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  • richardmitnick 7:54 pm on November 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “Strange Star Likely Swarmed by Comets” 

    NASA

    NASA

    Nov. 24, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    Michele Johnson
    Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    650-604-6982
    michele.johnson@nasa.gov

    1
    This illustration shows a star behind a shattered comet. Observations of the star KIC 8462852 by NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer space telescopes suggest that its unusual light signals are likely from dusty comet fragments, which blocked the light of the star as they passed in front of it in 2011 and 2013. The comets are thought to be traveling around the star in a very long, eccentric orbit. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    A star called KIC 8462852 has been in the news recently for unexplained and bizarre behavior. NASA’s Kepler mission had monitored the star for four years, observing two unusual incidents, in 2011 and 2013, when the star’s light dimmed in dramatic, never-before-seen ways. Something had passed in front of the star and blocked its light, but what?

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    Scientists first reported the findings in September, suggesting a family of comets as the most likely explanation. Other cited causes included fragments of planets and asteroids.

    A new study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope addresses the mystery, finding more evidence for the scenario involving a swarm of comets.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    The study, led by Massimo Marengo of Iowa State University, Ames, is accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    One way to learn more about the star is to study it in infrared light. Kepler had observed it in visible light. If a planetary impact, or a collision amongst asteroids, were behind the mystery of KIC 8462852, then there should be an excess of infrared light around the star. Dusty, ground-up bits of rock would be at the right temperature to glow at infrared wavelengths.

    At first, researchers tried to look for infrared light using NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, and found none.

    NASA Wise Telescope
    WISE

    But those observations were taken in 2010, before the strange events seen by Kepler — and before any collisions would have kicked up dust.

    To search for infrared light that might have been generated after the oddball events, researchers turned to Spitzer, which, like WISE, also detects infrared light. Spitzer just happened to observe KIC 8462852 more recently in 2015.

    “Spitzer has observed all of the hundreds of thousands of stars where Kepler hunted for planets, in the hope of finding infrared emission from circumstellar dust,” said Michael Werner, the Spitzer project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the lead investigator of that particular Spitzer/Kepler observing program.

    But, like WISE, Spitzer did not find any significant excess of infrared light from warm dust. That makes theories of rocky smashups very unlikely, and favors the idea that cold comets are responsible. It’s possible that a family of comets is traveling on a very long, eccentric orbit around the star. At the head of the pack would be a very large comet, which would have blocked the star’s light in 2011, as noted by Kepler. Later, in 2013, the rest of the comet family, a band of varied fragments lagging behind, would have passed in front of the star and again blocked its light.

    By the time Spitzer observed the star in 2015, those comets would be farther away, having continued on their long journey around the star. They would not leave any infrared signatures that could be detected.

    According to Marengo, more observations are needed to help settle the case of KIC 8462852.

    “This is a very strange star,” he said. “It reminds me of when we first discovered pulsars. They were emitting odd signals nobody had ever seen before, and the first one discovered was named LGM-1 after ‘Little Green Men.’”

    In the end, the LGM-1 signals turned out to be a natural phenomenon.

    “We may not know yet what’s going on around this star,” Marengo observed. “But that’s what makes it so interesting.”

    Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information about Kepler and Spitzer, respectively, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

    http://kepler.nasa.gov

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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

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

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

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

     
  • richardmitnick 4:19 pm on November 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL-Caltech: “Whopping Galaxy Cluster Spotted with Help of NASA Telescopes” 

    JPL-Caltech

    November 3, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    The galaxy cluster called MOO J1142+1527 can be seen here as it existed when light left it 8.5 billion years ago. The red galaxies at the center of the image make up the heart of the galaxy cluster. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Gemini/CARMA

    Astronomers have discovered a giant gathering of galaxies in a very remote part of the universe, thanks to NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    NASA Wise Telescope
    WISE

    The galaxy cluster, located 8.5 billion light-years away, is the most massive structure yet found at such great distances.

    Galaxy clusters are gravitationally bound groups of thousands of galaxies, which themselves each contain hundreds of billions of stars. The clusters grow bigger and bigger over time as they acquire new members.

    How did these clusters evolve over time? What did they look like billions of years ago? To answer these questions, astronomers look back in time to our youthful universe. Because light takes time to reach us, we can see very distant objects as they were in the past. For example, we are seeing the newfound galaxy cluster — called Massive Overdense Object (MOO) J1142+1527 — as it existed 8.5 billion years ago, long before Earth formed.

    As light from remote galaxies makes its way to us, it becomes stretched to longer, infrared wavelengths by the expansion of space. That’s where WISE and Spitzer help out.

    For infrared space telescopes, picking out distant galaxies is like plucking ripe cherries from a cherry tree. In the infrared images produced by Spitzer, these distant galaxies stand out as red dots, while closer galaxies look white. Astronomers first combed through the WISE catalog to find candidates for clusters of distant galaxies. WISE catalogued hundreds of millions of objects in images taken over the entire sky from 2010 to 2011.

    They then used Spitzer to narrow in on 200 of the most interesting objects, in a project named the “Massive and Distant Clusters of WISE Survey,” or MaDCoWS. Spitzer doesn’t observe the whole sky like WISE, but can see more detail.

    “It’s the combination of Spitzer and WISE that lets us go from a quarter billion objects down to the most massive galaxy clusters in the sky,” said Anthony Gonzalez of the University of Florida in Gainesville, lead author of a new study published in the Oct. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    From these observations, MOO J1142+1527 jumped out as one of the most extreme.

    The W.M. Keck Observatories and Gemini Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii were used to measure the distance to the cluster at 8.5 billion light-years.

    Keck Observatory
    Keck Observatory Interior
    Keck

    Gemini North telescope
    Gemini North Interior
    Gemini North

    Using data from the (CARMA) telescopes near Owens Valley in California, the scientists were then able to determine that the cluster’s mass is a quadrillion times that of our sun — making it the most massive known cluster that far back in space and time.

    CARMA Array
    CARMA Array

    MOO J1142+1527 may be one of only a handful of clusters of this heft in the early universe, according to the scientists’ estimates.

    “Based on our understanding of how galaxy clusters grow from the very beginning of our universe, this cluster should be one of the five most massive in existence at that time,” said co-author Peter Eisenhardt, the project scientist for WISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    In the coming year, the team plans to sift through more than 1,700 additional galaxy cluster candidates with Spitzer, looking for biggest of the bunch.

    “Once we find the most massive clusters, we can start to investigate how galaxies evolved in these extreme environments,” said Gonzalez.

    JPL managed and operated WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. In September 2013, WISE was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASA’s efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects. JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations and data processing for Spitzer and NEOWISE take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    More information about WISE is online at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/wise

    More information about Spitzer is online at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 8:10 am on October 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From COSMOS: “Massive galaxies rob gas from little neighbours” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS

    5 Oct 2015
    Belinda Smith

    Astronomers discover why the biggest galaxies keep getting bigger.

    1
    At the heart of the Phoenix Cluster (shown), giant galaxies are growing at a prodigious rate, birthing hundreds of new stars each year.Credit: X-ray:NASA / CXC / MIT / M.McDonald et al; Optical: NASA / STScI

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    The biggest galaxies in the Universe have perplexed astronomers for decades. How do they continue to make new stars when they should have run out of gas aeons ago? By looking back in time to see galaxies at earlier stages of their development, astronomers may have uncovered their ruthless secret.

    It seems that in their youth, these galaxies are bullies, stealing star-forming gas from their smaller neighbours. Tracy Webb from McGill University in Canada and colleagues describe one such plunderer in The Astrophysical Journal in September.

    Galaxies don’t usually fly solo – they prefer to gather in clusters, bound by gravity. The Universe’s biggest galaxies reside at the heart of these clusters.

    Astronomers can measure the age of these clusters by examining their galaxies. Our Milky Way, for instance, is about 13 billion years old, and clusters around us tend to be around the same age. When astronomers peer into the giant galaxies at the centre of these ancient clusters, they find them to be “red and dead”: their star-forming gas supplies exhausted, they have become vast nursing homes for stellar relics such as red giants. The Milky Way produces new stars at the feeble rate of about one per year.

    But astronomers find clusters look very different when “middle-aged”. Just as palaeontologists dig into layers of the Earth to find how life looked in the past, astronomers get a snapshot of how galaxies looked long ago by pointing their powerful telescopes farther into space. The further away the galaxy, the longer its light travelled to get here. So the image we see records the way it looked at a much earlier stage of its lifecycle.

    When they peered at snapshots of central galaxies in middle-aged clusters, they found nurseries rather than nursing homes. For instance, the central galaxy in the Phoenix Cluster, 5.6 billion light-years away, is forming stars at a tremendous rate: 740 times that of the Milky Way.

    To maintain their prodigious growth, these middle-aged galaxies top up their supplies of star-forming gas by pulling in some of the hot intergalactic gas that makes up around 10% of the collective mass of the entire cluster. It’s like “rivers of fuel” for new star formation, Webb says.

    Having started the family album, researchers wanted to get a snapshot of baby clusters and their central massive galaxies. How did these several-billion-year-old babies feed?

    NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003, was up to task. It has collected data on more than 200 galaxy clusters, some billions of light-years away, providing snapshots of these clusters as babies.

    3
    This composite image of galaxy cluster 1049+56, captured using NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, shows galactic bullying at work. Trailing from the biggest galaxy in the cluster (upper right red dot of central pair), a tell-tale trail of gas can be seen.Credit: NASA / STSCI / ESA / JPL-CALTECH / MCGILL

    In 2013, Webb was examining these clusters one by one when she stumbled across something odd. Spitzer’s infrared camera revealed a galaxy at the centre of the young cluster known as “1049+56”, some 9.8 billion light-years away, was pumping out stars at a phenomenal rate. The galaxy was less than four billion years old, but producing stars 860 times as fast as the Milky Way.

    “What’s really exciting is we hadn’t seen this growth, this building up, at such an early time,” Australian Astronomical Observatory astronomer Amanda Bauer says. But where was all the star-forming fuel coming from?

    Infrared telescopes such as Spitzer could reveal the dusty regions where stars are born. But their resolution wasn’t high enough to pinpoint if the gas source was the rivers of intergalactic gas that older galaxies draw on – or something else.

    To find out, Webb and her colleagues pointed the Hubble Space Telescope towards 1049+56, aiming its high-resolution optical lens at the cluster’s centre. But instead of seeing the rivers of hot intergalactic gas feeding the giant galaxy, they caught it in the act of stealing from a small gas-rich neighbouring galaxy.

    Like a cat mid-way through swallowing a mouse, the giant galaxy had already gulped down most of the smaller galaxy’s gas. All that remained was a gas tail, dangling from the galaxy’s maw.

    Hubble could spot little clumps of stars forming along the gas tail where patches of slightly denser gas collapsed in on itself. These star nurseries, or “beads on a string”, were a tell-tale sign the robbed galaxy had been rich in star-forming gases, Webb says.

    Webb and her colleagues are now searching other baby galaxy clusters to see if the massive central galaxy in 1049+56 is a rare gas-pinching bully or if all massive central galaxies were thugs in their youth.

    Bauer, for one, will be watching closely: “I’m thrilled they’ve been able to find this key piece. I’ll be cheering them on.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 4:06 pm on July 30, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “NASA’s Spitzer Confirms Closest Rocky Exoplanet” 

    JPL

    July 30, 2015
    Felicia Chou NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

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

    1
    This artist’s conception shows the silhouette of a rocky planet, dubbed HD 219134b, as it passes in front of its star. At 21 light-years away, the planet is the closest outside of our solar system that can be seen crossing, or transiting, its star — a bonus for astronomers because transiting planets make ideal specimens for detailed studies of their atmospheres. It was discovered using the HARPS-North instrument on the Italian 3.6-meter National Galileo Telescope in the Canary Islands, and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

    The planet, which is about 1.6 times the size of Earth, is also the nearest confirmed rocky planet outside our solar system. It orbits a star that is cooler and smaller than our sun, whipping closely around it in a mere three days. The proximity of the planet to the star means that it would be scorching hot and not habitable.

    Transiting planets are ideal targets for astronomers wanting to know more about planetary compositions and atmospheres. As a planet passes in front of its star, it causes the starlight to dim, and telescopes can measure this effect. If molecules are present in the planet’s atmosphere, they can absorb certain wavelengths of light, leaving imprints in the starlight. This type of technique will be used in the future to investigate potentially habitable planets and search for signs of life.

    2
    This sky map shows the location of the star HD 219134 (circle), host to the nearest confirmed rocky planet found to date outside of our solar system. The star lies just off the “W” shape of the constellation Cassiopeia and can be seen with the naked eye in dark skies. It actually has multiple planets, none of which are habitable.

    3
    This artist’s rendition shows one possible appearance for the planet HD 219134b, the nearest confirmed rocky exoplanet found to date outside our solar system. The planet is 1.6 times the size of Earth, and whips around its star in just three days. Scientists predict that the scorching-hot planet — known to be rocky through measurements of its mass and size — would have a rocky, partially molten surface with geological activity, including possibly volcanoes.

    Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the nearest rocky planet outside our solar system, larger than Earth and a potential gold mine of science data.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    Dubbed HD 219134b, this exoplanet, which orbits too close to its star to sustain life, is a mere 21 light-years away. While the planet itself can’t be seen directly, even by telescopes, the star it orbits is visible to the naked eye in dark skies in the Cassiopeia constellation, near the North Star.

    HD 219134b is also the closest exoplanet to Earth to be detected transiting, or crossing in front of, its star and, therefore, perfect for extensive research.

    “Transiting exoplanets are worth their weight in gold because they can be extensively characterized,” said Michael Werner, the project scientist for the Spitzer mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This exoplanet will be one of the most studied for decades to come.”

    The planet, initially discovered using the HARPS-North instrument on the Italian 3.6-meter Galileo National Telescope in the Canary Islands, is the subject of a study accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics

    Telescoipio Nazionale Galileo.
    Galileo National Telescope

    Telescopio Nazionale Galileo - Harps North
    HARPS-North instrument

    Study lead author Ati Motalebi of the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland said she believes the planet is the ideal target for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope in 2018.

    NASA James Webb Telescope
    Webb

    “Webb and future large, ground-based observatories are sure to point at it and examine it in detail,” Motalebi said.

    Only a small fraction of exoplanets can be detected transiting their stars due to their relative orientation to Earth. When the orientation is just right, the planet’s orbit places it between its star and Earth, dimming the detectable light of its star. It’s this dimming of the star that is actually captured by observatories such as Spitzer and can reveal not only the size of the planet but also clues about its composition.

    “Most of the known planets are hundreds of light-years away. This one is practically a next-door neighbor,” said astronomer and study co-author Lars A. Buchhave of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For reference, the closest known planet is GJ674b at 14.8 light-years away; its composition is unknown.

    HD 219134b was first sighted by the HARPS-North instrument and a method called the radial velocity technique, in which a planet’s mass and orbit can be measured by the tug it exerts on its host star. The planet was determined to have a mass 4.5 times that of Earth, and a speedy three-day orbit around its star.

    Spitzer followed up on the finding, discovering the planet transits its star. Infrared measurements from Spitzer revealed the planet’s size, about 1.6 times that of Earth. Combining the size and mass gives it a density of 3.5 ounces per cubic inch (six grams per cubic centimeter) — confirming HD 219134b is a rocky planet.

    Now that astronomers know HD 219134b transits its star, scientists will be scrambling to observe it from the ground and space. The goal is to tease chemical information out of the dimming starlight as the planet passes before it. If the planet has an atmosphere, chemicals in it can imprint patterns in the observed starlight.

    Rocky planets such as this one, with bigger-than-Earth proportions, belong to a growing class of planets termed super-Earths.

    “Thanks to NASA’s Kepler mission, we know super-Earths are ubiquitous in our galaxy, but we still know very little about them,” said co-author Michael Gillon of the University of Liege in Belgium, lead scientist for the Spitzer detection of the transit.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    Kepler

    “Now we have a local specimen to study in greater detail. It can be considered a kind of Rosetta Stone for the study of super-Earths.”

    Further observations with HARPS-North also revealed three more planets in the same star system, farther than HD 219134b. Two are relatively small and not too far from the star. Small, tightly packed multi-planet systems are completely different from our own solar system, but, like super-Earths, are being found in increasing numbers.

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

    For more information about NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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, 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 7:48 am on June 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Spitzer: “Helium-Shrouded Planets May Be Common in Our Galaxy” 



    Spitzer

    06.11.15

    1

    They wouldn’t float like balloons or give you the chance to talk in high, squeaky voices, but planets with helium skies may constitute an exotic planetary class in our Milky Way galaxy. Researchers using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope propose that warm Neptune-size planets with clouds of helium may be strewn about the galaxy by the thousands.

    “We don’t have any planets like this in our own solar system,” said Renyu Hu, NASA Hubble Fellow at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author of a new study on the findings accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “But we think planets with helium atmospheres could be common around other stars.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 8:16 am on June 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Spitzer: “Helium-Shrouded Planets May Be Common in Our Galaxy” 



    Spitzer.

    1

    They wouldn’t float like balloons or give you the chance to talk in high, squeaky voices, but planets with helium skies may constitute an exotic planetary class in our Milky Way galaxy. Researchers using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope propose that warm Neptune-size planets with clouds of helium may be strewn about the galaxy by the thousands.

    “We don’t have any planets like this in our own solar system,” said Renyu Hu, NASA Hubble Fellow at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author of a new study on the findings accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “But we think planets with helium atmospheres could be common around other stars.”

    Prior to the study, astronomers had been investigating a surprising number of so-called warm Neptunes in our galaxy. NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found hundreds of candidate planets that fall into this category. They are the size of Neptune or smaller, with tight orbits that are closer to their stars than our own sizzling Mercury is to our sun. These planets reach temperatures of more than 1,340 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 Kelvin), and orbit their stars in as little as one or two days.

    In the new study, Hu and his team make the case that some warm Neptunes — and warm sub-Neptunes, which are smaller than Neptune — could have atmospheres enriched with helium. They say that the close proximity of these planets to their searing stars would cause the hydrogen in their atmospheres to boil off.

    “Hydrogen is four times lighter than helium, so it would slowly disappear from the planets’ atmospheres, causing them to become more concentrated with helium over time,” said Hu. “The process would be gradual, taking up to 10 billion years to complete.” For reference, our planet Earth is about 4.5 billion years old.

    Warm Neptunes are thought to have either rocky or liquid cores, surrounded by gas. If helium is indeed the dominant component in their atmospheres, the planets would appear white or gray. By contrast, the Neptune of our own solar system is a brilliant azure blue. The methane in its atmosphere absorbs the color red, giving Neptune its blue hue.

    A lack of methane in one particular warm Neptune, called GJ 436b, is in fact what led Hu and his team to develop their helium planet theory. Spitzer had previously observed GJ 436b, located 33 light-years away, and found evidence for carbon but not methane. This was puzzling to scientists, because methane molecules are made of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms, and planets like this are expected to have a lot of hydrogen. Why wasn’t the hydrogen linking up with carbon to produce methane? 


    According to the new study, the hydrogen might have been slow-cooked off the planet by radiation from the host stars. With less hydrogen around, the carbon would pair up with oxygen to make carbon monoxide. In fact, Spitzer found evidence for a predominance of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere of GJ 436b.

    The next step to test this theory is to look at other warm Neptunes for signs of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, which are indicators of helium atmospheres. The team says this might be possible with the help of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, and NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope may one day directly detect that helium.

    Meanwhile, the wacky world of exoplanets continues to surprise astronomers.

    “Any planet one can imagine probably exists, out there, somewhere, as long as it fits within the laws of physics and chemistry,” said co-author Sara Seager of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and JPL. “Planets are so incredibly diverse in their masses, sizes and orbits that we expect this to extend to exoplanet atmospheres.”

    A third author of the paper is Yuk Yung of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and JPL.

    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 5:31 am on June 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “NASA Satellites Catch a ‘Growth Spurt’ from a Newborn Protostar” 

    JPL

    March 23, 2015
    Francis Reddy, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    1
    Infrared images from instruments at Kitt Peak National Observatory (left) and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope document the outburst of HOPS 383, a young protostar in the Orion star-formation complex. The background is a wide view of the region taken from a Spitzer four-color infrared mosaic.

    Using data from orbiting observatories, including NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and from ground-based facilities, an international team of astronomers has discovered an outburst from a star thought to be in the earliest phase of its development.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    The eruption, scientists say, reveals a sudden accumulation of gas and dust by an exceptionally young star, or protostar, known as HOPS 383.

    Stars form within collapsing fragments of cold gas clouds. As the cloud contracts under its own gravity, its central region becomes denser and hotter. By the end of this process, the collapsing fragment has transformed into a hot central protostar surrounded by a dusty disk roughly equal in mass, embedded in a dense envelope of gas and dust. Astronomers call this a “Class 0” protostar.

    “HOPS 383 is the first outburst we’ve ever seen from a Class 0 object, and it appears to be the youngest protostellar eruption ever recorded,” said William Fischer, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    The Class 0 phase is short-lived, lasting roughly 150,000 years, and is considered the earliest developmental stage for stars like the sun.

    A protostar has not yet developed the energy-generating capabilities of a sun-like star, which fuses hydrogen into helium in its core. Instead, a protostar shines from the heat energy released by its contraction and by the accumulation of material from the disk of gas and dust surrounding it. The disk may one day develop asteroids, comets and planets.

    Because these infant suns are thickly swaddled in gas and dust, their visible light cannot escape. But the light warms dust around the protostar, which reradiates the energy in the form of heat detectable by infrared-sensitive instruments on ground-based telescopes and orbiting satellites.

    HOPS 383 is located near NGC 1977, a nebula in the constellation Orion, and is a part of its sprawling star-formation complex. Located about 1,400 light-years from Earth, the region constitutes the most active nearby “star factory” and hosts a treasure trove of young stellar objects still embedded in their natal clouds.

    A team led by Thomas Megeath at the University of Toledo in Ohio used Spitzer to identify more than 300 protostars in the Orion complex. A follow-on project using the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, called the Herschel Orion Protostar Survey (HOPS), studied many of these objects in greater detail.

    ESA Herschel
    ESA/Herschel

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages Spitzer and, while Herschel was still active, managed the U.S. portion of that mission as well.

    The eruption of HOPS 383 was first recognized in 2014 by astronomer Emily Safron shortly after her graduation from the University of Toledo. Under the supervision of Megeath and Fischer, she had just completed her senior thesis comparing the decade-old Spitzer Orion survey with 2010 observations from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite, which was also managed by JPL.

    NASA Wise Telescope
    WISE

    Using software to analyze the data, Safron had already run through it several times without finding anything new. But with her thesis completed and graduation behind her, she decided to take the extra time to compare images of the “funny objects” by eye.

    That’s when she noticed HOPS 383’s dramatic change. “This beautiful outburst was lurking in our sample the whole time,” Safron said.

    Safron’s catalog of observations included Spitzer data at wavelengths of 3.6, 4.5 and 24 microns and WISE data at 3.4, 4.6 and 22 microns. HOPS 383 is so deeply enshrouded in dust that it wasn’t seen at all before the outburst at the shortest Spitzer wavelength, and an oversight in a version of the catalog produced before Safron’s involvement masked the increase at the longest wavelengths. As a result, her software saw a rise in brightness in only one wavelength out of three, which failed to meet her criteria for the changes she was hoping to find.

    Once they realized what had happened, Safron, Fischer and their colleagues gathered additional Spitzer data, Herschel observations, and images from ground-based infrared telescopes at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona and the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment in northern Chile. Their findings were published in the Feb. 10 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

    4
    Kitt Peak National Observatory

    ESO APEX
    ESO/APEX

    The first hint of brightening appears in Spitzer data beginning in 2006. By 2008, they write, HOPS 383’s brightness at a wavelength of 24 microns had increased by 35 times. According to the most recent data available, from 2012, the eruption shows no sign of abating.

    “An outburst lasting this long rules out many possibilities, and we think HOPS 383 is best explained by a sudden increase in the amount of gas the protostar is accreting from the disk around it,” explained Fischer.

    Scientists suspect that instabilities in the disk lead to episodes where large quantities of material flow onto the central protostar. The star develops an extreme hot spot at the impact point, which in turn heats up the disk, and both brighten dramatically.

    The team continues to monitor HOPS 383 and has proposed new observations using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world’s largest flying telescope.

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

    For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://spitzer.caltech.edu

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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 7:39 am on May 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From Hubble: “NASA’s Great Observatories Celebrate International Year of Astronomy” old but worth it. 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    November 10, 2009
    CONTACT

    Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
    410-338-4493 / 410-338-4514
    dweaver@stsci.edu / villard@stsci.edu

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

    Megan Watzke
    Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.
    617-496-7998
    mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu

    A never-before-seen view of the turbulent heart of our Milky Way galaxy is being unveiled by NASA on Nov. 10. This event will commemorate the 400 years since Galileo first turned his telescope to the heavens in 1609.

    1
    In celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009, NASA’s Great Observatories — the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory — have collaborated to produce an unprecedented image of the central region of our Milky Way galaxy.

    In this spectacular image, observations using infrared light and X-ray light see through the obscuring dust and reveal the intense activity near the galactic core. Note that the center of the galaxy is located within the bright white region to the right of and just below the middle of the image. The entire image width covers about one-half a degree, about the same angular width as the full moon.

    Each telescope’s contribution is presented in a different color:

    • Yellow represents the near-infrared observations of Hubble. These observations outline the energetic regions where stars are being born as well as reveal hundreds of thousands of stars.
    • Red represents the infrared observations of Spitzer.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    The radiation and winds from stars create glowing dust clouds that exhibit complex structures from compact, spherical globules to long, stringy filaments.

    • Blue and violet represent the X-ray observations of Chandra.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    Chandra

    X-rays are emitted by gas heated to millions of degrees by stellar explosions and by outflows from the supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center. The bright blue blob on the left side is emission from a double star system containing either a neutron star or a black hole.

    When these views are brought together, this composite image provides one of the most detailed views ever of our galaxy’s mysterious core.

    In celebration of this International Year of Astronomy, NASA is releasing images of the galactic center region as seen by its Great Observatories to more than 150 planetariums, museums, nature centers, libraries, and schools across the country.

    The sites will unveil a giant, 6-foot-by-3-foot print of the bustling hub of our galaxy that combines a near-infrared view from the Hubble Space Telescope, an infrared view from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and an X-ray view from the Chandra X-ray Observatory into one multiwavelength picture. Experts from all three observatories carefully assembled the final image from large mosaic photo surveys taken by each telescope. This composite image provides one of the most detailed views ever of our galaxy’s mysterious core.

    Participating institutions also will display a matched trio of Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra images of the Milky Way’s center on a second large panel measuring 3 feet by 4 feet. Each image shows the telescope’s different wavelength view of the galactic center region, illustrating not only the unique science each observatory conducts, but also how far astronomy has come since Galileo.

    The composite image features the spectacle of stellar evolution: from vibrant regions of star birth, to young hot stars, to old cool stars, to seething remnants of stellar death called black holes. This activity occurs against a fiery backdrop in the crowded, hostile environment of the galaxy’s core, the center of which is dominated by a supermassive black hole nearly four million times more massive than our Sun. Permeating the region is a diffuse blue haze of X-ray light from gas that has been heated to millions of degrees by outflows from the supermassive black hole as well as by winds from massive stars and by stellar explosions. Infrared light reveals more than a hundred thousand stars along with glowing dust clouds that create complex structures including compact globules, long filaments, and finger-like “pillars of creation,” where newborn stars are just beginning to break out of their dark, dusty cocoons.

    The unveilings will take place at 152 institutions nationwide, reaching both big cities and small towns. Each institution will conduct an unveiling celebration involving the public, schools, and local media.

    The Astrophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate supports the International Year of Astronomy Great Observatories image unveiling. The project is a collaboration among the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., the Spitzer Science Center in Pasadena, Calif., and the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    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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  • richardmitnick 6:41 am on February 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From ESA: “Exploring the colours of the Small Magellanic Cloud” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    Feb 23, 2015
    No Writer Credit

    1

    Astronomical images often look like works of art. This picture of one of our nearest neighbouring galaxies, the Small Magellanic Cloud, is certainly no exception!

    The scene is actually a collaboration between two cosmic artists — ESA’s Herschel space observatory and NASA’s Spitzer space telescope.

    ESA Herschel
    Herschel

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    The image is reminiscent of an artistic stipple or pointillist painting, with lots of small, distinct dots coming together to create a striking larger-scale view.

    The colours within this image provide information about the temperature of the dust mixed with the gas throughout the galaxy. The slight green tint stretching towards the left of the frame and the red hue of the main body of the galaxy are from the Herschel observations, which highlight cold material, down to a chilly –260 degrees Celsius .

    The brighter patches of blue were captured by Spitzer. These regions are made up of ‘warmer’ —about –150 degrees Celsius — gas and dust, and within some of these areas new stars are being born. These newborn stars in turn warm up their surroundings, resulting in intense clumps of heated gas and dust within the galaxy.

    These clumps show up brightly in this image, tracing the shape of the galaxy clearly — the SMC is made up of a central ‘bar’ of star formation, visible on the right hand side, and then a more extended ‘wing’, stretching out towards the left of the frame.

    Overall, the Small Magellanic Cloud is about 1/20th of the size of the Milky Way. It can be seen shining in the night sky of the southern hemisphere, and its brightest regions are easily visible to the naked eye. It is a satellite galaxy of our own — it orbits around the Milky Way along with its bigger companion, the Large Magellanic Cloud. These two galaxies have been extensively studied because of their proximity to us; astronomers can observe them relatively easily to explore how star formation and galactic evolution works in galaxies other than our own.

    The data in this image are from Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE), Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), and Spitzer’s Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS).

    This image was previously published by NASA/JPL.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 3:37 pm on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA Spitzer   

    From JPL: “Citizen Scientists Lead Astronomers to Mystery Objects in Space” 

    JPL

    January 27, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    Volunteers using the web-based Milky Way Project brought star-forming features nicknamed “yellowballs” to the attention of researchers, who later showed that they are a phase of massive star formation. The yellow balls — which are several hundred to thousands times the size of our solar system — are pictured here in the center of this image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Infrared light has been assigned different colors; yellow occurs where green and red overlap. The yellow balls represent an intermediary stage of massive star formation that takes place before massive stars carve out cavities in the surrounding gas and dust (seen as green-rimmed bubbles with red interiors in this image).

    Infrared light of 3.6 microns is blue; 8-micron light is green; and 24-micron light is red.

    2
    This series of images show three evolutionary phases of massive star formation, as pictured in infrared images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The stars start out in thick cocoon of dust (left), evolve into hotter features dubbed “yellowballs” (center); and finally, blow out cavities in the surrounding dust and gas, resulting in green-rimmed bubbles with red centers (right). The process shown here takes roughly a million years. Even the oldest phase shown here is fairly young, as massive stars live a few million years. Eventually, the stars will migrate away from their birth clouds.

    In this image, infrared light of 3.6 microns is blue; 8-micron light is green; and 24-micron light is red.

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

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    Milkyway@home
    MilkyWay@home

    Milkyway@Home uses the BOINC platform to harness volunteered computing resources, creating a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). This project enables research in both astroinformatics and computer science.

    SDSS Telescope
    SDSS Telescope

    BOINC

    In computer science, the project is investigating different optimization methods which are resilient to the fault-prone, heterogeneous and asynchronous nature of Internet computing; such as evolutionary and genetic algorithms, as well as asynchronous newton methods. While in astroinformatics, Milkyway@Home is generating highly accurate three dimensional models of the Sagittarius stream, which provides knowledge about how the Milky Way galaxy was formed and how tidal tails are created when galaxies merge.

    Milkyway@Home is a joint effort between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute‘s departments of Computer Science and Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy. Feel free to contact us via our forums, or email astro@cs.lists.rpi.edu.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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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    • academix2015 4:22 pm on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Web based Milky Way project would open up new opportunities for amateur astronomers. Thank you.

      Like

    • academix2015 4:22 pm on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Reblogged this on Academic Avenue and commented:
      How about studying the intricacies of the astronomical processes and phenomena in the Milky Way?

      Like

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