Navigating the Seas of Titan, Saturn’s Largest Moon
ScienceDaily (Sep. 27, 2012) —Humanity has landed a rover on Mars. Now, say scientists, it’s time to land a boat on Titan. This outlandish scenario could become reality, according to scientists presenting their proposals at the European Planetary Science Congress on Sept. 27.
Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is one of the most Earth-like bodies in the Solar System. With a thick atmosphere, a diameter between that of Earth and the planet Mercury, and a network of seas, lakes and rivers, it is in many respects more like a planet than a moon like Earth’s. The Cassini-Huygens mission, which studied Titan extensively in the 2000s, confirmed that lakes, seas and rivers of liquid hydrocarbons (similar to household gas) exist, covering much of the satellite’s northern hemisphere. Although it eventually landed on solid ground, the Hugyens lander was designed to be able to float for a short period. The new plans, called the Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer, proposes a boat-probe, propelled by wheels, paddles or screws. The probe would land in the middle of Ligeia Mare (the biggest lake, near Titan’s north pole), then set sail for the coast, taking scientific measurements along the way. The mission would last around six months to a year.
“The main innovation in TALISE is the propulsion system,” says Igone Urdampilleta (SENER), a member of the TALISE team. “This allows the probe to move, under control, from the landing site in the lake, to the closest shore. The displacement capability would achieve the obtaining of liquid and solid samples from several scientific interesting locations on Titan’s surface such as the landing place, along the route towards the shore and finally at the shoreline.”
Titan’s environment is too cold for life as we know it, but its environment, rich in the building blocks of life, is of great interest to astrobiologists. The satellite’s atmosphere is made up largely of nitrogen (like Earth’s), is rich in organic compounds and hydrogen cyanide, which may have played a role in the emergence of life on Earth.
The TALISE concept is being developed as a partnership between SENER and the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, Spain. This mission concept is the result of a ‘phase 0’ study. In the following phases the feasibility study and a preliminary mission architecture would be realised to consolidate a possible technical proposal for future space science mission call.
Bottom picture: Renderings of the proposed TALISE probe shows three possible means of propulsion: (top) paddle wheels on either side of the probe; (middle) screws on either side of the probe; and (bottom) wheels on either side of the probe. (Credit: SENER)
The news here in Cali has been amazing in their tracking of Endeavour. They are in all the major cities and have gotten some great shots. This is what the space industry needs, excitement. This is something to be in awe of and I hope it inspires people. I have had chills for a while now. Truly a special moment. Can’t wait until the display is complete at the California Science Center. Won’t be for about 5 years but it should be spectacular…
Rose of Galaxies
To celebrate the 21st anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s deployment into space, astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., pointed Hubble’s eye at an especially photogenic pair of interacting galaxies called Arp 273. The larger of the spiral galaxies, known as UGC 1810, has a disk that is distorted into a rose-like shape by the gravitational tidal pull of the companion galaxy below it, known as UGC 1813. This image is a composite of Hubble Wide Field Camera 3 data taken on December 17, 2010, with three separate filters that allow a broad range of wavelengths covering the ultraviolet, blue, and red portions of the spectrum.
Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, aboard Discovery’s STS-31 mission. Hubble discoveries revolutionized nearly all areas of current astronomical research from planetary science to cosmology.
Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
The most magnetic massive star seen yet is dragging a giant cloak of trapped charged particles around it.
This newly discovered star, NGC 1624-2, could help shed light on what role the magnetism of stars plays in the evolution of stars and their galaxies.
NGC 1624-2, which lies about 20,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Perseus, has about 35 times the sun’s mass. Its hefty mass gives it plenty of fuel, making it bright and hot and thus likely to burn out relatively quickly after a lifetime of about 5 million years, or one-tenth of 1 percent of the sun’s current age at midlife.
This massive star possesses a magnetic field 20,000 times stronger than the sun’s and nearly 10 times stronger than that detected around any other high-mass star.
“Magnetic fields of this strength are extremely rare — they are only known to exist in a few other stars of much lower mass,” study lead author Gregg Wade, an astronomer at the Royal Military College of Canada, told SPACE.com. “To find such a strong field is very lucky.” [The Strangest Things in Space]
This powerful magnetic field binds and controls the stellar wind of energetic particles streaming from NGC 1624-2 “to a very large distance from the star — 11.4 times the star’s radius,” Wade said. “The huge volume of this magnetosphere is remarkable. It’s more than four times wider than that of any other comparable massive star, and in terms of volume it is around 80 times larger.”
While NGC 1624-2 is the most magnetic of all known massive stars, a few intermediate-mass stars have magnetic fields maybe twice as strong, Wade said. (Our sun and other stars like it are low-mass stars.)
In addition, as powerful as NGC 1624-2’s magnetic field is, it might pale in comparison with that of magnetars – dense remnants of dead stars that are often thought of as the universe’s most magnetic objects.
“The magnetic field of NGC 1624-2 is about 20,000 gauss at the star’s surface. A typical magnetar might have a field on the order of 10 trillion gauss, so the strength of the magnetar’s field is much larger — that is, 500 million times larger,” Wade said.
However, “the standard basis for comparison of how ‘much’ magnetic field is present is the magnetic flux, which is equal to the strength of the magnetic field times the surface area of the star,” Wade said. “In that case, the flux of NGC 1624-2 is almost 700 times larger than that of a typical magnetar.
“In other words, if NGC 1624-2 were to suddenly collapse to the size of a magnetar while retaining all of its magnetism, it would have a surface magnetic field of nearly 10,000 trillion gauss. Holy cow!”
The star’s magnetic field influences the internal structure of matter within NGC 1624-2, affecting its life from birth to a violent death as a supernova explosion, Wade said. However, the fundamental processes that produce the magnetic fields of massive stars remain poorly understood.
Betelgeuse 2009 and 2011(color)
What you are seeing here is the dying throes of a titanic star.
Betelgeuse, some 640 light-years from Earth in the constellation Orion, may look pretty healthy when you see it shining in the night sky (it is one of the brightest stars out there) but as this infrared image from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) shows, Betelgeuse is falling apart… literally.
It’s been known for some time that Betelgeuse is belching huge clouds of stellar plasma into space — this is a symptom of the star’s age and size. Betelgeuse is a red supergiant star a fraction of the age of our sun, but because it is so massive (18 times the mass of the sun) it lives fast and dies young.
The 10 million year-old star has run out of hydrogen in its core — and is now fusing helium into carbon and oxygen —causing Betelgeuse to “puff up” to gargantuan proportions. If Betelgeuse was our sun, it would fill the entire inner solar system with its surface reaching the orbit of Jupiter! Earth would be toast.
The interior of the star is a violent bubbling mess, with huge plumes of searing hot plasma warping the shape of the star. Observations have previously shown Betelgeuse to be “lumpy,” rather than a neat, spherical star. There are also some indications that the star is also shrinking, potentially revealing it is close (in cosmic timescales) to collapsing and exploding as a supernova — but never fear, Betelgeuse poses no threat to life on Earth.
In the final stages of a red supergiant star’s life, huge quantities of material are blown into space. As this ESO image shows, Betelgeuse is creating a vast, previously unseen, dusty cool nebula, extending 60 billion kilometers from its surface.
In the center of the image, the small red disk is Betelgeuse and the surrounding cloud (inside the black disk) is previous observations of plasma being belched into space. The colorful cloud surrounding the black disk comprises the new ESO observations taken by the ESO’s Very Large Array (VLA).
The extended nebula has never been spotted before as Betelgeuse is so bright it swamps any light emitted from the nebula. By using the VLA’s VISIR instrument to block out the light coming directly from Betelgeuse (using an occulter), the nebula — most likely composed of silica and alumina dust — glows in infrared wavelengths as it is heated by the star. It is worth noting that despite the extended nebula’s “fiery” appearance, it is actually composed of cool material — hence why it can only be detected in infrared wavelengths. Short infrared wavelengths are represented with a blue glow and longer infrared wavelengths are represented with a red glow.
A Solar Filament Erupts
Image Credit: NASA’s GSFC,SDO AIA Team
Explanation: What’s happened to our Sun? Nothing very unusual — it just threw a filament. At the end of last month, a long standing solar filament suddenly erupted into space producing an energetic Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The filament had been held up for days by the Sun’s ever changing magnetic field and the timing of the eruption was unexpected. Watched closely by the Sun-orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, the resulting explosion shot electrons and ions into the Solar System, some of which arrived at Earth three days later and impacted Earth’s magnetosphere, causing visible aurorae. Loops of plasma surrounding an active region can be seen above the erupting filament in the ultraviolet image. If you missed this auroral display please do not despair — over the next two years our Sun will be experiencing a solar maximum of activity which promises to produce more CMEs that induce more Earthly auroras.
Fucking shit…this is awesome.
These super-sharp images of the unusual vampire double star system SS Leporis were created from observations made with the VLT Interferometer at ESO’s Paranal Observatory using the PIONIER instrument. The system consists of a red giant star orbiting a hotter companion.
The remarkable image sharpness — 50 times sharper than those from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope — not only allows the stars to be clearly separated and their orbital motion followed, but also allowed the size of the red giant to be measured more accurately than ever before. The system consists of a red giant star orbiting a hotter companion.
Note that the stars have been artificially coloured to match their known temperatures.
This picture of the dramatic nebula around the bright red supergiant star Betelgeuse was created from images taken with the VISIR infrared camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT). This structure, resembling flames emanating from the star, forms because the behemoth is shedding its material into space. The earlier NACO observations of the plumes are reproduced in the central disc. The small red circle in the middle has a diameter about four and half times that of the Earth’s orbit and represents the location of Betelgeuse’s visible surface. The black disc corresponds to a very bright part of the image that was masked to allow the fainter nebula to be seen.
Thermal infrared images of Saturn from the VISIR instrument on ESO’s VLT (centre and right) and an amateur visible-light image (left) from Trevor Barry (Broken Hill, Australia) obtained on 19 January 2011 during the mature phase of the northern storm. The second image is taken at a wavelength that reveals the structures in Saturn’s lower atmosphere, showing the churning storm clouds and the central cooler vortex. The third image is sensitive to much higher altitudes in Saturn’s normally peaceful stratosphere, where we see the unexpected beacons of infrared emission flanking the central cool region over the storm.
Amazing image of Jupiter taken in infrared light on the night of 17 August 2008 with the Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics Demonstrator (MAD) prototype instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. This false colour photo is the combination of a series of images taken over a time span of about 20 minutes, through three different filters (2, 2.14, and 2.16 microns). The image sharpening obtained is about 90 milli-arcseconds across the whole planetary disc, a real record on similar images taken from the ground. This corresponds to seeing details about 300 km wide on the surface of the giant planet. The great red spot is not visible in this image as it was on the other side of the planet during the observations. The observations were done at infrared wavelengths where absorption due to hydrogen and methane is strong. This explains why the colours are different from how we usually see Jupiter in visible-light. This absorption means that light can be reflected back only from high-altitude hazes, and not from deeper clouds. These hazes lie in the very stable upper part of Jupiter’s troposphere, where pressures are between 0.15 and 0.3 bar. Mixing is weak within this stable region, so tiny haze particles can survive for days to years, depending on their size and fall speed. Additionally, near the planet’s poles, a higher stratospheric haze (light blue regions) is generated by interactions with particles trapped in Jupiter’s intense magnetic field.
This image of the region of sky around the Pencil Nebula shows a spectacular celestial landscape featuring the blue filaments of the Vela supernova remnant, the red glow of clouds of hydrogen and countless stars.
A telescope in Chile has snapped a stunning new image of a speedy nebula that is named after a writing tool, but has a closer resemblance to a witch’s broom, scientists say.
Astronomers with the European Southern Observatory took the new view of the Pencil nebula using the La Silla Observatory in Chile’s high Atacama Desert. The nebula contains the remains of a colossal supernova explosion centuries ago that blasted gas and dust into interstellar space.
“These glowing filaments were created by the violent death of a star that took place about 11 000 years ago,” ESO officials said in an image announcement today (Sept. 12). “The brightest part resembles a pencil; hence the name, but the whole structure looks rather more like a traditional witch’s broom.”
The Pencil nebula, also known as NGC 2736, is about 800 light-years from Earth and moving at a clip of about 403,891 mph (650,000 kph). It is the brightest part of a vast expanding shell of gas in the constellation Vela (The Sails) that is known as the Vela supernova remnant. The remnant was originally hurtling through space at millions of miles an hour and much brighter, but it has cooled and slowed over time, ESO officials said.
In the new ESO photo, the Pencil nebula’s wispy gas filaments appear as ripples of light dotted with brighter knots. The nebula gets its brightness from dense pockets of gas that were struck by the supernova shockwave, ESO officials said. Bright blue colors in the image are hot regions of ionized oxygen, while the duller red portions highlight warm hydrogen, they added.
By studying the different hues of the Pencil nebula, astronomers are able to map the object’s temperature ranges. The nebula itself measures about 0.75 light-years across.
One light-year is the distance light travels in a single year, about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion kilometers).
The Pencil nebula was first discovered in 1835 by astronomer John Herschel, who described the nebula as “an extraordinary long narrow ray of excessively feeble light,” ESO officials said. Because of that, it was sometimes referred to as “Herschel’s Ray,” they added.
Dark shapes with bright edges winging their way through dusty NGC 6188 are tens of light-years long. The emission nebula is found near the edge of an otherwise dark large molecular cloud in the southern constellation Ara, about 4,000 light-years away. Formed in that region only a few million years ago, the massive young stars of the embedded Ara OB1 association sculpt the fantastic shapes and power the nebular glow with stellar winds and intense ultraviolet radiation. The recent star formation itself was likely triggered by winds and supernova explosions, from previous generations of massive stars, that swept up and compressed the molecular gas. A false-color Hubble palette was used to create this sharp close-up image and shows emission from sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms in red, green, and blue hues. At the estimated distance of NGC 6188, the picture spans about 200 light-years.
The Eagle Nebula is a beautiful display of molecular clouds, composed mainly of hydrogen that are the ingredients to star formation. Hydrogen, and every other element in the observable universe can be detected through the use of spectroscopy. Hydrogen, the lightest and most simple of all the elements, is composed of only one proton and one electron, and is the most abundant element in the universe. The collapsing of hydrogen clouds through the force of gravity has helped spawn more stars than there are grains of sand on all the beaches of the world combined. There have been septillions of stars created because of collapsing hydrogen. Just because its always fun to type all the zeros:
This is close to the number of stars we estimate to exist in the universe. This number is practically impossible to know accurately because stars are forming and dying continuously, and have been for billions of years. The recyclical process that occurs naturally in space is why stars still form after the inception of the universe, some 14 billion years ago. Stars are born, they die and some explode, releasing the heavy elements that the star fused together during its lifetime. Those elements get blasted into space and sometimes will merge with a cloud of hydrogen within the galaxy. This is one way in which to begin the collapse of molecular clouds and a second-generation star is eventually formed. Our sun is considered a Population II star, which means that its composition is that of a star made of other stars that have exploded in supernovae.