Category: NASA

NASA Mission To Set A ‘Depth Perception’ Record, And You Can Help

“By imaging two of the nearest stars to Earth from our planet and NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, humanity will construct 3D images of the stars as though we had two eyes that were nearly 5 billion miles (8 billion kilometers) apart from one another. Not only will it spectacularly demonstrate how far NASA’s New Horizons has traveled, but it will give us a tiny glimpse into the humbling fact of our insignificant view of the cosmos.

We all know that the relative positions of stars that we see here on Earth are unique to our current perspective: our place in space and time. From any other vantage point, the stars and constellations would look dramatically different, as every solar system has a different night sky. For the first time, we’ll get to see the Universe with the depth perception of an unprecedented giant: one whose eyes are larger than the Sun-Pluto distance. The images, slated for release in May, will give us a view of the Universe as never before.”

Imagine what it would be like to have eyes that gave you superior depth perception than what we have today. They’d be separated by much larger distances than our faces allow, showing us how distant objects appear to move against the even-more-distant background ones as we switched between our left and right “eyes.” On April 22 and 23, 2020, NASA’s New Horizons mission will team up with amateur astronomers here on Earth to produce the longest-baseline parallax measurements ever, showing us the Universe in 3D as never before.

Come learn what we’ll see, what it means, and how you can participate by helping measure Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359 at the same, critical time!

Astronomers Find The Biggest Explosion Ever Seen In The Entire Universe

“But the most extreme, energetic outbursts arise from jets emitted by supermassive black holes. Accreted matter gets accelerated by these behemoths, ejecting particles all the way into intergalactic space. Smashing into the surrounding gas and plasma, they can carve cavities that span millions of light-years. The most extreme one ever was just discovered in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, 390 million light-years away. NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope found an enormous source of X-rays there, 15 times our galaxy’s diameter.”

There are lots of events that cause ultra-energetic outbursts in our Universe. Supernovae are one type, where a single event can release even more energy than our Sun will over the course of its entire life. Merging black holes, like the kind seen by LIGO, are even more intense, as they can outshine a supernova by factors of thousands. But the most energetic events of all come from jets generated by outbursts of supermassive black holes contained within enormous galaxy clusters. A cavity that literally spans more than a million light-years across was just discovered, caused by a supermassive black hole outburst never before rivaled in the known Universe.

It makes this event, which occurred many millions of years ago in the Ophiuchus galaxy cluster, the biggest explosion ever seen in the entire Universe.

Should NASA Send New Horizons To A Nearby Star For Its Final Mission?

“Over the next million years, the Voyagers and Pioneers will approach numerous stars, but only at relatively large separations. The closest will be Pioneer 10, encountering HIP 1177795 in ~90,000 years from 0.75 light-years away. But New Horizons, unlike the others, still has significant fuel remaining. After encountering Pluto and Arrokoth, it may yet target another object in the outer Kuiper belt. Subsequently, it will eventually enter interstellar space, but can be boosted to approach future stellar targets.”

In the 1970s, four spacecraft were launched with speeds large enough that they would eventually escape the Solar System: Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2. In the 2000s, New Horizons became the fifth spacecraft that will leave the Solar System and enter interstellar space. But unlike the other four, it still has fuel remaining and could boost itself to alter its trajectory. In the aftermath of the ESA’s Gaia mission, we now can predict where more than a billion stars in the Milky Way will be located up to a million years in the future, raising the possibility that we could alter New Horizon’s trajectory to encounter another solar system in the distant future.

Should we do it? Of course we should! Come learn about this fascinating possibility today.

These 22 Pictures Are The Perfect Farewell To NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope

“On January 30, 2020, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was retired after a 17 year mission. Along with Hubble, Compton, and Chandra, Spitzer was the final of NASA’s Great Observatories. Owing to its location above Earth’s atmosphere, its measurement capabilities were unique. Until James Webb launches, Spitzer remains humanity’s greatest mid-infrared observatory. These 22 images highlight its greatest achievements.”

What can you see, from space, with infrared eyes that you cannot see with optical, Hubble-like wavelengths? For the past 17 years, NASA’s Spitzer has answered those questions, revealing spectacular details about star-forming regions, nearby and distant galaxies, supernova remnants and planetary nebulae, and a whole host of other fascinating astrophysical phenomena.

From the deepest, darkest dust lanes in our galaxy to comets in our own Solar System to the ultra-distant Universe, Spitzer truly has been one of the “great” observatories in NASA’s entire history. Come take one last tour today.

The Future Of NASA Astrophysics Depends On Undoing Trump’s FY2021 Budget Request

“NASA has always spent more than half of its budget on developing large missions; 2019 was the first time the Astrophysics Division’s numbers dropped below that figure. When a flagship mission overruns, it never eats the rest of the science program; it only can delay the next flagship. And flagships aren’t expensive because of mismanagement; they’re expensive because they’re ambitious, first-of-its-kind science.

Before any servicing missions at all, Hubble cost about $3 billion in late-1980s dollars. If it had started in 2007, the same time Webb started, it would have cost $8.3 billion in inflated dollars. Meanwhile, WFIRST is not having any of the problems that plagued Webb, and is coming in on-schedule and on-budget, with 100 times the field-of-view of Hubble and up to 1500 times faster for large surveys at the same depth. The future of scientific exploration is right at our fingertips, if only we’re bold enough to continuously invest in it.”

Earlier this week, the President’s office released their budget request for the 2021 fiscal year. Just as in every year prior, the administration has proposed terminating the flagship program at NASA Astrophysics by ending the federal funding for it. Flagship missions are arguably the most scientifically fruitful endeavor that NASA undertakes, and without it, we would never have had the Hubble Space Telescope or many other legendary observatories that have forever changed our view of the Universe.

We can have a bright scientific future, but even one year without this essential funding could bring generations of efforts all crashing down. Here’s what we need to do.

4 Cosmic Records That The James Webb Space Telescope Should Shatter

“With seven times Hubble’s light-gathering power, better resolution, and extended infrared capabilities, numerous cosmic records will fall. Although it will almost certainly make unforeseen discoveries, Webb is poised to shatter four separate cosmic records.

1.) Most distant galaxy. Presently, the Hubble Space Telescope holds the record, discovering GN-z11 from just 407 million years after the Big Bang. Webb’s infrared eyes will see through the cosmic dust that obscures Hubble’s vision, revealing galaxies as little as 200-275 million years old.”

We’ve come so far in our exploration and understanding of the Universe, and yet the next generation of telescopes that are going to be completed and are set to begin operating in the 2020s will truly be a revolution. Next year, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and begin data-taking for its first science missions, and numerous cosmic records should fall almost immediately. These include the most distant galaxy, measuring the components of the atmospheres of the smallest exoplanets, finding the earliest stellar populations ever, and taking direct images of the smallest exoplanets ever seen.

Come see what’s ahead just over the horizon for astronomy in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words in this latest story today!

NASA’s NICER Mission Reveals An Unexpected Neutron Star Surprise

“Even with our most powerful telescopes in all wavelengths of light, neutron stars only appear as points. NASA’s NICER mission, installed aboard the ISS in 2017, sought to change all that. The low-energy X-ray observatory measures timing signals down to 300 nanoseconds and at unprecedented sensitivities. NICER enables measurements of neutron stars’ sizes, masses, cooling times, stabilities, and internal structures.”

By looking at one particular pulsar located 1,100 light-years away, J0030+0451, two teams of scientists were able to measure the mass and size of a neutron star to unprecedented accuracy, but then did something even better. Based on the properties of the X-rays they saw, they were able to reconstruct the first-ever surface map of a neutron star. Whereas everyone expected that the neutron star would display a picture akin to one many of us have seen before, of a dipole magnet within a spinning stellar corpse, we instead found multiple ‘hot spots,’ all of which lie in the neutron star’s southern hemisphere.

This unexpected neutron star surprise really is forcing us to change what we thought we new about these objects! Come get the latest in the ongoing story of pulsars, one new data point at a time.

These Are The Top 10 Hubble Images Of 2019

1.) Galaxy pair AM 2026-424. With two massive galaxies colliding head-on, an intermediate ring of blue stars appears before the inevitable final merger.”

In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched, providing humanity with unprecedented views of the Universe. Each and every year, with 2019 marking the 30th consecutive year, a series of images get produced that shed light on some aspect of our Universe in unprecedented fashion. Despite Hubble’s big gyroscope failure (and scare) at the end of last year, 2019 has turned out to be no exception, with 10 spectacular new images and 7 almost-as-spectacular honorable mentions.

There’s a great chance you missed most of these during the year, but now’s your opportunity to get the year’s Hubble highlights all in one place!

For The Last Time, No, A NASA Engineer Has Not Broken Physics With An Impossible Engine

“The problem isn’t that these laws couldn’t be overturned by experiment; of course they could. The problem is that physicists have performed so many experiments in so many different ways, so carefully and with such precision verifying them. These conservation laws have been confirmed for every gravitational, mechanical, electromagnetic and quantum interaction ever observed, and they always hold. In every scenario ever examined, momentum, Lorentz invariance, and Newton’s 3rd law are always conserved.

And now, it’s claimed that an engine, one that relies on nothing more than a simple electromagnetic or mechanical power source, overthrows all of physics. Like cold fusion. Like the EM drive. Like any perpetual motion machine. Or, like the latest absurdity, David Burns’ helical engine.”

Every time a new story comes out about some idea or discovery that clearly violates a well-established law of physics, I’m quick to point out the flaws with it and to assert that this doesn’t and cannot work. I’m then quickly met with an army of non-physicists who claim that I’m too close-minded; that I’m not even open to the possibility of new technology; and that I’m not even giving it a fair shake.

On the contrary, explaining what we know about physics and how we know it, in the context of what’s been robustly established, is the fairest shake something can get. Physics is not broken, and the latest bad idea really is bad. Here’s why.

This Is The One Way The Moon Outshines Our Sun

“Unlike the Sun, the Moon’s surface is made of mostly heavier elements, while the Sun is mostly hydrogen and helium. When cosmic rays (high-energy particles) from throughout the Universe collide with heavy atoms, nuclear recoil causes gamma-ray emission. With no atmosphere or magnetic field, and a lithosphere rich in heavy elements, cosmic rays produce gamma-rays upon impacting the Moon.”

When you view the Moon with your eyes, you’re not seeing it shine so brightly because it’s emitting its own light. Rather, it’s reflecting sunlight on its illuminated phase and reflecting light emitted from Earth (known as “Earthshine”) on the darkened portion. If you look at the Moon in many different wavelengths, from radio to infrared to ultraviolet to X-ray energies, you’ll find that the Sun is much brighter, and the Moon primarily emits light due to reflection.

But in gamma-rays, that entire story changes. The Sun emits virtually no high-energy gamma-rays, with only minor bursts during solar flared. The Moon, on the other hand, emits high-energy gamma-rays constantly; for almost 30 years we know that it outshines the Sun in this particular wavelength range.

It might sound puzzling to you, but there’s a good physics reason for this, and a fun little science fact that everyone should appreciate. Get the story today!