All posts by Tom

Progress Cargo Ship Leaves Port

The Russian Progress 64 leaves the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, heading for the International Space Station on 16 July. The cargo ship contains carrying three tons of food, fuel and supplies for the station.

The arrival will be in 18 July which is incidentally the same date as a SpaceX rocket will be launching to the ISS. The Dragon cargo ship will transport crew supplies and station hardware including the first of two new international docking adapters. The adapters will allow for docking both the SpaceX CREW Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and will bring back the American ability to transport astronauts to the ISS, an ability lacking since the end of the Space Shuttle era.

The SpaceX launch is scheduled for 04:45 UTC / 00:45 EDT on 18 March. The weather looks good, check back for a live look later.

UPDATE:  Check back here for a LIVE link to the launch posting at 04:00 UTC.

Video

WT1190F

WT1190F is a ‘real-world’ example of how NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office along with contributers around the world is keeping an eye on what is sharing our space.

Video by Science@NASA

Cassini’s Unique View Of Enceladus

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A unique view of the moon Enceladus thanks to the Sun-Saturn-Spacecraft geometry. Below is zoomed in on the Enceladus region.

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NASA’s caption:
Wispy fingers of bright, icy material reach tens of thousands of kilometers outward from Saturn’s moon Enceladus into the E ring, while the moon’s active south polar jets continue to fire away.

This astonishing, never-before-seen structure is made visible with the sun almost directly behind the Saturn system from Cassini’s vantage point. The sun-Enceladus-spacecraft angle here is 175 degrees, a viewing geometry in which structures made of tiny particles brighten substantially.

These features are very likely the result of particles injected into Saturn orbit by the Enceladus geysers: Those injected in the direction of the moon’s orbital motion end up on larger, slower orbits and trail Enceladus in its orbit, and those injected into the opposite direction end up smaller, faster orbits and lead Enceladus. (Orbital motion is counter-clockwise.) In addition, the configuration of wisps may hint at an interaction between Saturn’s magnetosphere and the torrent of particles issuing from Enceladus.

In addition to the wisps, another unexpected detail is the dark gore in the center of the ring, following the moon in its orbit, likely brought about by the sweeping action of Enceladus as it orbits in the center of the E ring.

The view looks down onto Enceladus (505 kilometers, or 314 miles across) from about 15 degrees above the ringplane. Tethys (1,071 kilometers, or 665 miles across) is visible to the left of Enceladus.

The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Sept. 15, 2006, at a distance of approximately 2.1 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from Enceladus. Image scale is 128 kilometers (80 miles) per pixel.

Image and caption: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Juno Parting Look

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Here’s an image from Juno after its first encounter with Jupiter. The image was taken on 10 July 2015, just days after the 05 July (UTC) encounter. The spacecraft was 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter at time.

The first high resolution images are due around 27 August when the second orbit is underway. The spacecraft’s camera was turned away from Jupiter during the initial orbit – nothing was taken for granted the first time around.

We can see the Great Red Spot in this image and three of the four Galilean moons, in order from left to right: Io, Europa, Ganymede.
Click the image above for a larger version; an annotated version can be seen here.

Juno images are available courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Frankenstein Galaxy

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Galex data!

About the image<(Credits: NASA/JPL/Caltech/SDSS/NRAO/L. Hagen and M. Seibert):

About 250 million light-years away, there’s a neighborhood of our universe that astronomers had considered quiet and unremarkable. But now, scientists have uncovered an enormous, bizarre galaxy possibly formed from the parts of other galaxies.

A new study to be published in the Astrophysical Journal reveals the secret of UGC 1382, a galaxy that had originally been thought to be old, small and typical. Instead, scientists using data from NASA telescopes and other observatories have discovered that the galaxy is 10 times bigger than previously thought and, unlike most galaxies, its insides are younger than its outsides, almost as if it had been built using spare parts.

“This rare, ‘Frankenstein’ galaxy formed and is able to survive because it lies in a quiet little suburban neighborhood of the universe, where none of the hubbub of the more crowded parts can bother it,” said study co-author Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, California. “It is so delicate that a slight nudge from a neighbor would cause it to disintegrate.”

Seibert and Lea Hagen, a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, came upon this galaxy by accident. They had been looking for stars forming in run-of-the-mill elliptical galaxies, which do not spin and are more three-dimensional and football-shaped than flat disks. Astronomers originally thought that UGC 1382 was one of those.

But while looking at images of galaxies in ultraviolet light through data from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), a behemoth began to emerge from the darkness.

“We saw spiral arms extending far outside this galaxy, which no one had noticed before, and which elliptical galaxies should not have,” said Hagen, who led the study. “That put us on an expedition to find out what this galaxy is and how it formed.”

Researchers then looked at data of the galaxy from other telescopes: the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Two Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array and Carnegie’s du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory. After GALEX revealed previously unseen structures to the astronomers, optical and infrared light observations from the other telescopes allowed the researchers to build a new model of this mysterious galaxy.

As it turns out, UGC 1382, at about 718,000 light-years across, is more than seven times wider than the Milky Way. It is also one of the three largest isolated disk galaxies ever discovered, according to the study. This galaxy is a rotating disk of low-density gas. Stars don’t form here very quickly because the gas is so spread out.

But the biggest surprise was how the relative ages of the galaxy’s components appear backwards. In most galaxies, the innermost portion forms first and contains the oldest stars. As the galaxy grows, its outer, newer regions have the youngest stars. Not so with UGC 1382. By combining observations from many different telescopes, astronomers were able to piece together the historical record of when stars formed in this galaxy — and the result was bizarre.

“The center of UGC 1382 is actually younger than the spiral disk surrounding it,” Seibert said. “It’s old on the outside and young on the inside. This is like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than the outer rings.”

The unique galactic structure may have resulted from separate entities coming together, rather than a single entity that grew outward. In other words, two parts of the galaxy seem to have evolved independently before merging — each with its own history.

At first, there was likely a group of small galaxies dominated by gas and dark matter, which is an invisible substance that makes up about 27 percent of all matter and energy in the universe (our own matter is only 5 percent). Later, a lenticular galaxy, a rotating disk without spiral arms, would have formed nearby. At least 3 billion years ago, the smaller galaxies may have fallen into orbit around the lenticular galaxy, eventually settling into the wide disk seen today.

More galaxies like this may exist, but more research is needed to look for them.

“By understanding this galaxy, we can get clues to how galaxies form on a larger scale, and uncover more galactic neighborhood surprises,” Hagen said.

The GALEX mission, which ended in 2013 after more than a decade of scanning the skies in ultraviolet light, was led by scientists at Caltech in Pasadena, California. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, managed the mission and built the science instrument. Data for the 2MASS and WISE missions are archived at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) at Caltech. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

The Heart of the Crab

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This image is a composite of separate exposures acquired by the ACS/WFC instrument using several filters. Coloration results from assigning different hues (colors) to the grayscale image associated with an individual filter.The assigned colors represent not only changes in different filters, but also the same filters taken on different exposure dates to highlight features that change over time.

Credit: ESA / NASA Acknowledgment: J. Hester (ASU) and M. Weisskopf (NASA/GSFC)

From Hubblesite:
At the center of the Crab Nebula, located in the constellation Taurus, lies a celestial “beating heart” that is an example of extreme physics in space. The tiny object blasts out blistering pulses of radiation 30 times a second with unbelievable clock-like precision. Astronomers soon figured out that it was the crushed core of an exploded star, called a neutron star, which wildly spins like a blender on puree. The burned-out stellar core can do this without flying apart because it is 10 billion times stronger than steel. This incredible density means that the mass of 1.4 suns has been crushed into a solid ball of neutrons no bigger than the width of a large city. This Hubble image captures the region around the neutron star. It is unleashing copious amounts of energy that are pushing on the expanding cloud of debris from the supernova explosion — like an animal rattling its cage. This includes wave-like tsunamis of charged particles embedded in deadly magnetic fields.

On July 4, 1054, Chinese astronomers recorded the supernova that formed the Crab Nebula. The ultimate celestial firework, this “guest star” was visible during the daytime for 23 days, shining six times brighter than the planet Venus. The supernova was also recorded by Japanese, Arabic, and Native American stargazers. While searching for a comet that was predicted to return in 1758, French astronomer Charles Messier discovered a hazy nebula in the direction of the long-vanished supernova. He would later add it to his celestial catalog as “Messier 1.” Because M1 didn’t move across the sky like a comet, Messier simply ignored it other than just marking it as a “fake comet.” Nearly a century later the British astronomer William Parsons sketched the nebula. Its resemblance to a crustacean led to M1’s other name, the Crab Nebula. In 1928 Edwin Hubble first proposed associating the Crab Nebula to the Chinese “guest star” of 1054.