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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope data shows Super Earth 55 Cancri e could have an Atmosphere similar to Earth’s

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA –  Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth 55 Cancri e was thought to have lava flows on its surface. The planet is so close to its star, the same side of the planet always faces the star, such that the planet has permanent day and night sides.

Based on a 2016 study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists speculated that lava would flow freely in lakes on the starlit side and become hardened on the face of perpetual darkness. The lava on the dayside would reflect radiation from the star, contributing to the overall observed temperature of the planet.

The super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, depicted with its star in this artist's concept, likely has an atmosphere thicker than Earth's but with ingredients that could be similar to those of Earth's atmosphere. (NASA)

The super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, depicted with its star in this artist’s concept, likely has an atmosphere thicker than Earth’s but with ingredients that could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere. (NASA)

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NASA study shows Boyajian Star’s dimness could be caused by Dust

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – One of the most mysterious stellar objects may be revealing some of its secrets at last.

Called KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star, or Tabby’s Star, the object has experienced unusual dips in brightness — NASA’s Kepler space telescope even observed dimming of up to 20 percent over a matter of days. In addition, the star has had much subtler but longer-term enigmatic dimming trends, with one continuing today. None of this behavior is expected for normal stars slightly more massive than the Sun.

This illustration depicts a hypothetical uneven ring of dust orbiting KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian's Star or Tabby's Star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration depicts a hypothetical uneven ring of dust orbiting KIC 8462852, also known as Boyajian’s Star or Tabby’s Star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope helps produce new Weather Model for Brown Dwarfs

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Dim objects called brown dwarfs, less massive than the Sun but more massive than Jupiter, have powerful winds and clouds — specifically, hot patchy clouds made of iron droplets and silicate dust. Scientists recently realized these giant clouds can move and thicken or thin surprisingly rapidly, in less than an Earth day, but did not understand why.

Now, researchers have a new model for explaining how clouds move and change shape in brown dwarfs, using insights from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Giant waves cause large-scale movement of particles in brown dwarfs’ atmospheres, changing the thickness of the silicate clouds, researchers report in the journal Science.

This artist's concept shows a brown dwarf with bands of clouds, thought to resemble those seen at Neptune and the other outer planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows a brown dwarf with bands of clouds, thought to resemble those seen at Neptune and the other outer planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA picks 10 Studies for future CubeSat missions

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA has selected 10 studies under the Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies (PSDS3) program to develop mission concepts using small satellites to investigate Venus, Earth’s moon, asteroids, Mars and the outer planets.

For these studies, small satellites are defined as less than 180 kilograms in mass (about 400 pounds). CubeSats are built to standard specifications of 1 unit (U), which is equal to about 4x4x4 inches (10x10x10 centimeters). They often are launched into orbit as auxiliary payloads, significantly reducing costs.

A global view of Venus created from Magellan data and a computer-simulated globe. A JPL-led mission concept study was recently selected to study Venus using a Cubesat. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A global view of Venus created from Magellan data and a computer-simulated globe. A JPL-led mission concept study was recently selected to study Venus using a Cubesat. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope completes Frontier Fields project observations

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – In the ongoing hunt for the universe’s earliest galaxies, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has wrapped up its observations for the Frontier Fields project. This ambitious project has combined the power of all three of NASA’s Great Observatories — Spitzer, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory — to delve as far back in time and space as current technology can allow.

Even with today’s best telescopes, it is difficult to gather enough light from the very first galaxies, located more than 13 billion light years away, to learn much about them beyond their approximate distance.

This image of galaxy cluster Abell 2744, also called Pandora's Cluster, was taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The cluster is also being studied by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory in a collaboration called the Frontier Fields project. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image of galaxy cluster Abell 2744, also called Pandora’s Cluster, was taken by the Spitzer Space Telescope. The cluster is also being studied by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory in a collaboration called the Frontier Fields project. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA Astronomers puzzle over age of distant Star

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – For years, astronomers have puzzled over a massive star lodged deep in the Milky Way that shows conflicting signs of being extremely old and extremely young.

Researchers initially classified the star as elderly, perhaps a red supergiant. But a new study by a NASA-led team of researchers suggests that the object, labeled IRAS 19312+1950, might be something quite different — a protostar, a star still in the making.

“Astronomers recognized this object as noteworthy around the year 2000 and have been trying ever since to decide how far along its development is,” said Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He is the lead author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal describing the team’s findings, from observations made using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory.

An age-defying star called IRAS 19312+1950 exhibits features characteristic of a very young star and a very old star. It is the bright red star at the center of this image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An age-defying star called IRAS 19312+1950 exhibits features characteristic of a very young star and a very old star. It is the bright red star at the center of this image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to begin new mission phase in October

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Celebrating the spacecraft’s ability to push the boundaries of space science and technology, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope team has dubbed the next phase of its journey “Beyond.”

“Spitzer is operating well beyond the limits that were set for it at the beginning of the mission,” said Michael Werner, the project scientist for Spitzer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We never envisioned operating 13 years after launch, and scientists are making discoveries in areas of science we never imagined exploring with the spacecraft.”

This artist's concept shows NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer begins its "Beyond" mission phase on Oct. 1, 2016. The spacecraft is depicted in the orientation it assumes to establish communications with ground stations. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer begins its “Beyond” mission phase on Oct. 1, 2016. The spacecraft is depicted in the orientation it assumes to establish communications with ground stations. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope helps create Temperature Map of a Super Earth

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have led to the first temperature map of a super-Earth planet — a rocky planet nearly two times as big as ours. The map reveals extreme temperature swings from one side of the planet to the other, and hints that a possible reason for this is the presence of lava flows.

“Our view of this planet keeps evolving,” said Brice Olivier Demory of the University of Cambridge, England, lead author of a new report appearing in the March 30 issue of the journal Nature. “The latest findings tell us the planet has hot nights and significantly hotter days. This indicates the planet inefficiently transports heat around the planet. We propose this could be explained by an atmosphere that would exist only on the day side of the planet, or by lava flows at the planet surface.”

This illustration shows one possible scenario for the hot, rocky exoplanet called 55 Cancri e, which is nearly two times as wide as Earth. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration shows one possible scenario for the hot, rocky exoplanet called 55 Cancri e, which is nearly two times as wide as Earth. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA discovers Star orbited by Comets

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A star called KIC 8462852 has been in the news recently for unexplained and bizarre behavior. NASA’s Kepler mission had monitored the star for four years, observing two unusual incidents, in 2011 and 2013, when the star’s light dimmed in dramatic, never-before-seen ways. Something had passed in front of the star and blocked its light, but what?

Scientists first reported the findings in September, suggesting a family of comets as the most likely explanation. Other cited causes included fragments of planets and asteroids.

This illustration shows a star behind a shattered comet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration shows a star behind a shattered comet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes discover Galaxy filled with new Stars

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers have discovered a rare beast of a galaxy cluster whose heart is bursting with new stars. The unexpected find, made with the help of NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, suggests that behemoth galaxies at the cores of these massive clusters can grow significantly by feeding off gas stolen from another galaxy.

“Usually, the stars at the centers of galaxy clusters are old and dead, essentially fossils,” said Tracy Webb of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, lead author of a new paper on the findings accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “But we think the giant galaxy at the center of this cluster is furiously making new stars after merging with a smaller galaxy.”

A massive cluster of galaxies, called SpARCS1049+56, can be seen in this multi-wavelength view from NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. (NASA/STScI/ESA/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

A massive cluster of galaxies, called SpARCS1049+56, can be seen in this multi-wavelength view from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. (NASA/STScI/ESA/JPL-Caltech/McGill)

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