Mystery Plumes on Mars

Observations of a mysterious plume-like feature (marked with yellow arrow) at the limb of the Red Planet on 20 March 2012. The observation was made by astronomer W. Jaeschke. The image is shown with the north pole towards the bottom and the south pole to the top.  Credit: ESA

Observations of a mysterious plume-like feature (marked with yellow arrow) at the limb of the Red Planet on 20 March 2012. The observation was made by astronomer W. Jaeschke. The image is shown with the north pole towards the bottom and the south pole to the top. Credit: ESA

Plumes of unknown origin over Mars have been photographed. The plumes seen in in images taken March and April of 2012.  The images prompted a  review of Hubble images of Mars and sure enough an image was found from 17 May 1997.

These are not the clouds occasionally imaged at about 100 km in the atmosphere, this phenomenon is seen at 250 km.

“At about 250 km, the division between the atmosphere and outer space is very thin, so the reported plumes are extremely unexpected,” says Agustin Sanchez-Lavega of the Universidad del País Vasco in Spain, lead author of the paper reporting the results in the journal Nature.

Read the details at ESA space science and if you live in or near Grover’s Mill NJ, I’d keep an eye on the sky.

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Martian Landscape

The view from Curiosity of the Martian surface on Sol 896.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The view from Curiosity of the Martian surface on Sol 896. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity took this image of the Martian landscape a couple of days agon on 12 February 2015.

Currently Curiosity is examining sites inside Gale Crater, recently drilling into a rock at a place called Mojave 2. The drilling technique is changing to suit the fragile rock, using a less heavy handed approach to drilling is paying off.

Click here to read the preliminary results of the sampling.

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Vega Launch Replay

ESA launched the Vega VV04 with the ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle or IXV on 11 February. The IXV was launched at 13:40 GMT from Kourou, French Guiana in what appeared to be about the smoothest take off I’ve ever seen.

Once the Vega reached 340 km / 211 miles the IXV separated and continued up to 412 km / 256 miles. From the maximum altitude the IXV coasted back to Earth just as planned, the 500 + sensors on board the IXV captured data all the way.

As the IXV neared the surface parachutes deployed to slow the spacecraft to a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Congratulations ESA, this is a big step!

About the IXV

Video source

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Pluto’s Dance

Pluto and Charon. Image Credit: NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto and Charon. Image Credit: NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute

A new release from the New Horizons spacecraft shows Pluto and the moon Charon in their dance. The animation is made from images taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager also known as LORRI over the course of a week.

The pair were observed for a complete rotation of each body, which is 6.4 Earth-days. The distance to Pluto and Charon changed from 126 million miles at the beginning to 121 million miles at the end. Like the exciting ESA Rosetta mission around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and NASA’s Dawn mission now approaching Ceres, the views will be improving dramatically in the near future.

Pluto can be seen wobbling as Charon orbits, this is not an artifact. Charon is about one-eigth the mass of Pluto and is only 18,000 km / 11,200 miles away so they orbit around a common center of gravity and each body tugging on the other. The result is the wobble. This type of wobble is what some of the Exo-planet hunters look for too. The difference they are watching for a entire stars to wobble as a planet tugs on it and that wobble is exceedingly tiny – amazing really.

Check out the New Horizons site for more details.

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Hubble Puts On a Happy Face

Hubble shows that happiness is a gravitational lens. Image Credit: NASA/ESA

Hubble shows that happiness is a gravitational lens. Image Credit: NASA/ESA

Hubble sees a happy face created by a beautiful gravitation lens. I saw this at NASA’s Image of the Day yesterday. Oddly enough I was just thinking about faces we precieve like the famous Face on Mars and now there is the face on Ceres. The face on Ceres will be short lived as Dawn will be there shortly, just as well the Ceres face looks scary. :)

The caption from the NASA Image of the Day site (credit: ESA):

In the center of this image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, is the galaxy cluster SDSS J1038+4849 — and it seems to be smiling.

You can make out its two orange eyes and white button nose. In the case of this “happy face”, the two eyes are very bright galaxies and the misleading smile lines are actually arcs caused by an effect known as strong gravitational lensing.
Continue reading

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Perihelion Cliff

Philae's view of its home, Perihelion Cliff. Image(s) Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA/CNES/FD via NASA

Philae’s view of its home, Perihelion Cliff. Image(s) Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA/CNES/FD via NASA

Rosetta’s Philae lander too this picture of its home, Perihelion Cliff, on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Philae was released by Rosetta on 12 November 2014. The landing did not go quite as planned and the anchor harpoons did not fire. After the initial impact Philae did start sending back data, turns out the lander actually bounced twice. Philae is at the bottom of a cliff and is shaded so there is no power being generated by the solar panels. Click here to get a representation of the landing location.

Contact with the lander was lost when the batteries aboard Philae ran down. Philae may have no power there is hope in August 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will be close enough to the sun for the solar panels on Philae to get enough light to return to life.

Rosetta Blog

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Tycho’s Central Peaks

A beautful look at the central peaks of Tycho from the LRO. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

A beautful look at the central peaks of Tycho from the LRO. Click for a larger view. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Todays moon post is from close to home, our own moon. The image above is the central peaks in the crater Tycho as seen by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The central peak complex above is about 15 km / 9.3 miles wide, left to right (southeast to northwest in this view). A very popular target with amateur astronomers, Tycho is about 82 km / 51 miles in diameter. The central peak’s summit is 2 km / 1.24 miles above the crater floor.

You have seen Tycho if you ever looked up that the full moon on a clear sky. A pair of binoculars will show the central peak. Here’s a look at Tycho  from the Simon Fraser University.

Central craters generally form from an impact of a large body onto in this case the lunar surface. The heat generates surface melt and the “liquid” is pushed from the point of impact and then rebounds from the edges back to the center and freezes in place. Rock freezes at a much higher temperature than water as you well know.

Impact craters are a whole study on their own and there are many different types. The University of Wisconsin at Green Bay has a nice web page looking at the different types of craters and central peak formation. Depending on what body the craters are on they may appear a little different than lunar craters, for example: craters on Mercury generally are a little more muted the walls and central peaks don’t seem to reach out as much as lunar craters, this is because in part, Mercury has more gravity than the moon.

Click here to visit the source page for the image and more information about Tycho.

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