Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

Hand of God

January 12, 2014

Sometimes when you reach for the stars, the stars reach back. This cloud of gas and dust has been nicknamed the Hand of God, due to its eerie shape. The cloud is made of material that a star ejected when it exploded and is now being sculpted by the stellar core that remained.

Hand of God

More great images here.

Passing Shot of Earth Makes All Seem Tiny

December 12, 2013

A spacecraft drive-by has provided new footage of something we all take for granted – the orbit of the moon around Earth.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has flown past our planet on its way to Jupiter, and managed to catch footage of the Moon as it performed an eternal tango with its hefty blue partner.

Juno used a gravitational slingshot manoeuvre to accelerate itself into the solar system after it was launched towards the asteroid belt in early August.

It received a boost in speed of more than 14,000 kph (about 7.3 kilometres per second), which set it on course for a July 4, 2016, rendezvous with Jupiter.

The spacecraft is equipped with an array of advanced sensors, including a special camera optimised for tracking faint stars, it was this camera that was trained towards Earth as the ship shot by, resulting in an intriguing, low-resolution glimpse of what we would look like to a visitor from afar.

Learn more here.

Aurora origins

November 8, 2013

On a dark night, far from the Equator, you might be lucky enough to spot an aurora: a shimmering, colourful glow in the sky. This natural light show has captivated people for thousands of years. While it is mostly associated with cold, dark nights near the poles, auroras have a much brighter, warmer origin: the Sun.

aurora
The extremely high temperatures of the solar surface produce plasma. Plasma isn’t a gas, solid or liquid. It’s a fourth state of matter, made up of charged particles also known as ions. The stream of plasma that shoots outwards from the Sun is called the solar wind.

The solar wind travels in all directions, and Earth is constantly being bombarded by fast-moving ions from the Sun. Earth has a magnetic field, so when the solar wind hits Earth, the charged particles are attracted to Earth’s magnetic poles.

As the ions move through Earth’s atmosphere, they collide with molecules of gas, such as oxygen and nitrogen. These collisions transfer energy from the ions to the gas molecules. The molecules are now in an excited state. To come back down to their unexcited state, the gas molecules release energy in the form of coloured light. This can be seen from Earth’s surface as an aurora.

The amount of solar activity varies. Sometimes there isn’t much solar wind, and an aurora isn’t visible. Peaks of solar activity occur roughly every 11 years, and it’s been about that long since the last one. Recently some large solar flares were detected on the Sun’s surface. This evidence suggests a solar maximum is approaching, which could result in brighter and more wide-spread auroras.

It is difficult to predict when an aurora will appear, and even when one does, it can move and disappear in an instant. Science can explain many aspects of auroras. However, their elusive and unpredictable nature combined with their beauty means they still seem somewhat magical. Learn more herehere or here.

The Future of Space Exploration Is Not What You Think

November 3, 2013

To most people, exploration means the kinds of things that travelers did in the past — Captain James Cook charting islands in the vast Pacific Ocean or Robert Peary and Frederick Cook planting a flag at the North Pole. The 1960s and ’70s Apollo landings, with their flags and footprints legacy, were a continuation of this idea and many people assume that this is how future planetary exploration will proceed.

This probably won’t be so …

NASA-ESA Joint Program-level Agreement Options

With ever-improving computing power and communication protocols, astronauts could float in a space station in orbit around the moon or Mars, donning exoskeleton controllers to teleoperate robots in real time. These probes would drive, fly, drill, dig, scoop, and gather material faster and with more precision than current probes controlled from Earth. The best part of humans, our powerful brains that can identify the perfect geologic rock sample and make decisions on the fly, would be combined with all the advantages of robots — their advanced cameras, suites of instruments, and bodies that aren’t prone to degenerative problems like blindness and bone loss after months of space travel. One day our mechanical proxies could even help humans visit places that would destroy our bodies, like the hellish surface of Venus or the frozen ocean of Europa. Learn more here.

Diamond drizzle forecast for Saturn and Jupiter

October 11, 2013

Lightning storms on Saturn and Jupiter could create carbon soot that might be compressed into diamonds as it falls through the atmosphere.

Scientists theorise that lightning zaps molecules of methane in the upper atmospheres of Saturn and Jupiter, liberating carbon atoms. These atoms then stick onto each other, forming larger particles of carbon soot (which the Cassini spacecraft may have spotted in dark storm clouds on Saturn). As the soot particles slowly float down through ever-denser layers of gaseous and liquid hydrogen towards the planets’ rocky cores, they experience ever greater pressures and temperatures. The soot is compressed into graphite, and then into solid diamonds before reaching a temperature of about 8,000 °C, when the diamond melts, forming liquid diamond raindrops.

Could robots one day collect diamonds on Saturn?

Could robots one day collect diamonds on Saturn?

Inside Saturn, the conditions are right for diamond ‘hail’ to form, beginning at a depth of about 6,000 kilometres into the atmosphere and extending for another 30,000 km below that. If you had a robot there, it would sit there and collect diamonds raining down. Learn more here.

Astronomers Create Cloud Map of Jupiter-Like Exoplanet

October 3, 2013

Astronomers have created the first map of the clouds on a planet outside our Solar System.

The planet in question is Kepler-7b, a large gaseous world like Jupiter, roughly 1,000 light-years away.

Kepler-7b clouds

The researchers used data from Nasa’s Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to study the exoplanet, which orbits close to its parent star.

Their results suggest the hot giant is marked by high clouds in the west and clear skies in the east.

Astronomers have previously been able to make temperature maps of planets orbiting other stars, but this is the first look at cloud structures on a distant world. Kepler-7b is something of an oddity – bigger than Jupiter, but lower in mass – with a density about the same as polystyrene. Learn more here, here or here.

If the Moon were replaced with some of our planets

August 26, 2013

This is an awesome visualization of what it might be like if the Moon was replaced with some of the other planets at the same distance as our moon …

What Happens To Your Skin In Space

August 16, 2013

About two and a half months into an astronaut’s stint in space, the bottoms of their feet have spent a fairly decent amount of time without experiencing any pressure. And without gravity to put those calluses they worked so hard for to good use, they essentially just fall off any time the astronauts remove a sock and float away as clouds of giant, dead skin flakes.

Eeewwww!

Earth from 1.4 billion kilometres

July 25, 2013

If you waved at Saturn the other day, some of the photons that bounced off your arm could be in this image.

Seen from about 1.4 billion kilometres away, Earth is the bright, pale blue dot seen just under Saturn’s faint outer rings.

Earth from 1.4 billion kilometres

The snap comes from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Learn more here.

Three habitable worlds found around the same star

July 17, 2013

Astronomers believe they have found an alien solar system packed with a record-breaking three potentially habitable worlds.

New observations of the star Gliese 667C—about one-third the mass of our sun—is home to between five and seven planets, three of which are classified as super-Earths. All three are larger than our own planet, but smaller than gas giants like Uranus and Neptune.

Gliese 667 C Planet

But what makes all the difference is that these super-Earths orbit in what is known as the “Goldilocks Zone”—the region around a star where temperatures are just right for liquid water, a key ingredient in the recipe for life, to exist.

These planets are good candidates to have a solid surface and maybe an atmosphere like the Earth’s.

What makes this finding so exciting is that for the first time, astronomers have three potentially rocky or ocean worlds orbiting the same star. And at 22 light-years away from Earth, Gliese 667C and it’s two companion stars are considered relatively close neighbors to our solar system, making them ideal candidates for future extraterrestrial searches for life.

Learn more here or here.


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