NASA instruments detect ‘message’ coming from the Sun.

NASA have released data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory appearing to show a coded message coming from the Sun. Variations in the magnetic field detected by the SDO’s instruments have been converted into binary which appears to repeat every 512 seconds.

While the ‘message’ appears to be random at first, it was given further analysis after researchers determined it was actually a repeating pattern - something not normally occurring in nature in this way. When the ones and zeroes were converted into the grid pictured above, a message seems to appear, with a stick figure clearly visible near the centre.

NASA says the message likely has a simple explanation, although they confirmed there is “no way the message could have come from Earth. Further analysis is ongoing and we hope to explain this further in the coming weeks after further research and computer modelling.”

The Lobster Nebula seen with ESO’s VISTA telescope

This image from ESO’s VISTA telescope captures a celestial landscape of vast, glowing clouds of gas and tendrils of dust surrounding hot young stars. This infrared view reveals the stellar nursery known as NGC 6357 in a new light. It was taken as part of the VISTA Variables in the Vía Láctea (VVV) survey, which is currently scanning the Milky Way in a bid to map our galaxy’s structure and explain how it formed.

Credit: ESO/VVV Survey/D. Minniti. Acknowledgement: Ignacio Toledo

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NASA astronaut Terry W. Virts aboard the ISS: “A close up view of our moon setting behind clouds. #SpaceVine” March 12th, 2015.

Source: NASA/Terry W. Virts

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Astronaut Terry Virts flew over an intense thunderstorm in Africa last week and took this video of the lightning bursts.

Out of this whirl

The graceful, winding arms of the majestic spiral galaxy M51 (NGC 5194) appear like a grand spiral staircase sweeping through space. They are actually long lanes of stars and gas laced with dust.

The Whirlpool galaxy’s most striking feature is its two curving arms, a hallmark of so-called grand-design spiral galaxies. Many spiral galaxies possess numerous, loosely shaped arms that make their spiral structure less pronounced. These arms serve an important purpose in spiral galaxies. They are star-formation factories, compressing hydrogen gas and creating clusters of new stars. In the Whirlpool, the assembly line begins with the dark clouds of gas on the inner edge, then moves to bright pink star-forming regions, and ends with the brilliant blue star clusters along the outer edge.

Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA)
Source: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic0506a/

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NASA prepares for key pre-flight test of second LDSD vehicle.

Last June, NASA’s potential next-generation atmospheric reentry vehicle made its maiden test flight above Hawaii. Now, the second Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator vehicle is preparing for its flight in June.

Before the agency sends the test vehicle to Hawaii for its flight, it first must complete a series of tests at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where it is being assembled. One of these is a spin table test to ensure the vehicle is properly balanced.

This spin test will occur at later this afternoon, with the agency providing a live video stream of the event. The hour-long coverage of the test will begin on JPL’s UStream channel at 2:30 PM EDT.

Once testing at JPL is complete, the vehicle will be shipped to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai. The first LDSD vehicle that launched in June of 2014 is still undergoing post-flight analysis and inspection.

After this summer’s flight, two more tests remain before the completion of the program.

LDSD aims to provide a more efficient method of landing heavy payloads on the surface of planets with thick atmospheres. The inflatable ballute, known as the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator, will be coupled with the largest supersonic parachute ever flown, will decelerate incoming spacecraft to speeds allowing for a safe touchdown.

This Supersonic Disk Sail Parachute did not properly deploy on the inaugural LDSD flight and will be tested again on this second flight. At 33.5 meters in diameter, it is twice the size of the largest supersonic parachute previously flown on the Mars Science Laboratory mission in 2012.

For more information on the LDSD program, check out the directorate’s fact sheet.

To watch coverage of the test - scheduled for 2:30 PM EDT - click here.

Check out our archive on last summer’s LDSD test here.

Rhea was visited again by the Cassini spacecraft recently after spending years in a high inclination orbit around Saturn. This orbit prevented many closeups of Saturn’s moons as they orbit around the equatorial plane.

The two images were taken about an hour and a half apart as Cassini drew closer.

Cassini’s current orbit will allow for more closeups of other moons such as Titan and Enceladus as well.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL)

NGC 604: X-rays from a Giant Stellar Nursery

Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/ R. Tuellmann (Harvard-Smithsonian CfAet al. ; Optical: NASA/AURA/STScI

Explanation: Some 3 million light-years distant in nearby spiral galaxy M33, giant stellar nursery NGC 604 is about 1,300 light-years across, or nearly 100 times the size of the Orion Nebula. In fact, among the star forming regions within the Local Group of galaxies, NGC 604 is second in size only to 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. This space-age color composite of X-ray data (in blue hues) from the Chandra Observatory, and Hubble optical data shows that NGC 604’s cavernous bubbles and cavities are filled with a hot, tenuous, X-ray emitting gas. Intriguingly, NGC 604 itself is divided by a wall of relatively cool gas. On the western (right) side of the nebula, measurementsindicate that material is likely heated to X-ray temperatures by the energetic winds from a cluster of about 200 young, massive stars. On the eastern side the X-ray filled cavities seem to be older, suggesting supernova explosions from the end of massive star evolution contribute to their formation.