astronomy

Space is pretty. Astronomers were just testing out a camera when they captured the closest-ever look at Orion’s Belt. 

It was taken with an advanced imaging and spectroscopic tool that records in infrared light. By going through barriers like dust and clouds, it can show details that aren’t visible to the human eye, or even the Hubble Space Telescope. 

This image is really a composite of two photos with some coloration to distinguish formations and temperature zones. Hot stars are white or blue, cooler areas are in red and orange, and the crimson patch shows jets of gas from stars in the process of being born. 

Learn more about the photos and how scientists are using them for research here.

The crowded heart of the Hercules globular cluster

This image, taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope, shows the core of the great globular cluster Messier 13 and provides an extraordinarily clear view of the hundreds of thousands of stars in the cluster, one of the brightest and best known in the sky. Just 25 000 light-years away and about 145 light-years in diameter, Messier 13 has drawn the eye since its discovery by Edmund Halley, the noted British astronomer, in 1714. The cluster lies in the constellation of Hercules and is so bright that under the right conditions it is even visible to the unaided eye. As Halley wrote: “This is but a little Patch, but it shews it self to the naked Eye, when the Sky is serene and the Moon absent.” Messier 13 was the target of a symbolic Arecibo radio telescope message that was sent in 1974, communicating humanity’s existence to possible extraterrestrial intelligences. However, more recent studies suggest that planets are very rare in the dense environments of globular clusters.

Messier 13 has also appeared in literature. In his 1959 novel, The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut wrote “Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules — and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.” The step from Halley’s early telescopic view to this Hubble image indicates some measure of the progress in astronomy in the last three hundred years.

This picture was created from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys on the Hubble Space Telescope. Data through a blue filter (F435W) are coloured blue, data through a red filter (F625W) are coloured green and near-infrared data (through the F814W filter) are coloured red. The exposure times are 1480 s, 380 s and 567 s respectively and the field of view is about 2.5 arcminutes across.

SpaceTelescope.org

Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA

YEAR IN SPACE

Long duration spaceflight takes a significant toll on the human body. It’s not like getting in a 20-meter sailboat and sailing around the world: you don’t feel the pull of gravity, bone density decreases, even the shape of the eye changes, affecting vision. In the entire history of human spaceflight, there have been only six people who have been on spaceflights of 300 or more days. If humans are to go to Mars or beyond one day, we need to know more about how long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.

That is why NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency have teamed up for the Year in Space mission. NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko were launched into space on March 27, 2015 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to spend a year living and working aboard the International Space Station. For comparison, a typical tour on the ISS lasts between 120 and 180 days. A manned mission to Mars is expected to last at least 500 days.

Several areas of study will be pursued over that year, including monitoring their performance of space station duties, the quality of exercise routines and sleep patterns, crew interactions, vision changes, metabolism, genetic makeup and psychology.

Astronaut Kelly’s identical twin brother Mark, himself a former astronaut, will serve as a control subject on Earth over the same time period, in order to closely monitor the differences between Earthbound and space-based subjects.

The data collected from the mission will have applications on Earth as well, including helping medical patients recover from long-term rest and potentially improving the health of patients with compromised immune systems.

September 27 will mark the halfway point in this historic mission. At the conclusion of the mission early next year, Scott Kelly will hold the record for spaceflight duration for an American, for both single spaceflights and cumulative time spent in space. He is a veteran of three spaceflights previously.

You can keep up with the Year in Space mission by following Scott Kelly on Instagram at stationcdrkelly or on Twitter @StationCDRKelly. -MAX

SOURCES

PHOTO CREDIT
By NASA/Scott Kelly [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

FURTHER READING: Mary Roach, Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void, WW Norton & Company, New York, 2010.

Every round object in the solar system, to scale:

Full sized image here

Pictured:

Enceladus, Dione, Tethys, Titan, Rhea, Iapetus, Saturn’s moons, dwarf planets beyond Neptune, Saturn, Mimas, Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s moons, Io, Pluto, Europa, Charon, Ganymede, Eris, Callisto, Venus, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, asteroid 1 Ceres, trans-neptunian objects, Triton, Neptune, Neptune’s moons, Uranus, Uranus’ moons

Via The Planetary Society

“Yeah. You know how? When the big bang happened, all the atoms in the universe, they were all smashed together into one little dot that exploded outward. So my atoms and your atoms were certainly together then, and, who knows, probably smashed together several times in the last 13.7 billion years. So my atoms have known your atoms and they’ve always known your atoms. My atoms have always loved your atoms.”

Sun Accused of Stealing Planetary Objects from Another Star

At the time of Sedna’s discovery in 2003, it was the farthest body ever seen in our planetary club. Its peculiar path—it never ventures near the giant planets—suggested an equally peculiar history. How did it get there? The sun may have snatched Sedna away from another star, new computer simulations show.

A clue to Sedna’s past came in 2012, when observers spotted a second and even smaller object with a similarly elongated and remote orbit. Astronomers Lucie Jílková and Simon Portegies Zwart of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands and their colleagues decided to investigate whether interstellar robbery could produce the orbits of both Sedna and its sidekick, 2012 VP113. “We show that it’s possible,” Jílková says. Moreover, the researchers reconstructed the crime scene and even the likely properties of the victim star, which they dubbed “Star Q.” In work submitted to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the astronomers say Star Q was originally about 80 percent more massive than the sun. It passed within 34 billion kilometers of us—just 7.5 times greater than the distance from the sun to Neptune. This proximity means the star arose in the same stellar group or cluster as the sun. Although Star Q still exists, its fiercest light probably burned out long ago because of its greater mass. As a dim white dwarf, it will be hard to find.

Scientific American

Image: Sedna (green) and 2012 VP113 (red) never come close to the orbits of the four giant planets (blue) or even to Pluto’s home in the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt.
   Credit: (color inverted from original) SCOTT S. SHEPPARD Carnegie Institution for Science; Amanda Montañez

Editor’s note: Examining this possibility should include how this might have effected the theoretical Oort Cloud ~ JN Ph7.5