) in Granada, Spain, and Ralf Jacob, Detlef Schönberner and Matthias Steffen from the Leibniz-Institut Für Astrophysik in Potsdam (AIP), Germany.

Learn more about planetary nebulae here.

Check out Chandra’s Flickr photoset here.

Dim Star Becomes 7 Times Hotter in 160 Seconds

Image Credit: Casey Reed/NASA.

“Talk about a celestial mood swing: Scientists using the SCORPIO camera of the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory recently watched as a low luminosity star suddenly burst to life in an extraordinarily short amount of time — becoming 15 times brighter in less than three minutes.

Star WX UMa, which is relatively close-by in the Ursa-major constellation, is about 15.6 light-years from Earth and is part of a binary system. It’s a flare star — a normally subdued low luminosity object that occassionally and unpredicably boosts its brightness and heat in a matter of seconds. But it’s an effect that doesn’t last long. The stars return back to their normal state in about 10 minutes.

Fascinatingly, the effect is so dramatic that the classification of the star literally changes within a few seconds. In this case, WX UMa temporarily transformed from spectral type M to B. Its temperature went from about 2,800 kelvin (K) to six or seven times that — somewhere between 10,000 to 33,000 K.

These flares happen when instability within the plasma of the star causes turbulence in its magnetic field.

"A magnetic reconnection then occurs, a conversion of energy from the magnetic field into kinetic energy, in order to recover the stability of the flow, much like what happens in an electric discharge," said a researcher when speaking to SINC. This kinetic energy transforms into thermal energy in the upper layers of the atmosphere and the star’s corona, driving up its temperature and brightness.”

Read the entire study at Astrophysics: Spectral observations of flare stars in the neighborhood of the sun.

Spin up of a Supermassive Black Hole 

Illustration Credit: Robert Hurt, NASA/JPL-Caltech

How fast can a black hole spin? If any object made of regular matter spins too fast — it breaks apart. But a black hole might not be able to break apart — and its maximum spin rate is really unknown. Theorists usually model rapidly rotating black holes with the Kerr solution to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which predicts several amazing and unusual things. Perhaps its most easily testable prediction, though, is that matter entering a maximally rotating black hole should be last seen orbiting at near the speed of light, as seen from far away. This prediction was tested recently by NASA’s NuSTAR and ESA’s XMM satellites by observing the supermassive black hole at the center of spiral galaxy NGC 1365. The near light-speed limit was confirmed by measuring the heating andspectral line broadening of nuclear emissions at the inner edge of the surrounding accretion diskPictured above is an artist’s illustration depicting an accretion disk of normal matter swirling around a black hole, with a jet emanating from the top. Since matter randomly falling into the black hole should not spin up a black hole this much, the NuSTAR and XMM measurements also validate the existence of the surrounding accretion disk.”

Must See Stargazing Events in 2013 via I Fucking Love Science

A great list of all the best meteor showers, eclipses, and other notable celestial events to come this year that will be visible in our night skies. 

"Tonight is the conjunction of Jupiter and the Moon. They will appear to pass within a few degrees of one another, and this won’t happen again until 2026. For more information on how to view (and a live stream at 9pm EST if it’s cloudy in your area) see here.”

Take a 3-D Journey Inside the Bubble Nebula. By Nancy Atkinson | Universe Today | Gif Made By: The Science of Reality | Video Credit: J-P Metsävainio

We’ve featured the unique 3-D work of J-P Metsävainio previously, but its time to check in and see what he’s been working on lately. Metsävainio creates incredible 3-D animations from his own astronomical images, which he calls “3-D experiments” that are a mixture of science and an artistic impression. “I collect distance and other information before I do my 3-D conversion,” he told Universe Today via email earlier this year. “Usually there are known stars, coursing the ionization, so I can place them at right relative distance. If I know a distance to the nebula, I can fine tune distances of the stars so, that right amount of stars are front and behind of the object.”

In the video below is the animation of the Bubble Nebula, directly below is his extremely detailed image:

His observations and images are simply stunning, but he says his 3-D animations are “a personal vision about shapes and volumes, based on some scientific data and an artistic impression.”

4

A grander canyon on Mars: Hebes Chasma reflects Red Planet’s active past. By Sarah Zielinski | Science News | Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Hebes Chasma, a huge trough on Mars, reflects the Red Planet’s tumultuous and varied past. During the planet’s first billion years, the nearby Tharsis Region bulged with magma, then burst apart, forming enormous chasms such as Hebes (a majority of its 315-kilometer length shown above). More than four times as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon, Hebes may have once been filled with water; some areas have minerals that could have formed only in water’s presence. New images from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft show that massive landslides may have shaped and widened the trench since its violent birth. 

Watch on thescienceofreality.tumblr.com
Why is it Dark at Night?


2

A Morning Line of Stars and Planets  - APOD
Image Credit & CopyrightYuri Beletsky (Las Campanas ObservatoryCarnegie Institution for Science)

Early morning dog walkers got a visual treat last week as bright stars and planets appeared to line up. Pictured above, easily visible from left to right, were the Pleiades open star cluster, JupiterVenus, and the “Follower" star Aldebaran, all seen before a starry background. The image was taken from the Atacama desert in western South America. The glow of the rising Sun can be seen over the eastern horizon. Jupiter and Venus will continue to dazzle pre-dawn strollers all over planet Earth for the rest of the month, although even now the morning planets are seen projected away from the line connecting their distant stellar sky mates.”

If you hover over the image here, you can see it with and with out the named stars and planets.

First X-ray Vision of Martian Soil.


"This graphic shows results of the first analysis of Martian soil by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) experiment on NASA’s Curiosity rover. The image reveals the presence of crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine mixed with some amorphous (non-crystalline) material. The soil sample, taken from a wind-blown deposit within Gale Crater, where the rover landed, is similar to volcanic soils in Hawaii."


Continue…

2

NASA Year in Review 2012

Check out and read more on all of the groundbreaking scientific achievements from this past year, separated categorically as listed below, here.

  • Curiosity Landing
  • Commercial Space
  • International Space Station 
  • New Spacecraft
  • Hubble
  • Ice Sheets
  • Aeronautics
  • Digital Media
  • Technology
  • Hands On Learning 
  • Ice on Mercury
  • Interstellar Matter
  • WISE
  • Shuttle
  • Popular on the Web
  • Farewell Pioneers
5

Herschel Completes Its ‘Cool’ Journey in Space

The Herschel observatory, a European space telescope for which NASA helped build instruments and process data, has stopped making observations after running out of liquid coolant as expected.  The European Space Agency mission, launched almost four years ago, revealed the universe’s “coolest” secrets by observing the frigid side of planet, star and galaxy formation. 

"Herschel gave us the opportunity to peer into the dark and cold regions of the universe that are invisible to other telescopes," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. "This successful mission demonstrates how NASA and ESA can work together to tackle unsolved mysteries in astronomy." 

Images in order from top to bottom, & left to right:

  • Cool Andromeda: Andromeda, also known as M31, is the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way. Image credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, O. Krause, HSC, H. Linz 
  • Orion’s Rainbow of Infrared Light: This view of the Orion nebula, taken by the Herschel and Spitzer space telescopes, highlights fledgling stars hidden in the gas and dust clouds. Image credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/IRAM 
  • Sonic booms in the Cocoon Nebula: Dense filaments of gas in this space cloud, called IC5146, are seen clearly in Herschel’s infrared view.Image credit: ESA/Herschel/SPIRE/PACS/D. Arzoumanian (CEA Saclay) 
  • Ribbons of Dust: The Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy is captured in this stunning infrared view. Image credit: Herschel and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. 
  • Centaurus A All Prettied Up in Infrared and X-Rays: The peculiar galaxy Centaurus A as seen in longer infrared wavelengths and X-rays. Image credit: Far-infrared:ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/C.D. Wilson, MacMaster University, Canada; X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC 

Confirmation the helium is exhausted came today, at the beginning of the spacecraft’s daily communication session with its ground station in Western Australia. A clear rise in temperatures was measured in all of Herschel’s instruments. 

Herschel’s detectors were designed to pick up the glow from celestial objects with infrared wavelengths as long as 625 micrometers, which is 1,000 times longer than what we can see with our eyes. Because heat interferes with these devices, they were chilled to temperatures as low as 2 kelvins (minus 271 degrees Celsius, or 456 Fahrenheit) using liquid helium. The detectors also were kept cold by the spacecraft’s orbit, which is around a stable point called the second Lagrange point about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth. This location gave Herschel a better view of the universe. 

Highlights of the mission include: 

  • Discovering long, filamentary structures in space, dotted with dense star-making knots of material.
  • Detecting definitively, for the first time, oxygen molecules in space, in addition to other never-before-seen molecules. By mapping the molecules in different regions, researchers are learning more about the life cycles of stars and planets and the origins of life.
  • Discovering high-speed outflows around central black holes in active galaxies, which may be clearing out surrounding regions and suppressing future star formation.
  • Opening new views on extremely distant galaxies that could be seen only with Herschel, and providing new information about their high rates of star formation.
  • Following the trail of water molecules from distant galaxies to the clouds of gas between stars to planet-forming solar systems.
  • Examining a comet in our own solar system and finding evidence comets could have brought a substantial fraction of water to Earth.
  • Together with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, discovering a large asteroid belt around the bright star Vega. 

"Herschel has improved our understanding of how new stars and planets form, but has also raised many new questions," said Paul Goldsmith, NASA Herschel project scientist at JPL. "Astronomers will be following up on Herschel’s discoveries with ground-based and future space-based observatories for years to come." 

The mission will not be making any more observations, but discoveries will continue. Astronomers still are looking over the data, much of which already is public and available through NASA’s Herschel Science Center. The final batch of data will be public in about six months. ”

Read more…

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