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,

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

Source : Weather.com

Newly Discovered Exoplanet Is The Most Distant Ever Detected


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This artist’s conception shows the newly discovered alien planet also Known as OGLE-2014-BLG-0124Lb , which is about 13,000 light-years from Earth.

Astronomers have found an exoplanet nearly 13,000 light-years away, making it one of the most distant planets known to man. This discovery is important not because of the planet itself, a gas giant about half the size of Jupiter, but because what it means for the future of planetary discovery and mapping.

“For context, most of the planets we do know about are a factor of 10-100 times closer than OGLE-2014-BLG-0124,” Dr. Jennifer Yee, a NASA Sagan Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge

Far, far away.

The microlensing technique has helped astronomers discover about 30 distant alien planets in our Milky Way’s bulge, the galaxy’s central area of mostly old stars, gas, and dust.

The farthest known exoplanet resides some 25,000 light years away in the bulge of our galaxy, Yee said in the email. The bulge is a very different environment from the Milky Way’s disk, where our own solar system is located.

According to Yee, no exoplanets have been found outside of our galaxy, which spans about 100,000 light years.

Like early explorers mapping the continents of our globe, astronomers are busy charting the spiral structure of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Using infrared images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists have discovered that the Milky Way's elegant s

This artist’s map of the Milky Way shows the location of some of the farthest known exoplanets, including OGLE-2014-BLG-0124Lb.

Comparing planets to planets. Astronomers hope not only to gain a better understanding of the distribution of planets in the Milky Way, but also to gather enough detail about distant planets to compare them with those closer to Earth. More than 1,000 exoplanets closer to home have been discovered by the planet-hunting Kepler mission and ground-based observatories, Space.com reported.

“We would really like to know whether planets form in the central bulge of our galaxy the same way that they do here, near the sun, where the overwhelming majority of planets have been found,” Dr. Andrew Gould, professor of math and physical sciences at Ohio State University, and a co-author of the paper describing the newfound exoplanet, told The Huffington Post.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that the Spitzer telescope is scheduled to observe about 120 more “microlensing” events this summer, which could lead to the discovery of even more distant exoplanets.

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This infographic explains how NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope can be used in tandem with a ground-based telescope to measure the distances to planets using the “microlensing” technique.

Source: huffingtonpost

NASA’s Dawn Probe Sees Dwarf Planet Ceres as a Crescent


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After spending several weeks in the shadow of Ceres, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is finally getting a close-up glimpse of the dwarf planet.

For Those Who Don’t Know About CERES : Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is composed of rock and ice, is 950 kilometers (590 miles) in diameter, and comprises approximately one third of the mass of the asteroid belt. It is the only dwarf planet in the inner Solar System and the only object in the asteroid belt known to be unambiguously rounded by its own gravity.

Ceres’ cratered north pole blazes through the darkness in new images captured by Dawn on April 10. The photos are the highest-resolution views of the world that Dawn has gotten since entering Ceres’ orbit on March 6, NASA officials said.

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Dawn was about 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet when the pictures were taken, and mission team members promise even better views of Ceres in the months to come.

Full science observations begin April 23, when lighting conditions will be better for Dawn and the probe will be even closer to Ceres — just 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) above the surface. Dawn will begin moving even lower down on May 9.

In future weeks, NASA hopes the mission will help scientists better understand a key mystery of Ceres: strange bright spots on its surface that, in some cases, have different temperatures than the terrain surrounding them. Mission scientists still don’t know what the spots are made of.

The $466 million Dawn mission, which launched in September 2007, aims to better characterize the solar system’s early days by studying Ceres and Vesta, two intact protoplanets that are the largest denizens of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The probe spent 14 months at the 330-mile-wide (530-kilometer-wide) Vesta in 2011 and 2012, then headed to Ceres.

Mission scientists said they expect that Ceres, which is about 590 miles (950 km) wide, will be wetter than Vesta, and made of different stuff. Some researchers think Ceres may even harbor liquid water beneath its surface, perhaps making the dwarf planet capable of hosting life as we know it.

Source : NBS-news,Sci-news,Wikipedia

This Is The First Ever Color Picture of Pluto


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New Horizons spacecraft is now only three months away from its historic sweep through the Pluto-Charon system in mid-July. First image in color!

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft acquired its first picture of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in color on April 9. It’s the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach. Neither Pluto nor Charon is well resolved here, but their distinctly different appearances can already be seen. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft team released this tantalizing first color image of Pluto and its Texas-sized moon Charon. The team called this image a preliminary reconstruction, which they said will be refined later. The spacecraft acquired the image from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers)-roughly the distance from the sun to Venus. New Horizons is now only three months from its historic encounter with Pluto. The flyby through the Pluto system will take place on July 14, at which time the spacecraft will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across.

New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched and may be the only spacecraft to sweep past Pluto in our lifetimes. It has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles (4.8 billion km) – than any space mission in history to reach the Pluto system, which consists of the dwarf planet and its five known moons.

NASA pointed out that New Horizons’ flyby of the Pluto system on July 14 will:

… complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system. This mission also opens the door to an entirely new ‘third’ zone of mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks in the Kuiper Belt, a large area with numerous objects beyond Neptune’s orbit.

Principal investigator Alan Stern said the mission would mark the first up-close look at a binary planet. He called Pluto a binary because its large moon Charon is so nearly like Pluto in size.

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Between now and July 14, New Horizons will get closer and closer to Pluto and its moons, and the image quality will rapidly improve. At closest approach, New Horizons will sweep through the Pluto system at a speed of 30,000 mph (50,000 kilometers per hour).

Source : EarthSky.org

NASA spacecraft sends historic Pluto images


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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent its first stunning images of Pluto as the probe closes in on the dwarf planet.

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New Horizons was more than 203 million km away from Pluto when it began taking images, the US space agancy said in a statement.

Although still just a dot along with its largest moon, Charon, the images come on the 109th birthday of Clyde Tombaugh who discovered the distant icy world in 1930.

“My dad would be thrilled with New Horizons,” said Clyde Tombaugh’s daughter Annette Tombaugh, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“To actually see the planet that he had discovered, and find out more about it — to get to see the moons of Pluto — he would have been astounded. I am sure it would have meant so much to him if he were still alive today,” she added.

The new images, taken with New Horizons’ telescopic Long—Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), are the first acquired during the spacecraft’s 2015 approach to the Pluto system which culminates with a close flyby of Pluto and its moons July 14.

Over the next few months, LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto, against a starry backdrop, to refine the team’s estimates of New Horizons’ distance to Pluto.

As in these first images, the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until late spring.

“Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“The dwarf planet will continue to grow larger and larger in the images as New Horizons spacecraft hurtles toward its targets. The new LORRI images also demonstrate that the camera’s performance is unchanged since it was launched more than nine years ago,” Weaver said.

Source: thehindu

Planets orbiting Kepler 444 suggest there’s ancient life in the Milky Way


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NASA’s exoplanet hunting Kepler space telescope has encountered a few problems as of late, but there’s still a mountain of data for astronomers to dig through from the last four years. Astronomers analyzing Kepler data recently uncovered something unusual — a solar system about 117 light years away in the direction of Lyra called Kepler-444 with at least five Earth-sized planets. That would be unusual enough, but this planetary system is also extraordinarily ancient at roughly 11.2 billion years.

Astronomers are intrigued by this discovery for several reasons. First, that’s a lot of small rocky planets. Kepler detects alien worlds by the transit method. It watches distant suns for slight dips in brightness that indicate a planet has passed between it and the telescope. These events can be used to calculate the characteristics of the planet, but it works best for larger worlds (super Earths and gas giants). Spotting five planets between the size of Mercury and Venus (basically a little smaller than Earth) is unusual.

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Artistic Depiction of Kepler 444 with its Star

The age of Kepler-444 is also something to note. At 11.2 billion years old, the planets orbiting this star were already older than Earth is now when our sun ignited 4.5 billion years ago. The universe itself is only 13.8 billion or so years old, making Kepler-444 one of the oldest stars in the Milky Way. It would have been from the first generation of stars that dotted the sky. Kepler-444 is still very sun-like because it’s 25% smaller and cooler. That means it burns through its nuclear fuel more slowly.

Finding small rocky planets that are billions of years older than Earth suggests that advanced life may have existed in the universe for a very long time. Life on Earth might be very new by comparison. Just think, planets similar to Earth were forming more than 7 billion years before Earth formed, and some of them could have supported life. If other first-generation stars like Kepler-444 have planets, uncountable civilizations could have come into being eons before the first single-cell life appeared on Earth.

The planets orbiting Kepler-444 themselves are not able to support life as we know it. All five planets are packed very close to the parent star with orbits closer than that of Mercury in our solar system. With solar years less than 10 Earth days, they definitely stood out in the Kepler data. The surfaces of these worlds have been baked by the intense heat, reducing any organic material to cinders.

Kepler-444 isn’t a bastion of alien life, but it improves our understanding of planetary formation and points us in a new direction. Astronomers are anxious to find other ancient stars with rocky planets in hopes they might prove more hospitable to life. What if there was still something alive on one of these ancient worlds? That might sound like science fiction right now, but maybe it won’t always be — there’s still a lot of data from Kepler, and future telescopes will improve our ability to spy distant exoplanets.

Source: Geek.com

Scientists Discover Exoplanet With Rings Far More Impressive Than Our Saturn


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Artist’s conception of the extrasolar ring system circling the young giant planet or brown dwarf J1407b is shown. Credit: Ron Miller

Children and adults alike marvel at the rings around Saturn. In a model of our solar system, Saturn—and its rings—is typically the one that gets the most attention.

But while it is easy to be fascinated by Saturn, astronomers have recently found an exoplanet with an even grander expanse of wings that is sure to wow a new generation of stargazers.

“The star is much too far away to observe the rings directly, but we could make a detailed mode based on the rapid brightness variations in the star light passing through the ring system. If we could replace Saturn’s rings with the rings around J1407b, they would be easily visible at night and be many times larger than the full moon,” explains lead researcher Matthew Kenworthy. “The details that we see in the light curve are incredible. The eclipse lasted for several weeks, but you see rapid changes on time scales of tens of minutes as a result of fine structures in the rings.”

Study co-author Eric Mamaek, who first found the rings of the planet, comments, “The planetary science community has theorized for decades that planets like Jupiter and Saturn would have had, at an early stage, disks around them that then led to the formation of satellites. However, until we discovered this object in 2012, no-one had seen such a ring system. This is the first snapshot of satellite formation on million-kilometer scales around a substellar object.”

The University of Rochester professor of physics and astronomy goes on to say, “This planet is much larger than Jupiter or Saturn, and its ring system is roughly 200 times larger than Saturn’s rings are today. You could think of it as a kind of super Saturn.”

Source : piercepioneer.com

Ceres: NASA Finds Mysterious White Spot On Dwarf Planet


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Ceres- A Dwarf Planet located at Asteroid belt (Click Image to Download)

NASA scientists have been stymied by the discovery of a large, bright white spot on the dwarf planet Ceres, which has been revealed in images from the Dawn spacecraft, set to soon arrive at the unusual celestial object.

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The white spot appeared in a series of photographs of Ceres taken on January 13, according to Space.com. Though the images were released on January 19, just what has caused the anomaly on the dwarf planet, which is located between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid belt, remains undetermined, according to mission director and chief engineer Marc Rayman.

“Yes, we can confirm that it is something on Ceres that reflects more sunlight, but what that is remains a mystery,” he said.

The Dawn spacecraft marks the first mission to Ceres, and is set to arrive at the dwarf planet in March of this year. The spacecraft has traveled 3.1 billion miles over the last seven years, according to Popular Science, pushed toward the asteroid belt at just 450 mph by a set of ion thrusters.

Scientists know precious little about Ceres, which has a diameter of 590 miles and a surface area four times larger than the state of Texas. Astronomers have previously observed water vapor plumes erupting off Ceres, thought to be the product of ice geysers referred to as “cryovolcanos.” Though much of its mass is believed to be composed of water, some speculate that the Dawn mission will determine that the dwarf planet possesses a rocky, barren surface.

Although it is unclear what Dawn will find when it reaches the dwarf planet, the spacecraft already has a mystery to solve in the form of Ceres’ unusual white spot.

Source: www.inquisitr.com

Researchers: Solar system may have Planet X , Planet Y


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The presence of two additional planets might explain the unexpected orbital features of some trans-Neptunian objects.

Scientists have postulated the existence of possibly two undiscovered planets beyond the orbit of Neptune to explain discrepancies in the orbits of extreme trans-Neptunian objects (ETNO). The objects have orbits that take them beyond the orbit of the planet Neptune.

Theory predicts that they be randomly distributed and that their orbits must have a semi-major axis with a value around 150 AU; an orbital inclination of nearly zero degrees; and an angle of perihelion, the point in the object’s orbit at which it is closest to the Sun, of zero to 180 degrees.

However, a dozen ETNO do not fit these orbital criteria. These objects have semi-major axis values of 150 to 525 AU, orbital inclinations of around 20 degrees, and angles of perihelion far from 180 degrees.

According to a statement, a new study by astrophysicists at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and University of Cambridge have calculated that these orbital discrepancies could be explained by the existence of at least two additional planets beyond the orbits of Neptune and dwarf planet Pluto. Their study suggests that the gravitational pulls of those two planets must be disturbing the orbits of some smaller ETNO.

However, there are two difficulties with the hypothesis. One is that current models of the formation of our solar system do not allow for additional planets beyond Neptune. Secondly, the team’s sample size is very small, only 13 objects. However, additional results are in the pipeline, which will expand the sample.

“This excess of objects with unexpected orbital parameters makes us believe that some invisible forces are altering the distribution of the orbital elements of the ETNO and we consider that the most probable explanation is that other unknown planets exist beyond Neptune and Pluto,” said Carlos de la Fuente Marcos of UCM and lead author on the study.

The new findings have been published in two papers published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters.

Source : thespacereporter

NASA Begins Countdown to Pluto Flyby


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An artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, currently en route to Pluto; after nine years and a journey of 3 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons robotic probe will be woken from hibernation to begin its unprecedented mission: the study of the icy dwarf planet Pluto and its home, the Kuiper Belt.

Today marks the beginning of the world’s encounter with Pluto, as a NASA spacecraft that has journeyed for nine years begins its first phrase of approach to the dwarf planet.

The spacecraft is still 135 million miles away from Pluto, but Thursday marks a significant day for NASA scientists as the beginning of a series of phases in which the spacecraft can start studying and capturing increasingly detailed images of the Pluto system.

In just under six months, the world will catches its first close-up glimpse of Pluto when NASA’s New Horizons zooms within 6,200 miles of the dwarf planet on July 14.

New Horizons has traveled three billion miles since its launch on January 19, 2006, according to NASA. That’s farther than any other other space exploration mission has ever gone to reach its primary target.

As with space missions before it, the New Horizons spacecraft is packed with interesting memorabilia, including two U.S. flags and some of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the American astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.

The spacecraft has spent about two-thirds of the time since its launch (intermittently) “in hibernation” in order to reduce the wear and tear on equipment and minimize the risk of system failures. But on December 6 last year, the spacecraft came out of hibernation and switched into active mode for its final approach.

Continue reading NASA Begins Countdown to Pluto Flyby