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Tuesday, July 29 2014 @ 01:37 AM CDT

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High-energy Spy

NASA Space PlaceBy Dr. Martin C. Weisskopf

  
  
Composite image of DEM L50, a so-called superbubble found in the Large Magellanic Cloud. X-ray data from Chandra is pink, while optical data is red, green, and blue. Superbubbles are created by winds from massive stars and the shock waves produced when the stars explode as supernovas.
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The idea for the Chandra X-Ray Observatory was born only one year after Riccardo Giacconi discovered the first celestial X-ray source other than the Sun. In 1962, he used a sounding rocket to place the experiment above the atmosphere for a few minutes. The sounding rocket was necessary because the atmosphere blocks X-rays. If you want to look at X-ray emissions from objects like stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies, your instrument must get above the atmosphere.

Giacconiís idea was to launch a large diameter (about 1 meter) telescope to bring X-rays to a focus. He wanted to investigate the hazy glow of X-rays that could be seen from all directions throughout the sounding rocket flight. He wanted to find out whether this glow was, in fact, made up of many point-like objects. That is, was the glow actually from millions of X-ray sources in the Universe. Except for the brightest sources from nearby neighbors, the rocket instrument could not distinguish objects within the glow.

Giacconiís vision and the promise and importance of X-ray astronomy was borne out by many sounding rocket flights and, later satellite experiments, all of which provided years-, as opposed to minutes-, worth of data.

By 1980, we knew that X-ray sources exist within all classes of astronomical objects. In many cases, this discovery was completely unexpected. For example, that first source turned out to be a very small star in a binary system with a more normal star. The vast amount of energy needed to produce the X-rays was provided by gravity, which, because of the small starís mass (about equal to the Sunís) and compactness (about 10 km in diameter) would accelerate particles transferred from the normal star to X-ray emitting energies. In 1962, who knew such compact stars (in this case a neutron star) even existed, much less this energy transfer mechanism?

X-ray astronomy grew in importance to the fields of astronomy and astrophysics. The National Academy of Sciences, as part of its “Decadal Survey” released in 1981, recommended as its number one priority for large missions an X-ray observatory along the lines that Giacconi outlined in 1963. This observatory was eventually realized as the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, which launched in 1999.

The Chandra Project is built around a high-resolution X-ray telescope capable of sharply focusing X-rays onto two different X-ray-sensitive cameras. The focusing ability is of the caliber such that one could resolve an X-ray emitting dime at a distance of about 5 kilometers! The building of this major scientific observatory has many stories.

Learn more about Chandra at www.science.nasa.gov/missions/chandra . Take kids on a “Trip to the Land of the Magic Windows” and see the universe in X-rays and other invisible wavelengths of light at spaceplace.nasa.gov/magic-windows.

Dr. Weisskopf is project scientist for NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Triple Treat

NASA Space PlaceBy Dr. Ethan Siegel

  
  
The image shows the configuration of Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter in the western sky just after sunset on May 26, 2013. Insets show the relative size appearance of the planets on that date.
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The solar system is a busy place, with five wandering planets visible to the naked eye alone. When any two pass close by each other from our point of view, we see an astronomical conjunction, but on very rare occasions, three planets will find themselves grouped together: a triple conjunction. Towards the end of May, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter will treat us to the best triple conjunction in years.

On May 25th, Mercury will pass within 1.4° of Venus, then two days later Mercury comes within 2.4° of Jupiter, and finally on the 28th, Jupiter and Venus approach within 1° of one another. If it werenít for the slight orbital tilt of our solar systemís planetary orbits, these conjunctions would all be occultations instead. During the nights of May 26th-27th, all three planets are visible immediately after sunset within the same 3° field of view, with the triple conjunction peaking in a triangular shape on the 26th. (For scale, the full Moon subtends about 1/2°.) The three planets appear close together for a few days more, making a line in the sky on the 30th/31st.

How does this happen? Mercury and Venus race around the Sun far faster than Earth, with Mercury completing more than four revolutions around the Sun for each one that Earth makes. At the same time, Jupiter is far slower, taking 12 years to orbit just once around the Sun. Jupiterís been high in the sky during the early parts of the night, but steadily lowers throughout May as Earth continues to move away from it, approaching its maximum distance from Earth. Mercury and Venus, meanwhile, begin to move out from behind the Sun during May: Venus at the beginning of the month and Mercury in the middle.

Thus, during this triple conjunction, all three planets will be on the far side of the Sun, something that happens just 25% of the time in triple conjunctions involving Mercury and Venus! If you telescopically resolve these planets into disks, youíll see our inner worlds in a nearly-full gibbous phase. Jupiter will appear largest in terms of angular diameter, followed by Venus and lastly by Mercury. Just a year ago, during its now-famous transit, Venus took up more than a full arc-minute in the sky; during this conjunction, it will just one-sixth that angular size and less than a third the apparent diameter of Jupiter. Nevertheless, Venus will still be more than six times as bright as Jupiter during this time, outshining all night-sky objects other than the Moon. Closer conjunctions of two naked-eye planets are frequent, but getting three or more like this happens just once or twice per decade, so donít miss your chance to see it.

And speaking of occultations, The Space Place has a great kid-friendly explanation of the Venus transit and solar eclipses of 2012 at spaceplace.nasa.gov/venus-transit.

Dr. Ethan Siegel, a theoretical astrophysicist, is a professor at the University of Portland (OR) and Lewis & Clark College.
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Exploring the Water World

NASA Space PlaceBy Diane K. Fisher

  
  
This image from September 2012, shows that the Arctic sea is the smallest recorded since record keeping began in 1979. This image is from NASAís Scientific Visualization Studio at Goddard Space Flight Center.
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In some ways, we know more about Mars, Venus and the Moon than we know about Earth. Thatís because 70% of our solar systemís watery blue planet is hidden under its ocean. The ocean contains about 98% of all the water on Earth. In total volume, it makes up more than 99% of the space inhabited by living creatures on the planet.

As dominant a feature as it is, the ocean — at least below a few tens of meters deep — is an alien world most of us seldom contemplate. But perhaps we should.

The ocean stores heat like a “fly wheel” for climate. Its huge capacity as a heat and water reservoir moderates the climate of Earth. Within this Earth system, both the physical and biological processes of the ocean play a key role in the water cycle, the carbon cycle, and climate variability.

This great reservoir continuously exchanges heat, moisture, and carbon with the atmosphere, driving our weather patterns and influencing the slow, subtle changes in our climate.

The study of Earth and its ocean is a big part of NASAís mission. Before satellites, the information we had about the ocean was pretty much “hit or miss,” with the only data collectors being ships, buoys, and instruments set adrift on the waves.

Now ocean-observing satellites measure surface topography, currents, waves, and winds. They monitor the health of phytoplankton, which live in the surface layer of the ocean and supply half the oxygen in the atmosphere. Satellites monitor the extent of Arctic sea ice so we can compare this important parameter with that of past years. Satellites also measure rainfall, the amount of sunlight reaching the sea, the temperature of the oceanís surface, and even its salinity!

Using remote sensing data and computer models, scientists can now investigate how the oceans affect the evolution of weather, hurricanes, and climate. In just a few months, one satellite can collect more information about the ocean than all the ships and buoys in the world have collected over the past 100 years!

NASAís Earth Science Division has launched many missions to planet Earth. These satellites and other studies all help us understand how the atmosphere, the ocean, the land and life — including humans — all interact together.

Find out more about NASAís ocean studies at http://science.nasa.gov/earth-science/oceanography. Kids will have fun exploring our planet at The Space Place, http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/earth.

This article was written by Diane K. Fisher and provided through the courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Your Daily Dose of Astonishment

By Diane K. Fisher

  
  
The January 20, 2013, Astronomy Picture of the Day is one that might fall into the “quirky” category. The object was found at the bottom of the sea aboard a Greek ship that sank in 80 BCE. It is an Antikythera mechanism, a mechanical computer of an accuracy thought impossible for that era. Its wheels and gears create a portable orrery of the sky that predicts star and planet locations as well as lunar and solar eclipses.
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As a person vitally interested in astronomy, you probably have the Astronomy Picture of the Day website at http://apod.nasa.gov set as favorite link. APOD has been around since practically the beginning of the web. The first APOD appeared unannounced on June 16, 1995. It got 15 hits. The next picture appeared June 20, 1995, and the site has not taken a day off since. Now daily traffic is more like one million hits.

Obviously, someone is responsible for picking, posting, and writing the detailed descriptions for these images. Is it a whole team of people? No. Surprisingly, it is only two men, the same ones who started it and have been doing it ever since.

Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell shared an office at NASAís Goddard Space Flight Center in the early-90s, when the term “World Wide Web” was unknown, but a software program called Mosaic could connect to and display specially coded content on other computers. The office mates thought “we should do something with this.”

Thus was conceived the Astronomy Picture of the Day. Now, in addition to the wildly popular English version, over 25 mirror websites in other languages are maintained independently by volunteers. (See http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/lib/about_apod.html for links). An archive of every APOD ever published is at http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/archivepix.html. Dr. Nemiroff also maintains a discussion website at http://asterisk.apod.com/.

But how does it get done? Do these guys even have day jobs?

Dr. Nemiroff has since moved to Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan, where he is professor of astrophysics, both teaching and doing research. Dr. Bonnell is still with NASA, an astrophysicist with the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory Science Support Center at Goddard. APOD is only a very small part of their responsibilities. They do not collaborate, but rather divide up the calendar, and each picks the image, writes the description, and includes the links for the days on his own list. The files are queued up for posting by a “robot” each day.

They use the same tools they used at the beginning: Raw HTML code written using the vi text editor in Linux. This simple format has now become such a part of the brand that they would upset all the people and websites and mobile apps that link to their feed if they were to change anything at this point.

Where do they find the images? Candidates are volunteered from large and small observatories, space telescopes (like the Hubble and Spitzer), and independent astronomers and astro-photographers. The good doctors receive ten images for every one they publish on APOD. But, as Dr. Nemiroff emphasizes, being picked or not picked is no reflection on the value of the image. Some of the selections are picked for their quirkiness. Some are videos instead of images. Some have nothing to do with astronomy at all, like the astonishing August 21, 2012, video of a replicating DNA molecule.

Among the many mobile apps taking advantage of the APOD feed is Space Place Prime, a NASA magazine that updates daily with the best of NASA. Itís available free (in iOS only at this time) at the Apple Store.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Tackling the Really BIG Questions

Astro ImagingBy Diane K. Fisher

  
  
Clusters of galaxies collide in this composite image of “Pandora's Cluster.” Data (in red) from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory show gas with temperatures of millions of degrees. Blue maps the total mass concentration (mostly dark matter) based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT), and the Japanese Subaru telescope. Optical data from HST and VLT also show the constituent galaxies of the clusters. Such images begin to reveal the relationship between concentration of dark matter and the overall structure of the universe.
Click image for larger view
How does NASA get its ideas for new astronomy and astrophysics missions? It starts with a Decadal Survey by the National Research Council, sponsored by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. The last one, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics was completed in 2010. It defines the highest-priority research activities in the next decade for astronomy and astrophysics that will “set the nation firmly on the path to answering profound questions about the cosmos.” It defines space- and ground-based research activities in the large, midsize, and small budget categories.

The recommended activities are meant to advance three science objectives:

Deepening understanding of how the first stars, galaxies, and black holes formed, Locating the closest habitable Earth-like planets beyond the solar system for detailed study, and Using astronomical measurements to unravel the mysteries of gravity and probe fundamental physics.

For the 2012-2021 period, the highest-priority large mission recommended is the Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). It would orbit the second Lagrange point and perform wide-field imaging and slitless spectroscopic surveys of the near-infrared sky for the community. It would settle essential questions in both exoplanet and dark energy research and would advance topics ranging from galaxy evolution to the study of objects within the galaxy and within the solar system.

Naturally, NASAís strategic response to the recommendations in the decadal survey must take budget constraints and uncertainties into account.

The goal is to begin building this mission in 2017, after the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. But this timeframe is not assured. Alternatively, a different, less ambitious mission that also address the Decadal Survey science objectives for WFIRST would remain a high priority.

The Astrophysics Division is also doing studies of moderate-sized missions, including: gravitational wave mission concepts that would advance some or all of the science objectives of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), but at lower cost; X-ray mission concepts to advance the science objectives of the International X-ray Observatory (IXO), but at lower cost; and mission concept studies of probe-class missions to advance the science of a planet characterization and imaging mission.

For a summary of NASAís plans for seeking answers to the big astrophysics questions and to read the complete Astrophysics Implementation Plan (dated December 2012), see http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/. For kids, find lots of astrophysics fun facts and games on The Space Place, http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/menu/space/.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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The Art of Space Imagery

NASA Space PlaceBy Diane K. Fisher

  
  
This image of M101 combines images from four different telescopes, each detecting a different part of the spectrum. Red indicates infrared information from Spitzerís 24-micron detector, and shows the cool dust in the galaxy. Yellow shows the visible starlight from the Hubble telescope. Cyan is ultraviolet light from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer space telescope, which shows the hottest and youngest stars. And magenta is X-ray energy detected by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, indicating incredibly hot activity, like accretion around black holes.
Click image for larger view
When you see spectacular space images taken in infrared light by the Spitzer Space Telescope and other non-visible-light telescopes, you may wonder where those beautiful colors came from? After all, if the telescopes were recording infrared or ultraviolet light, we wouldnít see anything at all. So are the images “colorized” or “false colored”?

No, not really. The colors are translated. Just as a foreign language can be translated into our native language, an image made with light that falls outside the range of our seeing can be “translated” into colors we can see. Scientists process these images so they can not only see them, but they can also tease out all sorts of information the light can reveal. For example, wisely done color translation can reveal relative temperatures of stars, dust, and gas in the images, and show fine structural details of galaxies and nebulae.

Spitzerís Infrared Array Camera (IRAC), for example, is a four-channel camera, meaning that it has four different detector arrays, each measuring light at one particular wavelength. Each image from each detector array resembles a grayscale image, because the entire detector array is responding to only one wavelength of light. However, the relative brightness will vary across the array.

So, starting with one detector array, the first step is to determine what is the brightest thing and the darkest thing in the image. Software is used to pick out this dynamic range and to re-compute the value of each pixel. This process produces a grey-scale image. At the end of this process, for Spitzer, we will have four grayscale images, one for each for the four IRAC detectors.

Matter of different temperatures emit different wavelengths of light. A cool object emits longer wavelengths (lower energies) of light than a warmer object. So, for each scene, we will see four grayscale images, each of them different.

Normally, the three primary colors are assigned to these gray-scale images based on the order they appear in the spectrum, with blue assigned to the shortest wavelength, and red to the longest. In the case of Spitzer, with four wavelengths to represent, a secondary color is chosen, such as yellow. So images that combine all four of the IRACís infrared detectors are remapped into red, yellow, green, and blue wavelengths in the visible part of the spectrum.

Download a new Spitzer poster of the center of the Milky Way. On the back is a more complete and colorfully-illustrated explanation of the “art of space imagery.” Go to spaceplace.nasa.gov/posters/#milky-way.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Partnering to Solve Saturnís Mysteries

NASA Space PlaceBy Diane K. Fisher
  
  
This false-colored Cassini image of Saturn was taken in near-infrared light on January 12, 2011. Red and orange show clouds deep in the atmosphere. Yellow and green are intermediate clouds. White and blue are high clouds and haze. The rings appear as a thin, blue horizontal line.
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From December 2010 through mid-summer 2011, a giant storm raged in Saturnís northern hemisphere. It was clearly visible not only to NASAís Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn, but also astronomers here on Earth — even those watching from their back yards. The storm came as a surprise, since it was about 10 years earlier in Saturnís seasonal cycle than expected from observations of similar storms in the past. Saturnís year is about 30 Earth years. Saturn is tilted on its axis (about 27° to Earthís 23°), causing it to have seasons as Earth does.

But even more surprising than the unseasonal storm was the related event that followed.

First, a giant bubble of very warm material broke through the clouds in the region of the now-abated storm, suddenly raising the temperature of Saturnís stratosphere over 150 °F. Accompanying this enormous “burp” was a sudden increase in ethylene gas. It took Cassiniís Composite Infrared Spectrometer instrument to detect it.

According to Dr. Scott Edgington, Deputy Project Scientist for Cassini, “Ethylene [C2H4] is normally present in only very low concentrations in Saturnís atmosphere and has been very difficult to detect. Although it is a transitional product of the thermochemical processes that normally occur in Saturnís atmosphere, the concentrations detected concurrent with the big ‘burp’ were 100 times what we would expect.”

So what was going on?

Chemical reaction rates vary greatly with the energy available for the process. Saturnís seasonal changes are exaggerated due to the effect of the rings acting as venetian blinds, throwing the northern hemisphere into shade during winter. So when the Sun again reaches the northern hemisphere, the photochemical reactions that take place in the atmosphere can speed up quickly. If not for its rings, Saturnís seasons would vary as predictably as Earthís.

But there may be another cycle going on besides the seasonal one. Computer models are based on expected reaction rates for the temperatures and pressures in Saturnís atmosphere, explains Edgington. However, it is very difficult to validate those models here on Earth. Setting up a lab to replicate conditions on Saturn is not easy!

Also contributing to the apparent mystery is the fact that haze on Saturn often obscures the view of storms below. Only once in a while do storms punch through the hazes. Astronomers may have previously missed large storms, thus failing to notice any non-seasonal patterns.

As for atmospheric events that are visible to Earth-bound telescopes, Edgington is particularly grateful for non-professional astronomers. While these astronomers are free to watch a planet continuously over long periods and record their finding in photographs, Cassini and its several science instruments must be shared with other scientists. Observation time on Cassini is planned more than six months in advance, making it difficult to immediately train it on the unexpected. Thatís where the volunteer astronomers come in, keeping a continuous watch on the changes taking place on Saturn.

Edgington says, “Astronomy is one of those fields of study where amateurs can contribute as much as professionals.”

Go to http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/ to read about the latest Cassini discoveries. For kids, The space Place has lots of ways to explore Saturn at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/search/cassini/.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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It Takes More Than Warm Porridge to Make a Goldilocks Zone

NASA Space PlaceBy Diane K. Fisher

  
  
Our solar system is represented by the middle scenario, where the gas giant planet has migrated inward, but still remains beyond the asteroid belt.
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The “Goldilocks Zone” describes the region of a solar system that is just the right distance from the star to make a cozy, comfy home for a life-supporting planet. It is a region that keeps the planet warm enough to have a liquid ocean, but not so warm that the ocean boils off into space. Obviously, Earth orbits the Sun in our solar systemís “Goldilocks Zone.”

But there are other conditions besides temperature that make our part of the solar system comfortable for life. Using infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, along with theoretical models and archival observations, Rebecca Martin, a NASA Sagan Fellow from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and astronomer Mario Livio of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, have published a new study suggesting that our solar system and our place in it is special in at least one other way.

This fortunate “just right” condition involves Jupiter and its effect on the asteroid belt.

Many other solar systems discovered in the past decade have giant gas planets in very tight orbits around their stars. Only 19 out of 520 solar systems studied have Jupiter-like planets in orbits beyond what is known as the “snow line”óthe distance from the star at which it is cool enough for water (and ammonia and methane) to condense into ice. Scientists believe our Jupiter formed a bit farther away from the Sun than it is now. Although the giant planet has moved a little closer to the Sun, it is still beyond the snow line.

So why do we care where Jupiter hangs out? Well, the gravity of Jupiter, with its mass of 318 Earths, has a profound effect on everything in its region, including the asteroid belt. The asteroid belt is a region between Mars and Jupiter where millions of mostly rocky objects (some water-bearing) orbit. They range in size from dwarf planet Ceres at more than 600 miles in diameter to grains of dust. In the early solar system, asteroids (along with comets) could have been partly responsible for delivering water to fill the ocean of a young Earth. They could have also brought organic molecules to Earth, from which life eventually evolved.

Jupiterís gravity keeps the asteroids pretty much in their place in the asteroid belt, and doesnít let them accrete to form another planet. If Jupiter had moved inward through the asteroid belt toward the Sun, it would have scattered the asteroids in all directions before Earth had time to form. And no asteroid belt means no impacts on Earth, no water delivery, and maybe no life-starting molecules either. Asteroids may have also delivered such useful metals as gold, platinum, and iron to Earthís crust.

But, if Jupiter had not migrated inward at all since it formed father away from the Sun, the asteroid belt would be totally undisturbed and would be a lot more dense with asteroids than it is now. In that case, Earth would have been blasted with a lot more asteroid impacts, and life may have never had a chance to take root.

The infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope contributes in unexpected ways in revealing and supporting new ideas and theories about our universe. Read more about this study and other Spitzer contributions at spitzer.caltech.edu. Kids can learn about infrared light and enjoy solving Spitzer image puzzles at spaceplace.nasa.gov/spitzer-slyder.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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A Cosmic Tease: Trials of the Herschel Space Telescope Science Teams

NASA Space PlaceBy Dr. Marc J. Kuchner

  
  
Samuel Pierpoint Langley, who developed the bolometer in 1878. His instrument detects a broad range of infrared wavelengths, sensitive to differences in temperature of one hundred-thousandth of a degree Celsius (0.00001 C). In 1961, Frank Low developed the germanium bolometer, which is hundreds of times more sensitive than previous detectors and capable of detecting far-infrared radiation.
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Vast fields of marble-sized chunks of ice and rock spun slowly in the darkness this week, and I sat in the back of a grey conference room with white plastic tables spread with papers and laptops. I was sitting in on a meeting of an international team of astronomers gathered to analyze data from the Herschel Infrared Observatory. This telescope, sometimes just called Herschel, orbits the Sun about a million miles from the Earth.

The meeting began with dinner at Karlís house. Karl charred chorizo on the backyard grill while the airplanes dribbled into Dulles airport. Our colleagues arrived, jet-lagged and yawning, from Germany, Sweden, and Spain, and we sat on Karlís couches catching up on the latest gossip. The unemployment level in Spain is about twenty percent, so research funding there is hard to come by these days. Thatís not nice to hear. But it cheered us up to be with old friends.

The meeting commenced the next morning, as the vast fields of ice and rock continued to spin — shards glinting in the starlight. Or maybe they didnít. Maybe they didnít exist at all.

You see, this team is looking at a series of images of stars taken by a device called a bolometer that is blind to ordinary starlight. Instead, the bolometer inside Herschel senses infrared light, a kind of light that we would probably refer to as heat if we could feel it. But the idea of pointing the bolometer at the stars was not to collect ordinary starlight. It was to measure heat coming from the vicinity of these stars, like an infrared security camera, in case there was something else to be found lurking nearby.

And lo and behold, for a handful of stars, the bolometer measurements were off the charts! Maybe something was orbiting these stars. From the details of the bolometer readings — which channels lit up and so on — you would guess that this stuff took the form of majestic fields or rings of icy and rocky particles. It would be a new kind of disk, a discovery worth writing home to Madrid about.

There are several teams of astronomers analyzing data from the Herschel Space Telescope. They call themselves by oddly inappropriate sounding acronyms: GASPS, DUNES, DEBRIS. For the time being, the scientists on these teams are the only ones with access to the Herschel data. But in January, all the data these teams are working on will suddenly be released to the public. So they are all under pressure to finish their work by then. The team whose meeting I was sitting in on would like to publish a paper about the new disks by then.

But itís not so simple. The stars that this team had measured were relatively nearby as stars go, less than a few hundred light years. But the universe is big, and full of galaxies of all kinds—a sea of galaxies starting from maybe a hundred thousand light years away, and stretching on and on. Maybe one of those background galaxies was lined up with each of the stars that had lit up the bolometer — fooling us into thinking they were seeing disks around these stars.

The team argued and paced, and then broke for lunch. We marched to the cafeteria through the rain. Meanwhile, vast fields of marble-sized chunks of ice and rock spun slowly in the darkness. Or maybe they didnít.

What else did Herschel recently uncover? Find out at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/comet-ocean.

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner is an astrophysicist at the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at NASAís Goddard Space Flight Center. NASAís Astrophysics Division works on big questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, galaxies, and planetary systems. Explore more at http://www.science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/.
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A Delicious Lunar Experience

NASA Space Place

The New Moon may become kids’ favorite Moon phase after they have done the new Cookie Moon activity on NASA’s Space Place.  That’s because they get to lick off all the creme filling on an Oreo® cookie.  This is a fun way for kids to learn why the Moon has phases and why it looks the way it does throughout the month—not an easy concept for anyone!  This activity will be a sweet experience for all! Go to http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/oreo-moon.


 

Distributed by Laura K. Lincoln, on behalf of the Space Place Team.

 

Check out our great sites for kids:

http://climate.nasa.gov/kids

http://scijinks.gov

http://spaceplace.nasa.gov

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