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. Read more »
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.
The full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope is currently at the Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. It will be there until October 26th, 2011. It really is an impressive sight (the satellite is about the size of a tennis court!), so if you have time, be sure to check it out!
There are a number of nice photos of it. Below you can see it against the Baltimore skyline. Visible on the wall of the Maryland Science Center is Hubble spectral observations of distant galaxies projected with an intense green laser (from the laser exhibit that ended on the 18th). You can see more photos on Flickr.
This recently released image is basically a map of dark matter. It shows the distribution of the dark matter in the center of the giant galaxy cluster Abell 1689, which contains an amazing number of galaxies (about 1000) and trillions (!) of stars. Abell 1689 is 2.2 billion light-years from Earth.
What is dark matter? It’s invisible and actually accounts for most of the universe’s mass. Since it’s invisible Hubble can’t see it directly but astronomers can infer its location by analyzing the effect of gravitational lensing. That is, the light from the galaxies behind Abell 1689 is distorted by intervening matter within the cluster. The observed positions of 135 lensed images of 42 background galaxies were used by researchers to figure out the location and amount of the dark matter in the galaxy cluster. This map of inferred dark matter concentrations (tinted blue) was superposed on an image of the cluster taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) in 2002. How do they know this effect is real? Well, if the cluster’s gravity came only from the visible galaxies, the lensing distortions would be much weaker. The map reveals that the densest concentration of dark matter is in the cluster’s core.