MMS Mission Returns Data

We are starting to get data back from the MMS mission.

MMS is made of four identical spacecraft that launched in March 2015. They fly in a pyramid formation to create a full 3-dimensional map of any phenomena it observes. On October 16, 2015, the spacecraft traveled straight through a magnetic reconnection event at the boundary where Earth’s magnetic field bumps up against the sun’s magnetic field.

After more than 4,000 trips though the magnetic boundaries around Earth gathering information about the way the magnetic fields and particles move a surprising result resulted. At the moment of interconnection between the sun’s magnetic field lines and those of Earth the crescents turned abruptly so that the electrons flowed along the field lines. By watching these electron tracers, MMS made the first observation of the predicted breaking and interconnection of magnetic fields in space.

Credit: NASA/GSFC/Genna Duberstein

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Mercury Elevation Map

An animation made from data gathered by the MESSENGER spacecraft defining elevation. The topography is colored with higher elevations colored brown, yellow, and red, and regions with lower elevations shown in blue and purple.

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Hubble and Comet 252P

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From Hubblesite:
This time-lapse movie, assembled from Hubble Space Telescope images, shows a narrow, well-defined jet of dust sweeping around with the rotation of Comet 252P/LINEAR like a spinning lawn sprinkler. The jet is illuminated by sunlight.

Researchers made the movie from Hubble images taken April 4, 2016, when the comet was 8.7 million miles from Earth. The time interval between each frame is approximately 30 to 50 minutes. The icy body made its closest approach to Earth on March 21, 2016, when it was 3.3 million miles away. It is now more than 25 million miles away from Earth.

The jet is composed of material from the comet’s icy nucleus that has been warmed by sunlight and ejected into space. The nucleus is too small for Hubble to resolve.

The jet’s changing direction is evidence that the comet’s nucleus is rotating, which makes the jet appear to spin like the water jet from a rotating lawn sprinkler. The movie underscores the dynamics and volatility of a comet’s fragile nucleus.

The movie is based on visible-light images taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Splashdown for Dragon

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Very nice job on the round trip SpaceX!

From SpaceX:

Dragon successfully splashed down at 11:31 am PT in the Pacific Ocean, completing the Commercial Resupply Services 8 (CRS 8) mission which began with the liftoff of Falcon 9 and Dragon back on April 8th. Dragon delivered nearly 7,000 lbs of cargo and returned more than 3,700 lbs of cargo, including 1,300 lbs of science. Dragon is the only operational spacecraft capable of both delivering and returning significant amounts of cargo to and from the International Space Station.

Polar Vortex on Saturn

Wow, just look at that polar vortex of Saturn in fine detail from Cassini!  For the knowledge gained on missions like this versus the cost, it is money well spent.  We should be doing more.

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Here’s the details from NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute:
Sitting at Saturn’s south pole is a vortex of monstrous proportions. The dark ‘eye’ of this feature is some 8000 km across, or about two thirds the diameter of Earth.

This image is 10 times more detailed than any previous picture of the polar vortex and shows a level of detail inside the eye that was not previously observable. Earlier images showed towering clouds around the edge of this vortex, but inside the air was thought to be mostly transparent. Here, however, a multitude of features is revealed.
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Verified 1284 New Planets

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Among the 1,284 newly found planets, nine of them are in the Goldilocks zone, where liquid water (and possibly life as we know it) could exist.  The count for these planets is now 21.

Here’s the press release:

NASA’s Kepler mission has verified 1,284 new planets – the single largest finding of planets to date.

“This announcement more than doubles the number of confirmed planets from Kepler,” said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth.”

Analysis was performed on the Kepler space telescope’s July 2015 planet candidate catalog, which identified 4,302 potential planets. For 1,284 of the candidates, the probability of being a planet is greater than 99 percent – the minimum required to earn the status of “planet.” An additional 1,327 candidates are more likely than not to be actual planets, but they do not meet the 99 percent threshold and will require additional study. The remaining 707 are more likely to be some other astrophysical phenomena. This analysis also validated 984 candidates previously verified by other techniques.

“Before the Kepler space telescope launched, we did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy. Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. “This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever-closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe.”
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UGC 477

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There are a few different catalogs listing space objects.   UGC stands for Uppsala General Catalogue of Galaxies and is a catalog of galaxies to a limiting diameter of 1.0 arcminute and/or to a limiting apparent magnitude of 14.5 on the blue prints of the Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS). Coverage is limited to the sky north of declination -02.5 degrees.

From Hubble (via NASA)

This striking NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image captures the galaxy UGC 477, located just over 110 million light-years away in the constellation of Pisces (The Fish).

UGC 477 is a low surface brightness (LSB) galaxy. First proposed in 1976 by Mike Disney, the existence of LSB galaxies was confirmed only in 1986 with the discovery of Malin 1. LSB galaxies like UGC 477 are more diffusely distributed than galaxies such as Andromeda and the Milky Way. With surface brightnesses up to 250 times fainter than the night sky, these galaxies can be incredibly difficult to detect.

Most of the matter present in LSB galaxies is in the form of hydrogen gas, rather than stars. Unlike the bulges of normal spiral galaxies, the centers of LSB galaxies do not contain large numbers of stars. Astronomers suspect that this is because LSB galaxies are mainly found in regions devoid of other galaxies, and have therefore experienced fewer galactic interactions and mergers capable of triggering high rates of star formation.

LSB galaxies such as UGC 477 instead appear to be dominated by dark matter, making them excellent objects to study to further our understanding of this elusive substance. However, due to an underrepresentation in galactic surveys — caused by their characteristic low brightness — their importance has only been realized relatively recently.

Text credit: European Space Agency
Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt