Monthly Archives: September 2013

NuSTAR is Busy

An optical color image of galaxies is seen here overlaid with X-ray data (magenta) from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An optical color image of galaxies is seen here overlaid with X-ray data (magenta) from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Since NuSTAR was launched on June 13, 2012 it has moved into its parking spot been checked out and has found 10 supermassive galaxies already. The mission is really just hitting its stride and is expected to last two years. We are just beginning to get a look at the data.

During the two year mission, as part of its core mission, NuSTAR will map selected regions of the sky in order to:

Take a census of collapsed stars and black holes of different sizes by surveying regions surrounding the center of own Milky Way Galaxy and performing deep observations of the extragalactic sky;

Map recently-synthesized material in young supernova remnants to understand how stars explode and how elements are created; and
Understand what powers relativistic jets of particles from the most extreme active galaxies hosting supermassive black holes.

From the NASA NuSTAR Mission page home to among other things different sizes and un-annotated version:

NuSTAR’s serendipitous discovery in this field, indicated by the arrow, lies to the left of a galaxy, called IC751, at which the telescope originally intended to look. Both magenta blobs show X-rays from massive black holes buried at the hearts of galaxies.
The optical image is from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and a color composite of images over three different optical wavebands (the G, R, and I bands). The NuSTAR data shows X-rays in the 3 to 24 keV energy range.

Becquerel Crater

A Mars Express view ot Becquerel Crater.  Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
A Mars Express view ot Becquerel Crater. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

I saw this image and my first though was: “what the heck am I looking at?

This Mars Express image of Becquerel crater is pretty much the visual definition of surreal Oh sure, there’s a ‘simple’ explanation (below) but I’m still having to stare at it. Well done Mars Express, it is a remarkable image.

There are larger versions and one image from a different vantage point at the ESA space in Images site, take a look if you have a minute or two.

Here’s the ESA caption:

A striking scene in and around Becquerel crater – the largest crater in this view – reveals both the power of wind and water in the turbulent history of Mars. A mound of light-coloured sulphate deposits formed from evaporating water sits inside the crater amid a sea of dark wind-blown deposits. The darker material has blown towards the south-southwest (top left) of the image in a wide swath and across tiny craters there – their raised rims protect the material immediately downwind from being swept away.

The mosaic is composed of four images taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express, with an average ground resolution of 17 m per pixel. The image centre lies at about 22°N/352°E; North is to the right. The individual images were taken on 22 July 2006 (orbit 3253), and 26 February, 2 and 7 March 2008, corresponding to orbits 5332, 5350, and 5368, respectively.

Plasma Jets in 4C12.50

A combination of Hubble and VLBI data of the galaxy 4C12.50 showing the plasma jet (inset is a close up).  Credit: optical: HST/STSci/Tadhunter et al.; radio: VLBI, Morganti et al. 2013
A combination of Hubble and VLBI data of the galaxy 4C12.50 showing the plasma jet (inset is a close up). Credit: optical: HST/STSci/Tadhunter et al.; radio: VLBI, Morganti et al. 2013

What can you do with a radio telescope as big as the Earth? You can look into the hearts of galaxies 1.5 to 2 BILLION light-years away and actually make out plasma jets from a supermassive black hole, like the one above called. 4C12.50.

Both the image and JIVE are described in this press release from the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe (JIVE):

DWINGELOO, The Netherlands (5 September 2013) – The jets which are shot away into space by the supermassive black hole in the centre of a galaxy, clear gas away from the galaxy. The first clear evidence of this was obtained by a team led by Raffaella Morganti (ASTRON, University of Groningen). The results will be published in Science on the 6th of September.

Astronomers have been puzzled by the fact that many galaxies in the Universe seem to be depleted of their gas and are therefore unable to form any new stars. Fast outflows of gas have been observed in the past, but the mechanism driving these outflows was not understood. The suspicion that the powerful plasma jets that are shot into space by the central supermassive black hole are responsible for the expulsion of the gas has now been confirmed.
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LADEE Update

Thought you might like this LADEE pre-launch press conference describing the mission. A video of the launch is in the previous post if you didn’t see it.

There were early reports of a problem with the reaction wheels used to position and stabilize the spacecraft. Mission managers don’t sound too concerned:

“The LADEE spacecraft is working as it was designed to under these conditions – there’s no indication of anything wrong with the reaction wheels or spacecraft,” said S. Pete Worden, Ames center director. “The LADEE spacecraft is communicating and is very robust. The mission team has ample time to resolve this issue before the spacecraft reaches lunar orbit. We don’t have to do anything in a rush.”
LADEE team members are currently analyzing the situation. Normal checkout takes a couple of days, and this anomaly may add a couple more days to the process.
“This is not an unusual event in spacecraft,” Worden said. “We plan in the next few days to complete spacecraft checkout.”


LADEE Launch Day

Mission:  Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer – LADEE

Rocket: USAF Minitor V (integrated by Orbital Sciences Corp.

Current Status: Go

Launch Date: Friday, 06 Sept. 2013 23:27 EDT / Saturday 07 Sept. 2013 03:27 UTC

Odds of Launch: Unknown numerics but the forecast looks great.

NOAA’s Forecast:

Friday: Sunny, with a high near 74. North wind 13 to 17 mph.

Friday Night: Clear, with a low around 62. Northeast wind 5 to 8 mph.

This is going to be an exciting mission from start to finish. LADEE will be the first lunar launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia even though Wallops and NOT Cape Canaveral, is the oldest continuous rocket launch range in the United States.

LADEE is the fist payload to be launched atop an USAF Minotaur rocket integrated by Orbital Sciences Corp.

Once LADEE gets to the moon and that depends on launch time because of the way the spacecraft will approach the leading edge of the moon for orbital insertion, it get into a 250 km (156 mile) altitude orbit paving the way for even lower altitude orbits during the planned 100-day mission.

Once the mission is complete LADEE will impact the lunar surface. I did say it was going to be exciting start to finish.

NASA’s LADEE website.

Hubble 12

Planetary nebula PN Hb 12 or simply Hubble 12. Copyright: NASA, ESA, A. Zijlstra; Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington
Planetary nebula PN Hb 12 or simply Hubble 12. Copyright: NASA, ESA, A. Zijlstra; Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington

Amazingly symmetrical.

Kudos to Josh Barrington and the great job with the processing.

From the ESA website:

This image shows an example of a bipolar planetary nebula known as PN Hb 12 — popularly known as Hubble 12 — in the constellation of Cassiopeia. The striking shape of this nebula, reminiscent of a butterfly or an hourglass, was formed as a Sun-like star approached the end of its life and puffed its outer layers into the surrounding space. For bipolar nebulae, this material is funnelled towards the poles of the ageing star, creating the distinctive double-lobed structure.
Observations using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the NTT have found that bipolar planetary nebulae located towards the central bulge of our Milky Way appear to be strangely aligned in the sky — a surprising result given their varied and chaotic formation.
PN Hb 12 was not part of the new study. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Josh Barrington.

HTV-4 Undocks

Updated with the YouTube version.

The Japanese cargo ship HTV-4 will undock from the International Space Station today at 16:00 UTC (12 noon EDT). Hopefully you get to see it LIVE above. If you miss the live broadcast, don’t worry I’m sure it will be up on YouTube shortly and I’ll switch out the  USTREAM player.

The HTV-4 be removed from the Harmony module by Expedition 26 Flight Engineer Karen Nyberg using the robotic arm. The HTV-4 has been attached to the Harmony module since delivering over 3.5 tons of supplies and parts on August 9th.

The HTV-4 was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan on August 3rd.

The docking room will be needed for the arrival of Orbital Sciences Corp’s Cygnus cargo vehicle in just a couple of weeks. Launch date is scheduled for 17 September 2013. This will be another one of those demonstrations missions, so it will be quite exciting.

Sagittarius A

Sagittarius A - The Central Milky Way Image credit: X-ray: NASA/UMass/D.Wang et al., IR: NASA/STScI
Sagittarius A – The Central Milky Way Image credit: X-ray: NASA/UMass/D.Wang et al., IR: NASA/STScI

I always enjoy these looks into the center of our Milky Way especially these collaborations between telescopic instruments.

At about 8,000 parsecs the black hole is close enough for pretty decent observations and finding surprises. Looks like less than 1 percent of material in the grasp of the black know actually gets assimilated?

Didn’t see that one coming.

Here is the Chandra press release (get larger images here too):

The center of the Milky Way galaxy, with the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), located in the middle, is revealed in these images. As described in our press release, astronomers have used NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory to take a major step in understanding why material around Sgr A* is extraordinarily faint in X-rays.

The large image contains X-rays from Chandra in blue and infrared emission from the Hubble Space Telescope in red and yellow. The inset shows a close-up view of Sgr A* in X-rays only, covering a region half a light year wide. The diffuse X-ray emission is from hot gas captured by the black hole and being pulled inwards. This hot gas originates from winds produced by a disk-shaped distribution of young massive stars observed in infrared observations.
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PGC 10922

Hubble's view of PGC 10922.  Click for larger.  ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
Hubble’s view of PGC 10922. Click for larger. ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

Here is an image of PGC 10922. The ESA caption is below but for some other particulars that makes this Hubble view even more outstanding:

The galaxy is located at RA 02h 53m 35.9s and DEC -83d 08m 32s and it’s about 67.92 Mpc away (about 221 million light-years).  It shines  at a magnitude 13.7 and is small at around one (1) arc minute +/-.

Want a comparison between Hubble and a ground based image?  Have a look at this image from the 2MASS 1.3m telescope at the ESO.

One other interesting thing about the image is it is has a redshift velocity (moving away from us) of 4,830 km/second (z = 0.016111), that’s nearly 11 million mph for the metrically challenged.

Here’s the ESA caption (via NASA and you can get different sizes of the image at this link):

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured this image of PGC 10922, an example of a lenticular galaxy — a galaxy type that lies on the border between ellipticals and spirals.
Seen face-on, the image shows the disk and tightly-wound spiral structures of dark dust encircling the bright center of the galaxy. There is also a remarkable outer halo of faint wide arcs or shells extending outwards, covering much of the picture. These are likely to have been formed by a gravitational encounter or even a merger with another galaxy. Some dust also appears to have escaped from the central structure and has spread out across the inner shells. An extraordinarily rich background of more remote galaxies can also be seen in the image.

Ariane Launch Replay

Here is a replay of last Thursday’s Ariane 5 launch. Two communications satellites, Eutelsat 25B/Es’hail 1 and GSAT-7, were successfully placed into their planned geostationary transfer orbits from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.

The Ariane 5 is in impressive launch platform, the payloads on this launch had a liftoff mass of 8,950 kg (19,731 lb).

Liftoff of flight VA215 occurred at 20:30 UTC

This was the fourth launch of 2013 and the 57th successful launch since December 2002.

Overall September looks to be a busy month for launches from different spaceports.