South African telescope discovers many galaxies


First image released by the MeerKAT radio telescope showing hundreds of previously undetected galaxies

From CNN:

Super telescope finds hundreds of previously undetectable galaxies

By James Griffiths

0725 GMT (1525 HKT) July 17, 2016

A South African radio telescope has revealed hundreds of galaxies in a tiny corner of the universe where only 70 had been seen before.

The images, taken by MeerKAT telescope, are an indication of the detail the southern hemisphere’s most powerful radio telescope may be able to provide when it is fully operational later this year.

At present, 16 of MeerKAT’s 64 dishes are scanning the skies. As well as its scientific goals, the project serves as a technological demonstration of South Africa’s capability to host the Square Kilometer Array, a huge multiradio-telescope project to be built in Australia and South Africa comprising dozens of dishes.

“Based on the results being shown today, we are confident that after all 64 dishes are in place, MeerKAT will be the world’s leading telescope of its kind until the advent of SKA,” Professor Justin Jonas, SKA South Africa chief technologist, said in a statement.

Square Kilometer Array

The SKA, intended to be operational by the 2020s, will consist of around 3,000 dishes spread across a one square kilometer (0.4 square mile) area and will allow astronomers to peer deeper into space than ever before.

SKA says it will have a discovery potential 10,000 times that of the most advanced modern instruments and will explore black holes, supernovae, dark energy and look into the origins of the universe.

More than 20 countries are members of SKA, with Australia and South Africa being the main bases of operation. The project is headquartered in the UK.

‘Exceptionally beautiful images’

MeerKAT’s images, taken of a patch of sky covering less than 0.01% of the total, reveal more than 1,300 galaxies in the distant universe, where only around 70 had been previously detected.

They include a galaxy around 200 million light years away where new stars are being formed from hydrogen gas in large numbers, and a massive black hole spewing out jets of powerful electrons moving at close to the speed of light.

A “Fanaroff-Riley Class 2” (FR2) object: a massive black hole in the distant universe (matter falling into it produces the bright dot at the center) launching jets of powerful electrons moving at close to the speed of light.

“Today’s exceptionally beautiful images … demonstrate that MeerKAT has joined the big leagues of world radio astronomy,” said Fernando Camilo, SKA South Africa chief scientist.

First Jupiter photo by Juno spacecraft


First Jupiter photo by Juno spacecraft

From NASA in the USA:

July 12, 2016

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Sends First In-orbit View

The JunoCam camera aboard NASA’s Juno mission is operational and sending down data after the spacecraft’s July 4 arrival at Jupiter. Juno’s visible-light camera was turned on six days after Juno fired its main engine and placed itself into orbit around the largest planetary inhabitant of our solar system. The first high-resolution images of the gas giant Jupiter are still a few weeks away.

“This scene from JunoCam indicates it survived its first pass through Jupiter‘s extreme radiation environment without any degradation and is ready to take on Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We can’t wait to see the first view of Jupiter’s poles.”

The new view was obtained on July 10, 2016, at 10:30 a.m. PDT (1:30 p.m. EDT, 5:30 UTC), when the spacecraft was 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) from Jupiter on the outbound leg of its initial 53.5-day capture orbit. The color image shows atmospheric features on Jupiter, including the famous Great Red Spot, and three of the massive planet’s four largest moons — Io, Europa and Ganymede, from left to right in the image.

“JunoCam will continue to take images as we go around in this first orbit,” said Candy Hansen, Juno co-investigator from the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. “The first high-resolution images of the planet will be taken on August 27 when Juno makes its next close pass to Jupiter.”

JunoCam is a color, visible-light camera designed to capture remarkable pictures of Jupiter’s poles and cloud tops. As Juno’s eyes, it will provide a wide view, helping to provide context for the spacecraft’s other instruments. JunoCam was included on the spacecraft specifically for purposes of public engagement; although its images will be helpful to the science team, it is not considered one of the mission’s science instruments.

The Juno team is currently working to place all images taken by JunoCam on the mission’s website, where the public can access them.

During its mission of exploration, Juno will circle the Jovian world 37 times, soaring low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Michael Ravine of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, is the JunoCam instrument lead. …

To see a full video of Jupiter and the Galilean moons during Juno’s approach to Jupiter, see:

More information on the Juno mission is available here.

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter.

Comet Halley, new research


This video says about itself:

Giotto: Halley’s Comet Flyby Animation (1986.03.14)

1 October 2011

On March 13, 1986, ESA’s Giotto probe swept within 600 km of Comet Halley, obtaining the first close-up images of a comet. It revealed the first evidence of organic material in a comet and, still today, much of what we know about comets comes from the pioneering mission.

Launched on July 2, 1985 by Ariane 1, Giotto was ESA’s first deep-space mission, part of an ambitious international effort to solve the mysteries surrounding Comet Halley. It was also the first deep-space mission to change orbit by returning to Earth from an interplanetary trajectory for a gravity-assist.

After a cruise of eight months, Giotto arrived at its destination and revealed the size and shape of Halley’s nucleus, found that its surface is very dark (the blackest object in the Solar System) and that it emitted jets of gas and dust.

Giotto’s camera recorded many images that gave scientists a rare opportunity — the comet will not return to the inner Solar System again until 2061 — to study Halley intensively. It was particularly important to determine its composition through the readings made by Giotto as it passed through Halley’s tail.

After completing its Halley mission, Giotto went into hibernation before being woken up in the summer of 1990, and then hibernating again until early 1992.

Although a few of the instruments had been damaged during the Halley encounter, the spacecraft had survived the battering by cometary dust and was able to conduct a second flyby, this time of Comet 26P/Grigg-Skjellerup, in July 1992.

This video is a new compilation of Giotto’s historic images acquired by the Halley Multicolour Camera (HMC). It shows the comet as seen by the probe as it approached from about 900,000 km, coming to within 596 km.

The images were processed by the HMC team under the leadership of Uwe Keller at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS/Lindau), where this video was newly produced in 2011 together with B. Grieger from the Rosetta team at ESA/ESAC to mark the 25th anniversary of Giotto’s flyby.

credit: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Chaotic orbit of Comet Halley explained

Published on 30 June 2016

A team of Dutch and Scottish researchers led by Simon Portegies Zwart (Leiden University) has found an explanation for the chaotic behavior of the orbit of Halley’s Comet. The findings are accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Halley’s Comet is one of the most famous comets. Halley can be seen from the Earth every 75 years. The last time was in 1986, the next time will be in 2061. Despite his regular return, the comet’s orbit cannot be predicted exactly. This is partly due to processes inside the comet and partly because the orbit of Halley is disturbed by the chaotic interaction with the planets and minor bodies in the solar system.

Stable

The prevailing view among astronomers is that the orbit of Halley’s comet cannot be calculated exactly because the orbit would be chaotic on a time scale of only seventy years. The team of astronomers has now shown that the comet’s orbit is stable for more than three hundred years. That’s much longer than expected.

Venus

‘We did the most accurate calculations of Halley and the planets ever,’ said researcher Tjarda Boekholt (Leiden University). ‘To our surprise Halley’s orbit was most strongly influenced by the planet Venus and not by Jupiter, the planet that was always pointed to as the biggest spoiler.’

Jupiter

In about three thousand years the comet will approach the planet Jupiter relatively close, so Halley will get a big push. From then on Venus will no longer be the main perturber and Jupiter will take over this role. ‘After that predictions of the orbit become less accurate, because the precise effect of Jupiter’s gravity introduces a relatively large error in our calculations,’ says fellow researcher Inti Pelupessy (Leiden University).

Juno spacecraft approaches Jupiter today


This video says about itself:

Juno‘s Final Approach to Jupiter

4 July 2016

After five years traveling through space to its destination, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive in orbit around Jupiter today, July 4, 2016. This video shows a peek of what the spacecraft saw as it closed in on its destination before instruments were turned off. Watch our noon EDT Pre-Orbit Insertion Briefing on NASA Television for more.

HELLO, JUPITER “After a tense, 35-minute engine burn, NASA’s Juno spacecraft successfully began its orbit of Jupiter late Monday evening, the pivotal moment of the space agency’s five-year long venture to reach the planet.” Here’s what the space craft will be up to over the next 20 months, and a look at its precarious entry into orbit. [Chris D’Angelo, HuffPost]

American religious fundamentalist threatened to murder scientist Stephen Hawking


This video says about itself:

24 September 2014

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has labeled himself as an atheist, clearly stating that he doesn’t believe God exists at all.

Hawking reportedly made the announcement in an interview at the start of the Starmus Festival taking place at Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, was able to get an exclusive interview with Hawking and headlined the story with the scientist’s statement about his beliefs.

Hawking is quoted in the interview saying: “What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

But this isn’t the first time that Hawking has mentioned his lack of faith in a divine higher power.

In his book entitled The Grand Design, he says that the laws of science are in place and do not require a creator to have started everything.

Hawking has also previously said he doesn’t believe in heaven or an afterlife.

When asked in the interview if he thought space exploration was a good thing to invest billions of dollars in, he said that colonizing other planets might be humanity’s only hope for insurance of our long-term survival.

From daily El Pais in Spain:

US woman held in Tenerife for death threats against Stephen Hawking

“I am right next to you and I can kill you,” read one of the messages sent by the suspect, who traveled to the Spanish island to be near her target

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, 1 JULY 2016 – 16:55 CEST

Spanish police have arrested an American woman for issuing death threats against the astrophysicist Stephen Hawking at a science event on the island of Tenerife.

The 37-year-old suspect was detained in the municipality of Arona, on the most populous of the Canary Islands, on Wednesday – the same day that Hawking delivered his first lecture at the Starmus International Festival.

The woman, who has no prior record and had traveled to Tenerife by herself, could be facing a six-month prison sentence and immediate deportation for harassment and issuing serious threats against the famous scientist, legal sources told the Efe news agency.

The same sources said that one of the cosmologist’s children alerted authorities after detecting over 100 threatening messages on Twitter and in e-mails on Tuesday. The messages contained sentences such as “I am going to kill him.” …

Police investigators who searched her hotel room found a collection of esoteric items linked to religious extremism and contrary to Hawking’s theories denying the existence of God. They also found notes and documents detailing the scientist’s residence and workplace, and notebooks outlining precise plans on how to approach her target.

Hawking’s Wednesday address had attracted long lines of people at the science and arts festival. The astrophysicist arrived on stage flanked by two members of the Spanish National Police, an unusual sight that caused some alarm among members of the audience. Outside the venue, other officers checked visitors’ bags.

That same day, the police arrested the alleged stalker at a hotel located very near the festival venue, the Pirámide de Arona, which contains one of the biggest auditoriums in Europe.

The woman had apparently been issuing threats against Hawking for years, but the situation got out of hand in recent days, when the threats proliferated over e-mail an in the social media.

“I am going to kill you.” read one of the messages. “I am right next to you and I can kill you,” said another.

The e-mails included specific plans to end the scientist’s life, the police said.

According to this source, the suspect is 41 years old.

According to La Opinión de Tenerife, the suspect is Jenny Theresa C. These names sound Christian to me. If the suspect would have had a Muslim name like Fatima, then probably she would have been all over the Murdoch and other corporate merdia, not just in this Canary Islands local paper.

Planet Neptune’s big dark vortex


This video says about itself:

Huge Dark Vortex in the Atmosphere of Neptune Confirmed by Hubble & Amateur Astronomers

24 June 2016

New images obtained on May 16, 2016, by Hubble Space Telescope and amateur astronomers confirm the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune.

By Ed Mazza in the USA:

Neptune’s Massive New ‘Dark Vortex’ Is As Big As The United States

The high-pressure system is accompanied by bright “companion clouds.”

06/24/2016 02:46 am ET

An unusual new feature has appeared on Neptune: a “dark vortex” so massive that it would swallow the United States if it was here on Earth.

Dark vortices coast through the atmosphere like huge, lens-shaped gaseous mountains,” Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong, who led the team that analyzed the Hubble data, said in a news release. “And the companion clouds are similar to so-called orographic clouds that appear as pancake-shaped features lingering over mountains on Earth.”

A dark vortex on Neptune is a high-pressure system that usually is accompanied by bright “companion clouds,” NASA said.

We speculate that these dark spots on Neptune (which are most visible at blue wavelengths) are probably ‘clear’ areas, openings in the cloud decks that see to deeper layers,” Heidi Hammel, a researcher at the Space Science Institute, told Astronomy magazine. “The bright companions (which are most visible at redder wavelengths) are thought to be higher-altitude clouds.”

Those companion clouds form by air being diverted over the vortex, which then causes gases to freeze, probably into methane ice crystals, NASA said.

The bright companion clouds were first spotted last summer by several observers, including amateur astronomers, who suspected that they might be indications of a dark vortex. However, since the vortex was best viewed in blue wavelengths, more detailed observation required aiming the Hubble Space Telescope at the feature.

Hubble’s image taken last month confirmed the vortex. While a similar feature was spotted by Voyager 2 in 1989, this was the first one seen on the planet in the 21st century.

“Neptune’s dark vortices have exhibited surprising diversity over the years, in terms of size, shape and stability (they meander in latitude, and sometimes speed up or slow down),” the space agency said. “They also come and go on much shorter timescales compared to similar anticyclones seen on Jupiter; large storms on Jupiter evolve over decades.”

Also on Thursday, NASA announced that it had extended Hubble’s science operations for another five years — until 2021.

“After the final space shuttle servicing mission to the telescope in 2009, Hubble is better than ever,” NASA said. “Hubble is expected to continue to provide valuable data into the 2020’s, securing its place in history as an outstanding general purpose observatory in areas ranging from our solar system to the distant universe.”

Liquid water on dwarf planet Pluto?


This 22 June 2016 video says about itself:

Does Pluto ocean holds alien life? Dwarf planet liquid water lurking under icy surface.

From Brown University in the USA:

Research bolsters case for a present-day subsurface ocean on Pluto

June 21, 2016

An updated thermal model for Pluto suggests that liquid water beneath the dwarf planet’s ice shell may not be frozen yet.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When the NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft buzzed by Pluto last year, it revealed tantalizing clues that the dwarf planet might have — or had at one time — a liquid ocean sloshing around under its icy crust. According to a new analysis led by a Brown University Ph.D. student, such an ocean likely still exists today.

The study, which used a thermal evolution model for Pluto updated with data from New Horizons, found that if Pluto’s ocean had frozen into oblivion millions or billions of years ago, it would have caused the entire planet to shrink. But there are no signs of a global contraction to be found on Pluto’s surface. On the contrary, New Horizons showed signs that Pluto has been expanding.

“Thanks to the incredible data returned by New Horizons, we were able to observe tectonic features on Pluto’s surface, update our thermal evolution model with new data and infer that Pluto most likely has a subsurface ocean today,” said Noah Hammond, a graduate student in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, and the study’s lead author.

The research, which Hammond coauthored with advisors Amy Barr of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona and Brown University geologist Marc Parmentier, is in press in Geophysical Research Letters.

The pictures New Horizons sent back from its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt’s most famous denizen showed that Pluto was much more than a simple snowball in space. It has an exotic surface made from different types of ices — water, nitrogen and methane. It has mountains hundreds of meters high and a vast heart-shaped plain. It also has giant tectonic features — sinuous faults hundreds of kilometers long as deep as 4 kilometers. It was those tectonic features that got scientists thinking that a subsurface ocean was a real possibility for Pluto.

“What New Horizons showed was that there are extensional tectonic features, which indicate that Pluto underwent a period of global expansion,” Hammond said. “A subsurface ocean that was slowly freezing over would cause this kind of expansion.”

Scientists think that there may have been enough heat-producing radioactive elements within Pluto’s rocky core to melt part of the planet’s ice shell. Over time in the frigid Kuiper belt, that melted portion would eventually start to refreeze. Ice is less dense than water, so when it freezes, it expands. If Pluto had an ocean that was frozen or in the process of freezing, extensional tectonics on the surface would result, and that’s what New Horizons saw.

There aren’t many other ways on Pluto to get such features. One way might have been through a gravitational tug of war with its moon, Charon. But the active gravitational dynamics between the two have long since wound down, and some of the tectonics look fairly fresh (on a geologic timescale). So, many scientists believe that an ocean is the strongest scenario.

But if Pluto had an ocean, what is its fate today? Could the freezing process still be going on, or did the ocean freeze solid a billion years ago?

That’s where the thermal evolution model run by Hammond and his colleagues comes in. The model includes updated data from New Horizons on Pluto’s diameter and density, key parameters in understanding the dynamics in Pluto’s interior. The model showed that because of the low temperatures and high pressure within Pluto, an ocean that had completely frozen over would quickly convert from the normal ice we all know to a different phase called ice II. Ice II has a more compact crystalline structure than standard ice, so an ocean frozen to ice II would occupy a smaller volume and lead to a global contraction on Pluto, rather than an expansion.

“We don’t see the things on the surface we’d expect if there had been a global contraction,” Hammond said. “So we conclude that ice II has not formed, and therefore that the ocean hasn’t completely frozen.”

There are a few caveats, the researchers point out. The formation of ice II is dependent on the thickness of Pluto’s ice shell. Ice II only forms if the shell is 260 kilometers thick or more. If the shell is thinner than that, the ocean could have frozen without forming ice II. And if that were the case the ocean could have frozen completely without causing contraction.

However, the researchers say there’s good reason to believe that the ice shell is more than 260 kilometers. Their updated model suggests that Pluto’s ice shell is actually closer to 300 or more kilometers thick. In addition, the nitrogen and methane ices that New Horizons found on the surface bolster the case for a thick ice shell.

“Those exotic ices are actually good insulators,” Hammond said. “They may be helping Pluto from losing more of its heat to space.”

Taken together, the new model bolsters the case for an ocean environment in the furthest reaches of the solar system.

“That’s amazing to me,” Hammond said. “The possibility that you could have vast liquid water ocean habitats so far from the sun on Pluto — and that the same could also be possible on other Kuiper belt objects as well — is absolutely incredible.”

The research was supported by the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NNX13AN99H) and NASA Planetary Geology & Geophysics (NNX15AN79G).

It has been one year since the New Horizons spacecraft finished its historic flyby of Pluto and its system of moons, taking the most detailed images ever of the dwarf planet and its companions. Since then, the probe has been steadily sending back every bit of data it collected in its 22-hour encounter, revealing an increasingly complex system: here.