Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Jupiter’s X-Ray Aurora

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Aurora occurrence on Jupiter has been known for a long time, now for the first time it is being studied in x-ray light. The press release below mentions a composite image, it was two shots of the auroral activity, click the image above to see the second picture.

Jupiter is pretty bright in the sky because we are just past the point were Earth and Jupiter are the closest we are in our orbits an event that happens about every 13 months.

Jupiter is an amazing planet and we are going to be seeing a lot more from it in the coming months as the spacecraft Juno nears the planet.

Here’s the press release from NASA:

Solar storms are triggering X-ray auroras on Jupiter that are about eight times brighter than normal over a large area of the planet and hundreds of times more energetic than Earth’s “northern lights,” according to a new study using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This result is the first time that Jupiter’s auroras have been studied in X-ray light when a giant solar storm arrived at the planet.

The Sun constantly ejects streams of particles into space in the solar wind. Sometimes, giant storms, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), erupt and the winds become much stronger. These events compress Jupiter’s magnetosphere, the region of space controlled by Jupiter’s magnetic field, shifting its boundary with the solar wind inward by more than a million miles. This new study found that the interaction at the boundary triggers the X-rays in Jupiter’s auroras, which cover an area bigger than the surface of the Earth.

These composite images show Jupiter and its aurora during and after a CME’s arrival at Jupiter in October 2011. In these images, X-ray data from Chandra (purple) have been overlaid on an optical image from the Hubble Space Telescope. The left-hand panel reveals the X-ray activity when the CME reached Jupiter, and the right-hand side is the view two days later after the CME subsided. The impact of the CME on Jupiter’s aurora was tracked by monitoring the X-rays emitted during two 11-hour observations. The scientists used that data to pinpoint the source of the X-ray activity and identify areas to investigate further at different time points. They plan to find out how the X-rays form by collecting data on Jupiter’s magnetic field, magnetosphere and aurora using Chandra and ESA’s XMM-Newton.

A paper describing these results appeared in the March 22, 2016 issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research. The authors on the paper are William Dunn (UCL), Graziella Branduardi-Raymont (UCL), Ronald Elsner (NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center), Marissa Vogt (Boston University), Laurent Lamy (University of Paris Diderot), Peter Ford (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Andrew Coates (UCL), Randall Gladstone (Southwest Research Institute), Caitriona Jackman (University of Southampton), Jonathan Nichols (University of Leicester), Jonathan Rae (UCL), Ali Varsani (UCL), Tomoki Kimura (JAXA), Kenneth Hansen (University of Michigan), and Jamie Jasinski (UCL).

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UCL/W.Dunn et al, Optical: NASA/STScI

Super Balloon to Attempt New Record

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My long time readers know of my infatuation with high altitude balloon missions. They are very cost effective method of quality astronomical observations. What balloon missions are not, is simple. It takes an immense amount of planning and technical expertise to run a mission.

Working on a balloon mission is one of those “bucket-list” items for me. Maybe someday.

Anyway, enough day-dreaming, if this new super pressure balloon works out, we could see payloads aloft for 100 days! We can follow the mission along no matter where we are. Those readers who live in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, such as New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and South Africa might get a look at the balloon during its travels near sunrise/sunset.

The NASA press statement:
After years of tests and development, NASA’s Balloon Program team is on the cusp of expanding the envelope in high-altitude, heavy-lift ballooning with its super pressure balloon (SPB) technology.

NASA’s scientific balloon experts are in Wanaka, New Zealand, prepping for the fourth flight of an 18.8 million-cubic-foot (532,000 cubic-meter) balloon, with the ambitious goal of achieving an ultra-long-duration flight of up to 100 days at mid-latitudes.

Launch of the pumpkin-shaped, football stadium-size balloon is scheduled for sometime after April 1, 2016, from Wanaka Airport, pending final checkouts and flight readiness of the balloon and supporting systems.

Once launched, the SPB, which is made from 22-acres of polyethylene film – similar to a sandwich bag, but stronger and more durable – will ascend to a nearly constant float altitude of 110,000 feet (33.5 km). The balloon will travel eastward carrying a 2,260-pound (1,025 kg) payload consisting of tracking, communications and scientific instruments. NASA expects the SPB to circumnavigate the globe once every one to three weeks, depending on wind speeds in the stratosphere.

“We are thrilled to be back in New Zealand for another test flight of this critical, potentially game-changing technology,” said Debbie Fairbrother, NASA’s Balloon Program Office chief. “This could be the flight for the record books.”

Up to a hundred days at float could shatter the current SPB flight duration record of 54 days, which occurred over Antarctica in 2009. To achieve this goal flying at mid-latitudes, where the balloon endures pressure changes due to the heating and cooling of the day-night cycle, the SPB flight must do what no other balloon has accomplished before.

Longer-duration flights enable longer observations of scientific phenomena, the ability to survey more sources, and more time to observe weak or subtle sources. In addition, mid-latitude flights are essential for making observations at night, a requirement for certain types of scientific investigations. These two aspects greatly enhance the return on science, and combined with the relatively low-cost of balloon missions, SPB could become a competitive platform for a number of scientific investigations that would otherwise need to launch into orbit.

Image: NASA

Planet Formation Around Binary Star

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A composite image of the HD 142527 binary star system from data captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array shows a distinctive arc of dust (red) and a ring of carbon monoxide (blue and green). The red arc is free of gas, suggesting the carbon monoxide has “frozen out,” forming a layer of frost on the dust grains in that region. Astronomers speculate this frost provides a boost to planet formation. The two dots in the center represent the two stars in the system.

Details at NRAO

Credit: Andrea Isella/Rice University; B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF); ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

LIGO Details

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Now for some more detail on the discovery of gravitational waves.

The press release from the Caltech LIGO website:

LIGO Opens New Window on the Universe with Observation of Gravitational Waves from Colliding Black Holes

WASHINGTON, DC/Cascina, Italy

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.
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