All posts by Tom

Getting Sandy

sandyselfie

 

The MSL rover Curiosity is showing it is getting sand covered, in fact there is a pretty good build up on some of the surfaces. Seems like not so long ago I commented that the dust was much less than I thought it could be.

From NASA’s website:

This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at “Namib Dune,” where the rover’s activities included scuffing into the dune with a wheel and scooping samples of sand for laboratory analysis.

The scene combines 57 images taken on Jan. 19, 2016, during the 1,228th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The camera used for this is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.

Namib Dune is part of the dark-sand “Bagnold Dune Field” along the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. Images taken from orbit have shown that dunes in the Bagnold field move as much as about 3 feet (1 meter) per Earth year.

The location of Namib Dune is show on a map of Curiosity’s route at http://mars.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=7640. The relationship of Bagnold Dune Field to the lower portion of Mount Sharp is shown in a map at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16064.)

The view does not include the rover’s arm. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic’s component images. The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images, or portions of images, that were used in this mosaic. This process was used previously in acquiring and assembling Curiosity self-portraits taken at sample-collection sites, including “Rocknest” (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16468), “Windjana” (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18390) and “Buckskin” (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19807).

For scale, the rover’s wheels are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide.

MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.

More information about Curiosity is online at http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 

Hubble’s Hermet

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From Hubble:

The drizzle of stars scattered across this image forms a galaxy known as UGC 4879. UGC 4879 is an irregular dwarf galaxy — as the name suggests, galaxies of this type are a little smaller and messier than their cosmic cousins, lacking the majestic swirl of a spiral or the coherence of an elliptical.

This galaxy is also very isolated. There are about 2.3 million light years between UGC 4879 and its closest neighbor, Leo A, which is about the same distance as that between the Andromeda Galaxy and the Milky Way.

This galaxy’s isolation means that it has not interacted with any surrounding galaxies, making it an ideal laboratory for studying star formation uncomplicated by interactions with other galaxies. Studies of UGC 4879 have revealed a significant amount of star formation in the first 4 billion years after the Big Bang, followed by a strange 9-billion-year lull in star formation that ended 1 billion years ago by a more recent re-ignition. The reason for this behavior, however, remains mysterious, and the solitary galaxy continues to provide ample study material for astronomers looking to understand the complex mysteries of star birth throughout the universe.

Image credit: NASA/ESA
Text credit: European Space Agency

World Atlas of Artificial Brightness

brightnessmap

Light pollution is a topic that has been talked about for a number of years and some progress has been made but there is a long way to go. Some communities have used new lighting designs to direct light to where it is needed and away from the sky, more needs to be done.
From SpaceRef :

The Milky Way, the brilliant river of stars that has dominated the night sky and human imaginations since time immemorial, is but a faded memory to one third of humanity and 80 percent of Americans.

A new global atlas of light pollution has been produced by Italian and American scientists, including Chris Elvidge of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information and Kimberly Baugh of NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

“We’ve got whole generations of people in the United States who have never seen the Milky Way,” said Elvidge. “It’s a big part of our connection to the cosmos ­ and it’s been lost.”

Light pollution is most extensive in countries like Singapore, Italy and South Korea, while Canada and Australia retain the darkest skies. In Western Europe, only small areas of night sky remain relatively undiminished, mainly in Scotland, Sweden and Norway. Despite the vast open spaces of the American west, almost half of the U.S. experiences light-­polluted nights.

Light pollution does more than rob humans of the opportunity to ponder the night sky. Unnatural light can confuse or expose wildlife like insects, birds and sea turtles, with often fatal consequences.

The atlas takes advantage of low­light imaging now available from the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellit, calibrated by thousands of ground observations. The brighter the area in this interactive map (at right), the harder it is to see stars and constellations in the night sky.

For more information about the study, see http://goo.gl/gWeZvs

To read the study in its entirety, go to http://goo.gl/dDsmju

Extraordinary Supernova Explained?

naoj

Type 1a supernovae are considered to be sort of a standard reference because they all detonate at the same point in their evolution.

There are problems with the standard reference because sometimes there are extraordinary examples that are much brighter than they should be. Now we may have an explanation for theses extraordinary examples thanks to a Japan OISTER collaboration:

Image around SN 2012dn obtained by the Kanata Telescope at Higashi-Hiroshima Observatory. SN 2012dn is seen near the center of this figure. The host galaxy ESO 462-G016 is seen on the left side of SN 2012dn. The distance to this galaxy is known to be 130 mega-light-years. Because the supernova is a point source, the expansion cannot be measured, but the evolutions of the brightness and color are obtained.

Using data obtained through the Optical and Infrared Synergetic Telescopes for Education and Research (OISTER) in Japan, Masayuki Yamanaka, a Taro Hirao Foundation Researcher at Konan University, demonstrated that the origin of extraordinary supernovae can be explained by the ‘accretion scenario.’ The researchers discovered an anomalously strong infrared emission from ‘the extraordinary supernova’ SN 2012dn, which has never been observed in other Type Ia supernovae to date. Through detailed analysis, the researchers concluded that the infrared emission comes from the material ejected from the progenitor system.

Read the paper by Taro Hirao Foundation Researcher Masayuki Yamanaka and his colleagues.

Image: Higashi-Hiroshima Observatory

Noctilucent Clouds from the ISS

noctilucentcloud

Noctilucent clouds are beautiful and strange at the same time. You can indeed see them from the ground and are a welcome site.

This image was taken on 29 May 2016 by Tim Peake aboard the ISS:

The NASA Image of the Day caption:

Expedition 47 Flight Engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency photographed rare, high-altitude noctilucent or “night shining” clouds from the International Space Station on May 29, 2016.

Polar mesospheric clouds — also known as noctilucent clouds – form between 76 to 85 kilometers (47 to 53 miles) above the Earth’s surface, near the boundary of the mesosphere and thermosphere, a region known as the mesopause. At these altitudes, water vapor can freeze into clouds of ice crystals. When the sun is below the horizon and the ground is in darkness, these high clouds may still be illuminated, lending them their ethereal, “night shining” qualities.

In the late spring and summer, unusual clouds form high in the atmosphere above the polar regions of the world. As the lower atmosphere warms, the upper atmosphere gets cooler, and ice crystals form on meteor dust and other particles high in the sky. The result is noctilucent or “night-shining” clouds — electric blue wisps that grow on the edge of space. Polar mesospheric clouds can be observed from both the Earth’s surface and in orbit by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Image Credit: ESA/NASA

Active Pluto

plutolavalamp

Hard to imagine that a (dwarf) planet so far from the Sun would be as active as Pluto is!

The New Horizon’s caption:
Like a cosmic lava lamp, a large section of Pluto’s icy surface is being constantly renewed by a process called convection that replaces older surface ices with fresher material.

Scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission used state-of-the-art computer simulations to show that the surface of Pluto’s informally named Sputnik Planum is covered with churning ice “cells” that are geologically young and turning over due to a process called convection. The scene above, which is about 250 miles (400 kilometers) across, uses data from the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), gathered July 14, 2015. Their findings are published in the June 2, 2016, issue of the journal Nature.

Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The Juno Team

junoteam

With a month to go before the Juno spacecraft reaches Jupiter and conducts a great mission now is a good time to meet the people flying the spacecraft.

From left to right:
Kenny Starnes – MSA Manager,
Kirsten Francis – Guidance, Navigation and Control Engineer,
Alexandra Hilbert – Systems and Guidance, Navigation and Control Engineer,
Bryce Strauss – Mission Operations Systems Engineer, and
Wil Santiago – Mission Operations Thermal Engineer.

Read about what they do from Lockheed Martin (it’s quick).

Juno art courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Transit of the ISS

legaultiss

This is a remarkable image! I have tried on numerous occasions to get an image of the International Space Station as it passes over the disk of the Sun, something always goes wrong. It is a VERY difficult endeavor with so many variables.

Then there is a master at the craft of astrophotography:  Thierry Legault. Not only did he capture the ISS, he did it during the transit of Mercury!

This from ESA (be sure to watch the video linked below):

On 9 May Mercury passed in front of the Sun as seen from Earth. These transits of Mercury occur only around 13 times every century, so astronomers all over Earth were eager to capture the event.

For astrophotographer Thierry Legault, capturing Mercury and the Sun alone was not enough, however – he wanted the International Space Station in the frame as well.

To catch the Station passing across the Sun, you need to set up your equipment within a ground track less than 3 km wide. For Thierry, this meant flying to the USA from his home near Paris, France.

On 9 May there were three possible areas to capture the Station and Mercury at the same time against the solar disc: Quebec, Canada, the Great Lakes and Florida, USA.

Choosing the right spot took considerable effort, says Thierry: “Canada had bad weather predicted and around Florida I couldn’t find a suitably quiet but public place, so I went to the suburbs of Philadelphia.”

With 45 kg of equipment, Thierry flew to New York and drove two hours to Philadelphia to scout the best spot. Even then, all the preparations and intercontinental travel could have been for nothing because the Station crosses the Sun in less than a second and any clouds could have ruined the shot.

“I was very lucky: 10 minutes after I took the photos, clouds covered the sky,” says a relieved Thierry.

“Adrenaline flows in the moments before the Station flies by – it is a one-shot chance. I cannot ask the space agencies to turn around so I can try again. Anything can happen.”

The hard work and luck paid off. The image here includes frames superimposed on each other to show the Station’s path. Mercury appears as a black dot at bottom-centre of the Sun.

For Thierry, the preparation and the hunt for the perfect shot is the best part.

“Astrophotography is my hobby that I spend many hours on, but even without a camera I encourage everybody to look up at the night sky. The International Space Station can be seen quite often and there are many more things to see. It is just a case of looking up at the right time.”

Watch a video of the pass, including another moment with an aircraft flying by. 

Visit Thierry’s homepage here: http://www.astrophoto.fr/

Image and caption: Thierry Legault and ESA