Thursday, May 28, 2015

Similarities Between Aurorae on Mars and Earth

Blue aurorae on Mars: an artist interpretation of what aurorae may look like as seen by the NASA Curiosity rover, were it close to magnetic anomalies on Mars. Photomontage (c) NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS and (c) CSW/DB

Mars' upper atmosphere may be indeed closer to Earth's than previously thought. Researchers showed that the upper atmosphere of Mars glows blue depending on the activity of the Sun. The result was achieved through numerical simulation and a laboratory experiment, called the Planeterrella, used to simulate the aurora. The study was published in the leading planetology publication Planetary and Space Science on May 26. "The study indicates that one of the strongest colours in the Martian aurorae is deep blue. Green and red also occur, just like on Earth. An astronaut looking up while walking on the red Martian soil would be able, after intense solar eruptions, to see the phenomena with the naked eye," says researcher Cyril Simon Wedlund of Aalto University's (Finland) Department of Radio Science and Engineering.

New Horizons Spacecraft Closing in on Pluto

These images show Pluto in the latest series of New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) photos, taken May 8-12, 2015, compared to LORRI images taken one month earlier. In the month between these image sets, New Horizons' distance to Pluto decreased from 68 million miles (110 million kilometers) to 47 million miles (75 million kilometers), as the spacecraft speeds toward a close encounter with the Pluto system in mid-July. Credit: NASA

What a difference 20 million miles makes! Images of Pluto from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft are growing in scale as the spacecraft approaches its mysterious target. The new images, taken May 8-12 using a powerful telescopic camera and downlinked last week, reveal more detail about Pluto's complex and high-contrast surface. The images were taken from just under 50 million miles (77 million kilometers) away, using the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons. Because New Horizons was approximately 20 million miles closer to Pluto in mid-May than in mid-April, the new images contain about twice as many pixels on the object as images made in mid-April.

Discovery Shows What the Solar System Looked Like as a ‘Toddler'

Image of HD 115600 showing a bright debris ring viewed nearly edge-on and located just beyond a Pluto-like distance to the star. One or more unseen solar system-like planets are causing the disk center (diamond) to be offset from the star's position (cross). Credit: T. Currie

An international team of astronomers has identified a young planetary system which may aid in understanding how our own solar system formed and developed billions of years ago. Using the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) at the Gemini South telescope in Chile, the researchers identified a disc-shaped bright ring of dust around a star only slightly more massive than the sun, located 360 light years away in the Centaurus constellation. The disc is located between about 37 and 55 Astronomical Units (3.4 – 5.1 billion miles) from its host star, which is almost the same distance as the solar system’s Kuiper Belt is from the sun. The brightness of the disc, which is due to the starlight reflected by it, is also consistent with a wide range of dust compositions including the silicates and ice present in the Kuiper Belt.

A Bubbly Cosmic Celebration

This richly coloured cloud of gas called RCW 34 is a site of star formation in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sails). This image was taken using the FORS instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. Credit: ESO

In the brightest region of this glowing nebula called RCW 34, gas is heated dramatically by young stars and expands through the surrounding cooler gas. Once the heated hydrogen reaches the borders of the gas cloud, it bursts outwards into the vacuum like the contents of an uncorked champagne bottle — this process is referred to as champagne flow. But the young star-forming region RCW 34 has more to offer than a few bubbles; there seem to have been multiple episodes of star formation within the same cloud.

Hubble Video Shows Shock Collision Inside Black Hole Jet

In the central region of galaxy NGC 3862 an extragalactic jet of material can be seen at the 3 o'clock position (left). Hubble images (right) of knots (outlined in red, green and blue) shows them moving along the jet over 20 years. The "X" is the black hole. Credits: NASA, ESA, and E. Meyer STScI

When you're blasting though space at more than 98 percent of the speed of light, you may need driver's insurance. Astronomers have discovered for the first time a rear-end collision between two high-speed knots of ejected matter from a super-massive black hole. This discovery was made while piecing together a time-lapse movie of a plasma jet blasted from a supermassive black hole inside a galaxy located 260 million light-years from Earth. The finding offers new insights into the behavior of "light-saber-like" jets that are so energized that they appear to zoom out of black holes at speeds several times the speed of light. This "superluminal" motion is an optical illusion due to the very fast real speed of the plasma, which is close to the universal maximum of the speed of light.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ariane 5 Rocket Successfully Launches DirecTV-15 and Sky Mexico-1 Communications Satellites

Ariane 5 rocket launches DirecTV-15 and Sky Mexico-1 communications satellites on May 27. Image Credit: Arianespace

Ariane 5 rocket successfully launched two communications satellites on Wednesday, May 27, 2015, at 6:16 p.m. local time (5:16 p.m. EST) from Ariane Launch Complex No. 3 (ELA 3) at the Spaceport located in Kourou, French Guiana. The 223rd Arianespace mission designated Ariane Flight VA223, has delivered DirecTV-15 and Sky Mexico-1 satellites into orbit. “I’m delighted to announce another Ariane5 success! Our on-board telemetry system confirms both payloads separated as planned,” Stéphane Israël, Arianespace CEO, said shortly after the launch.

Who Will Take Sarah Brightman’s Place Onboard Soyuz Spacecraft?

Sarah Brightman. Credit: Reuters

After the resignation of British soprano singer Sarah Brightman from her spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS), the question is now who will take the vacant seat onboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft? It may be Brightman’s backup, Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu or Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov, recent reports say. "The contract between Roscosmos (Russia's Federal Space Agency) and Space Adventures for the training of space tourist candidates remains in force. Satoshi Takamatsu continues training for the flight," Russia Beyond The Headlines reports. “The final decision regarding Brightman's successor will be taken in the very near future.”