Water Planet

The abundance of water on Earth has shaped nearly every aspect of our lives, even if we are not directly aware of it. Using data sets from a variety of sources, including NOAA and NASA, water is shown to be the primary driver of Earth’s dynamic systems. It is the source of all life on the planet, which is astounding, considering just how rare and precious Earth’s fresh water resources are.

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X-Ray Wind Strips Galaxy

Striking new observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope of a spiral galaxy moving through the heart of a galaxy cluster named Abell 3627. Hot x-ray winds from this cluster are violently ripping the spiral’s entrails out into space, like a stiff headwind, leaving bright blue streaks. From Hubblecast.

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The Search for Earth-Like Planets – Preview

Coming soon… this 30-minute episode of Cosmic Journeys is an updated and expanded version of the old episode. Is Earth one of countless life-bearing worlds strewn about the galaxy? Or is it a rare garden of eden in a barren universe?

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Hubble’s Stunning Monkey Head Nebula

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have captured infrared-light images of a churning region of star birth 6,400 light-years away. New from Hubblecast.

The collection of images reveals a shadowy, dense knot of gas and dust sharply contrasted against a backdrop of brilliant glowing gas in the Monkey Head Nebula (also known as NGC 2174).

The image demonstrates Hubble’s powerful infrared vision and offers a tantalizing hint of what scientists can expect from the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Observations of NGC 2174 were taken in February, 2014.

Massive newborn stars near the center of the nebula (and toward the right in this image) are blasting away at dust within the nebula. The ultraviolet light emitted by these bright stars helps shape the dust into giant pillars.

This carving action occurs because the nebula is mostly composed of hydrogen gas, which becomes ionized by the ultraviolet radiation. As the dust particles are warmed by the ultraviolet light of the stars, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths.

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Cosmic Journeys – The Search for Earth-like Planets

Get the latest from the planet-hunting frontier. Find out what we are learning about our place in the cosmos from the search for earth-like planets.

This journey started tens of thousands of years ago, when humans began to fan out across the planet, following unknown pathways, crossing unmeasured distances. We traced coastlines, and sailed uncertain seas. We crossed ocean straits drained by an ice age.

Into every corner of Earth we ventured, looking for places to put down our roots, to raise our families, or just to see what was there. Today, it’s the final frontier that fires our imaginations. With so many stars in our galaxy, we make a simple extrapolation, that the cosmos must be filled with worlds like ours, with life, even intelligent life.

For four years, the historic planet hunting mission, Kepler, starred at a group of 150,000 stars located in a region extending three thousand light years away from earth.

The data collected by this spacecraft has brought a turning point in the long search for other planets like earth. Is ours one of countless life-bearing worlds strewn about the galaxy; or is it a rare garden of eden in a barren universe?

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Greenland Ice Sheet Changing

NASA observations show the dynamism of Greenland’s Ice sheet in the changing elevation of its surfaces. Recent analysis of seven years of readings from NASA’s ICESat satellite and four years of laser and and ice-penetrating radar data from NASA’s airborne mission Operation IceBridge shows the changes taking place.

In the animation featured here, the colors shown on the surface of the ice sheet represent the accumulated change in elevation since 2003. The light yellow over the central region of the ice sheet indicates a slight thickening due to snow. This accumulation, along with the weight of the ice sheet, pushes ice toward the coast. Thinning near coastal regions, shown in green, blue and purple, has increased over time and now extends into the interior of the ice sheet where the bedrock topography permits. As a result, there has been an average loss of 300 cubic kilometers of ice per year between 2003 and 2012.

This animation portrays the changes occurring in the surface elevation of the ice sheet since 2003 in three drainage regions: the southeast, the northeast and the Jakobshavn regions. In each region, the time advances to show the accumulated change in elevation from 2003 through 2012.

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An Asteroid with Rings?

From ESO, observations made at telescopes in South America have made the surprise discovery that the remote asteroid Chariklo is surrounded by two dense and narrow rings. This is the smallest object 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 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 Chariklo as it passed in front of a star have shown that this object too is surrounded by two fine rings.

Chariklo is the largest member of a class known as the Centaurs and it orbits between Saturn and Uranus in the outer Solar System. The astronomers found much more than they were expecting. A few seconds before, and again a few seconds after the Continue reading An Asteroid with Rings?

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Major New Cosmic Simulation: Why it’s Significant

Scientists have created an important new simulation of cosmic evolution. It takes place in a virtual cube 350 million light-years squared, and spans a time period from 12 million years after the Big Bang to the present day, or around 13 billion years’ worth of cosmic evolution.

The project, called Illustris, encompasses over 12 billion data points to track the rise and evolution of some 50,000 galaxies. The simulation used a total of 8,000 processors, the equivalent of 2,000 years of processing time on a standard desktop computer. The run created half-petabyte of information.

The end result is a model that not only recreates the emergence of stars and galaxies, but the influence of dark matter and the spread of heavy metals throughout the universe.

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Cosmic Journeys – Supervolcanoes

They are eruptions so vast, so Earth-shattering, they have changed the history of our planet. Climate collapse. Toxic turmoil. Mass extinction. Worse than a killer asteroid, or nuclear war, they are Earth’s most destructive Supervolcanoes.

North America, the time was six hundred and forty thousand years ago, long before humans arrived on the continent. Amid one of nature’s great mountain building projects, the Rockies, vast columns of smoke began to rise high into the atmosphere. And soon a smokey haze wrapped the globe.

A thick blanket of ashe spread over the western United States. Geologists have traced this event to a depression in the land known as a caldera, in the heart of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Today, we venture to Yellowstone to admire its spectacles of steam and boiling mud.

Visitors to Yellowstone may never suspect they are atop one of the world’s largest active volcanoes.

The last time it blew, it sent an estimated 1000 cubic kilometers of dirt, rocks, ashe, dust, and soot into the atmosphere. But that’s small compared to Earth’s largest super volcanoes. Find out what made Toba, Siberian Traps, Deccan Traps and other super eruptions so powerful.

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Space is exciting