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Topic: Planets

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope used to determine distance between Young Stars and their Protoplanetary Disks

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Imagine you want to measure the size of a room, but it’s completely dark. If you shout, you can tell if the space you’re in is relatively big or small, depending on how long it takes to hear the echo after it bounces off the wall.

Astronomers use this principle to study objects so distant they can’t be seen as more than points. In particular, researchers are interested in calculating how far young stars are from the inner edge of their surrounding protoplanetary disks. These disks of gas and dust are sites where planets form over the course of millions of years.

This illustration shows a star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration shows a star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer discovers free floating Planets in our Milky Way Galaxy

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – In 2011, astronomers announced that our galaxy is likely teeming with free-floating planets. In fact, these lonely worlds, which sit quietly in the darkness of space without any companion planets or even a host sun, might outnumber stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

The surprising discovery begged the question: Where did these objects come from? Are they planets that were ejected from solar systems, or are they actually light-weight stars called brown dwarfs that formed alone in space like stars?

A new study using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, WISE, and the Two Micron All Sky Survey, or 2MASS, provides new clues in this mystery of galactic proportions.

A young, free-floating world sits alone in space in this illustration. The object, called WISEA J114724.10?204021.3, is thought to be an exceptionally low-mass "brown dwarf," which is a star that lacked enough mass to burn nuclear fuel and glow like a star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A young, free-floating world sits alone in space in this illustration. The object, called WISEA J114724.10?204021.3, is thought to be an exceptionally low-mass “brown dwarf,” which is a star that lacked enough mass to burn nuclear fuel and glow like a star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory studies Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS

 

Written by Molly Porter
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationHuntsville, AL – For millennia, people on Earth have watched comets in the sky. Many ancient cultures saw comets as the harbingers of doom, but today scientists know that comets are really frozen balls of dust, gas, and rock and may have been responsible for delivering water to planets like Earth billions of years ago.

While comets are inherently interesting, they can also provide information about other aspects of our Solar System. More specifically, comets can be used as laboratories to study the behavior of the stream of particles flowing away from the Sun, known as the solar wind.

Recently, astronomers announced the results of a study using data collected with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of two comets — C/2012 S1 (also known as “Comet ISON”) and C/2011 S4 (“Comet PanSTARRS”).

The Comets ISON and PanSTARRS in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ . of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach ( damianpeach.com ))

The Comets ISON and PanSTARRS in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ . of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach ( damianpeach.com ))

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope given new mission to discover exoplanets in the center of Milky Way Galaxy

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers have made great strides in discovering planets outside of our solar system, termed “exoplanets.” In fact, over the past 20 years more than 5,000 exoplanets have been detected beyond the eight planets that call our solar system home.

The majority of these exoplanets have been found snuggled up to their host star completing an orbit (or year) in hours, days or weeks, while some have been found orbiting as far as Earth is to the sun, taking one Earth year to circle.

As an exoplanet passes in front of a more distant star, its gravity causes the trajectory of the starlight to bend, and in some cases, results in a brief brightening of the background star as seen by a telescope. The artistic animation illustrates this effect. This phenomenon of gravitational microlensing enables scientists to search for exoplanets that are too distant and dark to detect any other way. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

As an exoplanet passes in front of a more distant star, its gravity causes the trajectory of the starlight to bend, and in some cases, results in a brief brightening of the background star as seen by a telescope. The artistic animation illustrates this effect. This phenomenon of gravitational microlensing enables scientists to search for exoplanets that are too distant and dark to detect any other way. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

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NASA’s NEOWISE spacecraft continues to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission has released its second year of survey data. The spacecraft has now characterized a total of 439 NEOs since the mission was re-started in December 2013. Of these, 72 were new discoveries.

Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of the giant planets in our solar system into orbits that allow them to enter Earth’s neighborhood. Eight of the objects discovered in the past year have been classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs), based on their size and how closely their orbits approach Earth.

This graphic shows asteroids and comets observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/JHU)

This graphic shows asteroids and comets observed by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/JHU)

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NASA Spacecrafts orbiting Mars make revealing Gravity Map of the Red Planet

 

Written by William Steigerwald / Nancy Neal Jones

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – A new map of Mars’ gravity made with three NASA spacecraft is the most detailed to date, providing a revealing glimpse into the hidden interior of the Red Planet.

“Gravity maps allow us to see inside a planet, just as a doctor uses an X-ray to see inside a patient,” said Antonio Genova of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge. “The new gravity map will be helpful for future Mars exploration, because better knowledge of the planet’s gravity anomalies helps mission controllers insert spacecraft more precisely into orbit about Mars”

This Mars map shows variations in thickness of the planet's crust, the relatively thin surface layer overlying the mantle of the planet. It shows unprecedented detail derived from new mapping of variations in Mars' gravitational pull on orbiters. (NASA/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio)

This Mars map shows variations in thickness of the planet’s crust, the relatively thin surface layer overlying the mantle of the planet. It shows unprecedented detail derived from new mapping of variations in Mars’ gravitational pull on orbiters. (NASA/GSFC/Scientific Visualization Studio)

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NASA’s Kepler space telescope continues new discoveries after major malfunction

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The engineers huddled around a telemetry screen, and the mood was tense. They were watching streams of data from a crippled spacecraft more than 50 million miles away — so far that even at the speed of light, it took nearly nine minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.

It was late August 2013, and the group of about five employees at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, was waiting for NASA’s Kepler space telescope to reveal whether it would live or die. A severe malfunction had robbed the planet-hunting Kepler of its ability to stay pointed at a target without drifting off course.

In this artist's conception, a tiny rocky object vaporizes as it orbits a white dwarf star. Astronomers have detected the first planetary object transiting a white dwarf using data from the K2 mission. Slowly the object will disintegrate, leaving a dusting of metals on the surface of the star. (CfA/Mark A. Garlick)

In this artist’s conception, a tiny rocky object vaporizes as it orbits a white dwarf star. Astronomers have detected the first planetary object transiting a white dwarf using data from the K2 mission. Slowly the object will disintegrate, leaving a dusting of metals on the surface of the star. (CfA/Mark A. Garlick)

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NASA’s InSight Spacecraft set to launch in May 2018 for Mars

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars is targeting a new launch window that begins May 5th, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for November 26th, 2018.

InSight’s primary goal is to help us understand how rocky planets — including Earth — formed and evolved. The spacecraft had been on track to launch this month until a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument prompted NASA in December to suspend preparations for launch.

This artist's concept from August 2015 depicts NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept from August 2015 depicts NASA’s InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) begins fourth year of studying objects in Space

 

Written by Nicholas A. Veronico
SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – NASA’s “flying” telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aboard a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner, began its fourth series of science flights on February 3rd, 2016.

This operational period, known as “Cycle 4,” is a one-year-long observing period in which SOFIA is scheduled for 106 flights between now and the end of January 2017.

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) takes off from Palmdale, California at sunset. SOFIA is a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR); NASA and DLR have collaborated on a range of activities and signed agreements on June 16 to work together to reduce aircraft noise and advance research into rotorcraft. (NASA / Greg Perryman)

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) takes off from Palmdale, California at sunset. SOFIA is a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR); NASA and DLR have collaborated on a range of activities and signed agreements on June 16 to work together to reduce aircraft noise and advance research into rotorcraft. (NASA / Greg Perryman)

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NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) to help unravel Secrets of the Universe

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – After years of preparatory studies, NASA is formally starting an astrophysics mission designed to help unlock the secrets of the universe — the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

With a view 100 times bigger than that of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, WFIRST will aid researchers in their efforts to unravel the secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and explore the evolution of the cosmos. It also will discover new worlds outside our solar system and advance the search for worlds that could be suitable for life.

WFIRST, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, is shown here in an artist's rendering. It will carry a Wide Field Instrument to provide astronomers with Hubble-quality images covering large swaths of the sky, and enabling several studies of cosmic evolution. (NASA)

WFIRST, the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, is shown here in an artist’s rendering. It will carry a Wide Field Instrument to provide astronomers with Hubble-quality images covering large swaths of the sky, and enabling several studies of cosmic evolution. (NASA)

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