Hubble Observes One-of-a-Kind Star Nicknamed ‘Nasty’

First discovered several decades ago, Nasty 1 was identified as a Wolf-Rayet star, a rapidly evolving star that is much more massive than our sun. The star loses its hydrogen-filled outer layers quickly, exposing its super-hot and extremely bright helium-burning core. But Nasty 1 doesn’t look like a typical Wolf-Rayet star. The astronomers using Hubble had expected to see twin lobes of gas flowing from opposite sides of the star, perhaps similar to those emanating from the massive star Eta Carinae, which is a Wolf-Rayet candidate. Instead, Hubble revealed a pancake-shaped disk of gas encircling the star. The vast disk … Continue exploring

NASA’s New Horizons Spots Pluto’s Faintest Known Moons

It’s a complete Pluto family photo – or at least a photo of the family members we’ve already met. For the first time, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has photographed Kerberos and Styx – the smallest and faintest of Pluto’s five known moons. Following the spacecraft’s detection of Pluto’s giant moon Charon in July 2013, and Pluto’s smaller moons Hydra and Nix in July 2014 and January 2015, respectively, New Horizons is now within sight of all the known members of the Pluto system. “New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery,” said mission science team member John Spencer, of … Continue exploring

Astronomers Set a New Galaxy Distance Record

An international team of astronomers, led by Yale University and the University of California scientists, pushed back the cosmic frontier of galaxy exploration to a time when the universe was only 5 percent of its present age of 13.8 billion years. The team discovered an exceptionally luminous galaxy more than 13 billion years in the past and determined its exact distance from Earth using the combined data from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, and the Keck I 10-meter telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. These observations confirmed it to be the most distant galaxy currently measured, … Continue exploring

Hubble Spots the Layers of NGC 3923

The glowing object in this Hubble Space Telescope image is an elliptical galaxy called NGC 3923. It is located over 90 million light-years away in the constellation of Hydra. NGC 3923 is an example of a shell galaxy where the stars in its halo are arranged in layers. Finding concentric shells of stars enclosing a galaxy is quite common and is observed in many elliptical galaxies. In fact, every tenth elliptical galaxy exhibits this onion-like structure, which has never been observed in spiral galaxies. The shell-like structures are thought to develop as a consequence of galactic cannibalism, when a larger … Continue exploring

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Making Tracks and Observation

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is continuing science observations while on the move this month. On April 16, the mission passed 10 kilometers (6.214 miles) of total driving since its 2012 landing, including about a fifth of a mile (310 meters) so far this month. The rover is trekking through a series of shallow valleys between the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop, which it investigated for six months, and the next science destination, “Logan Pass,” which is still about 200 yards, or meters, ahead toward the southwest. We’ve not only been making tracks, but also making important observations to characterize rocks we’re passing, … Continue exploring

Dawn’s Ceres Color Map Reveals Surface Diversity

A new color map of dwarf planet Ceres, which NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting since March, reveals the diversity of the surface of this planetary body. Differences in morphology and color across the surface suggest Ceres was once an active body, Dawn researchers said today at the 2015 General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna. “This dwarf planet was not just an inert rock throughout its history. It was active, with processes that resulted in different materials in different regions. We are beginning to capture that diversity in our color images,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for … Continue exploring

NASA’s New Horizons Detects Surface Features, Possible Polar Cap on Pluto

For the first time, images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft are revealing bright and dark regions on the surface of faraway Pluto – the primary target of the New Horizons close flyby in mid-July. The images were captured in early to mid-April from within 70 million miles (113 million kilometers), using the telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera on New Horizons. A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed images beamed back to Earth. New Horizons scientists interpreted the data to reveal the dwarf planet has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area … Continue exploring

NASA Selects Prof. Paris for the Search for Habitable Planets Expedition 2015

The Mars Space Flight Facility, School of Earth and Space Exploration has selected Professor Antonio Paris to participate in the 2015 Search for Habitable Planets Environment Expedition. The week-long field trip, held in Arizona, will center on habitable planets beyond Earth, astrobiology, and planetary geology. The NASA team will conduct field research at the Grand Canyon, Meteor Crater, Sunset Crater, Lowell Observatory, and rover analog field sites. The expedition will be held from June 21-27, 2015. Background: Antonio Paris is a Professor of Astronomy at St. Petersburg College and the Director of Planetarium and Space Programs at the Museum of Science … Continue exploring

NASA Completes MESSENGER Mission with Expected Impact on Mercury’s Surface

A NASA planetary exploration mission came to a planned, but nonetheless dramatic, end Thursday when it slammed into Mercury’s surface at about 8,750 mph and created a new crater on the planet’s surface. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, have confirmed NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury, as anticipated, at 3:26 p.m. EDT. Mission control confirmed end of operations just a few minutes later, at 3:40 p.m., when no signal was detected by NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) station in Goldstone, California, at … Continue exploring

NASA’s Curiosity Eyes Prominent Mineral Veins on Mars

Two-tone mineral veins at a site NASA’s Curiosity rover has reached by climbing a layered Martian mountain offer clues about multiple episodes of fluid movement. These episodes occurred later than the wet environmental conditions that formed lake-bed deposits the rover examined at the mountain’s base. Curiosity has analyzed rock samples drilled from three targets lower on the mountain in the past seven months. It found a different mineral composition at each, including a silica mineral named cristobalite in the most recent sample. These differences, together with the prominent veins seen in images taken a little farther uphill, illustrate how the … Continue exploring

NASA Spacecraft Achieves Unprecedented Success Studying Mercury

fter extraordinary science findings and technological innovations, a NASA spacecraft launched in 2004 to study Mercury will impact the planet’s surface, most likely on April 30, after it runs out of propellant. NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft will impact the planet at more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second) on the side of the planet facing away from Earth. Due to the expected location, engineers will be unable to view in real time the exact location of impact. On Tuesday, mission operators in mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics … Continue exploring

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Making Tracks and Observations

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is continuing science observations while on the move this month. On April 16, the mission passed 10 kilometers (6.214 miles) of total driving since its 2012 landing, including about a fifth of a mile (310 meters) so far this month. The rover is trekking through a series of shallow valleys between the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop, which it investigated for six months, and the next science destination, “Logan Pass,” which is still about 200 yards, or meters, ahead toward the southwest. “We’ve not only been making tracks, but also making important observations to characterize rocks we’re passing, … Continue exploring

NASA to Celebrate MESSENGER Mission Prior to Surface Impact of Mercury

NASA will hold a media and public event at 1 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 16, to share scientific findings and technical accomplishments of the agency’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft. After more than 10 years in space, the highly successful mission will come to an end when it is expected to collide into Mercury at a speed of more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 km/sec) near the end of this month. The event will take place in the NASA Headquarters’ James E. Webb Auditorium, 300 E Street, S.W., Washington, and will be carried live … Continue exploring

Curiosity’s data leads scientists to find evidence of liquid water on Mars

Martian weather and soil conditions that NASA’s Curiosity rover has measured, together with a type of salt found in Martian soil, could put liquid brine in the soil at night. Perchlorate identified in Martian soil by the Curiosity mission, and previously by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission, has properties of absorbing water vapor from the atmosphere and lowering the freezing temperature of water. This has been proposed for years as a mechanism for possible existence of transient liquid brines at higher latitudes on modern Mars, despite the Red Planet’s cold and dry conditions. New calculations were based on more than … Continue exploring

NASA’s Space Launch System to Boost Science with Secondary Payloads

When NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) launches on its first flight, it will be doing some serious multi-tasking. Not only will Exploration Mission-1 test the performance of SLS and its integration with the Orion spacecraft – the agency plans to use its massive lift capability to carry nearly a dozen nano-satellites to conduct science experiments beyond low Earth orbit. NASA’s newest rocket will launch Orion on an uncrewed test flight to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. Tucked inside the stage adapter — the ring connecting Orion to the top propulsion stage of the SLS — will be … Continue exploring

Scientists Take Aim at Four Corners Methane Mystery

Researchers from several institutions are in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest with a suite of airborne and ground-based instruments, aiming to uncover reasons for a mysterious methane “hot spot” detected from space. “With all the ground-based and airborne resources that the different groups are bringing to the region, we have the unique chance to unequivocally solve the Four Corners mystery,” said Christian Frankenberg, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who is heading NASA’s part of the effort. Other investigators are from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado; the … Continue exploring

Saturn Spacecraft Returns to the Realm of Icy Moons

A dual view of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea marks the return of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft to the realm of the planet’s icy satellites. This follows nearly two years during which the spacecraft’s orbits carried it high above the planet’s poles. Those paths limited the mission’s ability to encounter the moons, apart from regular flybys of Titan. Cassini’s orbit will remain nearly equatorial for the remainder of 2015, during which the spacecraft will have four close encounters with Titan, two with Dione and three with the geyser-moon, Enceladus. The two views of Rhea were taken about an hour-and-a-half apart on Feb. … Continue exploring

NASA’s Curiosity Eyes Prominent Mineral Veins on Mars

Two-tone mineral veins at a site NASA’s Curiosity rover has reached by climbing a layered Martian mountain offer clues about multiple episodes of fluid movement. These episodes occurred later than the wet environmental conditions that formed lake-bed deposits the rover examined at the mountain’s base. Curiosity has analyzed rock samples drilled from three targets lower on the mountain in the past seven months. It found a different mineral composition at each, including a silica mineral named cristobalite in the most recent sample. These differences, together with the prominent veins seen in images taken a little farther uphill, illustrate how the … Continue exploring

NASA’s LRO Spacecraft Finds March 17, 2013 Impact Crater

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) acquired images of the lunar surface before and after the largest recorded explosion occurred on the surface. On March 17, 2013, an object the size of a small boulder hit the surface in Mare Imbrium and exploded in a flash of light nearly 10 times as bright as anything ever recorded before. This bright flash was recorded by researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville with coordinates 20.6°N, 336.1°E. The Lunar Reconnaissance Camera (LROC) scientists were able to obtain observations before and after the impact. Comparing the actual size of the crater to … Continue exploring

NASA’s SDO Sees Two Coronal Holes

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured this solar image on March 16, 2015, which clearly shows two dark patches, known as coronal holes. The larger coronal hole of the two, near the southern pole, covers an estimated 6- to 8-percent of the total solar surface. While that may not sound significant, it is one of the largest polar holes scientists have observed in decades. The smaller coronal hole, towards the opposite pole, is long and narrow. It covers about 3.8 billion square miles on the sun – only about 0.16-percent of the solar surface. Coronal holes are lower density … Continue exploring

Rover Arm Delivers Rock Powder Sample

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its robotic arm Wednesday, March 11, to sieve and deliver a rock-powder sample to an onboard instrument. The sample was collected last month before the team temporarily suspended rover arm movement pending analysis of a short circuit. The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) analytical instrument inside the rover received the sample powder. This sample comes from a rock target called “Telegraph Peak,” the third target drilled during about six months of investigating the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop on Mount Sharp. With this delivery completed, the rover team plans to drive Curiosity away from Pahrump Hills in coming … Continue exploring

Launch Begins MMS Mission in Spectacular Fashion

Four octagonal disc-shaped spacecraft are flying in a loose formation above Earth following a brilliant, thundering launch from Florida that lit up the Cape Canaveral region for miles late Thursday night. The spacecraft make up the Magnetospheric MultiScale mission which is set to decipher interactions within magnetic fields that cause tremendous amounts of energy to be released when the fields reconnect. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V lifted the four spacecraft into orbit with the help of solid-fueled boosters that joined with the RD-180 main engine on the first stage to produce 1.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. The … Continue exploring

Spacecraft Data Suggest Saturn Moon’s Ocean May Harbor Hydrothermal Activity

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities. “These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life … Continue exploring

Planet ‘Reared’ by Four Parent Stars

  Growing up as a planet with more than one parent star has its challenges. Though the planets in our solar system circle just one star — our sun — other more distant planets, called exoplanets, can be reared in families with two or more stars. Researchers wanting to know more about the complex influences of multiple stars on planets have come up with two new case studies: a planet found to have three parents, and another with four. The discoveries were made using instruments fitted to telescopes at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego: the Robo-AO adaptive optics system, … Continue exploring

NASA’s Chandra Observatory Finds Cosmic Showers Halt Galaxy Growth

This galaxy cluster comes from a sample of over 200 that were studied to determine how giant black holes at their centers affect the growth and evolution of their host galaxy, as reported in our latest press release [link to PR.] This study revealed that an unusual form of cosmic precipitation enables a feedback loop of cooling and heating, stifling star formation in the middle of these galaxy clusters. Abell 2597, shown here, is a galaxy cluster located about one billion light years from Earth. This image contains X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), optical data from the Hubble … Continue exploring