NASA’s Hubble telescope spots rare exploding supernova

This image shows the appearances of the Refsdal supernova. The uppermost circle shows the position of the supernova as it could have been seen in 1998. The lowermost circle shows the galaxy which lensed the supernova four time � a discovery made in late 2014. The middle circle shows the latest position of the reappearing supernova in 2015.

This image shows the appearances of the Refsdal supernova. The uppermost circle shows the position of the supernova as it could have been seen in 1998. The lowermost circle shows the galaxy which lensed the supernova four time — a discovery made in late 2014. The middle circle shows the latest position of the reappearing supernova in 2015.(ESA/Hubble )

A supernova that exploded some 10 billion years ago has been captured by Hubble Space Telescope.

And scientists saw this one coming. The Refsdal supernova had been spotted in the galaxy cluster MACS J1149.5+2223. Its reappearance was correctly calculated from different models of the galaxy cluster whose immense gravity is warping the supernova’s light.

Related: NASA releases stunning image of a supernova’s remnants

“We used seven different models of the cluster to calculate when and where the supernova was going to appear in the future. It was a huge effort from the community to gather the necessary input data using Hubble, VLT-MUSE, and Keck and to construct the lens models,” University of California at Los Angeles’ Tommaso Treu, who led the research on the supernova modeling, said in a statement. “And remarkably all seven models predicted approximately the same time frame for when the new image of the exploding star would appear.”

The supernova has been nicknamed Refsdal in honor of the Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal, who, in 1964, first proposed using time-delayed images from a lensed supernova to study the expansion of the Universe. A supernova is an explosion of a star and also is the largest explosion in space.

Related: Supernova discovery reveals how the biggest, brightest stars die

The story of Refsdal began in November 2014 when scientists spotted four separate images of the supernova in a rare arrangement known as an Einstein Cross around a galaxy within MACS J1149.5+2223. The cosmic optical illusion was due to the mass of a single galaxy within the cluster warping and magnifying the light from the distant stellar explosion in a process known as gravitational lensing.

“While studying the supernova, we realized that the galaxy in which it exploded is already known to be a galaxy that is being lensed by the cluster,” University of South Carolina’s Steve Rodney, who was involved in the research, said in a statement. “The supernova’s host galaxy appears to us in at least three distinct images caused by the warping mass of the galaxy cluster.”

With so many images of the galaxy, scientists were presented with a rare opportunity.  Since the matter in these clusters is distributed unevenly, the light creating each of these images takes a different path with a different length. As a result, images of the host galaxy of the supernova are visible at different times.

Using other lensed galaxies within the cluster and combining them with the discovery of the Einstein Cross event in 2014, astronomers were able to make precise predictions for the reappearance of the supernova.

Related: Hubble spots faintest galaxy from early universe

Since October, scientists directed Hubble to periodically peer at MACS J1149.5+2223 – hoping to observe Refsdal. Their persistence paid off on Dec. 11.

“Hubble has showcased the modern scientific method at its best,” University of California Berkeley’s Patrick Kelly, who led the researcher of the discovery and supernova’s re-appearance papers and took part in the modeling of it, said in a statement. “Testing predictions through observations provides powerful means of improving our understanding of the cosmos.”

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NASA releases stunning phytoplankton photo

(NASA image by Norman Kuring, using VIIRS data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership)

(NASA image by Norman Kuring, using VIIRS data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership)

NASA has released a rare and stunning image of phytoplankton in bloom.

The detailed image of an autumnal phytoplankton bloom in the North Atlantic Ocean was captured by researchers on Sept. 23.

It is known that phytoplankton, which are microscopic plant-like organisms, play a role in carbon cycling, but it has been theorized that they also influence clouds and climate.

Related: These Jupiter-like exoplanets aren’t so dry after all

North Atlantic phytoplankton typically bloom in the spring and fall, but become harder to spot in the fall due to intensity in weather conditions.

Researchers were able to capture the image using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. The image was then enhanced using data from red, green and blue bands from VIIRS alongside chlorophyll data.

In a press release on NASA’s website, Michael Behrenfeld, a phytoplankton ecologist at Oregon State University, said the image showed the link between ocean physics and biology.

Related: Saturn’s largest moon Titan is bursting with color

“The features that jump out so clearly represent the influence of ocean eddies and physical stirring on the concentration of phytoplankton pigments and, possibly, colored dissolved organic matter,” he said.

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NASA’s Hubble telescope spots rare exploding supernova

This image shows the appearances of the Refsdal supernova. The uppermost circle shows the position of the supernova as it could have been seen in 1998. The lowermost circle shows the galaxy which lensed the supernova four time � a discovery made in late 2014. The middle circle shows the latest position of the reappearing supernova in 2015.

This image shows the appearances of the Refsdal supernova. The uppermost circle shows the position of the supernova as it could have been seen in 1998. The lowermost circle shows the galaxy which lensed the supernova four time — a discovery made in late 2014. The middle circle shows the latest position of the reappearing supernova in 2015.(ESA/Hubble )

A supernova that exploded some 10 billion years ago has been captured by Hubble Space Telescope.

And scientists saw this one coming. The Refsdal supernova had been spotted in the galaxy cluster MACS J1149.5+2223. Its reappearance was correctly calculated from different models of the galaxy cluster whose immense gravity is warping the supernova’s light.

 

“We used seven different models of the cluster to calculate when and where the supernova was going to appear in the future. It was a huge effort from the community to gather the necessary input data using Hubble, VLT-MUSE, and Keck and to construct the lens models,” University of California at Los Angeles’ Tommaso Treu, who led the research on the supernova modeling, said in a statement. “And remarkably all seven models predicted approximately the same time frame for when the new image of the exploding star would appear.”

The supernova has been nicknamed Refsdal in honor of the Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal, who, in 1964, first proposed using time-delayed images from a lensed supernova to study the expansion of the Universe. A supernova is an explosion of a star and also is the largest explosion in space.

 

The story of Refsdal began in November 2014 when scientists spotted four separate images of the supernova in a rare arrangement known as an Einstein Cross around a galaxy within MACS J1149.5+2223. The cosmic optical illusion was due to the mass of a single galaxy within the cluster warping and magnifying the light from the distant stellar explosion in a process known as gravitational lensing.

“While studying the supernova, we realized that the galaxy in which it exploded is already known to be a galaxy that is being lensed by the cluster,” University of South Carolina’s Steve Rodney, who was involved in the research, said in a statement. “The supernova’s host galaxy appears to us in at least three distinct images caused by the warping mass of the galaxy cluster.”

With so many images of the galaxy, scientists were presented with a rare opportunity.  Since the matter in these clusters is distributed unevenly, the light creating each of these images takes a different path with a different length. As a result, images of the host galaxy of the supernova are visible at different times.

Using other lensed galaxies within the cluster and combining them with the discovery of the Einstein Cross event in 2014, astronomers were able to make precise predictions for the reappearance of the supernova.

 

Since October, scientists directed Hubble to periodically peer at MACS J1149.5+2223 – hoping to observe Refsdal. Their persistence paid off on Dec. 11.

“Hubble has showcased the modern scientific method at its best,” University of California Berkeley’s Patrick Kelly, who led the researcher of the discovery and supernova’s re-appearance papers and took part in the modeling of it, said in a statement. “Testing predictions through observations provides powerful means of improving our understanding of the cosmos.”

NASA Want Ad: Astronauts needed to help get to Mars, 4 kinds of spacecraft at their disposal

In this photo provided by NASA and posted on Twitter on Oct. 26, 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly tries on his spacesuit inside the U.S. Quest airlock of the International Space Station. NASA opened its astronaut-application website Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It's accepting applications through Feb. 18, 2016. (NASA via AP)

In this photo provided by NASA and posted on Twitter on Oct. 26, 2015, astronaut Scott Kelly tries on his spacesuit inside the U.S. Quest airlock of the International Space Station. NASA opened its astronaut-application website Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. It’s accepting applications through Feb. 18, 2016. (NASA via AP)

Need more office space? How about outer space?

NASA opened its astronaut-application website Monday. It’s accepting applications through Feb. 18.

Contenders need to be U.S. citizens with a bachelor’s degree in science, math or engineering. Expect intense competition: More than 6,000 applied for NASA’s last astronaut class in 2013, with only eight picked. It’s an elite club, numbering only in the 300s since the original Mercury 7 chosen in 1959.

Future astronauts will have four spacecraft at their disposal: the International Space Station, two commercial crew capsules to get there, and NASA’s Orion spacecraft for eventual Mars trips. Pay is between $66,000 and $145,000 a year, and you’ll have to move to Houston.

Astronaut criteria have changed over the years, said Brian Kelly, director of flight operations at Johnson Space Center.

“Some people would be surprised to learn they might have what it takes,” Kelly said in a statement. “We want and need a diverse mix of individuals to ensure we have the best astronaut corps possible.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a member of the Astronaut Class of 1980, said this next group will help “blaze the trail” to Mars.

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Cassini probe takes ‘cosmic bulls-eye’ of Saturn moons Enceladus,Tethys

 

 

 

 

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

The moons of Saturn are doing their best to upstage the planet’s iconic rings.

After Cassini snapped an image of Enceladus lurking in the darkness, the probe has come back with this stunner of Enceladus almost merging with the larger, Tethys in what NASA described as a cosmic bulls-eye.

Related: Check out this stunning Cassini image of Saturn’s rings and its moon Enceladus

Since the two moons are aligned and at similar distances from Cassini, the images offers up a good approximation of the relative sizes of Enceladus (313 miles across) and Tethys (660 miles across). This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from 0.34 degrees below the ring plane and was taken Sept. 24 in red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera.

The image was taken from distance of approximately 1.3 million miles from Enceladus. Tethys was at a distance of 1.6 million miles (2.6 million kilometers).

Related: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to make flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus

Since 2004, Cassini has been orbiting Saturn at a distance of about 980 million miles from Earth. In that time, the mission which is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, has made dozens of flybys of Saturn’s moons.

In the future, a different spacecraft may journey across the solar system to visit icy Enceladus. This spacecraft, unlike Cassini, could be designed to land on Enceladus’ surface, near one of its “tiger stripes.” Such a lander would be able to take samples more directly, bypassing the plume altogether.

 

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Geminid meteor shower set to put on dazzling display

A Geminid meteor. Image credit: Jimmy Westlake

A Geminid meteor. Image credit: Jimmy Westlake

This weekend marks the return of one of the best meteor showers in the year, the Geminids. They will occur with almost no moon in the sky, so they will be particularly easy to see.

As the Earth moves around its orbit, it passes through various “debris fields” — collections of small particles shed by various comets of the past. In rare cases, asteroids rather than comets cause these fields, and the Geminid meteor shower is one of those exceptions.

This year, the Geminids peak around 1 p.m. EST on Dec. 14. This means that either the night before or the night of the 14th may be the best for observing the Geminids. Dress warmly, make yourself comfortable and prepare to be patient. Meteors are “naked eye” objects; telescopes and binoculars have too narrow a field of view to catch them.

The Geminids appear to be related to the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This very unusual asteroid has an orbit that’s more like a comet — it comes closer to the sun than any other named asteroid: less than half of Mercury’s closest distance to the sun. This brings it within 13 million miles (21 million kilometers) of the sun, and raises its surface temperature to a scorching 1,390 degrees Fahrenheit (750 degrees Celsius). It is thought to be a comet that has been stripped of its ices by its repeated visits close to the sun. [Geminid Meteor Shower Pictures by Stargazers]

The Geminids, along with the August Perseids, are the two most active annual meteor showers. They can always be relied upon to put on a good show, and that is especially true this year, because the moon will be only a few days old, setting early in the evening.

People who are new to astronomy often aren’t sure how to view meteor showers. While a few meteors are visible on any clear night, during a meteor shower they are more frequent, but it still requires some patience to spot more than one or two.

The best view of most meteor showers is after midnight, when the Earth is heading directly into the meteor particles. The Geminids are unusual because the point in the sky from which they radiate is in the northern portion of the constellation Gemini, and so is above the horizon most of the night for observers in the northern hemisphere.

Beginners often ask which direction they should look for the Geminids. It really doesn’t matter much. Although the meteors appear to radiate from a point just above the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini, they can appear anywhere in the sky. I generally prefer to look in the east for these meteors.

Sometimes you must wait half an hour or more before seeing a meteor; then you may get a whole bunch of them in a row. A dark sky is essential; the moon will not be a problem this year, but any light pollution will reduce your chances of seeing meteors.

You can probably record some meteors with a digital camera using a time exposure of from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. In the old days of film, astrophotographers often wasted a lot of pictures before they got one or two good shots. With digital cameras, you can simply throw away the shots that don’t show any meteors. As always, we welcome your pictures of Geminid meteors.

This article was provided to SPACE.com by Simulation Curriculum, the leader in space science curriculum solutions and the makers of Starry Night andSkySafari. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu. Follow us@Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

 

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Saturn’s largest moon Titan is bursting with color

Saturn's moon Titan.

Saturn’s moon Titan. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has managed to penetrate the haze of Saturn’s moon Titan, revealing a world basking in blues, greens and even reds.

During this Titan flyby in November, the spacecraft’s closest-approach altitude was 6,200 miles. That is considerably higher than those of typical flybys, which are around 750 miles. The view looks toward terrain that is mostly on the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Titan and features the parallel, dark, dune-filled regions named Fensal (to the north) and Aztlan (to the south), which form the shape of a sideways letter “H.”

Related: Giant dunes on Saturn’s moon Titan sculpted by rogue winds

Due to the changing Saturnian seasons, in this late northern spring view, the illumination is much different than what was seen by VIMS during the “T-9” flyby on December 26, 2005. The sun has moved higher in the sky in Titan’s northern hemisphere, and lower in the sky in the south, as northern summer approaches. This change in the sun’s angle has made high southern latitudes appear darker, while northern latitudes appear brighter.

Related: Saturn’s Moon Titan Ready for Its Close-Up

The Cassini mission, a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, launched in 1997 and arrived in orbit around Saturn in July 2004. The mission — centered on understanding Saturn and its many moons — is expected to continue until 2017 when the spacecraft will be crashed into Saturn’s atmosphere.

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Scientists begin to unravel mystery behind bright spots on Ceres

False-color view of Occator Crater showing differences in surface composition. Red corresponds to a wavelength range around 0.97 micrometers (near infrared), green to a wavelength range around 0.75 micrometers (red, visible light) and blue to a

False-color view of Occator Crater showing differences in surface composition. Red corresponds to a wavelength range around 0.97 micrometers (near infrared), green to a wavelength range around 0.75 micrometers (red, visible light) and blue to a (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

The bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres have confounded NASA so much that it actually reached out to the public for help.

Now, a team of researchers has some answers.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, Andreas Nathues and his colleagues documented 130 spots on Ceres ranging in brightness from the color of concrete to ocean ice. It also found these “unusual areas” of brightness are consistent with the presence of “hydrated magnesium sulfates mixed with dark background material.”

On Earth, a different type of magnesium sulfate is familiar as Epsom salt.

Related: Ceres’ bright spots still shrouded in mystery

“Of particular interest is a bright pit on the floor of crater Occator that exhibits probable sublimation of water ice, producing haze clouds inside the crater that appear and disappear with a diurnal rhythm,” the researchers said of the crater that is about 55 miles wide and 2.5 miles deep.

The results suggest Ceres is the first large body in the main asteroid belt to display “comet-like activity.”

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft successfully entered Ceres‘ orbit March 6, making history as the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. With a diameter of about 590 miles, Ceres is the largest object in the main asteroid belt.

Related: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft prepares for Ceres rendezvous

Along with the spots, researchers have in the past discovered evidence of water on Ceres in the form of vapor plumes erupting into space. Minerals were also found but they couldn’t be identified because certain critical wavelengths could not be observed.

But in a related study in Nature also Wednesday, Maria Cristina De Sanctis and her colleagues have identified those minerals and concluded the dwarf planet may have formed in the outer solar system.

Using the Visible-Infrared Mapping Spectrometer on the Dawn spacecraft, they obtained new spectral data acquired from a distance of 50,952 miles to 2,671 miles from the surface of Ceres. These measurements showed that ammoniated phyllosilicates was widespread on the surface of the dwarf planet and that ammonia, incorporated into the planet either as organic matter or as ice, may have reacted with Ceres’ clays during its formation.

Related: Could the dwarf planet Ceres support life?

Since ammonia is stable only at cold temperatures of the outer Solar System, it would suggest that Ceres formed before reaching the main asteroid belt or that pebble sized objects were transported from that region and incorporated into the main asteroid belt.

If it did form in the outer solar system, the researchers suggest it was probably in the “the trans-Neptunian disk, before being subsequently implanted in the main belt.”

“This view is corroborated by the presence of ammonia ice on other large trans-Neptunian objects, such as Orcus and Charon,” the researchers wrote. “The implantation of Ceres in the main belt could have taken place during a migratory phase of the giant planets, either during their growth in the protoplanetary disk, or at a later time as a result of an orbital instability.”

Originally available here

New Pluto photos show breathtaking views of dwarf planet

This image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft shows sections of Pluto's water-ice crust (NASA)

This image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows sections of Pluto’s water-ice crust (NASA)

Get ready to be amazed: NASA today unveiled the best-ever images of Pluto, revealing the dwarf planet’s varied and exotic landscape in amazing detail.

The spectacular photos which were captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its historic Pluto flyby on July 14, show close-up views of the dwarf planet’s towering water-ice mountains and vast plains, resolving fine details such as layering on individual crater walls. You can see the images in this dazzling flyover video from NASA, which was stitched together by mission team members.

“These new images give us a breathtaking, super-high-resolution window into Pluto’s geology,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement Friday. [See more Pluto photos by NASA’s New Horizons probe]

“Nothing of this quality was available for Venus or Mars until decades after their first flybys, yet at Pluto, we’re there already — down among the craters, mountains and ice fields — less than five months after flyby!” Stern added. “The science we can do with these images is simply unbelievable.”

Read more and see more photos at SPACE.COM

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Private Cygnus spacecraft launch Thursday may be visible from US East Coast

On Dec. 2, 2015, the Atlas V rocket carrying the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad, in preparation to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (United Launch Alliance via AP).

On Dec. 2, 2015, the Atlas V rocket carrying the Orbital ATK Cygnus spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad, in preparation to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (United Launch Alliance via AP).

People in the eastern United States might be able to see a private cargo spacecraft launch toward the International Space Station on Thursday evening.

Orbital ATK’s uncrewed Cygnus freighter is scheduled to blast off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Thursday at 5:55 p.m. ET. You can watch the launch live here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV.

Thursday’s launch will be the first for Cygnus since Oct. 28, 2014, when its Antares rocket exploded just seconds after liftoff. (Orbital ATK is revamping Antares, and is using the Atlas V until the new version is ready to go.) [Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft Ready For Return to Flight (Video)]

The Cygnus’ path to space will take it nearly parallel to the U.S. East Coast on Thursday, so the glow created by the two-stage Atlas V’s engines should be visible in varying degrees along much of the Eastern Seaboard, weather permitting.

The Atlas V’s first stage is powered by a single RD-180 engine, which will burn for 4 minutes and 15 seconds before shutting down. Six seconds later, the rocket’s first and second stages will separate. Ten seconds after that, the second stage — the Centaur, which utilizes one RL 10C engine — will be fired, and will burn for 13 minutes and 45 seconds. The Cygnus spacecraft will separate from the upper stage 2 minutes and 49 seconds later and head into orbit.

The Atlas V first stage should create a fairly conspicuous light in the night sky, while the second stage’s glow will likely be considerably dimmer.

What to expect

The launch should be readily visible in much of the southeastern United States, thanks to the fiery output of the Atlas V’s first-stage engine. The light emitted will be visible for the first 4 minutes and 15 seconds of the launch out to a radius of about 500 miles from Cape Canaveral — an area about three times the size of Texas.

Depending on where you are located relative to Cape Canaveral, the Atlas Vmight become visible just seconds after it blasts off Thursday, or up to 4 minutes or so later.

After the first stage shuts down, the Atlas V will be quite a bit dimmer. Just how much dimmer? A comparison with the glow produced by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launches the company’s Dragon capsule on cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS), might be instructive.

On Jan. 10 of this year, Kurt Fanus of the SeeSat-L Internet list observed a Dragon cargo launch from Richmond, Virginia. He described seeing “a diffuse glow traversing the eastern sky. The view through 20 x 80 binoculars was nice, with a good exhaust plume filling the right two-thirds of the field of view. The glowing exhaust cone was a bright orange; the ‘glow’ was brighter than 4th magnitude, but most likely never got to 2nd magnitude, so for the majority of the pass, it hovered around 3rd magnitude. I could be off due to the moonlight, so on a really dark night it would be simple to show the ascent to the general public.” [The World’s Tallest Rockets: How They Stack Up]

Where to look

  • Southeast U.S. coastline: Anywhere north of Cape Canaveral, viewers should initially concentrate on the south-southwest horizon. If you are south of the Cape, look low toward the north-northeast. If you’re west of the Cape, look low toward the east-northeast.
  • Mid-Atlantic region: Look toward the south about 3 to 6 minutes after launch.
  • Northeast: Focus your gaze low toward the south-southeast about 6 to 8 minutes after launch.
  • Nova Scotia and Newfoundland: Concentrate your gaze low toward the south-southwest about 8 to 10 minutes after launch.

For most viewers, depending upon your distance from the coastline, the rocket will be relatively low on the horizon — about 5 to 15 degrees. (Reminder: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.) So be sure there are no buildings or trees to obstruct your view.

The exceptions are along the immediate Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, where the Atlas V will be seen to climb rather high into the southeast sky, and the Avalon Peninsula of southeast Newfoundland, where it will pass almost directly overhead. Because the rocket will likely appear rather small and fuzzy, scanning the sky with binoculars can’t hurt.

Also keep in mind that the vehicle likely will appear to move very fast, much faster than a satellite, due to its near-orbital velocity at low altitudes. The Atlas V will basically travel across 90 degrees of azimuth in less than a minute.

Originally available here