Festive Chandra

One thing I enjoy about this time of year is it is colorful, this contribution comes from the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Click the image above from Chandra/NASA for the larger version.

I could do without the -20 deg C temps and much lower though.

CHANDRA: This is the season of celebrating, and the Chandra X-ray Center has prepared a platter of cosmic treats from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This selection represents different types of objects — from relatively nearby exploded stars to extremely distant and massive clusters of galaxies — that emit X-rays detected by Chandra. Each image in this collection blends data from Chandra with observations from other telescopes, creating a colorful medley of light from our universe.

Top row (left to right):

E0102-72.3: This supernova remnant was produced by a massive star that exploded in a nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud. X-rays from Chandra (blue and purple) have helped astronomers confirm that most of the oxygen in the universe is synthesized in massive stars.  The amount of oxygen in the E0102-72.3 ring shown here is enough for thousands of solar systems. This image also contains optical data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the Very Large Telescope in Chile (red and green).

Abell 370: Located about 4 billion light-years from Earth, Abell 370 is a galaxy cluster containing several hundred galaxies. Galaxy clusters are the largest objects in the universe held together by gravity.  In addition to individual galaxies, clusters contain vast amounts of multimillion-degree gas that emits X-rays, and dark matter that supplies most of the gravity of the cluster, yet does not produce any light. Chandra reveals the hot gas (diffuse blue regions) in a combined image with optical data from Hubble (red, green, and blue).

Messier 8: Also known as NGC 6523 or the Lagoon Nebula, Messier 8 is a giant cloud of gas and dust where stars are currently forming. At a distance of about 4,000 light years from Earth, Messier 8 provides astronomers an excellent opportunity to study the properties of very young stars. Many infant stars give off copious amounts of high-energy light including X-rays, which are seen in the Chandra data (pink). The X-ray data have been combined with an optical image of Messier 8 from the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center in Arizona (pale blue and white).

Bottom row (left to right):

Orion Nebula: Look just below the middle of the three stars of “belt” in the constellation Orion to find the Orion Nebula – to your unaided eyes, it appears as a small fuzzy dot. With a powerful telescope like Chandra, however, the view is much different. In this image, X-rays from Chandra (blue) reveal individual young stars, which are hot and energetic. When combined with radio emission from the NSF’s Very Large Array (purple), a vista of this stellar nursery is revealed.

Messier 33: The Triangulum Galaxy, a.k.a., Messier 33, is a spiral galaxy about 3 million light-years from Earth. It belongs to the Local Group of galaxies that includes the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. Chandra’s X-ray data (pink) reveal neutron stars and black holes that are pulling material from a companion star, while an optical image from the Subaru telescope in Hawaii (red, green, and blue) shows the majestic arms of this spiral galaxy that in many ways is a cousin to our own Milky Way.

Abell 2744: This composite image contains the aftermath of a giant collision involving four separate galaxy clusters at a distance of about 3.5 billion light-years. Officially known as Abell 2744, this system is also called “Pandora’s Cluster” because of the different structures found within it. This view of Abell 2744 contains X-ray data from Chandra (blue) showing hot gas, optical data from Subaru and the VLT (red, green and blue), and radio data from the NSF’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (red). Most of the cluster’s mass is invisible dark matter.

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.


SpaceX to Launch GPSIII SV-01 – Aborted

SpaceX is launching a Global Positioning System III space vehicle (SV) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. What is a GPS space vehicle? I don’t know exactly, it is a launch for the US Air Force.

The launch window opens at 14:11 UTC / 09:11 ET (26 minute window)

Replays later today (if it goes up).

Side note: I am really please to see this launch, I thought the Rocket Lab launch was today, then when that was a couple of days ago I thought I was going mad. Not mad, just a but confused. LOL. Crazy busy is the big problem. There are a few launches scheduled by various entities, I will try to get caught up.

Rocket Lab Launches CubeSats

Rocket Lab makes history with this launch of CubeSats, including one by students atop an Electron rocket. Great job and it looks like the future is bright for Rocket Lab. By the way, the launch is at about the 18 minute mark so you may want to fast-forward.

NASA: A series of new CubeSats now are in space, conducting a variety of scientific investigations and technology demonstrations, following launch Sunday of Rocket Lab’s first mission for NASA under a Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contract.

An Electron rocket lifted off at 1:33 a.m. EST (7:33 p.m. NZDT) from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, marking the first time CubeSats have launched for NASA on a rocket designed specifically for small payloads.

“With the VCLS effort, NASA has successfully advanced the commercial launch service choices for smaller payloads, providing viable dedicated small launch options as an alternative to the rideshare approach,” said Jim Norman, director of Launch Services at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This first mission is opening the door for future launch options.”

At the time of the VCLS award in 2015, launch opportunities for small satellites and science missions were limited to ridesharing – flying only when space was available on other missions. Managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, VCLS awards are designed to foster a commercial market where SmallSats and CubeSats could be placed in orbits to get the best science return.

This mission includes 10 Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa)-19 payloads, selected by NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative. The initiative is designed to enhance technology development and student involvement. These payloads will provide information and demonstrations in the following areas:

“Low cost launch services to enable expanded science from smaller satellites are now a reality.  NASA’s Earth Venture program and indeed our entire integrated, Earth-observing mission portfolio will benefit greatly from the ability to launch small satellites into optimal orbits, when and where we want them,” said Dr. Michael Freilich, Director of Earth Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington.  “Our partnership with LSP on the VCLS effort is helping both NASA and the commercial launch sector.”

CubeSats are small satellites built in standard units of 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, or in configurations of two, three or six units. These small satellites play a valuable role in the agency’s exploration, technology, educational, and science investigations, including planetary exploration, Earth observation, and fundamental Earth and space science. They are a cornerstone in the development of cutting-edge NASA technologies like laser communications, satellite-to-satellite communications and autonomous movement.

NASA will continue to offer CubeSats an opportunity to hitch a ride on primary missions in order to provide opportunities to accomplish mission objectives, and expects to announce the next round of CubeSats for future launches in February 2019.

ESA Hitches a Ride

Image: KARI

Check out the links, I’ve got a few new bookmarks.  Nice job ESA.

ESA:  The first ESA-funded space weather monitoring instrument was launched on 4 December 2018, hitching a ride on South Korea’s new geostationary satellite, GEO-KOMPSAT-2A – the Geostationary Korea Multi-Purpose Satellite-2A.

The satellite, seen in this image, was lofted into orbit on an Ariane rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and will provide meteorological monitoring over the Asia-Pacific region as well as data on space weather.

Space weather’ describes the constantly changing conditions in space as a result of the unpredictable behaviour of our active Sun.

This dynamic solar activity changes the space environment, causing variations in magnetic and electric fields, and levels of high-energy particles and radiation around our planet. Such changes can cause impair satellites, disturb telecommunication and satellite navigation, and damage with crucial infrastructure on Earth, such as power grids.

ESA’s Service Oriented Spacecraft Magnetometer (SOSMAG) instrument has four tiny sensors that will measure Earth’s magnetic field and provide data on how space weather affects it.

The SOSMAG kit is designed ultimately to be mounted on a variety of different spacecraft, in an array of orbits, which together will give a fuller picture of Earth’s space weather environment. These ‘hosted payloads’ boost efficiency and reduce cost, while providing critical data to be fed into ESA’s Space Weather Services Network.

Find out more about the network, ESA’s future Distributed Space Weather Sensor System, and the upcoming Lagrange mission to monitor the Sun, all part of the Agency’s plan to monitor hazards in space and one day to mitigate them.

The SOSMAG instrument is funded by ESA’s Space Situational Awareness programme, and was built by an industrial consortium consisting of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Space Research Institute (IWF), Magson GmbH, the Institut für Geophysik und Extraterrestrische Physik of TU Braunschweig and the Blackett Laboratory of Imperial College London (ICL).

Comet 46P/Wirtanen

Comet 46P/Wirtanen is in our night sky and visible without a telescope. I cannot say it is a naked-eye object, but I will qualify that by telling you I have not been out in the most favorable time. Most of my viewing has been at 03:00 to 04:00 and if I could get outside a couple hours earlier I might indeed glimpse it. So I am looking to the west and not so much to the south. I do have pretty good skies too so if you have any light pollution at all you will need assistance in seeing Wirtanen (in my experience that is).

If you have even a small pair of binoculars you are all set. I chose the image above because it is a great facsimile of what I see (image from: Astronomy Sketch of the Day). If you have even a small telescope you may be able to see a tail.

How do you find it? The best finders chart I’ve found is here and the chart comes from the Comet Wirtanen Observing Campaign website.

Hopefully I will be able to get one of my scopes on it this weekend. From the weather forecast here that is in doubt, so it’s either brave the -20 C temps or hope the clouds and rain (!) stays away.

ICESat-2 Delivers the Icy Data

ICESat-2 is delivering great data. If you are a student in need of a science project check out the project website and you are sure to find something useful including actual data – one of the best project websites around.

NASA: Less than three months into its mission, NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is already exceeding scientists’ expectations. The satellite is measuring the height of sea ice to within an inch, tracing the terrain of previously unmapped Antarctic valleys, surveying remote ice sheets, and peering through forest canopies and shallow coastal waters.

With each pass of the ICESat-2 satellite, the mission is adding to datasets tracking Earth’s rapidly changing ice. Researchers are ready to use the information to study sea level rise resulting from melting ice sheets and glaciers, and to improve sea ice and climate forecasts.

In this image, sea ice forms in the open water between floes, called leads, in the Bellingshausen Sea. ICESat-2 is able to detect the thin sea ice, allowing scientists to more accurately track seasonal ice formation.

Image Credit: NASA/Kate Ramsayer

Bellingshausen Sea

Water on Asteroid Bennu?

A new look at asteroid Bennu from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft courtesy of: NASA, Goddard, and the University of Arizona. If you have not seen it there is a very good animated version of Bennu’s rotation, be warned if you have a slow connection, it is a large file; just be patient it is worth the wait. Video at asteroidmission.org.

The big news, really big news is there may be water in the clays on Bennu:

NASA: Recently analyzed data from NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.

During the mission’s approach phase, between mid-August and early December, the spacecraft traveled 1.4 million miles (2.2 million km) on its journey from Earth to arrive at a location 12 miles (19 km) from Bennu on Dec. 3. During this time, the science team on Earth aimed three of the spacecraft’s instruments towards Bennu and began making the mission’s first scientific observations of the asteroid. OSIRIS-REx is NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

Data obtained from the spacecraft’s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES), reveal the presence of molecules that contain oxygen and hydrogen atoms bonded together, known as “hydroxyls.” The team suspects that these hydroxyl groups exist globally across the asteroid in water-bearing clay minerals, meaning that at some point, Bennu’s rocky material interacted with water. While Bennu itself is too small to have ever hosted liquid water, the finding does indicate that liquid water was present at some time on Bennu’s parent body, a much larger asteroid.

“The presence of hydrated minerals across the asteroid confirms that Bennu, a remnant from early in the formation of the solar system, is an excellent specimen for the OSIRIS-REx mission to study the composition of primitive volatiles and organics,” said Amy Simon, OVIRS deputy instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Additionally, data obtained from the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) corroborate ground-based telescopic observations of Bennu and confirm the original model developed in 2013 by OSIRIS-REx Science Team Chief Michael Nolan and collaborators. That model closely predicted the asteroid’s actual shape, with Bennu’s diameter, rotation rate, inclination, and overall shape presented almost exactly as projected.

One outlier from the predicted shape model is the size of the large boulder near Bennu’s south pole. The ground-based shape model calculated this boulder to be at least 33 feet (10 meters) in height. Preliminary calculations from OCAMS observations show that the boulder is closer to 164 feet (50 meters) in height, with a width of approximately 180 feet (55 meters).

Bennu’s surface material is a mix of very rocky, boulder-filled regions and a few relatively smooth regions that lack boulders. However, the quantity of boulders on the surface is higher than expected. The team will make further observations at closer ranges to more accurately assess where a sample can be taken on Bennu to later be returned to Earth.
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