Curiosity has successfully made it to Mars! While it’s gotten a generous amount of press in recent days, we wanted add our own nod to the successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory aboard its rover, Curiosity, (after its Seven Minutes of Terror) at 1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6, 2012 (10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012). Since then it has proceeded with its set up to get itself fully up and running in order to study the red planet.
The rover, launched Nov. 26, 2011, hosts a myriad of instruments that will allow it to analyze the martian landscape. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is about the size of a small SUV and carries with it three cameras, several spectrometers, as well as radiation detectors, environmental sensors, and atmospheric sensors. This mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s “habitability.” The rover will analyze samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet’s climate and geology is essentially written in the rocks and soil — in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover’s onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past. We look forward to all that we can learn about Mars from the MSL aboard Curiosity.
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Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Hubble captured this wonderful image that looks very much like an outer space firework explosion. Herbig-Haro 110 is a geyser of hot gas being blown away from a newborn star that ricochets off the dense core of a cloud of molecular hydrogen. Herbig-Haro 110 is one of a collection of the group of Herbig-Haro objects that come in a variety of shapes, but still have the same basic configuration. Twin jets of heated gas are ejected out from a newly formed star and stream through the space between stars. Astronomers suspect that these jets are fueled by gas and dust falling onto a young star. The disk acts as the fuel tank, the star acts as the gravitational engine, and the jets are the exhaust. When these jets slam into the gas between stars, it heats up the gas, causing it to glow. Gas within the shock front slows dramatically, but more gas just keeps building up behind it, causing more glowing (These “bow shocks” are so names because they resemble the waves that form at the bow of a boat). By studying these structures carefully, astronomers can “rewind” them, in a way, in order to study the star’s history.
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Voyager is soon to be the first man-made object to leave the solar system. Data from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft indicate that this deep space explorer has entered a region in space where the number of charged particles from beyond our solar system has significantly increased. This could mean that Voyager 1 may be at the edge of our solar system and about to leave it. The spacecraft Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched in 1977, originally designated to study Jupiter and Saturn, but have since continued their journey on to study the outer solar system. The image above depicts where the Voyager spacecraft are in relation to our solar system and the surrounding area.
The Voyager team is looking at a few specific things that they expect will tell them when the spacecraft has punched through the ‘heliosheath’ – a kind of bubble around our solar system where stellar winds slow down dramatically. First, a great increase in the number of galactic cosmic rays (energetic charged particles from outside our solar system). The numbers appear to be on the rise, which is a good sign that Voyager 1 is getting close to the heliosheath. The team is also looking at the intensity of energetic particles from inside the heliosphere. These have been steadily decreasing but have yet to drop off abruptly, as would be expected when the craft leaves the heliosphere. Lastly, there is the measurement of the direction of the magnetic field lines surrounding the spacecraft. Currently, while the craft remains in the heliosphere, the field lines run east-west. However, when it passes into interstellar space, it is thought that the field lines will switch to running more north-south. There is still much analysis of the data to be done, but we can still expect that one day Voyager will be our first man-made ambassador to interstellar space.
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On Tuesday, June 5, Venus passed in front of the Sun – an event that was visible on seven continents for those that were fortunate enough to have clear weather. These “transits” of Venus are very rare, coming in pairs separated by more than a hundred years. This June’s transit, the second of a 2004-2012 pair, won’t be repeated until the year 2117.
Credit: NASA/SDO, AIA
Credit: JAXA/NASA/Lockheed Martin
The first image is a composite of images taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory that shows the path that Venus took across the disk of the Sun. The second is a close-up image taken by Hinode – a joint JAXA/NASA mission to study the connections of the sun’s surface magnetism, primarily in and around sunspots.
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We posted once about NuSTAR, a new X-ray telescope. It was due to be launched in March, but that launch date is now scheduled for June. Below is a great new image of NuSTAR in the nose cone of the Pegasus rocket it will be launched on.
Using NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer, a space-based observatory, and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on the summit of Haleakala in Hawaii, astronomers have gathered the most direct evidence yet
of a supermassive black hole shredding a star that wandered too close.
Credit: NASA, S. Gezari (The Johns Hopkins University), and J. Guillochon (University of California, Santa Cruz)
“When the star is ripped apart by the gravitational forces of the black hole, some part of the star’s remains falls into the black hole while the rest is ejected at high speeds,” said project lead Suvi Gezari of the Johns Hopkins University. “We are seeing the glow from the stellar gas falling into the black hole over time. We’re also witnessing the spectral signature of the ejected gas, which we find to be mostly helium. It is like we are gathering evidence from a crime scene. Because there is very little hydrogen and mostly helium in the gas, we detect from the carnage that the slaughtered star had to have been the helium-rich core of a stripped star.”
The above image and this video are computer simulations:
The video shows a star being shredded by the gravity of a massive black hole. As the video caption says, “Some of the stellar debris falls into the black hole and some of it is ejected into space at high speeds. The areas in white are regions of highest density, with progressively redder colors corresponding to lower-density regions. The blue dot pinpoints the black hole’s location. The elapsed time corresponds to the amount of time it takes for a Sun-like star to be ripped apart by a black hole a million times more massive than the Sun.”
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Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Lennon and E. Sabbi (ESA/STScI), J. Anderson, S. E. de Mink, R. van der Marel, T. Sohn, and N. Walborn (STScI), N. Bastian (Excellence Cluster, Munich), L. Bedin (INAF, Padua), E. Bressert (ESO), P. Crowther (University of Sheffield), A. de Koter (University of Amsterdam), C. Evans (UKATC/STFC, Edinburgh), A. Herrero (IAC, Tenerife), N. Langer (AifA, Bonn), I. Platais (JHU), and H. Sana (University of Amsterdam)
Star-forming region 30 Doradus is colloquially known as the Tarantula Nebula (creepy!), but this new image released with data from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys makes it look more like a rich underwater scene. Located within our galaxy’s close neighbor, the Large Magellanic Cloud, it is one of the best stellar nurseries for astronomers to observe prolific star birth and learn more about how young stars form and grow. This image combines dozens of observations from Hubble, showing off star clusters at varying ages. The false color in this image represents the hot gas within the regions – red signifies hydrogen gas and blue represents oxygen. What a tangled web these stars weave!
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Credit: NASA, ESA, CFHT, CXO, M.J. Jee (University of California, Davis), and A. Mahdavi (San Francisco State University)
Astronomers have observed what appears to be a clump of dark matter left behind from a wreck between massive clusters of galaxies. The result could challenge current theories about dark matter.
The above image shows the distribution of dark matter, galaxies, and hot gas in the core Abell 520, a merging galaxy cluster formed by violent collision. It is a composite of data from several sources. The natural-color image of the galaxies is from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii. Superimposed on it are false-color maps showing the concentration of starlight, hot gas, and dark matter in the cluster.
Starlight from galaxies, derived from observations by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, is colored orange. The green-tinted regions show hot gas, as detected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The gas is evidence that a collision took place. The blue-colored areas pinpoint the location of most of the mass in the cluster, which is dominated by dark matter. Dark matter is an invisible substance that makes up most of the universe’s mass. The dark-matter map was derived from the Hubble Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 observations, by detecting how light from distant objects is distorted by the cluster galaxies, an effect called gravitational lensing.
The blend of blue and green in the center of the image reveals that a clump of dark matter resides near most of the hot gas, where very few galaxies are found. This could present a challenge to basic theories of dark matter, which predict that galaxies should be anchored to dark matter, even during the shock of a collision.
You can read more at the news release.
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Credit: ESA/Herschel/PACS/SPIRE/Hill, Motte, HOBYS Key Programme Consortium
This beautiful, infrared image shows a new view of the Eagle nebula captured by the European Herschel Space Observatory. In 1995, Hubble famously captured a visble-light image of the “Pillars of Creation,” a region of star-formation. That image is below – in the above image, that region is shown within the circle.
Credit: NASA, Jeff Hester, and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University)
Infrared light is needed to see into the opaque clouds of dust and gas within which stars form. You can read more about what astronomers are learning from this new view of the nebula in the NASA feature.
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This is a doozy of a round-up, thanks to the American Astronomical Society meeting mid-month! Maggie already blogged about some of the interesting exoplanet news that came out at the meeting. Here, we’ll cover some of the other big astrophysics releases at AAS! But first… a gorgeous image from the European Southern Observatory.
This image of the Omega Nebula (M17 or NGC 6618) was captured by the ESO’s ground-based Very Large Telescope (VLT). The nebula contains glowing hydrogen gas and filaments of dust, the very materials needed to create the the blue-white baby stars forming in this very active stellar nursery. You can read more about the nebula and this image in the ESO press release.
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There are gorgeous new images out from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Here, Saturn’s third-largest moon, Dione, can be seen through the haze of the planet’s largest moon, Titan, in this view of the two posing before the planet and its rings. There are more on the Cassini website.
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