Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Could a Dedicated Mission to Enceladus Detect Microbial Life There?

This illustration taken from the Cassini Grand Finale movie shows Cassini's fly-through of the Enceladus plume in October 2015. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus is best known for its numerous geysers ejecting plumes of water and ice. These eruptive fountains are perplexing researchers searching for signs of microbial life beyond Earth. A dedicated spacecraft designated to study the plume-like features sprouting from Enceladus could definitely tell us whether or not they contain alien microorganisms.

Hubble Captures Massive Dead Disk Galaxy that Challenges Theories of Galaxy Evolution

Acting as a “natural telescope” in space, the gravity of the extremely massive foreground galaxy cluster MACS J2129-0741 magnifies, brightens, and distorts the far-distant background galaxy MACS2129-1, shown in the top box. The middle box is a blown-up view of the gravitationally lensed galaxy. In the bottom box is a reconstructed image, based on modeling that shows what the galaxy would look like if the galaxy cluster were not present. The galaxy appears red because it is so distant that its light is shifted into the red part of the spectrum. Credits: NASA, ESA, M. Postman (STScI), and the CLASH team

By combining the power of a "natural lens" in space with the capability of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers made a surprising discovery—the first example of a compact yet massive, fast-spinning, disk-shaped galaxy that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the big bang. Finding such a galaxy early in the history of the universe challenges the current understanding of how massive galaxies form and evolve, say researchers.

M–ARGO: A Deep Space CubeSat

M–ARGO © ESA-Jacky Huart

ESA has designed its first stand-alone CubeSat mission for deep space – aimed at targeting a little- known class of asteroid: small in size and rapidly spinning. Studied in the Concurrent Design Facility, ESA’s highly networked facility for designing novel missions, the ‘Miniaturized – Asteroid Remote Geophysical Observer’, or M–ARGO, is a nano-spacecraft based on the CubeSat design employing standardized 10 cm cubic units within which electronic boards can be stacked and subsystems attached.

NASA Mars Orbiter Views Rover Climbing Mount Sharp

The feature that appears bright blue at the center of this scene is NASA's Curiosity Mars rover amid tan rocks and dark sand on Mount Sharp, as viewed by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on June 5, 2017. The rover is about 10 feet long and not really as blue as it looks here. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Using the most powerful telescope ever sent to Mars, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a view of the Curiosity rover this month amid rocky mountainside terrain. The car-size rover, climbing up lower Mount Sharp toward its next destination, appears as a blue dab against a background of tan rocks and dark sand in the enhanced-color image from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Star’s Birth May Have Triggered Another Star Birth, Astronomers Say

Protostar FIR 3 (HOPS 370) with outflow that may have triggered the formation of younger protostar FIR 4 (HOPS 108), in the Orion star-forming region. Pullouts are individual VLA images of each protostar. (au = astronomical unit, the distance from the Earth to the Sun, about 93 million miles.) Credit: Osorio et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF.

Astronomers using the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) have found new evidence suggesting that a jet of fast-moving material ejected from one young star may have triggered the formation of another, younger protostar. “The orientation of the jet, the speed of its material, and the distance all are right for this scenario,” said Mayra Osorio, of the Astrophysical Institute of Andalucia (IAA-CSIC) in Spain. Osorio is the lead author of a paper reporting the findings in the Astrophysical Journal.

Scientist Warns of Asteroid Danger

This is an asteroid impact near the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013. Credit: Alan Fitzsimmons

A leading astrophysicist from Queen's University Belfast has warned that an asteroid strike is just a matter of time. Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the University's Astrophysics Research Centre has said it is a case of when an asteroid collision will happen, rather than if it will happen.

Making Waves with the Hot Electrons within Earth's Radiation Belts

This artist's rendering of the Van Allen Probes mission shows the path of its two spacecraft through the radiation belts that surround Earth, which are made visible in false color. Credit: NASA

Encircling the Earth, within its magnetosphere, are two concentric, doughnut-shaped radiation belts known as the Van Allen belts. The Van Allen belts swell and recede in response to incoming energy from the sun, sometimes billowing far enough to expose orbiting satellites and other spacecraft to damaging radiation that can disrupt electronic communications and navigation signals, as well as electric grids. These radiation belt electrons travel near the speed of light and emit and absorb waves that are used by scientists to understand space weather.