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Wednesday, 22 July 2015


Newly-discovered frozen peaks on Pluto are taller than Ben Nevis while images of Nix reveal an unusual red spot
Newly-discovered frozen peaks on Pluto are taller than Ben Nevis while images of Nix reveal an unusual red spot
The latest pictures to be beamed back from the far reaches of the Solar System show a new mountain range on Pluto and the first close up images of two of the dwarf-planet’s smaller moons.
NASA’s New Horizons probe has discovered a new, mountain range on bright, heart-shaped region named Tombaugh Region.
These newly-discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be around 5,000ft high – about 600ft taller than Ben Nevis.
The Norgay Mountains discovered by New Horizons on July 15 are much taller, around 11,000ft, roughly the height of The Pyrenees.
The new range is just west of the region within Pluto’s heart called Sputnik Plain and some 68 miles northwest of Norgay Mountains..
New Horizons has also picked up the first images large images of two of Pluto’s smaller moons.
Nix and Hydra – the second and third moons to be discovered – are approximately the same size, but their similarity ends there.
New Horizons’ first colour image of Nix shows a jelly bean shaped satellite which is 26 miles long and 22 miles wide.
Although the overall surface colour of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull’s-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater.
Meanwhile, the sharpest image yet received from New Horizons of Pluto’s satellite Hydra shows that its irregular shape resembles the state of Michigan.
There appear to be at least two large craters, one of which is mostly in shadow. The upper portion looks darker than the rest of Hydra, suggesting a possible difference in surface composition.
Source: Telegraph


This is what Earth looks like from a million miles away.
The stunning image, which focuses on America, was taken by the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and is the satellite’s first view of the entire sunlit side of our planet.
It was presented to the White House today, prompting a tweet from President Barack Obama describing it as: ‘A beautiful reminder that we need to protect the only planet we have.’
The blue marble was captured by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (Epic) and created by combining three separate images to show the Earth in incredible detail.
The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters – from ultraviolet to near infrared.
‘This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,’ said Nasa Administrator Charlie Bolden.
DSCOVR orbits the sun at a location called the Lagrange point 1, or L1, It’s from that unique vantage point that the Epic instrument is acquiring science quality images of the entire sunlit face of Earth. Data from Epic will be used to measure ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere, cloud height, vegetation properties and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth

Dead galaxies in Coma Cluster may be packed with dark matter

New computer simulations show that these galaxies stopped star formation as early as 7 billion years ago but haven’t been ripped apart due to their dark matter.

Galaxies in a cluster roughly 300 million light-years from Earth could contain as much as 100 times more dark matter than visible matter, according to an Australian study.

The research used powerful computer simulations to study galaxies that have fallen into the Coma Cluster, one of the largest structures in the universe in which thousands of galaxies are bound together by gravity.

It found the galaxies could have fallen into the cluster as early as 7 billion years ago, which, if our current theories of galaxies evolution are correct, suggests they must have lots of dark matter protecting the visible matter from being ripped apart by the cluster.

Dark matter cannot be seen directly, but the mysterious substance is thought to make up about 84 percent of the matter in the universe.

Cameron Yozin from the University of Western Australia, who led the study, says the paper demonstrates for the first time that some galaxies that have fallen into the cluster could plausibly have as much as 100 times more dark matter than visible matter.

Yozin says the galaxies he studied in the Coma Cluster are about the same size as our Milky Way but contain only 1 percent of the stars.

He says the galaxies appear to have stopped making new stars when they first fell into the cluster between 7 and 10 billion years ago and have been dead ever since, leading astrophysicists to label them “failed” galaxies.

This end to star formation is known as “quenching.”

“Galaxies originally form when large clouds of hydrogen gas collapse and are converted to stars; if you remove that gas, the galaxy cannot grow further,” Yozin said.

“Falling into a cluster is one way in which this can happen. The immense gravitational force of the cluster pulls in the galaxy, but its gas is pushed out and essentially stolen by hot gas in the cluster itself.

“For the first time, my simulations have demonstrated that these galaxies could have been quenched by the cluster as early as 7 billion years ago.

“They have, however, avoided being ripped apart completely in this environment because they fell in with enough dark matter to protect their visible matter,” Yozin said.

Source : Astronomy Magzine

See it! Moon, Venus, Jupiter, comet

Source: Earth Sky

What a glorious western twilight sky on the nights of July 17 and 18, 2015! Waxing moon, brightest planets, and Comet C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS).

Venus (top left), Jupiter and the moon made a triangle as seen from some parts of the world on July 18, 2015. Aimilianos Gkekas submitted this photo to EarthSky. He caught the trio from a monastery known as Meteora – literally ‘suspended in the sky’ – in Thessaly, Greece.

Moon, Venus, Jupiter and Comet C/2014 Q1 (PANSTARRS) on July 18 by John Lafferty. 

 Venus, Jupiter and the moon setting on July 18 as seen from Porto, Portual. The star above the planets is Regulus in the constellation Leo. Photo submitted by João Pedro Bessa.

Moon and Venus on July 18, 2015 by John Ashley in Kila, Montana. If you view larger, you can see both worlds are crescents as seen from Earth now. Read why Venus appears as a crescent now.

Moon and Venus on July 18, 2015 by Billie C. Barb at Mutiny Bay, Freeland, Washington. 

Another view of the moon and crescent Venus on July 18, this one in daylight, from Spencer Mann in Davis, California.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

After the Moon and Mars, ISRO eyes Venus for next exploration mission

After the successful launch of its Mars orbiter, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is now viewing Venus as possibly the next planet it can study and explore.
“Besides the Mars-2 mission, we are looking at Venus and even an asteroid for exploration. A project has to be formulated for this before we chart out a proper roadmap for the explorations.  Venus is our neighbour and has many scientific challenges and aspects that need to be studied. Exploring an asteroid is also challenging task,” Dr Kiran Kumar, Isro chairman, told HT.
In 2014, India created history in space when its Mars orbiter slipped into the Red Planet’s orbit in its maiden attempt.
India became the first Asian country to reach Mars and the first in the world to enter the orbit of the planet in its first attempt.
Photo of Mars as taken by ISRO’s Mars Oriber Mission
Regarding the Saarc satellite, Dr Kumar said that it would be launched before December 2016. “The activities related to this project are in progress and we should begin building the satellite soon.”
Moving beyond satellite launches and planetary explorations, Isro is also aggressively working with many government departments on optimising the usage of space tools and data.
A national meet on space is likely to be held in Delhi next month, where ministries and departments of the government will give presentations on how they are using space tools in their workings. From civil aviation to railways, tribal affairs to health, postal to agriculture the number of government departments working with Isro has increased to more than 60 in the past few months.
Source : HindustanTimes


The first ever high-resolution image of Pluto has been beamed back to Earth showing water ice and 11,000ft (3,350 metre) mountains. The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago – mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system. Nasa says they may still be in the process of building
Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered – unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.
‘We now have an isolated small planet that is showing activity after 4.5 billion years,’ said Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator. ‘It’s going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board.’
‘This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,’ added Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI).
This is the first time astronomers have seen a world that is mostly composed of ice that is not orbiting a planet.
Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by the gravitational pull of a larger planetary body. Nasa says some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.
‘This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,’ says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute.
In a Wednesday press conference, scientists also revealed a high-resolution photo of Pluto’s moon Charon, which is covered in cliffs and ridges:
They also released the first-ever photo of Pluto’s tiny moon Hydra, which appears to be covered in water ice:
A new sneak-peak image of Hydra  is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33km). The surface shows differences in brightness, which suggests that Hydra’s outer layer is composed manly of water ice .
Read more: Daily Mail

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is about to show us an alien world for the first time. At precisely 7:49 am ET on Tuesday, the probe will become the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto.
New Horizons has been en route for nine years, traveling more than 3 billion miles. The flyby will be over in a matter of minutes, as the probe frantically takes hundreds of photos and collects data on Pluto’s atmosphere, geology, and moons. All this data will be enormously valuable to scientists as they seek to understand our solar system and how it formed billions of years ago.
More than anything, this mission is about broadening our horizons — taking in just a little bit more of the impossibly vast universe we live in.

1) We’ve never seen Pluto before

Pluto feels familiar. It’s easy to imagine the small, frigid rock, millions of miles from the sun and covered in ice.
But what you’re picturing in your head when you think about Pluto is probably an artist’s illustration. Until very recently, we didn’t even know exactly what color it was — and the best photos we had of Pluto looked like this:
New Horizons is going to change that in a very big way. Already, as it’s closed in on Pluto, it’s given us way better photos than ever before:
Pluto (right) and its moon Charon, as seen by New Horizons on July 11. (NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI)
The high-resolution photos to come will give us detailed topographical maps, just like those provided by the satellites that orbit Earth. They could reveal mountains, ice caps, volcanoes, or even an ocean of liquid water under the ice. “Who knows what kind of bizarre things we’ll find up close?” Stern said.

2) This mission will remind you how vast space really is

Earth, as seen by the Voyager spacecraft, from more than 4 billion miles away.
We spend our entire lives on the surface of Earth — so it’s hard to really grasp how far away Pluto truly is from us.
But as an analogy, think of Earth as a basketball. By comparison, Pluto would be a little larger than a golf ball. But if you wanted to keep the scale constant, you’d have to put that golf ball incredibly far away: 50 to 80 miles (depending on its location in orbit). This mission, like many activities in space, is a good reminder of how vast our corner of the universe is — and how absurdly tiny our entire earthly realm of experience is by comparison.
And it’s not just the size of space that boggles the mind. It’s also the timescale on which everything occurs. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to orbit the sun. To put it another way, the entirety of US history has occurred during a single Plutonian orbit.

3) We won’t get many more missions like this for a while

There’s a mission to Europa planned, but it won’t reach the moon for a decade or more.
The past few decades have been filled with all sorts of fascinating missions to the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets of our solar system — uncrewed probes sent every few years, run by trained scientists, and supported by government funding.
But the sad truth is that this era is largely drawing to a close. As David W. Brown writes in an article on the dark future of American space exploration, “There is nothing budgeted in the pipeline to take its place. Yesterday invested in today. But we are not investing in tomorrow.”
This is the result of cutbacks to NASA’s planetary exploration budget. The OSIRIS-REx probe will launch next year, to travel to an asteroid and bring back a sample, but it won’t return until 2023. Meanwhile, a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is in the works, but it likely won’t be launched until 2025 at the earliest, and wouldn’t reach Europa until the 2030s.
In other words: Enjoy this brief flyby. It’s going to be a while before any NASA probe visits a new world.

4)This is a staggering technological achievement

t’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to send a spacecraft to Pluto. But think of it this way: because it’s so incredibly far away, it took New Horizons nine years to cover the 3-billion-mile trip there — which means the craft is using decade-old technology, traveling a route that was calculated years ago.
New Horizons’ trajectory through the solar system.
Despite this, NASA engineers managed to get the tiny probe — about the size and shape of a grand piano — to an incredibly precise spot in space, using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot to accelerate it outward and a few thruster burns over the years to keep the probe on track.
Along the way, they had to worry about potentially damaging debris nearby Pluto — as well as a scary software glitch this past weekend, which was, thankfully, resolved. Now New Horizons is going to fly within 7,750 miles of Pluto, coming closer than its moons.
Because New Horizons is traveling at such a high speed (about 31,000 miles per hour) and can’t slow down, the flyby will be over in a matter of minutes — fording it to collect all its data in a tiny window of time.
And receiving all that data is another huge challenge. Because New Horizons is so far away, it takes about 4.5 hours for any data it sends back to reach Earth. And the signal is so faint that NASA has to use 200-foot-wide radio dishes (one each in Australia, California, and Spain) to pick it up. This means an extremely low rate of data transmission: about 1 kilobit per second, more than 50 times slower than a 56k modem from the ’90s. It takes more than 42 minutes for New Horizons to fully transmit an image that’s 1024 pixels wide.
If you haven’t been paying attention so far, now’s the time to start. This is a really big deal.