Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Sunset by InSight

The Mars lander InSight captured this Martian sunset. According to NASA the InSight lander used the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on the end of its robotic arm to image this sunset on Mars on April 25, 2019, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. This was taken around 6:30 p.m. Mars local time.

I look at the images here and think about what a great science fair project for some enterprising student.

NASA’s caption: Included here are the “raw” versions of the image (above) and the color-corrected version below; it’s easier to see some details in the raw version, but the latter more accurately shows the image as the human eye would see it.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages InSight for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the InSight spacecraft, including its cruise stage and lander, and supports spacecraft operations for the mission.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument to NASA, with the principal investigator at IPGP (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris). Significant contributions for SEIS came from IPGP; the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany; the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) in Switzerland; Imperial College London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom; and JPL. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) supplied the temperature and wind sensors.

Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Moon is Losing Water?

The Moon does have miniscule traces of water (H2O), but apparently enough water to lose, I will let NASA explain:

Researchers from NASA and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, report that streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infuse the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor.

The findings will help scientists understand the history of lunar water — a potential resource for sustaining long term operations on the Moon and human exploration of deep space. Models had predicted that meteoroid impacts could release water from the Moon as a vapor, but scientists hadn’t yet observed the phenomenon. 

Now, the team has found dozens of these events in data collected by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. LADEE was a robotic mission that orbited the Moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere, and determine whether dust is lofted into the lunar sky

“We traced most of these events to known meteoroid streams, but the really surprising part is that we also found evidence of four meteoroid streams that were previously undiscovered,” said Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Benna is the lead author of the study, published in Nature Geosciences.

The newly identified meteoroid streams, observed by LADEE, occurred on Jan. 9, April 2, April 5 and April 9, 2014.

There’s evidence that the Moon has water (H2O) and hydroxyl (OH), a more reactive relative of H2O. But debates continue about the origins of the water, whether it is widely distributed and how much might be present.

“The Moon doesn’t have significant amounts of H2O or OH in its atmosphere most of the time,” said Richard Elphic, the LADEE project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “But when the Moon passed through one of these meteoroid streams, enough vapor was ejected for us to detect it. And then, when the event was over, the H2O or OH went away.”

Lunar scientists often use the term “water” to refer to both H2O and OH. Figuring out how much H2O and how much OH are present is something future Moon missions might address.

LADEE, which was built and managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, detected the vapor using its Neutral Mass Spectrometer, an instrument built by Goddard. The mission orbited the Moon from October 2013 to April 2014 and gathered detailed information about the structure and composition of the lunar atmosphere, or more correctly, the “exosphere” – a faint envelope of gases around the Moon.

To release water, the meteoroids had to penetrate at least 3 inches (8 centimeters) below the surface. Underneath this bone-dry top layer lies a thin transition layer, then a hydrated layer, where water molecules likely stick to bits of soil and rock, called regolith.

From the measurements of water in the exosphere, the researchers calculated that the hydrated layer has a water concentration of about 200 to 500 parts per million, or about 0.02 to 0.05 percent by weight. This concentration is much drier than the driest terrestrial soil, and is consistent with earlier studies. It is so dry that one would need to process more than a metric ton of regolith in order to collect 16 ounces of water.

Because the material on the lunar surface is fluffy, even a meteoroid that’s a fraction of an inch (5 millimeters) across can penetrate far enough to release a puff of vapor. With each impact, a small shock wave fans out and ejects water from the surrounding area.

When a stream of meteoroids rains down on the lunar surface, the liberated water will enter the exosphere and spread through it. About two-thirds of that vapor escapes into space, but about one-third lands back on the surface of the Moon.

These findings could help explain the deposits of ice in cold traps in the dark reaches of craters near the poles. Most of the known water on the Moon is located in cold traps, where temperatures are so low that water vapor and other volatiles that encounter the surface will remain stable for a very long time, perhaps up to several billion years. Meteoroid strikes can transport water both into and out of cold traps.

The team ruled out the possibility that all of the water detected came from the meteoroids themselves.

“We know that some of the water must be coming from the Moon, because the mass of water being released is greater than the water mass within the meteoroids coming in,” said the second author of the paper, Dana Hurley of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The analysis indicates that meteoroid impacts release water faster than it can be produced from reactions that occur when the solar wind hits the lunar surface.

“The water being lost is likely ancient, either dating back to the formation of the Moon or deposited early in its history,” said Benna.

NASA is leading a sustainable return to the Moon with commercial and international partners to expand human presence in space and bring back new knowledge and opportunities.

By Elizabeth Zubritsky

Image: NASA Goddard/Mehdi Benna/Jay Friedlander

One More Black Hole Video

There are plenty of videos about the black hole image out there. One in particular predated the press release and I really never got a chance to watch it beforehand.

This morning as I was watching my usual fare, it turns out the video was recommended by Walter Lewin of MIT physic class fame. Check out his channel here. Well if he says it’s good who am I to argue and look over five-million views.

Chandra Looks at M 87 Black Hole

Here’s more on the supermassive black hole at the center of M-87 after that excellent announcement earlier this week. Thanks to NASA / Elizabeth Landau.

Image: NASA/CXC/Villanova University/J. Neilsen

NASA: A black hole and its shadow have been captured in an image for the first time, a historic feat by an international network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). EHT is an international collaboration whose support in the U.S. includes the National Science Foundation.

A black hole is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape. Anything that comes within a black hole’s “event horizon,” its point of no return, will be consumed, never to re-emerge, because of the black hole’s unimaginably strong gravity. By its very nature, a black hole cannot be seen, but the hot disk of material that encircles it shines bright. Against a bright backdrop, such as this disk, a black hole appears to cast a shadow.   

The stunning new image shows the shadow of the supermassive black hole in the center of Messier 87 (M87), an elliptical galaxy some 55 million light-years from Earth. This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet. 

“This is an amazing accomplishment by the EHT team,” said Paul Hertz, director of the astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Years ago, we thought we would have to build a very large space telescope to image a black hole. By getting radio telescopes around the world to work in concert like one instrument, the EHT team achieved this, decades ahead of time.”

Continue reading

A Cannonball Pulsar

Another crowd-source project success – Very cool!!

NASA: Astronomers found a pulsar hurtling through space at nearly 2.5 million miles an hour — so fast it could travel the distance between Earth and the Moon in just 6 minutes. The discovery was made using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array(VLA).

Pulsars are superdense, rapidly spinning neutron stars left behind when a massive star explodes. This one, dubbed PSR J0002+6216 (J0002 for short), sports a radio-emitting tail pointing directly toward the expanding debris of a recent supernova explosion.

“Thanks to its narrow dart-like tail and a fortuitous viewing angle, we can trace this pulsar straight back to its birthplace,” said Frank Schinzel, a scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico. “Further study of this object will help us better understand how these explosions are able to ‘kick’ neutron stars to such high speed.”

Schinzel, together with his colleagues Matthew Kerr at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, and NRAO scientists Dale Frail, Urvashi Rau and Sanjay Bhatnagar presented the discovery at the High Energy Astrophysics Division meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Monterey, California. A paper describing the team’s results has been submitted for publication in a future edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Pulsar J0002 was discovered in 2017 by a citizen-science project called Einstein@Home, which uses time on the computers of volunteers to process Fermi gamma-ray data. Thanks to computer processing time collectively exceeding 10,000 years, the project has identified 23 gamma-ray pulsars to date.

Located about 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, J0002 spins 8.7 times a second, producing a pulse of gamma rays with each rotation.

The pulsar lies about 53 light-years from the center of a supernova remnant called CTB 1. Its rapid motion through interstellar gas results in shock waves that produce the tail of magnetic energy and accelerated particles detected at radio wavelengths using the VLA. The tail extends 13 light-years and clearly points back to the center of CTB 1.

Using Fermi data and a technique called pulsar timing, the team was able to measure how quickly and in what direction the pulsar is moving across our line of sight.

“The longer the data set, the more powerful the pulsar timing technique is,” said Kerr. “Fermi’s lovely 10-year data set is essentially what made this measurement possible.”

The result supports the idea that the pulsar was kicked into high speed by the supernova responsible for CTB 1, which occurred about 10,000 years ago.

J0002 is speeding through space five times faster than the average pulsar, and faster than 99 percent of those with measured speeds. It will eventually escape our galaxy.

At first, the supernova’s expanding debris would have moved outward faster than J0002, but over thousands of years the shell’s interaction with interstellar gas produced a drag that gradually slowed this motion. Meanwhile, the pulsar, behaving more like a cannonball, steadily raced through the remnant, escaping it about 5,000 years after the explosion.

Exactly how the pulsar was accelerated to such high speed during the supernova explosion remains unclear, and further study of J0002 will help shed light on the process. One possible mechanism involves instabilities in the collapsing star forming a region of dense, slow-moving matter that survives long enough to serve as a “gravitational tugboat,” accelerating the nascent neutron star toward it.

The team plans additional observations using the VLA, the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) and NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Fermi was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

By Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Antarctic Aurora

ESA — This photograph, taken a short hike from the Geographic South Pole in Antarctica, shows some of the antennas comprising the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) array. They are visible here as the chain of antennas and wiring stretching away into the distance. The red lights along the horizon in the background are lights marking the entrances to the Amundsen-Scott research station, which lies a good kilometre distant.SuperDARN is a network of radar antennas that monitors and explores the geomagnetic effects occurring in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. While some of these antennas are located at the South Pole, the network stretches worldwide and antennas are found in both the northern and southern hemispheres. One such geomagnetic effect is neatly captured here as wispy curtains and streaks of green filling the dark night sky above the antennas themselves: an aurora.Auroras, informally known as polar lights, form as charged particles from the Sun flow into our region of space, hit the outer boundary of Earth’s magnetic field, and move further inwards to collide with the atoms and molecules in our planet’s atmosphere. The aurora seen here is known as aurora australis, or the southern lights.Such phenomena form a key component of ‘space weather’, dynamic changes in the Earth’s cosmic environment that are driven by the activity of the Sun. As these can affect the function of both space-borne and ground-based systems and services, it’s crucial to monitor space weather in order to predict and mitigate its adverse effects. ESA does so via the Space Situational Awareness Space Weather Segment, and various science missions such as Cluster and Swarm, along with dedicated Sun-watching satellites to better understand our nearest star as a complete system.This image was taken by ESA research fellow Daniel Michalik, who wintered at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica in 2017. It was taken as a single long exposure with minor contrast and exposure adjustments. At extremely cold temperatures of -60°C, Daniel was required to layer up, use a hot water bottle to keep the camera warm, and to pack his pockets with plentiful spare batteries. The photographer’s stoicism paid off, as the image was shortlisted as a finalist in the Royal Society photography competition in 2017. Another of Daniel’s images, published here, was the overall winner of the ‘Astronomy’ category.Between 3 and 5 March ESA is highlighting the effects of space weather with the #AuroraHunters SocialSpace event at the other ‘end’ of the planet, in Tromsø, Norway. Follow the conversation on Twitter to see more great aurora images!

Image: Michalik/NSF/SPT

ISS Crossing the Sun

Now THIS is a crossing! Wow, great image. For my attempts and they are not very frequent, something always seems to go awry. Well it is not every day the opportunity comes along. I have a plan though – we will see.

Great job Ian Griffin, the person behind the camera.

ESA caption: Humankind’s most distant outpost was recently captured crossing the face of our enormous and gleaming Sun. The fleeting transit of the International Space Station was over in the blink of an eye, but Ian Griffin, Director at the Otago Museum of New Zealand, made sure he was in the right place to capture it.

“A transit was predicted about 130 km from my home in Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. So, I packed my telescope into my car and drove for approximately 2 hours”, explains Ian.

“On Thursday 31 January, at 11:07 NZDT, the International Space Station crossed the Sun in less time than a human heart beats once, and I was there to witness it”.

The Space Station, slightly larger in size than a football field, orbits Earth every 92 minutes. It is one of the most remarkable endeavours our species has ever embarked upon, yet it pales in comparison to the size and power of our star.

This remarkable spectacle serves as a much needed reminder that the people and technology we send into space can be affected by solar activity, and the changing environment .

One of the largest geomagnetic storms on record, the Carrington event of 1859, was caused as a fast coronal mass ejection associated with an enormous solar flare struck Earth’s magnetosphere. The impact created auroras as far north as Queensland, Australia, and as far south as the Caribbean.

Telegraph systems across Europe and North America failed, with reports of some operators receiving electric shocks and telegraph pylons sending out sparks.

Today, a storm of this magnitude would create far greater disruption, as we become ever-more dependent on infrastructure in space and on Earth that is vulnerable to the outbursts of the Sun.

As part of ESA’s Space Safety & Security activities, the Space Weather Office is working to minimise the potential damage and disruption these events can cause. The future Lagrange mission will keep a constant eye on the Sun, sending timely warnings via the Space Weather Service Network to operators and controllers of vital infrastructure, giving them time to take protective measures.

This early warning system will also be of great importance to astronauts and future explorers to the Moon and Mars, who, vulnerable to the radiation emitted during these extreme events will need time to get to safety.