Instrument Context Camera on Mars

Here’s a look at InSight’s seismometer on Mars, taken just yesterday. I believe he instrument was supposed to start taking data about now, but no updates to confirm that. Sooner or later we’ll hear something, I’m not even sure how much of the mission team is working – given the current state of things politically. I have a good feeling the mission team(s) are very anxious to get back to normal.

NASA — NASA’s InSight Mars lander acquired this image of the area in front of the lander using its lander-mounted, Instrument Context Camera (ICC).

This image was acquired on January 15, 2019, Sol 48 of the InSight mission where the local mean solar time for the image exposures was 17:40:01.089 PM. Each ICC image has a field of view of 124 x 124 degrees.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By the way, in an unrelated story, Hubble has resumed the use of the Wide Field Camera 3 after it went to a safe-mode state a few days ago. Apparently software detected voltage being out of range and prompted the event. After resetting certain circuits everything seemed to be operating at normal limits and the camera was put back into operation.

For a larger version of the Insight image above click here.

Titan Seen in Infrared

More excellence from Cassini. What a great value that mission was and to think there are a couple more planets out there that have only been visited during the Voyager missions.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Nantes/University of Arizona

From ESA (links from ESA included):    Saturn’s moon Titan is enveloped in a thick atmosphere, but through the infrared eyes of the international Cassini mission, the moon’s myriad surface features are revealed in this exquisite global mosaic.

Observing the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in visible light is difficult due to the globe-enshrouding hazethat envelops the moon. On 14 January 2005, the mystery as to what lay beneath the thick atmosphere was revealed as ESA’s Huygens probe – carried to Titan by Cassini – made the first successful landing on a world in the outer Solar System. During the two-and-a-half hour descent under parachute, features that looked remarkably like shore lines and river systems on Earth appeared from the haze. But rather than water, with surface temperatures of around –180ºC, the fluid involved here is methane, a simple organic compound that also contributes to the moon’s obscuring atmosphere.

Thanks to Cassini, which studied Saturn and its rings and moons for thirteen years, Titan was extensively mapped and analysed. One result is this stunning sequence of images created using data acquired by Cassini’s Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), whose infrared observations peered through Titan’s atmosphere, complementing the views obtained by Huygens during descent and on the surface. The maps combine data from the multitude of different observations made under a wide variety of illumination and viewing conditions over the course of the mission, stitched together in a seamless mosaic to provide the best representation of Titan’s surface to date.

The colours reflect variations in materials on the moon’s surface. For example, the moon’s equatorial dune fields appear a consistent brown colour, while bluish and purple hues may indicate materials enriched in water ice.

The image was first published in July 2018 – read more here about how the image was created, and enjoy a video featuring further stunning visuals here. The complete Cassini VIMS data archive of Saturn’s satellites is available here.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA and Italy’s ASI space agency. The mission concluded in September 2017.

M 105

A very nice Hubble image of the Messier Object 105 or simply M 105.

A good telescope target not that it is all that bright or distinctive but it is in a nice region of the sky with plenty to look at.

The ESA caption: It might appear featureless and unexciting at first glance, but NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope observations of this elliptical galaxy — known as Messier 105 — show that the stars near the galaxy’s centre are moving very rapidly. Astronomers have concluded that these stars are zooming around a supermassive black hole with an estimated mass of 200 million Suns! This black hole releases huge amounts of energy as it consumes matter falling into it and causing the centre to shine far brighter than its surroundings. This system is known as an active galactic nucleus.

Hubble also surprised astronomers by revealing a few young stars and clusters in Messer 105, which was thought to be a “dead” galaxy incapable of star formation. Messier 105 is now thought to form roughly one Sun-like star every 10 000 years. Star-forming activity has also been spotted in a vast ring of hydrogen gas encircling both Messier 105 and its closest neighbour, the lenticular galaxy NGC 3384.

Messier 105 was discovered in 1781, lies about 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion), and is the brightest elliptical galaxy within the Leo I galaxy group.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, C. Sarazin et al.

SpaceX Launches Iridium 8 – Replay

The launch replay.

Below is the replay of the first-stage landing on the barge:

This launch of 10 Iridium NEXT satellites from Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, is the eighth and final set of satellites in a series of 75 that SpaceX will launch for Iridium’s next generation global satellite constellation.

Weather looks good – good luck SpaceX

The COW and What?

“Over three days, the Cow produced a sudden explosion of light at least 10 times brighter than a typical supernova, and then it faded over the next few months. This unusual event occurred inside or near a star-forming galaxy known as CGCG 137-068, located about 200 million light-years away in the constellation Hercules. The Cow was first observed by the NASA-funded Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System telescope in Hawaii.

So exactly what is the Cow? Using data from multiple NASA missions, including the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), two groups are publishing papers that provide possible explanations for the Cow’s origins. One paper argues that the Cow is a monster black hole shredding a passing star. The second paper hypothesizes that it is a supernova — a stellar explosion — that gave birth to a black hole or a neutron star.

‘We’ve never seen anything exactly like the Cow, which is very exciting,” said Amy Lien, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We think a tidal disruption created the quick, really unusual burst of light at the beginning of the event and best explains Swift’s multiwavelength observations as it faded over the next few months.’ ” — NASA

And in an unrelated bit: did you hear about the mysterious radio signals picked up by the CHIME radio telescope? What is causing the fast radio bursts is unknown, there is even speculation that these are intentional pulses i.e. from aliens. I don’t think I’d go that far, but just what is causing them is a mystery nonetheless. A pretty good explanation can be found at Scientific American.

Perhaps we will see a lot more of them as times goes on with the CHIME radio telescope.

Herbig-Haro Objects

Hubble took a look at a star formation area with what is a baby star just born (in astronomical time scales). One of the effects in the area are these Herbig-Haro objects.

Image: SA/Hubble & NASA, K. Stapelfeldt; CC BY 4.0

ESA: In this image the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the smoking gun of a newborn star, the Herbig–Haro objects numbered 7 to 11 (HH 7–11). These five objects, visible in blue in the top centre of the image, lie within NGC 1333, a reflection nebula full of gas and dust found about a thousand light-years away from Earth.

Herbig-Haro objects like HH 7–11 are transient phenomena. Travelling away from the star that created them, at a speed of up to 250 000 kilometres per hour they disappear into nothingness within a few tens of thousands of years. The young star that is the source of HH 7-11 is called SVS 13 and all five objects are moving away from SVS 13 toward the upper left. The current distance between HH 7 and SVS 13 is about 20 000 times the distance between Earth and the Sun.

Herbig–Haro objects are formed when jets of ionised gas ejected by a young star collide with nearby clouds of gas and dust at high speeds. The Herbig-Haro objects visible in this image are no exception to this and were formed when the jets from the newborn star SVS 13 collided with the surrounding clouds. These collisions created the five brilliant clumps of light within the reflection nebula.

OSIRIS-REx Sees Home

The NAVCAM aboard the OSIRIS=REx spacecraft took this image on 19 December 2018 and it is looking at Aseroid Bennu and the Earth and Moon. Can you spot them? Click the image for a much larger version and that might help. You can get the full image here – and it’s not so large that even a slow connection will take a long time.

There is also part of a constellation in the lower right, take a guess at that too before reading the caption which is below the fold. I am pleased to say I got it, but only because of dumb-luck, still. . .

Thanks to: NASA, Goddard, University of Arizona, and Lockheed Martin Space for the image.
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Hubble and a Cepheid Variable Star

The last Hubble post showed a variable star known as a RR Lyrae, this is another type of variable star called a Cepheid variable.

Keep in mind this particular image was a holiday offering by Hubble when reading the original caption below.

While we will go more into variable stars in the very near future, you can get a brief description of them here.

NASA/Hubble:  This festive NASA Hubble Space Telescope image resembles a holiday wreath made of sparkling lights. The bright southern hemisphere star RS Puppis, at the center of the image, is swaddled in a gossamer cocoon of reflective dust illuminated by the glittering star. The super star is ten times more massive than the Sun and 200 times larger.

RS Puppis rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. It is one of the most luminous in the class of so-called Cepheid variable stars. Its average intrinsic brightness is 15,000 times greater than the Sun’s luminosity.

The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the Cepheid propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a “light echo.” Even though light travels through space fast enough to span the gap between Earth and the Moon in a little over a second, the nebula is so large that reflected light can actually be photographed traversing the nebula.

By observing the fluctuation of light in RS Puppis itself, as well as recording the faint reflections of light pulses moving across the nebula, astronomers are able to measure these light echoes and pin down a very accurate distance. The distance to RS Puppis has been narrowed down to 6,500 light-years (with a margin of error of only one percent).

Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) – Hubble/Europe Collaboration; Acknowledgement: H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University)

Text credit: Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)