infrared images

Nebula Helix by Spitzer

This infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Helix Nebula. The nebula, located about 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, belongs to a class of objects called planetary nebulae.

Image credit: NASA / Spitzer

Saturn’s great storm of 2011

These colourful swirls depict an unprecedented storm that played out in the northern hemisphere of the gas giant Saturn from December 2010 until June 2011.

The scene is shown in false colour and is created from 84 near-infrared images captured by the international Cassini spacecraft on 26 February 2011.

The image is processed such that blue colours indicate high, thin clouds, while yellow and white are relatively thick clouds also at high altitudes. Red and brown depict clouds at low altitude that are unobscured by the high clouds, and the deep blue is a thin haze with no clouds below. Green represents intermediate clouds.

The bright ‘head’ of the storm is towards the left; much lightning activity was recorded here. The roiling storm clouds raged through the atmosphere in a westward direction, eventually wrapping themselves around the entire planet.

At the tail-end (right) a vast swirling oval-shaped vortex is seen which is some 12 000 km wide, comparable to the diameter of Earth.

After many months, the head had caught up with the tail, and the storm began to subside.

Saturn’s storms are quite different from Earth’s, where stormy weather is rather frequent. On Saturn the atmosphere appears to be quite calm for 20–30 years at a time, and then erupts somewhat violently in months-long persistent storms like this one. Since it takes Saturn about 30 years to orbit the Sun, the repetitive nature of the giant storms may be linked, in part, to seasonal changes in the planet’s atmosphere.

Spiral Galaxy Messier 81.

Located in the northern constellation of Ursa Major (which also includes the Big Dipper), this galaxy is easily visible through binoculars or a small telescope.

Because of its proximity, M81 provides astronomers with an enticing opportunity to study the anatomy of a spiral galaxy in detail. The unprecedented spatial resolution and sensitivity of Spitzer at infrared wavelengths show a clear separation between the several key constituents of the galaxy: the old stars, the interstellar dust heated by star formation activity, and the embedded sites of massive star formation. The infrared images also permit quantitative measurements of the galaxy’s overall dust content, as well as the rate at which new stars are being formed.

CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S. Willner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics).

NASA spots short-lived Tropical Cyclone Alfred

NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured a visible image of the Southern Pacific Ocean’s newly formed tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Carpentaria. By the next day Alfred made landfall and weakened to a remnant low pressure area.

The Gulf of Carpentaria is a body of water between Australia’s Northern Territory and Queensland. The Arafura Sea lies to the north of the Gulf.

On Feb. 20 the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite provided a visible image of Alfred that showed half of the storm was over land, and half in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Tropical Cyclone Alfred developed from a tropical low pressure area previously known as System 91P. As the low pressure area briefly moved off the coast of the Northern Territory and into the warm waters of the Gulf it consolidated and strengthened into a tropical cyclone.

When Alfred developed around 0300 UTC on Feb. 20 (10 p.m. EST on Feb. 19) the Joint Typhoon Warning Center noted Alfred’s maximum sustained winds were near 46 mph (40 knots/74 kph. At that time, Alfred was centered near 15.3 degrees south latitude and 137.1 degrees east longitude in the southwestern Gulf of Carpentaria. Alfred was moving to the south-southeast 3.4 mph (3 knots/5.5 kph) and was crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, between Borroloola and the Northern Territory/Queensland border.

By Feb. 21, Alfred had made landfall near the Queensland and Northern Territory border and weakened to a remnant low pressure area. At 8 p.m. AEST local time in Queensland, The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (ABM) noted that ex-tropical cyclone is expected to remain slow moving over land before shifting westward on Feb. 22.

IMAGE….At 500 UTC on Feb. 20 (11 p.m. EST, Feb. 19), NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this image of newly formed Tropical Cyclone Alfred in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria between Australia’s Northern Territory and Queensland. Credit Credits: NASA/NOAA

Infrared, X-ray & Optical Images of Centaurus A

Centaurus A is the fifth brightest galaxy in the sky – making it an ideal target for amateur astronomers – and is famous for the dust lane across its middle and a giant jet blasting away from the supermassive black hole at its center.  Cen A is an active galaxy about 12 million light years from Earth.

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Rolf Olsen; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA-funded Website Lets Public Search for New Nearby Worlds


NASA is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space. A new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The movies highlight objects that have gradually moved across the sky.

“There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.”


WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA’s efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth’s orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE).


The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed “Planet Nine.” If Planet Nine — also known as Planet X — exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data.


The search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space.


“Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter,” said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. “By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds.”

Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE’s instruments.


Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It’s a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week.


On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of “flipbooks,” which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project.


“Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it’s exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist,” said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images.


Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet.


NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA.

The surface of Titan, viewed in infrared. 

This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn’s moon Titan from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission’s “T-114” flyby on Nov. 13, 2015.The spacecraft’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) instrument made these observations, in which blue represents wavelengths centered at 1.3 microns, green represents 2.0 microns, and red represents 5.0 microns. A view at visible wavelengths (centered around 0.5 microns) would show only Titan’s hazy atmosphere. The near-infrared wavelengths in this image allow Cassini’s vision to penetrate the haze and reveal the moon’s surface.

Looking like an apparition rising from whitecaps of interstellar foam, the iconic Horsehead Nebula has graced astronomy books ever since its discovery over a century ago. The nebula is a favorite target for amateur and professional astronomers.

In this Hubble Space Telescope view, the nebula appears in a new light, as seen in infrared wavelengths. The nebula, shadowy in optical light, appears transparent and ethereal when seen in the infrared, represented here with visible shades. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that are easily seen in infrared light.

The backlit wisps along the Horsehead’s upper ridge are being illuminated by Sigma Orionis, a young five-star system just off the top of the Hubble image. A harsh ultraviolet glare from one of these bright stars is slowly evaporating the nebula. Along the nebula’s top ridge, two fledgling stars peek out from their now-exposed nurseries.

Gas clouds surrounding the Horsehead have already dissipated, but the tip of the jutting pillar contains a slightly higher density of hydrogen and helium, laced with dust. This casts a shadow that protects material behind it from being photo-evaporated, and a pillar structure forms. Astronomers estimate that the Horsehead formation has about five million years left before it too disintegrates.

The Horsehead Nebula is part of a much larger complex in the constellation Orion. Known collectively as the Orion Molecular Cloud, it also houses other famous objects such as the Great Orion Nebula (M42), the Flame Nebula, and Barnard’s Loop. At about 1,500 light-years away, this complex is one of the nearest and most easily photographed regions in which massive stars are being formed.

Hubble’s pairing of infrared sensitivity and unparalleled resolution offers a tantalizing hint of what the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch in 2018, will be able to do.

Object Names: Horsehead Nebula, Barnard 33

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Time And Space

The Sombrero Galaxy in Infrared : This floating ring is the size of a galaxy. In fact, it is a galaxy – or at least part of one: the photogenic Sombrero Galaxy, one of the largest galaxies in the nearby Virgo Cluster of Galaxies. The dark band of dust that obscures the mid-section of the Sombrero Galaxy in optical light actually glows brightly in infrared light. The above image, digitally sharpened, shows the infrared glow, recently recorded by the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope, superposed in false-color on an existing image taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in optical light. The Sombrero Galaxy, also known as M104, spans about 50,000 light years across and lies 28 million light years away. M104 can be seen with a small telescope in the direction of the constellation Virgo. via NASA

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View From Space Hints at a New Viking Site in North America

A thousand years after the Vikings braved the icy seas from Greenland to the New World in search of timber and plunder, satellite technology has found intriguing evidence of a long-elusive prize in archaeology — a second Norse settlement in North America, further south than ever known.

The new Canadian site, with telltale signs of iron-working, was discovered last summer after infrared images from 400 miles in space showed possible man-made shapes under discolored vegetation. The site is on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, about 300 miles south of L’Anse aux Meadows, the first and so far only confirmed Viking settlement in North America, discovered in 1960.

Since then, archaeologists, following up clues in the histories known as the sagas, have been hunting for the holy grail of other Viking, or Norse, landmarks in the Americas that would have existed 500 years before Columbus, to no avail. Read more.

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The discovery of Uranus

On this day, March 13, 1781,German born British astronomer discovered the planet Uranus.  He also discovered two of Uranus’s moons, Titania and Oberon and two moons of Saturn.  He is credited with the discovery of Infrared radiation, and to honor that the image above of Uranus is a 1998 false-colour near-infrared image of the planet showing cloud bands, rings, and moons obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope’s NICMOS camera.

Herschel named his discovery George, oddly enough, to commemorate his new patron, King George III.  At the time he said this:  

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were given to the Planets, as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method and call it Juno, Pallas, Apollo or Minerva, for a name to our new heavenly body. The first consideration of any particular event, or remarkable incident, seems to be its chronology: if in any future age it should be asked, when this last-found Planet was discovered? It would be a very satisfactory answer to say, ‘In the reign of King George the Third’.

Few astronomers outside of England liked the name, however, and astronomers began proposing alternatives almost immediately.  German astronomer Johann Elert Bode called it Uranus  (Ancient Greek: Οὐρανός) after the Ancient Greek god of the sky, the logic being that as Saturn was the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be the father of Saturn.  It wasn’t until the middle of the next century that atlases dropped Herschel’s name and adopted Uranus.

All images in the public domain courtesy NASA.

Charon in Enhanced Color NASA’s New Horizons captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Charon just before closest approach on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colors are processed to best highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. Charon’s color palette is not as diverse as Pluto’s; most striking is the reddish north (top) polar region, informally named Mordor Macula. Charon is 754 miles (1,214 kilometers) across; this image resolves details as small as 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers).