Hubble telescope captures jaw-dropping beauty of nearby galaxy

This breathtaking new image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures electric-blue wisps of gas and bright stars in the early stages of birth.

This breathtaking new image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures electric-blue wisps of gas and bright stars in the early stages of birth.(ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A spectacular new image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows bright-blue wisps of glowing gas and hot, sparkling, young stars within a satellite dwarf galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

The LMC is one of the smaller satellite galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, and it’s among a collection of galaxies known as the local group. It is one of the closest galaxies to Earth, at about 163,000 light-years away.

This dazzling new Hubble image peers into a stellar nursery known as N159, which measures more than 150 light-years across and houses many hot, newborn stars. [Hubble in Pictures: Astronomers’ Top Picks (Photos)]

“These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs and filaments from the surrounding material,” Hubble researchers said in a statementwhen debuting the photo.

Within this stellar nursery lies a butterfly-shaped cosmic cloud known as the Papillon Nebula. The region consists of vast amounts of dense gas that give way to the birth of new stars.

N159 is located south of the Tarantula Nebula, which is designated heic1402 — another region known for massive star birth within the LMC. The Tarantula Nebula is located 170,000 light-years from Earth and is believed to house hundreds of thousands of stars. Inside the Tarantula Nebula lies an incredibly bright region known as 30 Doradus, which is considered a hotspot for star formation, according to the statement, released jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency.

This beautiful new image, one of many taken by the Hubble telescope, was captured using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Original article on Space.com.

Curiosity rover sends back striking images of Mars rock formations

Sept. 8, 2016: This image take by the Mars Curiosity Rover shows a dramatic hillside outcrop with sandstone layers.

Sept. 8, 2016: This image take by the Mars Curiosity Rover shows a dramatic hillside outcrop with sandstone layers.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA has released new color images taken by the Curiosity Mars rover, which it says will help increase understanding of the red planet’s landscape.

The pictures, taken on Thursday, were taken in the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp, an 18,000ft mountain, where the Rover has been based since 2014.

Curiosity is looking into how and when habitable conditions on Mars that were once present evolved into drier conditions less favourable for life on the planet.

Curiosity Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said the team was “thrilled” to undertake the expedition, describing the landscape as “a bit of American desert Southwest on Mars”.

The striking rock formations captured by the rover’s Mast Camera, are the remnants of ancient sandstone which were formed when winds deposited sand on the lower regions of the mountain.

Mr Vasavada said: “Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today.”

Since the images were taken, the rover has left the buttes and is set to continue its journey higher up Mount Sharp.

The Curiosity team plan to create several mosaics from the images, with NASA saying they compare to photos taken in American national parks.

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NASA spacecraft beams back incredible images of Jupiter

This Aug. 27, 2016 infrared image provided by NASA shows the southern aurora of Jupiter, captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft.

This Aug. 27, 2016 infrared image provided by NASA shows the southern aurora of Jupiter, captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS via AP)

A NASA spacecraft has captured the best views of Jupiter yet, revealing turbulent storms in the north pole.

Jupiter’s northern polar region is stormier than expected and appears bluer than the rest of the planet, said mission chief scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

“This image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter,” he said in a statement.

NASA on Friday released a batch of close-up pictures taken by the Juno spacecraft last week when it flew within 2,500 miles of Jupiter’s dense cloud tops.

During the rendezvous that took Juno from pole to pole, the solar-powered spacecraft turned on its camera and instruments to collect data.

The first glimpse of Jupiter’s poles came in 1974 when Pioneer 11 flew by on its way to Saturn.

The detailed pictures taken by Juno look “like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” Bolton said.

Juno also sent back unique views of Jupiter’s bright southern lights considered the most powerful in the solar system.

The flyby was the first of three dozen planned close passes during the 20-month mission.

Unlike rocky Earth and Mars, Jupiter is a gas giant that likely formed first, shortly after the sun. Studying the largest planet in the solar system may hold clues to understanding how Earth and the rest of the planets formed.

After a five-year journey, Juno slipped into orbit around Jupiter in July to map the massive planet’s poles, atmosphere and interior. It’s the first spacecraft to carry a titanium vault designed to shield its computer and electronics from intense radiation.

Juno is only the second mission to orbit Jupiter. When it completes its job in 2018, it will deliberately crash into Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrate. NASA planned the finale so that Juno won’t accidentally smack into Jupiter’s moons, particularly the icy moon Europa, a target of future exploration.

A newfound asteroid just buzzed harmlessly by Earth

Orbit diagram for the newfound asteroid 2016 QA2, which flew by Earth on Aug. 28, 2016.

Orbit diagram for the newfound asteroid 2016 QA2, which flew by Earth on Aug. 28, 2016.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An asteroid gave Earth a close shave Sunday, Aug. 28, just a day after astronomers first spotted the object.

The newfound asteroid 2016 QA2 zoomed within 50,000 miles or so of the planet Sunday. For perspective, the moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 239,000 miles.

Astronomers think 2016 QA2 is between 80 and 180 feet wide. That means the space rock is slightly bigger than the object that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, injuring more than 1,200 people.

The Chelyabinsk asteroid was probably 65 feet or so in diameter when it hit Earth’s atmosphere, scientists have said. (The Chelyabinsk object exploded high above the ground, generating a powerful shock wave that shattered thousands of windows. The injuries — none of which were fatal — were cuts caused by flying glass.)

The SONEAR Observatory in Brazil discovered 2016 QA2 on Saturday, Aug. 27. The asteroid has a more elliptical orbit than Earth does, coming as close to the sun as 0.76 astronomical units (AU) and getting as far away as 1.18 AU, according to the Minor Planet Center. (One AU is the average distance form Earth to the sun: about 93 million miles).

The newfound asteroid completes one lap around the sun every 350 days, researchers said.

Asteroids in 2016 QA2’s size range could conceivably do serious damage on a local scale if they hit Earth. In 1908, for example, an object thought to be about 130 feet wide exploded over Siberia, flattening trees over an 825-square-mile area. (It may seem like asteroids really have it in for Russia, but the nation’s higher incidence of strikes is just a result of its huge size.)

But an asteroid has to be really big — probably at least 0.6 miles wide — to potentially wipe out human civilization or cause some other global catastrophe, astronomers have said. Scientists think they’ve spotted about 95 percent of the potentially hazardous, mountain-size space rocks out there, and none of those objects pose a threat for the foreseeable future.

Originally published on Space.com.

SETI team investigating mysterious signal from star 94 light-years away

By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer Published August 31, 2016
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Significant extraterrestrial signal detected from space
A powerful signal has been spotted coming from the vicinity of a sunlike star, and now astronomers are trying to figure out what it means.

In May 2015, researchers using a radio telescope in Russia detected a candidate SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) signal that seems to originate from HD 164595, a star system that lies about 94 light-years from Earth, the website Centauri Dreams reported over the weekend.

The astronomers have not yet published a study about the detection; they plan to discuss it next month at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, according to Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster, who wrote that one of the team members forwarded him the IAC presentation. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Alien Life]

HD 164595 is known to harbor one planet — a roughly Neptune-mass world that orbits too close to the star to support life as we know it. However, it’s possible that other worlds lurk undiscovered in the system, said astronomer Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who is not part of the detection team.

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The scientists who made the detection are respected researchers, and the signal is strong enough that it’s probably not just random noise, Shostak told Space.com. Furthermore, the signal is consistent with something an alien civilization might send out — and if aliens did indeed do it, they are certainly far more advanced than we are, he added.

Based on the received signal’s characteristics, aliens would have to generate about 100 billion billion watts of energy to blast it out in all directions. And they’d still have to produce more than 1 trillion watts if they beamed it only to Earth for some reason, Shostak said.

“The first number is hundreds of times more than all the sunlight falling on Earth,” he said. “That’s a very big energy bill.”

The SETI Institute focused the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a system of radio dishes in Northern California, at HD 164595 Sunday night (Aug. 28) and plans to do so again tonight (Aug. 29), Shostak said. He certainly hopes the ATA finds something that would suggest ET is behind the signal, but he said he suspects there’s a more prosaic explanation.

For example, it’s possible that interference by an Earth-orbiting satellite or something else close to home is responsible, Shostak said. Indeed, he said that such “terrestrial interference” would be his bet, if we ever do learn what caused the signal.

But, sadly, it’s very possible that we’ll never know. The Russia-based team apparently observed the HD 164595 system 39 different times and only detected the signal once, Shostak said. If nobody sees it again, it will probably remain a mystery, much like the famous “Wow!” signal of 1977.

“Without a confirmation of this signal, we can only say that it’s ‘interesting,'” Shostak wrote today in a blog post about the candidate signal detection.

NASA is going to an asteroid, and it wants your help

asteroid

(NASA)

NASA is seeking research partners for its ambitious asteroid redirect mission, the space agency recently announced.

The asteroid mission sounds like science fiction. In December 2021, NASA plans to launch a robotic mission that will travel to an asteroid, grab a multiton boulder off its surface, bring it back—and then put it in orbit around the moon. The space agency says they’ve already identified four asteroid candidates.

After that, with a launch in 2026, astronauts will travel to the asteroid and research it, bringing back samples to Earth.

“These samples will contain far more asteroid material than has ever been returned by a space mission, which could open new scientific discoveries about the formation of our solar system, the origin of life on Earth, and help determine the potential for use of asteroid resources,” NASA said in a statement.

That statement was announcing that they would soon be releasing a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) related to the asteroid mission, meaning that they will be looking for scientific research proposals.

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Not only will this mission help the space agency better understand asteroids and our solar system, but NASA says it will also help prepare them to protect the Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids, as well as prepare for a Mars journey.

“The robotic mission also will demonstrate planetary defense techniques to deflect dangerous asteroids and protect Earth if needed in the future,” NASA says. (The one they capture will be too small to harm Earth, even if it will be nowhere near it, according to NASA.)

The space agency says that there could be commercial and other benefits stemming from the asteroid mission.

“This BAA anticipates that capabilities and technologies developed through these partnerships will also provide significant commercial, scientific, exploration technology/capability and/or planetary defense applications beyond [the asteroid redirect mission],” NASA said.

The space agency anticipates keeping the window for proposals open until 2018.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Monster black hole’s powerful jets reveal galactic secrets

  • The galaxy Cygnus A, which played a prominent role in Carl Sagan's 1985 novel "Contact," is shown here in multiple wavelengths, including X-ray, radio and visible. A new study looks at the powerful magnetic

    The galaxy Cygnus A, which played a prominent role in Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel “Contact,” is shown here in multiple wavelengths, including X-ray, radio and visible. A new study looks at the powerful magnetic (X-ray image: NASA/CXC/SAO; visible light image: NASA/STScI; radio waves image: NSF/NRAO/AUI/VLA.)

Cygnus A, an elliptical galaxy located about 600 million light-years from Earth, is one of the brightest sources of radio waves in the night sky. The prominent galaxy took center stage in renowned astronomer Carl Sagan’s 1985 science-fiction novel “Contact.”

Now, thanks to the CanariCam instrument on the Gran Telescopio Canarias — a giant telescope in Spain’s Canary Islands — scientists have new information about the monster black hole at the heart of this famous galaxy, and the powerful magnetic fields it produces.

The astronomers took advantage of CanariCam’s polarimetric capability — which measures the polarization, or orientation, of light waves — as well as its ability to see infrared light, to peek at the supermassive black hole at the center of Cygnus A, according to a statement from the Astrophysics Institute of the Canaries (IAC). [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]

The galaxy is what’s known as an active galactic nucleus (AGN), meaning the black hole is sucking in material from its surroundings and emitting high levels of light. It’s also shooting out large jets of particles at nearly the speed of light that travel beyond the edge of the galaxy.

Detecting the polarization of the light waves lets scientists ignore all of the light that is not affected by the magnetic field in the galactic nucleus, meaning they can filter out background sources, including stars and other light sources from the galaxy itself, according to the statement.

“This gives us a much higher contrast when we observe the jets and the dust in the galaxy, while studying the influence of the magnetic field on both of them,” Enrique López Rodríguez, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and the first author of the new study, said in the statement.

Previously, scientists had difficulty seeing through the cloud of interstellar dustthat surrounds Cygnus A because visible light cannot penetrate it. CanariCam, however, can observe light in the middle infrared wavelength range, which is not blocked by interstellar dust, according to the statement.

With both the ability to see infrared light and the polarization of the waves, López Rodríguez and his team found that the plasma emitted from the active nucleus spirals around the magnetic field of the jets of matter that shoot out from the center of the galaxy toward its edges. The spiraling of this plasma creates “synchrotron radiation,” a process wherein light is produced by the acceleration of electrons by a magnetic field, according to the statement.

Scientists say detecting synchrotron radiation in the middle infrared wavelength confirms that the charged gas in the jets emitted by Cygnus A is “highly confined by the effect of the magnetic field” around the black hole, according to the statement. Essentially, the finding gives scientists a better look at the magnetic field inside this extremely bright, active region. Astronomers hope that this new information will help them understand what causes activity in supermassive black holes like the one at the center of Cygnus A.

A sixth success! SpaceX again lands rocket on a ship at sea

The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket rests on the deck of a robotic ship called "Of Course I Still Love," seconds after touching down on Aug. 14, 2016.

The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket rests on the deck of a robotic ship called “Of Course I Still Love,” seconds after touching down on Aug. 14, 2016. (SpaceX)

SpaceX has done it again.

The private spaceflight company landed its Falcon 9 rocket for the sixth time in the last eight months early Sunday morning, pulling off the feat during the successful launch of the JCSAT-16 commercial communications satellite.

The two-stage Falcon 9 lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 1:26 a.m. EDT Sunday, carrying JCSAT-16 toward a distant geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). [Photos: SpaceX Launches JCSAT-16 Satellite, Lands Rocket at Sea]

Less than 9 minutes later, the rocket’s first stage came back for a pinpoint landing on the deck of a robotic ship called Of Course I Still Love You, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles off the Florida coast.

A textbook touchdown had been anything but guaranteed.

“Given this mission’s GTO destination, the first stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing challenging,” SpaceX representatives wrote in a pre-launchJCSAT-16 press kit.

SpaceX first landed a Falcon 9 in December, during the launch of 11 satellites for the company Orbcomm. The company scored four more successes, along with three failures, through July; Sunday’s touchdown marked success number six.

These attempts are part of SpaceX’s effort to develop fully and rapidly reusable rockets. Such technology could eventually cut the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 100, helping spur humanity’s spread out into the solar system, according to company founder and CEO Elon Musk. (Musk has said repeatedly that he started SpaceX back in 2002 primarily to help humanity colonize Mars.)

Four of the Falcon 9 landings have occurred on the “drone ship,” while the other two came down on terra firma, back at Cape Canaveral. The touchdown destination depends on the mission profile: Rockets that blast payloads toward distant destinations like GTO cannot carry enough fuel to make it all the way back to the launch site, so the ship is the only option, SpaceX representatives have said.

SpaceX has yet to re-fly any of the landed Falcon 9 first stages, but that milestone could happen as early as this autumn, Musk has said.

SpaceX’s rocket landings, while dramatic, have all been secondary objectives; the main goal of each mission has always been to get the payload to orbit. That was no different Sunday morning, as SpaceX was chiefly concerned with sending JCSAT-16 on its way.

The spacecraft was built by Space Systems Loral and will be used as an in-orbit backup by Sky Perfect JSAT Corp., a Tokyo-based satellite-communications provider.

SpaceX launched the JCSAT-14 satellite this past May, a liftoff that also featured a successful landing at sea.

Perseid meteor shower will be a rare, intense ‘outburst’ this year

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Stargazers expect a similar outburst during next week’s Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible overnight on Aug. 11 and 12.

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky in August 2009 in this time-lapse image. Stargazers expect a similar outburst during next week’s Perseid meteor shower, which will be visible overnight on Aug. 11 and 12. (NASA/JPL)

Astronomers are predicting that this year’s Perseid meteor shower should be a dramatic one.

That means that stargazers away from bright city lights should head outdoors Thursday night and very early Friday morning to recline and catch a glimpse of natural fireworks that could feature as many as 200 shooting stars each hour, according to NASA. The show is supposed to really kick off after midnight Friday morning.

The night spanning Friday, August 12 into Saturday, August 13, is also a good time to catch them, NASA says.

Want to see some “shooting stars?” You’re in luck! The Perseid meteor shower peaks Aug 11-12 http://go.nasa.gov/2bhmpHc 

While the Perseid meteor shower occurs annually in August, this one should be more intense than usual. Scientists describe it as an “outburst,” the last of which happened in 2009.

“Forecasters are predicting a Perseid outburst this year with double normal rates on the night of Aug. 11-12,” Bill Cooke, a meteor expert at NASA’s Meteoroid Environments Office in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a statement earlier this month. “Under perfect conditions, rates could soar to 200 meteors per hour.”

The meteors are tiny, but are cruising at 132,000 miles per hour, NASA says. That means they burn up brightly— a sizzling 3,000 to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The particles were left behind by a comet called Swift-Tuttle.

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This year is expected to have such a bright display because the Earth is traveling through more debris from the comet, according to the space agency. The last time that comet passed proximate to Earth was in 1992, according to the Royal Astronomical Society, which said this year will be a “surge in activity” for the annual meteor shower.

On Thursday, #PerseidMeteorShower was even trending topic on Twitter.

NASA advises that people who want to catch the shooting star display should allow their eyes 45 minutes to adjust.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Stunning NASA video shows megarocket booster test in extreme slo-mo

NOW PLAYINGNASA shares stunning slow-mo video of massive rocket booster

You’ve never seen a rocket test quite like this. A new NASA video captures the eerie beauty of a massive rocket motor test in extreme slow-motion using an innovative new camera.

The video offers a spectacular view of the QM-2 test by the company Orbital ATK on June 28, which test-fired a full-scale version of the solid rocket booster that will help launch NASA’s new Space Launch System megarocket on missions into deep space. To capture the booster test in extreme detail, NASA engineers and scientists used what they call a High Dynamic Range Stereo X camera (or HiDyRS-X for short).

“Traditional high speed video cameras are limited to shooting in one exposure at a time, but HiDyRS-X can record multiple high speed video exposures at once, combining them into a high dynamic range video that adequately exposes all areas of the video image for comprehensive analysis,” NASA officials said in a video description. [How NASA’s SLS Megarocket Will Fly (Infographic)]

And the results are haunting.

When Orbital ATK test-fired the QM-2 solid rocket booster, the event lasted only 2 minutes. NASA’s HiDyRS-X video of the test, however, lasts 3 minutes. The test is already underway as the clip starts and is still going strong at the end. Brilliant swirls of superhot flame can be seen dancing about inside the rocket motor’s exhaust plume.

Orbital ATK’s QM-2 booster test was the second (and final) full-scale test of the solid rocket boosters to be used for NASA’s Space Launch System. The first test of QM-1 occurred in March 2015. Two of the boosters will be used to help launch the SLS rocket (which will have four main engines of its own) on missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

NASA plans to use the SLS rocket to launch its new Orion spacecraft on missions that will send astronauts on deep-space voyages to an asteroid, Mars and beyond. The first test flight of SLS and Orion is sheduled for launch in fall of 2018.