Beauty From Chaos
Beautiful streamlined islands and narrow gorges were carved by fast-flowing water pounding through a small, plateau region near the southeastern margin of the vast Vallis Marineris canyon system.
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Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin
Inspecting the mirror segments
A Ball Aerospace optical test engineer inspects six primary mirror segments prior to cryogenic testing in the X-ray & Cryogenic Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
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Ocean Inside Saturn's Moon Enceladus
This diagram illustrates the possible interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus based on a gravity investigation by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and NASA's Deep Space Network, reported in April 2014. The gravity measurements suggest an ice outer shell and a low density, rocky core with a regional water ocean sandwiched in between at high southern latitudes.
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Hubble Celebrates Its 24th Anniversary with
an Infrared Look at a Nearby Star Factory
March 17, 2014
This graphic shows the location of the infrared image from the Hubble Space Telescope in a wider view of the region of NGC 2174. On the left is a ground-based image of the star-forming nebula in visible light by an amateur astrophotographer, with an outline showing the area of the detailed Hubble image. On the right is a small detail of a star-forming column in the nebula, made by Hubble's WFC3 infrared camera.
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NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover
Shows Dents And Holes!
March 15, 2014
Current image taken by the Curiosity Mars Rover showing damage to one of its wheels during its mission of Gale crater.
Orion Makes Testing, Integration Strides Ahead of
First Launch to Space
March 14, 2014
The Orion team continues to work toward completing the spacecraft to be ready for a launch in September-October. However, the initial timeframe for the launch of Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) has shifted from September-October to early December to support allowing more opportunities for launches this year. Completing the spacecraft according to the original schedule will allow many engineers and technicians to continue transitioning to work on the Orion spacecraft that will fly atop the agency's Space Launch System. It will also ensure that NASA's partners are fully ready for the launch of EFT-1 at the earliest opportunity on the manifest.
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Image Credit: NASA
NASA's Hubble Telescope Witnesses Asteroid's
March 6, 2014
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has recorded the never-before-seen break-up of an asteroid into as many as 10 smaller pieces.
Fragile comets, comprised of ice and dust, have been seen falling apart as they near the sun, but nothing like this has ever before been observed in the asteroid belt.
"This is a rock, and seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing," said David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles, who led the astronomical forensics investigation.
The crumbling asteroid, designated P/2013 R3, was first noticed as an unusual, fuzzy-looking object by the Catalina and Pan STARRS sky surveys on Sept. 15, 2013. A follow-up observation on October 1 with the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawaii, revealed three bodies moving together in an envelope of dust nearly the diameter of Earth.
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, D. Jewitt (UCLA)
The Flood After The Impact
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Scattered across the scene are a few dozen impact craters that cover a wide range of sizes, with the largest boasting a diameter of around 20 km.
The long and intricate canyon-like features that resemble riverbeds are the phenomenal aftermath of the same fierce impacts that created the largest craters.
When a small body such as a comet or an asteroid crashes at high speed into another object in the Solar System, the collision dramatically heats up the surface at the impact site.
In the case of the large crater seen in this image, the heat produced by such a powerful smash melted the soil – a mixture of rock, dust and also, hidden deep down, water ice – resulting in a massive overflow that flooded the surrounding environment. Before drying up, this muddy fluid carved a complex pattern of channels while making its way across the planet’s surface.
The melted rock–ice mixture also gave rise to the fluidised appearance of the debris blankets surrounding the largest crater.
Based on the lack of similar structures near the small craters in this image, scientists believe that only the most powerful impacts – those responsible for forging the largest craters – were able to dig deep enough to release part of the frozen reservoir of water lying beneath the surface.
Copyright ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)
New Horizons Heads for Pluto
In 2006, NASA dispatched an ambassador to the planetary frontier: The New Horizons spacecraft, now more than halfway between Earth and Pluto, is on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy dwarf planet and its moons in July 2015.
After 10 years and more than 3 billion miles, on a historic voyage that has already taken it over the storms and around the moons of Jupiter, New Horizons will shed light on new kinds of worlds on the outskirts of the solar system.
Pluto gets closer by the day, and New Horizons continues into rare territory, as just the fifth probe to traverse interplanetary space so far from the sun. And the first ever to travel to Pluto.
credit: NASA Kennedy
Martian Rock Harrison in Color, Showing Crystals (Annotated)
Curiosity inspected the rock's appearance and composition on the mission's 514th sol, or Martian day (Jan. 15, 2014).
Harrison bears elongated, light-colored crystals in a darker matrix. Some of the crystals are about 0.4 inch (1 centimeter) in size.
This mineral association is typical of basaltic igneous rocks. The texture provides compelling evidence for igneous rocks at Gale Crater, where Curiosity is on a traverse to reach the lower slopes of Mount Sharp near the center of the crater.
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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS
Vapour Found Around Dwarf Planet Ceres
January 22, 2014
ESA’s Herschel space observatory has discovered water vapour around Ceres, the first unambiguous detection of water vapour around an object in the asteroid belt.
With a diameter of 950 km, Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. But unlike most asteroids, Ceres is almost spherical and belongs to the category of ‘dwarf planets’, which also includes Pluto.
It is thought that Ceres is layered, perhaps with a rocky core and an icy outer mantle. This is important, because the water-ice content of the asteroid belt has significant implications for our understanding of the evolution of the Solar System.
When the Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago, it was too hot in its central regions for water to have condensed at the locations of the innermost planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Instead, it is thought that water was delivered to these planets later during a prolonged period of intense asteroid and comet impacts around 3.9 billion years ago.
While comets are well known to contain water ice, what about asteroids? Water in the asteroid belt has been hinted at through the observation of comet-like activity around some asteroids – the so-called Main Belt Comet family – but no definitive detection of water vapour has ever been made.
Now, using the HIFI instrument on Herschel to study Ceres, scientists have collected data that point to water vapour being emitted from the icy world’s surface.
“This is the first time that water has been detected in the asteroid belt, and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere,” says Michael Küppers of ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre in Spain, lead author of the paper published in Nature.
Although Herschel was not able to make a resolved image of Ceres, the astronomers were able to derive the distribution of water sources on the surface by observing variations in the water signal during the dwarf planet’s 9-hour rotation period. Almost all of the water vapour was seen to be coming from just two spots on the surface.
“We estimate that approximately 6 kg of water vapour is being produced per second, requiring only a tiny fraction of Ceres to be covered by water ice, which links nicely to the two localised surface features we have observed,” says Laurence O’Rourke, Principal Investigator for the Herschel asteroid and comet observation programme called MACH-11, and second author on the Nature paper.
The most straightforward explanation of the water vapour production is through sublimation, whereby ice is warmed and transforms directly into gas, dragging the surface dust with it, and thus exposing fresh ice underneath to sustain the process. Comets work in this fashion.
The two emitting regions are about 5% darker than the average on Ceres. Able to absorb more sunlight, they are then likely the warmest regions, resulting in a more efficient sublimation of small reservoirs of water ice.
An alternative possibility is that geysers or icy volcanoes – cryovolcanism – play a role in the dwarf planet’s activity.
Much more detailed information on Ceres is expected soon, as Dawn mission is currently en route there for an arrival in early 2015. It will provide close-up mapping of the surface and monitor how the water activity is generated and varies with time.
Copyright ESA/ATG medialab