April 15, 2017

Chicxulub Crater

Chicxulub Crater

The Chicxulub crater is an impact crater buried underneath the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Its center is located near the town of Chicxulub, after which the crater is named. It was formed by a large asteroid or comet about 10 kilometres (6 miles) in diameter, the Chicxulub impactor, striking the Earth. The date of the impact coincides precisely with the Cretaceous–Paleogene boundary (K–Pg boundary), slightly less than 66 million years ago, and a widely accepted theory is that worldwide climate disruption from the event was the cause of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, a mass extinction in which 75% of plant and animal species on Earth suddenly became extinct, including all dinosaurs and all enantiornithine birds, also known as "opposite birds" because their leg bones fuse in the opposite direction of modern birds. The enantiornithine birds were the dominant land birds of the Mesozoic. The birds that survived were ornithurine birds, or modern birds, which were shorebirds during the Mesozoic, and they are the ancestors of all known living birds. The crater is more than 180 kilometers (110 miles) in diameter and 20 km (12 mi) in depth, well into the continental crust of the region of about 10–30 km depth. It makes the feature the third of the largest confirmed impact structures on Earth.

The crater was discovered by Antonio Camargo and Glen Penfield, geophysicists who had been looking for petroleum in the Yucatán during the late 1970s. Penfield was initially unable to obtain evidence that the geological feature was a crater and gave up his search. Later, through contact with Alan Hildebrand in 1990, Penfield obtained samples that suggested it was an impact feature. Evidence for the impact origin of the crater includes shocked quartz, a gravity anomaly, and tektites in surrounding areas.

Explanation from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicxulub_crater

Storm on Jupiter

Storm on Jupiter

This image, taken by the JunoCam imager on NASA's Juno spacecraft, highlights a swirling storm just south of one of the white oval storms on Jupiter.

The image was taken on March 27, 2017, at 2:12 a.m. PDT (5:12 a.m. EDT), as the Juno spacecraft performed a close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 12,400 miles (20,000 kilometers) from the planet.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Jason Major

Sunset on Enceladus

Sunset on Enceladus

In this artist's rendering, a distant Sun forms a halo (refracted sunlight by ice crystals) amid streamers of pure water ice particles, which spew into space from cracks in the south polar surface of Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus.

Image Credit: Karl Kofoed

City Lights of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East

City Lights of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East

This image of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East at night is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012. The new data was mapped over existing Blue Marble imagery of Earth to provide a realistic view of the planet.

The nighttime view was made possible by the new satellite’s “day-night band” of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. VIIRS detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses filtering techniques to observe dim signals such as gas flares, auroras, wildfires, city lights, and reflected moonlight. In this case, auroras, fires, and other stray light have been removed to emphasize the city lights.

“Night time imagery provides an intuitively graspable view of our planet,” says William Stefanov, senior remote sensing scientist for the International Space Station program office. “They provide a fairly straightforward means to map urban versus rural areas, and to show where the major population centers are and where they are not.”

Named for satellite meteorology pioneer Verner Suomi, NPP flies over any given point on Earth's surface twice each day at roughly 1:30 a.m. and p.m. The polar-orbiting satellite flies 824 kilometers (512 miles) above the surface, sending its data once per orbit to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and continuously to local direct broadcast users distributed around the world. The mission is managed by NASA with operational support from NOAA and its Joint Polar Satellite System, which manages the satellite's ground system.

Image Credit: NASA
Explanation from: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=79793

Inamahari Crater, Ceres

Inamahari Crater, Ceres

Inamahari Crater on Ceres, the large well-defined crater at the center of this image, is one of the sites where scientists have discovered evidence for organic material.

The crater, 42 miles (68 kilometers) in diameter, presents other interesting attributes. It has a polygonal shape and an association with another crater of similar size and geometry called Homshuk (center right), although the latter appears eroded and is likely older. Future studies of Inamahari crater and surroundings may help uncover the mechanisms involved in the exposure of organic material onto Ceres' surface.

Inamahari was named for a pair of male and female deities from the ancient Siouan tribe of South Carolina, invoked for a successful sowing season. Homshuk refers to the spirit of corn (maize) from the Popoluca peoples of southern Mexico.

Inamahari is located at 14 degrees north latitude, 89 degrees east longitude. This picture was taken by Dawn on September 25, 2015 from an altitude of about 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). It has a resolution of 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
Explanation from: https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA21402

Exoplanet Kepler-35b

Exoplanet Kepler-35b

With two suns in its sky, Luke Skywalker's home planet Tatooine in "Star Wars" looks like a parched, sandy desert world. In real life, thanks to observatories such as NASA's Kepler space telescope, we know that two-star systems can indeed support planets, although planets discovered so far around double-star systems are large and gaseous. Scientists wondered: If an Earth-size planet were orbiting two suns, could it support life?

It turns out, such a planet could be quite hospitable if located at the right distance from its two stars, and wouldn't necessarily even have deserts. In a particular range of distances from two sun-like host stars, a planet covered in water would remain habitable and retain its water for a long time, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

"This means that double-star systems of the type studied here are excellent candidates to host habitable planets, despite the large variations in the amount of starlight hypothetical planets in such a system would receive," said Max Popp, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey, and the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany.

Popp and Siegfried Eggl, a Caltech postdoctoral scholar at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, created a model for a planet in the Kepler-35 system. In reality, the stellar pair Kepler-35A and B host a planet called Kepler-35b, a giant planet about eight times the size of Earth, with an orbit of 131.5 Earth days. For their study, researchers neglected the gravitational influence of this planet and added a hypothetical water-covered, Earth-size planet around the Kepler-35 A and B stars. They examined how this planet’s climate would behave as it orbited the host stars with periods between 341 and 380 days.

"Our research is motivated by the fact that searching for potentially habitable planets requires a lot of effort, so it is good to know in advance where to look," Eggl said. "We show that it's worth targeting double-star systems."

In exoplanet research, scientists speak of a region called the "habitable zone," the range of distances around a star where a terrestrial planet is most likely to have liquid water on its surface. In this case, because two stars are orbiting each other, the habitable zone depends on the distance from the center of mass that both stars are orbiting. To make things even more complicated, a planet around two stars would not travel in a circle; instead, its orbit would wobble through the gravitational interaction with the two stars.

Popp and Eggl found that on the far edge of the habitable zone in the Kepler-35 double-star system, the hypothetical water-covered planet would have a lot of variation in its surface temperatures. Because such a cold planet would have only a small amount of water vapor in its atmosphere, global average surface temperatures would swing up and down by as much as 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) in the course of a year.

"This is analogous to how, on Earth, in arid climates like deserts, we experience huge temperature variations from day to night," Eggl said. "The amount of water in the air makes a big difference."

But, closer to the stars, near the inner edge of the habitable zone, the global average surface temperatures on the same planet stay almost constant. That is because more water vapor would be able to persist in the atmosphere of the hypothetical planet and act as a buffer to keep surface conditions comfortable.

As with single-star systems, a planet beyond the outer edge of the habitable zone of its two suns would eventually end up in a so-called "snowball" state, completely covered with ice. Closer than the inner edge of the habitable zone, an atmosphere would insulate the planet too much, creating a runaway greenhouse effect and turning the planet into a Venus-like world inhospitable to life as we know it.

Another feature of the study's climate model is that, compared to Earth, a water-covered planet around two stars would have less cloud coverage. That would mean clearer skies for viewing double sunsets on these exotic worlds.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Explanation from: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/jpl/earth-sized-tatooine-planets-could-be-habitable

April 14, 2017

Cyclone Cook

Cyclone Cook
NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite provided a visible image of Cook on April 10 at 0254 UTC as it was approaching landfall in New Caledonia. Cook had a cloud-filled eye surrounded by powerful thunderstorms.

Tropical Cyclone Cook formed in the Southern Pacific Ocean and on Sunday, April 9, 2017 and moved across the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific Ocean on early on April 10. NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP Satellite passed over Cook as it was making landfall.

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite provided a visible image of Cook on April 10 at 0254 UTC (April 9 at 10:54 p.m. EST). That was about one hour before the storm's center made landfall in central New Caledonia. The image showed a cloud-filled eye surrounded by powerful thunderstorms. A large band of thunderstorms feeding into the center blanketed the islands of Vanuatu.

On April 11 at 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EST) Tropical Cyclone Cook has maximum sustained winds near 70 knots (80.5 mph/129.6 kph) making it a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane wind scale. It was located just 47 nautical miles south-southwest of Noumea, New Caledonia near 23.3 degrees south latitude and 166.0 degrees east longitude. It was moving to the south at 12 knots (13.8 mph/22.2 kph).

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center or JTWC noted that animated enhanced infrared satellite imagery showed that there was a decrease in central convection and warming cloud tops over the system since it made landfall over New Caledonia around 0400 UTC (12 a.m. EST).Microwave imagery still showed that bands of thunderstorms were still wrapping into a defined center of circulation.

At 11 a.m. EST (1500 UTC) on April 10, Meteo France in New Caledonia noted that Cyclonic Alert number 2 remained in effect on April 10 for the municipalities of Thio, Bourail, La Foa, Sarraméa, Moindou and Farino, the province of the islands, the Northern Province (with the exception of the communes of Bélep and Maré which remain on cyclonic level 1 alert) . Alert # 1 was also still in effect on the rest of New Caledonia.

JTWC noted that "environmental conditions are no longer supportive of development with vertical wind shear increasing to 20 knots (23 mph/27 kph) and sea surface temperatures decreasing to 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit)," so it is forecast to weaken over the next two days.

Image Credit: NOAA/NASA Rapid Response Team
Explanation from: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/cook-southern-pacific-ocean

Illustration of Cassini Spacecraft Diving Through Plume of 'Ocean World' Enceladus

Illustration of Cassini Spacecraft Diving Through Plume of 'Ocean World' Enceladus

This illustration shows NASA's Cassini spacecraft diving through the plume of Saturn's moon Enceladus, in 2015.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Enceladus Hydrothermal Activity

Enceladus Hydrothermal Activity

This graphic illustrates how scientists on NASA's Cassini mission think water interacts with rock at the bottom of the ocean of Saturn's icy moon Enceladus, producing hydrogen gas (H2).

The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its deepest and last dive through the plume on Oct. 28, 2015. Cassini also sampled the plume's composition during previous flybys, earlier in the mission. From these observations scientists have determined that nearly 98 percent of the gas in the plume is water vapor, about 1 percent is hydrogen, and the rest is a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia.

The graphic shows water from the ocean circulating through the seafloor, where it is heated and interacts chemically with the rock. This warm water, laden with minerals and dissolved gases (including hydrogen and possibly methane) then pours into the ocean creating chimney-like vents.

The hydrogen measurements were made using Cassini's Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer, or INMS, instrument, which sniffs gases to determine their composition.

The finding is an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean. Previous results from Cassini's Cosmic Dust Analyzer instrument, published in March 2015, suggested hot water is interacting with rock beneath the ocean; the new findings support that conclusion and indicate that the rock is reduced in its geochemistry. With the discovery of hydrogen gas, scientists can now conclude that there is a source of chemical free energy in Enceladus' ocean.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Southwest Research Institute
Explanation from: https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA21442

The Black Marble

Black Marble

The night side of our planet twinkles with light, and the first thing to stand out is the cities. “Nothing tells us more about the spread of humans across the Earth than city lights,” asserts Chris Elvidge, a NOAA scientist who has studied them for 20 years.

This global view of Earth’s city lights is a composite assembled from data acquired by the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (Suomi NPP) satellite. The data was acquired over nine days in April 2012 and thirteen days in October 2012. It took satellite 312 orbits and 2.5 terabytes of data to get a clear shot of every parcel of Earth’s land surface and islands. This new data was then mapped over existing Blue Marble imagery to provide a realistic view of the planet.

The view was made possible by the “day-night band” of Suomi NPP’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite. VIIRS detects light in a range of wavelengths from green to near-infrared and uses “smart” light sensors to observe dim signals such as city lights, auroras, wildfires, and reflected moonlight. This low-light sensor can distinguish night lights tens to hundreds of times better than previous satellites.

Named for meteorology pioneer Verner Suomi, the polar-orbiting satellite flies over any given point on Earth’s surface twice each day at roughly 1:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Suomi NPP orbits 824 kilometers (512 miles) above the surface as it circles the planet 14 times a day. Data is sent once per orbit to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway, and continuously to local direct broadcast users around the world. The mission is managed by NASA with operational support from NOAA and its Joint Polar Satellite System, which manages the satellite's ground system.

Image Credit: NASA
Explanation from: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=79803

Artist’s impression of the disc of dust and gas around a brown dwarf ISO-Oph 102

Artist’s impression of the disc of dust and gas around a brown dwarf ISO-Oph 102

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have for the first time found that the outer region of a dusty disc encircling a brown dwarf contains millimetre-sized solid grains like those found in denser discs around newborn stars. The surprising finding challenges theories of how rocky, Earth-scale planets form, and suggests that rocky planets may be even more common in the Universe than expected.

Rocky planets are thought to form through the random collision and sticking together of what are initially microscopic particles in the disc of material around a star. These tiny grains, known as cosmic dust, are similar to very fine soot or sand. However, in the outer regions around a brown dwarf — a star-like object, but one too small to shine brightly like a star — astronomers expected that grains could not grow because the discs were too sparse, and particles would be moving too fast to stick together after colliding. Also, prevailing theories say that any grains that manage to form should move quickly towards the central brown dwarf, disappearing from the outer parts of the disc where they could be detected.

“We were completely surprised to find millimetre-sized grains in this thin little disc,” said Luca Ricci of the California Institute of Technology, USA, who led a team of astronomers based in the United States, Europe and Chile. “Solid grains of that size shouldn’t be able to form in the cold outer regions of a disc around a brown dwarf, but it appears that they do. We can’t be sure if a whole rocky planet could develop there, or already has, but we’re seeing the first steps, so we’re going to have to change our assumptions about conditions required for solids to grow,” he said.

ALMA’s increased resolution compared to previous telescopes also allowed the team to pinpoint carbon monoxide gas around the brown dwarf — the first time that cold molecular gas has been detected in such a disc. This discovery, and that of the millimetre-size grains, suggest that the disc is much more similar to the ones around young stars than previously expected.

Ricci and his colleagues made their finding using the partially completed ALMA telescope in the high-altitude Chilean desert. ALMA is a growing collection of high precision, dish-shaped antennas that work together as one large telescope to observe the Universe with groundbreaking detail and sensitivity. ALMA “sees” the Universe in millimetre-wavelength light, which is invisible to human eyes. Construction of ALMA is scheduled to finish in 2013, but astronomers began observing with a partial array of ALMA dishes in 2011.

The astronomers pointed ALMA at the young brown dwarf ISO-Oph 102, also known as Rho-Oph 102, in the Rho Ophiuchi star-forming region in the constellation of Ophiuchus (The Serpent Bearer). With about 60 times the mass of Jupiter but only 0.06 times that of the Sun, the brown dwarf has too little mass to ignite the thermonuclear reactions by which ordinary stars shine. However, it emits heat released by its slow gravitational contraction and shines with a reddish colour, albeit much less brightly than a star.

ALMA collected light with wavelengths around a millimetre, emitted by disc material warmed by the brown dwarf. The grains in the disc do not emit much radiation at wavelengths longer than their own size, so a characteristic drop-off in the brightness can be measured at longer wavelengths. ALMA is an ideal instrument for measuring this drop-off and thus for sizing up the grains. The astronomers compared the brightness of the disc at wavelengths of 0.89 mm and 3.2 mm. The drop-off in brightness from 0.89 mm to 3.2 mm was not as steep as expected, showing that at least some of the grains are a millimetre or more in size.

“ALMA is a powerful new tool for solving mysteries of planetary system formation,” commented Leonardo Testi from ESO, a member of the research team. “Trying this with previous generation telescopes would have needed almost a month of observing — impossibly long in practice. But, using just a quarter of ALMA's final complement of antennas, we were able to do it in less than one hour!” he said.

In the near future, the completed ALMA telescope will be powerful enough to make detailed images of the discs around Rho-Oph 102 and other objects. Ricci explained, “We will soon be able to not only detect the presence of small particles in discs, but to map how they are spread across the circumstellar disc and how they interact with the gas that we’ve also detected in the disc. This will help us better understand how planets come to be.”

Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/M. Kornmesser (ESO)
Explanation from: https://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1248/

Solar Flare

Solar Flare

An active region at the Sun's edge produced several M5-class (medium sized) flares over a ten-hour period (April 3, 2017). These were the strongest flares of the year so far. Some coronal mass ejections (which hurled clouds of plasma into space) were also associated with some of these flares. The images were taken in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light.

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory
Explanation from: https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA21584

April 11, 2017

Storm over Texas

Storm over Texas

Stratford, Texas, USA
May 16, 2016

Image Credit & Copyright: Max Conrad

Artist’s impression of the rings around Asteroid Chariklo

Artist’s impression of the rings around Asteroid Chariklo

Observations at many sites in South America, including ESO’s La Silla Observatory, have made the surprise discovery that the remote asteroid Chariklo is surrounded by two dense and narrow rings. This is the smallest object by far found to have rings and only the fifth body in the Solar System — after the much larger planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — to have this feature. The origin of these rings remains a mystery, but they may be the result of a collision that created a disc of debris. The new results are published online in the journal Nature on 26 March 2014.

The rings of Saturn are one of the most spectacular sights in the sky, and less prominent rings have also been found around the other giant planets. Despite many careful searches, no rings had been found around smaller objects orbiting the Sun in the Solar System. Now observations of the distant minor planet (10199) Chariklo as it passed in front of a star have shown that this object too is surrounded by two fine rings.

"We weren’t looking for a ring and didn’t think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery — and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system — came as a complete surprise!" says Felipe Braga-Ribas (Observatório Nacional/MCTI, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) who planned the observation campaign and is lead author on the new paper.

Chariklo is the largest member of a class known as the Centaurs and it orbits between Saturn and Uranus in the outer Solar System. Predictions had shown that it would pass in front of the star UCAC4 248-108672 on 3 June 2013, as seen from South America. Astronomers using telescopes at seven different locations, including the 1.54-metre Danish and TRAPPIST telescopes at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, were able to watch the star apparently vanish for a few seconds as its light was blocked by Chariklo — an occultation.

But they found much more than they were expecting. A few seconds before, and again a few seconds after the main occultation there were two further very short dips in the star’s apparent brightness. Something around Chariklo was blocking the light! By comparing what was seen from different sites the team could reconstruct not only the shape and size of the object itself but also the shape, width, orientation and other properties of the newly discovered rings.

The team found that the ring system consists of two sharply confined rings only seven and three kilometres wide, separated by a clear gap of nine kilometres — around a small 250-kilometre diameter object orbiting beyond Saturn.

"For me, it was quite amazing to realise that we were able not only to detect a ring system, but also pinpoint that it consists of two clearly distinct rings," adds Uffe Gråe Jørgensen (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark), one of the team. "I try to imagine how it would be to stand on the surface of this icy object — small enough that a fast sports car could reach escape velocity and drive off into space — and stare up at a 20-kilometre wide ring system 1000 times closer than the Moon."

Although many questions remain unanswered, astronomers think that this sort of ring is likely to be formed from debris left over after a collision. It must be confined into the two narrow rings by the presence of small putative satellites.

"So, as well as the rings, it’s likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered," adds Felipe Braga Ribas.

The rings may prove to be a phenomenon that might in turn later lead to the formation of a small moon. Such a sequence of events, on a much larger scale, may explain the birth of our own Moon in the early days of the Solar System, as well as the origin of many other satellites around planets and asteroids.

The leaders of this project are provisionally calling the rings by the nicknames Oiapoque and Chuí, two rivers near the northern and southern extremes of Brazil.

Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger
Explanation from: https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1410a/

Exoplanet Gliese 1132b

Exoplanet Gliese 1132b

The distant planet GJ 1132b intrigued astronomers when it was discovered last year. Located just 39 light-years from Earth, it might have an atmosphere despite being baked to a temperature of around 450 degrees Fahrenheit. But would that atmosphere be thick and soupy or thin and wispy? New research suggests the latter is much more likely.

Harvard astronomer Laura Schaefer (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, or CfA) and her colleagues examined the question of what would happen to GJ 1132b over time if it began with a steamy, water-rich atmosphere.

Orbiting so close to its star, at a distance of just 1.4 million miles, the planet is flooded with ultraviolet or UV light. UV light breaks apart water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, both of which then can be lost into space. However, since hydrogen is lighter it escapes more readily, while oxygen lingers behind.

"On cooler planets, oxygen could be a sign of alien life and habitability. But on a hot planet like GJ 1132b, it's a sign of the exact opposite - a planet that's being baked and sterilized," said Schaefer.

Since water vapor is a greenhouse gas, the planet would have a strong greenhouse effect, amplifying the star's already intense heat. As a result, its surface could stay molten for millions of years.

A "magma ocean" would interact with the atmosphere, absorbing some of the oxygen, but how much? Only about one-tenth, according to the model created by Schaefer and her colleagues. Most of the remaining 90 percent of leftover oxygen streams off into space, however some might linger.

"This planet might be the first time we detect oxygen on a rocky planet outside the solar system," said co-author Robin Wordsworth (Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences).

If any oxygen does still cling to GJ 1132b, next-generation telescopes like the Giant Magellan Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect and analyze it.

The magma ocean-atmosphere model could help scientists solve the puzzle of how Venus evolved over time. Venus probably began with Earthlike amounts of water, which would have been broken apart by sunlight. Yet it shows few signs of lingering oxygen. The missing oxygen problem continues to baffle astronomers.

Schaefer predicts that their model also will provide insights into other, similar exoplanets. For example, the system TRAPPIST-1 contains three planets that may lie in the habitable zone. Since they are cooler than GJ 1132b, they have a better chance of retaining an atmosphere.

Image Credit: Dana Berry/Skyworks Digital/CfA
Explanation from: https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/news/1382/venus-like-exoplanet-might-have-oxygen-atmosphere-but-not-life/

April 10, 2017

Earth and Dragon spacecraft

Earth and Dragon spacecraft

ISS, Orbit of the Earth

Image Credit: NASA

Ice Volcanoes on Enceladus

Ice Volcanoes on Enceladus

This artist's impression of the south polar region of Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus shows massive jets of water ice being blasted into space. The moon's lack of atmosphere and low gravity prevents the jets from fanning out quickly as they might on a more massive world. These plumes feed the extensive E ring of Saturn.

Image Credit: Karl Kofoed

Spiral Galaxy NGC 4536

Spiral Galaxy NGC 4536

Despite all efforts galaxy formation and evolution are still far from being fully understood. Fortunately, the conditions we see within certain galaxies — such as so-called starburst galaxies — can tell us a lot about how they have evolved over time. Starburst galaxies contain a region (or many regions) where stars are forming at such a breakneck rate that the galaxy is eating up its gas supply faster than it can be replenished!

NGC 4536 is such a galaxy, captured here in beautiful detail by the Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Located roughly 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin), it is a hub of extreme star formation. There are several different factors that can lead to such an ideal environment in which stars can form at such a rapid rate. Crucially, there has to be a sufficiently massive supply of gas. This might be acquired in a number of ways — for example by passing very close to another galaxy, in a full-blown galactic collision, or as a result of some event that forces lots of gas into a relatively small space.

Star formation leaves a few tell-tale fingerprints, so astronomers can tell where stars have been born. We know that starburst regions are rich in gas. Young stars in these extreme environments often live fast and die young, burning extremely hot and exhausting their gas supplies fairly quickly. These stars also emit huge amounts of intense ultraviolet light, which blasts the electrons off any atoms of hydrogen lurking nearby (a process called ionisation), leaving behind clouds of ionised hydrogen (known in astronomer-speak as HII regions).

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1715a/

Aurora over Indian Ocean seen from the International Space Station

Aurora over Indian Ocean seen from the International Space Station

This is one of a series of night time images photographed by one of the Expedition 29 crew members from the International Space Station. It features Aurora Australis, airglow, Earth's Terminator and parts of the southeast Indian Ocean. Nadir coordinates are 51.53 degrees south latitude and 129.80 degrees east longitude.

ISS, Orbit of the Earth
September 18, 2011

Image Credit: NASA

Jupiter's Atmosphere

Jupiter's Atmosphere

NASA's Juno spacecraft skimmed the upper wisps of Jupiter's atmosphere when JunoCam snapped this image on February 2 at 5:13 a.m. PT (8:13 a.m. ET), from an altitude of about 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) above the giant planet's swirling cloudtops.

Streams of clouds spin off a rotating oval-shaped cloud system in the Jovian southern hemisphere. Citizen scientist Roman Tkachenko reconstructed the color and cropped the image to draw viewers' eyes to the storm and the turbulence around it.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Roman Tkachenko
Explanation from: https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA21383



Although only a sliver of Saturn's sunlit face is visible in this view, the mighty gas giant planet still dominates the view.

From this vantage point just beneath the ring plane, the dense B ring becomes dark and essentially opaque, letting almost no light pass through. But some light reflected by the planet passes through the less dense A ring, which appears above the B ring in this photo. The C ring, silhouetted just below the B ring, lets almost all of Saturn's reflected light pass right through it, as if it were barely there at all. The F ring appears as a bright arc in this image, which is visible against both the backdrop of Saturn and the dark sky.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 7 degrees below the ring plane. The image was taken in green light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on January 18, 2017.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 630,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 38 miles (61 kilometers) per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Explanation from: https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA20530

April 9, 2017

Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 7

Hickson Compact Galaxy Group 7

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has imaged part of the Hickson Compact Group 7, or HCG 7 for short. This grouping is composed of one lenticular (lens-shaped) and three spiral galaxies in close proximity. In this image, one of the spirals dominates the foreground, with many more distant galaxies peppering the background. Observing tightly-knit galaxy groups like HCG 7 is important because they evolve in a different way from their more spaced-out counterparts in less crowded regions of the Universe.

A recent study using Hubble data analysed the star clusters in HCG 7. Three hundred young clusters and 150 globular clusters were charted, and their ages and distributions measured. The results suggest that the rate of star formation has been fairly steady through time, although quite high in the central regions. Additional studies, including searches for material between the galaxies, hint that the stars in the HCG 7 galaxies formed by converting their gas without any gravitational influences caused by merging with other galaxies. This is puzzling, as the galaxies are depleting their supplies of gas at a rate that suggests that they have merged in the past.

This raises the question of whether the group really has evolved serenely, or if there are mysterious processes at work that are yet to be understood. The currently known information is contradictory and an encouragement for further studies to discover the real story behind HCG 7.

This picture was created from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys. Images through a blue filter (F435W, coloured blue), yellow-orange (F606W, coloured green) and near-infrared (F814W, coloured red) filters were combined. The total exposure times were 1710 s, 1230 s and 1065 s per filter, respectively, and the field of view is 3.3 x 3.0 arcminutes.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Explanation from: https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1132a/

Wolf-Rayet star WR124

Wolf-Rayet star WR124

M1-67 is the youngest wind-nebula around a Wolf-Rayet star, called WR124, in our Galaxy. These Wolf-Rayet stars start their lives with dozens of times the mass of our Sun, but loose most of it through a powerful wind, which is ultimately responsible for the formation of the nebula.

Ten years ago, Hubble Space Telescope observations revealed a wealth of small knots and substructures inside the nebula. The same team, led by Cédric Foellmi (ESO), has now used ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) to watch how these structures have evolved and what they can teach us about stellar winds, their chemistry, and how they mix with the surrounding interstellar medium, before the star will eventually blow everything away in a fiery supernova explosion.

The image is based on FORS1 data obtained by the Paranal Science team with the VLT through 2 wide (B and V) and 3 narrow-band filters.

Image Credit: ESO
Explanation from: https://www.eso.org/public/images/wr124/

Stellar Explosion in the Orion Molecular Cloud 1

Stellar Explosion in the Orion Molecular Cloud 1

Stellar explosions are most often associated with supernovae, the spectacular deaths of stars. But new ALMA observations provide insights into explosions at the other end of the stellar life cycle, star birth. Astronomers captured these dramatic images as they explored the firework-like debris from the birth of a group of massive stars, demonstrating that star formation can be a violent and explosive process too.

1350 light years away, in the constellation of Orion (the Hunter), lies a dense and active star formation factory called the Orion Molecular Cloud 1 (OMC-1), part of the same complex as the famous Orion Nebula. Stars are born when a cloud of gas hundreds of times more massive than our Sun begins to collapse under its own gravity. In the densest regions, protostars ignite and begin to drift about randomly. Over time, some stars begin to fall toward a common centre of gravity, which is usually dominated by a particularly large protostar — and if the stars have a close encounter before they can escape their stellar nursery, violent interactions can occur.

About 100 000 years ago, several protostars started to form deep within the OMC-1. Gravity began to pull them together with ever-increasing speed, until 500 years ago two of them finally clashed. Astronomers are not sure whether they merely grazed each other or collided head-on, but either way it triggered a powerful eruption that launched other nearby protostars and hundreds of colossal streamers of gas and dust out into interstellar space at over 150 kilometres per second. This cataclysmic interaction released as much energy as our Sun emits in 10 million years.

Fast forward 500 years, and a team of astronomers led by John Bally (University of Colorado, USA) has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to peer into the heart of this cloud. There they found the flung-out debris from the explosive birth of this clump of massive stars, looking like a cosmic version of fireworks with giant streamers rocketing off in all directions.

Such explosions are expected to be relatively short-lived, the remnants like those seen by ALMA lasting only centuries. But although they are fleeting, such protostellar explosions may be relatively common. By destroying their parent cloud, these events might also help to regulate the pace of star formation in such giant molecular clouds.

Hints of the explosive nature of the debris in OMC-1 were first revealed by the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii in 2009. Bally and his team also observed this object in the near-infrared with the Gemini South telescope in Chile, revealing the remarkable structure of the streamers, which extend nearly a light-year from end to end.

The new ALMA images, however, showcase the explosive nature in high resolution, unveiling important details about the distribution and high-velocity motion of the carbon monoxide (CO) gas inside the streamers. This will help astronomers understand the underlying force of the blast, and what impact such events could have on star formation across the galaxy.

Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), J. Bally/H. Drass et al.
Explanation from: https://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1711/