[Maggie's blog] How do you get to Stockholm?

Nobel Laureate, and James Webb Space Telescope project scientist, John Mather gave an interesting talk (to a packed room) at NASA Goddard recently. It focused on where he grew up and how he got to where he is today. Did you know, for example, that a failed thesis project led to his work on the COBE satellite (for which he won his Nobel Prize in physics)? Or that COBE had to be massively retooled after the loss of the Challenger?

All this and more, below in John’s talk, which he described as”How do you get to Stockholm?”:

[Maggie's Blog] Thanksgiving in Space

We wanted to wish all those celebrating a safe and happy Thanksgiving from NASA Blueshift. Ever wonder what the astronauts on the International Space Station will be doing for the holidays?

The six crew members will actually be having a Thanksgiving dinner together. What’s on the menu? According to NASA, “irradiated smoked turkey, thermostabilized yams and freeze-dried green beans. The crew’s meal also will feature NASA’s cornbread dressing, home-style potatoes, cranberries, cherry-blueberry cobbler and the best view from any Thanksgiving table.”

That last is most certainly true.

We can vouch that astronaut food is actually pretty tasty. A few years ago we collaborated with Fancy Fast Food blogger Erik Trinidad to create a fancy new dish made from the real astronaut food generously supplied to us from NASA food scientist Vickie Kloeris at NASA Johnson.

Vickie Kloeris and astronaut Tom Marshburn will actually discuss the space station’s Thanksgiving menu live via satellite (and on NASA TV) from 7 -8:30 a.m. EST Wednesday, Nov. 27.

You can read more about this interview, as well as find some other video resources on space food at the official NASA release.

We’ll leave you to watch NASA Blueshift on Fancy Fast Food:

And to see what the astronauts did for Thanksgiving on the ISS on 2009:

Here’s ISS07 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani talking about their Thanksgiving on the ISS.

ISS07 Commander Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Dan Tani
Credit: NASA

[Sara's blog] Bringing Astrophysics to YouTube: An Interview with Jessica Few

Earlier this year, Blueshift contributor Koji Mukai sent us a link to a series of astronomy videos produced by Jessica Few, a student at Durham University in the UK. We loved the videos, and knew we wanted to share them… and find out a bit more about Jessica and her project!

Blueshift: Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Jessica: I finished my physics degree at Durham University this summer. I’ve always been interested in physics – it’s so fundamental. I find it amazing that we can understand so much about the way that the universe works from the smallest scale to the largest… but there’s still so much more to discover!

Supernovae and their Remnants

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[Maggie's blog] Want to be a Beta-tester for NASA?

The James Webb Space Telescope public website is undergoing an update. We’ve incorporated some new widgets to allow the viewer to explore the content on the website right on the homepage. But we also want to see how easy it is to locate specific information from these widgets.

We’re looking for a handful of people to do some beta-testing for us – if you’re interested, please contact us at jwst@lists.nasa.gov by Monday, November 25th, 2013. We’ll get our volunteers a few tasks to try on the beta-test site early next week.

Thank you!

James Webb Space Telescope Mural Image.
Credit: Northrop Grumman

[not-a-Contest, space crafts] Reminder: Show Us Your Space Costumes!

Just a reminder now that we’re past Halloween… if you dressed up in a space or astronomy-themed costume, please share your photos with us!

To get you inspired, here is how Dirk Schoellner’s kids, Brian and Eric, looked on Halloween, all dressed up for Trick-or-treating, as Dr. Von Braun and the James Webb Space Telescope. (Although Brian had to keep telling people he was not a satellite dish.) See a tutorial on the JWST costume here.

JWST and Dr. Von Braun trick or treating
Credit: Dirk Schoellner

We’ve set up a Flickr group that you can add your costumes to: add your photos here!

We’d love to feature some of them in an upcoming blog post. We will only be able to feature costumes from those 18 and older on our website, but it is fine to add your photos of your kids to the Flickr group.

Here are a few guidelines:

Add your photo of your space/NASA/astronomy-themed costume to our Flickr group! It can be one you’ve worn in the past (for Halloween or some other event) – it doesn’t have to be new this year.

Tell us what the costume is of in the title or description. Please give us credit information in the description in case we’d like to repost your image (see more on that below).

We do have a few specific rules we’d like you to follow:

1) Don’t use copyrighted material, or anything that doesn’t belong to you.

2) Don’t use any offensive imagery.

3) We reserve the right to remove images that violate these two rules from our group.

4) If you are 18 or over, and are willing to let us to use your image on our website: You retain copyright to your own design. Your upload to this group indicates permission to repost your work on NASA sites and associated external social media. Please set the license on your photo to “Creative Commons.” We will, of course, credit you.

4a) If you are 18 or over, and do not want us to use your image on our blog: You may still upload it to Flickr. Please note that you do not want us to repost the image in your description, however. You may then set the license to whatever you like.

4b) If your photo shows a child or teen 18 years of age or under, please note this in the description. We may not be able to use your photos on our blog, but you are welcome to add your photos to the Flickr group.

Costume Contest participants
Credits: Jean Pounder, John Nalezny, Yuruany Arrieta, Susan Benson, Dalaine Nolan, Tara Lofgren

[Maggie's Blog] Giant Space Bubbles

There’s a lot of things we know now about the Milky Way that we didn’t know even a few years ago. When I was in college, for example, there was debate over whether our galaxy was a barred spiral or not. Now we know that our galaxy does indeed have a bar. Which to me is kind of amazing. We live in this galaxy and as such, we will never know what it looks like from the outside. So when we discover something about ourselves that gives us another piece of the bigger picture and takes us another step closer to understanding our corner of the universe, it’s exciting.

Predictably, as much as we do know about our galaxy already, we are still learning things. One of those things is about the nature of giant bubble-shaped structures which stretch tens of thousands of light years above and below the plane of our galaxy. What caused them? We’re still trying to figure it out.

Milky Way Bubbles
Artist’s conception showing the edge-on Milky Way. The Fermi bubbles are in pink. Credit: NASA/Goddard

A few years ago this giant structure was spotted using data from the gamma ray telescope, Fermi. But how to explain this odd feature – was it even real?

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[Maggie's blog] Spooky Astronomy, part 4

It’s one of my favorites times of year – the Halloween season! And with Halloween comes our annual Spooky Astronomy post. This time I’ve been saving images up all year, so hopefully you’ll see something new!

A grinning one-eyed skull? Actually a complex planetary nebula around a dying star.

NGC 5189: An Unusually Complex Planetary Nebula
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S.Carey (Caltech)

Here a “galactic ghoul” rears its spooky head to the infrared Spitzer Space Telescope. (It’s actually star-forming region DR6!)

Galactic Ghoul' Rears Its Spooky Head
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S.Carey (Caltech)

Raise your hand if you like spiders! No one? I’m sure this nebula is spider-free… unless you look at it in the infrared! This “Black Widow Nebula” is made from “bubbles” being formed in opposing directions by outflows from massive groups of baby stars.

Black Widow Nebula Hiding in the Dust
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/S.Carey (Caltech)

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[Maggie's blog] Can You Hear a Black Hole?

Recently I came across this story – this ten year old story – on Tumblr.

Sept. 9, 2003: Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have found, for the first time, sound waves from a supermassive black hole. The “note” is the deepest ever detected from any object in our Universe. The tremendous amounts of energy carried by these sound waves may solve a longstanding problem in astrophysics.
The black hole resides in the Perseus cluster of galaxies located 250 million light years from Earth. In 2002, astronomers obtained a deep Chandra observation that shows ripples in the gas filling the cluster. These ripples are evidence for sound waves that have traveled hundreds of thousands of light years away from the cluster’s central black hole.
“The Perseus sound waves are much more than just an interesting form of black hole acoustics,” says Steve Allen, of the Institute of Astronomy and a co-investigator in the research. “These sound waves may be the key in figuring out how galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the Universe, grow.”

Here is the story on Chandra’s website.

Chandra "Hears" a Supermassive Black Hole in Perseus
Chandra’s 53-hour observation of the central region of the Perseus galaxy cluster (left) has revealed wavelike features (right) that appear to be sound waves. Credit: NASA/CXC/IoA/A.Fabian et al.

Why this subject, albeit with an embedded audio joke, was making the rounds on Tumblr now, I don’t know. But what struck me was the comments on the post calling shenanigans – because if light can’t escape a black hole, then how can sound?

The answer is, you can “hear” black holes the same way you can “see” them – indirectly. Because it is true that nothing can escape a black hole – but that is only true of matter that crosses the event horizon, the gravitational point of no return. Black holes can and do affect their environments in detectible ways.

Despite what the “Impossible Planet” episode of Doctor Who will tell you, it is perfectly possible for something to orbit a black hole. In fact, one way we detect stellar-mass black holes is when they are part of a binary star system. The black hole’s effects on the companion star are observable by us here on Earth – effects like a black hole slowly cannibalizing its companion.

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[space crafts] Build your own JWST costume!

For the past couple of years, we’ve run a Halloween costume contest – and we’ve seen some pretty amazing costumes! We also occasionally get a peek at costumes (in-progress and finished) on Twitter or Facebook… and when the Schoellner family tweeted a shot of their JWST costume, we knew we needed to share! They’ve kindly put together a tutorial for us about how they built it.

Without further ado… take it away, Dirk!

With rockets, space exploration, and alien planets, it’s natural that NASA inspires kids of all ages. Combine that excitement and creativity with Halloween and the possibilities are endless. We start early each year – by September, the kids have ideas of what they would like to be for Halloween, usually inspired by the latest NASA probes to make the news. This year’s costume by our seven year-old was inspired by a visit to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s visitor center where he saw an example of the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) hexagonal mirrors.

In general, we’ve found that designing NASA-based costumes out of common household materials adds to the kids’ creativity (and ours), and the JWST costume was no exception. We built the primary mirror array using a trash can lid, as it gave us a nice concave surface to work with.

Building a JWST costume
Credit: Dirk Schoellner

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[Maggie's blog] Why infrared? (exoplanet edition)

I’m not sure I’ve yet to meet a person who didn’t find the idea of planets around other stars fascinating. I’m no different. I grew up in an era where the only planets we knew about were the ones in our own solar system. When I went to college to study astronomy, I had Dr. Alex Wolszczan as a professor. He discovered the first ever confirmed extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) – and they were orbiting around a pulsar of all things. Yep, the first solar system found outside our own did not involve a main sequence star like our own. Unexpected to say the least.

Artist's Concept of PSR B1257+12 system
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC)

Since then we’ve starting finding scores of exoplanets, and continue to narrow in on smaller and more earth-like planets.

So now the question – why infrared? One of the main uses of the upcoming powerhouse James Webb Space Telescope will be to study the atmospheres of exoplanets, hopefully to find the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe. But JWST is an infrared telescope. How is this good for studying exoplanets?

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