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This image, acquired on Nov. 24, 2015 by theHigh Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows the western side of an elongated pit depression in the eastern Noctis Labyrinthus region of Mars. Along the pit’s upper wall is a light-toned layered deposit. Noctis Labyrinthus is a huge region of tectonically controlled valleys located at the western end of the Valles Marineris canyon system.

Spectra extracted from the light-toned deposit by the spacecraft’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) instrument are consistent with the mineral jarosite, which is a potassium and iron hydrous sulfate. On Earth, jarosite can form in ore deposits or from alteration near volcanic vents, and indicates an oxidizing and acidic environment. The Opportunity rover discovered jarosite at the Meridiani Planum landing site, and jarosite has been found at several other locations on Mars, indicating that it is a common mineral on the Red Planet.

The jarosite-bearing deposit observed here could indicate acidic aqueous conditions within a volcanic system in Noctis Labyrinthus. Above the light-toned jarosite deposit is a mantle of finely layered darker-toned material. CRISM spectra do not indicate this upper darker-toned mantle is hydrated. The deposit appears to drape over the pre-existing topography, suggesting it represents an airfall deposit from either atmospheric dust or volcanic ash.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/ Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Caption: Cathy Weitz

Time And Space


NASA’s K2 Finds Newborn Exoplanet Around Young Star

Astronomers have discovered the youngest fully formed exoplanet ever detected. The discovery was made using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and its extended K2 mission, as well as the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars beyond our sun.

The newfound planet, K2-33b, is a bit larger than Neptune and whips tightly around its star every five days. It is only 5 to 10 million years old, making it one of a very few newborn planets found to date.
“Our Earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old,” said Trevor David of Caltech in Pasadena, lead author of a new study published online June 20, 2016, in the journal Nature. “By comparison, the planet K2-33b is very young. You might think of it as an infant.” David is a graduate student working with astronomer Lynne Hillenbrand, also of Caltech.

Planet formation is a complex and tumultuous process that remains shrouded in mystery. Astronomers have discovered and confirmed roughly 3,000 exoplanets so far; however, nearly all of them are hosted by middle-aged stars, with ages of a billion years or more. For astronomers, attempting to understand the life cycles of planetary systems using existing examples is like trying to learn how people grow from babies to children to teenagers, by only studying adults.

“The newborn planet will help us better understand how planets form, which is important for understanding the processes that led to the formation of Earth,” said co-author Erik Petigura of Caltech.

The first signals of the planet’s existence were measured by K2. The telescope’s camera detected a periodic dimming of the light emitted by the planet’s host star, a sign that an orbiting planet could be regularly passing in front of the star and blocking the light. Data from the Keck Observatory validated that the dimming was indeed caused by a planet, and also helped confirm its youthful age.

Infrared measurements from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope showed that the system’s star is surrounded by a thin disk of planetary debris, indicating that its planet-formation phase is wrapping up. Planets form out of thick disks of gas and dust, called protoplanetary disks, that surround young stars.

“Initially, this material may obscure any forming planets, but after a few million years, the dust starts to dissipate,” said co-author Anne Marie Cody, a NASA Postdoctoral Program fellow at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “It is during this time window that we can begin to detect the signatures of youthful planets with K2.”

A surprising feature in the discovery of K2-33b is how close the newborn planet lies to its star. The planet is nearly 10 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun, making it hot. While numerous older exoplanets have been found orbiting very tightly to their stars, astronomers have long struggled to understand how more massive planets like this one wind up in such small orbits. Some theories propose that it takes hundreds of millions of years to bring a planet from a more distant orbit into a close one – and therefore cannot explain K2-33b, which is quite a bit younger.

The science team says there are two main theories that may explain how K2-33b wound up so close to its star. It could have migrated there in a process called disk migration that takes hundreds of thousands of years. Or, the planet could have formed “in situ” – right where it is. The discovery of K2-33b therefore gives theorists a new data point to ponder.

“After the first discoveries of massive exoplanets on close orbits about 20 years ago, it was immediately suggested that they could absolutely not have formed there, but in the past several years, some momentum has grown for in situ formation theories, so the idea is not as wild as it once seemed,” said David.

“The question we are answering is: Did those planets take a long time to get into those hot orbits, or could they have been there from a very early stage? We are saying, at least in this one case, that they can indeed be there at a very early stage,” he said.

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

TOP IMAGE….K2-33b, shown in this illustration, is one of the youngest exoplanets detected to date. It makes a complete orbit around its star in about five days. These two characteristics combined provide exciting new directions for planet-formation theories. K2-33b could have formed on a farther out orbit and quickly migrated inward. Alternatively, it could have formed in situ, or in place.

CENTRE IMAGE….This image shows the K2-33 system, and its planet K2-33b, compared to our own solar system. The planet has a five-day orbit, whereas Mercury orbits our sun in 88 days. The planet is also nearly 10 times closer to its star than Mercury is to the sun.

LOWER IMAGE….When a planet such as K2-33b passes in front of its host star, it blocks some of the star’s light. Observing this periodic dimming, called a transit, from continual monitoring of a star’s brightness, allows astronomers to detect planets outside our solar system with a high degree of certainty. This Neptune-sized planet orbits a star that is between 5 and 10 million years old. In addition to the planet, the star hosts a disk of planetary debris, seen as a bright ring encircling the star.

NASA's James Webb Space telescope primary mirror fully assembled

The 18th and final primary mirror segment is installed on what will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever launched.

The final mirror installation Wednesday at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland marks an important milestone in the assembly of the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope.

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Where the Wild Stars Are

A storm of stars is brewing in the Trifid nebula, as seen in this view from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The stellar nursery, where baby stars are bursting into being, is the yellow-and-orange object dominating the picture. Yellow bars in the nebula appear to cut a cavity into three sections, hence the name Trifid nebula.

Colors in this image represent different wavelengths of infrared light detected by WISE. The main green cloud is made up of hydrogen gas. Within this cloud is the Trifid nebula, where radiation and winds from massive stars have blown a cavity into the surrounding dust and gas, and presumably triggered the birth of new generations of stars. Dust glows in infrared light, so the three lines that make up the Trifid, while appearing dark in visible-light views, are bright when seen by WISE.

The blue stars scattered around the picture are older, and they lie between Earth and the Trifid nebula. The baby stars in the Trifid will eventually look similar to those foreground stars. The red cloud at upper right is gas heated by a group of very young stars.

The Trifid nebula is located 5,400 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius.

Blue represents light emitted at 3.4-micron wavelengths, and cyan (blue-green) represents 4.6 microns, both of which come mainly from hot stars. Relatively cooler objects, such as the dust of the nebula, appear green and red. Green represents 12-micron light and red, 22-micron light.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages and operates the recently activated NEOWISE asteroid-hunting mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The results presented here are from the WISE all-sky survey mission, which operated before NEOWISE, using the same spacecraft, in 2010 and 2011. WISE was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA