Saturday, June 9, 2012

Can You Find a Hubble Hidden Treasure?

Can You Find a Hubble Hidden Treasure?:

Visible in the constellation of Andromeda, NGC 891 is located approximately 30 million light-years away from Earth. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Just look at the kind of stunning images that are buried in the archives from the Hubble Space Telescope! Here, Hubble turned its powerful wide field Advanced Camera for Surveys towards this spiral galaxy and took this close-up of its northern half. The entire galaxy, called NGC 891, stretches across 100,000 light-years and we see it exactly edge-on. Visible are filaments of dust and gas escaping the plane of the galaxy. A few foreground stars from the Milky Way shine brightly in the image, while distant elliptical galaxies can be seen in the lower right of the image.
This is just an example of the hidden gems in Hubble’s archives that have never been seen by the general public. There’s a new contest to find more — so how can you participate?

Doomed Mercury-Sized Exoplanet May Be Turning to Dust

Doomed Mercury-Sized Exoplanet May Be Turning to Dust:

Artist concept of the curious events going at the star named KIC 12557548. Credit: MIT
The old saying of the universe being stranger than we can imagine definitely applies to a newfound exoplanet orbiting a star about 1,500 light years from Earth. Researchers using the Kepler space observatory have detected what appears to be a planet about the size of Mercury literally turning to dust. A long tail of debris — almost like a comet’s tail — is following the planet as it whirls around the star, KIC 12557548. Scientists think the planet could be evaporating under the blistering heat of the star, and that by analyzing the dust, they could decipher the history of the planet. But they better hurry. According to the team’s calculations, the planet will completely disintegrate within 100 million years.
“This might be another way in which planets are eventually doomed,” said Dan Fabrycky, a member of the Kepler Observatory science team.

On The Hunt For High-Altitude Microorganisms

On The Hunt For High-Altitude Microorganisms:

Design of an XCOR Lynx spacecraft (XCOR Aerospace)
The United States Rocket Academy has announced an open call for entries in its High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge, a citizen science project that will attempt to collect samples of microbes that may be lurking in Earth’s atmosphere at the edge of space.

Astrophoto: Lovely Crescent Venus by John Chumack

Astrophoto: Lovely Crescent Venus by John Chumack:

A beautiful crescent Venus on May 14, 2012. Credit: John Chumack.
Named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty, Venus has never looked more gorgeous! Prolific and accomplished astrophotographer John Chumack captured this shot of a crescent Venus on May 14, 2012 as it moves in for a transit of the Sun. Just 14% of Venus’ face was illuminated, 22 Days before the June 5th Transit of Venus across the Sun. John used a DMK 21AF04 fire-wire Camera, 2x Barlow, & 10″ SCT telescope, and used 950 frames stacked to create this image. Thanks to John for sharing his image; see more of his work at his website, Galactic Images.
Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group, post in our Forum or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

Eclipse Images from Around the World

Eclipse Images from Around the World:

A montage of the May 20, 2012 annular eclipse as seen near Ikebukuro in Tokyo, Japan between 7:08 to 7:38 a.m. local time. Credit: Kim Nilsson
What a view! Here are some awesome eclipse images and videos from around the globe as skywatchers in Asia, the northern Pacific region and western North America experienced the annular eclipse on May 20/21, 2012. Above is a stunning combination of shots from various stages of the eclipse in Tokyo, Japan from Kim Nilsson.
For many of the images, click on them for the original source or for more info/larger sizes. We’ll be adding more images as they come in. If you want to have us add yours to this gallery, post your image to our Flickr group, or send us your images by email.
Thanks also to everyone who joined in on the Virtual Star Party with Phil Plait, Fraser, Jason, Pamela Gay, and Nicole Gugliucci, along with a live telescope feed from Scott Lewis in Los Angeles. If you want to watch a replay, the video is embedded below.

The May 2012 Annular Eclipse as Seen From Space

The May 2012 Annular Eclipse as Seen From Space:

A shadow over Earth near the maximum during the Annular Solar Eclipse of May 20-21, 2012. Credit: Planetary Habitability Laboratory at UPR Arecibo, NASA, EUMETSAT, NERC Satellite Receiving Station, University of Dundee.
Here’s a few unique vantage points of seeing the annular solar eclipse on May 20/21 2012. Above, one of the geostationary satellites called MTSAT (Multi-Functional Transport Satellite) built by Japan was able to capture the shadow over Earth near the maximum of the eclipse of May 20-21, 2012. It’s rather amazing how small the shadow is! “This image was generated during a color test of our Visible Daily-Earth project,” wrote Abel Mendez Torres on the PHL@UPR Arecibo website “and was taken by the MTSAT on May 21, 2012 @ 000 UTC (May 20, 2012 @ 8:00 PM EDT). Color correction was based on NASA Visible Earth datasets.” The Planetary Habitability Laboratory (PHL) is a research and educational virtual laboratory that studies of the habitability of Earth, the Solar System, and extrasolar planets, and @ProfAbelMendez is a very interesting person to follow on Twitter.
Below are a couple of videos: even though you are not supposed to look directly at the Sun during an eclipse, the PROBA-2 satellite did with an awesome result, and astronaut Don Pettit’s exceptional view of the eclipse from the International Space Station, as well as a view from the Hinode and Terra satellites:

A Planetary System That Never Was Teaches About Those That May Be

A Planetary System That Never Was Teaches About Those That May Be:

While Kepler and similar missions are turning up planets by the fist full, there’s long been many places that astronomers haven’t expected to find planetary systems. The main places include regions where gravitational forces conspire to make the region around potential host stars too unstable to form into planets. And there’s no place in the galaxy with a larger gravitational force than the galactic center where a black hole four and a half million times more massive than the Sun, lurks. But a new study shows evidence that a disk, potentially far enough along to begin forming planets, is in the process of being disrupted.

ESA: Unveiling Venus

ESA: Unveiling Venus:

The featureless face of Venus, as seen by MESSENGER (NASA/Gordan Ugarkovic)
With Venus about to get its day in the Sun — very much literally — the European Space Agency has assembled an excellent video about our planetary neighbor.

Ghostly Jets Haunt the Milky Way’s Black Hole

Ghostly Jets Haunt the Milky Way’s Black Hole:

This artist's conception shows an edge-on view of the Milky Way galaxy and newly discovered gamma-ray jets extending from the central black hole. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
A ghost is haunting the Milky Way’s central black hole, revealing the galactic nucleus was likely much more active in the past than it is now. Scientists using the Fermi space telescope have found faint apparitions of what must have been powerful gamma-ray jets emanating from our galaxy’s center.
“These faint jets are a ghost or after-image of what existed a million years ago,” said Meng Su, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), and lead author of a new paper in the Astrophysical Journal. “They strengthen the case for an active galactic nucleus in the Milky Way’s relatively recent past.”

Visions of the Cosmos: The Enduring Space Art of David A. Hardy

Visions of the Cosmos: The Enduring Space Art of David A. Hardy:

'Moon Landing:'' This is one of Hardy's very earliest paintings, done in 1952 when he was just 15. It was also the first to be published. Credit: David A. Hardy. Used by permission. Click image for access to a larger version and more information on Hardy's website.
For over 50 years, award-winning space and astronomy artist David A. Hardy has taken us to places we could only dream of visiting. His career started before the first planetary probes blasted off from Earth to travel to destinations in our solar system and before space telescopes viewed distant places in our Universe. It is striking to view his early work and to see how accurately he depicted distant vistas and landscapes, and surely, his paintings of orbiting space stations and bases on the Moon and Mars have inspired generations of hopeful space travelers.

The Moon Affects the Solar Wind

The Moon Affects the Solar Wind:

his is a view of the moon transiting, or passing in front of, the Sun as seen from the STEREO-B spacecraft on Feb. 25, 2007. The Sun is in false color, and the moon appears as a black disk on the upper right. NASA's STEREO mission consists of two spacecraft launched in October, 2006 to study solar storms. Credit: NASA
From a NASA press release:
With the Moon as the most prominent object in the night sky and a major source of an invisible pull that creates ocean tides, many ancient cultures thought it could also affect our health or state of mind – the word “lunacy” has its origin in this belief. Now, a powerful combination of spacecraft and computer simulations is revealing that the moon does indeed have a far-reaching, invisible influence – not on us, but on the Sun, or more specifically, the solar wind.

Worlds Without Suns: Nomad Planets Could Number In The Quadrillions

Worlds Without Suns: Nomad Planets Could Number In The Quadrillions:

Artist's concept of a free-floating Jupiter-like planet. (NASA / JPL-Caltech)
The concept of nomad planets has been featured before here on Universe Today, and for good reason. Not only is the idea of mysterious lone planets drifting sunless through interstellar space an intriguing one, but also the sheer potential quantity of such worlds is simply staggering. If some very well-respected scientists’ calculations are correct there are more nomad planets in our Milky Way galaxy than there are stars — a lot more. With estimates up to 100,000 nomad planets for every star in the galaxy, there could be literally quadrillions of wandering worlds out there, ranging in size from Pluto-sized to even larger than Jupiter.
That’s a lot of nomads. But where did they all come from?

Dragon Heading to Ocean Splashdown

Dragon Heading to Ocean Splashdown:

SpaceX Dragon has undocked from the International Space Station and is on course for May 31 splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the Baja California coast. Credit: NASA
See the Dragon release video below
History’s first commercial cargo ship ever to visit the International Space Station (ISS) has safely and successfully departed the orbiting lab complex after astronauts released the craft from the grip of the station’s robotic arm at 5:49 a.m. EST (949 GMT) this morning, May 31, 2012 for the return trip to Earth to conclude a precedent setting stay that fully accomplished all objectives.
“Dragon is Free !” announced Josh Byerly, a NASA spokesman at Houston Mission control a short while ago as NASA astronauts Joe Acaba and Don Pettit released the first ever private spacecraft to attach to the ISS into a free drift mode for a fiery plunge through Earth’s atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California less than 6 hours from now. (...)
Read the rest of Dragon Heading to Ocean Splashdown (560 words)

Astrophoto: A Smokestack on the Sun by Monty Leventhal

Astrophoto: A Smokestack on the Sun by Monty Leventhal:

A Digital filtergram of a prominence on the Sun, May 29, 2012. Credit: Monty Leventhal, OAM.
This unusual prominence on the Sun looks like an exhaust-spewing smokestack. It was captured by noted Australian amateur astronomer Monty Leventhal on May 29, 2012. He used a Canon 600D camera with a Hydrogen-alpha filter and a Meade S.C. 10 inch telescope.
Want to get your astrophoto featured on Universe Today? Join our Flickr group or send us your images by email (this means you’re giving us permission to post them). Please explain what’s in the picture, when you took it, the equipment you used, etc.

It’s Inevitable: Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy Heading for Collision

It’s Inevitable: Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy Heading for Collision:

This illustration shows a stage in the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, as it will unfold over the next several billion years. In this image, representing Earth's night sky in 3.75 billion years, Andromeda (left) fills the field of view and begins to distort the Milky Way with tidal pull. (Credit: NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas; and A. Mellinger)
Astronomers have known for years that our Milky Way and its closest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, (a.k.a M31) are being pulled together in a gravitational dance, but no one was sure whether the galaxies would collide head-on or glide past one another. Precise measurements from the Hubble Space Telescope have now confirmed that the two galaxies are indeed on a collision course, headed straight for a colossal cosmic collision.

A Cotton Candy Pinwheel Galaxy

A Cotton Candy Pinwheel Galaxy:

The Pinwheel Galaxy. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; IR & UV: NASA/JPL-Caltech; Optical: NASA/STScI
Just in time for summer, this image of the Pinwheel Galaxy (M101) looks as pretty as a child’s toy and as delectable as cotton candy. This beautiful image combines data in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet and X-rays from four of NASA’s space-based telescopes. It’s like seeing with a regular camera, an ultraviolet camera, night-vision goggles and X-ray vision, all at the same time.

A Rare Type of Solar Storm Spotted by Satellite

A Rare Type of Solar Storm Spotted by Satellite:

Artist's impression of solar cosmic rays striking Earth's atmosphere (Simon Swordy/University of Chicago, NASA)
When a moderate-sized M-class flare erupted from the Sun on May 17, it sent out a barrage of high-energy solar particles that belied its initial intensity. These particles traveled at nearly the speed of light, crossing the 93 million miles between the Sun and Earth in a mere 20 minutes and impacting our atmosphere, causing cascades of neutrons to reach the ground — a rare event known as a ground level enhancement, or GLE.
The first such event since 2006, the GLE was recorded by a joint Russian/Italian spacecraft called PAMELA and is an indicator that the peak of solar maximum is on the way.

Are Rogue Black Holes Wandering the Universe?

Are Rogue Black Holes Wandering the Universe?:

A composite image of galaxy CID-4 shows evidence the black hole is being ejected. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/F.Civano et al; Optical: NASA/STScI; Optical (wide field): CFHT, NASA/STScI
Talk about a tough neighborhood! Even black holes aren’t welcome in galaxy CID-42, located about 4 billion light-years away from Earth. Astronomers using the Chandra X-Ray Observatory have found strong evidence that a massive black hole is being ejected from this galaxy, moving out at a speed of several million kilometers per hour. This phenomenon, known as a recoiled black hole, happens due to a gravitational wave “kick” from the merger of two black holes.
While this event is likely to be rare, it could mean that there could be giant black holes roaming undetected out in the vast spaces between galaxies.

Tomorrow’s Transit Will be the First Photographed From Space

Tomorrow’s Transit Will be the First Photographed From Space:

Venus photographed from the ISS (ESA/NASA)
ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers captured this stunning image of Earth’s limb with Venus shining brightly above on the morning of June 4, 2012. While it’s a fantastic shot in its own right, it’s just a warm-up for tomorrow’s big transit event, which will be watched by millions of people all over the world — as well as a select few aboard the ISS!

Thierry Legault: One Transit is Not Enough

Thierry Legault: One Transit is Not Enough:

The transit of the Hubble Space Telescope across the Sun was taken from Queensland, Australia, simultaneously with the 2012 transit of Venus. Credit: Thierry Legault. Used by permission.
Astrophotographer Thierry Legault had told us he was traveling to Australia for the Transit of Venus, so we knew he had something special planned. But that still didn’t prepare us for the awesomeness of what he has just achieved. During the Transit of Venus, Legault also captured the Hubble Space Telescope moving across the face of the Sun. Not once, but 9 times, during the HST’s transit time of .97 seconds. “Thanks to the continuous shooting mode of the Nikon D4 DSLR running at 10 fps,” Legault said on his website, which shows his new images. Of course, due to the differences in distance from Earth of Hubble vs. Venus, Venus took a lazy 6-plus hours to make its transit. A few giant sunspots also join in the view.
Below see a close-up of the two transits and a look at Legault’s set-up in the Outback of Queensland.

Eclipse Soar: Dual High Altitude Balloons Capture Stunning Annular Eclipse Images

Eclipse Soar: Dual High Altitude Balloons Capture Stunning Annular Eclipse Images:

A high altitude balloon captures the annular solar eclipse on May 20, 2012. Note the dark area on Earth where the eclipse would be visible from the ground. Credit: Project Soar.

During the May 20 annular eclipse, two teams sent a duo of high altitude balloons to simultaneously capture the event, and they got some amazing pictures. Not only did the two imaging systems on the balloons take pictures of the eclipse, but they also took pictures of each other, with both balloons near the edge of space. “Our goal was to launch 2 capsules to the edge of space to shoot photos and high-definition videos during the annular solar eclipse,” David Gonzales of Project Soar told Universe Today.

PHOTO : Bumble Bee Summer Clover

Bumble Bee Summer Clover:

Bumble Bee Summer Clover
A large bumble bee gathering the abundant nectar from a summer clover flower. In the background a small blue field flower brightens the aspect of this picture.
    Picture Height: 2770 pixels | Picture Width: 3706 pixels | Lens Aperture: f/8 | Image Exposure Time: 1/180 sec | Lens Focal Length mm: 105 mm | Photo Exposure Value: 0 EV | Camera Model: Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Photo White Balance: 0 | Color Space: sRGB | ForestWander Nature Photography: ForestWander Nature Photography | ForestWander: |

Vesta’s Amazing Technicolor Surface

Vesta’s Amazing Technicolor Surface:
A brand new 3-D video map from the Dawn mission provides a unique view of the varied surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. The animation drapes high-resolution false color images over a 3-D model of the Vesta terrain constructed from Dawn’s observations. This visualization enables a detailed view of the variation in the material properties of Vesta in the context of its topography.

Spiral Seen Over the Middle East Likely Russian Missile

Spiral Seen Over the Middle East Likely Russian Missile:

Remember the Norway Spiral back in 2009 and the Australian Spiral in 2010? On June 7, 2012 there was another swirling spiral of light, this time see in the skies over the Middle East. People across the region reported seeing a “UFO” and soon videos began showing up on YouTube.
The strange sight has been confirmed to be a Russian ballistic missile test of the Topol ICBM from the Kapustin Yar firing range near Astrakhan in southern Russia.