Astronomy: Space Photos

White Dwarf May Have Shredded Passing Planet: In this Chandra image of NGC6388, researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close. When a star reaches its white dwarf stage, nearly all of the material from the star is packed inside a radius one hundredth that of the original star. The destruction of a planet may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but a team of astronomers has found evidence that this may have happened in an ancient cluster of stars at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. Using several telescopes, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star – the dense core of a star like the Sun that has run out of nuclear fuel – may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close. Image Credit NASA

White Dwarf May Have Shredded Passing Planet:
In this Chandra image of NGC6388, researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close. When a star reaches its white dwarf stage, nearly all of the material from the star is packed inside a radius one hundredth that of the original star. The destruction of a planet may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but a team of astronomers has found evidence that this may have happened in an ancient cluster of stars at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. Using several telescopes, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, researchers have found evidence that a white dwarf star – the dense core of a star like the Sun that has run out of nuclear fuel – may have ripped apart a planet as it came too close.
Image Credit NASA

Massive "Zombie" Galaxies" Harbor Half of All Stars the Universe Ever Produced" "Massive dead spheroids contain about half of all the stars that the Universe has produced during its entire life," said Sandro Tacchella of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, lead author of the article. "We cannot claim to understand how the Universe evolved and became as we see it today unless we understand how these galaxies come to be." Astronomers have shown for the first time how star formation in "dead" galaxies sputtered out billions of years ago. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) have revealed that three billion years after the Big Bang, these galaxies still made stars on their outskirts, but no longer in their interiors. The quenching of star formation seems to have started in the cores of the galaxies and then spread to the outer parts. Pictured is the Crown of Thorns galaxy, NCG 7049 - An unusual large galaxy with a shape bordering between spiral and elliptical has been spotted by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.

Massive “Zombie” Galaxies” Harbor Half of All Stars the Universe Ever Produced”
“Massive dead spheroids contain about half of all the stars that the Universe has produced during its entire life,” said Sandro Tacchella of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, lead author of the article. “We cannot claim to understand how the Universe evolved and became as we see it today unless we understand how these galaxies come to be.”
Astronomers have shown for the first time how star formation in “dead” galaxies sputtered out billions of years ago. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have revealed that three billion years after the Big Bang, these galaxies still made stars on their outskirts, but no longer in their interiors. The quenching of star formation seems to have started in the cores of the galaxies and then spread to the outer parts.
Pictured is the Crown of Thorns galaxy, NCG 7049 – An unusual large galaxy with a shape bordering between spiral and elliptical has been spotted by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

The Colorful Demise of a Sunlike Star. This image, taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows the colorful 'last hurrah' of a star like our Sun. The star is ending its life by casting off its outer layers of gas, which formed a cocoon around the star's remaining core. Its central star, HD62166, is possibly the hottest known white dwarf. Credit: NASA/JPL/STScI/AURA

The Colorful Demise of a Sunlike Star.
This image, taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, shows the colorful ‘last hurrah’ of a star like our Sun. The star is ending its life by casting off its outer layers of gas, which formed a cocoon around the star’s remaining core. Its central star, HD62166, is possibly the hottest known white dwarf.
Credit: NASA/JPL/STScI/AURA

This image shows a composite view of the Crab nebula (catalog designations M1, NGC 1952, Taurus A), an iconic supernova remnant in our Milky Way galaxy, as viewed by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MESS

This image shows a composite view of the Crab nebula (catalog designations M1, NGC 1952, Taurus A), an iconic supernova remnant in our Milky Way galaxy, as viewed by the Herschel Space Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/MESS

Jupiter and Io captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in 2007 en route to Pluto.

Jupiter and Io captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2007 en route to Pluto.

NASA Scientists Identify Missing Wave near Jupiter’s Equator (above photo)

April 17, 2015: In the clouds of Jupiter, scientists have found evidence of a type of atmospheric wave that had long been proposed but had not been identified in images before now. Researchers consider this kind of wave, called a Kelvin wave, a fundamental part of a planetary atmosphere, so the absence of one on Jupiter has long been a mystery. In Earth’s atmosphere, Kelvin waves are involved in a tropical wind pattern whose influence can reach as far as the polar vortex.

“Scientists had looked for this type of wave in images of Jupiter from other missions, without luck,” said Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Sometimes, we found a different type of wave. Other times, we couldn’t be sure we had a wave at all.”

The presence of Jupiter’s wave was indicated by a series of banded clouds, spotted in images obtained by the Ralph multispectral imager when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by the planet in 2007.

The striking pattern of light and dark stripes was captured in a series of images, allowing researchers to determine the extent and speed of the wave. At that time, the team determined that the pattern stretched through the entire area visible to the imager (about one-quarter of the circumference at the equator) and probably went all the way around the planet.

In a new analysis of those images, a trio of researchers from NASA and the University of Houston has calculated that the wave was moving at about 367 to 393 miles per hour (164 to 176 meters per second). This is slower than previously thought but still much faster than the already speedy background winds near the equator. The pattern appears to cast shadows, which may indicate that it is higher in the troposphere than the other clouds, or possibly in the stratosphere.

When the New Horizons images were first studied, scientists had classified the feature as a gravity-inertia wave, but the newer analysis indicates that a Kelvin wave is more likely. The wavelength in this case is about 186 miles (300 kilometers), which is short compared to Kelvin waves in Earth’s atmosphere.

The researchers looked for evidence of small-scale waves in Jupiter images from other missions. Such a pattern would not be big enough to show up in images taken by Hubble, the researchers determined. The Cassini spacecraft should have been able to see this kind of feature, but images from those flybys don’t contain evidence of a similar wave. Much smaller groups of waves show up in images taken when the Voyagers flew by and when Galileo orbited the planet, but they occur further from the equator than expected for a Kelvin wave.

The structure of a Kelvin wave is determined by a balance between the Coriolis force generated by the planet’s rotation and a boundary of some kind. In Earth’s oceans, that boundary could be the coastline. In a planet’s atmosphere, the zone near the equator serves as a boundary.

In Earth’s atmosphere, Kelvin waves contribute to the quasi-biennial oscillation, a pattern of tropical winds in the stratosphere. About every two to three years, the wind shifts from easterly to westerly— accompanied by changes in temperature—and back again. The influence of this pattern sometimes can be felt as far away as the northern or southern polar vortex.

An analogous pattern of global winds and temperatures has been found in Jupiter’s stratosphere. This pattern, the quasi-quadrennial oscillation, repeats every four to five Earth years. A similar pattern on Saturn repeats roughly every 15 Earth years.

“The situation is more complicated on Earth because of the large land masses, seasons, and other factors,” said Simon. “But we can use Jupiter almost like a lab experiment in this case. We can show that the oscillating pattern can be forced with the wave motions alone.”

This research is available online in Geophysical Research Letters.

This work was funded in part by NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres Program. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, headquartered in San Antonio, is the principal investigator and leads the mission. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

In this image, a view of Jupiter and Io captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in 2007 en route to Pluto.

Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft will impact the planet at more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second) on the side of the planet facing away from Earth.  Photo: NASA

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft will impact the planet at more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second) on the side of the planet facing away from Earth. Photo: NASA

NASA Messenger Spacecraft Achieves Unprecedented Success Studying Mercury (above photo)

After extraordinary science findings and technological innovations, a NASA spacecraft launched in 2004 to study Mercury will impact the planet’s surface, most likely on April 30, after it runs out of propellant.

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft will impact the planet at more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second) on the side of the planet facing away from Earth. Due to the expected location, engineers will be unable to view in real time the exact location of impact.

On Tuesday, mission operators in mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, completed the fourth in a series of orbit correction maneuvers designed to delay the spacecraft’s impact into the surface of Mercury. The last maneuver is scheduled for Friday, April 24.

“Following this last maneuver, we will finally declare the spacecraft out of propellant, as this maneuver will deplete nearly all of our remaining helium gas,” said Daniel O’Shaughnessy, mission systems engineer at APL. “At that point, the spacecraft will no longer be capable of fighting the downward push of the sun’s gravity.”

Although Mercury is one of Earth’s nearest planetary neighbors, little was known about the planet prior to the MESSENGER mission.

“For the first time in history we now have real knowledge about the planet Mercury that shows it to be a fascinating world as part of our diverse solar system,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “While spacecraft operations will end, we are celebrating MESSENGER as more than a successful mission. It’s the beginning of a longer journey to analyze the data that reveals all the scientific mysteries of Mercury.”

The spacecraft traveled more than six and a half years before it was inserted into orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011. The prime mission was to orbit the planet and collect data for one Earth year. The spacecraft’s healthy instruments, remaining fuel, and new questions raised by early findings resulted in two approved operations extensions, allowing the mission to continue for almost four years and resulting in more scientific firsts.

One key science finding in 2012 provided compelling support for the hypothesis that Mercury harbors abundant frozen water and other volatile materials in its permanently shadowed polar craters.

Data indicated the ice in Mercury’s polar regions, if spread over an area the size of Washington, would be more than two miles thick. For the first time, scientists began seeing clearly a chapter in the story of how the inner planets, including Earth, acquired water and some of the chemical building blocks for life.

A dark layer covering most of the water ice deposits supports the theory that organic compounds,  as well as water, were delivered from the outer solar system to the inner planets and may have led to prebiotic chemical synthesis and, thusly, life on Earth.

“The water now stored in ice deposits in the permanently shadowed floors of impact craters at Mercury’s poles most likely was delivered to the innermost planet by the impacts of comets and volatile-rich asteroids,” said Sean Solomon, the mission’s principal investigator, and director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. “Those same impacts also likely delivered the dark organic material.”

In addition to science discoveries, the mission provided many technological firsts, including the development of a vital heat-resistant and highly reflective ceramic cloth sunshade that isolated the spacecraft’s instruments and electronics from direct solar radiation – vital to mission success given Mercury’s proximity to the sun. The technology will help inform future designs for planetary missions within our solar system.

“The front side of the sunshade routinely experienced temperatures in excess of 300° Celsius (570° Fahrenheit), whereas the majority of components in its shadow routinely operated near room temperature (20°C or 68°F),” said Helene Winters, mission project manager at APL. “This technology to protect the spacecraft’s instruments was a key to mission success during its prime and extended operations.”

The spacecraft was designed and built by APL. The lab manages and operates the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed for the directorate by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For a complete listing of science findings and technological achievements of the mission visit: www.nasa.gov/messenger

NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft traveled more than six and a half years before it was inserted into orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011.

Credit: NASA/JHU APL/Carnegie Institution of Washington

"Rainbow Double Aurora" - International Space Station. A "Rainbow Double Aurora" greeted the astronauts and cosmonauts on board the International Space Station on Apr. 11, 2015 as a bonus during their busy workdays of science experiments, maintenance and operational duties. Credit: NASA/JSC

“Rainbow Double Aurora” – International Space Station.
A “Rainbow Double Aurora” greeted the astronauts and cosmonauts on board the International Space Station on Apr. 11, 2015 as a bonus during their busy workdays of science experiments, maintenance and operational duties.
Credit: NASA/JSC

Cat Face Universe. Photo by Tom Pan

Cat Face Universe.
Photo by Tom Pan

“Cat face universe!” (above)

Not even the great universe or an astronomy blog post can escape the multi-dimensional and far-reaching effects of #Caturday.

On the BaLang Mountains located in Sichuan province of southwest China, the zodiacal light extends above the western horizon and seems to end at the lovely Pleiades star cluster and California Nebula.

Credit: Tony Pan
Image Date: December 13, 2014

Salut Paris! Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: April 8, 2015

Salut Paris!
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: April 8, 2015

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Astronomy: Photos From and Of Space

NASA Astronaut Terry Virts Salutes Leonard Nimoy from Orbit International Space Station astronaut Terry Virts tweeted this image of a Vulcan hand salute from orbit as a tribute to actor Leonard Nimoy, who died on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Nimoy played science officer Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series that served as an inspiration to generations of scientists, engineers and sci-fi fans around the world. Cape Cod and Boston, Massachusetts, Nimoy's home town, are visible through the station window. Credit: NASA/JSC

NASA Astronaut Terry Virts Salutes Leonard Nimoy from Orbit
International Space Station astronaut Terry Virts tweeted this image of a Vulcan hand salute from orbit as a tribute to actor Leonard Nimoy, who died on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Nimoy played science officer Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series that served as an inspiration to generations of scientists, engineers and sci-fi fans around the world.
Cape Cod and Boston, Massachusetts, Nimoy’s home town, are visible through the station window.
Credit: NASA/JSC

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: February 26, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: February 26, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: January 30, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: January 30, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: February 23, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: February 23, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: February 7, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: February 7, 2015

Goodnight from Space | International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: January 3, 2015

Goodnight from Space | International Space Station
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: January 3, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: February 20, 2015

Good Morning from Space! | International Space Station
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: February 20, 2015

  Lenticular Earth Cloud, Moon, Mars, Venus  Image Credit & Copyright: Nuno Serrão


Lenticular Earth Cloud, Moon, Mars, Venus
Image Credit & Copyright: Nuno Serrão

 Lenticular Earth Cloud, Moon, Mars, Venus
It is not every day that such an interesting cloud photobombs your image. The original plan was to photograph a rare angular conjunction of Mars and Venus that occurred a week and a half ago, with the added bonus of a crescent Moon and the International Space Station (ISS) both passing nearby. Unfortunately, on Madeira Island, Portugal, this event was clouded out. During the next day, however, a spectacular lenticular cloud appeared before sunset, so the industrious astrophotographer quickly formulated a new plan. A close look at the resulting image reveals the Moon visible toward the left of the frame, while underneath, near the bottom, are the famous planets with Venus being the brighter. It was the unexpected lenticular cloud, though, perhaps looking like some sort of futuristic spaceship, that stole the show.

The setting Sun illuminated the stationary cloud (and everything else) from the bottom, setting up an intricate pattern of shadows, layers, and brightly illuminated regions, all seen evolving in a corresponding video. Mars and Venus will next appear this close on the sky in late August, but whether any place on Earth will catch them behind such a photogenic cloud is unknown.

A young star takes center stage | Hubble Space Telescope Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Karl Stapelfeldt (GSFC), B. Stecklum and A. Choudhary (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Germany)

A young star takes center stage | Hubble Space Telescope
Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, Karl Stapelfeldt (GSFC), B. Stecklum and A. Choudhary (Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Germany)

A young star takes center stage | Hubble Space Telescope
With its helical appearance resembling a snail’s shell, this reflection nebula seems to spiral out from a luminous central star in this new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image. The star in the center, known as V1331 Cyg and located in the dark cloud LDN 981 — or, more commonly, Lynds 981—had previously been defined as a T Tauri star. A T Tauri is a young star—or Young Stellar Object—that is starting to contract to become a main sequence star similar to the Sun.

What makes V1331Cyg special is the fact that we look almost exactly at one of its poles. Usually, the view of a young star is obscured by the dust from the circumstellar disc and the envelope that surround it. However, with V1331Cyg we are actually looking in the exact direction of a jet driven by the star that is clearing the dust and giving us this magnificent view.

This view provides an almost undisturbed view of the star and its immediate surroundings allowing astronomers to study it in greater detail and look for features that might suggest the formation of a very low-mass object in the outer circumstellar disc.

Variable Stars in a Distant Spiral Galaxy | Hubble Space Telescope Credit: NASA/ESA, Hubble Space Telescope Release Date: May 1, 1999

Variable Stars in a Distant Spiral Galaxy | Hubble Space Telescope
Credit: NASA/ESA, Hubble Space Telescope
Release Date: May 1, 1999

Variable Stars in a Distant Spiral Galaxy | Hubble Space Telescope
A NASA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) view of the magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 4603, the most distant galaxy in which a special class of pulsating stars called Cepheid variables have been found. It is associated with the Centaurus cluster, one of the most massive assemblages of galaxies in the nearby universe. The Local Group of galaxies, of which The Milky Way is a member, is moving in the direction of Centaurus at a speed of more than a million miles an hour under the influence of the gravitational pull of the matter in that direction.

Clusters of young bright blue stars highlight the galaxy’s spiral arms. In contrast, red giant stars in the process of dying are also found. Only the very brightest stars in NGC 4603 can be seen individually, even with the unmatched ability of the Hubble Space Telescope to obtain detailed images of distant objects. Much of the diffuse glow comes from fainter stars that cannot be individually distinguished by Hubble. The reddish filaments are regions where clouds of dust obscure blue light from the stars behind them.

This galaxy was observed by a team affiliated with the HST Key Project on the Extragalactic Distance Scale. Because NGC 4603 is much farther away than the other galaxies studied with Hubble by the Key Project team, 108 million light-years, its stars appear very faint from the Earth, and so accurately measuring their brightness, as is required for distinguishing the characteristic variations of Cepheids, is extremely difficult. Determining the distance to the galaxy required an unprecedented statistical analysis based on extensive computer simulations.

NGC 300: Wide-field image This wide field image, from the Digitized Sky Survey 2, shows the area around the spiral galaxy, NGC 300, six million light-years from Earth. The field of view is about 2.92x2.94 degrees. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

NGC 300: Wide-field image
This wide field image, from the Digitized Sky Survey 2, shows the area around the spiral galaxy, NGC 300, six million light-years from Earth.
The field of view is about 2.92×2.94 degrees.
Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

The United Kingdom | International Space Station Samantha: "Flying over England one beautiful night." Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: January 31, 2015

The United Kingdom | International Space Station
Samantha: “Flying over England one beautiful night.”
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: January 31, 2015

The Island of Hawaii | International Space Station Samantha: "The island of Hawaii and its volcanoes." Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy Image Date: February 18, 2015

The Island of Hawaii | International Space Station
Samantha: “The island of Hawaii and its volcanoes.”
Credit: ESA/NASA, ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of Italy
Image Date: February 18, 2015

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Astronomy: The Hubble Space Telescope at 25

Hubble pics combined

Since 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting Earth, capturing images of the cosmos that have “fundamentally changed humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.”

This year, to celebrate the telescope’s 25th anniversary, NASA and the European Space Agency have compiled 25 of the Hubble’s best and most important images — one for each year that the telescope has orbited our planet.

Learn more about each image by clicking on the link beneath it.

1990: Supernova 1987A (SN 1987a) Credit: NASA, ESA, and STScI

1990: Supernova 1987A (SN 1987a) Credit: NASA, ESA, and STScI

(Read about the image here.)

1991: NGC 4621 Credit: Walter Jaffe/Leiden Observatory, Holland Ford/JHU/STScI, and NASA

1991: NGC 4621 Credit: Walter Jaffe/Leiden Observatory, Holland Ford/JHU/STScI, and NASA

(Read about the image here.)

1992: Orion Nebula Credit: C.R. O'Dell (Rice University), and NASA

1992: Orion Nebula Credit: C.R. O’Dell (Rice University), and NASA

(Read about the image here.)

1993: Veil Nebula Credit: J.J. Hester (Arizona State University), and NASA

1993: Veil Nebula Credit: J.J. Hester (Arizona State University), and NASA

(Read about the image here.)

1994: Spiral Galaxy M100 Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI

1994: Spiral Galaxy M100 Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI

(Read about the image here.)

1995: Eagle Nebula, M16 Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

1995: Eagle Nebula, M16 Credit: NASA, ESA, STScI, J. Hester and P. Scowen (Arizona State University)

(Read about the image here.)

1996: Hubble Deep Field Credit: Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA

1996: Hubble Deep Field Credit: Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA

(Read about the image here.)

1998: NGC 4314 Credit: G. Fritz Benedict, Andrew Howell, Inger Jorgensen, David Chapell (University of Texas), Jeffery Kenney (Yale University), and Beverly J. Smith (CASA, University of Colorado), and NASA

1998: NGC 4314 Credit: G. Fritz Benedict, Andrew Howell, Inger Jorgensen, David Chapell (University of Texas), Jeffery Kenney (Yale University), and Beverly J. Smith (CASA, University of Colorado), and NASA

(Read about the image here.)

1999: Mars Credit: Steve Lee (University of Colorado), Jim Bell (Cornell University), Mike Wolff (Space Science Institute), and NASA

1999: Mars Credit: Steve Lee (University of Colorado), Jim Bell (Cornell University), Mike Wolff (Space Science Institute), and NASA

(Read about the image here.)

2000: The Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) Credit: NASA, Andrew Fruchter and the ERO Team [Sylvia Baggett (STScI), Richard Hook (ST-ECF), Zoltan Levay (STScI)

2000: The Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) Credit: NASA, Andrew Fruchter and the ERO Team [Sylvia Baggett (STScI), Richard Hook (ST-ECF), Zoltan Levay (STScI)

(Read about the image here.)

2001: Warped Edge-On Galaxy ESO 510-G13 Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), Acknowledgment: C. Conselice (U. Wisconsin/STScI)

2001: Warped Edge-On Galaxy ESO 510-G13 Image Credit: NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), Acknowledgment: C. Conselice (U. Wisconsin/STScI)

(Read about the image here.)

2002: Tadpole Galaxy Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

2002: Tadpole Galaxy Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

(Read about the image here.)

2003: V838 Monocerotis Credit: NASA, ESA and H.E. Bond (STScI)

2003: V838 Monocerotis Credit: NASA, ESA and H.E. Bond (STScI)

(Read about the image here.)

2004: Helix Nebula Credit: NASA, ESA, C.R. O'Dell (Vanderbilt University), M. Meixner and P. McCullough (STScI)

2004: Helix Nebula Credit: NASA, ESA, C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University), M. Meixner and P. McCullough (STScI)

(Read about the image here.)

2005: Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

2005: Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

(Read about the image here.)

2006: Orion Nebula Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

2006: Orion Nebula Credit: NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

(Read about the image here.)

2007: NGC 602 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration

2007: NGC 602 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) – ESA/Hubble Collaboration

(Read about the image here.)

2008: Interacting Galaxy Arp 148 Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

2008: Interacting Galaxy Arp 148 Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University)

(Read about the image here.)

2009: Saturn Quadruple Moon Transit Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

2009: Saturn Quadruple Moon Transit Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

(Read about the image here.)

2010: Pillar and Jets in Carina Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

2010: Pillar and Jets in Carina Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

(Read about the image here.)

2011: Interacting Galaxies Arp 273 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

2011: Interacting Galaxies Arp 273 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

(Read about the image here.)

2012: Planetary Nebula NGC 5189 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

2012: Planetary Nebula NGC 5189 Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

(Read about the image here.)

2013: Horsehead Nebula Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

2013: Horsehead Nebula Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

(Read about the image here.)

2014: Frontier Field Abell 2744 Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI)

2014: Frontier Field Abell 2744 Credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI)

(Read about the image here.)

On the Web: Hubble Space Telescope

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Ancient System with Five Small Planets Discovered

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist's conception. Image Credit: NASA

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disc of their parent star, as shown in this artist’s conception.
Image Credit: NASA

Astronomers using data from the NASA’s Kepler Mission have discovered a system of five small planets dating back to when the Milky Way galaxy was a youthful two billion years old.

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five planets that range in size, the smallest comparable to the size of Mercury and the largest to Venus. All five planets orbit their sun-like star in less than ten days, which makes their orbits much closer than Mercury’s sweltering 88-day orbit around the sun.

“While this star formed a long time ago, in fact before most of the stars in the Milky Way, we have no indication that any of these planets have now or ever had life on them,” said Steve Howell, Kepler/K2 project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “At their current orbital distances, life as we know it could not exist on these ancient worlds.”

Kepler-444 formed 11.2 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 20 percent its current age. This makes Kepler-444 the oldest known system of terrestrial-size planets, two and a half times older than the Earth.

To determine the age of the star and thus its planets, scientists measured the very small change in brightness of the host star caused by pressure waves within the star. The boiling motion beneath the surface of the star generates these pressure waves, affecting the star’s temperature and luminosity. These fluctuations lead to miniscule changes or variations in a star’s brightness. This study of the interior of stars is called asteroseismology and allows the researchers to measure the diameter, mass and age of a star.

The Kepler-444 system is approximately 117 light-years away toward the constellation Lyra. A paper reporting this discovery is published in The Astrophysical Journal. More information on the discovery can be found on the University of Birmingham’s press release.

Ames is responsible for Kepler’s mission operations, ground system development and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The NASA Exoplanet Archive in Pasadena and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archive, host and distribute Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

On the Web:  NASA’s Kepler mission

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A Splendor Seldom Seen

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NASA’s Cassini–Huygens spacecraft has delivered a glorious view of Saturn, taken while the spacecraft was in Saturn’s shadow. The cameras were turned toward Saturn and the sun so that the planet and rings are backlit. (The Sun is behind the planet, which is shielding the cameras from direct sunlight.) In addition to the visual splendor, this special, very-high-phase viewing geometry lets scientists study ring and atmosphere phenomena not easily seen at a lower phase.

Since images like this can only be taken while the sun is behind the planet, this beautiful view is all the more precious for its rarity. The last time Cassini captured a view like this was in Sept. 2006, when it captured a mosaic processed to look like natural color, entitled “In Saturn’s Shadow.” In that mosaic, planet Earth put in a special appearance, making “In Saturn’s Shadow” one of the most popular Cassini images to date. Earth does not appear in this mosaic as it is hidden behind the planet.

Also captured in this image are two of Saturn’s moons: Enceladus and Tethys. Both appear on the left side of the planet, below the rings. Enceladus is closer to the rings; Tethys is below and to the left.

This view looks toward the non-illuminated side of the rings from about 19 degrees below the ring plane.

Images taken using infrared, red and violet spectral filters were combined to create this enhanced-color view. The images were obtained with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Oct. 17, 2012 at a distance of approximately 500,000 miles (800,000 kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale at Saturn is about 30 miles per pixel (50 kilometers per pixel).

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

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