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

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Ground-Based Telescope Observes Exoplanet Transiting Bright Star


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 Graphical representation of an Exoplanet (Click Image to Download)

For the first time, an international team of astronomers has used a ground-based telescope to detect and observe the transit of a planet in front of a Sun-like star outside of our own solar system.

Until now, only space-based telescopes were capable of detecting the transits of exoplanets as they passed by bright stars.

Distortions caused by the atmosphere , the same phenomenon that makes stars look like they’re twinkling, makes it difficult for astronomers to observe transiting planets around bright stars from telescopes based on Earth.

In September, 2013, Japanese astronomers, using the ground-based Subaru telescope were able to observe the transit of super-Earth, GJ 1214b , but this exoplanet orbits a much dimmer star, known as a red dwarf.

According to team leader, Dr. Ernst de Mooij  of Queen’s University Belfast  in Northern Ireland, 55 Cancri e, was measured to have a diameter of about 26,000 km, which is twice that of Earth, but with eight times its mass.

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This artist’s conception shows the super-Earth 55 Cancri e (right) compared to the Earth (left). (NASA/JPL) (Click Image to Download)

The most recent achievement involves a super-sized Earth-like planet in a binary star system more than 40-light years away. Called 55 Cancri e , the planet orbits its primary star 55 Cancri A , in the constellation Cancer. The solar system’s secondary star, 55 Cancri B, is a red dwarf star which is located about 159,321,732,615 km from the primary star.

Scientists say that while the primary star can be seen with the naked eye, it takes ideal conditions such as a clear and moonless night.

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An artist’s concept of exoplanet 55 Cancri e as it closely orbits its star 55 Cancri A (NASA/JPL-Caltech) (Click Image to Download)

Previous studies have found that the planet makes one complete orbit around its sun in about 18 hours and that since its daytime temperature can reach nearly 1,700° Celsius, 55 Cancri e is not at all hospitable to life.

A number of small, extra-solar planets are expected to be discovered in the next ten years as new observational space missions — including NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) , and the European Space Agency’s Planetary Transits and Oscillations of Stars (PLATO)  –are launched.

Both PLATO – set to go in 2014 and TESS, scheduled for a 2017 launch – will look for transiting Earth-like planets circling nearby bright stars.

Source : blogs.voanews.com

After Nine Years, New Horizons is Finally at Pluto


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Artistic impression of Pluto and its moon Charon (Click Image to Download)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fully awaken from its final hibernation period on December 6 after a nine-year voyage to Pluto.

Once New Horizons awakens on December 6, it will transmit radio signals to mission control center located at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. The spacecraft will send a message to Earth confirming it remains operational an hour-and-a-half after it awakes. It will take four hours for its message to reach Earth, however, It’s scheduled to come to within 6,200 miles from the surface of Pluto on July 14, 2015, the closest approach to the planet by any man-made spacecraft.

The mission is man’s first visit beyond Neptune’s orbit and into the Kuiper Belt, which is home to Pluto and thousands of objects that have not yet been identified, according to website Spaceflight Now.

“This is the first look at this new zone of rocky, icy planets. This is what New Horizons is supposed to do,” said Michael Buckley, a public information officer for John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to ABC News.

New Horizons is some 2.9 billion miles from our planet. It was launched in January 2006 as the payload of an Atlas V rocket. At the time of New Horizon’s launch, Pluto was still considered a planet. Scientists, however, demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet later that year.

The spacecraft has been in and out of hibernation 18 times over the last nine years to conserve power. New Horizons transmits a beep once a week to tell scientists it’s still alive.

Experts expect to get very clear images of Pluto once New Horizons gets within range of the planet in April 2015. They also expect to see the clearest view of the planet’s terrain by May. New Horizons will send home the data throughout 2015 and most of 2016.

Scientists hope NASA will continue to fund and extend the mission further into the Kuiper Belt.

Source :chinatopix

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

NASA rocket to click 1,500 images of Sun in 5 minutes


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This image provided by NASA shows the sun emitting a significant X3.2-class flare erupting from the lower half of the sun, peaking at 5:40 p.m. EDT on Oct. 24, 2014. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly and captured images of the event.

A sounding rocket fitted with technology to gather 1,500 images of the Sun in flat five minutes is set for launch on Monday.

Capturing five images per second, the Rapid Acquisition Imaging Spectrograph Experiment (RAISE) mission will focus in on the split-second changes that occur near active regions on the Sun.

These are areas of intense and complex magnetic fields that can give birth to giant eruptions on the Sun that shoot energy and particles out in all directions, the U.S. space agency said in a statement.

“Even on a five-minute flight, there are niche areas of science we can focus on well. There are areas of the Sun that need to be examined with the high-cadence observations we can provide,” said Don Hassler, solar scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

RAISE will create a kind of data product called a spectrogram which separates the light from the sun into different wavelengths.

“The Sun has been extremely active recently, producing several X-class flares in the past few weeks. The team will aim their instrument at one of these active regions to try to understand better the dynamics that cause these regions to erupt,” Mr. Hassler explained.

The team hopes to see how heat and energy move through such active regions, which, in turn, helps scientist understand what creates the regions and perhaps even what catalyses the sun’s eruptions.

RAISE’s launch time is planned for 2.07 p.m. (EST) from the White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico.