Category Archives: News

Final Encounter: Cassini and Dione

The Cassini Spacecraft swooped in for the last of five close encounters with one of the most beautiful moons in our solar system: Dione. After more than a decade exploring the Saturn system, the Cassini-Huygens mission must be regarded as one of the most successful science missions ever. It has already amassed one of the greatest photographic collections of all time. Revel in the details of Dione out near the limits of the solar system.

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Is the Universe Dying?

So what else is new? Science has known since the late 1990s that the universe is accelerating outward. That means it will continue to dissipate on into the future through a number of well defined epochs. A large international collaboration called the Galaxy and Mass Assembly Project (GAMA) has been surveying deep regions of the universe to find out how the energy output of galaxies has changed.

They found that a large sampling are emitting about half the energy they did two billion years ago. This is because rates of star birth are steadily declining. This is part of a slow decline in our current epoch, known as the Stellar Epoch, the epoch of stars. As one astronomer put it, the universe has settled down on the couch, while getting lazier and older. The timeline of this epoch, however, is many trillions of years into the future.

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When A Solar Storm Engulfs Earth

What happens with a giant solar outburst on the scale of the Great Solar Storm of 1859 hits the Earth. Solar scientists got a taste of such a blast in 2012 when the Sun erupted in a giant coronal mass ejection. In one of the largest solar computer simulations ever performed, scientists tracked the impact of a massive wave of solar plasma as it slammed into Earth.

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A High Energy Revelation

Measurements of unprecedented detail returned by Japan’s Hitomi satellite have allowed scientists to track the motion of X-ray-emitting gas at the heart of the Perseus cluster of galaxies for the first time. Located about 240 million light-years away and named for its host constellation, the Perseus galaxy cluster contains a vast amount of extremely hot gas.

At temperatures averaging 90 million degrees Fahrenheit (50 million degrees Celsius), the gas glows brightly in X-rays. Prior to Hitomi’s launch, astronomers lacked the capability to measure the detailed dynamics of this gas, particularly its relationship to bubbles of gas expelled by an active supermassive black hole in the cluster’s core galaxy, NGC 1275.

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Cinematic Mars

Mars Express, the first planetary mission of the European Space Agency, was sent to the Red Planet in 2003. It sent a lander down to the surface, and although it failed to fully deploy , the orbiter has been taking pictures and mapping the surface ever since. It has produced high-resolution mineralogical maps, radar soundings of permafrost, and probing the composition of the atmosphere.

Its images, now released for general use, show the dramatic landscapes of Mars, sculpted by ancient volcanoes, water flows, and the scouring action of dust storms. Now we an revel in these cinematic images and imagine what it’s like to fly over the surface of Mars.

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Mars: Death of a Planet

This is the story of a discovery made on St. Patrick’s Day, 2015. We learned just how much Mars is at the mercy of our sun. During a solar outburst that hit Mars that day, the NASA spacecraft Maven measured an accelerated loss of molecules in its upper atmosphere.

In its early days, Mars appears to have had enough surface water to cover the entire planet to a depth of 140 meters, and an atmosphere that was thick enough to hold it there. But a more active sun in those days began a long slow process of steadily eroding the Martian air and sending it out into space. The water dried up, and whatever life forms had developed had no chance to thrive and evolve on the surface.

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Proxima B: The Pale Red Dot

The Pale Red Dot campaign was launched to find a planet orbiting our nearest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri. Incredibly, the quest succeeded and astronomers detected a planet. The planet, Proxima b, falls within the habitable zone of its host star. It is by far the closest potential abode for alien life.

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Finding Earth’s Twin

Among the methods astronomers have used to discover extra solar planets, the most successful is a technique called transit photometry. It measures changes in a star’s brightness caused when a planet crosses in front of its star along our line of sight.

Astronomers using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope have employed this technique to become the most successful planet-hunting spacecraft to date, with more than a thousand established discoveries and many more awaiting confirmation. Future missions carrying improved technology are now in the works.

How much can they tell us about alien planetary systems similar to our own?A great deal, according to a recently published study. It shows that in the best-case scenarios, these upcoming missions could uncover planetary moons, ringed worlds similar to Saturn, and even large collections of asteroids.

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has used this technique to become the most successful planet-hunting spacecraft to date, with more than a thousand established discoveries and many more awaiting confirmation. Missions carrying improved technology are now planned, but how much more can they tell us about alien planetary systems similar to our own?

A great deal, according to recently published studies by Michael Hippke at the Institute for Data Analysis in Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany, Continue reading Finding Earth’s Twin

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