NASA’s Messenger Spacecraft Crashes into Mercury, Captures Stunning Shots Before Demise


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Artist rendering of Messenger above Mercury.

NASA confirmed Thursday afternoon that its Messenger spacecraft collided into Mercury’s surface at more than 8,000 mph, creating a new crater on the planet.

NOTE : MESSENGER (a backronym of MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) was a robotic NASA spacecraft which orbited the planet Mercury.MESSENGER became the second mission after Mariner 10’s 1975 flyby to reach Mercury when it made a flyby in January 2008, followed by a second flyby in October 2008, and a third flyby in September 2009, prior to entering Mercury’s orbit in March 2011. It was the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

“Going out with a bang as it impacts the surface of Mercury, we are celebrating Messenger as more than a successful mission,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said. “The Messenger mission will continue to provide scientists with a bonanza of new results as we begin the next phase of this mission — analyzing the exciting data already in the archives, and unraveling the mysteries of Mercury.”

But before Messenger’s years-long mission came an end, NASA released several new photos of Mercury, as taken by the spacecraft. Some of these photos were composite imagery, combining years of data and photos collected by Messenger, according to CNET.

Here’s one of the incredible false-color images recently published by NASA. The different colors signify variations in mineral composition, topography and other factors on Mercury’s surface.

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Here are some images of Mercury,

Click Image to Start Slideshow

The mission ended, according to NASA, because the spacecraft’s thrusters have run out of fuel.

Source : Weather.com

Monster Telescope Will be World’s Largest Cosmic Eye


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An artist’s illustration depicts the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in its enclosure. It eventually will be the world’s largest “eye on the sky.” (Click Image to Download)

The world’s largest telescope has gotten its official construction go-ahead, keeping the enormous instrument on track to start observing the heavens in 2024.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which will feature a light-collecting surface 128 feet (39 meters) wide, has been greenlit for construction atop Cerro Armazones in Chile’s Atacama Desert, officials with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced Thursday (Dec. 4).

The current construction approval applies only to Phase 1; contracts for this work will be awarded in late 2015. The Phase 2 components will be approved as more funding becomes available, ESO officials said.

“The funds that are now committed will allow the construction of a fully working E-ELT that will be the most powerful of all the extremely large telescope projects currently planned, with superior light-collecting area and instrumentation,” de Zeeuw said. “It will allow the initial characterization of Earth-mass exoplanets, the study of the resolved stellar populations in nearby galaxies as well as ultra-sensitive observations of the deep universe.”

 the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) — which, not surprisingly, will boast a light-collecting surface 30 m, or 98 feet, wide — is slated to start observing from Hawaii’s Mauna Kea in 2022. Like E-ELT, TMT’s primary mirror will be composed of hundreds of relatively small segments.

All three megascopes should help researchers tackle some of the biggest questions in astronomy, including the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that make up most of the universe.

Source : Discovery.com

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

Most amazing video showing our future of space exploration


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Stunning video

Riding a space elevator up from Mars. Trekking across the ice fields of Europa. Soaring in wing suits above the clouds of Titan. Base jumping on Miranda. Wanderers is a science-inspired short film imagining human exploration of our solar system that leaves me giddy and excited for a future we could one day experience.

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Humans awaiting a scenic dirigible ride at Victoria Crater on Mars, a vista first seen by the Opportunity rover. Image credit: Erik Wernquist (Click Image to Download)

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Base jumping off Verona Rupes, the highest cliff in the solar system. Credit: Erik Wernquist

(Click Image to Download)

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Colonizing the equatorial ridge on Iapetus, one of Saturn’s moons, with artistically oversized domed settlements. Image credit: Erik Wernquist (Click Image to Download)

Each of the places depicted in Wanderers is an actual place in our solar system. When real photos or map data was available, Wernquist used them to guide his digital recreations. You can read about each of the places and their scientific basis in an accompanying gallery of stills (also on imgur): leaving our home planet, surfing the rings of Saturn, basking above Jupiter’s epic storms, mining asteroids, and so much more.

While we’re still a long way off from human deep space exploration, we are getting a tiny step closer with the first space test flight of the Orion spacecraft next week. Currently just a crew and service module, the spacecraft is intended as the planetary crew transport module for an eventual deep space exploration vehicle for asteroid interception or even to carry humans to Mars. All the alien worlds in this short film are within our solar system, places conceivably within reach of Orion or its descendants.

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Human-powered flight in the skies of Titan. Image credit: Erik Wernquist (Click Image to Download)

In the film, Wernquist takes a bit of artistic license, but he works with the beautiful parts of what is plausible, not sacrificing science on a whim. It’d be more scientifically plausible to mount a space elevator on Pavonis Mons, an equatorial volcano stretching 14 kilometers above average surface elevation, but the cratered Terra Cimmeria highlands are more aesthetically pleasing. This is such a beautiful merger of science and fiction that I don’t even care about such tiny variations; it’s a minor thing to suggest humans may pick their space elevator location based not just on science but on having a great ascent view!

Source : space.io9.com , Erik Wernquist

Black hole at Milky Way center may be emitting mysterious neutrinos, NASA says


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The massive black hole at the heart of our milky galaxy may be churning out peculiar particles called neutrinos, NASA satellites have revealed. If verified, it would be the first time neutrinos have been traced to the darkest regions of spacetime.

The subatomic activity was first detected by three NASA satellites, which observe in x-ray light: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Swift gamma-ray mission, and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the space agency said in a press release.

Neutrinos, from the Italian “little ones”, live up to their namesake, as they are tiny by even subatomic standards. Carrying no charge, they are unaffected by the electromagnetic forces that affect charged particles such as electrons and protons.

As a result, they can travel across vast expanses of the universe without being absorbed by matter that crosses their path (in fact, billions of them pass through your body every second!) And without an electric charge, they are not deflected by magnetic fields when traveling across the universe.

While the earth is constantly buffeted by neutrinos from the sun, those originating from beyond our solar system can be millions or even billions of times more energetic. Scientists have long puzzled the origin of ultra-high energy and very high-energy neutrinos.

“Figuring out where high-energy neutrinos come from is one of the biggest problems in astrophysics today,” said Yang Bai of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who co-authored a study about the results published in Physical Review D. “We now have the first evidence that an astronomical source – the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole – may be producing these very energetic neutrinos.”

By tracing neutrinos back to black holes, scientists will be one step closer to understanding how cosmic rays are made. These rays wreak havoc on microelectronics and life outside the protection of an atmosphere and magnetic field. Understanding their origin also provides deeper insight into how the universe works.

Continue reading Black hole at Milky Way center may be emitting mysterious neutrinos, NASA says

Amateur astronomer spots supernova in nearby galaxy


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SUPERNOVA

Two images taken six years apart highlight the new supernova discovered in the M61 galaxy 

An amateur astronomer has detected an exploding star in a bright, nearby galaxy. Koichi Itagaki, who has found over 80 such supernovas, noticed the exploding star as a brilliant point of light in the spiral galaxy M61, which sits a mere 55 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo.

Supernovas come in two flavors: the violent destruction of a very massive star or a thermonuclear eruption on the surface of an exposed stellar core. The explosions are rare, so finding one within our galactic neighborhood gives researchers a unique chance to study them up close.

Source :  Science news