Stunning first hi-definition image of Pluto reveals huge mountains


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The first ever high-resolution image of Pluto has been beamed back to Earth showing water ice and 11,000ft (3,350 metre) mountains. The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago – mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system. Nasa says they may still be in the process of building

Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered – unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.

‘We now have an isolated small planet that is showing activity after 4.5 billion years,’ said Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator. ‘It’s going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board.’

‘This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,’ added Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI).

This is the first time astronomers have seen a world that is mostly composed of ice that is not orbiting a planet.

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by the gravitational pull of a larger planetary body. Nasa says some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

‘This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,’ says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute.

In a Wednesday press conference, scientists also revealed a high-resolution photo of Pluto’s moon Charon, which is covered in cliffs and ridges:

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They also released the first-ever photo of Pluto’s tiny moon Hydra, which appears to be covered in water ice:

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A new sneak-peak image of Hydra  is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33km). The surface shows differences in brightness, which suggests that Hydra’s outer layer is composed manly of water ice .

Read more: Daily Mail

Rosetta images reveal crack hundreds of meters long in comet 67P


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Image of Comet 67P taken by ESA’s Rosetta (Click Image to Download)

The European Space Agency (ESA) succeeded in delivering the Philae lander to the surface of comet 67P several months ago, but its Rosetta probe hasn’t been twiddling its robotic thumbs since then. It’s still in orbit of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to study the comet as it gets closer to the sun. In the newest set of images published by the ESA, scientists reveal 67P is coming apart at the seams. A huge crack was discovered running hundreds of meters along the surface.

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To visualize what’s happening, it’s important to know a little about the shape of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Many of us have an idea of comets as being more or less round, but many of them are actually quite oddly shaped. For example, 67P has two lobes, one smaller than the other, connected by a narrow neck. It looks a little like a rubber duck. The crack detected by Rosetta’s Osiris camera is in the neck region, which is also where most of the gas and dust is being expelled.

The crack is about one meter in width, which wouldn’t be so impressive if it wasn’t covering such a large area. The neck region where the crack was found is only 1km wide after all, so a few hundred meters is nothing to sneeze at. In the image above, the crack is visible in two locations on the surface, but the middle section is obscured by layers of dust, which the ESA team has found is plentiful on the surface of 67P, especially in the neck region where the object’s minimal gravity is even less substantial.

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67P won’t reach its closest approach to the sun for several months, but it’s already losing more than 11kg of gas and dust every second. Scientists are unsure if the crack will worsen or close up as the comet continues to lose weight. If the stresses on the neck increase, the comet could fracture and break in two .
Some researchers believe that 67P’s shape is the result of two smaller objects colliding in the distant past, so this crack could be following an existing “fault line” in the structure. It’s also possible this crack is nothing out of the ordinary for porous comets like 67P as they erode. It’s hard to say for sure — this is the first time we’ve gotten such a close-up look at a comet.

Rosetta dropped the Philae lander off on 67P back in November, but it didn’t quite go as planned. The lander’s harpoons failed to fire, which caused it to bounce along the surface, eventually coming to rest in a shadow that prevented the solar panels from creating enough power. After doing most of its science, Philae went to sleep. The ESA has continued to monitor conditions on the comet with Rosetta and hopes that when the comet nears the sun, it will shine more light on Philae, allowing it to come back online.

Philae isn’t close enough to the neck region to offer any insights about the newly discovered crack, but it can certainly tell us more about the composition of 67P. Even if Philae never comes back online, Rosetta will keep an eye on the surface from a few kilometers up. It will be there through 67P’s solar perigee in August, and will follow as it heads back out toward Jupiter.

Source : Geek.com

Top 10 great space moments in 2014 (pictures)


Source :c|net

It was a big year for space exploration, from rodeo-riding a comet to getting more familiar with Mars, distant planets and the beginning of it all.

1. Rosetta and Philae meet a comet

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Photo by: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR  (Click Image to Image)

The first successful soft landing on a comet wasn’t just the biggest space story of the year. It was probably also the biggest science story of 2014.

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft traveled 10 years to drop the Philae lander onto a comet. The landing was bumpy, but scientists were able to conduct a few days worth of experiments on the comet’s surface that first week.

But neither Rosetta nor Philae may be finished yet.

Look for more great science from both in 2015.

2. Orion lifts off

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Orion lift Off (Click Image to download)

A new era in space exploration began in December with the successful test flight of the Orion spacecraft, thanks to a big assist from some massive, heavy rockets.

Orion is scheduled to make an unmanned trip to the moon, but it is later expected to carry manned missions to an asteroid and Mars.

3. New Horizons awakens

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Artist ‘s Impression of New Horizons near Pluto and its moon Charon (Click Image to Download)

Rosetta wasn’t the only spacecraft to wake up after a long journey in 2014. In December, NASA’s New Horizons probe switched itself back “on” after a 1,873 day-long hibernation.

Originally launched in 2006, the craft is on track for its mission to survey Pluto and its moons in 2015.

4. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

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Mars Picture taken by ISRO’s MOM (Click Image to Download)

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan is a spacecraft orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. It was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It is India’s first interplanetary mission and ISRO has become the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency. It is also the first nation to reach Mars orbit on its first attempt, and the first Asian nation to do so.

5. Comet buzzes Mars

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In October, we got a rare close look at a comet on a once-in-a-million-years journey. The comet came so close to Mars that humanity’s orbiters circling the Red Planet actually had to hide on the other side to avoid the comet’s debris cloud.

The orbiters and rovers on the surface were still able to capture images of the comet as it whizzed by.

6. Exoplanets everywhere

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In 2014, not only did our knowledge of distant exoplanets grow by leaps and bounds, but so did the evidence that many of them might host the elements to support life as we know it.

As of December 15, 2014, we know of 22 planets beyond our solar system where there is reason to believe they could be habitable.

7. Space is still hard

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2014 was not a year without tragedy in space and near-space exploration. In October, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed, killing one pilot.

This came within days of an explosion that happened after the liftoff of an unmanned Antares rocket carrying a payload to the International Space Station. Also, in August a SpaceX rocket exploded over Texas during a test flight.

In a year when science began to make amazing feats look easy, these were three reminders of the old adage that “space is hard.”

8. ALMA’s Image of Another Solar System

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The best image ever of planet formation around an infant star.

It’s a real image of a planet-forming disk around the infant star, in this case a sunlike star approximately 450 light-years from Earth, known to astronomers as HL Tau.

It is impressive. It reveals in great detail what astronomers just a few decades ago were only theorizing about, and that is that all stars are believed to form within slow-spinning clouds of gas and dust. As the clouds spin, they flatten out into these disks. Over time, the dust particles in the cloud begin to stick together by a process known as acretion, and that process is what ultimately forms the planets like our Earth, and moons like our moon, plus the asteroids, all of which mostly still move (as they did in the original cloud) in this flat space – this disk-like space – encircling the parent star.

9.Aiming for Manned Missions to Mars

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In a year when Mars rovers continued to expand our understanding of the Red Planet, momentum continued to build for a manned mission to our distant neighbor.

NASA is looking seriously at “deep sleep” methods to easily get humans to Mars, likely in the 2030s. Elon Musk started talking about getting mankind to Mars in half that time, and Mars One is already looking for astronauts to blast off in less than a decade’s time, despite potential problems.

10. Racing back to the moon

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Mars is cool, but isn’t there more to do on the moon?

Lunar Mission One is just one of the teams that thinks so — it raised about a million dollars for its plan to drill the moon’s south pole.

Meanwhile, teams competing in the Google Lunar XPrize continued working toward returning to our lone natural satellite.

The moon, Mars, comets, asteroids and beyond — stay tuned to @crave to see where we go in 2015.

Comet dust found in Antarctica


Researchers have discovered comet dust preserved in the ice and snow of Antarctica, the first time such particles have been found on Earth’s surface. The discovery unlocks a promising new source of this material. The oldest astronomical particles available for study, comet dust can offer clues about how our solar system formed.

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A single particle of comet dust collected from Antarctic ice, as seen through an electron microscope

“It’s very exciting for those of us who study these kinds of extraterrestrial materials, because it opens up a whole new way to get access to them,” says Larry Nittler, a planetary scientist in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., who was not involved with the research. “They’ve found a new source for something that’s very interesting and very rare.”

Until recently, the only way scientists could collect “chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles,” or comet dust, without going to space has been by flying research planes high in the stratosphere. It’s painstaking work: Several hours of flying time typically yield one particle of dust. Working with such small samples significantly limits the kinds of tests and analysis scientists can perform on the material, says study co-author John Bradley, an astromaterials scientist at the Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology of the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

The researchers found a bigger haul of the particles in Antarctica, he notes. “Two to four more orders of magnitude mass of material is potentially collectible this way,” he says. “I think it could precipitate a paradigm shift in the way these kinds of materials are collected.”

The dust gathered in Antarctica is also cleaner. Right now, scientists gathering comet dust by plane use plates coated with silicon oil to trap the particles like flies in flypaper. That leaves them contaminated with both the oil and the organic compounds later used to clean them, making it especially difficult for scientists who want to study what organic material they might contain.

Comparing the particles found in Antarctica with the ones collected in the stratosphere will help scientists figure out which components of the dust are part of their natural chemical makeup and which come from contaminants, Nittler says.

In 2010, a team of French scientists reported that they had found dense, unusually carbon-rich comet particles in the Antarctic snow, but this is the first time more typical comet dust has been found and its identity confirmed. Scientists had thought the highly porous, extremely fragile particles couldn’t survive on Earth.

To find them, the researchers collected snow and ice from two different sites in Antarctica over several years, starting in 2000. By melting the ice and filtering the water, they collected more than 3000 micrometeorites, tiny particles from space that were 10 microns in diameter or larger. Analyzing the micrometeorites one by one under a stereomicroscope over a period of 5 years yielded more than 40 particles with the characteristics of comet dust. A closer analysis found they were indistinguishable from comet dust collected in the stratosphere, and they also matched samples collected from the coma of a comet by NASA’s Stardust mission in 2006, the researchers report online ahead of print in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

“Our result shows that such fragile particles can be preserved not only in … snow, but also in ice,” says the study’s lead author, Takaaki Noguchi, a meteorite researcher at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Japan.

A good next step would be to make a more detailed analysis of the organic material in the particles, says meteorite researcher Cécile Engrand of the Centre de Spectrométrie Nucléaire et de Spectrométrie de Masse of Paris-Sud University in Orsay, a co-author of the earlier French research. “The study of these cometary particles will help shed more light on the material that served for planetary formation,” she says. “They are the best witnesses that we have of that period of time.”

Philae reveals presence of large amount of water ice on the comet


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A comet seen from close up – the surface looks like rock, but is a mixture of water ice, carbonaceous particles and interesting compounds. Image credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR  (Click Image to Download ) 

The European Space Agency has revealed that the comet – 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko “is not nearly as soft and fluffy as it was believed to be”.

The first results to emerge from the team of the SESAME experiment (Surface Electrical, Seismic and Acoustic Monitoring Experiment) confirm that “the strength of the ice found under a layer of dust on the first landing site is surprisingly high”.

“The mechanical properties of 67P will be derived. SESAME’s two other instruments suggest that cometary activity at this landing site is low, as well as revealing the presence of a large amount of water ice under the lander,” Klaus Seidensticker from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research said.

Source : Times of india , SEN Blog

Philae’s Incredible Comet-Landing Sequence Shows Up In Fresh Rosetta Images


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Images from the Rosetta spacecraft show Philae drifting across the surface of its target comet during landing Nov. 12, 2014. Credit: ESA/Rosetta

New images released from the Rosetta spacecraft orbiting Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko show the spacecraft coming in for its (first) landing on Wednesday (Nov. 12). “The mosaic comprises a series of images captured by Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera over a 30 minute period spanning the first touchdown,” wrote the European Space Agency in a blog post today (Monday).

This is just the latest in a series of images coming from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft showing the Philae lander coming in for its rendezvous with 67P. A major next step for the mission will be figuring out where the lander actually came for a rest, but there’s plenty of data from both Rosetta and Philae to comb through for this information, ESA said.

What’s known for sure is Philae made three touchdowns on the comet — making history as humanity’s first soft-lander on such an object — stopping in a shady area that will make recharging its solar panels difficult. The spacecraft is in hibernation as of Friday (Nov. 17) and scientists are really, really hoping it’s able to charge up for another science session soon. Rosetta, meanwhile, is hard at work above and will continue to follow the comet in 2015.

Source : universe today

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Philae sleeps, but Rosetta’s not done yet


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Its battery dead, the European lander is lost in a crater somewhere on a huge comet. But the orbiter that brought it there still has plenty of science left to do.

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As of Saturday morning, the Philae lander is in a digital coma somewhere on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. But even if the history-making little robot never wakes again, the Rosetta mission and the orbiter of the same name still have a long journey ahead of them.

The plan was for Philae to land at a targeted site on the comet, firing harpoons into the surface of the icy rock to keep itself locked in place for a long trip around the sun. The strong grip was particularly important since a comet this size has only a tiny fraction of the gravity of a place like Earth, leaving little Philae at risk of floating off into space.

But when showtime came, there were problems with Philae’s downward thrusters and with firing the harpoons. The European Space Agency reports that the lander bounced off the surface of the comet twice and eventually landed somewhere else without much access to the sunlight its solar panels need to keep it functioning.

Friday evening, Philae used its remaining energy to upload all its data before going into hibernation mode. There was a time slot early this morning during which, the ESA had reported, communication with the lander was possible, but that time has now come and gone.

Still, Rosetta remains.

Even if Philae stays lost in a comet crater for the next year, the orbiter that traveled almost half a billion miles to get to this point will continue to orbit the comet and its lost lander.

Right now, Rosetta has been pulling out to a 30 kilometer orbit of the comet. It will come closer again early next month to get more details on the comet — some of its flybys will be as close as 8 kilometers to the comet. There’s a whole lot of potential science and data about comets, planets and our solar system packed in that process, building up to the trio’s closest encounter with the sun, next August.

Before that point there may also be better opportunities to rouse Philae.

Continue reading Philae sleeps, but Rosetta’s not done yet

European Space Agency releases first picture from comet surface


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The European Space Agency has released the first picture taken by the Philae landing probe from the surface of a comet after determining that the craft had stabilized following a tension-filled landing.

The photo released Thursday shows a rocky surface with one of the lander’s three feet. Philae became the first spacecraft to land on a comet when it touched down Wednesday on the comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  Harpoons meant to anchor the lander to the surface failed to work properly, causing Philae to bounce twice.

Scientists are still analyzing what effect the two bounces had on the spacecraft and plan to release further details at a news briefing at 8 a.m. EST.

Gerhard Schwehm, a scientist on the Rosetta mission, told The Associated Press on Thursday that it may still be possible to fire the harpoons but in any case the lander is “very healthy.” However, Lander project manager Stephan Ulamec told the BBC that he was wary of making another attempt to fire the harpoons on the grounds that Philae could be thrown back into space.

The BBC reported that ESA scientists are still trying to determine the craft’s precise location on the comet, while engineers say it may have bounced hundreds of feet off the surface on its first landing attempt.

A key question is whether Philae’s drill can be used to extract samples from beneath the surface without pushing the lander into space. Gravity on the comet is 1/100,000th that of Earth, meaning the washing machine-sized lander weighs just 0.04 ounces there.

Philae and Rosetta will use 21 instruments to analyze the comet over the coming months. Scientists hope the $1.62 billion will help them better understand comets and other celestial objects, as well as possibly answer questions about the origins of life on Earth.

Source : fox news

The Rosetta comet landing has made history


After 10 years of hard work and one nerve-wracking night, the Rosetta mission has made history by landing on the surface of a comet.

The lander Philae was confirmed to touch down on the surface of the comet more than 300 million miles away at 11:03 a.m. Eastern. Now, scientists expect it to send a panoramic image home and begin analyzing the comet for scientists back on Earth.

Philae is already transmitting scientific data back home, but we’re still waiting to see whether the probe is in a stable position. Until we know it’s anchored tight, it could roll onto its back and never get back up.

Tensions were high in the European Space Agency’s German mission control center, especially as the landing window approached. Because the comet that Philae landed on is so far from Earth, there’s a communications delay of 28 minutes. So as the minutes ticked by, the Rosetta team knew that Philae had already either landed or failed — and there was nothing they could do but wait for the data to reach them. Those following the video online were nearly as desperate for news, and Twitter became a sounding chamber of anticipation and excitement.

But a few minutes after 11 a.m., the stern, cautious expressions of the mission control team melted into smiles. And just like that, the world swiveled from anxiety to elation: Philae was on the surface of the comet and ready to do some science.

The comet contains the materials that originally formed our solar system, frozen in time. By digging them out, we can learn more about the origins of our planet. The Rosetta spacecraft has made invaluable observations about the comet’s attributes, and it will continue to do so as it follows it around the sun for the next year. But Philae will be able to look more closely at the comet’s physical and molecular composition.

“It’s a look at the basic building blocks of our solar system, the ancient materials from which life emerged,” said Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern in Switzerland, one of the Rosetta project’s lead researchers. “It’s like doing archaeology, but instead of going back 1,000 years, we can go back 4.6 billion.”

It’s no easy thing to land on a comet’s surface: These chunks of rock and ice are constantly spinning, and Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was discovered in 1969, orbits the sun at a speed of about 85,000 mph. It’s irregularly shaped — like a toddler’s play-dough impression of a duck, or something — and its surface is uneven and pitted. And in a universe of unimaginable proportion, Rosetta’s target is just 2.5 miles in diameter — smaller than Northwest Washington’s Columbia Heights neighborhood.

So Rosetta has taken an onerous journey to get in sync with the comet’s orbit, which would allow it to drop down a lander. In 2004, the spacecraft began what would be three looping orbits around the sun, altering its trajectory as it skimmed Mars, just 150 miles from the surface, and enduring 24 minutes in the planet’s shadow to align with Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The cumulative distance traveled by the craft – with all its looping and gravity assists – is a stunning 4 billion miles. “When the Rosetta signal reappeared after the passage behind Mars, shortly after the end of the ‘shadow’ period, there was a collective sigh of relief,” ESA said.

At one point in 2011, the spacecraft even had to hibernate for nearly three years. It flew so far from the sun — nearly 500 million miles — that its solar panels couldn’t leech enough energy to keep the spacecraft operational. But in January of this year, Rosetta woke up, and quickly approached its target.

The last leg of this landing has not been without its bumps. Even as the mission approached its most critical moment, controllers at the European Space Agency on Tuesday night reported a problem with the thruster on the lander that could make for a rough landing. The gravity of the problem — and the extent to which it threatened the mission — remained unknown. “We’ll need some luck not to land on a boulder or a steep slope,” blogged Stephan Ulamec, lander manager for the project.

Source : washington post

Rosetta spacecraft set to land on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko


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An artist’s impression of the Philae probe setting down on Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

If you have an interest in space exploration, you could not have picked a better time in history to be alive than right now. Data and images stream back to Earth daily at an unprecedented rate from robotic spacecraft active at far-flung destinations all over the solar system. To use an old political quote – we’ve never had it so good.

In the past 50 years we’ve exploded out of our “little blue dot” to leave boot prints on the moon, land on Venus, Mars and Saturn’s moon Titan, and to orbit Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, asteroids and comets, giving us incredible visual vistas of all.

What’s missing is a detailed view of dwarf planet Pluto, but we’ll have that when the New Horizons spacecraft gets there next year.

There’s also another missing first about to be achieved next week – we’re going to make a soft landing on the surface of a comet.

Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko had to wait around patiently for billions of years for humans to discover it in 1967. However, it’s been a much shorter wait for an opportunity to get up close and personal with it – we’re landing a probe on the frozen dumbbell-shaped comet next Wednesday, November 12.

The Rosetta spacecraft, carrying the Philae probe, was launched  from French Guiana in February 2004 by the European Space Agency. It arrived in August this year and has already given us great views of the comet.

It was named for the Rosetta Stone found in Egypt that was crucial in deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Similarly the “lander” is named for the Nile River island Philae, where an obelisk also assisted in solving the puzzle of these symbols.