Titan Tech: Lightweight Drone Could Explore Saturn Moon

by Elizabeth Howell

Sailing the soupy atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest natural satellite, an interplanetary balloon could one day release a small drone to explore the moon’s swamp-like surface.

The so-called “Titan Aerial Daughtercraft” mission concept recently received a $100,000 Phase 1 grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, a sort of sandbox for the agency to explore far-out and futuristic ideas.

As part of this proposed mission, a quadcopter drone would “jump” from a mothership-type balloon to explore the surface of Titan; the drone would then return to the balloon to recharge for the night, the researchers said. Both vehicles would be used to investigate Titan’s hydrogen- and carbon-rich environment, which some scientists think resembles the composition of Earth’s atmosphere early in its history…

(read more: Live Science)

images: illustration - Larry Matthies/NASA; photos - NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

We talk to the man who explained how the big bang banged.

In March, Guth sat in the auditorium of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a storied center of astronomy on the other side of Cambridge, Massachusetts, from MIT.

He waited in the audience, along with Stanford’s Andrei Linde, 66, another inflation theorist, to hear from the BICEP2 astrophysics team that had spent three years looking with an unblinking telescope at one small patch of sky above the frozen waste of Antarctica.

They had looked inside that patch at the most distant thing observable in the cosmos, the so-called cosmic microwave background, or CMB. The CMB emanates from every corner of the sky—leftover heat from the first 380,000 years of the universe’s history after the big bang…

Chemistry and the Universe

Chemistry, the study of the intricate dances and bondings of low-energy electrons to form the molecules that make up the world we live in, may seem far removed from the thermonuclear heat in the interiors of stars and the awesome power of supernovas. Yet, there is a fundamental connection between them.

To illustrate this connection, the familiar periodic table of elements—found in virtually every chemistry class—has been adapted to show how astronomers see the chemical Universe. What leaps out of this table is that the simplest elements, hydrogen and helium, are far and away the most abundant.

The Universe started out with baryonic matter in its simplest form, hydrogen. In just the first 20 minutes or so after the Big Bang, about 25% of the hydrogen was converted to helium. In essence, the chemical history of the Universe can be divided into two mainphases: one lasting 20 minutes, and the rest lasting for 13.7 billion years and counting.

After that initial one third of an hour, the expanding Universe cooled below the point where nuclear fusion could operate. This meant that no evolution of matter could occur again until stars were formed a few million years later. Then the buildup of elements heavier than helium could begin…

(read more: Chandra X-Ray Observatory)

Biggest void in universe may explain cosmic cold spot
by Maggie McKee
It has been called a bruise on the sky – a curious cold spot in the afterglow of the big bang that has sparked wild cosmic theories attributing it to a run-in with another universe or a wrinkle in space-time.
Now it seems the answer may be a little more mundane: the biggest known hole in the universe.
The cold spot appears in maps of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the earliest light emitted in the universe. Temperature variations in the light show up as a mottled pattern in the maps, which can be explained if quantum fluctuations at the universe’s birth were stretched out by a brief but spectacular cosmic growth spurt known as inflation.
But some features in the maps don’t fit into the leading models of inflation. For example, the relatively even pattern of the CMB is marred by an unusually large cold region. Scientists have struggled to explain it, suggesting a number of ideas that require exotic physics or even evidence for a multiverse…
(read more: New Scientist)
image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Biggest void in universe may explain cosmic cold spot

by Maggie McKee

It has been called a bruise on the sky – a curious cold spot in the afterglow of the big bang that has sparked wild cosmic theories attributing it to a run-in with another universe or a wrinkle in space-time.

Now it seems the answer may be a little more mundane: the biggest known hole in the universe.

The cold spot appears in maps of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the earliest light emitted in the universe. Temperature variations in the light show up as a mottled pattern in the maps, which can be explained if quantum fluctuations at the universe’s birth were stretched out by a brief but spectacular cosmic growth spurt known as inflation.

But some features in the maps don’t fit into the leading models of inflation. For example, the relatively even pattern of the CMB is marred by an unusually large cold region. Scientists have struggled to explain it, suggesting a number of ideas that require exotic physics or even evidence for a multiverse…

(read more: New Scientist)

image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Happy 10th Anniversary, Cassini!

It’s been 10 years since Cassini reached Saturn’s orbit. Popular Science celebrates with some of our favorite Cassini images.

by Francie Diep

Today is the 10th anniversary of the spacecraft Cassini’s arrival in Saturn’s system of rings and moons. But to make that 2.2-billion-mile journey from Earth, Cassini had to launch on October 15, 1997. So really it’s been 17 great years. The International Space Station and the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity all launched after Cassini did. Yet Cassini is still in working order, and still sends data and—our favorite—images back to Earth…

(read and see more: Popular Science)

images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

NGC 3132: The Southern Ring Nebula
It’s the dim star, not the bright one, near the center of NGC 3132 that created this odd but beautiful planetary nebula. Nicknamed the Eight-Burst Nebula and the Southern Ring Nebula, the glowing gas originated in the outer layers of a star like our Sun.
In this reprocessed color picture, the hot purplish pool of light seen surrounding this binary system is energized by the hot surface of the faint star. Although photographed to explore unusual symmetries, it’s the asymmetries that help make this planetary nebula so intriguing. Neither the unusual shape of the surrounding cooler shell nor the structure and placements of the cool filamentary dust lanes running across NGC 3132 are well understood.
(via: NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day)
Image : Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing - Donald Waid

NGC 3132: The Southern Ring Nebula

It’s the dim star, not the bright one, near the center of NGC 3132 that created this odd but beautiful planetary nebula. Nicknamed the Eight-Burst Nebula and the Southern Ring Nebula, the glowing gas originated in the outer layers of a star like our Sun.

In this reprocessed color picture, the hot purplish pool of light seen surrounding this binary system is energized by the hot surface of the faint star. Although photographed to explore unusual symmetries, it’s the asymmetries that help make this planetary nebula so intriguing. Neither the unusual shape of the surrounding cooler shell nor the structure and placements of the cool filamentary dust lanes running across NGC 3132 are well understood.

(via: NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day)

Image : Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA; Processing - Donald Waid


Nearby Exoplanet Is Best Candidate For Supporting Life
by Lisa Winter
Finding new exoplanets is always awesome, but discovering exoplanets within the star’s habitable zone are exponentially more exciting.
A team led by Robert Wittenmyer of the University of New South Wales has announced the discovery of the Super-Earth Gliese 832 c, which could very well turn out to be the best candidate for extraterrestrial life discovered to date. It’s also fairly close, cosmologically speaking, which adds to the intrigue. The team’s paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, but has been made available online in an open access format on arXiv.org.
Gliese 832 is a red dwarf star that is located 16.1 light-years away in the constellation Grus. Astronomers discovered a Jupiter analog orbiting the star back in 2009, but its orbit takes nine years to complete; far beyond the star’s habitable zone. Gliese 832 c looks much more promising. Though only two planets in the system are known, it appears to be organized quite similarly to our own solar system…
(read more: I Fucking Love Science)
illustration by PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA Hubble, Stellarium

Nearby Exoplanet Is Best Candidate For Supporting Life

by Lisa Winter

Finding new exoplanets is always awesome, but discovering exoplanets within the star’s habitable zone are exponentially more exciting.

A team led by Robert Wittenmyer of the University of New South Wales has announced the discovery of the Super-Earth Gliese 832 c, which could very well turn out to be the best candidate for extraterrestrial life discovered to date. It’s also fairly close, cosmologically speaking, which adds to the intrigue. The team’s paper has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, but has been made available online in an open access format on arXiv.org.

Gliese 832 is a red dwarf star that is located 16.1 light-years away in the constellation Grus. Astronomers discovered a Jupiter analog orbiting the star back in 2009, but its orbit takes nine years to complete; far beyond the star’s habitable zone. Gliese 832 c looks much more promising. Though only two planets in the system are known, it appears to be organized quite similarly to our own solar system…

(read more: I Fucking Love Science)

illustration by PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA Hubble, Stellarium

Triple Monster Black Hole Discovered
Sometimes big, bad things comes in threes, including jumbo black holes.
by Michael Lemonick
The discovery of a trio of jumbo black holes circling the center of a distant galaxy, reported by astronomers on Wednesday, suggests that pairs or triplets of such monsters may be surprisingly common.
Astronomers have learned over the past decade or two that virtually every full-size galaxy such as our own Milky Way has a giant black hole lurking in its core. These monsters weigh in with a mass equal to millions or even billions of stars. 
The new observations, however, described in the journal Nature, suggest that many galaxies have not one, but two or more giant black holes in their centers, orbiting each other in a tight gravitational dance that will ultimately lead the objects to merge together into something even more gigantic…
(read more: National Geographic)
image: NASA/CXC/UCLA/Z.Li AND NRAO/VLA

Triple Monster Black Hole Discovered

Sometimes big, bad things comes in threes, including jumbo black holes.

by Michael Lemonick

The discovery of a trio of jumbo black holes circling the center of a distant galaxy, reported by astronomers on Wednesday, suggests that pairs or triplets of such monsters may be surprisingly common.

Astronomers have learned over the past decade or two that virtually every full-size galaxy such as our own Milky Way has a giant black hole lurking in its core. These monsters weigh in with a mass equal to millions or even billions of stars.

The new observations, however, described in the journal Nature, suggest that many galaxies have not one, but two or more giant black holes in their centers, orbiting each other in a tight gravitational dance that will ultimately lead the objects to merge together into something even more gigantic…

(read more: National Geographic)

image: NASA/CXC/UCLA/Z.Li AND NRAO/VLA

NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (Little SDO)
 A suite of NASA’s Sun-gazing spacecraft have spotted an unusual series of eruptions in which a series of fast puffs forced the slow ejection of a massive burst of solar material from the Sun’s atmosphere.
The eruptions took place over a period of three days, starting on Jan. 17, 2013. Nathalia Alzate, a solar scientist at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, presented findings on what caused the puffs at the 2014 Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth, England.

The sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona, is made of magnetized solar material, called plasma, that has a temperature of millions of degrees and extends millions of miles into space. On January 17, the joint European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, spacecraft observed puffs emanating from the base of the corona and rapidly exploding outwards into interplanetary space. The puffs occurred roughly once every three hours. After about 12 hours, a much larger eruption of material began, apparently eased out by the smaller-scale explosions…

(read more)

 A suite of NASA’s Sun-gazing spacecraft have spotted an unusual series of eruptions in which a series of fast puffs forced the slow ejection of a massive burst of solar material from the Sun’s atmosphere.

The eruptions took place over a period of three days, starting on Jan. 17, 2013. Nathalia Alzate, a solar scientist at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales, presented findings on what caused the puffs at the 2014 Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth, England.
The sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona, is made of magnetized solar material, called plasma, that has a temperature of millions of degrees and extends millions of miles into space. On January 17, the joint European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, spacecraft observed puffs emanating from the base of the corona and rapidly exploding outwards into interplanetary space. The puffs occurred roughly once every three hours. After about 12 hours, a much larger eruption of material began, apparently eased out by the smaller-scale explosions…
Mysterious Galactic Glow May Be “Sterile Neutrinos”
by Jacob Aron
Something shadowy has reached out across the void from deep within the swirling Perseus galaxy cluster. X-ray observations of the cluster, shown here in false colour, have revealed a signal from an unidentified source.
Astronomers using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope and NASA’s Chandra telescope found similar signals in more than 70 galaxy clusters. It is possible that these X-rays are being produced by the decay of mysterious sterile neutrinos, as yet undiscovered particles that are predicted to barely interact with ordinary matter…
(read more: Science News)
image: Chandra: NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al.; XMM: ESA

Mysterious Galactic Glow May Be “Sterile Neutrinos”

by Jacob Aron

Something shadowy has reached out across the void from deep within the swirling Perseus galaxy cluster. X-ray observations of the cluster, shown here in false colour, have revealed a signal from an unidentified source.

Astronomers using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope and NASA’s Chandra telescope found similar signals in more than 70 galaxy clusters. It is possible that these X-rays are being produced by the decay of mysterious sterile neutrinos, as yet undiscovered particles that are predicted to barely interact with ordinary matter…

(read more: Science News)

image: Chandra: NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al.; XMM: ESA

3C305: An Intriguing Glowing Galaxy  
Activity from a supermassive black hole is responsible for the intriguing appearance of this galaxy, 3C305, located about 600 million light years away from Earth.
The structures in red and light blue are X-ray and optical images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope respectively. The optical data is from oxygen emission only, and therefore the full extent of the galaxy is not seen. Radio data are shown in darker blue and are from the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array in New Mexico, as well as the Multi-Element Radio-Linked Interferometer Network in the United Kingdom…
(read more: Chandra X-ray Observatory)
image: X-ray (NASA/CXC/CfA/F.Massaro, et al.); Optical (NASA/STScI/C.P.O’Dea); Radio (NSF/VLA/CfA/F.Massaro, et al.)

3C305: An Intriguing Glowing Galaxy

Activity from a supermassive black hole is responsible for the intriguing appearance of this galaxy, 3C305, located about 600 million light years away from Earth.

The structures in red and light blue are X-ray and optical images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope respectively. The optical data is from oxygen emission only, and therefore the full extent of the galaxy is not seen. Radio data are shown in darker blue and are from the National Science Foundation’s Very Large Array in New Mexico, as well as the Multi-Element Radio-Linked Interferometer Network in the United Kingdom…

(read more: Chandra X-ray Observatory)

image: X-ray (NASA/CXC/CfA/F.Massaro, et al.); Optical (NASA/STScI/C.P.O’Dea); Radio (NSF/VLA/CfA/F.Massaro, et al.)

Mysterious Magic Island Appears on Saturn’s Moon Titan

Now you don’t see it. Now, you do. And now you don’t see it again. Astronomers have discovered a bright, mysterious geologic object – where one never existed – on Cassini mission radar images of Ligeia Mare, the second-largest sea on Saturn’s moon Titan. Scientifically speaking, this spot is considered a “transient feature,” but the astronomers have playfully dubbed it “Magic Island.”

Reporting in the journal Nature Geoscience June 22, the scientists say this may be the first observation of dynamic, geological processes in Titan’s northern hemisphere.

"This discovery tells us that the liquids in Titan’s northern hemisphere are not simply stagnant and unchanging, but rather that changes do occur," said Jason Hofgartner, a Cornell University graduate student in the field of planetary sciences, and the paper’s lead author. "We don’t know precisely what caused this ‘magic island’ to appear, but we’d like to study it further."…

(read more: PhysOrg)

image: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Molecule vital for creating water exists in dying sun-like stars
Source: European Space Agency
Using ESA’s Herschel space observatory, astronomers have discovered that a molecule vital for creating water exists in the burning embers of dying Sun-like stars.
When low- to middleweight stars like our Sun approach the end of their lives, they eventually become dense, white dwarf stars. In doing so, they cast off their outer layers of dust and gas into space, creating a kaleidoscope of intricate patterns known as planetary nebulas.
These actually have nothing to do with planets, but were named in the late 18th century by astronomer William Herschel, because they appeared as fuzzy circular objects through his telescope, somewhat like the planets in our Solar System…
(read more: Science Daily)
image: Hubble image: NASA/ESA/C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University), M. Meixner & P. McCullough (STScI); Herschel image: ESA/Herschel/SPIRE/MESS Consortium/M. Etxaluze et al.

Molecule vital for creating water exists in dying sun-like stars

Source: European Space Agency

Using ESA’s Herschel space observatory, astronomers have discovered that a molecule vital for creating water exists in the burning embers of dying Sun-like stars.

When low- to middleweight stars like our Sun approach the end of their lives, they eventually become dense, white dwarf stars. In doing so, they cast off their outer layers of dust and gas into space, creating a kaleidoscope of intricate patterns known as planetary nebulas.

These actually have nothing to do with planets, but were named in the late 18th century by astronomer William Herschel, because they appeared as fuzzy circular objects through his telescope, somewhat like the planets in our Solar System…

(read more: Science Daily)

image: Hubble image: NASA/ESA/C.R. O’Dell (Vanderbilt University), M. Meixner & P. McCullough (STScI); Herschel image: ESA/Herschel/SPIRE/MESS Consortium/M. Etxaluze et al.