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  • richardmitnick 10:53 am on August 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Large 2019 dead zone in Gulf of Mexico", A dead zone of oxygen-depleted waters forms every summer in the Gulf of Mexico in response to nutrient runoff from the Mississippi River watershed., EarthSky, Hypoxia can take a week to reform in the summer after major wind events such as the recent passage of Hurricane Barry., , The area of the dead zone was estimated at 6952 square miles (18006 square km)., The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico has harmful effects on marine life and fisheries.   

    From Louisiana State University via EarthSky: “Large 2019 dead zone in Gulf of Mexico” 

    From Louisiana State University




    August 16, 2019
    Deanna Conners

    This year’s Gulf of Mexico dead zone of oxygen-depleted waters is the 8th largest ever recorded.

    The R/V Pelican. Image appears courtesy of Arne Diercks, University of Southern Mississippi, via NOAA.

    A dead zone of oxygen-depleted waters forms every summer in the Gulf of Mexico in response to nutrient runoff from the Mississippi River watershed. Scientists have been tracking the summer dead zone for 33 years now, and they have found that this year’s area of low oxygen waters extends for 6,952 square miles (18,006 square km). It is the 8th largest dead zone ever recorded.

    Nutrient-rich runoff containing nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural lands and sewage causes the summer dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients, in combination with sunlight and warm waters in the Gulf, trigger algal blooms. Then, as the algae die off and are decomposed by bacteria, oxygen in the bottom waters drops to levels that can be deadly for many marine organisms.

    Extent of the summer dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico according to sampling data collected by Louisiana scientists in July 2019. Image via LUMCON.

    Scientists took measurements of the extent of this year’s dead zone from onboard the R/V Pelican over July 23–29, 2019. The area of the dead zone was estimated at 6,952 square miles (18,006 square km). This is the eighth largest dead zone recorded in the 33 year historical record of such events.

    The dead zone was actually smaller in size than that predicted back in spring based on the amount of rainfall and runoff generated this year. Scientists suspect that Hurricane Barry, which made landfall along the Louisiana coast on July 13 as a Category 1 storm, stirred up the waters and disrupted the growth of the dead zone. The dead zone is expected to continue its rapid growth if future conditions remain calm. The dead zone will eventually dissipate in the autumn as water temperatures cool and oxygen-rich waters become well mixed.

    Marine ecologist Nancy Rabalais of Louisiana State University led the sampling effort. She commented on the survey results in a statement:

    “Past research indicates that hypoxia can take a week to reform in the summer after major wind events such as the recent passage of Hurricane Barry. We didn’t know what we would find when we went out to map the zone. We found that, despite the storm, the zone reformed and was in the process of rapidly expanding.”

    The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico has harmful effects on marine life and fisheries, and so scientists have set a target to have the dead zone grow to no larger than 1,900 square miles (4921 square km) on average (with data collected over a five year period) by 2035. To achieve such a remedial goal, further reductions in nutrient runoff from farms and urban areas will be necessary.

    Trend in the size of the dead zone that forms each summer in the Gulf of Mexico. Image via LUMCON.

    The annual summer sampling in the Gulf of Mexico is a joint endeavor of Louisiana State University and LUMCON (Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium), and the scientists receive funding support from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for their work.

    Bottom line: A large dead zone formed in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer of 2019. The size of the dead zone was smaller than expected because of Hurricane Barry, but it was estimated to be the 8th largest on record. Large dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico are harmful to marine life, and further reductions in nutrient runoff are needed to reduce the size of the summer dead zone that forms every year.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Louisiana State University (officially Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, commonly referred to as LSU) is a public coeducational university located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The university was founded in 1853 in what is now known as Pineville, Louisiana, under the name Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy. The current LSU main campus was dedicated in 1926, consists of more than 250 buildings constructed in the style of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, and occupies a 650-acre (2.6 km²) plateau on the banks of the Mississippi River.

    LSU is the flagship institution of the Louisiana State University System. In 2017, the university enrolled over 25,000 undergraduate and over 5,000 graduate students in 14 schools and colleges. Several of LSU’s graduate schools, such as the E.J. Ourso College of Business and the Paul M. Hebert Law Center, have received national recognition in their respective fields of study. Designated as a land-grant, sea-grant and space-grant institution, LSU is also noted for its extensive research facilities, operating some 800 sponsored research projects funded by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

    LSU’s athletics department fields teams in 21 varsity sports (9 men’s, 12 women’s), and is a member of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and the SEC (Southeastern Conference). The university is represented by its mascot, Mike the Tiger.

  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on August 20, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Snow algae thrives in extreme conditions", EarthSky, Nieves penitentes form when windblown snow banks build up and melt due to a combination of high radiation low humidity and dry winds., Penitente-like structures were recently found on Pluto and possibly on Europa, Penitentes are important to the dry high-altitude areas where they’re found because they can be a periodic source of meltwater for the rocky ground., Researchers don’t entirely understand how the algae bloom in high density given the low temperatures and high light levels they live with., Snow algae at high elevations in the Chilean Andes, Snow algae is also known as watermelon snow because of the color it creates on the surface of snow and ice., The samples were collected in as “perhaps the best earthly analog for surface and near-surface soils on Mars., The snow melts into the pinnacle-shape which earned penitentes their name: they are said to resemble monks in white robes paying penance., The snow’s watermelon hue is caused by an abundance of natural reddish pigments called carotenoids which also shield the algae from ultraviolet light; drought; and cold contributing to their ability,   

    From University of Colorado Boulder via EarthSky: “Snow algae thrives in extreme conditions” 

    U Colorado

    From University of Colorado Boulder




    August 19, 2019
    Elza Bouhassira

    These elongated, thin blades of hardened snow or ice are called nieves penitentes. They’re found closely spaced and pointing towards the general direction of the sun. Recently, researchers were surprised to find patches of red ice on the sides of some of the penitentes, which turned out to be a unique snow algae. Image via Steven Schmidt/GlacierHub.

    A new study found snow algae on nieves penitentes [Spanish for “penitent-shaped snows”] at high elevations in the Chilean Andes.

    Steven Schmidt is a University of Colorado, Boulder professor, specializing in microbial ecology. He’s one of the paper’s authors. He told GlacierHub:

    “The expedition was an epic and very arduous trip to a remote mountain. The original goal was to sample a lake below a remnant glacier high on the mountain, but the lake was frozen solid and the winds were horrendous, so we worked lower on the mountain and carried out the first-ever search for life on nieves penitentes.”

    Nieves penitentes form when windblown snow banks build up and melt due to a combination of high radiation, low humidity, and dry winds. The snow melts into the pinnacle-shape which earned penitentes their name: they are said to resemble monks in white robes paying penance. Penitentes are important to the dry, high-altitude areas where they’re found, because they can be a periodic source of meltwater for the rocky ground.

    Nieves penitentes at the research site. Image via Steven Schmidt/GlacierHub.

    Schmidt described how the researchers were surprised to find patches of red ice on the sides of some of the penitentes. He told GlacierHub:

    “We took samples from these patches and later found that they contained some unique snow algae and a thriving community of other microbes.”

    The study was published the peer-reviewed journal Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research on June 12, 2019.

    Matthew Davey, a plant and algal physiologist at Cambridge University, who was not involved in the study, told GlacierHub:

    “Snow algae are microscopic plant-like organisms that are able to live on and within the snowpack.”

    Snow algae is also known as watermelon snow because of the color it creates on the surface of snow and ice. The snow’s watermelon hue is caused by an abundance of natural reddish pigments called carotenoids which also shield the algae from ultraviolet light, drought, and cold, contributing to their ability to survive in extreme environments.

    Red snow algae on nieves penitentes. Image via Steven Schmidt/GlacierHub.

    Researchers don’t entirely understand how the algae bloom in high density given the low temperatures and high light levels they live with. Davey explained:

    “There is evidence that they can be deposited by wind, they could already be in the rock surface from previous years or they could be brought by animals. Once the snow has melted slightly, so there is liquid water, the algae can reproduce and bloom within days or weeks. During this time they can start green, then turn red, or stay green or stay red – it depends on the algal species.”

    The samples of snow algae were collected from penitentes on the Chilean side of Volcán Llullaillaco. It is the second tallest active volcano in the world after Ojos del Salado and it sits on Chile’s border with Argentina. The penitentes were between 1-1.5 meters tall (about 39 to 60 inches tall). The presence of snow algae on penitentes is notable because the algae can change the albedo of ice and increase melting rates.

    Image via Steven Schmidt/GlacierHub.

    The study describes the environment that the samples were collected in as “perhaps the best earthly analog for surface and near-surface soils on Mars,” opening the door for implications in astrobiological research. The high elevation where the snow algae was found is responsible for the conditions that create an almost extraterrestrial environment; there are very high levels of ultraviolet radiation, intense daily freeze-thaw cycles, and one of the driest climates on the planet.

    Penitente-like structures were recently found on Pluto and possibly on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. In the context of these discoveries, Schmidt said that “penitentes and the harsh environment that surrounds them provide a new terrestrial analog for astrobiological studies of life beyond Earth.” The finding in the new study that “penitentes are oases of life in the otherwise barren expanses” pushes the boundaries of the current understanding of the cold-dry limits of life.

    The surface of Pluto’s Tartarus Dorsa region, where penitentes were also found. Image via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

    Lead author Lara Vimercati reflected on the study’s broader implications. She said:

    “Our study shows how no matter how challenging the environmental conditions, life finds a way when there is availability of liquid water.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Colorado Campus

    As the flagship university of the state of Colorado CU-Boulder is a dynamic community of scholars and learners situated on one of the most spectacular college campuses in the country. As one of 34 U.S. public institutions belonging to the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) – and the only member in the Rocky Mountain region – we have a proud tradition of academic excellence, with five Nobel laureates and more than 50 members of prestigious academic academies.

    CU-Boulder has blossomed in size and quality since we opened our doors in 1877 – attracting superb faculty, staff, and students and building strong programs in the sciences, engineering, business, law, arts, humanities, education, music, and many other disciplines.

    Today, with our sights set on becoming the standard for the great comprehensive public research universities of the new century, we strive to serve the people of Colorado and to engage with the world through excellence in our teaching, research, creative work, and service.

  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on August 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , EarthSky, , ,   

    From U Maryland via EarthSky: “Meet WASP-121b, a hot ‘heavy metal’ exoplanet” 

    U Maryland bloc

    From University of Maryland




    For U Maryland
    July 31, 2019
    Matthew Wright,

    For EarthSky
    August 18, 2019
    Paul Scott Anderson

    For the first time, heavy metal gases like magnesium and iron have been detected floating away from an exoplanet, a planet orbiting a distant sun. Why? Because the planet – which is about as big as Jupiter – is orbiting perilously close to its star.

    Artist’s concept of WASP-121b, which orbits so close to its star and is so hot that heavy metal gases in its atmosphere are escaping into space. Image via Engine House VFX/At-Bristol Science Centre/University of Exeter/JPL.

    Exoplanets – worlds orbiting other stars – have been discovered in a wide variety of types and sizes, from small rocky worlds to sizzling hot gas giants orbiting close to their stars. The phrase “music of the spheres” comes to mind, an ancient philosophical concept that regarded the movements of the sun, moon and planets as a form of music. While that phrase tends to evoke thoughts of classical melodies, one exoplanet in particular seems to fit the heavy metal genre better.

    The planet – WASP-121b, a hot Jupiter 900 light-years from Earth – orbits so close to its star that its upper atmosphere is a sizzling 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit (2,500 Celsius). The gravity of its host star has distorted the planet into the oblong shape of an American football. First discovered in 2015, the planet is 1.8 times the mass of Jupiter.

    The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) detected gas escaping from the planet, iron and magnesium gas, dubbed “heavy metals.” These new peer-reviewed results were published on August 1 in The Astronomical Journal.

    Evidence suggests that the lower atmosphere of WASP-121b is so hot that iron and magnesium remain in a gaseous state. They stream to the upper atmosphere, where they can escape into space on the coattails of hydrogen and helium gas. This is the first time that such gases have been observed escaping a hot Jupiter exoplanet. As David Sing, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, said:

    “Heavy metals have been seen in other hot Jupiters before, but only in the lower atmosphere. So you don’t know if they are escaping or not. With WASP-121b, we see magnesium and iron gas so far away from the planet that they’re not gravitationally bound. The heavy metals are escaping partly because the planet is so big and puffy that its gravity is relatively weak. This is a planet being actively stripped of its atmosphere.”

    Computer-simulated views of WASP-121b, using images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Aix-Marseille University (AMU)/Wikipedia.

    How does this process occur? First, the star itself is hotter than the sun, and ultraviolet light from the star heats the planet’s upper atmosphere. The escaping iron and magnesium gas may also help to heat the atmosphere even more, according to Sing:

    “These metals will make the atmosphere more opaque in the ultraviolet, which could be contributing to the heating of the upper atmosphere.”

    Not only is the planet’s atmosphere severely affected, but so is the planet as well. It is actually approaching the point where it could be ripped apart by the star’s gravity. Right now though, it has been stretched into a football-like shape. WASP-121b offers a rare observation opportunity for scientists, as Sing noted:

    “We picked this planet because it is so extreme. We thought we had a chance of seeing heavier elements escaping. It’s so hot and so favorable to observe, it’s the best shot at finding the presence of heavy metals. We were mainly looking for magnesium, but there have been hints of iron in the atmospheres of other exoplanets. It was a surprise, though, to see it so clearly in the data and at such great altitudes so far away from the planet.”

    According to Drake Deming, an astronomer at the University of Maryland:

    “This planet is a prototype for ultra-hot Jupiters. These planets are so heavily irradiated by their host stars, they’re almost like stars themselves. The planet is being evaporated by its host star to the point that we can see metal atoms escaping the upper atmosphere where they can interact with the planet’s magnetic field. This presents an opportunity to observe and understand some very interesting physics.

    Hot Jupiters this close to their host star are very rare. Ones that are this hot are even rarer still. Although they’re rare, they really stand out once you’ve found them. We look forward to learning even more about this strange planet.”

    These observations of WASP-121b are part of the Panchromatic Comparative Exoplanetary Treasury Program (PanCET) survey. It is the first large-scale ultraviolet, visible, and infrared comparative study of 20 different exoplanets, ranging in size from super-Earths (several times Earth’s mass) to Jupiters (over 100 times Earth’s mass).

    WASP-121b is a type of exoplanet called a hot Jupiter, like HD 209458b (artist’s concept). Image via NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)/N. Madhusudhan (UC).

    By studying WASP-121b and other hot Jupiters, scientists can learn more about how planets lose their primordial atmospheres. The atmospheres of still-forming planets tend to consist of the lighter-weight gases hydrogen and helium. But those atmospheres can be stripped away as a planet moves closer to its star. As Sing explained:

    “The hot Jupiters are mostly made of hydrogen, and Hubble is very sensitive to hydrogen, so we know these planets can lose the gas relatively easily. But in the case of WASP-121b, the hydrogen and helium gas is outflowing, almost like a river, and is dragging these metals with them. It’s a very efficient mechanism for mass loss.”

    WASP-121b is also an ideal target for future observations from the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, which will be able to examine the atmosphere for water and carbon dioxide, and help provide a more complete analysis of all the chemical elements in the atmosphere. That data will help scientists better understand how worlds like hot Jupiters form, as well as planetary systems in general.

    Artist’s concept of WASP-121b, which astronomers are describing as a heavy metal exoplanet. The planet is so hot that gases of magnesium and iron – called “heavy metals” because these elements’ atomic weights are greater than those of hydrogen or helium – are escaping its atmosphere. Meanwhile, the host star’s gravity is pulling on the planet and its atmosphere, stretching it into a football shape. Image via NASA/ESA/J. Olmsted (STScI)/Hubblesite.

    Bottom line: WASP-121b is a kind of hot Jupiter exoplanet rarely seen, a world so hot and so close to its star that heavy metal gases are being stripped from its atmosphere and the planet itself is being stretched into the shape of a football.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

    U Maryland Campus

    Driven by the pursuit of excellence, the University of Maryland has enjoyed a remarkable rise in accomplishment and reputation over the past two decades. By any measure, Maryland is now one of the nation’s preeminent public research universities and on a path to become one of the world’s best. To fulfill this promise, we must capitalize on our momentum, fully exploit our competitive advantages, and pursue ambitious goals with great discipline and entrepreneurial spirit. This promise is within reach. This strategic plan is our working agenda.

    The plan is comprehensive, bold, and action oriented. It sets forth a vision of the University as an institution unmatched in its capacity to attract talent, address the most important issues of our time, and produce the leaders of tomorrow. The plan will guide the investment of our human and material resources as we strengthen our undergraduate and graduate programs and expand research, outreach and partnerships, become a truly international center, and enhance our surrounding community.

    Our success will benefit Maryland in the near and long term, strengthen the State’s competitive capacity in a challenging and changing environment and enrich the economic, social and cultural life of the region. We will be a catalyst for progress, the State’s most valuable asset, and an indispensable contributor to the nation’s well-being. Achieving the goals of Transforming Maryland requires broad-based and sustained support from our extended community. We ask our stakeholders to join with us to make the University an institution of world-class quality with world-wide reach and unparalleled impact as it serves the people and the state of Maryland.

  • richardmitnick 7:47 am on August 16, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , EarthSky, The Andromeda Galaxy   

    From EarthSky: “Andromeda galaxy, closest large spiral” 


    From EarthSky

    August 16, 2019
    Bruce McClure

    The Andromeda galaxy is the closest big galaxy to our Milky Way. At 2.5 million light-years, it’s the most distant thing you can see with the eye alone. The moon is waning. It’s the right time of year. Time to start looking!

    Iconic image of The Andromeda Galaxy with 2 of its satellite galaxies, via Flickr user Adam Evans.

    Although several dozen minor galaxies lie closer to our Milky Way, the Andromeda galaxy is the closest large spiral galaxy to ours. Excluding the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which can’t be seen from northerly latitudes, the Andromeda galaxy – also known as M31 – is the brightest galaxy you can see. At 2.5 million light-years, it’s also the most distant thing visible to your unaided eye.

    To the eye, this galaxy appears as a smudge of light larger than a full moon.

    Josh Blash captured this image of the Andromeda galaxy. It’s big, bigger than a full moon. If you know approximately where to look for this hazy smudge in your night sky – and your sky is very dark – you might pick out the galaxy just by looking for it.

    View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Meteors in the same field of view as the Andromeda galaxy. Omid Ghadrdan in Iran caught the scene on August 11, 2019, and wrote, “What can I say? Wonders of the universe. Just compare the golf-ball-sized meteors with the galaxy bigger than ours.” Thank you, Omid!

    When to look for the Andromeda Galaxy. From mid-northern latitudes, you can see M31 – also called the Andromeda galaxy – for at least part of every night, all year long. But most people see the galaxy first around northern autumn, when it’s high enough in the sky to be seen from nightfall until daybreak.

    In late August and early September, begin looking for the galaxy in mid-evening, about midway between your local nightfall and midnight.

    In late September and early October, the Andromeda galaxy shines in your eastern sky at nightfall, swings high overhead in the middle of the night, and stands rather high in the west at the onset of morning dawn.

    Winter evenings are also good for viewing the Andromeda galaxy.

    If you are far from city lights, and it’s a moonless night – and you’re looking on a late summer, autumn or winter evening – it’s possible you’ll simply notice the galaxy in your night sky. It’s looks like a hazy patch in the sky, as wide across as a full moon.

    But if you look, and don’t see the galaxy – yet you know you’re looking at a time when it’s above the horizon – you can star-hop to find the galaxy in one of two ways. The easiest way is to use the constellation Cassiopeia. You can also use the Great Square of Pegasus.

    Most people use the M- or W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda galaxy. See how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?

    Find the Andromeda galaxy using the constellation Cassiopeia. The constellation Cassiopeia the Queen is one of the easiest constellations to recognize. It’s shaped like the letter M or W. Look generally northward on the sky’s dome to find this constellation. If you can recognize the North Star, Polaris – and if you know how to find the Big Dipper – be aware that the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia move around Polaris like the hands of a clock, always opposite each other.

    To find the Andromeda galaxy via Cassiopeia, look for the star Schedar. In the illustration above, see how the star Schedar points to the galaxy?

    Most people use Cassiopeia to find the Andromeda galaxy, because Cassiopeia itself is so easy to spot.

    Use the Great Square of Pegasus to find the Andromeda Galaxy. A line between Mirach and Mu Andromedae points to the galaxy.

    Find the Andromeda galaxy using the Great Square of Pegasus. Here’s another way to find the galaxy. It’s a longer route, but, in many ways, more beautiful.

    You’ll be hopping to the Andromeda galaxy from the Great Square of Pegasus. In autumn, the Great Square of Pegasus looks like a great big baseball diamond in the eastern sky. Envision the bottom star of the Square’s four stars as home plate, then draw an imaginary line from the “first base” star though the “third base” star to locate two streamers of stars flying away from the Great Square. These stars belong to the constellation Andromeda the Princess.

    On each streamer, go two stars north (left) of the third base star, locating the stars Mirach and Mu Andromedae. Draw a line from Mirach through Mu Andromedae, going twice the Mirach/Mu Andromedae distance. You’ve just landed on the Andromeda galaxy, which looks like a smudge of light to the unaided eye.

    If you can’t see the Andromeda galaxy with the eye alone, by all means use binoculars.

    The Great Andromeda Nebula, photographed in the year 1900. At this point, astronomers could not discern individual stars in the galaxy. Many thought it was a cloud of gas within our Milky Way – a place where new stars were forming.Image via Wikimedia Commons.

    History of our knowledge of the Andromeda galaxy. At one time, the Andromeda galaxy was called the Great Andromeda Nebula. Astronomers thought this patch of light was composed of glowing gases, or was perhaps a solar system in the process of formation.

    It wasn’t until the 20th century that astronomers were able to resolve the Andromeda spiral nebula into individual stars. This discovery lead to a controversy about whether the Andromeda spiral nebula and other spiral nebulae lie within or outside the Milky Way.

    In the 1920s Edwin Hubble finally put the matter to rest, when he used Cepheid variable stars within the Andromeda galaxy to determine that it is indeed an island universe residing beyond the bounds of our Milky Way galaxy.

    Artist’s concept of our Local Group via Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

    Local Group. Andrew Z. Colvin 3 March 2011

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    Andromeda and Milky Way in context. The Andromeda galaxy and our Milky Way galaxy reign as the two most massive and dominant galaxies within the Local Group of Galaxies. The Andromeda Galaxy is the largest galaxy of the Local Group, which, in addition to the Milky Way, also contains the Triangulum Galaxy and about 30 other smaller galaxies.

    Both the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies lay claim to about a dozen satellite galaxies. Both are some 100,000 light-years across, containing enough mass to make billions of stars.

    Astronomers have discovered that our Local Group is on the outskirts of a giant cluster of several thousand galaxies, which astronomers call the

    Virgo Supercluster NASA


    We also know of an irregular supercluster of galaxies, which contains the Virgo Cluster, which in turn contains our Local Group, which in turn contains our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby Andromeda galaxy. At least 100 galaxy groups and clusters are located within this Virgo Supercluster. Its diameter is thought to be about 110 million light-years.

    The Virgo Supercluster is thought to be one of millions of superclusters in the observable universe.

    The Andromeda galaxy (Messier31) is at RA: 0h 42.7m; Dec: 41o 16′ north

    Bottom line: At 2.5 million light-years, the Great Andromeda galaxy (Messier 31) rates as the most distant object you can see with the unaided eye.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 10:25 am on August 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A big earthquake in the US Pacific Northwest?", Cascadia megathrust fault, , , EarthSky, ,   

    From University or Oregon via EarthSky: “A big earthquake in the US Pacific Northwest?” 

    From University or Oregon




    August 5, 2019
    Miles Bodmer, University of Oregon
    Doug Toomey, University of Oregon

    Most people don’t associate the US Pacific Northwest with earthquakes, but maybe they should. It’s home to the 600-mile (1,000-km) Cascadia megathrust fault, stretching from northern California to Canada’s Vancouver Island.

    Data derived from NaturalEarthData.com, 10m datasets. Projected into NAD83 UTM 9N. Alicia.iverson

    This is the USGS’ scenario ShakeMap for a M9 shock on the Casdadia Subduction Zone. This is not a real event.
    23 December 2016
    Source Earthquakes Shakemap usCasc9.0_se
    Author United States Geological Survey

    The Pacific Northwest is known for many things – its beer, its music, its mythical large-footed creatures. Most people don’t associate it with earthquakes, but they should. It’s home to the Cascadia megathrust fault that runs 600 miles (966 km) from Northern California up to Vancouver Island in Canada, spanning several major metropolitan areas including Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

    This geologic fault has been relatively quiet in recent memory. There haven’t been many widely felt quakes along the Cascadia megathrust, certainly nothing that would rival a catastrophic event like the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake along the active San Andreas in California. That doesn’t mean it will stay quiet, though. Scientists know it has the potential for large earthquakes – as big as magnitude 9.

    Geophysicists have known for over a decade that not all portions of the Cascadia megathrust fault behave the same. The northern and southern sections are much more seismically active than the central section – with frequent small earthquakes and ground deformations that residents don’t often notice. But why do these variations exist and what gives rise to them?

    Our research tries to answer these questions by constructing images of what’s happening deep within the Earth [Geophysical Research Letters Research], more than 90 miles (144 km) below the fault. We’ve identified regions that are rising up beneath these active sections which we think are leading to the observable differences along the Cascadia fault.

    Cascadia and the ‘Really Big One’

    The Cascadia subduction zone is a region where two tectonic plates are colliding. The Juan de Fuca, a small oceanic plate, is being driven under the North American plate, atop which the continental U.S. sits.

    The Juan de Fuca plate meets the North American plate beneath the Cascadia fault. Image via USGS.

    Subduction systems – where one tectonic plate slides over another – are capable of producing the world’s largest known earthquakes. A prime example is the 2011 Tohoku earthquake that rocked Japan.

    Cascadia is seismically very quiet compared to other subduction zones – but it’s not completely inactive. Research indicates the fault ruptured in a magnitude 9.0 event in 1700. That’s roughly 30 times more powerful than the largest predicted San Andreas earthquake. Researchers suggest that we are within the roughly 300- to 500-year window during which another large Cascadia event may occur.

    Many smaller undamaging and unfelt events take place in northern and southern Cascadia every year. However, in central Cascadia, underlying most of Oregon, there is very little seismicity. Why would the same fault behave differently in different regions?

    Over the last decade, scientists have made several additional observations that highlight variations along the fault.

    One has to do with plate locking, which tells us where stress is accumulating along the fault. If the tectonic plates are locked – that is, really stuck together and unable to move past each other – stress builds. Eventually that stress can be released rapidly as an earthquake, with the magnitude depending on how large the patch of fault that ruptures is.

    A GPS geosensor in Washington. Image via Bdelisle.

    Geologists have recently been able to deploy hundreds of GPS monitors across Cascadia to record the subtle ground deformations that result from the plates’ inability to slide past each other. Just like historic seismicity, plate locking is more common in the northern and southern parts of Cascadia.

    Geologists are also now able to observe difficult-to-detect seismic rumblings known as tremor. These events occur over the time span of several minutes up to weeks, taking much longer than a typical earthquake. They don’t cause large ground motions even though they can release significant amounts of energy. Researchers have only discovered these signals in the last 15 years, but permanent seismic stations have helped build a robust catalog of events. Tremor, too, seems to be more concentrated along the northern and southern parts of the fault.

    What would cause this situation, with the area beneath Oregon relatively less active by all these measures? To explain we had to look deep, over 100 kilometers (60 miles) below the surface, into the Earth’s mantle.

    Green dots and blue triangles show locations of seismic monitoring stations. Image via Bodmer et al., 2018, Geophysical Research Letters.

    Imaging the Earth using distant quakes

    Physicians use electromagnetic waves to “see” internal structures like bones without needing to open up a human patient to view them directly. Geologists image the Earth in much the same way. Instead of X-rays, we use seismic energy radiating out from distant magnitude 6.0-plus earthquakes to help us “see” features we physically just can’t get to. This energy travels like sound waves through the structures of the Earth. When rock is hotter or partially molten by even a tiny amount, seismic waves slow down. By measuring the arrival times of seismic waves, we create 3-D images showing how fast or slow the seismic waves travel through specific parts of the Earth.

    Ocean bottom seismometers waiting to be deployed during the Cascadia Initiative. Image via Emilie Hooft.

    To see these signals, we need records from seismic monitoring stations. More sensors provide better resolution and a clearer image – but gathering more data can be problematic when half the area you’re interested in is underwater. To address this challenge, we were part of a team of scientists that deployed hundreds of seismometers on the ocean floor off the western U.S. over the span of four years, starting in 2011. This experiment, the Cascadia Initiative, was the first ever to cover an entire tectonic plate with instruments at a spacing of roughly 30 miles (50 km).

    What we found are two anomalous regions beneath the fault where seismic waves travel slower than expected. These anomalies are large, about 90 miles (150 km) in diameter, and show up beneath the northern and southern sections of the fault. Remember, that’s where researchers have already observed increased activity: the seismicity. Interestingly, the anomalies are not present beneath the central part of the fault, under Oregon, where we see a decrease in activity.

    Regions where seismic waves moved more slowly, on average, are redder, while the areas where they moved more quickly are bluer. The slower anomalous areas 90 miles (150 km) beneath the Earth’s surface corresponded to where the colliding plates are more locked and where tremor is more common. Image via Bodmer et al., 2018, Geophysical Research Letters.

    So what exactly are these anomalies?

    The tectonic plates float on the Earth’s rocky mantle layer. Where the mantle is slowly rising over millions of years, the rock decompresses. Since it’s at such high temperatures, nearly 1500 degrees Celsius (2700 F) at 100 km (60 mi) depth, it can melt ever so slightly.

    These physical changes cause the anomalous regions to be more buoyant – melted hot rock is less dense than solid cooler rock. It’s this buoyancy that we believe is affecting how the fault above behaves. The hot, partially molten region pushes upwards on what’s above, similar to how a helium balloon might rise up against a sheet draped over it. We believe this increases the forces between the two plates, causing them to be more strongly coupled and thus more fully locked.

    A general prediction for where, but not when

    Our results provide new insights into how this subduction zone, and possibly others, behaves over geologic time frames of millions of years. Unfortunately our results can’t predict when the next large Cascadia megathrust earthquake will occur. This will require more research and dense active monitoring of the subduction zone, both onshore and offshore, using seismic and GPS-like stations to capture short-term phenomena.

    Our work does suggest that a large event is more likely to start in either the northern or southern sections of the fault, where the plates are more fully locked, and gives a possible reason for why that may be the case.

    It remains important for the public and policymakers to stay informed about the potential risk involved in cohabiting with a subduction zone fault and to support programs such as Earthquake Early Warning that seek to expand our monitoring capabilities and mitigate loss in the event of a large rupture.

    See the full article here .

    Earthquake Alert


    Earthquake Alert

    Earthquake Network projectEarthquake Network is a research project which aims at developing and maintaining a crowdsourced smartphone-based earthquake warning system at a global level. Smartphones made available by the population are used to detect the earthquake waves using the on-board accelerometers. When an earthquake is detected, an earthquake warning is issued in order to alert the population not yet reached by the damaging waves of the earthquake.

    The project started on January 1, 2013 with the release of the homonymous Android application Earthquake Network. The author of the research project and developer of the smartphone application is Francesco Finazzi of the University of Bergamo, Italy.

    Get the app in the Google Play store.

    Smartphone network spatial distribution (green and red dots) on December 4, 2015

    Meet The Quake-Catcher Network

    QCN bloc

    Quake-Catcher Network

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a collaborative initiative for developing the world’s largest, low-cost strong-motion seismic network by utilizing sensors in and attached to internet-connected computers. With your help, the Quake-Catcher Network can provide better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems, and others. The Quake-Catcher Network also provides educational software designed to help teach about earthquakes and earthquake hazards.

    After almost eight years at Stanford, and a year at CalTech, the QCN project is moving to the University of Southern California Dept. of Earth Sciences. QCN will be sponsored by the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) and the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC).

    The Quake-Catcher Network is a distributed computing network that links volunteer hosted computers into a real-time motion sensing network. QCN is one of many scientific computing projects that runs on the world-renowned distributed computing platform Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (BOINC).

    The volunteer computers monitor vibrational sensors called MEMS accelerometers, and digitally transmit “triggers” to QCN’s servers whenever strong new motions are observed. QCN’s servers sift through these signals, and determine which ones represent earthquakes, and which ones represent cultural noise (like doors slamming, or trucks driving by).

    There are two categories of sensors used by QCN: 1) internal mobile device sensors, and 2) external USB sensors.

    Mobile Devices: MEMS sensors are often included in laptops, games, cell phones, and other electronic devices for hardware protection, navigation, and game control. When these devices are still and connected to QCN, QCN software monitors the internal accelerometer for strong new shaking. Unfortunately, these devices are rarely secured to the floor, so they may bounce around when a large earthquake occurs. While this is less than ideal for characterizing the regional ground shaking, many such sensors can still provide useful information about earthquake locations and magnitudes.

    USB Sensors: MEMS sensors can be mounted to the floor and connected to a desktop computer via a USB cable. These sensors have several advantages over mobile device sensors. 1) By mounting them to the floor, they measure more reliable shaking than mobile devices. 2) These sensors typically have lower noise and better resolution of 3D motion. 3) Desktops are often left on and do not move. 4) The USB sensor is physically removed from the game, phone, or laptop, so human interaction with the device doesn’t reduce the sensors’ performance. 5) USB sensors can be aligned to North, so we know what direction the horizontal “X” and “Y” axes correspond to.

    If you are a science teacher at a K-12 school, please apply for a free USB sensor and accompanying QCN software. QCN has been able to purchase sensors to donate to schools in need. If you are interested in donating to the program or requesting a sensor, click here.

    BOINC is a leader in the field(s) of Distributed Computing, Grid Computing and Citizen Cyberscience.BOINC is more properly the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, developed at UC Berkeley.

    Earthquake safety is a responsibility shared by billions worldwide. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) provides software so that individuals can join together to improve earthquake monitoring, earthquake awareness, and the science of earthquakes. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) links existing networked laptops and desktops in hopes to form the worlds largest strong-motion seismic network.

    Below, the QCN Quake Catcher Network map
    QCN Quake Catcher Network map

    ShakeAlert: An Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast of the United States

    The U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners is developing and testing an earthquake early warning (EEW) system called ShakeAlert for the west coast of the United States. Long term funding must be secured before the system can begin sending general public notifications, however, some limited pilot projects are active and more are being developed. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018.

    Watch a video describing how ShakeAlert works in English or Spanish.

    The primary project partners include:

    United States Geological Survey
    California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES)
    California Geological Survey
    California Institute of Technology
    University of California Berkeley
    University of Washington
    University of Oregon
    Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

    The Earthquake Threat

    Earthquakes pose a national challenge because more than 143 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 39 states. Most of our Nation’s earthquake risk is concentrated on the West Coast of the United States. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone. In the next 30 years, California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake and the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a magnitude 8 to 9 megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

    Part of the Solution

    Today, the technology exists to detect earthquakes, so quickly, that an alert can reach some areas before strong shaking arrives. The purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way. This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave arrives, bringing the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage.

    Studies of earthquake early warning methods in California have shown that the warning time would range from a few seconds to a few tens of seconds. ShakeAlert can give enough time to slow trains and taxiing planes, to prevent cars from entering bridges and tunnels, to move away from dangerous machines or chemicals in work environments and to take cover under a desk, or to automatically shut down and isolate industrial systems. Taking such actions before shaking starts can reduce damage and casualties during an earthquake. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations.

    System Goal

    The USGS will issue public warnings of potentially damaging earthquakes and provide warning parameter data to government agencies and private users on a region-by-region basis, as soon as the ShakeAlert system, its products, and its parametric data meet minimum quality and reliability standards in those geographic regions. The USGS has set the goal of beginning limited public notifications in 2018. Product availability will expand geographically via ANSS regional seismic networks, such that ShakeAlert products and warnings become available for all regions with dense seismic instrumentation.

    Current Status

    The West Coast ShakeAlert system is being developed by expanding and upgrading the infrastructure of regional seismic networks that are part of the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS); the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) is made up of the Southern California Seismic Network, SCSN) and the Northern California Seismic System, NCSS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN). This enables the USGS and ANSS to leverage their substantial investment in sensor networks, data telemetry systems, data processing centers, and software for earthquake monitoring activities residing in these network centers. The ShakeAlert system has been sending live alerts to “beta” users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015.

    In February of 2016 the USGS, along with its partners, rolled-out the next-generation ShakeAlert early warning test system in California joined by Oregon and Washington in April 2017. This West Coast-wide “production prototype” has been designed for redundant, reliable operations. The system includes geographically distributed servers, and allows for automatic fail-over if connection is lost.

    This next-generation system will not yet support public warnings but does allow selected early adopters to develop and deploy pilot implementations that take protective actions triggered by the ShakeAlert notifications in areas with sufficient sensor coverage.


    The USGS will develop and operate the ShakeAlert system, and issue public notifications under collaborative authorities with FEMA, as part of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, as enacted by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, 42 U.S.C. §§ 7704 SEC. 2.

    For More Information

    Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach

    Learn more about EEW Research

    ShakeAlert Fact Sheet

    ShakeAlert Implementation Plan


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Oregon (also referred to as UO, U of O or Oregon) is a public flagship research university in Eugene, Oregon. Founded in 1876, the institution’s 295-acre campus is along the Willamette River. Since July 2014, UO has been governed by the Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon. The university has a Carnegie Classification of “highest research activity” and has 19 research centers and institutes. UO was admitted to the Association of American Universities in 1969.

    The University of Oregon is organized into five colleges (Arts and Sciences, Business, Design, Education, and Honors) and seven professional schools (Accounting, Architecture and Environment, Art and Design, Journalism and Communication, Law, Music and Dance, and Planning, Public Policy and Management) and a graduate school. Furthermore, UO offers 316 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Most academic programs follow the 10 week Quarter System.

    UO student-athletes compete as the Ducks and are part of the Pac-12 Conference in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). With eighteen varsity teams, the Oregon Ducks are best known for their football team and track and field program.

  • richardmitnick 11:00 am on July 31, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The black hole disk that shouldn’t exist", Albert Einstein's theories of General and Special Relativity, Astronomers didn’t expect to see a thin disk around the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 3147 some 130 million light-years away., Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope said earlier this month that they’ve found a thin disk of material that shouldn’t be there., , , , , EarthSky   

    From EarthSky: “The black hole disk that shouldn’t exist” 


    From EarthSky

    July 27, 2019
    Deborah Byrd

    Astronomers didn’t expect to see a thin disk around the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 3147, some 130 million light-years away. They’re using Einstein’s theories of relativity to understand the velocities involved, and the intensity of the black hole’s pull.

    Left, a Hubble Space Telescope image of the spiral galaxy NGC 3147, located 130 million light-years away in the direction of the northern constellation Draco. Right, an artist’s illustration of the supermassive black hole residing at the galaxy’s core. This monster black hole weighs about 250 million times the mass of our sun. Yet NGC 3147’s black hole is relatively quiescent, and astronomers did not expect to find a thin disk. Image via NASA (Hubble image: NASA/ESA/S. Bianchi, A. Laor, and M. Chiaberge. Illustration: NASA/ESA/A. Feild /L. Hustak).

    Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope said earlier this month that they’ve found a thin disk of material that shouldn’t be there, whirling around a supermassive black hole at the heart of a spiral galaxy some 130 million light-years away. The astronomers did not expect to see a disk around the black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 3147. This galaxy was thought to contain a great example of a quiescent supermassive black hole, one that was not “feeding” on massive amounts of material swirling into it from an accompanying disk. Yet, apparently, the disk does exist. It looks like the same sort of disk that – in the case of well-fed black holes in other galaxies – has been seen to produce a brilliant beacon called a quasar. But there’s no quasar here. The central black hole is quiet. And so … a mystery!

    The study’s first author, Stefano Bianchi of Università degli Studi Roma Tre in Rome, Italy (@astrobianchi on Twitter), said in a statement:

    “The type of disk we see is a scaled-down quasar that we did not expect to exist. It’s the same type of disk we see in objects that are 1,000 or even 100,000 times more luminous. The predictions of current models for gas dynamics in very faint active galaxies clearly failed.”

    Yet the team is excited about this discovery. It gives them a chance to explore the physics of black holes and their disks more thoroughly. Plus, they said, the black hole and its disk offer:

    “… a unique opportunity to test Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity. General relativity describes gravity as the curvature of space, and special relativity describes the relationship between time and space.”

    The team’s paper was published July 11, 2019, in the peer-reviewed journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Why didn’t the astronomers expect this black hole disk? Aren’t black holes typically surrounded by disks like this one? Not exactly. Central supermassive black holes in galaxies like NGC 3147 appear to astronomers as “malnourished.” That’s thought to be because there’s not enough gravitationally captured material to feed them regularly. NASA explained:

    “So, the thin haze of infalling material puffs up like a donut rather than flattening out in a pancake-shaped disk. Therefore, it is very puzzling why there is a thin disk encircling a starving black hole in NGC 3147 that mimics much more powerful disks found in extremely active galaxies with engorged, monster black holes.”

    The astronomers initially selected this galaxy to validate accepted models explaining galaxies like NGC 3147, those with black holes on a meager diet of material. One of the astronomers involved in the study – Ari Laor of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology located in Haifa, Israel – commented in a statement:

    “We thought this was the best candidate to confirm that below certain luminosities, the accretion disk doesn’t exist anymore. What we saw was something completely unexpected. We found gas in motion producing features we can explain only as being produced by material rotating in a thin disk very close to the black hole.”

    These astronomers said this galaxy, its black hole and its mysterious disk are giving them an opportunity to use Einstein’s theories of relativity to explore the dynamic processes close to a black hole. The black hole’s mass is thought to be around 250 million suns; that’s in contrast to 4 million suns for the quiescent central black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. Bianchi said:

    “This is an intriguing peek at a disk very close to a black hole, so close that the velocities and the intensity of the gravitational pull are affecting how the photons of light look. We cannot understand the data unless we include the theories of relativity.”

    In the illustration above, the reddish-yellow features swirling around the black hole represent the glow of light from gas trapped by the hole’s powerful gravity. Hubble clocked material whirling around the black hole as moving at more than 10 percent of the speed of light. NASA explained:

    “The black hole is embedded deep within its gravitational field, shown by the green grid that illustrates warped space. The gravitational field is so strong that light is struggling to climb out, a principle described in Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Material also is whipping so fast around the black hole that it brightens as it approaches Earth on one side of the disk and gets fainter as it moves away. This effect, called relativistic beaming, was predicted by Einstein’s theory of special relativity.”

    Team member Marco Chiaberge commented:

    “We’ve never seen the effects of both general and special relativity in visible light with this much clarity.”

    Bottom line: Astronomers did not expect to see a thin disk around the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 3147. They said the discovery helps them probe the physics of black holes and their disks. The velocities involved, and the intensity of the gravitational pull of the hole itself, require Einstein’s theories of relativity to understand what is happening in this distant system, 130 million light-years away.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 10:34 am on July 31, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , EarthSky, The Dark Rift is dark due to dust., When we look up at the starry band of the Milky Way and see the Dark Rift we are looking into our galaxy’s star-forming regions.   

    From EarthSky: “Dark Rift in the Milky Way” 


    From EarthSky

    July 31, 2019
    Bruce McClure

    Standing under a dark sky in late July or August? Look up! You’ll notice a long, dark lane dividing the bright Milky Way. This Dark Rift is a place where new stars are forming.

    The Great Rift or Dark Rift is a dark area in the starlit band of the Milky Way. It’s really clouds of dust, where new stars are forming. Photo captured July 19, 2019, by Chuck Reinhart in Vincennes, Indiana. Thank you, Chuck!

    Have you ever looked up from a dark place on a starry July or August evening and noticed the dark areas in the Milky Way? For centuries, skywatchers pondered this Great Rift or Dark Rift, as it’s called, but today’s astronomers know it consists of dark, obscuring dust in the disk of our Milky Way galaxy.

    How can you see it? It’s best to wait until the moon is gone from your night sky, as it will be around late July and early August 2019. Under a dark sky, far from city lights, the Milky Way is easy to see at this time of year. It’s a shining band stretching across the sky. If you want to see the Dark Rift, that’s easy, too, as long as you realize you aren’t looking for a bright object. You’re looking instead for dark lanes of dust running the length of the starlit Milky Way band.

    The Great Rift – also known as the Dark Rift – and the Milky Way pass through the Summer Triangle and above the Teapot asterism in Sagittarius.

    You can see the Milky Way most easily in the evening from around June or July through about October. From a Northern Hemisphere location, you’ll see the thickest part of the Milky Way above the southern horizon. From the Southern Hemisphere, the thickest part of the Milky Way appears more overhead. Notice that the Milky Way band looks milky white. The skies aren’t really black like ink between stars in the Milky Way. You’ll know when you see the Dark Rift, because it is as if someone took a marker and colored parts of the Milky Way darker.

    Be sure to keep your binoculars handy for any Milky Way viewing session. There are many interesting star-forming regions, star clusters and millions of stars that will capture your attention.

    Photo via Manish Mamtani.

    The Dark Rift is dark due to dust. Stars are formed from great clouds of gas and dust in our Milky Way galaxy and other galaxies. When we look up at the starry band of the Milky Way and see the Dark Rift, we are looking into our galaxy’s star-forming regions. Imagine the vast number of new stars that will emerge, in time, from these clouds of dust!

    Shown is the interaction between interstellar dust in the Milky Way and the structure of our galaxy’s magnetic field, as detected by ESA’s Planck satellite over the entire sky. Image via ESA on Pinterest.

    ESA/Planck 2009 to 2013

    Ancient cultures focused on the dark areas, not the light areas. You know those paintings where if you look at the light areas you see one thing, but in the dark areas you see something else?

    The Dark Rift is a bit like that. A few ancient cultures in Central and South America saw the dark areas of the Milky Way as constellations. These dark constellations had a variety of myths associated with them. For example, one important dark constellation was Yacana the Llama. It rises above Cuzco, the ancient city of the Incas, every year in November.

    By the way, the other famous area of the sky that is obscured by molecular dust is visible from the Southern Hemisphere. It’s the famous Coalsack Nebula near the Southern Cross, also known as the constellation Crux. The Coalsack is another region of star-forming activity in our night sky – much like the Dark Rift.

    This painting shows some of the animal shapes that the Incas saw in the Dark Rift of the Milky Way. Image via Coricancha Sun Temple in Cusco/Futurism.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 9:38 am on July 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , EarthSky, , , , ,   

    From EarthSky: “Breakthrough Listen’s new search for alien lasers” 


    From EarthSky

    July 24, 2019
    Paul Scott Anderson

    For the last few decades, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence has focused on detecting radio signals. But a new collaboration between Breakthrough Listen and VERITAS will focus on looking for laser-like flashes of light.

    VERITAS will be used to help search for laser-like optical light pulses that could be beacons from an advanced alien civilization. Image via MIT/New Atlas.

    The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETIInstitute) has traditionally looked for radio signals of artificial origin, i.e. coming from an alien civilization at least as advanced as our own.

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    We humans have been broadcasting radio waves into space for about 100 years now, since Marconi pioneered long-distance radio transmission. The reasoning has been that other civilizations might use radio, too. While that approach continues to be highly debated, there is another kind of search that is starting to be considered more seriously now as well: looking for optical signals – brief flashes of light like pulsing lasers – that could be used as beacons to communicate over interstellar distances.

    On July 17, 2019, Breakthrough Initiatives – founded in 2015 by entrepreneur Yuri Milner – announced a new partnership with the VERITAS Collaboration to focus on this strategy. VERITAS (the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System) will search for such pulsed optical beacons, as well as radio signals, with its array of four 12-meter telescopes at the Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona.

    Breakthrough Listen Project


    UC Observatories Lick Autmated Planet Finder, fully robotic 2.4-meter optical telescope at Lick Observatory, situated on the summit of Mount Hamilton, east of San Jose, California, USA

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia

    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    Newly added

    CfA/VERITAS, a major ground-based gamma-ray observatory with an array of four 12m optical reflectors for gamma-ray astronomy in the GeV – TeV energy range. Located at Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, Mount Hopkins, Arizona, US in AZ, USA, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)

    CfA Whipple Observatory, located near Amado, Arizona on the slopes of Mount Hopkins, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)

    Breakthrough Listen, part of Breakthrough Initiatives, has already been conducting searches using its still-ongoing radio frequency survey and spectroscopic optical laser survey. But VERITAS can take the search to a new level. It was built to detect cosmic gamma rays and is the most powerful telescope array in the world for studying high energy astrophysics. As it turns out, it can also be used to look for “pulsed optical beacons” – laser-like pulses of light – that are very short in duration, only a few nanoseconds (one nanosecond is a billionth of a second).

    Closer view of one of the 4 telescopes in the VERITAS array. Image via CfA/SciTechDaily.

    An advantage of this method is that any artificial pulses could outshine stars that happen to lie in the same direction. The use of all four telescopes would also help to eliminate false positives from any detections made. VERITAS will provide a unique way of expanding the search for alien intelligence beyond previous methods, as noted by Yuri Milner:

    “When it comes to intelligent life beyond Earth, we don’t know where it exists or how it communicates. So our philosophy is to look in as many places, and in as many ways, as we can. VERITAS expands our range of observation even further.”

    Andrew Siemion at the Berkeley SETI Research Center added:

    “Breakthrough Listen is already the most powerful, comprehensive, and intensive search yet undertaken for signs of intelligent life beyond Earth. Now, with the addition of VERITAS, we’re sensitive to an important new class of signals: fast optical pulses. Optical communication has already been used by NASA to transmit high definition images to Earth from the moon, so there’s reason to believe that an advanced civilization might use a scaled-up version of this technology for interstellar communication.”

    VERITAS will be able to detect very faint light signals, if any exist, according to Jamie Holder at the University of Delaware:

    Just how sensitive is VERITAS? The most powerful lasers on Earth can transmit a pulse of 500 terawatts lasting only a few nanoseconds. If one were placed at the distance of Tabby’s Star – that weird dimming star about 1,470 light-years away – then VERITAS could detect it. However, most of the stars that VERITAS will observe are 10-100 times closer than that, so feasibly a pulse of light 100-10,000 times fainter than that earthly laser could be found.

    VERITAS being able to search for alien light signals is a great bonus, since that is not what it was designed for. As David Williams at the University of California, Santa Cruz said:

    “It is impressive how well-suited the VERITAS telescopes are for this project, since they were built only with the purpose of studying very-high-energy gamma rays in mind.”


    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    In California, the SETI Institute is also using Lick Observatory‘s 40-inch Nickel Telescope on Mount Hamilton with a new pulse-detection system, to look for similar laser beacons from civilizations many light-years distant. Optical SETI has its advantages over radio SETI, such as no radio signal interference, according to Frank Drake, director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research:

    One great advantage of optical SETI is that there’s no terrestrial interference. It’s an exciting new field.

    This Lick experiment is unique as it uses three light detectors (photomultipliers) to search for bright pulses that arrive in a short period of time (less than a billionth of a second). Light from the star itself can also trigger the detectors as well, but seldom will all three photomultipliers be hit by photons within a billionth of a second time frame. This means few false alarms are expected, only about one per year.

    New and novel ways of looking for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence are welcome, since the previous, traditional SETI method of just searching for radio signals is considered by many to be antiquated. Would a civilization thousands or millions of years more advanced then us still be using radio waves to communicate? SETI and other searches should be as broad as possible, and consider alternate possibilities for the best chance of success. With billions of stars in our galaxy alone, the hunt for such signals is like looking for a needle in a haystack. VERITAS is just one such alternate method, but it is a good start.

    Breakthrough Listen is a comprehensive initiative to search for evidence of intelligent, technological life from nearby stars to the universe at large. The objective is to examine one million nearby stars, all the stars in the galactic plane and 100 nearby galaxies, for both radio and optical signals. Not a small undertaking, but if there is to be any chance of finding an alien light show, then we must look.

    This is how far human radio broadcasts have reached into the galaxy – not the black square – but the little blue dot at the center of that zoomed-in square. The ever-expanding bubble announcing humanity’s presence to anyone listening in the Milky Way is now only about 200 light-years wide, in contrast to our 100,000-light-year galaxy. Graphic created by Adam Grossman. Read more from Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society.

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory

    UCSC Lick Observatory, Mt Hamilton, in San Jose, California, Altitude 1,283 m (4,209 ft)

    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light

    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow

    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

    Optical SETI has its advantages over radio SETI, such as no radio signal interference, according to Frank Drake, director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research:

    “One great advantage of optical SETI is that there’s no terrestrial interference. It’s an exciting new field.”

    See the full article here .
    See the earlier blog post on Breakthrough Listen here.

    Not included in this far reaching article-


    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 8:49 am on July 10, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Is the Random Transiter weirder than Tabby’s Star?", , , , Binary star system HD 139139 aka the Random Transiter, , EarthSky   

    From EarthSky: “Is the Random Transiter weirder than Tabby’s Star?” 


    From EarthSky

    July 9, 2019
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Move over, Tabby’s Star. The Random Transiter may now be the weirdest star in the galaxy. Kepler data revealed 28 transits in front of this star in 87 days. What caused them? Multiple planets? A disintegrating planet? Alien megastructures?

    Artist’s concept showing 5 of the 7 Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1. These planets were discovered via transits, that is, when they passed in front of their star as seen from Earth. Similarly, Kepler spacecraft data revealed 28 transits in the binary star system HD 139139, aka the Random Transiter. But – while the TRAPPIST-1 planets have periodic, stable orbits – the orbits of the objects in the HD 139139 system are exceedingly, well … random. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Newsweek.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    Do you remember Tabby’s Star observed by the Kepler Space Telescope? That star with the weird dips in brightness that still haven’t been fully explained yet? The theories have ranged from groups of comets to disintegrating planets to even alien megastructures, and it has been determined that dust is somehow involved. But now, there’s a new discovery – first described publicly by planet-hunting astronomer Hugh Osborn on June 29, 2019 – that might be even more baffling than Tabby’s Star. It’s being called the Random Transiter. In a nutshell, this star, also seen by Kepler, was found over a period of 87 days to undergo up to 28 transits, that is 28 objects passing in front of the star, looking just like planets. The problem is that there is no evidence of regular, periodic orbits for these 28 objects, as would be expected for planets. Hence the moniker Random Transiter. So what is going on?

    The unusual findings were first noted by citizen astronomers looking at the Kepler data in spring 2018, and the first peer-reviewed paper was just published on June 28, 2019 MNRAS.

    Kepler light curve of HD 139139, showing the weird transits. Top panel: the raw 87-day lightcurve. Middle panel: lightcurve after filtering out the slow modulations due to star spots and trends that result from data processing. There are 28 transit-like events. Bottom panel: a shorter 15-day segment of the lightcurve containing four of the transit-like events.

    Schematic of a binary star system (gray circles) containing 2 planets: one on a P-type (Planetary-type, circumbinary) orbit and one on an S-type (Satellite-type) orbit. Not to scale. Astronomers considered these possible orbits when trying to explain the Random Transiter. Image via Philip D. Hall/Wikimedia Commons.

    According to Andrew Vanderburg, an astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin:

    “We’ve never seen anything like this in Kepler [spacecraft data], and Kepler’s looked at 500,000 stars.”

    The star, HD 139139, is a binary star about 350 light-years from Earth, with one sun-like star about 1.5 billion years old, and the other a bit smaller.

    The Kepler planet-hunter spacecraft observed this star for 87 days during the secondary K2 part of its mission. When the data were analyzed, 28 dips were seen in the star’s brightness, much as you would see when planets transit in from of a star. Astronomers have very successfully used these dips in starlight – seen by Kepler and now by the TESS spacecraft, Kepler’s successor – to find new planet candidates.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope, and K2 March 7, 2009 until November 15, 2018

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    But these 28 dips for HD 139139 seemed weird. Not only the number of them – that would be a lot of planets, or fewer planets in extremely short orbits around the stars – but also that they showed no signs of periodicity, as would be expected with planets. Each dip lasted between about 45 minutes to 7.5 hours, very short times for orbiting planets unless they were all close to the star. But if each planet orbited as quickly as inferred, then Kepler should have seen multiple, regular transits of them during the 80 days, but it didn’t. This shows that the orbits are more random somehow, not nice and neat with each planet orbiting in a certain amount of hours or days as is typically seen.

    Also, all but one of the transits were about 200 ppm deep. This translate to 27 objects all roughly the same size, about 50 percent larger than Earth. The other object would be approximately twice that size. From what astronomers have seen so far in terms of exoplanets, it would be very unusual to have 27 planets all the same size in a single planetary system. Plus these planets don’t seem to orbit as normal planets do. So, if they’re not planets, what are they?

    It’s more than a year since these observations now, and astronomers still don’t have an easy explanation. Right now, there are a plethora of theories being considered, but all of them have problems so far. As outlined by astronomer Hugh Osborn, these include:

    Multiple planets. The first obvious possibility, but would be very unusual, as already noted. That would still be the case even if it was 14 planets causing two dips each, regardless of which star they orbited in the binary system. The TRAPPIST-1 system has seven known Earth-sized planets, but all of them orbit the star in a normal manner, with stable, periodic orbits.

    A disintegrating planet. Conceivable, but even a disintegrating planet should show periodicity, causing a transit at the same point in each orbit. Also, HD139139’s dips occur at a minimum five hours apart. Such an orbit is likely unstable, and also incompatible with dips that last longer than five hours.

    Dust-emitting asteroids. This is similar to the disintegrating planet idea, but with multiple smaller bodies. The problem, though, is that the transits are almost all the same depth. Clumps of asteroids should produce dust clouds that are much more variable in size. They would also all have to be at just the right orbit to produce planet-sized dust clouds.

    Planets in a binary system. If the stars were moving, then not every orbit would produce a transit. That could work, but in this case it would need to be a triple star system, with another unseen star involved. The orbital periods for the planets and the main binary would need to be extremely short, and the team could not find a stable system which matched the data. Plus, the radial velocity measurements ruled out this being a triple system.

    • A young dipper star. Young stars can have random clumps of dust orbiting them, part of the dust disk that still surrounds the star. But this doesn’t seem to work either. This star system is old, and there should still be periodicity as the dust clumps orbit the star. The dips of HD 139139 are far more ordered and “planet-like” than would be expected from dust clumps.

    Short-lived star spots. Could the transiting objects actually be spots on the star itself? Possibly, but this aspect of star behavior isn’t as well understood yet. In this case, the spots would need to form, block starlight for a few hours at most, and then dissipate.

    SETI. Now this is the idea that tends to naturally get the most attention, for obvious reasons. Could these be artificial planet-sized objects, similar to Dyson spheres or other megastructures? There’s not enough known yet about this star system to either rule it out or not. The possibility, even if unlikely (depending on who you talk to) is of course exciting, but a lot more evidence would need to be found first before saying it is a leading contender. Finding 14-28 large objects, all the same size except for one is definitely weird, but all conceivable natural explanations would need to be eliminated first. Occam’s razor says it’s more likely that a natural explanation will be found, but at this point, the possibilities remain wide open.

    Other suggestions in online forums have included planets with huge ring systems, similar to J1047b, or “dust avalanches” where a dust ring close to the star is fed by dust spiraling in from elsewhere. Another idea was that there were planets orbiting multiple stars, but the other stars just happened to be hidden from view by HD 139139, by chance.

    I asked Osborn about that possibility on Twitter and he responded:

    Paul Scott Anderson @paulsanderson
    · Jul 1, 2019
    Replying to @exohugh

    Someone on Reddit wondered if it could be multiple stars with planets, that just happen to all be in our line of sight, behind one another, so the planets are lined up toward us by chance. Possible or not so much?

    or not so much?
    Hugh Osborn @exohugh

    Possible, sure. But this star’s radius, when viewed from Earth, is 0.000000014 degrees, so the probability of having an entirely unrelated star (with planets) crossing exactly that stellar disc is *extremely* small. But it’s a weird system, so Occam’s razor is struggling already!

    Astronomer Ben Montet has theorized that at least some of the transits might be caused by a circumbinary planet – orbiting both stars – but like everything else, it is just a hypothesis at this point.

    So as of now, there are a lot of questions, but few answers, much how the Tabby’s Star saga began. Tabetha Boyajian herself, the astronomer the star was nicknamed after, weighed in on the case of the Random Transiter and whether aliens should be considered at this point:

    I think we have to consider all options before we go there. This is one of those systems where it’s probably not going to be figured out without more data.

    Bottom line: The Random Transiter is definitely a very weird star with transits that look like ones made by planets, but the objects don’t seem to behave like normal orbiting planets.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 9:47 am on July 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , EarthSky, NASA Mars Opportunity rover   

    From EarthSky: “Today in 2003: Opportunity blasts off to Mars” 


    From EarthSky

    July 7, 2019
    Deborah Byrd

    NASA’s Opportunity rover spent some 15 years exploring Mars. It surpassed all expectations for its endurance and longevity, to become one of the most successful planetary missions. Then it went silent.

    The dramatic image of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004) by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    July 7, 2003. On this date, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity blasted off on a journey to Mars. After traveling for some seven months through space, Opportunity landed on Mars’ Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, three weeks after its twin rover Spirit touched down on the other side of the planet.

    NASA Spirit rover

    Spirit stopped moving across Mars’ surface in 2009, and it stopped sending back signals to Earth in 2010. Meanwhile, Opportunity – designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters) across Mars’ surface – vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. It became one of the most successful feats of interplanetary exploration, effectively ending in 2018 (and officially ending in 2019) after some 15 years exploring the surface of Mars.

    In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 km) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot in Mars’ Perseverance Valley. The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. Presumably, the storm affected the rover’s solar panels. Opportunity’s final communication was received June 10, 2018.

    A layer of dust covers Opportunity’s solar arrays following a dust storm in January 2014, left, but by March 2014 much of the dust had blown away. Image via NASA/JPL Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State.

    But NASA didn’t know that yet. Throughout the late summer and fall of 2018, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) conducted a multifaceted, eight-month recovery strategy in an attempt to compel the rover to communicate. They sent more than a thousand commands to the rover … but there was no response. In what became a months-long outpouring of emotion, space fans on Twitter and other social media platforms began using the hashtags #ThankYouOppy and #GoodnightOppy.

    Space engineers made their last attempt to revive Opportunity on February 12, 2019, starting with a “wake-up song” played in the control room at JPL. The mission’s principal investigator, Steve Squyres, had chosen I’ll Be Seeing You, as performed by Billie Holiday. At 8:10 p.m., Holiday’s wistful voice floated up from the command floor:

    As was expected by that time, those final efforts at communication were to no avail. Opportunity remained silent on the surface of Mars. Project manager John Callas told the crowd of NASA employees gathered for the farewell transmission:

    This is a hard day. Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that. We came to that point.

    NASA’s Opportunity rover

    KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, the Mars Exploration Rover-2 (MER-2) is tested for mobility and maneuverability. Set to launch in Spring 2003, the MER Mission will consist of two identical rovers designed to cover roughly 110 yards each Martian day. Each rover will carry five scientific instruments that will allow it to search for evidence of liquid water that may have been present in the planet’s past. The rovers will be identical to each other, but will land at different regions of Mars. The first rover has a launch window opening May 30, and the second rover a window opening June 25. MER-B rover was inducted into the Robot Hall of Fame in 2010.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.orgin 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

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