Saturday, April 14, 2012

PHOTO : A Planetary Ring and 64 Moons Around Planet Jupiter

A Planetary Ring and 64 Moons Around Planet Jupiter:

PHOTO : A Planetary Ring and 64 Moons Around Planet Jupiter
PHOTO : A Planetary Ring and 64 Moons Around Planet Jupiter
Biggest Planet and Biggest Moon in the Solar System
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the biggest planet of the Solar System, its mass being more than twice as big as all the other planets combined.  Along with Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, the four giant planets are known as the Jovial.
Planet Jupiter has mostly in its component hydrogen and helium, but it might also have a rocky core of heavy elements. Due to the high speed of its rotation, Jupiter has the shape of an oblate spheroid, having both poles closer to the core than the equator. The outer atmosphere of Jupiter is divided into separated latitude layers, which cause turbulence and storms when they interact. The most significant result of  the layers interaction is a giant storm still in process, discovered in the 17th century . This storm is known by the name of the Great Red Spot.
Jupiter is surrounded by a slightly detectable planetary ring and a strong magnetosphere. What makes this planet interesting is not only its size, but also the fact that Jupiter has 64 moons. Four of the moons are very famous: Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, also called the Galilean moons, after their discoverer Galileo Galilei. Ganymede is the biggest natural satellite in the Solar System, being bigger than the planet Mercury.
Along with the Sun, the Moon and planet Venus, Jupiter is the fourth largest object seen by the naked eye. The gravitational influence of planet Jupiter played a very important role in the shaping process of the solar System. Thereby, the majority of the planets orbit closer to Jupiter’s orbital plane than to the Sun’s equatorial plane.  Mercury is the only planet that makes an exception, being closer to the Sun. Also, it’s high gravitational level might have caused the Kirkwood gaps in the asteroid belt and the  Late Heavy Bombardment of the inner Solar System’s history.
Distance from Earth: 0.0000621 light years, about 32 light minutes

Humans Respond to First Contact from an Alien World

How Would Humans Respond to First Contact from an Alien World?:

Artist concept of an exoplanet. Credit: NASA
According to Star Trek lore, it is only 51 years until humans encounter their first contact with an alien species. In the movie “Star Trek: First Contact,” on April 5, 2063, Vulcans pay a visit to an Earth recovering from a war-torn period (see the movie clip below.) But will such a planet-wide, history-changing event ever really take place? If you are logical, like Spock and his Vulcan species, science points towards the inevitability of first contact. This is according to journalist Marc Kaufman, who is a science writer for the Washington Post and author of the book “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for life Beyond Earth.” He writes that from humanity’s point of view, first contact would be a “harbinger of a new frontier in a dramatically changed cosmos.”
What are some of the arguments for and against the likelihood of first contact ever taking place and what would the implications be?

Keck Observatory Fires Up MOSFIRE

Keck Observatory Fires Up MOSFIRE:

The MOSFIRE instrument's "first light" image (unprocessed) of The Antennae galaxies, acquired on April 4 2012. (W. M. Keck Observatory)
Last week, on April 4, 2012, the W.M. Keck Observatory’s brand-new MOSFIRE instrument opened its infrared-sensing eyes to the Universe for the first time, capturing the image above of a pair of interacting galaxies known as The Antennae. Once fully commissioned and scientific observations begin, MOSFIRE will greatly enhance the imaging abilities of “the world’s most productive ground-based observatory.”

Moscow At Night

Moscow At Night:

Photo by Expedition 30 crew during a night pass over Moscow on March 28, 2012.
Tracing a bright star upon the Earth, the lights of Russia’s capital city blaze beyond the solar panels of the International Space Station in this photo, captured by the Expedition 30 crew on the night of March 28, 2012.

Astrophotos: A Colorful Moon

Astrophotos: A Colorful Moon:

An unusual false color view of our Moon. Credit: César Cantú
Recognize this? Yes, it is our own Moon, but using Photoshop, the photographer, César Cantú from the Chilidog Observatory in Monterrey, Mexico extracted the Moon’s colors and exaggerated them just a bit. “Although exaggerated, the color components are the real highlights,” César said, “with blue indicating a significant amount of titanium, and the orange areas with little iron or titanium. These colorful images are more easy to perform That thanks to digital cameras that detect colors — where with analog cameras, it is still impossible.”
César took the image on April 6, 2012. See his website for more details.
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.

Alqueva: Some of the Darkest, Clearest Skies on Earth

Alqueva: Some of the Darkest, Clearest Skies on Earth:

Megoliths and star trails in the Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve in Portugal. Credit: © Miguel Claro
It’s a place with dark skies, clear nights and ancient astronomical megaliths. What more could you want in an astro-destination? The Great Lake Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve in Portugal is the first site in the world to receive the “Starlight Tourism Destination” certification and has good atmospheric conditions for stargazing for more than 250 nights of the year, as well as having special lodging just for astro-tourists. The services for guests include late night meals and meals to go for stargazers, available telescopes and binoculars, and classes on astronomy and observing.
Astrophotographer Miguel Claro was tasked with having just two nights to take images of one part of this Dark Sky Reserve to help promote the region, and he has sent Universe Today his stunning images. “They are representative of the Monsaraz region, one of the locations covered by the Dark Sky Reserve area and that had the best dark sky measures in the process of Starlight validation,” Claro told UT. “Even being so dark, and without the presence of the Moon to light up the landscape – at this time of the year without the major presence Milky Way – I had to use very high ISO´s, so there were some differences between heaven and Earth elements, avoiding overly dark images. But the sky was so dark, that we could find M33 with unaided eye.”
Enjoy several of Claro’s images below, as well as finding out more about this dark sky destination.

Frantic Comet Massacre Taking Place at Fomalhaut

Frantic Comet Massacre Taking Place at Fomalhaut:

Herschel's far-infrared observations of Fomalhaut and its disk. Credit: ESA

There may be some frantic activity going on in the narrow, dusty disk surrounding a nearby star named Fomalhaut. Scientists have been trying to understand the makeup of the disk, and new observations by the Herschel Space Observatory reveals the disk may come from cometary collisions. But in order to create the amount of dust and debris seen around Fomalhaut, there would have to be collisions destroying thousands of icy comets every day.
“I was really surprised,” said Bram Acke, who led a team on the Herschel observations. “To me this was an extremely large number.”

Deep Space Atomic Clock Mission Will Improve Navigation Technology

Deep Space Atomic Clock Mission Will Improve Navigation Technology:

A computer-aided design, or CAD, drawing of the linear ion trap of the clock -- the "heart" of the Deep Space Atomic Clock's physics package -- is slightly smaller than two rolls of quarters laid side by side. The DSAC project is a small, low-mass atomic clock based on mercury-ion trap technology that will be demonstrated in space, providing unprecedented stability needed for next-generation deep space navigation and radio science. Image credit: NASA/JPL
Precise radio navigation — using radio frequencies to determine position — is vital to the success of all deep-space exploration missions. To improve navigation technology, a small demonstration mission called the Deep Space Atomic Clock (DSAC) will fly as part of a future NASA mission in order to validate a miniaturized, ultra-precise mercury-ion atomic clock that is 100 times more stable than today’s best navigation clocks.

What’s the Moon Made Of? Earth, Most Likely.

What’s the Moon Made Of? Earth, Most Likely.:

An impact between a Mars-sized protoplanet and early Earth is the most widely-accepted origin of the Moon. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Recent research on lunar samples has shown that the Moon may be made of more Earth than green cheese — if by “green cheese” you mean the protoplanet impactor that was instrumental in its creation.

Is This Proof of Life on Mars?

Is This Proof of Life on Mars?:

View of Mars from Viking 2 lander, September 1976. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The Curiosity rover is currently on its way to Mars, scheduled to make a dramatic landing within Gale Crater in mid-August and begin its hunt for the geologic signatures of a watery, life-friendly past. Solid evidence that large volumes of water existed on Mars at some point would be a major step forward in the search for life on the Red Planet.
But… has it already been found? Some scientists say yes.

The Heavens are Ablaze With Blazars

The Heavens are Ablaze With Blazars:

This image taken by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) shows a blazar -- a voracious supermassive black hole inside a galaxy with a jet that happens to be pointed right toward Earth. These objects are rare and hard to find, but astronomers have discovered that they can use the WISE all-sky infrared images to uncover new ones. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kavli
From a JPL press release:

Astronomers are actively hunting a class of supermassive black holes throughout the universe called blazars thanks to data collected by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). The mission has revealed more than 200 blazars and has the potential to find thousands more.

Asteroid Lutetia Flyby Animation

Asteroid Lutetia Flyby Animation:

In today’s Weekly Space Hangout, Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society mentioned an animation of recently released images from the Rosetta mission’s flyby of asteroid Lutetia. It was put together and processed by Ian Regan, and Emily suggested you play this on a hand-held device (like a smart phone) in a dark room and move it around like you yourself are maneuvering the flyby! Try it — it is a very cool effect!
And while you’re at it, you also need to check out Emily’s montage poster of asteroids and comets, below:

A Galaxy’s Bulge Divulges Its Spin

A Galaxy’s Bulge Divulges Its Spin:

Hubble image of "deformed" spiral galaxy NGC 4980
Although somewhat blobby and deformed, this is in fact a spiral galaxy, located in the southern constellation Hydra. Imaged by Hubble as part of a survey of galactic bulges, NGC 4980 exhibits what’s called a “pseudobulge” — an inline central concentration of stars whose similar spiral motion extends right down into its core.

Controversial North Korean Rocket Launch Apparently Fails in Flight

Breaking News – Controversial North Korean Rocket Launch Apparently Fails in Flight:

North Korean Unha-3 three stage rocket erected at seaside launch pad days ago. The Unha-3 rocket was launched on April 13 and failed shortly after liftoff
See launch animation below
Story Updated - Read Official NORAD statement below

North Korea has just gone ahead with their announced intentions to defy international warnings and launched the highly controversial Unha-3 long range missile a short while ago at 7:39 AM local time on Friday the 13th (2239 GMT, 6:39 PM EDT Thursday), as reported by CNN, NBC, Fox and other news media on live TV broadcasts at 7 PM EDT, Thursday evening. [Story Updated]
The 3 stage rocket apparently failed in flight quickly and broke apart within the first 90 seconds to 2 minutes and never reached orbit, according to US, Japanese and South Korean officials who have been closely monitoring the developing situation the past few weeks.(...)

Hubble Reveals Curious Auroras on Uranus

Hubble Reveals Curious Auroras on Uranus:

Bright spots of Uranus' short-lived auroras have been imaged with the Hubble Space Telescope.
Astronomers have finally succeeded in capturing the first Earth-based images of the curious and fleeting auroras of Uranus using the Hubble Space Telescope, careful planning… and no small amount of luck.

Thin Skinned and Wrinkled, Mercury is Full of Surprises

Thin Skinned and Wrinkled, Mercury is Full of Surprises:

A global mosaic of Mercury from MESSENGER.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Until relatively recently, Mercury was one of the most poorly understood planets in the inner solar system. The MESSENGER mission to Mercury, is changing all of the that. New results from the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) and gravity measurements are showing us that the planet closest to our sun is thin skinned and wrinkled, which is very different from what we originally thought.

PHOTO : Intelligent Alien Dinosaurs?

Intelligent Alien Dinosaurs?:

I for one welcome our alien dinosaur overlords…maybe.
Dinosaurs once roamed and ruled the Earth. Is it possible that similar humongous creatures may have evolved on another planet – a world that DIDN’T get smacked by an asteroid – and later they developed to have human-like, intelligent brains? A recent paper discussing why the biochemical signature of life on Earth is so consistent in orientation somehow segued into the possibility that advanced versions of T. Rex and other dinosaurs may be the life forms that live on other worlds. The conclusion? “We would be better off not meeting them,” said scientist Ronald Breslow, author of the paper.

See Big and Bright Saturn at Opposition This Weekend

See Big and Bright Saturn at Opposition This Weekend:

Saturn on April 3, 2012 with the moons Dione (Top-Left) and Tethys (Bot.-Right) as the ringed planet approaches opposition.Credit: Efrain Morales.
Now is the time to take a look at the planet Saturn, as the ringed planet will be at opposition this weekend, making its closest approach to Earth on April 15, 2012. Its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun, so get out those telescopes, binoculars and your imaging equipment! We want to see your photos! Efrain Morales from the Jaicoa Observatory took this image of Saturn and some of its moons on April 3.
The giant planet’s rings are now optimally angled at over 13 degrees, revealing them better than they have appeared in the past five years. To see the rings of Saturn during opposition, in the northern hemisphere point your telescopes east to southeast at nightfall and south around midnight. For reference, Saturn will be near the bright star Spica, in the constellation Virgo. In the southern hemisphere, Saturn will be above the eastern horizon at 10pm local time, still near Spica.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

NASA : Alien vs. Editor: A Pigment of Your Imagination?

Alien vs. Editor: A Pigment of Your Imagination?:

By Steve Edberg
Alien vs. Editor is a forum for questions and answers about extrasolar planets and NASA’s search for life beyond our solar system. Leave your questions for author Steve Edberg and read more on the PlanetQuest website.
Fantasy alien landscape

Where would blue-skinned aliens exist?
Joel asked: If you were to find aliens next to the sun, why would they be blue?
The only blue aliens I’m aware of lived on a moon called Pandora in a popular movie released in 2009. The foundation of your question is the more general question of why we observe a wide variety of colors “used” by life on Earth. Those colors are “used” by their organisms in many different ways. And there are a variety of mechanisms that generate the colors.
The colors of plants and animals have a variety of goals. For plants, the green of their leaves comes from the chlorophyll that absorbs violet-blue and yellow-orange-red light for photosynthesis. Some plants (like Japanese plum) have additional pigments for protection from ultraviolet light and appear dark red. Flowers have colors specifically to attract pollinators, but the colors the pollinators see may not be the colors we see.
Animals have colors to camouflage themselves and attract mates. Some plant and animal coloring is designed to warn off predators. The red eye you see in flash pictures of your friends is a reflection of their eyes’ retinas. Photographs of dogs show their retinas reflect greenish light. Is retinal color related to color vision? Most humans have color vision and dogs are color blind.
The colors we see around us are generated by different mechanisms, which can reflect (pun intended) on its use by an organism. The color of a pigment depends on the colors it absorbs and those it reflects. Chlorophyll is a green pigment, and hair and skin colors result from pigments as well.
polar bear

Polar bear fur only looks white.
Polar bears’ black skin pigmentation helps keep them warm. The bears’ white fur only looks white in bulk. Individual hair follicles are actually transparent, so that they carry sunlight down from the “top” of the fur coat to the bear’s skin, where all the colors of sunlight (you’ve seen them in a rainbow made by differential refraction, another mechanism!) are absorbed by the black skin, helping to keep the polar bear warm. The fiber optics we use to transfer data over the internet or between components in your home entertainment system carry light in the same way.
The iridescent color of bird feathers is produced by another mechanism, the same one that makes detergent bubbles and thin slicks of oil on water show colors. The structure of feathers and thickness of detergent and oil layers permits waves of light to “interfere” with each other. You’ve seen wave interference in a quiet pool or pond when you throw two small objects into the water and the circular waves move out from each impact point. When the waves cross over each other, their height is greater where the peaks combine and flat where a peak and a valley combine.
A similar thing happens with light waves in iridescent materials. In the feathers, waves of a particular color are reflected and combined before they are shunted out of the feather, while the other colors are absorbed by a black pigment. The colors come from the spacing of tiny reflectors, called lamellae, in the feathers: change the spacing and the color coming from the feather is different. In detergent bubbles and oil slicks, change the layer’s thickness and you change the color seen.
So where might we expect blue-skinned aliens? My answer is on an exoplanet orbiting a cool, red star. Why? Because the alien probably wants to absorb as much stellar energy as it can from its star, and blue pigments absorb red light. It would be well-camouflaged in the blue vegetation trying to absorb as much energy from the red sun as it could.

NASA : All Eyes on Asteroid Vesta

NASA : All Eyes on Asteroid Vesta:

By Marc Rayman
As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft investigates its first target, the giant asteroid Vesta, Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer, shares a monthly update on the mission’s progress.

Layered young crater as imaged by NASA's Dawn spacecraft

This image from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows a young crater on Vesta that is 9 miles (15 kilometers) in diameter. Layering is visible in the crater walls, as are large boulders that were thrown out in the material ejected from the impact. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA |
On March 29, Vesta spent the 205th anniversary of its discovery by treating Dawn to more spectacular vistas, as it does so often these days. When Heinrich Wilhelm Matthäus Olbers first spotted Vesta, he could hardly have imagined that the power of the noble human spirit for adventure and the insatiable hunger for knowledge would propel a ship from Earth to that mysterious point of light among the stars. And yet today our spacecraft is conducting a detailed and richly rewarding exploration of the world that Olbers found.
Dawn is continuing its intensive low-altitude mapping orbit (LAMO) campaign, scrutinizing the protoplanet 210 kilometers (130 miles) beneath it with all instruments. The primary objectives of the craft’s work here are to measure the atomic composition and the interior distribution of mass in this geologically complex world. In addition, this low orbit provides the best vantage point for high resolution pictures and visible and infrared spectra to reveal the nature of the minerals on the surface.
Ever since it left its home planet behind in September 2007, the robotic adventurer has pursued its own independent course through the solar system. As Earth and its orbiting retinue (including the moon and many artificial satellites) followed their repetitive annual loop around the sun, Dawn used its ion propulsion system to spiral outward to rendezvous with Vesta in July 2011. When the gigantic asteroid’s gravity gently took hold of the visiting craft, the two began traveling together around the sun, taking the same route Vesta has since long before humans gazed in wonder at the nighttime sky.
As we have discussed before, the speed of an object in orbit, whether around Earth, the sun, the Milky Way (either my cat or the galaxy of the same name) or anything else, decreases as its orbital altitude increases. Farther from the sun than Earth is, and hence bound to it by a weaker gravitational grip, Vesta moves at a more leisurely pace, taking more than 3.6 years per revolution. When Dawn travels to the more remote Ceres, it will orbit the sun even more slowly, eventually matching Ceres’ rate of 4.6 years for each loop.
Just as the hour hand and minute hand of a clock occasionally are near each other and at other times are on opposite sides of the clock face, Earth and Dawn sometimes are relatively close and other times are much farther apart. Now their orbits are taking them to opposite sides of the sun, and the distance is staggering. They have been on opposite sides of the sun twice before (albeit not as far apart as this time), in November 2008 and November 2010. We used both occasions to explain more about the nature of the alignment as well as to contemplate the profundity of such grand adventures.
On April 18, Dawn will attain its greatest separation yet from Earth, nearly 520 million kilometers (323 million miles) or more than 3.47 astronomical units (AU). Well beyond Mars, fewer than a dozen spacecraft have ever operated so far from Earth. Those interested in the history of space exploration (such as your correspondent) will enumerate them, but what should be more rewarding is marveling at the extent of humanity’s reach. At this extraordinary range, Dawn will be nearly 1,400 times farther than the average distance to the moon (and 1,300 times farther than the greatest distance attained by Apollo astronauts 42 years ago). The deep-space ship will be well over one million times farther from Earth than the International Space Station and Tiangong-1.
Vesta does not orbit the sun in the same plane that Earth does. Indeed, a significant part of the challenge in matching Dawn’s orbit to Vesta’s was tipping the plane of its orbit from Earth’s, where it began its journey, to Vesta’s, where it is now. As a result, when they are on opposite sides of the sun this time, Dawn will not appear to go directly behind the sun but rather will pass a little south of it. In addition, because the orbits are not perfectly circular, the greatest separation does not quite coincide with the time that Dawn and the sun appear to be most closely aligned. The angular separation will be at its minimum of less than five degrees (about 10 times the angular size of the sun itself) on April 9, but the sun and Dawn appear to be within ten degrees of each other from March 23 until April 27. For our human readers, that small angle is comparable to the width of your palm at arm’s length, providing a handy way to find the approximate position of the spacecraft in the sky. Earth’s robotic ambassador to the cosmos began east of the salient celestial signpost and progresses slowly to the west over the course of those five weeks. Readers are encouraged to step outside and join your correspondent in raising a saluting hand to the sun, Dawn, and what we jointly accomplish in our efforts to gain a perspective on our place in the universe.
For those awestruck observers who lack the requisite superhuman visual acuity to discern the faraway spacecraft amidst the dazzling light of the sun, this alignment provides a convenient occasion to reflect once again upon missions deep into space. Formed at the dawn of the solar system, Vesta, arguably the smallest of the terrestrial planets, has waited mostly in patient inconspicuousness for a visit from the largest terrestrial planet. For the entire history of life on Earth, the inhabitants remained confined to the world on which they have lived. Yet finally, one of the millions upon millions of species, inspired by the majesty of the universe, applied its extraordinary talents and collective knowledge to overcome the limitations of planetary life and strove to venture outward. Dawn is the product of creatures fortunate enough to be able to combine their powerful curiosity about the workings of the cosmos with their impressive abilities to explore, investigate and ultimately understand. While its builders remain in the vicinity of the planet upon which they evolved, their emissary now is passing on the far side of the sun! This is the same sun that is more than 100 times the diameter of Earth and a third of a million times its mass. This is the same sun that has been the unchallenged master of our solar system for more than 4.5 billion years. This is the same sun that has shone down on Earth throughout that time and has been the ultimate source of so much of the heat, light and other energy upon which the planet’s residents have been so dependent. This is the same sun that has so influenced human expression in art, literature, mythology and religion for uncounted millennia. This is the same sun that has motivated scientific studies for centuries. This is the same sun that is our signpost in the Milky Way galaxy. And humans have a spacecraft on the far side of it. We may be humbled by our own insignificance in the universe, yet we still undertake the most valiant adventures in our attempts to comprehend its majesty.
Dawn is 210 kilometers (130 miles) from Vesta. It is also 3.45 AU (516 million kilometers or 321 million miles) from Earth, or 1,290 times as far as the moon and 3.45 times as far as the sun today. Radio signals, traveling at the universal limit of the speed of light, take 57 minutes to make the round trip.

PHOTO : Sun Releases a Powerful X5 Flare

Sun Releases a Powerful X5 Flare:

AR1429 released an X-class flare on March 7 at 00:28 UT. (NASA/SDO)
Active Region 1429 unleashed an X5.4-class solar flare early this morning at 00:28 UT, as seen in this image by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (AIA 304). The eruption belched out a large coronal mass ejection (CME) into space but it’s not yet known exactly how it will impact Earth — it may just be a glancing blow.

EARTH PHOTO : Shaking Up Theories Of Earth’s Formation

Shaking Up Theories Of Earth’s Formation:

Earth may not have formed quite like once thought (Image: NASA/Suomi NPP)
Researchers from The Australian National University are suggesting that Earth didn’t form as previously thought, shaking up some long-standing hypotheses of our planet’s origins right down to the core — literally.

Was This Ancient Monolith a Stone Age Astronomy Tool?

Was This Ancient Monolith a Stone Age Astronomy Tool?:

The Gardom's Edge Monolith (Credit: Daniel Brown / Nottingham Trent University)
Is this 2-meter-high slab of lichen-covered rock in a UK park an astronomical marker used by Neolithic people? Researchers from Nottingham Trent University are suggesting that may in fact be the case, based on the stone’s alignment, angle and proximity to other significant Stone and Bronze Age sites nearby.

Curiosity Halfway to Red Planet Touchdown

Curiosity Halfway to Red Planet Touchdown:

Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Spacecraft Cruising to Mars
Guided by the stars, Curiosity has reached the halfway point of her interplanetary cruise phase from the Earth to Mars in between launch on Nov. 26, 2011 and final approach in August 2012. The NASA spacecraft includes a disc-shaped solar powered cruise stage (on the left) attached to the aeroshell (right). Curiosity and the descent stage are tucked inside the aeroshell. Along the way to Mars, the cruise stage will perform six trajectory correction maneuvers (TCM’s) to adjust the spacecraft's path toward its final, precise landing site on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
As of today, NASA’s car sized Curiosity rover has reached the halfway point in her 352 million mile (567 million km) journey to Mars – No fooling on April 1, 2012.
It’s T Minus 126 days until Curiosity smashes into the Martian atmosphere to brave the hellish “6 Minutes of Terror” – and, if all goes well, touch down inside Gale Crater at the foothills of a Martian mountain taller than the tallest in the continental United States – namely Mount Rainier.
Curiosity will search for the ingredients of life (...)

Kepler Mission Extended to 2016

Kepler Mission Extended to 2016:

Artist concept of Kepler in space. Credit: NASA/JPL
With NASA’s tight budget, there were concerns that some of the agency’s most successful astrophysics missions might not be able to continue. Anxieties were rampant about one mission in particular, the very fruitful exoplanet-hunting Kepler mission, as several years of observations are required in order for Kepler to confirm a repeated orbit as a planet transits its star. But today, after a long awaited Senior Review of nine astrophysics missions, surprisingly all have received funding to continue at least through 2014, with several mission extensions, including Kepler.
“Ad Astra… Kepler mission extended through FY16! We are grateful & ecstatic!” the @NASAKepler Twitter account posted today.
Additionally, missions such as Hubble, Fermi and Swift will receive continued funding. The only mission that took a hit was the Spitzer infrared telescope, which – as of now — will be closed out in 2015, which is sooner than requested.

Watch Live Webcast of Venus-Pleiades Conjunction April 4, 2012

Watch Live Webcast of Venus-Pleiades Conjunction April 4, 2012:

There’s a nice meetup in the heavens tonight: bright Venus is snuggling up to one of the most famous star clusters, the Pleiades. The Slooh Space Camera is broadcasting a live, real-time feed of the most famous star cluster in the heavens, the Pleiades, meeting up with our nearest and brightest planetary neighbor, Venus. Slooh’s coverage will begin on Wednesday, April 4th starting at 1:30 PM PDT / 4:30 PM EDT / 20:30 UT. (This was originally scheduled for April 3rd, but was rescheduled due to high humidity at Canary Islands observatory off the coast of Africa.) The broadcast can be watched here, or accessed at Slooh’s homepage or by visiting Slooh’s G+ page, where you will be able to see the panel interact live via G+ Hangouts On Air.
If skies are clear, you can see the conjunction for yourself by looking toward the west in the constellation Taurus, after sunset, using binoculars. If you can get images of the event, we’ll post views of them. Share them on Universe Today’s Flickr page.

Supernova Explosions, Black Hole Jets Might Cause Galaxies to ‘Age’ Faster

Supernova Explosions, Black Hole Jets Might Cause Galaxies to ‘Age’ Faster:

Time is running out for the galaxy NGC 3801, seen in this composite image combining light from across the spectrum, ranging from ultraviolet to radio. NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer and other instruments have helped catch the galaxy NGC 3801 in the act of destroying its cold, gaseous fuel for new stars. Astronomers believe this marks the beginning of its transition from a vigorous spiral galaxy to a quiescent elliptical galaxy whose star-forming days are long past. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SDSS/NRAO/ASIAA
Supernova explosions and the jets of a monstrous black hole are scattering one galaxy’s star-making gas, driving a dramatic transformation from spiral galactic youth to elderly elliptical, according to a new study of a recently merged galaxy. Cool gas, the fuel from which new stars form, is essential to the youth and vigor of a galaxy. But supernova explosions can start the decline in star formation, and then shock waves from the supermassive black hole finish the job, turning spiral galaxies to “red and dead” ellipticals.

Astrophotos from Around the World of the Venus-Pleiades Conjunction

Astrophotos from Around the World of the Venus-Pleiades Conjunction:

Venus at The Seven Sisters, M45 Pleiades on 04-04-2012. Credit and copyright John Chumack.
The past several evenings, Venus has been snuggling up to one of the most famous star clusters, the Pleiades. Universe Today readers have taken some beautiful images of that event, and they have generously shared them with us. Above is John Chumack’s stunning view from Ohio in the US; see below for more images from around the world!
The Pleiades, also known at the Seven Sisters, is a beautiful bright blue open star cluster 440 light years from Earth. Only once every eight years does this conjunction take place.

NASA : How Would Humans Respond to First Contact from an Alien World?

NASA : How Would Humans Respond to First Contact from an Alien World?:

Artist concept of an exoplanet. Credit: NASA
According to Star Trek lore, it is only 51 years until humans encounter their first contact with an alien species. In the movie “Star Trek: First Contact,” on April 5, 2063, Vulcans pay a visit to an Earth recovering from a war-torn period (see the movie clip below.) But will such a planet-wide, history-changing event ever really take place? If you are logical, like Spock and his Vulcan species, science points towards the inevitability of first contact. This is according to journalist Marc Kaufman, who is a science writer for the Washington Post and author of the book “First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in the Hunt for life Beyond Earth.” He writes that from humanity’s point of view, first contact would be a “harbinger of a new frontier in a dramatically changed cosmos.”
What are some of the arguments for and against the likelihood of first contact ever taking place and what would the implications be?

New Image Shows Beautiful Violence in Centaurus A

New Image Shows Beautiful Violence in Centaurus A:

Centaurus A in Far-infrared and X-rays. Credit: Far-infrared: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/C.D. Wilson, MacMaster University, Canada; X-ray: ESA/XMM-Newton/EPIC
The mysterious galaxy Centaurus A is a great place to study the extreme processes that occur near super-massive black holes, scientists say, and this beautiful new image from the combined forces of the Herschel Space Observatory and the XMM-Newton x-ray satellite reveals energetic processes going on deep in the galaxy’s core. This beautiful image tells a tale of past violence that occurred here.

Polar Telescope Casts New Light On Dark Energy And Neutrino Mass

Polar Telescope Casts New Light On Dark Energy And Neutrino Mass:

The 10-meter South Pole Telescope in Antarctica is located at the Amundsen-Scott Station, literally at the geographic southern pole of our planet. (Daniel Luong-Van, National Science Foundation)
Located at the southermost point on Earth, the 280-ton, 10-meter-wide South Pole Telescope has helped astronomers unravel the nature of dark energy and zero in on the actual mass of neutrinos — elusive subatomic particles that pervade the Universe and, until very recently, were thought to be entirely without measureable mass.