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  • richardmitnick 8:00 pm on November 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Exoplanet 55 Cancri e Likely to have Atmosphere, Lava or Not, , NASA Spitzer   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Lava or Not, Exoplanet 55 Cancri e Likely to have Atmosphere” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    November 16, 2017
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

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    The super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, depicted with its star in this artist’s concept, likely has an atmosphere thicker than Earth’s but with ingredients that could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere. Spitzer.

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth 55 Cancri e was thought to have lava flows on its surface. The planet is so close to its star, the same side of the planet always faces the star, such that the planet has permanent day and night sides. Based on a 2016 study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists speculated that lava would flow freely in lakes on the starlit side and become hardened on the face of perpetual darkness. The lava on the dayside would reflect radiation from the star, contributing to the overall observed temperature of the planet.

    Now, a deeper analysis of the same Spitzer data finds this planet likely has an atmosphere whose ingredients could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere, but thicker. Lava lakes directly exposed to space without an atmosphere would create local hot spots of high temperatures, so they are not the best explanation for the Spitzer observations, scientists said.

    “If there is lava on this planet, it would need to cover the entire surface,” said Renyu Hu, astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of a study published in The Astronomical Journal. “But the lava would be hidden from our view by the thick atmosphere.”

    Using an improved model of how energy would flow throughout the planet and radiate back into space, researchers find that the night side of the planet is not as cool as previously thought. The “cold” side is still quite toasty by Earthly standards, with an average of 2,400 to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,300 to 1,400 Celsius), and the hot side averages 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit (2,300 Celsius). The difference between the hot and cold sides would need to be more extreme if there were no atmosphere.

    “Scientists have been debating whether this planet has an atmosphere like Earth and Venus, or just a rocky core and no atmosphere, like Mercury. The case for an atmosphere is now stronger than ever,” Hu said.

    Researchers say the atmosphere of this mysterious planet could contain nitrogen, water and even oxygen — molecules found in our atmosphere, too — but with much higher temperatures throughout. The density of the planet is also similar to Earth, suggesting that it, too, is rocky. The intense heat from the host star would be far too great to support life, however, and could not maintain liquid water.

    Hu developed a method of studying exoplanet atmospheres and surfaces, and had previously only applied it to sizzling, giant gaseous planets called hot Jupiters. Isabel Angelo, first author of the study and a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, worked on the study as part of her internship at JPL and adapted Hu’s model to 55 Cancri e.

    In a seminar, she heard about 55 Cancri e as a potentially carbon-rich planet, so high in temperature and pressure that its interior could contain a large amount of diamond.

    “It’s an exoplanet whose nature is pretty contested, which I thought was exciting,” Angelo said.

    Spitzer observed 55 Cancri e between June 15 and July 15, 2013, using a camera specially designed for viewing infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. Infrared light is an indicator of heat energy. By comparing changes in brightness Spitzer observed to the energy flow models, researchers realized an atmosphere with volatile materials could best explain the temperatures.

    There are many open questions about 55 Cancri e, especially: Why has the atmosphere not been stripped away from the planet, given the perilous radiation environment of the star?

    › Full image and caption

    Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth 55 Cancri e was thought to have lava flows on its surface. The planet is so close to its star, the same side of the planet always faces the star, such that the planet has permanent day and night sides. Based on a 2016 study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists speculated that lava would flow freely in lakes on the starlit side and become hardened on the face of perpetual darkness. The lava on the dayside would reflect radiation from the star, contributing to the overall observed temperature of the planet.

    Now, a deeper analysis of the same Spitzer data finds this planet likely has an atmosphere whose ingredients could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere, but thicker. Lava lakes directly exposed to space without an atmosphere would create local hot spots of high temperatures, so they are not the best explanation for the Spitzer observations, scientists said.

    “If there is lava on this planet, it would need to cover the entire surface,” said Renyu Hu, astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of a study published in The Astronomical Journal. “But the lava would be hidden from our view by the thick atmosphere.”

    Using an improved model of how energy would flow throughout the planet and radiate back into space, researchers find that the night side of the planet is not as cool as previously thought. The “cold” side is still quite toasty by Earthly standards, with an average of 2,400 to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,300 to 1,400 Celsius), and the hot side averages 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit (2,300 Celsius). The difference between the hot and cold sides would need to be more extreme if there were no atmosphere.

    “Scientists have been debating whether this planet has an atmosphere like Earth and Venus, or just a rocky core and no atmosphere, like Mercury. The case for an atmosphere is now stronger than ever,” Hu said.

    Researchers say the atmosphere of this mysterious planet could contain nitrogen, water and even oxygen — molecules found in our atmosphere, too — but with much higher temperatures throughout. The density of the planet is also similar to Earth, suggesting that it, too, is rocky. The intense heat from the host star would be far too great to support life, however, and could not maintain liquid water.

    Hu developed a method of studying exoplanet atmospheres and surfaces, and had previously only applied it to sizzling, giant gaseous planets called hot Jupiters. Isabel Angelo, first author of the study and a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, worked on the study as part of her internship at JPL and adapted Hu’s model to 55 Cancri e.

    In a seminar, she heard about 55 Cancri e as a potentially carbon-rich planet, so high in temperature and pressure that its interior could contain a large amount of diamond.

    “It’s an exoplanet whose nature is pretty contested, which I thought was exciting,” Angelo said.

    Spitzer observed 55 Cancri e between June 15 and July 15, 2013, using a camera specially designed for viewing infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. Infrared light is an indicator of heat energy. By comparing changes in brightness Spitzer observed to the energy flow models, researchers realized an atmosphere with volatile materials could best explain the temperatures.

    There are many open questions about 55 Cancri e, especially: Why has the atmosphere not been stripped away from the planet, given the perilous radiation environment of the star?

    “Understanding this planet will help us address larger questions about the evolution of rocky planets,” Hu said.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://spitzer.caltech.edu

    https://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

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

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  • richardmitnick 11:36 am on November 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Spitzer,   

    From Science Alert: “Astronomers Are Puzzled by a Huge Object at The Centre of Our Galaxy” 

    ScienceAlert

    Science Alert

    10 NOV 2017
    MIKE MCRAE

    1
    (Nostalgia for Infinity/Shutterstock)

    Planet? Dead star? It’s so massive!

    The Universe is full of oddball objects that simply don’t sit neatly into categories. Take a hint, Pluto.

    Astronomers have used the light-warping effects of gravity to spot a massive object that could be a huge planet or a failed star, right in the centre of our galaxy.

    Gravitational Lensing NASA/ESA

    Not only is it a fun astronomical puzzle, but it’s also pushing the limits of the tools we have for watching space.

    NASA’s Spitzer space telescope has been following Earth’s orbit around the Sun since 2003, using its infrared camera to capture stunning images of the heavens.

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    One task for astronomers has been to use Spitzer’s images to find exoplanets; a goal nobody had considered when it launched. The more ‘traditional’ approach is to watch for the dimming of a star as a planet passes in front of it.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    But Spitzer has another trick up its sleeve – microlensing.

    Gravitational microlensing, S. Liebes, Physical Review B, 133 (1964): 835

    Gravity is the warping of space, which means a massive object can bend space into what is effectively a lens. Spitzer has been used to find a few exoplanets this way.

    But this one takes the cake. If not the whole buffet. (That is, if it’s a planet at all.)

    Its name is OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb, and this beast is a whopping 13 times the mass of Jupiter and orbits a star about 22,000 light years away, in the busy neighbourhood of the Milky Way’s centre.

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    http://www.truepatriot.net/tag/ogle-2016-blg-1190lbogle-2016-blg-1190lb/

    OGLE might not quite as big as the record-breaking behemoth DENIS-P J082303.1-491201 b, which is 29 times the mass of Jupiter. But it’s up there.

    Before we get too excited, it could still be a brown dwarf star – a boring wannabe that isn’t even big enough to spark a serious nuclear furnace. While tiny stars aren’t unknown, OGLE’s mass puts it at the lower limit of what’s needed to get the party started.

    So why should we care?

    The interesting thing is OGLE sits on the edge of what’s known as the brown dwarf desert – a range of orbits described as a zone devoid of failed stars.

    Astronomers have noticed there’s a distinct lack of brown dwarfs within 5 AU of other stars. For perspective, the distance from Earth to the Sun is 1AU, or about 150 million kilometres.

    OGLE has an orbit roughly 5 AU from its companion star that takes about three years to complete. If it is a planet, it’s grown to mammoth proportions.

    If it’s a small brown dwarf, the fact it sits on the border could help us understand more about the ways cosmic objects grow into stars.

    More information is clearly needed, and microlensing as a technique is still in its infancy. But it could be powerful, identifying details about stars, planets, and even galaxies other methods can’t.

    By perfecting processes that can pull more details from the warped light, especially viewed using different satellites from different positions, we should be able to gain a better understanding of the relationship between stars and their orbiting family members.

    So here’s to you, OGLE. Whatever the hell you are.

    This research has been submitted to The Astronomical Journal
    .

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:40 am on November 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , MACS J1149.5+2233: A Fusion of Galaxy Clusters, , NASA Spitzer,   

    From Chandra: “MACS J1149.5+2233: A Fusion of Galaxy Clusters” 

    NASA Chandra Banner

    NASA Chandra Telescope

    NASA Chandra

    October 31, 2017

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    Composite

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    X-ray

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    Optical

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    Radio

    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; Radio: NSF/NRAO/AUI/VLA

    The Frontier Fields is a project that combines long observations from multiple telescopes of galaxy clusters.

    Galaxy clusters contain up to thousands of galaxies and vast reservoirs of hot gas embedded in massive clouds of dark matter.

    Data from Chandra, Hubble, Spitzer and other telescopes are part of the Frontier Fields project.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA

    This Frontier Fields galaxy cluster, known as MACS J1149.5+2233, is located about 5 billion light years from Earth.

    MACS J1149.5+2233 (MACS J1149 for short) is a system of merging galaxy clusters located about 5 billion light years from Earth. This galaxy cluster was one of six that have been studied as part of the “Frontier Fields” project. This research effort included long observations of galaxy clusters with powerful telescopes that detected different types of light, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

    Frontier Fields

    Astronomers are using the Frontier Fields data to learn more about how galaxy clusters grow via collisions. Galaxy clusters are enormous collections of hundreds or even thousands of galaxies and vast reservoirs of hot gas embedded in massive clouds of dark matter, invisible material that does not emit or absorb light but can be detected through its gravitational effects.

    This new image of MACS J1149 combines X-rays from Chandra (diffuse blue), optical data from Hubble (red, green, blue), and radio emission from the Very Large Array (pink). The image is about four million light years across at the distance of MACS J1149.

    The Chandra data reveal gas in the merging clusters with temperatures of millions of degrees. The optical data show galaxies in the clusters and other, more distant, galaxies lying behind the clusters. Some of these background galaxies are highly distorted because of gravitational lensing, the bending of light by massive objects. This effect can also magnify the light from these objects, enabling astronomers to study background galaxies that would otherwise be too faint to detect. Finally, the structures in the radio data trace enormous shock waves and turbulence. The shocks are similar to sonic booms, and are generated by the mergers of smaller clusters of galaxies.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:11 am on October 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer, Spitzer Reveals Ancient Galaxies' Frenzied Starmaking   

    From Spitzer: “Spitzer Reveals Ancient Galaxies’ Frenzied Starmaking” 

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope


    Spitzer

    10.30.17

    1

    A deep look back to the early universe by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed a surprisingly rowdy bunch of galaxies. Within a large galaxy sample observed 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, Spitzer witnessed around 15 percent of galaxies undergoing bouts of extreme starmaking, called starbursts. The discovery suggests that starbursts—a rare phenomenon in the modern cosmos—were actually relatively common in the past, and played a major role in creating our universe’s stars.

    Typically, galaxies go with a take-it-slow approach to starmaking. Over billions of years, that unhurried stellar production has been credited with forging almost all stars in existence. The new findings, however, show starburst galaxies cranking out upwards of half of the total new stars in the cosmic era under study. Moving forward, astronomers will have to ensure galactic evolution theories can account for these more frequent frenzies of starmaking.

    “This research shows for the first time that starburst galaxies are much more important than previously thought in the early star formation history of the universe,” said Karina Caputi, an associate professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Caputi is lead author of a new paper describing the results, published on Oct 30 in The Astrophysical Journal.

    “We have discovered an unknown population of starburst galaxies that could change the way we think many galaxies grow their stars,” said Karina.

    Caputi and her colleagues pored over a voluminous dataset of nearly 6000 distant galaxies observed as part of Spitzer’s Matching Survey of the UltraVISTA ultra-deep Stripes (SMUVS) program. The scientists looked for a type of light, called H-alpha, emitted by the element hydrogen. This glow marks regions where new groups of stars have just formed from the gravitational collapse of giant clouds of gas and dust. Over vast cosmic distances—like the 12 billion light years to the galaxies in Caputi’s study—the expansion of the universe stretches H-alpha’s visible, pink-reddish light into the infrared wavelengths seen by Spitzer. Researchers can therefore leverage Spitzer as a valuable tool in gauging the levels of star formation in the early universe.

    Prior investigations have focused mostly on starbursts breaking out in galaxies with high masses, usually selected out of small datasets. The catalog of observations Caputi’s team went through offered a more complete picture, though, by capturing numerous intermediate-mass galaxies also flush with the signs of starburst activity. Bringing those overlooked galaxies into the fold boosted the overall starburst percentage from negligible to a significant 15 percent, and with it, over half of the total starmaking at that time in the universe’s chronology. “We analyzed a much larger and more representative galaxy sample,” Caputi says.

    The development of a new star—from cold, diffuse gas cloud to a hot, concentrated ball of matter—is a process that spans tens of millions of years. At any given time in a galaxy, only so many stars-to-be are going through this process; our own Milky Way languidly produces only about one Sun’s-mass-worth of new stars annually. Yet in a starburst galaxy, that rate of stellar creation can be hundreds of times faster.

    As a result, although their quantities differ, slow-poke and fast-pace galaxies ultimately make similar contributions to the overall stellar budget. “There appear to be two types of galaxies which form stars: some are more numerous, but grow more slowly. The others are less numerous, but grow much faster,” Caputi explained. “In the end, both groups can form the same total amount of stars.”

    What exactly is causing all the starbursts remains a mystery. Galaxy mergers, where the diffuse star-forming materials in two galaxies mix into gas clouds dense enough to ignite star formation, stand as highly likely candidates. Gravitational interactions with neighboring galaxies, or encounters with uncommonly thick patches of matter in the barren expanses between galaxies, might also fire up starbursts.

    “We still have a lot of work to do in understanding why galaxies go into a starburst mode,” says Caputi. “Now that we have a sense of just how significant these furious periods of activity are for giving us such a large amount of the universe’s stars, we are highly motivated to get to the bottom of the mystery.”

    This research has been funded by the European Research Council through the Consolidator Grant ID 681627-BUILDUP.

    See the full article here .

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

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  • richardmitnick 9:28 pm on October 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA Spitzer,   

    From Goddard: “NASA’s Webb Telescope to Witness Galactic Infancy” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Oct. 4, 2017
    Eric Villard
    eric.s.villard@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Starfield
    The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is a snapshot of about 10,000 galaxies in a tiny patch of sky, taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
    Credits: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), the HUDF Team

    After it launches and is fully commissioned, scientists plan to focus Webb telescope on sections of the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field (HUDF) and the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS).

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    These sections of sky are among Webb’s list of targets chosen by guaranteed time observers, scientists who helped develop the telescope and thus get to be among the first to use it to observe the universe. The group of scientists will primarily use Webb’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) to examine a section of HUDF, and Webb’s near infrared camera (NIRCam) to image part of GOODS.

    NASA Webb MIRI

    NASA Webb NIRCam

    “By mixing [the data from] these instruments, we’ll get information about the current star formation rate, but we’ll also get information about the star formation history,” explained Hans Ulrik Nørgaard-Nielsen, an astronomer at the Danish Space Research Institute in Denmark and the principal investigator for the proposed observations.

    Pablo Pérez-González, an astrophysics professor at the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain and one of several co-investigators on Nørgaard-Nielsen’s proposed observation, said they will use Webb to observe about 40 percent of the HUDF area with MIRI, in roughly the same location that ground-based telescopes like the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) and the Very Large Telescope array (VLT) obtained ultra-deep field data.

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    The iconic HUDF image shows about 10,000 galaxies in a tiny section of the sky, equivalent to the amount of sky you would see with your naked eye if you looked at it through a soda straw. Many of these galaxies are very faint, more than 1 billion times fainter than what the naked human eye can see, marking them as some of the oldest galaxies within the visible universe.

    With its powerful spectrographic instruments, Webb will see much more detail than imaging alone can provide. Spectroscopy measures the spectrum of light, which scientists analyze to determine physical properties of what is being observed, including temperature, mass, and chemical composition. Pérez-González explained this will allow scientists to study how gases transformed into stars in the first galaxies, and to better understand the first phases in the formation of supermassive black holes, including how those black holes affect the formation of their home galaxy. Astronomers believe the center of nearly every galaxy contains a supermassive black hole, and that these black holes are related to galactic formation.

    MIRI can observe in the infrared wavelength range of 5 to 28 microns. Pérez-González said they will use the instrument to observe a section of HUDF in 5.6 microns, which Spitzer is capable of, but that Webb will be able to see objects 250 times fainter and with eight times more spatial resolution. In this case, spatial resolution is the ability of an optical telescope, such as Webb, to see the smallest details of an object.

    Pérez-González said in the area of HUDF they will observe, Hubble was able to see about 4,000 galaxies. He added that, with Webb, they “will detect around 2,000 to 2,500 galaxies, but in a completely different spectral band, so many galaxies will be quite different from the ones that [Hubble] detected.”

    With NIRCam, the team will observe a piece of the GOODS region near their selected section of HUDF. The entire GOODS survey field includes observations from Hubble, Spitzer, and several other space observatories.

    “These NIRCam images will be taken in three bands, and they will be the deepest obtained by any guaranteed time observation team,” explained Pérez-González.

    NIRCam can observe in the infrared wavelength range of 0.6 to 5 microns. Pérez-González explained they will use it to observe a section of GOODS in the 1.15 micron band, which Hubble is capable of, but that Webb will be able to see objects 50 times fainter and with two times more spatial resolution. They will also use it to observe the 2.8 and 3.6 micron bands. Spitzer is able to do this as well, but Webb will be able to observe objects nearly 100 times fainter and with eight times greater spatial resolution.

    Because the universe is expanding, light from distant objects in the universe is “redshifted,” meaning the light emitted by those objects is visible in the redder wavelengths by the time it reaches us. The objects farthest away from us, those with the highest redshifts, have their light shifted into the near- and mid-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Webb telescope is specifically designed to observe the objects in that area of the spectrum, which makes it ideal for looking at the early universe.

    “When you build an observatory with unprecedented capabilities, most probably the most interesting results will not be those that you can expect or predict, but those that no one can imagine,” said Pérez-González.

    The James Webb Space Telescope, the scientific complement to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

    MIRI was built by ESA, in partnership with the European Consortium, a group of scientists and engineers from European countries; a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; and scientists from several U.S. institutions. NIRCam was built by Lockheed Martin and the University of Arizona in Tucson.

    For more information about Webb telescope, visit: http://www.webb.nasa.gov or http://www.nasa.gov/webb

    For more information about Hubble telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

    For more information about Spitzer telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 5:08 pm on July 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , NASA Spitzer,   

    From Webb: “Birth of Stars & Protoplanetary Systems” 

    NASA Webb Header

    NASA Webb Telescope

    James Webb Space Telescope

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    The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula captured in visible light by Hubble. Stellar nurseries are hidden within the towers of dust and gas. Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State U.)

    Inside the Pillars of Creation

    While this image is spectacular, there are actually stars that Hubble can’t see inside those pillars of dust. And that’s because the visible light emitted by those stars is being obscured by the dust. But what if we used a telescope sensitive to infrared light to look at this nebula?

    The next image is another Hubble view, but this time in near-infrared. In the infrared more structure within the dust clouds is revealed and hidden stars have now become apparent. (And if Hubble, which is optimized for visible light, can capture a near-infrared image like this, imagine what JWST, which is optimized for near-infrared and 100x more powerful than Hubble, will do!)

    Another nebula, the “Mystic Mountains” of the Carina Nebula, shown in two Hubble images, one in visible light (left) and one in infrared (right).
    In the infrared image, we can see more stars that just weren’t visible before. Why is this?

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    The Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula captured in infrared light by Hubble. The light from young stars being formed pierce the clouds of dust and gas in the infrared. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

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    Comparison of the Carina Nebula in visible light (left) and infrared (left), both images by Hubble. Credit: NASA/ESA/M. Livio & Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

    How Do Infrared Cameras Work?

    We can try a thought experiment. What if you were to put your arm into a garbage bag? Your arm is hidden. Invisible.

    But what if you looked at your arm and the garbage bag with an infrared camera? Remember that infrared light is essentially heat. And that while your eyes may not be able to pick up the warmth of your arm underneath the cooler plastic of the bag, an infrared camera can. An infrared camera can see right through the bag!

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    ALMA image of the young star HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk. This best image ever of planet formation reveals multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    The Dusty Cocoons of Star and Planet Formation

    JWST’s amazing imaging and spectroscopy capabilities will allow us to study stars as they are forming in their dusty cocoons. Additionally, it will be able to image disks of heated material around these young stars, which can indicate the beginnings of planetary systems, and study organic molecules that are important for life to develop.

    _________________________________________________________________
    Key Questions

    JWST will address several key questions to help us unravel the story of the star and planet formation:

    How do clouds of gas and dust collapse to form stars?
    Why do most stars form in groups?
    Exactly how do planetary systems form?
    How do stars evolve and release the heavy elements they produce back into space for recycling into new generations of stars and planets?

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    Infrared Spitzer image of a star-forming region. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ Harvard-Smithsonian CfA

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    JWST’s Role in Answering These Questions

    To unravel the birth and early evolution of stars and planets, we need to be able to peer into the hearts of dense and dusty cloud cores where star formation begins. These regions cannot be observed at visible light wavelengths as the dust would make such regions opaque and must be observed at infrared wavelengths.

    Stars, like our Sun, can be thought of as “basic particles” of the Universe, just as atoms are “basic particles” of matter. Groups of stars make up galaxies, while planets and ultimately life arise around stars. Although stars have been the main topic of astronomy for thousands of years, we have begun to understand them in detail only in recent times through the advent of powerful telescopes and computers.

    A hundred years ago, scientists did not know that stars are powered by nuclear fusion, and 50 years ago they did not know that stars are continually forming in the Universe. Researchers still do not know the details of how clouds of gas and dust collapse to form stars, or why most stars form in groups, or exactly how planetary systems form. Young stars within a star-forming region interact with each other in complex ways. The details of how they evolve and release the heavy elements they produce back into space for recycling into new generations of stars and planets remains to be determined through a combination of observation and theory.

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    The stages of solar system formation. Credit: Shu et al. 1987

    The stages of solar system formation are illustrated to the right: starting with a protostar embedded in a gas cloud (upper left of diagram), to an early star with a circumstellar disk (upper right), to a star surrounded by small “planetesimals” which are starting to clump together (lower left) to a solar system like ours today.

    The continual discovery of new and unusual planetary systems has made scientists re-think their ideas and theories about how planets are formed. Scientists realize that to get a better understanding of how planets form, they need to have more observations of planets around young stars, and more observations of leftover debris around stars, which can come together and form planets.

    _________________________________________________________________

    Related Content
    More Comparison Images

    Here’s is another stunning comparison of visible versus infrared light views of the same object – the gorgeous Horsehead Nebula:

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    The Horsehead Nebula in visible light, captured by the Canada-France Hawaii Telescope. Credit: NASA

    Visible Light Horsehead Nebula


    CFHT Telescope, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA

    Infrared Light Horsehead Nebula

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    The Horsehead Nebula in infrared light, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI)

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Related Video

    This video shows how JWST will peer inside dusty knots where the youngest stars and planets are forming.

    See the full article here .

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    The James Webb Space Telescope will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. Launch is planned for later in the decade.

    Webb telescope will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.

    Webb telescope was formerly known as the “Next Generation Space Telescope” (NGST); it was renamed in Sept. 2002 after a former NASA administrator, James Webb.

    Webb is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development effort. The main industrial partner is Northrop Grumman; the Space Telescope Science Institute will operate Webb after launch.

    Several innovative technologies have been developed for Webb. These include a folding, segmented primary mirror, adjusted to shape after launch; ultra-lightweight beryllium optics; detectors able to record extremely weak signals, microshutters that enable programmable object selection for the spectrograph; and a cryocooler for cooling the mid-IR detectors to 7K.

    There will be four science instruments on Webb: the Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), the Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRspec), the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), and the Fine Guidance Sensor/ Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS-NIRISS). Webb’s instruments will be designed to work primarily in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum, with some capability in the visible range. It will be sensitive to light from 0.6 to 28 micrometers in wavelength.
    Webb has four main science themes: The End of the Dark Ages: First Light and Reionization, The Assembly of Galaxies, The Birth of Stars and Protoplanetary Systems, and Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life.

    Launch is scheduled for later in the decade on an Ariane 5 rocket. The launch will be from Arianespace’s ELA-3 launch complex at European Spaceport located near Kourou, French Guiana. Webb will be located at the second Lagrange point, about a million miles from the Earth.

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  • richardmitnick 12:54 pm on July 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Spitzer, W51   

    From Chandra: “W51: Chandra Peers into a Nurturing Cloud” 

    NASA Chandra Banner

    NASA Chandra Telescope

    NASA Chandra

    July 12, 2017


    Optical

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    X-ray

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    Infrared
    Credit X-ray: NASA/CXC/PSU/L.Townsley et al; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech
    Release Date July 12, 2017

    Giant molecular clouds, containing mostly hydrogen and helium, are where most new stars and planets form.

    W51 is one of the closest such objects to Earth so it is an excellent target for learning more about the star-formation process.

    A new composite image of W51 with X-ray data from Chandra (blue) and Spitzer (orange and yellow-green) is being released.

    The X-ray data show the young stars are often clumped together in clusters, while bathing their surroundings in high-energy light.

    In the context of space, the term ‘cloud’ can mean something rather different from the fluffy white collections of water in the sky or a way to store data or process information. Giant molecular clouds are vast cosmic objects, composed primarily of hydrogen molecules and helium atoms, where new stars and planets are born. These clouds can contain more mass than a million suns, and stretch across hundreds of light years.

    The giant molecular cloud known as W51 is one of the closest to Earth at a distance of about 17,000 light years. Because of its relative proximity, W51 provides astronomers with an excellent opportunity to study how stars are forming in our Milky Way galaxy.

    A new composite image of W51 shows the high-energy output from this stellar nursery, where X-rays from Chandra are colored blue. In about 20 hours of Chandra exposure time, over 600 young stars were detected as point-like X-ray sources, and diffuse X-ray emission from interstellar gas with a temperature of a million degrees or more was also observed. Infrared light observed with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope appears orange and yellow-green and shows cool gas and stars surrounded by disks of cool material.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    W51 contains multiple clusters of young stars. The Chandra data show that the X-ray sources in the field are found in small clumps, with a clear concentration of more than 100 sources in the central cluster, called G49.5−0.4.

    Although the W51 giant molecular cloud fills the entire field-of-view of this image, there are large areas where Chandra does not detect any diffuse, low energy X-rays from hot interstellar gas. Presumably dense regions of cooler material have displaced this hot gas or blocked X-rays from it.

    4
    X-ray Image of W51 (cropped)

    One of the massive stars in W51 is a bright X-ray source that is surrounded by a concentration of much fainter X-ray sources, as shown in a close-up view of the Chandra image. This suggests that massive stars can form nearly in isolation, with just a few lower mass stars rather than the full set of hundreds that are expected in typical star clusters.

    Another young, massive cluster located near the center of W51 hosts a star system that produces an extraordinarily large fraction of the highest energy X-rays detected by Chandra from W51. Theories for X-ray emission from massive single stars can’t explain this mystery, so it likely requires the close interaction of two very young, massive stars. Such intense, energetic radiation must change the chemistry of the molecules surrounding the star system, presenting a hostile environment for planet formation.

    A paper describing these results, led by Leisa Townsley (Penn State), appeared in the July 14th 2014 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series.

    See the full article here .

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    NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls Chandra’s science and flight operations from Cambridge, Mass.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:57 am on July 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA Spitzer, The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi   

    From Spitzer via Manu: “Massive Star Makes Waves” 12.18.12 


    Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    Spitzer

    12.18.12
    No writer credit

    1

    The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is having a “shocking” effect on the surrounding dust clouds in this infrared image from NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope. Stellar winds flowing out from this fast-moving star are making ripples in the dust as it approaches, creating a bow shock seen as glowing gossamer threads, which, for this star, are only seen in infrared light.

    Zeta Ophiuchi is a young, large and hot star located around 370 light-years away. It dwarfs our own sun in many ways — it is about six times hotter, eight times wider, 20 times more massive, and about 80,000 times as bright. Even at its great distance, it would be one of the brightest stars in the sky were it not largely obscured by foreground dust clouds.

    This massive star is travelling at a snappy pace of about 54,000 mph (24 kilometers per second), fast enough to break the sound barrier in the surrounding interstellar material. Because of this motion, it creates a spectacular bow shock ahead of its direction of travel (to the left). The structure is analogous to the ripples that precede the bow of a ship as it moves through the water, or the sonic boom of an airplane hitting supersonic speeds.

    The fine filaments of dust surrounding the star glow primarily at shorter infrared wavelengths, rendered here in green. The area of the shock pops out dramatically at longer infrared wavelengths, creating the red highlights.

    A bright bow shock like this would normally be seen in visible light as well, but because it is hidden behind a curtain of dust, only the longer infrared wavelengths of light seen by Spitzer can reach us.

    Bow shocks are commonly seen when two different regions of gas and dust slam into one another. Zeta Ophiuchi, like other massive stars, generates a strong wind of hot gas particles flowing out from its surface. This expanding wind collides with the tenuous clouds of interstellar gas and dust about half a light-year away from the star, which is almost 800 times the distance from the sun to Pluto. The speed of the winds added to the stars supersonic motion result in the spectacular collision seen here.

    Our own sun has significantly weaker solar winds and is passing much more slowly through our galactic neighborhood so it may not have a bow shock at all. NASAs twin Voyager spacecraft are headed away from the solar system and are currently about three times farther out than Pluto. They will likely pass beyond the influence of the sun into interstellar space in the next few years, though this is a much gentler transition than that seen around Zeta Ophiuchi.

    For this Spitzer image, infrared light at wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns is rendered in blue, 8.0 microns in green, and 24 microns in red.

    See the full article here .

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

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  • richardmitnick 1:19 pm on June 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Caltech's IPAC center, , , , , , NASA Spitzer, Robert Hurt, The Art of Exoplanets, Tim Pyle   

    From JPL: “The Art of Exoplanets” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    June 8, 2017
    Written by Pat Brennan

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

    1
    This artist’s concept by Robert Hurt and Tim Pyle shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets’ diameters, masses and distances from the host star.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior


    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

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    This artist’s concept by Tim Pyle allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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    This artist’s concept by Robert Hurt shows planet KELT-9b orbiting its host star, KELT-9. It is the hottest gas giant planet discovered so far. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Kelt North Telescope In Arizona at Winer Observatory by Ohio State University

    4
    This illustration shows one possible scenario for the hot, rocky exoplanet called 55 Cancri e, which is nearly two times as wide as Earth. Robert Hurt created this in 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    5
    NASA’s Kepler mission discovered a world where two suns set over the horizon instead of just one, called Kepler-16b. Robert Hurt did this illustration of this fascinating world. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The moon hanging in the night sky sent Robert Hurt’s mind into deep space — to a region some 40 light years away, in fact, where seven Earth-sized planets crowded close to a dim, red sun.

    Hurt, a visualization scientist at Caltech’s IPAC center, was walking outside his home in Mar Vista, California, shortly after he learned of the discovery of these rocky worlds around a star called TRAPPIST-1 and got the assignment to visualize them. The planets had been revealed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based observatories.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    “I just stopped dead in my tracks, and I just stared at it,” Hurt said in an interview. “I was imagining that could be, not our moon, but the next planet over – what it would be like to be in a system where you could look up and see continental features on the next planet.”

    So began a kind of inspirational avalanche. Hurt and his colleague, multimedia producer Tim Pyle, developed a series of arresting, photorealistic images of what the new system’s tightly packed planets might look like — so tightly packed that they would loom large in each other’s skies. Their visions of the TRAPPIST-1 system would appear in leading news outlets around the world.

    Artists like Hurt and Pyle, who render vibrant visualizations based on data from Spitzer and other missions, are hybrids of sorts, blending expertise in both science and art. From squiggles on charts and columns of numbers, they conjure red, blue and green worlds, with half-frozen oceans or bubbling lava. Or they transport us to the surface of a world with a red-orange sun fixed in place, and a sky full of planetary companions.

    “For the public, the value of this is not just giving them a picture of something somebody made up,” said Douglas Hudgins, a program scientist for the Exoplanet Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These are real, educated guesses of how something might look to human beings. An image is worth a thousand words.”

    Hurt says he and Pyle are building on the work of artistic pioneers.

    “There’s actually a long history and tradition for space art and science-based illustration,” he said. “If you trace its roots back to the artist Chesley Bonestell (famous in the 1950s and ’60s), he really was the artist who got this idea: Let’s go and imagine what the planets in our solar system might actually look like if you were, say, on Jupiter’s moon, Io. How big would Jupiter appear in the sky, and what angle would we be viewing it from?”

    To begin work on their visualizations, Hurt divided up the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets with Pyle, who shares an office with him at Caltech’s IPAC center in Pasadena, California.

    Hurt holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and has worked at the center since he was a post-doctoral researcher in 1996 – when astronomical art was just his hobby.

    “They created a job for me,” he said.

    Pyle, whose background is in Hollywood special effects, joined Hurt in 2004.

    Hurt turns to Pyle for artistic inspiration, while Pyle relies on Hurt to check his science.

    “Robert and I have our desks right next to each other, so we’re constantly giving each other feedback,” Pyle said. “We’re each upping each other’s game, I think.”

    The TRAPPIST-1 worlds offered both of them a unique challenge. The two already had a reputation for illustrating many exoplanets – planets around stars beyond our own — but never seven Earth-sized worlds in a single system. The planets cluster so close to their star that a “year” on each of them — the time they take to complete a single orbit — can be numbered in Earth days.

    And like the overwhelming majority of the thousands of exoplants found in our galaxy so far, they were detected using indirect means. No telescope exists today that is powerful enough to photograph them.

    Real science informed their artistic vision. Using data from the telescopes that reveal each planet’s diameter as well as its “weight,” or mass, and known stellar physics to determine the amount of light each planet would receive, the artists went to work.

    Both consulted closely with the planets’ discovery team as they planned for a NASA announcement to coincide with a report in the journal Nature.

    “When we’re doing these artist’s concepts, we’re never saying, ‘This is what these planets actually look like,'” Pyle said. “We’re doing plausible illustrations of what they could look like, based on what we know so far. Having this wide range of seven planets actually let us illustrate almost the whole breadth of what would be plausible. This was going to be this incredible interstellar laboratory for what could happen on an Earth-sized planet.”

    For TRAPPIST-1b, Pyle took Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io, as an inspiration, based on suggestions from the science team. For the outermost world, TRAPPIST-1h, he chose two other Jovian moons, the ice-encased Ganymede and Europa.

    After talking to the scientists, Hurt portrayed TRAPPIST-1c as dry and rocky. But because all seven planets are probably tidally locked, forever presenting one face to their star and the other to the cosmos, he placed an ice cap on the dark side.

    TRAPPIST-1d was one of three that fall inside the “habitable zone” of the star, or the right distance away from it to allow possible liquid water on the surface.

    “The researchers told us they would like to see it portrayed as something they called an ‘eyeball world,'” Hurt said. “You have a dry, hot side that’s facing the star and an ice cap on the back side. But somewhere in between, you have (a zone) where the ice could melt and be sustained as liquid water.”

    At this point, Hurt said, art intervened. The scientists rejected his first version of the planet, which showed liquid water intruding far into the “dayside” of TRAPPIST-1d. They argued that the water would most likely be found well within the planet’s dark half.

    “Then I kind of pushed back, and said, ‘If it’s on the dark side, no one can look at it and understand we’re saying there’s water there,'” Hurt said. They struck a compromise: more water toward the dayside than the science team might expect, but a better visual representation of the science.

    The same push and pull between science and art extends to other forms of astronomical visualization, whether it’s a Valentine’s Day cartoon of a star pulsing like a heart in time with its planet, or materials for the blockbuster announcement of the first detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in February 2016. They’ve also illustrated asteroids, neutron stars, pulsars and brown dwarfs.

    Visualizations based on data can also inform science, leading to genuine scientific insights. The scientists’ conclusions about TRAPPIST-1 at first seemed to suggest the planets would be bathed in red light, potentially obscuring features like blue-hued bodies of water.

    “It makes it hard to really differentiate what is going on,” Hurt said.

    Hurt decided to investigate. A colleague provided him with a spectrum of a red dwarf star similar to TRAPPIST-1. He overlaid that with the “responsivity curves” of the human eye, and found that most of the scientists’ “red” came from infrared light, invisible to human eyes. Subtract that, and what is left is a more reddish-orange hue that we might see standing on the surface of a TRAPPIST-1 world — “kind of the same color you would expect to get from a low-wattage light bulb,” Hurt said. “And the scientists looked at that and said, ‘Oh, ok, great, it’s orange.’ When the math tells you the answer, there really isn’t a lot to argue about.”

    For Hurt, the real goal of scientific illustration is to excite the public, engage them in the science, and provide a snapshot of scientific knowledge.

    “If you look at the whole history of space art, reaching back many, many decades, you will find you have a visual record,” he said. “The art is a historical record of our changing understanding of the universe. It becomes a part of the story, and a part of the research, I think.”

    For more information on exoplanets, visit:

    https://exoplanets.nasa.gov

    See the full article here .

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

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  • richardmitnick 12:57 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , N6946-BH1 is the only likely failed supernova that we found in the first seven years of our survey, , NASA Spitzer, NGC 6946 Fireworks Galaxy, SN 2017eaw   

    From Hubble: “Collapsing Star Gives Birth to a Black Hole” 

    NASA Hubble Banner

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    May 25, 2017
    Christopher Kochanek / Krzysztof Stanek
    Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
    614-292-5954 / 614-292-3433
    kochanek.1@osu.edu / stanek.32@osu.edu

    Scott Adams
    Caltech, Pasadena, California
    626-395-8676
    smadams@caltech.edu

    Pam Frost Gorder
    Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
    614-292-9475
    gorder.1@osu.edu

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.r.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

    1
    Massive Dying Star Goes Out With a Whimper Instead of a Bang

    Every second a star somewhere out in the universe explodes as a supernova. But some super-massive stars go out with a whimper instead of a bang. When they do, they can collapse under the crushing tug of gravity and vanish out of sight, only to leave behind a black hole. The doomed star, named N6946-BH1, was 25 times as massive as our sun. It began to brighten weakly in 2009. But, by 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence. By a careful process of elimination, based on observations by the Large Binocular Telescope and the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole. This may be the fate for extremely massive stars in the universe.

    U Arizona Large Binocular Telescope, Mount Graham, Arizona, USA

    Astronomers have watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole. It took the combined power of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), and NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to go looking for remnants of the vanquished star, only to find that it disappeared out of sight.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    It went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

    The star, which was 25 times as massive as our sun, should have exploded in a very bright supernova. Instead, it fizzled out—and then left behind a black hole.

    “Massive fails” like this one in a nearby galaxy could explain why astronomers rarely see supernovae from the most massive stars, said Christopher Kochanek, professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Observational Cosmology.

    As many as 30 percent of such stars, it seems, may quietly collapse into black holes — no supernova required.

    “The typical view is that a star can form a black hole only after it goes supernova,” Kochanek explained. “If a star can fall short of a supernova and still make a black hole, that would help to explain why we don’t see supernovae from the most massive stars.”

    He leads a team of astronomers who published their latest results in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Among the galaxies they’ve been watching is NGC 6946, a spiral galaxy 22 million light-years away that is nicknamed the “Fireworks Galaxy” because supernovae frequently happen there — indeed, SN 2017eaw, discovered on May 14th, is shining near maximum brightness now. Starting in 2009, one particular star, named N6946-BH1, began to brighten weakly. By 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence.

    After the LBT survey for failed supernovas turned up the star, astronomers aimed the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to see if it was still there but merely dimmed. They also used Spitzer to search for any infrared radiation emanating from the spot. That would have been a sign that the star was still present, but perhaps just hidden behind a dust cloud.

    All the tests came up negative. The star was no longer there. By a careful process of elimination, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole.

    It’s too early in the project to know for sure how often stars experience massive fails, but Scott Adams, a former Ohio State student who recently earned his Ph.D. doing this work, was able to make a preliminary estimate.

    “N6946-BH1 is the only likely failed supernova that we found in the first seven years of our survey. During this period, six normal supernovae have occurred within the galaxies we’ve been monitoring, suggesting that 10 to 30 percent of massive stars die as failed supernovae,” he said.

    “This is just the fraction that would explain the very problem that motivated us to start the survey, that is, that there are fewer observed supernovae than should be occurring if all massive stars die that way.”

    To study co-author Krzysztof Stanek, the really interesting part of the discovery is the implications it holds for the origins of very massive black holes — the kind that the LIGO experiment detected via gravitational waves. (LIGO is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.)


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project


    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    It doesn’t necessarily make sense, said Stanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, that a massive star could undergo a supernova — a process which entails blowing off much of its outer layers — and still have enough mass left over to form a massive black hole on the scale of those that LIGO detected.

    “I suspect it’s much easier to make a very massive black hole if there is no supernova,” he concluded.

    Adams is now an astrophysicist at Caltech. Other co-authors were Ohio State doctoral student Jill Gerke and University of Oklahoma astronomer Xinyu Dai. Their research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

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

    The Large Binocular Telescope is an international collaboration among institutions in the United Sates, Italy and Germany.

    See the full article here .
    See the JPL-Caltech full article here .

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    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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