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  • richardmitnick 11:45 am on August 23, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Spitzer,   

    From NASA: The Three Great Observatories 

    NASA

    NASA

    Described as the “three great observatories, Spitzer, Hubble and Chandra have each revolutionized our view of the Universe. Please watch, enjoy and learn.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 1:24 pm on August 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/Spitzer: “Supernova Seen In Two Lights” 



    Spitzer

    08.21.14

    The destructive results of a mighty supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate blend of infrared and X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    ESA XMM Newton
    ESA/XMM-Newton

    image
    Credit
    NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/IAFE

    The bubbly cloud is an irregular shock wave, generated by a supernova that would have been witnessed on Earth 3,700 years ago. The remnant itself, called Puppis A, is around 7,000 light-years away, and the shock wave is about 10 light-years across.

    The pastel hues in this image reveal that the infrared and X-ray structures trace each other closely. Warm dust particles are responsible for most of the infrared light wavelengths, assigned red and green colors in this view. Material heated by the supernovas shock wave emits X-rays, which are colored blue. Regions where the infrared and X-ray emissions blend together take on brighter, more pastel tones.

    The shock wave appears to light up as it slams into surrounding clouds of dust and gas that fill the interstellar space in this region.

    From the infrared glow, astronomers have found a total quantity of dust in the region equal to about a quarter of the mass of our sun. Data collected from Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph reveal how the shock wave is breaking apart the fragile dust grains that fill the surrounding space.

    Supernova explosions forge the heavy elements that can provide the raw material from which future generations of stars and planets will form. Studying how supernova remnants expand into the galaxy and interact with other material provides critical clues into our own origins.

    Infrared data from Spitzers multiband imaging photometer (MIPS) at wavelengths of 24 and 70 microns are rendered in green and red. X-ray data from XMM-Newton spanning an energy range of 0.3 to 8 keV (kiloelectron volts) are shown in blue.

    See the full article here.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 8:55 am on July 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “The Most Precise Measurement of an Alien World’s Size” 

    NASA/JPL

    Thanks to NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the radius of a planet outside our solar system. The size of the exoplanet, dubbed Kepler-93b, is now known to an uncertainty of just 74 miles (119 kilometers) on either side of the planetary body.

    art
    Using data from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes, scientists have made the most precise measurement ever of the size of a world outside our solar system, as illustrated in this artist’s conception.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    The findings confirm Kepler-93b as a “super-Earth” that is about one-and-a-half times the size of our planet. Although super-Earths are common in the galaxy, none exist in our solar system. Exoplanets like Kepler-93b are therefore our only laboratories to study this major class of planet.

    With good limits on the sizes and masses of super-Earths, scientists can finally start to theorize about what makes up these weird worlds. Previous measurements, by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, had put Kepler-93b’s mass at about 3.8 times that of Earth. The density of Kepler-93b, derived from its mass and newly obtained radius, indicates the planet is in fact very likely made of iron and rock, like Earth.

    “With Kepler and Spitzer, we’ve captured the most precise measurement to date of an alien planet’s size, which is critical for understanding these far-off worlds,” said Sarah Ballard, a NASA Carl Sagan Fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle and lead author of a paper on the findings published in the Astrophysical Journal.

    “The measurement is so precise that it’s literally like being able to measure the height of a six-foot tall person to within three quarters of an inch — if that person were standing on Jupiter,” said Ballard.

    Kepler-93b orbits a star located about 300 light-years away, with approximately 90 percent of the sun’s mass and radius. The exoplanet’s orbital distance — only about one-sixth that of Mercury’s from the sun — implies a scorching surface temperature around 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (760 degrees Celsius). Despite its newfound similarities in composition to Earth, Kepler-93b is far too hot for life.

    To make the key measurement about this toasty exoplanet’s radius, the Kepler and Spitzer telescopes each watched Kepler-93b cross, or transit, the face of its star, eclipsing a tiny portion of starlight. Kepler’s unflinching gaze also simultaneously tracked the dimming of the star caused by seismic waves moving within its interior. These readings encode precise information about the star’s interior. The team leveraged them to narrowly gauge the star’s radius, which is crucial for measuring the planetary radius.

    Spitzer, meanwhile, confirmed that the exoplanet’s transit looked the same in infrared light as in Kepler’s visible-light observations. These corroborating data from Spitzer — some of which were gathered in a new, precision observing mode — ruled out the possibility that Kepler’s detection of the exoplanet was bogus, or a so-called false positive.

    Taken together, the data boast an error bar of just one percent of the radius of Kepler-93b. The measurements mean that the planet, estimated at about 11,700 miles (18,800 kilometers) in diameter, could be bigger or smaller by about 150 miles (240 kilometers), the approximate distance between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

    Spitzer racked up a total of seven transits of Kepler-93b between 2010 and 2011. Three of the transits were snapped using a “peak-up” observational technique. In 2011, Spitzer engineers repurposed the spacecraft’s peak-up camera, originally used to point the telescope precisely, to control where light lands on individual pixels within Spitzer’s infrared camera.

    The upshot of this rejiggering: Ballard and her colleagues were able to cut in half the range of uncertainty of the Spitzer measurements of the exoplanet radius, improving the agreement between the Spitzer and Kepler measurements.

    “Ballard and her team have made a major scientific advance while demonstrating the power of Spitzer’s new approach to exoplanet observations,” said Michael Werner, project scientist for the Spitzer Space Telescope at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

    JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, is responsible for Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. JPL managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo
    jpl


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  • richardmitnick 6:32 am on July 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “Newfound Frozen World Orbits in Binary Star System” 

    NASA

    NASA

    July 3, 2014
    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    A newly discovered planet in a binary, or twin, star system located 3,000 light-years from Earth is expanding astronomers’ notions of where Earth-like — and even potentially habitable — planets can form, and how to find them.

    twin
    This artist’s rendering shows a newly discovered planet (far right) orbiting one star (right) of a binary star system. The discovery, made by a collaboration of international research teams and led by researchers at The Ohio State University, expands astronomers’ notions of where to look for planets in our galaxy. The research was funded in part by NASA. Credit: Cheongho Han, Chungbuk National University, Republic of Korea.

    At twice the mass of Earth, the planet orbits one of the stars in the binary system at almost exactly the same distance at which Earth orbits the sun. However, because the planet’s host star is much dimmer than the sun, the planet is much colder than Earth — a little colder, in fact, than Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

    Four international research teams, led by professor Andrew Gould of The Ohio State University in Columbus, published their discovery in the July 4 issue of the journal Science. The research is partly funded by NASA.

    The study provides the first evidence that terrestrial planets can form in orbits similar to Earth’s, even in a binary star system where the stars are not very far apart. Although this planet itself is too cold to be habitable, the same planet orbiting a sun-like star in such a binary system would be in the so-called “habitable zone” — the region where conditions might be right for life.

    “This greatly expands the potential locations to discover habitable planets in the future,” said Scott Gaudi, professor of astronomy at Ohio State. “Half the stars in the galaxy are in binary systems. We had no idea if Earth-like planets in Earth-like orbits could even form in these systems.”

    Earlier evidence that planets form in binary star systems came from NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes (see http://www.nasa.gov/centers/ames/news/releases/2011/11-69AR.html and http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/news/spitzer-20070329.html), but the planets and dust structures in those studies were not similar to those of Earth.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    The technique astronomers use to find the planet, called OGLE-2013-BLG-0341LBb, is called gravitational microlensing. In this method, the light of a distant star is magnified by a closer star that happens to pass in front — if a planet is also present around the foreground star, it will further alter and distort the light of the background star. The telescopes used in this study are part of several projects, including the OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment), MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics), MicroFUN (the Microlensing Follow Up Network), and the Wise Observatory.

    Searching for planets within binary systems is tricky for most techniques, because the light from the second star complicates the interpretation of the data. “But in gravitational microlensing,” Gould explained, “we don’t even look at the light from the star-planet system. We just observe how its gravity affects light from a more distant, unrelated star. This gives us a new tool to search for planets in binary star systems.”

    NASA’s proposed WFIRST-AFTA (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope – Astrophysics Focused Telescope Assets) mission would use the microlensing technique to find and characterize hundreds of thousands of planets in binary systems.

    See the full article here.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 5:26 am on July 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From NASA/Spitzer: “Black Hole Fireworks in Nearby Galaxy” 



    Spitzer

    07.02.14
    No Writer Credit

    Celebrants this Fourth of July will enjoy the dazzling lights and booming shock waves from the explosions of fireworks. A similarly styled event is taking place in the galaxy Messier 106, as seen by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Herschel Space Observatory. Herschel is a European Space Agency mission with important NASA contributions.

    M106
    M106

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    ESA Herschel
    ESA/Herschel

    Energetic jets, which blast from Messier 106’s central black hole, are heating up material in the galaxy and thus making it glow, like the ingredients in a firework. The jets also power shock waves that are driving gases out of the galaxy’s interior.

    Those gases constitute the fuel for churning out new stars. A new study estimates the shock waves have already warmed and ejected two-thirds of the gas from the center of Messier 106. With a reduced ability to birth new stars, Messier 106 appears to be transitioning into a barren, so-called lenticular galaxy full of old, red stars. Lenticular galaxies are flat disks without prominent spiral arms.

    “Jets from the supermassive black hole at the center of Messier 106 are having a profound influence on the available gas for making stars in this galaxy,” said Patrick Ogle, an astrophysicist at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and lead author of a new paper describing the results. “This process may eventually transform the spiral galaxy Messier 106 into a lenticular galaxy, depriving it of the raw material to form stars.”

    Many galaxies contain a central black hole that actively “feeds” upon nearby gas. Some of the material, as it draws toward the black hole, dramatically speeds up and violently spews out as twin jets near the black hole’s poles. As one of the Milky Way’s closest galactic neighbors, Messier 106 offers a great opportunity for investigating these high-powered jets. Messier 106 — also known as NGC 4258 — is 23.5 million light-years distant, and visible with binoculars in the constellation Canes Venatici.

    For the new study, researchers used data obtained with the Spitzer infrared telescope before the observatory ran out of coolant in 2009, as planned. The data amount to a map of the infrared light emitted by heated-up hydrogen molecules in Messier 106. The warmed hydrogen is a signature of the jet from the central black hole energizing the surrounding disk of the galaxy.

    Specifically, Spitzer saw warmed hydrogen in the two mysterious spiral arms for which Messier 106 is famous. These arms are not like the usual, star-filled spiral arms found in spiral galaxies, such as our Milky Way. In previous research with Spitzer and Chandra, researchers discovered that twin jets from the black hole spawned the anomalous arms, which contain gas heated to millions of degrees that shines in X-rays, detected by Chandra.

    In the inner portions of the anomalous spiral arms, the Spitzer infrared images have revealed the equivalent of 10 million times the mass of the sun of molecular hydrogen heated to between about minus 20 and 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 28 and 760 degrees Celsius) by the shock waves. Without the shock waves, this gas would be colder, likely a few hundred degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.

    From a direct comparison of the Chandra and Spitzer images, Ogle and colleagues saw that there is a close connection between the gas that is shocked to millions of degrees, seen by Chandra, and the bulk of denser hydrogen gas heated to hundreds of degrees, seen by Spitzer. The jet is surrounded by a cocoon of superhot gas, which drives shock waves into the surrounding molecular hydrogen gas, like a firework popping off. The molecular hydrogen then heats up, emits infrared light that Spitzer records, and is cast out of the galaxy’s gas-strewn interior.

    The Herschel observations, meanwhile, pinned down the heat radiating from dust grains that are mixed in with the galaxy’s shock-heated gas. “A relatively large amount of molecular gas emission compared to dust emission confirms that shock-driven turbulence from the black hole jets is heating the molecular gas,” said paper co-author Philip Appleton of the NASA Herschel Science Center at Caltech.

    Spitzer and Herschel were also able to gauge the level of star-making activity in Messier 106’s central region. The little gas left there supports a paltry star-formation rate of only 0.08 solar, or sun-equivalent, masses per year (a robust pace runs to about three solar masses per year). The star-formation rate in Messier 106’s inner quarters will continue to decline until the jets have ejected all of the gas from the center of the galaxy, turning Messier 106 into an over-the-hill lenticular galaxy.

    “Our results demonstrate that these black hole jets can have a significant impact on the evolution of their host galaxies, eventually sterilizing them and making them bereft of the gas needed to form new stars,” said Ogle.

    See the full article here.

    Another view:

    M106A
    The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope – with a little help from an amateur astronomer – has produced one of the best views yet of nearby spiral galaxy Messier 106. Located a little over 20 million light-years away, practically a neighbour by cosmic standards, Messier 106 is one of the brightest and nearest spiral galaxies to our own.

    Despite its appearance, which looks much like countless other galaxies, Messier 106 hides a number of secrets. Thanks to this image, which combines data from Hubble with observations by amateur astronomers Robert Gendler and Jay GaBany, they are revealed as never before.

    At its heart, as in most spiral galaxies, is a supermassive black hole, but this one is particularly active. Unlike the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, which pulls in wisps of gas only occasionally, Messier 106’s black hole is actively gobbling up material. As the gas spirals towards the black hole, it heats up and emits powerful radiation. Part of the emission from the centre of Messier 106 is produced by a process that is somewhat similar to that in a laser – although here the process produces bright microwave radiation.

    As well as this microwave emission from Messier 106’s heart, the galaxy has another startling feature – instead of two spiral arms, it appears to have four. Although the second pair of arms can be seen in visible light images as ghostly wisps of gas, as in this image, they are even more prominent in observations made outside of the visible spectrum, such as those using X-ray or radio waves.

    Unlike the normal arms, these two extra arms are made up of hot gas rather than stars, and their origin remained unexplained until recently. Astronomers think that these, like the microwave emission from the galactic centre, are caused by the black hole at Messier 106’s heart, and so are a totally different phenomenon from the galaxy’s normal, star-filled arms.

    The extra arms appear to be an indirect result of jets of material produced by the violent churning of matter around the black hole. As these jets travel through the galactic matter they disrupt and heat up the surrounding gas, which in turn excites the denser gas in the galactic plane and causes it to glow brightly. This denser gas closer to the centre of the galaxy is tightly-bound, and so the arms appear to be straight. However, the looser disc gas further out is blown above or below the disc in the opposite direction from the jet, so that the gas curves out of the disc — producing the arching red arms seen here.

    Despite carrying his name, Messier 106 was neither discovered nor catalogued by the renowned 18th century astronomer Charles Messier. Discovered by his assistant, Pierre Méchain, the galaxy was never added to the catalogue in his lifetime. Along with six other objects discovered but not logged by the pair, Messier 106 was posthumously added to the Messier catalogue in the 20th century.

    Amateur astronomer Robert Gendler retrieved archival Hubble images of M 106 to assemble a mosaic of the centre of the galaxy. He then used his own and fellow astrophotographer Jay GaBany’s observations of M 106 to combine with the Hubble data in areas where there was less coverage, and finally, to fill in the holes and gaps where no Hubble data existed.

    The centre of the galaxy is composed almost entirely of Hubble data taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys, Wide Field Camera 3, and Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 detectors. The outer spiral arms are predominantly HST data colourised with ground-based data taken by Gendler’s and GaBany’s 12.5-inch and 20-inch telescopes, located at very dark remote sites in New Mexico, USA.

    NASA Hubble ACS
    Hubble ACS

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    Hubble WFC3

    NASA Hubble WFPC2
    Hubble WFPC2

    Gendler was a prizewinner in the recent Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition. Another prizewinner, André van der Hoeven, entered a different version of Messier 106, combining Hubble and NOAO data.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

    [1] Lasers work when light stimulates emission of more light from a cloud of excited gas, with the original light in effect being amplified (the word laser is an acronym for light amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation). The centre of M106 harbours a similar phenomenon called a maser (short for microwave amplification by the stimulated emission of radiation), in which microwave radiation, which is at longer wavelengths than visible light, is emitted. Note that unlike man-made lasers, which are designed to produce a narrow beam, astronomical masers shine in all directions.

    Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and R. Gendler (for the Hubble Heritage Team). Acknowledgment: J. GaBany

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 7:15 pm on June 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From NASA/Spitzer: “Spitzer Spies an Odd, Tiny Asteroid” 



    Spitzer

    06.19.14
    No Writer Credit

    Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have measured the size of an asteroid candidate for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), a proposed spacecraft concept to capture either a small asteroid, or a boulder from an asteroid. The near-Earth asteroid, called 2011 MD, was found to be roughly 20 feet (6 meters) in size, and its structure appears to contain a lot of empty space, perhaps resembling a pile of rubble. Spitzer’s infrared vision was key to sizing up the asteroid.

    two

    arrow
    2011 MD

    NASA Asteroid Redirect Mission
    NASA ARM spacecraft

    “From its perch up in space, Spitzer can use its heat-sensitive infrared vision to spy asteroids and get better estimates of their sizes,” said Michael Mommert of Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, lead author of a new study appearing today, June 19, in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. David Trilling, also of Northern Arizona University, leads the team of astronomers.

    The Spitzer results confirm that asteroid 2011 MD has characteristics suitable for the ARM proposal, elevating it to the “valid candidate” level. Valid candidates are those asteroids with the right size, mass and rotation rate to be feasibly captured by the robotic spacecraft. Two other valid candidates have been identified so far. (The proposal to capture a boulder from an asteroid involves a different set of criteria.) NASA continues to search for and find new potential candidates using its ground-based asteroid survey programs.

    Prior to the Spitzer study, the size of 2011 MD was only very roughly known. It had been observed in visible light, but an asteroid’s size cannot be determined solely from visible-light measurements. In visible light alone, for example, a white snowball in space could look just as bright as a dark mountain of cosmic rock. The objects may differ in size but reflect the same amount of sunlight, appearing equally bright.

    Infrared light, on the other hand, is a better indicator of an object’s true size. This is because an object’s infrared glow depends largely on its temperature, not its reflectivity.

    From the new Spitzer data, the team was able to measure the size of asteroid 2011 MD. When the infrared and visible-light observations were combined, the asteroid’s density and mass could also be measured. The density of 2011 MD is remarkably low — about the same as water, which agrees with a separate analysis of observations taken in 2011. Since rock is about three times more dense than water, this implies that about two-thirds of the asteroid must be empty space.

    What does an asteroid with that much empty space look like? The team doesn’t know, but proposes two possible solutions: it might be a collection of loosely bound rocks, like a fleet of flying boulders, or a solid rock with surrounding fine debris.

    A similar “rubble-pile” type of composition was also found for asteroid 2009 BD, another valid candidate for ARM. Trilling and colleagues used Spitzer to help pin down the size of that asteroid to roughly 10 to 13 feet (3 or 4 meters).

    In both studies, Spitzer stared at the asteroids for about 20 hours. Such long observations are scheduled more often in Spitzer’s “warm” mission, a phase that began in 2009 when the spacecraft ran out of coolant, as planned. Spitzer, which still has two infrared channels that operate without coolant, now specializes in longer, targeted observing campaigns.

    “With Spitzer, we have been able to get some of the first measurements of the sizes and compositions of tiny asteroids,” said Trilling. “So far, we’ve looked at two asteroids and found both of them to be really weird — not at all like the one solid rock that we expected. We’re scratching our heads.”

    The team says the small asteroids probably formed as a result of collisions between larger asteroids, but they do not understand how their unusual structures could have come about. They plan to use Spitzer in the future to study more of the tiny asteroids, both as possible targets for asteroid space missions, and for a better understanding of the many asteroid denizens making up our solar system.

    Other authors of the Spitzer paper are: D. Farnocchia, P. Chodas and S. R. Chesley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; J. L. Hora, G. G. Fazio and H.A. Smith of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts; M. Mueller of the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Netherlands; and A. W. Harris of the DLR Institute for Planetary Research, Germany.

    JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    Through its Asteroid Initiative, NASA is developing a first-ever mission to identify, capture and redirect a near-Earth asteroid to a stable orbit around the moon with a robotic spacecraft. Astronauts aboard an Orion spacecraft, launched by a Space Launch System rocket, will explore the asteroid in the 2020s, returning to Earth with samples. Experience in human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit through this Asteroid Redirect Mission will help NASA test new systems and capabilities needed to support future human missions to Mars. The Initiative also includes an Asteroid Grand Challenge, which is seeking the best ideas to find all asteroid threats to human populations and accelerate the work NASA already is doing for planetary defense.

    JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    See the full article here.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 1:06 pm on June 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From NASA/Spitzer: “New Suspect Identified in Supernova Explosion” 



    Spitzer

    06.04.14
    No Writer Credit

    Supernovas are often thought of as the tremendous explosions that mark the ends of massive stars’ lives. While this is true, not all supernovas occur in this fashion. A common supernova class, called Type Ia, involves the detonation of white dwarfs — small, dense stars that are already dead.

    wd

    New results from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have revealed a rare example of Type Ia explosion, in which a dead star “fed” off an aging star like a cosmic zombie, triggering a blast. The results help researchers piece together how these powerful and diverse events occur.

    “It’s kind of like being a detective,” said Brian Williams of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of a study submitted to the Astrophysical Journal. “We look for clues in the remains to try to figure out what happened, even though we weren’t there to see it.”

    Supernovas are essential factories in the cosmos, churning out heavy metals, including the iron contained in our blood. Type Ia supernovas tend to blow up in consistent ways, and thus have been used for decades to help scientists study the size and expansion of our universe. Researchers say that these events occur when white dwarfs — the burnt-out corpses of stars like our sun — explode.

    Evidence has been mounting over the past 10 years that the explosions are triggered when two orbiting white dwarfs collide — with one notable exception. Kepler’s supernova, named after the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who was among those who witnessed it in 1604, is thought to have been preceded by just one white dwarf and an elderly, companion star called a red giant. Scientists know this because the remnant sits in a pool of gas and dust shed by the aging star.

    kep sup
    Kepler’s Supernova
    On October 9, 1604, sky watchers — including astronomer Johannes Kepler, spotted a “new star” in the western sky, rivaling the brilliance of nearby planets. “Kepler’s supernova” was the last exploding supernova seen in our Milky Way galaxy. Observers used only their eyes to study it, because the telescope had not yet been invented. Now, astronomers have utilized NASA’s three Great Observatories to analyze the supernova remnant in infrared, optical and X-ray light.” [1]
    Color Code (Energy):
    Blue: X-ray (4-6 keV), en:Chandra X-ray Observatory, The higher-energy X-rays come primarily from the regions directly behind the shock front.
    Green: X-ray (0.3-1.4 keV), en:Chandra X-ray Observatory; Lower-energy X-rays mark the location of the hot remains of the exploded star.
    Yellow: Optical, en:Hubble Space Telescope; The optical image reveals 10,000 degrees Celsius gas where the supernova shock wave is slamming into the densest regions of surrounding gas.
    Red: Infrared, en:Spitzer space telescope; The infrared image highlights microscopic dust particles swept up and heated by the supernova shock wave.
    Dates: The Chandra observations were taken in June 2000, the Hubble in August 2003, and the Spitzer in August 2004

    Spitzer’s new observations now find a second case of a supernova remnant resembling Kepler’s. Called N103B, the roughly 1,000 year-old supernova remnant lies 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy near our Milky Way.

    “It’s like Kepler’s older cousin,” said Williams. He explained that N103B, though somewhat older than Kepler’s supernova remnant, also lies in a cloud of gas and dust thought to have been blown off by an older companion star. “The region around the remnant is extraordinarily dense,” he said. Unlike Kepler’s supernova remnant, no historical sightings of the explosion that created N103B are recorded.

    Both the Kepler and N103B explosions are thought to have unfolded as follows: an aging star orbits its companion — a white dwarf. As the aging star molts, which is typical for older stars, some of the shed material falls onto the white dwarf. This causes the white dwarf to build up in mass, become unstable and explode.

    According to the researchers, this scenario may be rare. While the pairing of white dwarfs and red giants was thought to underlie virtually all Type Ia supernovas as recently as a decade ago, scientists now think that collisions between two white dwarfs are the most common cause. The new Spitzer research highlights the complexity of these tremendous explosions and the variety of their triggers. The case of what makes a dead star rupture is still very much an unsolved mystery.

    See the full article here.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 8:48 pm on May 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From NASA/Spitzer: “The ‘Serpent’ Star-forming Cloud Hatches New Stars” 



    Spitzer

    05.28.14
    No Writer Credit

    Stars that are just beginning to coalesce out of cool swaths of dust and gas are showcased in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS).Infrared light has been assigned colors we see with our eyes, revealing young stars in orange and yellow, and a central parcel of gas in blue. This area is hidden in visible-light views, but infrared light can travel through the dust, offering a peek inside the stellar hatchery.

    stars

    The dark patch to the left of center is swaddled in so much dust, even the infrared light is blocked. It is within these dark wombs that stars are just beginning to take shape.

    Called the Serpens Cloud Core, this star-forming region is located about 750 light-years away in Serpens, or the “Serpent,” a constellation named after its resemblance to a snake in visible light. The region is noteworthy as it only contains stars of relatively low to moderate mass, and lacks any of the massive and incredibly bright stars found in larger star-forming regions like the Orion nebula. Our sun is a star of moderate mass. Whether it formed in a low-mass stellar region like Serpens, or a high-mass stellar region like Orion, is an ongoing mystery.

    serpens
    Serpens constellation

    orion
    NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team
    Source http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/archive/releases/2006/01/
    In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. … This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

    The inner Serpens Cloud Core is remarkably detailed in this image. It was assembled from 82 snapshots representing a whopping 16.2 hours of Spitzer observing time. The observations were made during Spitzer’s “warm mission,” a phase that began in 2009 after the observatory ran out of liquid coolant, as planned.

    Most of the small dots in this image are stars located behind, or in front of, the Serpens nebula.

    The 2MASS mission was a joint effort between the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena.

    See the full article here.

    Get all of Spitzer now that you can: http://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/from-space-com-cash-starved-nasa-may-have-to-nix-1-space-telescope-to-save-others/

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 4:18 pm on May 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From NASA/Spitzer: “Pitch Black: Cosmic Clumps Cast the Darkest Shadows” 



    Spitzer

    05.21.14
    Astronomers have found cosmic clumps so dark, dense and dusty that they throw the deepest shadows ever recorded. Infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope of these blackest-of-black regions paradoxically light the way to understanding how the brightest stars form.

    clump

    The clumps represent the darkest portions of a huge, cosmic cloud of gas and dust located about 16,000 light-years away. A new study takes advantage of the shadows cast by these clumps to measure the cloud’s structure and mass.

    The dusty cloud, results suggest, will likely evolve into one of the most massive young clusters of stars in our galaxy. The densest clumps will blossom into the cluster’s biggest, most powerful stars, called O-type stars, the formation of which has long puzzled scientists. These hulking stars have major impacts on their local stellar environments while also helping to create the heavy elements needed for life.

    “The map of the structure of the cloud and its dense cores we have made in this study reveals a lot of fine details about the massive star and star cluster formation process,” said Michael Butler, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and lead author of the study, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    The state-of-the-art map has helped pin down the cloud’s mass to the equivalent of 7,000 suns packed into an area spanning about 50 light-years in diameter. The map comes courtesy of Spitzer observing in infrared light, which can more easily penetrate gas and dust than short-wavelength visible light. The effect is similar to that behind the deep red color of sunsets on smoggy days — longer-wavelength red light more readily reaches our eyes through the haze, which scatters and absorbs shorter-wavelength blue light. In this case, however, the densest pockets of star-forming material within the cloud are so thick with dust that they scatter and block not only visible light, but also almost all background infrared light.

    Observing in infrared lets scientists peer into otherwise inscrutable cosmic clouds and catch the early phases of star and star cluster formation. Typically, Spitzer detects infrared light emitted by young stars still shrouded in their dusty cocoons. For the new study, astronomers instead gauged the amount of background infrared light obscured by the cloud, using these shadows to infer where material had lumped together within the cloud. These blobs of gas and dust will eventually collapse gravitationally to make hundreds of thousands of new stars.

    Most stars in the universe, perhaps our sun included, are thought to have formed en masse in these sorts of environments. Clusters of low-mass stars are quite common and well-studied. But clusters giving birth to higher-mass stars, like the cluster described here, are scarce and distant, which makes them harder to examine.

    “In this rare kind of cloud, Spitzer has provided us with an important picture of massive star cluster formation caught in its earliest, embryonic stages,” said Jonathan Tan, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and co-author of the study.

    The new findings will also help reveal how O-type stars form. O-type stars shine a brilliant white-blue, possess at least 16 times the sun’s mass and have surface temperatures above 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit (30,000 degrees Celsius). These giant stars have a tremendous influence on their local stellar neighborhoods. Their winds and intense radiation blow away material that might draw together to create other stars and planetary systems. O-type stars are short-lived and quickly explode as supernovas, releasing enormous amounts of energy and forging the heavy elements needed to form planets and living organisms.

    Researchers are not sure how, in O-type stars, it is possible for material to accumulate on scales of tens to 100 times the mass of our sun without dissipating or breaking down into multiple, smaller stars.

    “We still do not have a settled theory or explanation of how these massive stars form,” said Tan. “Therefore, detailed measurements of the birth clouds of future massive stars, as we have recorded in this study, are important for guiding new theoretical understanding.”

    See the full article here.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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  • richardmitnick 9:55 pm on May 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From NASA/Spitzer: “A Dusty View of Milky Ways Smaller Cousin” 2011 



    Spitzer

    This spectacular spiral galaxy is known to astronomers as Messier 83. Colloquially, it is also called the Southern Pinwheel due to its similarity to the more northerly Pinwheel galaxy Messier 101. NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope shows us, in spectacular detail, the infrared structure of what many think of as our own Milky Way galaxys smaller cousin.

    sp
    Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech
    Date 2011-11-23

    Another view, this from Hubble
    m
    NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) Acknowledgement: William Blair (Johns Hopkins University)

    Living in the middle of the Milky Ways disk, we see our galaxy only from an obstructed vantage point that is both inside-out and edge-on. We see Messier 83 nearly face-on, giving us a chance to really map out its disk in great detail. This information helps astronomers figure out what our own galaxy would look like if we could warp out to a better vantage point.

    Like the Milky Way, Messier 83 is classified as a barred spiral galaxy due to the bar-like pattern of stars that run through its center. This bar region is more interesting in the infrared since we can also see the open s shaped curve of dust (green) cutting through the more linear stellar bar (blue).

    This arc of inner dust connects up with the more tightly wound spiral arms in the outer disk, seen here as bright green-red ridges. Some of the hottest regions of star formation show up as reddish-white dots along the spiral arms, with the most vigorous star formation happening in the galaxys center. Between the main spiral arms we also see a complex webbing of dust that permeates the entire disk.

    While Messier 83 is about 15 million light years away, it is actually one of the closest barred spiral galaxies in the sky. This gives astronomers an excellent chance to study a galaxy that, although half as big, seems very similar in structure to our own Milky Way galaxy.

    Infrared light with wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns is shown as blue/cyan, showing primarily the glow from starlight. 8 micron light is rendered in green, and 24 micron emission is red, tracing the cooler and warmer components of dust, respectively.

    See the full article here.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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