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NASA Cassini Spacecraft Provides New View Of Saturn And Earth

November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

NASA has released a natural-color image of Saturn from space, the first in which Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus and Mars, all are visible.

The new panoramic mosaic of the majestic Saturn system taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which shows the view as it would be seen by human eyes, was unveiled at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday.

Cassini’s imaging team processed 141 wide-angle images to create the panorama. The image sweeps 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across Saturn and its inner ring system, including all of Saturn’s rings out to the E ring, which is Saturn’s second outermost ring. For perspective, the distance between Earth and our moon would fit comfortably inside the span of the E ring.

“In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini’s imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. “And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot.”

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Stanford Physicists Monitoring Huge Solar Event

November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Every 11 years, the sun undergoes a complete makeover when the polarity of its magnetic field – its magnetic north and south – flips. The effects of this large-scale event ripple throughout the solar system.

Although the exact internal mechanism that drives the shift is not entirely understood, researchers at Stanford’s Wilcox Solar Observatory have monitored the sun’s magnetic field on a daily basis since 1975 and can identify the process as it occurs on the sun’s surface. This will be the fourth shift the observatory has monitored.

New polarity builds up throughout the 11-year solar cycle as sunspots – areas of intense magnetic activity – appear as dark blotches near the equator of the sun’s surface. Over the course of a month, a sunspot spreads out, and gradually that magnetic field migrates from the equator to one of the sun’s poles.

As the polarity moves toward the pole, it erodes the existing, opposite polarity, said Todd Hoeksema, a solar physicist at Stanford since 1978 and director of the Wilcox Solar Observatory. The magnetic field gradually reduces toward zero, and then rebounds with the opposite polarity.

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NASA’s GRAIL Mission Puts A New Face On The Moon

November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Scientists using data from the lunar-orbiting twins of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission are gaining new insight into how the face of the moon received its rugged good looks. A report on the asymmetric distribution of lunar impact basins is published in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

“Since time immemorial, humanity has looked up and wondered what made the man in the moon,” said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “We know the dark splotches are large, lava-filled, impact basins that were created by asteroid impacts about four billion years ago. GRAIL data indicate that both the near side and the far side of the moon were bombarded by similarly large impactors, but they reacted to them much differently.”

Understanding lunar impact basins has been hampered by the simple fact that there is a lack of consensus on their size. Most of the largest impact basins on the near side of the moon (the moon’s face) have been filled with lava flows, which hide important clues about the shape of the land that could be used for determining their dimensions. The GRAIL mission measured the internal structure of the moon in unprecedented detail for nine months in 2012. With the data, GRAIL scientists have redefined the sizes of massive impact basins on the moon.

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New Type Of Black-Hole Quasar Discovered

November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Like our Milky Way, every known large galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole, some of which are surrounded by a super-bright disk of hot gas called a quasar — but now a research team that includes Penn State astronomers has discovered a surprising new class of quasars in distant galaxies that even the most current theories had not predicted.

“The gas in this new type of quasar is moving in two directions: some is moving toward Earth but most of it is moving at high velocities away from us, possibly toward the quasar’s black hole,” said study co-author Niel Brandt, Distinguished Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University. “Just as you can use the Doppler shift for sound to tell if an airplane is moving away from you or toward you, we used the Doppler shift for light to tell whether the gas in these quasars is moving away from Earth or toward these distant black holes, which have a mass from millions to billions of times that of the Sun.” Brandt explained. Matter around these black holes forms a quasar disc that is bigger than Earth’s orbit around the Sun and hotter than the surface of the Sun. These quasars generate enough light to be seen across the observable universe.

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