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NASA Research Reveals Europa’s Mystery Dark Material Could Be Sea Salt


 Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA laboratory experiments suggest the dark material coating some geological features of Jupiter’s moon Europa is likely sea salt from a subsurface ocean, discolored by exposure to radiation. The presence of sea salt on Europa’s surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor — an important consideration in determining whether the icy moon could support life.

The study is accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and is available online.

“We have many questions about Europa, the most important and most difficult to answer being is there life? Research like this is important because it focuses on questions we can definitively answer, like whether or not Europa is inhabitable,” said Curt Niebur, Outer Planets Program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Once we have those answers, we can tackle the bigger question about life in the ocean beneath Europa’s ice shell.”

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Delta Cephei’s Hidden Companion


Bow shock around star Delta Cephei. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M

Bow shock around star Delta Cephei. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M

To measure distances in the universe, astronomers use cepheids, a family of variable stars whose luminosity varies with time. Their role as distance calibrators has brought them attention from researchers for more than a century. While it was thought that nearly everything was known about the prototype of cepheids, named Delta Cephei, a team of researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), the Johns Hopkins University, and the European Space Agency (ESA), have now discovered that this star has a hidden companion. They have published an article about the discovery in The Astrophysical Journal.

Delta Cephei, prototype of the cepheids, which has given its name to all similar variable stars, was discovered 230 years ago by the English astronomer John Goodricke. Since the early 20th century, scientists have been interested in measuring cosmic distances using a relationship between these stars’ periods of pulsation and their luminosities (intrinsic brightness), discovered by the American Henrietta Leavitt. Today, researchers from the Astronomical Observatory of UNIGE, Johns Hopkins University and the ESA show that Delta Cephei is, in fact, a double star, made up of a cepheid-type variable star and a companion that had thus far escaped detection, probably because of its low luminosity. Yet, pairs of stars, called binaries, complicate the calibration of the period-luminosity relationship, and can bias the measurement of distances. This is a surprising discovery, since Delta Cephei is one of the most studied stars, of which scientists thought they knew almost everything.

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Ceres Animation Showcases Bright Spots


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The mysterious bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres are better resolved in a new sequence of images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on May 3 and 4, 2015. The images were taken from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers). The animation is available at:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=pia19547

In this closest-yet view, the brightest spots within a crater in the northern hemisphere are revealed to be composed of many smaller spots. However, their exact nature remains unknown.

“Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” said Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Hubble Finds Massive Halo Around The Andromeda Galaxy


University of Notre Dame astrophysicist Nicolas Lehner has led a team of scientists who have used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to identify an immense halo of gas surrounding the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to Earth. The halo stretches about a million light-years from Andromeda, halfway to the Milky Way. The discovery will tell astronomers more about the evolution and structure of giant spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way and Andromeda.

“Halos are the gaseous atmospheres of galaxies,” said Lehner, the lead investigator. “The properties of these gaseous halos control the rate at which stars form in galaxies.” The gargantuan halo is estimated to contain at least as much mass in its diffuse gas as half of the stars in the Andromeda Galaxy.

The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as Messier 31 or M31, is the most massive galaxy in the Local Group of galaxies that also includes the Milky Way and about 45 other known galaxies. M31 contains one trillion stars, about double the number of stars in the Milky Way. It is estimated to be about 25 percent more luminous than the Milky Way and lies 2.5 million light-years away.

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Lopsided Star Explosion Holds The Key To Other Supernova Mysteries


Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

New observations of a recently exploded star are confirming supercomputer model predictions made at Caltech that the deaths of stellar giants are lopsided affairs in which debris and the stars’ cores hurtle off in opposite directions.

While observing the remnant of supernova (SN) 1987A, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, recently detected the unique energy signature of titanium-44, a radioactive version of titanium that is produced during the early stages of a particular type of star explosion, called a Type II, or core-collapse supernova.

“Titanium-44 is unstable. When it decays and turns into calcium, it emits gamma rays at a specific energy, which NuSTAR can detect,” says Fiona Harrison, the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics at Caltech, and NuSTAR’s principal investigator.

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NASA’s NuSTAR Captures Possible ‘Screams’ From Zombie Stars


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Peering into the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) has spotted a mysterious glow of high-energy X-rays that, according to scientists, could be the “howls” of dead stars as they feed on stellar companions.

“We can see a completely new component of the center of our galaxy with NuSTAR’s images,” said Kerstin Perez of Columbia University in New York, lead author of a new report on the findings in the journal Nature. “We can’t definitively explain the X-ray signal yet — it’s a mystery. More work needs to be done.”

NuSTAR, launched into space in 2012, is the first telescope capable of capturing crisp images of this frenzied region in high-energy X-rays. The new images show a region around the supermassive black hole about 40 light-years across. Astronomers were surprised by the pictures, which reveal an unexpected haze of high-energy X-rays dominating the usual stellar activity.

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The Pillars Of Creation Revealed In 3D


Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Using the MUSE instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have produced the first complete three-dimensional view of the famous Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, Messier 16. The new observations demonstrate how the different dusty pillars of this iconic object are distributed in space and reveal many new details — including a previously unseen jet from a young star. Intense radiation and stellar winds from the cluster’s brilliant stars have sculpted the dusty Pillars of Creation over time and should fully evaporate them in about three million years.

The original NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of the famous Pillars of Creation was taken two decades ago and immediately became one of its most famous and evocative pictures. Since then, these billowing clouds, which extend over a few light-years, have awed scientists and the public alike.

The jutting structures, along with the nearby star cluster, NGC 6611, are parts of a star formation region called the Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16 or M16. The nebula and its associated objects are located about 7000 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent).

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Dawn Glimpses Ceres’ North Pole


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

After spending more than a month in orbit on the dark side of dwarf planet Ceres, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has captured several views of the sunlit north pole of this intriguing world. These images were taken on April 10 from a distance of 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers), and they represent the highest-resolution views of Ceres to date.

Subsequent images of Ceres will show surface features at increasingly better resolution.

Dawn arrived at Ceres on March 6, marking the first time a spacecraft has orbited a dwarf planet. Previously, the spacecraft explored giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012. Dawn has the distinction of being the only spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial targets.

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Widespread Winds And Feedback From Supermassive Black Holes

February 20, 2015 1 comment

Astronomers have discovered that the winds from supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies blow outward in all directions, a suspected phenomenon that had been difficult to prove before now.

These new findings, by an international team of astrophysicists, were made possible by simultaneous observations of the luminous quasar PDS 456 with ESA’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s NuSTAR X-ray telescopes, and support the picture of black holes having a significant impact on star formation in their host galaxies.

At the core of every massive galaxy in the Universe, including our own Milky Way, sits a supermassive black hole, with a mass some millions or billions of times that of our Sun. Some of these black holes are active, meaning that their intense gravitational pull causes matter to spiral inward, and at the same time part of that matter is cast away through powerful winds.

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NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape To Furious Black Hole Winds

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions — a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.

This discovery has given astronomers their first opportunity to measure the strength of these ultra-fast winds and prove they are powerful enough to inhibit the host galaxy’s ability to make new stars

“We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies,” said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Harrison is the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a co-author on a new paper about these results appearing in the journal Science. “Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are.”

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