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Subaru Telescope Captures Images of the “Stealth Merger” of Dwarf Galaxies

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

An international team of scientists led by David Martinez-Delgado (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Germany) has conducted research that reveals a “stealth merger” of dwarf galaxies, where an in-falling satellite galaxy is nearly undetectable by conventional means yet has a substantial influence on its host galaxy. Aaron Romanowsky (University of California Observatories in Santa Cruz) along with graduate student Jacob Arnold (UCSC) used the Subaru Telescope to obtain high-resolution images of individual stars in a dense stream of stars in the outer regions of a nearby dwarf galaxy (NGC 4449); these outlying stars are the remains of an even smaller companion galaxy in the process of merging with its host (Figure 1). NGC 4449, the host galaxy, is the smallest primary galaxy in which a stellar stream from an ongoing merger has been identified and studied in detail. Romanowsky commented, “I don’t think I’d ever seen a picture of a galaxy merger where you can see the individual stars. It’s really an impressive image.”

Full Story: http://subarutelescope.org/Pressrelease/2012/02/08/index.html

Saturn’s Rings and Enceladus

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credits: NASA/JPL–Caltech/Space Science Institute

Image Credits: NASA/JPL–Caltech/Space Science Institute

A crescent Enceladus appears with Saturn’s rings in this Cassini spacecraft view of the moon.

The famed jets of water ice emanating from the south polar region of the 504 km-diameter moon are faintly visible.

They appear as a small white blur below the dark pole, down and to the right of the illuminated part of the moon’s surface. The image’s contrast was enhanced to increase their visibility.

The sunlit terrain seen here is on the trailing hemisphere of Enceladus; north is up. This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ringplane. The image was taken with Cassini’s narrow-angle camera on 4 January at a distance of 291 000 km from Enceladus. Image scale is about 2 km per pixel.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/export/esaSC/SEMZ46WX7YG_index_0.html

NASA Calls for New Commercial Crew Proposals

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

As part of NASA’s ongoing efforts to foster development of a U.S. commercial crew space transportation capability to and from low Earth orbit and the International Space Station, NASA has issued a call for industry to submit proposals for the Commercial Crew Integrated Capability Initiative.

It’s expected that proposals will lead to Space Act Agreements that will help NASA and the U.S. achieve safe, reliable, and cost effective human access to space. NASA expects to make multiple awards this summer, with values ranging from $300 – $500 million.

To provide industry a better understanding of this initiative so that they may provide more comprehensive proposals, NASA plans a pre-proposal conference on Feb. 14, at the Courtyard Marriott in Cocoa Beach, Fla. Proposals are due March 23.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/feb/HQ_12-045_CCiCap.html

Mars-Bound NASA Rover Carries Coin for Camera Checkup

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

The camera at the end of the robotic arm on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has its own calibration target, a smartphone-size plaque that looks like an eye chart supplemented with color chips and an attached penny.

When Curiosity lands on Mars in August, researchers will use this calibration target to test performance of the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager, or MAHLI. MAHLI’s close-up inspections of Martian rocks and soil will show details so tiny, the calibration target includes reference lines finer than a human hair. This camera is not limited to close-ups, though. It can focus on any target from about a finger’s-width away to the horizon.

Curiosity, the rover of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, also carries four other science cameras and a dozen black-and-white engineering cameras, plus other research instruments. The spacecraft, launched Nov. 26, 2011, will deliver Curiosity to a landing site inside Mars’ Gale Crater in August to begin a two-year investigation of whether that area has ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-033

NASA Spinoff 2011 Unveils Benefits of NASA Technologies on Earth

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Spinoff 2011 publication, now available online, reveals how the space agency’s ingenuity and partnerships have saved thousands of lives, generated billions of dollars, and created thousands of American jobs.

The latest edition of Spinoff records 44 journeys of NASA’s most innovative technologies. It chronicles their origins in NASA missions and programs and their transfer to the public in the form of practical commercial products and benefits to society.

“This year’s Spinoff demonstrates once again how through productive and innovative partnerships, NASA’s aerospace research brings real returns to the American people in the form of tangible products, services and new jobs,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “For 35 years, Spinoff has been the definitive resource for those who want to learn how space exploration benefits life on Earth.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/feb/HQ12-043_NASA_Spinoff_2011.html

Astronaut Don Pettit Shares Passion for Science from Space

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA and the American Physical Society (APS) have begun a partnership to share videos from the International Space Station with students, educators and science fans around the world. NASA astronaut Don Pettit, currently on the orbiting outpost as a member of the Expedition 30 crew, will use everyday objects from Earth to demonstrate physics through “Science off the Sphere” presentations.

Space fans know Pettit from his previous science demonstrations performed in space, such as the “Zero G Coffee Cup” from the space shuttle’s STS-126 mission in 2008. This time he has added a physics challenge for viewers. Some episodes of “Science off the Sphere” will end with a question. APS will review the responses and identify a winner. Pettit will announce the winner from aboard the station.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/feb/HQ_12-043_Astronaut_Pettit_Shares_Passion_for_Science.html

Big Bend Designated as International Dark Sky Park

February 8, 2012 2 comments

The stars at night are big and bright in Texas’ Big Bend National Park. The park was recently designated as an International Dark Sky Park, one of now just ten in the world. Big Bend National Park (BBNP) came in at the ‘Gold Tier’ level meaning that the skies above the park are free from all but the most minor impacts of light pollution.

Measurements by the National Park Service Night Sky Team show that the Big Bend Region offers the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 states making it a worthy jewel to the worldwide crown of dark sky oases recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

With an area of over 801,000 acres, Big Bend National Park is also the largest International Dark Sky Park to date.

Full Story (PDF): http://docs.darksky.org/PR/BigBendNPPR.pdf

 

Mars Express Radar Gives Strong Evidence for Former Ocean

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credits: ESA, C. Carreau

Image Credits: ESA, C. Carreau

ESA’s Mars Express has returned strong evidence for an ocean once covering part of Mars. Using radar, it has detected sediments reminiscent of an ocean floor within the boundaries of previously identified, ancient shorelines on Mars.

The MARSIS radar was deployed in 2005 and has been collecting data ever since. Jérémie Mouginot, Institut de Planétologie et d’Astrophysique de Grenoble (IPAG) and the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues have analysed more than two years of data and found that the northern plains are covered in low-density material.

“We interpret these as sedimentary deposits, maybe ice-rich,” says Dr Mouginot. “It is a strong new indication that there was once an ocean here.”

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/export/esaSC/SEMVINVX7YG_index_0.html

VLT Takes Most Detailed IR Image of Carina Nebula

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: ESO/T. Preibisch

Image Credit: ESO/T. Preibisch

ESO’s Very Large Telescope has delivered the most detailed infrared image of the Carina Nebula stellar nursery taken so far. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. This is one of the most dramatic images ever created by the VLT.

Deep in the heart of the southern Milky Way lies a stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula. It is about 7500 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Carina (The Keel) [1]. This cloud of glowing gas and dust is one of the closest incubators of very massive stars to the Earth and includes several of the brightest and heaviest stars known. One of them, the mysterious and highly unstable star Eta Carinae, was the second brightest star in the entire night sky for several years in the 1840s and is likely to explode as a supernova in the near future, by astronomical standards. The Carina Nebula is a perfect laboratory for astronomers studying the violent births and early lives of stars.

Although this nebula is spectacular in normal visible-light pictures (eso0905), many of its secrets are hidden behind thick clouds of dust. To penetrate this veil a European team of astronomers, led by Thomas Preibisch (University Observatory, Munich, Germany) has used the power of ESO’s Very Large Telescope along with an infrared-sensitive camera called HAWK-I

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1208/

Classic Hubble Portrait of Barred Spiral Galaxy

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA & ESA

Image credit: NASA & ESA

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has taken a picture of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073, which is found in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster). Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a similar barred spiral, and the study of galaxies such as NGC 1073 helps astronomers learn more about our celestial home.

Most spiral galaxies in the Universe have a bar structure in their centre, and Hubble’s image of NGC 1073 offers a particularly clear view of one of these. Galaxies’ star-filled bars are thought to emerge as gravitational density waves funnel gas toward the galactic centre, supplying the material to create new stars. The transport of gas can also feed the supermassive black holes that lurk in the centres of almost every galaxy.

Some astronomers have suggested that the formation of a central bar-like structure might signal a spiral galaxy’s passage from intense star-formation into adulthood, as the bars turn up more often in galaxies full of older, red stars than younger, blue stars. This storyline would also account for the observation that in the early Universe, only around a fifth of spiral galaxies contained bars, while more than two thirds do in the more modern cosmos.

Full Story: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1202/