Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Back in the Day

We are looking at the way things were “back in the day”. This black hole is an astounding 13-billion light-years away.

JPL/Elizabeth Landau — Scientists have uncovered a rare relic from the early universe: the farthest known supermassive black hole. This matter-eating beast is 800 million times the mass of our Sun, which is astonishingly large for its young age. Researchers report the find in the journal Nature.

“This black hole grew far larger than we expected in only 690 million years after the Big Bang, which challenges our theories about how black holes form,” said study co-author Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Astronomers combined data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) with ground-based surveys to identify potential distant objects to study, then followed up with Carnegie Observatories’ Magellan telescopes in Chile. Carnegie astronomer Eduardo Bañados led the effort to identify candidates out of the hundreds of millions of objects WISE found that would be worthy of follow-up with Magellan.

For black holes to become so large in the early universe, astronomers speculate there must have been special conditions to allow rapid growth — but the underlying reason remains mysterious.

The newly found black hole is voraciously devouring material at the center of a galaxy — a phenomenon called a quasar. This quasar is especially interesting because it comes from a time when the universe was just beginning to emerge from its dark ages. The discovery will provide fundamental information about the universe when it was only 5 percent of its current age.

“Quasars are among the brightest and most distant known celestial objects and are crucial to understanding the early universe,” said co-author Bram Venemans of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany.

The universe began in a hot soup of particles that rapidly spread apart in a period called inflation. About 400,000 years after the Big Bang, these particles cooled and coalesced into neutral hydrogen gas. But the universe stayed dark, without any luminous sources, until gravity condensed matter into the first stars and galaxies. The energy released by these ancient galaxies caused the neutral hydrogen to get excited and ionize, or lose an electron. The gas has remained in that state since that time. Once the universe became reionzed, photons could travel freely throughout space. This is the point at which the universe became transparent to light.

Much of the hydrogen surrounding the newly discovered quasar is neutral. That means the quasar is not only the most distant — it is also the only example we have that can be seen before the universe became reionized.

“It was the universe’s last major transition and one of the current frontiers of astrophysics,” Bañados said.

The quasar’s distance is determined by what’s called its redshift, a measurement of how much the wavelength of its light is stretched by the expansion of the universe before reaching Earth. The higher the redshift, the greater the distance, and the farther back astronomers are looking in time when they observe the object. This newly discovered quasar has a redshift of 7.54, based on the detection of ionized carbon emissions from the galaxy that hosts the massive black hole. That means it took more than 13 billion years for the light from the quasar to reach us.

Scientists predict the sky contains between 20 and 100 quasars as bright and as distant as this quasar. Astronomers look forward to the European Space Agency’s Euclid mission, which has significant NASA participation, and NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) mission, to find more such distant objects.

“With several next-generation, even-more-sensitive facilities currently being built, we can expect many exciting discoveries in the very early universe in the coming years,” Stern said.

Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

A Lunar Transit of the ISS

Hat tip to Joel Kowsky and NASA for this excellent image featuring an ISS transit of the moon. Opportunities to capture these events are uncommon enough and then the whole event is over is about a second or two, very difficult to get right. I know, in the few opportunities I’ve had something has either gone wrong or I’ve been too slow on the shutter. I’m still trying.

Little wonder this was NASA’s Image of the Day yesterday, here’s their caption:

The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the Moon at roughly five miles per second, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, in Manchester Township, York County, Pennsylvania. Onboard are: NASA astronauts Joe Acaba, Mark Vande Hei, and Randy Bresnik; Russian cosmonauts Alexander Misurkin and Sergey Ryanzansky; and ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli.

Image Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Near Jupiter’s Cloudtops

The Juno spacecraft was only 18,906 km / 11,747 miles above the cloud tops of Jupiter – pretty bold.

Here’s the original caption: See Jovian clouds in striking shades of blue in this new view taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

The Juno spacecraft captured this image when the spacecraft was only 11,747 miles (18,906 kilometers) from the tops of Jupiter’s clouds — that’s roughly as far as the distance between New York City and Perth, Australia. The color-enhanced image, which captures a cloud system in Jupiter’s northern hemisphere, was taken on Oct. 24, 2017 at 10:24 a.m. PDT (1:24 p.m. EDT) when Juno was at a latitude of 57.57 degrees (nearly three-fifths of the way from Jupiter’s equator to its north pole) and performing its ninth close flyby of the gas giant planet.

The spatial scale in this image is 7.75 miles/pixel (12.5 kilometers/pixel).

Because of the Juno-Jupiter-Sun angle when the spacecraft captured this image, the higher-altitude clouds can be seen casting shadows on their surroundings. The behavior is most easily observable in the whitest regions in the image, but also in a few isolated spots in both the bottom and right areas of the image.

Citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager.

JunoCam’s raw images are available at www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam for the public to peruse and process into image products.

Great job! Credits: Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran /JUNO

Human vs. Machine

I will bet the result doesn’t stand for long. The pre-loaded map won’t be necessary for too long either. Let’s hope JPL repeats this in a years time.

You may have also noticed “I” was not the one flying the drone either. Perhaps JPL and Google have heard about my expertise in this area. I have a drone well suited to be flown inside. Instead I took it outdoors and flew it around for about three-minutes when a gust of wind took the drone on a ride of it’s own.

Last I saw of the thing, it was passing over the top of the house towards the other side and losing altitude, although rather smoothly. I knew the drone was going to cross the road but would it be smashed by the truck and couple of cars going by at the time?

I ran around the house, all the while madly operating the flight controller in some sort of effort to do something.
Just what the something was supposed to be is still a mystery but it seemed like the thing to do. Well I did not see any wreckage in the road. Great, the drone is one piece, but where is it? Immediately on the other side of the road it is thickly wooded.

That seemed like a plus, so I looked in a grid search quite a large area, twice. Nearly two-hours later I had nothing but a bunch of Ticks to show for my effort, I took a break. After running around doing errands, I returned to the search and expanded the search area well outside the area I figured drone could reach given the angle of descent (as reckoned by me at the time).

Almost immediately I found the drone, it had flown about twice as far as I thought! The battery was dead and after charging it up I found I had a motor problem. So, I have to fix the motor and I do have new ones, otherwise everything is good.

Yes! There is video, it seems I quite accidentally hit the “record” button during my frantic attempt “to do something” as described earlier, and perhaps someday I will get it to YouTube although it’s really rather dull. The video showed the drone had hit a Pine tree branch about 3 or so meters up and dangled there for about as long as I was doing my search. A gust of wind shook it out to where it was easily visible from the road. I am pretty lucky nobody spotted it before I did because it is a popular dog-walker stretch of road. Anyway, there you have it, how not to fly a drone.

Happy Anniversary Meteosat

Meteosat was the first Earth observation satellite launched by ESA and that launch was 40 years ago today.

On 23 November 1977 at 13:35 GMT the Meteosat took-off from Cape Canaveral Florida and by 07 December the spacecraft had reached its destination in geostationary orbit. Two days later on 09 December, Meteosat took its first image and here it is.

Want to know more?

Fabulous Friday

Oh my, just look at this picture, it is beautiful. Thanks to Ollie Taylor for taking it and ESA for sharing it out. ESA has a nice press release and include other footage of this event which was widely seen across Europe.

ESA —  On 14 November 2017 at about 16:45 GMT a football-sized meteoroid entered Earth’s atmosphere about 50 km northeast of Darmstadt, Germany. It created a bright fireball in the sky, which was seen by thousands of people in Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg, and was reported widely by media.

This remarkable image was taken by Ollie Taylor, a photographer from Dorset, UK, who happened to be on a shoot in Italy, in the Dolomites. The landscape scene shows the village of La Villa, Alta Badia, with Ursa Major seen in the background sky.

At dusk on 14 November, he was setting up for a night landscape shoot at Passo Falzarego, at 2200 m altitude, in clear but chilly –6ºC weather.

Ollie reports: “I was composing a shot of this scene and Ursa Major, seen above the meteor. I wanted to get it at twilight so the sky had a nice pink hue. I just decided I was not getting close enough, and was reaching for my other camera with a longer lens, luckily I left this camera exposing!

“It was a stroke of luck, as it’s given me not only the meteor, but great landscape background, too.”

Small lumps of rock enter our atmosphere every day, but it is rare for one to burn so brightly and to be seen by so many people.

“Owing to the meteoroid’s very high speed, estimated to be at least 70 000 km/h, it super-heated the air molecules in its path as it decelerated, creating a very luminous fireball,” adds Rudiger Jehn, of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness programme.

“Observers reported the meteoroid in detail, which allowed us to estimate its final fate: burning up at an altitude of around 50 km above Luxembourg.”

By yesterday, over 1150 sightings had been submitted to the International Meteor Organization, which runs a website to gather sightings of such events worldwide.

Four other fireballs were reported in France and the US 14–15 November, and the fireball over Luxembourg could be linked to the Taurid Meteor Shower , according to the organisation.

ESA supports the global effort to spot natural objects such as asteroids – much larger than this object – that can potentially strike Earth and cause damage. Access more information on the Space Situational Awareness programme via http://www.esa.int/ssa_neo.

Additional video footage of this event

Meteoroid seen from Dresden & Sighting report (in German) by Heiko Boehme

Meteoroid seen from Saarland by Freiwillige Feuerwehr Höchen

More information

Ollie Taylor Photography

Ollie Taylor via Instagram and Facebook

Credits: Ollie Taylor and ESA

Hitome Data

So there WAS data!  And to think I had written the mission off. Japan’s Hitomi mission launched on 17 February 2016 and there were only two short contacts with the spacecraft before communications was lost. What happened to the spacecraft is not known for certain but according to Japan’s space agency JAXA: “it is estimated that Hitomi separated to five pieces at about 10:42 a.m.”

From NASA — Before its brief mission ended unexpectedly in March 2016, Japan’s Hitomi X-ray observatory captured exceptional information about the motions of hot gas in the Perseus galaxy cluster. Now, thanks to unprecedented detail provided by an instrument developed jointly by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), scientists have been able to analyze more deeply the chemical make-up of this gas, providing new insights into the stellar explosions that formed most of these elements and cast them into space.

The Perseus cluster, located 240 million light-years away in its namesake constellation, is the brightest galaxy cluster in X-rays and among the most massive near Earth. It contains thousands of galaxies orbiting within a thin hot gas, all bound together by gravity. The gas averages 90 million degrees Fahrenheit (50 million degrees Celsius) and is the source of the cluster’s X-ray emission.

Using Hitomi’s high-resolution Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS) instrument, researchers observed the cluster between Feb. 25 and March 6, 2016, acquiring a total exposure of nearly 3.4 days. The SXS observed an unprecedented spectrum, revealing a landscape of X-ray peaks emitted from various chemical elements with a resolution some 30 times better than previously seen.
Continue reading

This is a Cool Drone!

Around here we are seeing the beginning of drone use in a few activities for hire, for example crop and field mapping, monitoring wetlands, oh and just a few kilometers from here monitoring a public road infrastructure projects. If I am seeing this, I know you must be also.

In this case this drone is a scientific instrument that will plainly be a remarkable platform for science especially for our students.

NASA / Goddard / Lori Keesey — NASA scientists, who always are on the hunt for new platforms from which to carry out their research, now may avail themselves of two agency-developed unmanned aerial systems, or UASs, that some say represent the future for drone aircraft.

Unlike most commercially available unmanned aircraft systems, Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 and Black Swift Technologies’ S2 small Unmanned Aircraft System, or sUAS, purposely were designed for scientific investigations.

Both provide one-of-a-kind capabilities that represent a significant success for NASA’s Small Business Innovative Research, or SBIR, program, which funded their development, said Geoff Bland, a research engineer at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

“Our goal always is to advance state-of-the-art airborne capabilities and platforms tailored to the needs of our scientists,” said Bland, who oversaw the aircrafts’ development. “The SBIR program offered us an outstanding venue for engaging small businesses in our quest to develop new tools for gathering scientific data.”

Now operational after months of development, the aircraft are offering the scientific community complementary, easy-to-use capabilities at a lower cost.

To Antarctica and Back

Continue reading

Ghostly Green

An Australian deep-space dish is lit in green. Very nice.

ESA –  Just in time for Halloween this week: a green deep-space tracking station.This image was taken by Byron Bay-based astrophotographer Dylan O’Donnell in October during a photo shoot at the New Norcia station, some 120 km north of Perth, Western Australia. The ‘ghostly green’ was created by reflecting a floodlight off the station’s 35 m-diameter deep-space antenna and structure. The station routinely communicates with spacecraft orbiting Mars as well as ESA’s Gaia and XMM observatory missions. In future, it will link up with BepiColombo at Mercury and the Euclid astronomical observatory. Since August, the station has been operating in part on a new solar power system, which, together with a local water recycling system, is helping to boost the station’s sustainability and reduce its environmental impact.

More information

Estrack network

New Norcia station

Copyright: ESA/D. O’Donnell