Tag: european space agency (page 1 of 4)

Astronomers find baby blue galaxy close to dawn of time

NASA, ESA, P. OESCH AND I. MOMCHEVA (YALE UNIVERSITY), AND THE 3D-HST AND HUDF09/XDF TEAMS
Astronomers have discovered a baby blue galaxy that is the furthest away in distance and time - 13.1 billion years - that they’ve ever seen. Photo: Pascal Oesch and Ivelina Momcheva, NASA, European Space Agency via AP


Excerpt from smh.com.au

A team of astronomers peering deep into the heavens have discovered the earliest, most distant galaxy yet, just 670 million years after the Big Bang.

Astronomers have discovered a baby blue galaxy that is the furthest away in distance and time - 13.1 billion years - that they’ve ever seen.
Close-up of the blue galaxy

The findings, described in Astrophysical Journal Letters, reveal a surprisingly active, bright galaxy near the very dawn of the cosmos that could shed light on what the universe, now 13.8 billion years old, was really like in its young, formative years.

"We're actually looking back through 95 per cent of all time to see this galaxy," said study co-author Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"It's really a galaxy in its infancy ... when the universe was in its infancy."

Capturing an image from a far-off light source is like looking back in time. When we look at the sun, we're seeing a snapshot of what it looked like eight minutes ago.

The same principle applies for the light coming from the galaxy known as EGS-zs8-1. We are seeing this distant galaxy as it existed roughly 13.1 billion years ago.

EGS-zs8-1 is so far away that the light coming from it is exceedingly faint. And yet, compared with other distant galaxies, it is surprisingly active and bright, forming stars at roughly 80 times the rate the Milky Way does today.

This precocious little galaxy has built up the mass equivalent to about 8 billion suns, more than 15 per cent of the mass of the Milky Way, even though it appears to have been in existence for a mere fraction of the Milky Way's more than 13 billion years.

"If it was a galaxy near the Milky Way [today], it would be this vivid blue colour, just because it's forming so many stars," Illingworth said.

One of the many challenges with looking for such faint galaxies is that it's hard to tell if they're bright and far, or dim and near. Astronomers can usually figure out which it is by measuring how much that distant starlight gets stretched, "redshifted", from higher-energy light such as ultraviolet down to optical and then infrared wavelengths. The universe is expanding faster and faster, so the further away a galaxy is, the faster it's going, and the more stretched, or "redder", those wavelengths of light will be.

The astronomers studied the faint light from this galaxy using NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. But EGS-zs8-1 seemed to be too bright to be coming from the vast distances that the Hubble data suggested.

To narrow in, they used the MOSFIRE infrared spectrograph at the Keck I telescope in Hawaii to search for a particularly reliable fingerprint of hydrogen in the starlight known as the Lyman-alpha line. This fingerprint lies in the ultraviolet part of the light spectrum, but has been shifted to redder, longer wavelengths over the vast distance between the galaxy and Earth.

It's a dependable line on which to base redshift (and distance) estimates, Illingworth said - and with that settled, the team could put constraints on the star mass, star formation rate and formation epoch of this galaxy.

The telltale Lyman-alpha line also reveals the process through which the universe's haze of neutral hydrogen cleared up, a period called the epoch of reionisation. As stars formed and galaxies grew, their ultraviolet radiation eventually ionised the hydrogen and ended the "dark ages" of the cosmos.

Early galaxies-such as EGS-zs8-1 - are "probably the source of ultraviolet radiation that ionised the whole universe", Illingworth said.

Scientists have looked for the Lyman-alpha line in other distant galaxies and come up empty, which might mean that their light was still being blocked by a haze of neutral hydrogen that had not been ionised yet.

But it's hard to say with just isolated examples, Illingworth pointed out. If scientists can survey many galaxies from different points in the universe's very early history, they can have a better sense of how reionisation may have progressed.

"We're trying to understand how many galaxies do have this line - and that gives us some measure of when the universe itself was reionised," Illingworth said.

"One [galaxy] is interesting, but it's when you have 50 that you can really say something about what galaxies were really like then."
As astronomers push the limits of current telescopes and await the completion of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch in 2018, scientists may soon find more of these galaxies even closer to the birth of the universe than this new record breaker.

"You don't get to be record holder very long in this business," Illingworth said, "which is good because ultimately we are trying to learn about the universe. So more is better."

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Astronomers Measure Distance to Farthest Galaxy Yet



The farthest confirmed galaxy observed to date was identified in this Hubble image of a field of galaxies.  The inset image of the galaxy has been colored blue as suggestive of its young stars. Credit NASA/European Space Agency/Yale/University of California, Santa Cruz


Excerpt from nytimes.com

Leapfrogging backward in time to when the universe was apparently feeling its oats, a group of astronomers reported Tuesday that they had measured a bona fide distance to one of the farthest and thus earliest galaxies known.

The galaxy, more than a few billion light-years on the other side of the northern constellation Boötes, is one of the most massive and brightest in the early universe and goes by the name of EGS-zs8-1. 
It flowered into stardom only 670 million years after the Big Bang.
The light from that galaxy has taken 13 billion years to reach telescopes on Earth. By now, however, since the universe has continued to expand during that time, the galaxy is about 30 billion light-years away, according to standard cosmological calculations.
The new measurements allow astronomers to see the galaxy in its infancy. Despite its relative youth, however, it is already about one-sixth as massive as the Milky Way, which is 10 billion years old. And it is getting bigger, making stars 80 times faster than the Milky Way is making them today. The discovery was reported in The Astrophysical Journal by Pascal Oesch of Yale University and his colleagues.

By the rules of the expanding universe, the farther away a galaxy is, the faster it is retreating from us, measured by the “redshift” of its light being broadened to longer wavelengths, the way an ambulance siren seems to lower its pitch as it goes by.

In the past few years, as astronomers have raced one another into the past with instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope, galaxies have been found that appear even more distant. Those measurements, however, were estimates based on the colors of the objects — so-called photometric redshifts.

The new galaxy stuck out in a survey of distant galaxies by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes known as Candels, for Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey. Its redshift was precisely measured with a powerful spectrograph known as Mosfire — Multi-Object Spectrometer for Infrared Exploration — on Keck 1, one of a pair of 10-meter-diameter telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. That makes it the highest redshift confirmed in this way, said Garth Illingworth, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the astronomers in the study.

How galaxies were able to form and grow so rapidly after the lights came on in the universe is a mystery that will be addressed by a coming generation of instruments like the James Webb Space Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope, a goliath planned for Mauna Kea, already home to a dozen telescopes.

Recently, however, construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, a $1.4 billion project, has been halted by protests by Hawaii residents who feel their mountain has been abused. An echo of that controversy appears in the new paper, in which Dr. Oesch and his colleagues write: “The authors wish to recognize and acknowledge the very significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has always had within the indigenous Hawaiian community. We are most fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.”

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Guiding Our Search for Life on Other Earths


The James Webb Telescope


Excerpt from space.com

A telescope will soon allow astronomers to probe the atmosphere of Earthlike exoplanets for signs of life. To prepare, astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger and her team are modeling the atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. Here's how:
The James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, will usher a new era in our search for life beyond Earth. With its 6.5-meter mirror, the long-awaited successor to Hubble will be large enough to detect potential biosignatures in the atmosphere of Earthlike planets orbiting nearby stars.
And we may soon find a treasure-trove of such worlds. The forthcoming exoplanet hunter TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), set to launch in 2017, will scout the entire sky for planetary systems close to ours. (The current Kepler mission focuses on more distant stars, between 600 and 3,000 light-years from Earth.) 

Astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger




While TESS will allow for the brief detection of new planets, the larger James Webb will follow up on select candidates and provide clues about their atmospheric composition. But the work will be difficult and require a lot of telescope time.
"We're expecting to find thousands of new planets with TESS, so we'll need to select our best targets for follow-up study with the Webb telescope," says Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University and co-investigator on the TESS team.
To prepare, Kaltenegger and her team at Cornell's Institute for Pale Blue Dots are building a database of atmospheric fingerprints for hundreds of potential alien worlds. The models will then be used as "ID cards" to guide the study of exoplanet atmospheres with the Webb and other future large telescopes.
Kaltenegger described her approach in a talk for the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Director Seminar Series last December.
"For the first time in human history, we have the technology to find and characterize other worlds," she says. "And there's a lot to learn."

Detecting life from space  

In its 1990 flyby of Earth, the Galileo spacecraft took a spectrum of sunlight filtered through our planet's atmosphere. In a 1993 paper in the journal Nature, astronomer Carl Sagan analyzed that data and found a large amount of oxygen together with methane — a telltale sign of life on Earth. These observations established a control experiment for the search of extraterrestrial life by modern spacecraft.
"The spectrum of a planet is like a chemical fingerprint," Kaltenegger says. "This gives us the key to explore alien worlds light years away."
Current telescopes have picked up the spectra of giant, Jupiter-like exoplanets. But the telescopes are not large enough to do so for smaller, Earth-like worlds. The James Webb telescope will be our first shot at studying the atmospheres of these potentially habitable worlds.
Some forthcoming ground-based telescopes — including the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), planned for completion in 2020, and the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), scheduled for first light in 2024 — may also be able to contribute to that task. [The Largest Telescopes on Earth: How They Compare]
And with the expected discovery by TESS of thousands of nearby exoplanets, the James Webb and other large telescopes will have plenty of potential targets to study. Another forthcoming planet hunter, the Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO), a planned European Space Agency mission scheduled for launch around 2022-2024, will contribute even more candidates.
However, observation time for follow-up studies will be costly and limited.
"It will take hundreds of hours of observation to see atmospheric signatures with the Webb telescope," Kaltenegger says. "So we'll have to pick our targets carefully."

Giant Magellan Telescope
Set to see its first light in 2021, The Giant Magellan Telescope will be the world’s largest telescope.

Getting a head start

To guide that process, Kaltenegger and her team are putting together a database of atmospheric fingerprints of potential alien worlds. "The models are tools that can teach us how to observe and help us prioritize targets," she says.
To start, they have modeled the chemical fingerprint of Earth over geological time. Our planet's atmosphere has evolved over time, with different life forms producing and consuming various gases. These models may give astronomers some insight into a planet's evolutionary stage.
Other models take into consideration the effects of a host of factors on the chemical signatures — including water, clouds, atmospheric thickness, geological cycles, brightness of the parent star, and even the presence of different extremophiles.
"It's important to do this wide range of modeling right now," Kaltenegger said, "so we're not too startled if we detect something unexpected. A wide parameter space can allow us to figure out if we might have a combination of these environments."
She added: "It can also help us refine our modeling as fast as possible, and decide if more measurements are needed while the telescope is still in space. It's basically a stepping-stone, so we don't have to wait until we get our first measurements to understand what we are seeing. Still, we'll likely find things we never thought about in the first place."
 

A new research center

The spectral database is one of the main projects undertaken at the Institute for Pale Blue Dots, a new interdisciplinary research center founded in 2014 by Kaltenegger. The official inauguration will be held on May 9, 2015.
"The crux of the institute is the characterization of rocky, Earth-like planets in the habitable zone of nearby stars," Kaltenergger said. "It's a very interdisciplinary effort with people from astronomy, geology, atmospheric modeling, and hopefully biology."
She added: "One of the goal is to better understand what makes a planet a life-friendly habitat, and how we can detect that from light years away. We're on the verge of discovering other pale blue dots. And with Sagan's legacy, Cornell University is a really great home for an institute like that."

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Mystery Methane Hotspot Over Four Corners — What Is It?

 Excerpt from eaglecurrent.com NASA is joining in an effort to have an understanding of the presence of a methane hotspot over the 4 corners area of the United States. How severe is the atmospheric feature?A methane hotspot hovering over t...

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Discovered: A ‘Treasure Chest’ of Ancient Galaxies


full sky planck
The full visible sky as seen by the Planck space observatory. The band running through the middle corresponds to dust in our Milky Way galaxy. The black dots indicate the location of the proto-cluster candidates identified by Planck and subsequently observed by the Herschel space telescope. (Photo : ESA and the Planck Collaboration)


Excerpt from natureworldnews.com

Treasure seekers have found the haul of a lifetime, but it wasn't in some ancient temple or mysterious island. Instead, it was in the sky. Researcher using two of the European Space Agency's (ESA) impressive space telescopes have successfully identified what they are calling a "treasure chest" of ancient galaxy clusters, which could help explain how the Universe came to be the way it is today.

That's at least according to a study recently published (PDF) in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, which details how cosmologists used the ESA's Planck space observatory to identify the distant precursor galaxy clusters, and then poured over data from the Herschel telescope for a closer look.

"Finding so many intensely star-forming, dust galaxies in such concentrated groups was a huge surprise," Hervé Dole, lead author of the report from the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in France, said in a statement. "We think this is a missing piece of cosmological structure formation."

So what does he mean by that? Let's turn back to the treasure chest metaphor for this one.  While Planck was the space observatory to dig up the chest, it was the Herschel data that allowed experts to look closely at each and every gold coin (galaxy cluster) inside. Now they are able to learn more about each coin's make, mint, and ultimately, its origins.

And that's a big step in better understanding the early Universe. Expects believe that it took a great deal of time after star and galaxies first sprung to life for them to assemble into large clusters. 

A summary of the 14 billion years out Universe has been in existence, as seen by the Plank space telescop. Light coming from some of the oldest parts of the Universe are just reaching the observatory now, allowing for experts to see the incredible uniformity of the early structure, compared to the chaotic beautify of star, galaxy, and cluster formation that crowd space today.
(Photo : ESA – C. Carreau) A summary of the 14 billion years out Universe has been in existence, as seen by the Plank space telescope. Light coming from some of the oldest parts of the Universe are just reaching the observatory now, allowing for experts to see the incredible uniformity of the early matter, compared to the chaotic beautify of star, galaxy, and cluster formation that crowds space today.
Once the clusters formed, their gravitational influence triggered the creation of new stars and galaxies. Dark matter - which is theorized to account for a great deal of each cluster's mass and influence - helped usher along the process of creating stars. But how these large clusters were ultimately assembled and grew is still a mystery.
That's why looking at some of the oldest 'coins' ever made - estimated to date back to up-to 11 billion light-years ago - could be exceptionally helpful.

"We still have a lot to learn about this new population," Dole said in an ESA release. "Hints of these kinds of objects had been found earlier in data from Herschel and other telescopes, but the all-sky capability of Planck revealed many more candidates for us to study."

"Even when we combined the powerful capabilities of Planck and Herschel, we were only scratching the surface of the phenomena taking place at this critical era in the history of our universe, when stars, galaxies and clusters seem to be forming simultaneously," 
added George Helou, director of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "That's one of the reasons this finding is exciting. It shows us that there is so much more to be learned.

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Cleaning Up Old Satellites And Space Junk Could Soon Be Done With Giant Fishing Nets

Excerpt from techtimes.com Spacecraft are all shiny and new when they leave Earth but being up in space can do a number on them, resulting into bits and pieces of junk flying around. The European Space Agency's Clean Space initiative is looking to l...

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Rosetta Coming Closer to Comet 67P ~ Philae Lander Still Snoozing Away


Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
March 9 Rosetta was 45 miles from Comet 67P/C-G when it photographed the comet’s head ringed with a halo of gas and dust. These jets extend from active areas of the comet’s surface and will become much more prominent over the next few months as the comet approaches the sun.


Excerpt from dailytimesgazette.com

Astronomers have been on a mission to tail a slow moving comet in the outer space. Their mission started early last 2014, and they are getting better observations than they thought they would.
The comet, Comet 67P, would take 12.4 hours to complete one rotation in the circular path it’s moving in. Controllers of Rosetta are noticing that the icy ball approximately a second every day before it completes a rotation. The flight director of Rosetta – Andrea Accomazzo, said that, “The gas jets coming out of the comet, are acting like thrusters and are slowing down the comet.”
During the Royal Aeronautical Society in London earlier this week, the European Space Agency officially revealed some juicy details on how their team learned to maneuver Rosetta to fly precisely around the massive astral body. Comet 67P is said to weigh 10-billion tons with 4-km size in width.

The controllers and navigators use the landmark-method on the comet to understand its rotation. The team is moving around the outer space relying only on the information provided by the model. Both the model and information guides them in accurately projecting the trajectory of the satellite in the best position.

As they were trying out the model, the ESA team noticed that the landmarks were not following the usual track at the expected time.
During September 2014, the team were determined and very convinced that comet’s rotation period lengthen by 33 milliseconds per day. At present, the comet is approaching the Sun. As it does, it releases great volumes of gas and dust as a result of the so-called Spin-Down effect; further lengthening the rotation period to a second per day.

Accomazzo clarified that Comet 67P is not going to slow down in a slow motion. But its current speed allows them achieve the great magnitude of accuracy in navigating the spacecraft around the comet.

Rosetta made significant observations of the comet last December and January as it moves like an orbit within 30 km distance from the comet. However, this movement is no longer going to happen because Rosetta has retreated from the comet as the gas and dust are being released.

But it does them well as Accomazzo said that, “The aerodynamic effects are now more and more important. The jets are getting stronger and stronger… To give you an idea, these gases come out of the comet for a few kilometers and are moving at 800 meters per second. We definitely have to take this into account. We are a big spacecraft with 64 square meter s of solar panels. We’re like a big sail.”

The trackers were confused during the recent weeks because they have mistaken the dust particles for stars. It was due to the fact that the dusts in the atmosphere were moving around the comet.

Now, Rosetta is using its propulsion system to move in a hyperbolic orbital rotation around Comet 67P. It approaches the comet no closer than 60 to 70 km. With the slowdown of the comet, the ESA team is planning to fly closer.

They were estimating a flight as close as 20 km to get a better look at the surface of the comet and find their lost landing probe, Philae. They lost contact with the robotic probe since November 12 due to lost battery power only days after it successfully landed on the comet.

The slowdown gives them an opportunity to search for Philae. As it moves closer to the Sun, lighting conditions are definitely better than their previous runs. The controllers are now calling onto Philae using radio shout outs.

Philae is solar powered so the team hopes that enough solar energy falls on the panels awaking the probe. But one problem still persist, “The problem is that even if Philae hears Rosetta, it has to have enough charge to turn on its radio transmitter.”

The flight director is quite doubtful if Philae will be awakening. Andrea suggested, “I put it at 50-50, but I will be the happiest person in the world if it happens,”

Their mission achieved great progress and observation of a comet. The team is wishing for better things as the 67P slow down leaving them with more advantage

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Amazing Images of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
Comet 67P/C-G is about as large as Central Park of Manhattan Island, New York

Excerpt from nytimes.com

By JONATHAN CORUM 


The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft caught up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko last August, then dropped a lander onto the comet in November. Now Rosetta will follow the rubber-duck-shaped comet as it swings closer to the sun.
Scale in miles
Scale in km
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/2 MILE

March 9 Rosetta was 45 miles from Comet 67P/C-G when it photographed the comet’s head ringed with a halo of gas and dust. These jets extend from active areas of the comet’s surface and will become much more prominent over the next few months as the comet approaches the sun.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/2 MILE

March 6 The comet’s head is angled down in this image of crisscrossing sunlit jets taken from 53 miles away.
Comet’s location when Rosetta was launched Rosetta launched in March 2004
Earth
Sun
Mars
Rendezvous
with Comet
67P/C-G
Orbit of
Jupiter
Rosetta today

Where is Rosetta? The Rosetta spacecraft took 10 years to match speed and direction with Comet 67P/C-G. The chase ended last August, and Rosetta will now follow the comet in its elliptical orbit as it moves closer to the sun. The spacecraft is no longer orbiting the comet because of increasing dust, but it is planning a series of close flybys.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/2 MILE

March 6 Rosetta was 52 miles away when it looked up at the comet’s flat underbelly. The smooth plain at center covered with large boulders is named Imhotep.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/2 MILE

Feb. 28 Rosetta captured a profile of the comet surrounded by curving jets of gas and dust from active regions. The spacecraft was 64 miles away.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.

Feb. 25–27 One day on Comet 67P/C-G is about 12 hours, the time it takes the comet to spin on its axis. The jets of gas and dust surrounding the comet are thought to curve from a combination of the comet’s rotation and the uneven gravity of its two-lobed structure.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/2 MILE

Feb. 20 The comet’s sunlit underbelly casts a shadow obscuring the neck that joins the two lobes. Rosetta took this image from 74 miles away.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1 MILE

Feb. 18 Pale jets of gas and dust surround Comet 67P/C-G, seen from 123 miles away. Bright marks in the background are a mix of stars, camera noise and streaks from small particles ejected from the comet.
Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE
Panorama by The New York Times

Feb. 14 On Valentine’s Day, Rosetta made its first close flyby of the comet, passing within four miles of the surface. Here the spacecraft looks down on the large depression at the top of the comet’s head.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
500 FEET

Feb. 14 An image of the comet’s underbelly taken six miles above the surface during the Valentine’s Day flyby. The smooth plain in the foreground is called Imhotep.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/2 MILE

Feb. 9 The comet is upside down in this image from 65 miles away, and a fan-shaped jet of dust streams from the comet’s neck region.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/2 MILE

Feb. 6 Jets of gas and dust extend from the comet’s neck and other sunlit areas in this image taken from 77 miles away.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Feb. 3 This close-up image of the comet’s neck was taken from 18 miles away, and was the last image taken from orbit around Comet 67P/C-G. Rosetta will continue to follow the comet, but will leave its gravity-bound orbit because of increasing dust and instead begin a series of flybys.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Jan. 31 The comet’s head, neck and back are sunlit in this image taken from 17 miles away. A prominent jet of gas and dust extends from an active region of the surface near the comet’s neck.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Jan. 16 The tail of the comet’s larger lobe points up, revealing a smooth plain named Imhotep at left. Rosetta was 18 miles away when it took this image.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Jan. 3 The smooth plain named Imhotep, at center right, lies on the comet’s flat underbelly, seen here from a distance of about 18 miles.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE
Cheops
IMHOTEP

Dec. 14, 2014 The large triangular boulder on the flat Imhotep plain is named Cheops, after the Egyptian pyramid. The spacecraft was about 12 miles from the comet when it took this image.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Dec. 10 Sunlight falls between the body and head of the comet, lighting up a large group of boulders in the smooth Hapi region of the comet’s neck. To the right of the boulders, the cliffs of Hathor form the underside of the comet’s head. Rosetta took this image from a distance of 12 miles.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Dec. 2 The round depression in the middle of the comet’s head is filled with shadow in this image taken 12 miles above the comet.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.
1/4 MILE

Nov. 22 An overexposed image of Comet 67P/C-G from 19 miles away shows faint jets of gas and dust extending from the sunlit side of the comet.

Philae photo from the surface of Comet 67P/C-G.

Nov. 12 Rosetta’s washing-machine sized lander Philae successfully touched down on the comet’s head. But anchoring harpoons failed and Philae bounced twice before going missing in the shadow of a cliff or crater (above). Without sunlight Philae quickly lost power, but might revive as the comet gets closer to the sun. On March 12, Rosetta resumed listening for radio signals from the missing lander.

Rosetta photo of Comet 67P/C-G.

Photo illustration by The New York Times

How big is the comet? The body of Comet 67P/C-G is about as long as Central Park. For images of Rosetta’s rendezvous and the Philae landing, see Landing on a Comet, 317 Million Miles From Home.

Sources: European Space Agency and the Rosetta mission. Images by ESA/Rosetta, except where noted. Some images are composite panoramas created by ESA, and most images were processed by ESA to bring out details of the comet’s activity.

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Mayday! Mayday! Mars One a ‘suicide mission’, warn leading space scientists




By Victoria Weldon

IT'S been described as science fiction made real - but now, just as the final selection process gets under way for the folk with the right stuff to make a manned mission to Mars, scientists have dashed the dreams of planet Earth by warning the journey will probably never happen and will end in disaster if it does.
Privately run space exploration programme Mars One wants to send four people to the red planet for the rest of their (probably not very long) lives and film it for reality TV in order to help finance the endeavour.

Thousands have set their sights on becoming the first settlers to land on the planet - and have now been whittled down to a short list of 100, including a Scottish PhD student - but with questionable technology, a lack of funding and an unrealistic timeframe, experts claim it is a "suicide mission".

Mars One believes it can achieve a manned mission in 2024 - sooner than NASA, the European Space Agency, the Russians or Chinese, and on a fraction of their budgets.

If the project does go ahead, the crew would have to make it through nine months of interplanetary travel without being killed by mishap, radiation - or each other.

And even then, a recent study suggested they will only last 68 days on Mars before dying - due to lack of food and water.

However, Anu Ojha OBE, director of the UK National Space Academy Programme, has warned the applicants not to get their hopes up as the mission is unlikely to ever leave the ground.

Ojha said: "Obviously this is something that has captured the public's imagination, and Mars One obviously has a great PR team, but space engineering obeys the laws of physics not PR."
Mars One is the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Lansdorp who was inspired by the images of Mars sent back by the Sojourner rover in 1997, when he was a student.

Lansdorp, who will not make the journey himself, has an impressive team working on the project including former NASA employees Dr Norbert Kraft, who specialises in the physiological and psychological effects of space travel and space architect Kristian von Bengtson.

Physicist Arno Wielders, who previously worked for Dutch Space, is also on board, as well as a number of other advisers from around the world with backgrounds in space engineering, science and technology, marketing, design and television production.

The ultimate aim is to see a large, self-sustaining colony on Mars, but Ojha, who is also a director at the National Space Centre in Leicester, said there are three major stumbling blocks for the mission: technology, funding and human psychology.

"In terms of technology, it's pushing the absolute boundaries and there seems to be a lot of technological naivety on the part of the people running it", he said.

"There are some elements that seem reasonable, but overall it's concerning, and the timescales are also questionable."

While Mars One is planning the one way mission for 2024, NASA, with its long established expertise and technology, is looking to be able to send humans to Mars and bring them back again by the mid 2030s.

This is estimated to cost up to as much as £100 billion (£64.9bn) for the space agency, while Mars One believes it can do it for an optimistic $6 billion (£3.9bn) - and there are even questions over whether or not they will be able to achieve that much funding.
The private enterprise is hoping to raise money through a TV deal and additional funding from the exposure that will bring the project.

Last year it said it had teamed up with programme makers Endemol, but the Big Brother creators recently pulled out of the deal claiming they were "unable to reach agreement on the details of the contract".

Mars One did not respond to questioning by the Sunday Herald over its funding, but its website showed that as at January this year, it had raised just $759,816 from donations, merchandising, and a crowdfunding campaign.

It is unclear what other funding the project has.

Ojha said: "The business model has so many holes in it, it's shaky to say the least. And when you ask them how much money they have raised, they say it's still ongoing. The time scales and the business model - they're completely unrealistic."

Mars One plans to send several unmanned rockets to Mars ahead of the 2024 mission, with the first of these scheduled to take place in 2018.

These will include missions with robots to find a suitable location for a base and assemble it ahead of the humans' arrival.
The project claims it will use only existing technology for the mission, buying in materials from proven suppliers including Lockheed Martin or SpaceX.

The equipment involved includes several simulation outposts for training, a rocket launcher, a transit vehicle to take the crew to Mars, a Mars landing capsule, two rovers, a Mars suit and a communications system.

However, experts have warned that much of this equipment has not been fully tested. 

Physicist professor Todd Huffman is a big supporter of attempting a manned mission to Mars, but he also has serious concerns about Mars One, claiming it is "scientifically irresponsible".

He said: "The plan stretches the technology in many places.
"The launch vehicle they want to use has not actually ever launched yet, let alone make a trip to Mars.

"The living spaces have not been made nor has it been tested whether they can be robotically assembled and by what kind of robot.

"A suitable site would also need to be found for the living spaces and the details of how water extraction will take place have not been understood.

"If you assign a 90 per cent chance to success to each of those things, all of which are necessary for human survival, you end up with about a 50 per cent chance of failure, ending in the death of the colonists - and that would likely not make good television."
He added: "Unless we [wait for] quite a lot of technology and exploration to happen first, it is basically worse than a one-way ticket for the colonists - it is almost surely a suicide mission if carried out within this next decade."

Although most scientists believe the mission will not go ahead, some have also warned of the psychological impact on the people selected for the mission if it does.

Ojha said: "The thing that's really captured the public's imagination is this idea of it being a one way trip, but this brings another set of problems in terms of human psychology.

"The longest period a human has spent in space is 438 days - they're talking about sending people on a one way trip.
"Lots of the people I've seen interviewed, they're really excited about taking part, but have they really thought about what they're doing and what the implications are?

"I would tell them to go to Antarctica for six months in the middle of winter and that's about 1 per cent of what they'll be experiencing on Mars.

"Human psychology is far more fragile than we think."

However, while many scientists warn of the dangers and do not believe the mission will proceed, they have praised Mars One for sparking the public's interest in planetary science.

Dr John Bridges, of the Space Research Centre in Leicester, said: "It's a very interesting and innovative project, but the time scales are very challenging.

"I believe they're planning for 2024 and it's 2015 now. So for something as major as this, it's a very challenging timescale
"But it's fantastic that people are thinking about this, that industry is getting involved and raising awareness of planetary science."

Ojha added: "Mars One has been great in a way because it's once again drawn people's imagination to the idea of space engineering and exploration. 

"But the reality is that there are serious concerns about the project's space engineering, funding and medical implications."

Lansdorp has previously said that most people are "surprised to hear that the manned missions will be happening in ten years time, with a budget ten times less than Nasa".

He added: "But I think that if you really spend time studying Mars One, you cannot believe there is not a good chance we will make it.
"At the same time, it's a hugely ambitious plan, there's many things that can go wrong with such a big plan.

"But I believe we have a good plan and we can overcome the challenges."

However, he has also conceded that the current plans are an "optimum schedule", adding: "If one rocket doesn't launch, or a lander doesn't work on Mars before a human goes, any major malfunctions will result in a two year delay."

Mars One declined the Sunday Herald's request to interview someone from the project and failed to answer any of our questions.

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Monster Black Hole’s Mighty Belch Could Transform Our Entire Galaxy

This artist's illustration depicts the furious cosmic winds streaming out from a monster supermassive black hole as detected by NASA's NuSTAR space telescope and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory.
This artist's illustration depicts the furious cosmic winds streaming out from a monster supermassive black hole as detected by NASA's NuSTAR space telescope and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray observatory.


Except from space.com

A ravenous, giant black hole has belched up a bubble of cosmic wind so powerful that it could change the fate of an entire galaxy, according to new observations.
Researchers using two X-ray telescopes have identified a cosmic wind blowing outward from the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy PDS 456. Astronomers have seen these winds before, but the authors of the new research say this is the first observation of a wind moving away from the center in every direction, creating a spherical shape.
The wind could have big implications for the future of the galaxy: It will cut down on the black hole's food supply, and slow star formation in the rest of the galaxy, the researchers said. And it's possible that strong cosmic winds are a common part of galaxy evolution — they could be responsible for turning galaxies from bright, active youngsters to quiet middle-agers. 

Big eater

The supermassive black hole at the center of PDS 456 is currently gobbling up a substantial amount of food: A smorgasbord of gas and dust surrounds the black hole and is falling into the gravitational sinkhole.
As matter falls, it radiates light. The black hole at the center of PDS 456 is devouring so much matter, that the resulting radiation outshines every star in the galaxy. These kinds of bright young galaxies are known as quasars: a galaxy with an incredibly bright center, powered by a supermassive black hole with a big appetite.
New observations of PDS 456 have revealed a bubble of gas moving outward, away from the black hole. Using NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton, the authors of the new research imaged the galaxy on five separate occassions in 2013 and 2014. The researchers say they can show that the photons of light emitted by the in-falling matter are pushing on nearby gas, creating the wind.
Scientists have studied these cosmic winds before, but the authors of the new research say their work goes a step further.
"It tells us that the shape of the wind is not just a narrow beam pointed in our direction. It is really a wind that is flowing in every direction away from the black hole," said Emanuele Nardini, a postdoctoral researcher at Keele University in Staffordshire, England. "With a spherical wind, the amount of mass it carries out is much larger than just a narrow beam."
According to a statement from NASA, galaxy PDS 456 "sustains winds that carry more energy every second than is emitted by more than a trillion suns." Such powerful winds could change the entire landscape of PDS 456, the researchers say. First, the wind will blow through the disk of matter surrounding the black hole — this disk currently serves as the black hole's food supply. The cosmic wind created by the black hole's appetite could significantly reduce or destroy the disk. In other words, the black hole cannot have its cake and eat it, too. 

Bright young things

With no matter left to fall into the black hole, the radiation would cease as well. The brilliant center of the quasar will dim. By diminishing the black hole's food supply, they may turn quasars and other "active galaxies" like PDS 456 into quiescent galaxies like the Milky Way. Theorists have proposed that cosmic winds could explain why there are more young active galaxies than old active galaxies.
"We know that in almost every galaxy, a supermassive black hole resides in the center," said Nardini. "But, most of the galaxies we see today are quiescent, they are not active in any way. The fact that galaxies today are quiescent — we have to find an explanation for that in something that happened a long time ago."
In addition to quenching the radiation from an active black hole, these cosmic winds may slow down star formation in galaxies. The cosmic wind could blow through regions thick with gas and dust, where young stars form, and thin out the fertile stellar soil.
"If you have a black hole with this kind of wind, in millions of years [the winds] will be able to quench star formation and create a galaxy like our own," Nardini said. Stars will still form in the Milky Way, but not at the high rate of many young galaxies.
It's possible that these cosmic winds are a central reason why most galaxies go from being brightly burning active youngsters to quiet middle-agers.

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Planck telescope puts new datestamp on first stars


Polarisation of the sky
Planck has mapped the delicate polarisation of the CMB across the entire sky



Excerpt from bbc.com

Scientists working on Europe's Planck satellite say the first stars lit up the Universe later than previously thought.

The team has made the most precise map of the "oldest light" in the cosmos.

Earlier observations of this radiation had suggested the first generation of stars were bursting into life by about 420 million years after the Big Bang.

Planck's data indicates this great ignition was well established by some 560 million years after it all began.

"This difference of 140 million years might not seem that significant in the context of the 13.8-billion-year history of the cosmos, but proportionately it's actually a very big change in our understanding of how certain key events progressed at the earliest epochs," said Prof George Efstathiou, one of the leaders of the Planck Science Collaboration.

Subtle signal

The assessment is based on studies of the "afterglow" of the Big Bang, the ancient light called the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which still washes over the Earth today.
Prof George Efstathiou: "We don't need more complicated explanations"

The European Space Agency's (Esa) Planck satellite mapped this "fossil" between 2009 and 2013.

It contains a wealth of information about early conditions in the Universe, and can even be used to work out its age, shape and do an inventory of its contents.

Scientists can also probe it for very subtle "distortions" that tell them about any interactions the CMB has had on its way to us.

Forging elements

One of these would have been imprinted when the infant cosmos underwent a major environmental change known as re-ionisation.

Prof Richard McMahon: "The two sides of the bridge now join"
It is when the cooling neutral hydrogen gas that dominated the Universe in the aftermath of the Big Bang was then re-energised by the ignition of the first stars.

These hot giants would have burnt brilliant but brief lives, producing the very first heavy elements. But they would also have "fried" the neutral gas around them - ripping electrons off the hydrogen protons.

And it is the passage of the CMB through this maze of electrons and protons that would have resulted in it picking up a subtle polarisation.

ImpressionImpression: The first stars would have been unwieldy behemoths that burnt brief but brilliant lives


The Planck team has now analysed this polarisation in fine detail and determined it to have been generated at 560 million years after the Big Bang.

The American satellite WMAP, which operated in the 2000s, made the previous best estimate for the peak of re-ionisation at 420 million years. 

The problem with that number was that it sat at odds with Hubble Space Telescope observations of the early Universe.

Hubble could not find stars and galaxies in sufficient numbers to deliver the scale of environmental change at the time when WMAP suggested it was occurring.

Planck's new timing "effectively solves the conflict," commented Prof Richard McMahon from Cambridge University, UK.

"We had two groups of astronomers who were basically working on different sides of the problem. The Planck people came at it from the Big Bang side, while those of us who work on galaxies came at it from the 'now side'. 

"It's like a bridge being built over a river. The two sides do now join where previously we had a gap," he told BBC News.

That gap had prompted scientists to invoke complicated scenarios to initiate re-ionisation, including the possibility that there might have been an even earlier population of giant stars or energetic black holes. Such solutions are no longer needed.

No-one knows the exact timing of the very first individual stars. All Planck does is tell us when large numbers of these stars had gathered into galaxies of sufficient strength to alter the cosmic environment. 

By definition, this puts the ignition of the "founding stars" well before 560 million years after the Big Bang. Quite how far back in time, though, is uncertain. Perhaps, it was as early as 200 million years. It will be the job of the next generation of observatories like Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, to try to find the answer.

JWSTBeing built now: The James Webb telescope will conduct a survey of the first galaxies and their stars
line
The history of the Universe

Graphic of the history of time
  • Planck's CMB studies indicate the Big Bang was 13.8bn years ago
  • The CMB itself can be thought of as the 'afterglow' of the Big Bang
  • It spreads across the cosmos some 380,000 years after the Big Bang
  • This is when the conditions cool to make neutral hydrogen atoms
  • The period before the first stars is often called the 'Dark Ages'
  • When the first stars ignite, they 'fry' the neutral gas around them
  • These giants also forge the first heavy elements in big explosions
  • 'First Light', or 'Cosmic Renaissance', is a key epoch in history
line

The new Planck result is contained in a raft of new papers just posted on the Esa website. 

These papers accompany the latest data release from the satellite that can now be used by the wider scientific community, not just collaboration members.
Dr Andrew Jaffe: "The simplest models for inflation are ruled out"
Two years ago, the data dump largely concerned interpretations of the CMB based on its temperature profile. It is the CMB's polarisation features that take centre-stage this time.
It was hoped that Planck might find direct evidence in the CMB's polarisation for inflation - the super-rapid expansion of space thought to have occurred just fractions of a second after the Big Bang. This has not been possible. But all the Planck data - temperature and polarisation information - is consistent with that theory, and the precision measurements mean new, tighter constraints have been put on the likely scale of the inflation signal, which other experiments continue to chase.
What is clear from the Planck investigation is that the simplest models for how the super-rapid expansion might have worked are probably no longer tenable, suggesting some exotic physics will eventually be needed to explain it.
"We're now being pushed into a parameter space we didn't expect to be in," said collaboration scientist Dr Andrew Jaffe from Imperial College, UK. "That's OK. We like interesting physics; that's why we're physicists, so there's no problem with that. It's just we had this naïve expectation that the simplest answer would be right, and sometimes it just isn't."

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New interactive map of Milky Way lets you see the light (and dust)

"The towers of fiery colors are actually dust in the galaxy and beyond that has been polarized," the JPL says of this recently released map of the universe. It shows light in the 353GHz range, wavelengths longer than our eyes can see. ...

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Spacecraft found on Mars – and it’s ours




Computer image of the Beagle 2


Excerpt from skyandtelescope.com
By Kelly Beatty  


On December 25, 2003, a British-built lander dropped to the Martian surface and disappeared without a trace. Now we know what happened to it.  It's hard to overstate how valuable the main camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been. The craft's High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, uses a 20-inch (0.5-m) f/24 telescope to record details on the Martian surface as small as 0.3 m (about 10 inches). 

Beagle 2 seen from orbit by HiRISE
An overhead view of Beagle 2's landing site on Isidis Planitia shows a bright reflection from the long-lost spacecraft. Apparently it landed safely on December 25, 2003, and had begun to operate when it failed. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this image on December 15, 2014. NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona / Univ. of Leicester - See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/beagle-2-lander-found-on-mars-01192015/#sthash.5KSZ8V6W.dpuf


Primarily it's a powerful tool for studying Martian geology at the smallest scales, and NASA scientists sometimes use it to track the progress (and even the arrivals) of their rovers. Beagle 2 on Mars  The clamshell-like Beagle 2 lander weighed just 30 kg, but it was well equipped to study Martian rocks and dust — and even to search for life. Beagle 2 consortium  But the HiRISE team has also been on a years-long quest to find the remains of Beagle 2, a small lander that had hitchhiked to the Red Planet with the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. It descended to the Martian surface on Christmas Day in 2003 and was never heard from again. Space aficionados have debated its fate ever since. Did parachute failure lead to a crash landing? Did strong surface winds flip the saucer-shaped craft upside down? Did the Martians take it hostage?  Now, thanks to HiRISE, we know more of the story.  
An overhead view of Beagle 2's landing site on Isidis Planitia shows a bright reflection from the long-lost spacecraft. Apparently it landed safely on December 25, 2003, and had begun to operate when it failed. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this image on December 15, 2014. NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona / Univ. of Leicester 


Images taken in February 2013 and June 2014 of the landing area in Isidis Planitia showed promising blips near the edge of each frame. A follow-up color view, acquired on December 15th and released three days ago, show a bright spot consistent with Beagle 2. The fully-opened lander would have been less than 2 m (6½ feet) across, so the craft is only barely resolved. Apparently the spacecraft made it to the surface intact, opened its clamshell cover, and had partially deployed its four petal-shaped solar-cell panels before something went awry. Beagle 2 seen from orbit by HiRISE  

One encouraging clue is that the bright reflection changes position slightly from image to image, consistent with sunlight reflecting off different lander panels. Two other unusual spots a few hundred meters away appears to be the lander's parachute and part of the cover that served as a shield during the 5½-km-per-second atmospheric descent...


On December 25, 2003, a British-built lander dropped to the Martian surface and disappeared without a trace. Now we know what happened to it.
It's hard to overstate how valuable the main camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been. The craft's High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, uses a 20-inch (0.5-m) f/24 telescope to record details on the Martian surface as small as 0.3 m (about 10 inches). Primarily it's a powerful tool for studying Martian geology at the smallest scales, and NASA scientists sometimes use it to track the progress (and even the arrivals) of their rovers.
Beagle 2 on Mars
The clamshell-like Beagle 2 lander weighed just 30 kg, but it was well equipped to study Martian rocks and dust — and even to search for life.
Beagle 2 consortium
But the HiRISE team has also been on a years-long quest to find the remains of Beagle 2, a small lander that had hitchhiked to the Red Planet with the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. It descended to the Martian surface on Christmas Day in 2003 and was never heard from again. Space aficionados have debated its fate ever since. Did parachute failure lead to a crash landing? Did strong surface winds flip the saucer-shaped craft upside down? Did the Martians take it hostage?
Now, thanks to HiRISE, we know more of the story. Images taken in February 2013 and June 2014 of the landing area in Isidis Planitia showed promising blips near the edge of each frame. A follow-up color view, acquired on December 15th and released three days ago, show a bright spot consistent with Beagle 2. The fully-opened lander would have been less than 2 m (6½ feet) across, so the craft is only barely resolved. Apparently the spacecraft made it to the surface intact, opened its clamshell cover, and had partially deployed its four petal-shaped solar-cell panels before something went awry.
Beagle 2 seen from orbit by HiRISE
An overhead view of Beagle 2's landing site on Isidis Planitia shows a bright reflection from the long-lost spacecraft. Apparently it landed safely on December 25, 2003, and had begun to operate when it failed. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this image on December 15, 2014.
NASA / JPL / Univ. of Arizona / Univ. of Leicester
One encouraging clue is that the bright reflection changes position slightly from image to image, consistent with sunlight reflecting off different lander panels. Two other unusual spots a few hundred meters away appears to be the lander's parachute and part of the cover that served as a shield during the 5½-km-per-second atmospheric descent.
The initial images didn't just show up. They'd been requested and searched by Michael Croon of Trier, Germany, who'd served on the Mars Express operations team. Croon had asked for specific camera targeting through a program called HiWish, through which anyone can submit suggestions for HiRISE images. Read more about this fascinating sleuthing story.
"Not knowing what happened to Beagle 2 remained a nagging worry," comments Rudolf Schmidt in an ESA press release about the find. "Understanding now that Beagle 2 made it all the way down to the surface is excellent news." Schmidt served as the Mars Express project manager at the time.
Built by a consortium of organizations, Beagle 2 was the United Kingdom's first interplanetary spacecraft. The 32-kg (73-pound) lander carried six instruments to study geochemical characteristics of the Martian surface and to test for the presence of life using assays of carbon isotopes. It was named for HMS Beagle, the ship that carried a crew of 73 (including Charles Darwin) on an epic voyage of discovery in 1831–36.
- See more at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/beagle-2-lander-found-on-mars-01192015/#sthash.5KSZ8V6W.dpuf

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