Opportunity Knocks, 10 Years Later

What was supposed to be a 90 day mission has lasted an astounding 10 years. See the incredible rover, Opportunity, and the brilliant scientists keeping her alive and well, with a steady stream of useful scientific data coming in on a daily basis.

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How Large Can a Telescope Be?

From ESOCast: on clear nights we can look up at the stars and marvel at the vastness of the universe. Our eyes quickly adapt to the dark. As our pupils widen, more light streams onto our retinas and fainter stars become more visible. But the light-collecting area of the human eye is tiny. To peer much deeper into the night sky astronomers need telescopes with enormous primary mirrors. How large does modern technology allow us to build telescopes? How far into space can they see?

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Tracking Solar Torrents

In its fourth year in orbit, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has brought us front row center to a show filled with radiant bursts and dark mysteries.

SDO captures images of the sun in 10 different wavelengths, highlighting a range of surface temperatures. These show specific structures…. such as solar flares — giant explosions of light and x-rays — and coronal loops — streams of solar material that travel up and down looping magnetic field lines. These field lines can launch prominence eruptions, when masses of solar material blast off the surface of the sun, often falling back in vast torrents of fire.

Eruptions like these are often associated with dark cool regions called sunspots… below which tangled magnetic fields cause the energy to build to extremes.

One of the largest sunspot clusters in recent years appeared in January 2014. It was a prelude to a powerful X-class flare.

The sun is a complex electromagnetic system, powered by energy generated deep in its core. Scientists study these images because solar eruptions can pose a danger to spacecraft and power systems on Earth, and because they reveal the inner moods of countless stars that live, evolve, and finally die, all across the stage of Continue reading Tracking Solar Torrents

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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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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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Space is exciting