Category: NASA

This Is How Hubble Will Use Its Remaining Gyro…

This Is How Hubble Will Use Its Remaining Gyroscopes To Maneuver In Space

“It might seem to be just another example of crumbling infrastructure in the United States, but you must neither underestimate Hubble nor the resourcefulness of astronomers and scientists and engineers overall. The two (or maybe three) remaining gyroscopes are of a new and upgraded design, designed to last five times as long as the original gyroscopes, which includes the one that recently failed. The James Webb Space Telescope, despite being billed as Hubble’s successor, is actually quite different, and will launch in 2021.

Even with one gyroscope, the Hubble Space Telescope should still be operational and capable of providing complementary observations to James Webb. This reduced-gyro mode has been planned for a long time. The only disappointment is that we may need to enter it so soon.”

One of the hallmarks of a successful NASA project is overengineering. Things will go wrong, break down, and degrade over time. One of the best examples is the Opportunity rover, which was designed for a 90 day mission and wound up living for nearly 15 years. But many people don’t appreciate how successfully overengineered Hubble is. Now well into its 28th year, it’s some 9 years removed from its final servicing mission. The gyroscopes that were installed included three of the old type and three of the new type, and the final old-style gyroscope has just failed. 

Yet Hubble can continue operating and doing astronomy on just one gyroscope. Its demise has been greatly exaggerated; come learn the truth about Hubble today!

The Most Important X-Ray Image Ever Taken Prov…

The Most Important X-Ray Image Ever Taken Proved The Existence Of Dark Matter

“Yet the most important X-ray image of all time was an incredible surprise. This is the Bullet Cluster: a system of two galaxy clusters colliding at high speeds. As the gaseous matter inside collides, it slows, heats up, and lags behind, emitting X-rays. However, we can use gravitational lensing to learn where the mass is located in this system. he bending and shearing of light from background galaxies shows it’s separated from the matter’s and X-rays’ location. This separation is some of our strongest evidence for dark matter.”

There are many different lines of evidence for dark matter, but one of the biggest contentions of those who disbelieve it is that a direct empirical proof of its existence is needed. If it exists in a large, diffuse halo around every galaxy, cluster, and component of large-scale structure in the Universe, you should be able to prove it. Starting more than 10 years ago, astronomers have been able to do just that. When galaxy clusters collide, the overwhelming majority of normal matter, residing in the intracluster medium, should smash together, heat up, and emit X-rays. It does! But the biggest deal is that the gravitational mass, reconstructed through lensing, doesn’t coincide with the normal matter.

There must be some other type of matter from the normal, baryonic matter. Ergo, dark matter. Here’s (IMO) the most important X-ray story of all-time.

This Is Why Hubble Can’t See The Very Fi…

This Is Why Hubble Can’t See The Very First Galaxies

“By observing dark, empty patches of sky, it reveals ancient galaxies without nearby interference.

When distant galaxy clusters are present, these massive gravitational clumps behave as natural magnifying lenses.

The most distant observed galaxies have their light bent, distorted, and amplified along the journey.

Hubble discovered the current cosmic record-holder, GN-z11, via lensing.

Its light arrives from 407 million years after the Big Bang: 3% of the Universe’s current age.”

No astronomical observatory has revolutionized our view of the Universe quite like NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. With the various servicing missions and instrument upgrades that have taken place over its lifetime, Hubble has pushed back the cosmic frontier of the first stars and galaxies to limits never before known. Yet there must be galaxies before them; some of the most distant Hubble galaxies have stars in them that push back the time of the first galaxies to just 250 million years after the Big Bang. Yet Hubble is physically incapable of seeing that far. Three factors: cosmic redshift, warm temperatures, and light-blocking gas, prevent us from going much beyond what we’ve already seen. In fact, we’re remarkably lucky to have gotten as distant as we have. 

Find out why Hubble can’t see the very first galaxies, and why we need the James Webb space telescope!

NASA Images Show A Record Recovery From Histor…

NASA Images Show A Record Recovery From History’s Worst National Park Wildfire

“In 1988, 36% of the land in Yellowstone National Park — 793,880 acres — burned in one giant conflagration.

A combination of lightning strikes, human-caused fires, and parched conditions created the out-of-control blaze.

By time the cool, wet weather arrived in late autumn, tens of millions of trees were destroyed, along with innumerable plants.

41% of the burned area experienced crown fires, obliterating the forests there.

Yet natural regrowth and regeneration began immediately.”

Wildfires, both natural (from lightning strikes) and human-caused (from negligent behavior) have been particularly severe throughout the American west in the past few years. But despite it all, the greatest fire in recorded history to occur in any National Park remains the 1988 Yellowstone Fire. In that year, over a third (nearly 800,000 acres) of land burned, through a combination of ground fires and crown fires. Yet now, 30 years after the fact, the landscape has recovered almost completely through natural processes. The plans we have for managing the land through events like these are top-notch; all that is required is the funding and human-power to execute them properly.

The natural recovery of Yellowstone should give hope to anyone afflicted by the wildfires these past few years. NASA and the USGS are watching over us.

One Simple Reason Why Touching The Sun Is So H…

One Simple Reason Why Touching The Sun Is So Hard

“It doesn’t simply take a suite of clever instruments to measure the Sun up close, although the Parker Solar Probe has those. It isn’t enough to have a thick, carbon-composite shield to withstand the incredible radiation and temperatures present in close proximity to the Sun, although the Parker Solar Probe has those, too. It also requires an incredibly complex, intricate plan to insert yourself into a stable orbit that’s capable of bringing you closer to the Sun than anything else ever has before.”

If there’s one law of physics that most people know, it’s Newton’s first law. Objects at rest remain at rest, and objects in motion remain in uniform motion, unless they’re acted on by an outside force. This applies not just to straight-line motions, but to orbiting motions as well. It isn’t just momentum that’s conserved in physics, but angular (or rotational) momentum, too. In order to touch the Sun, the Parker Solar Probe has to somehow get rid of a tremendous amount of angular momentum, and rockets alone aren’t powerful enough to do it. The trick? You have to use the other planets in the Solar System, and give up your angular momentum to them. The Parker Solar Probe will pass close by Venus a record seven times in order to do this, coming within less than 4 million miles of the Sun when they’re all over.

We’ve never touched the Sun before, but thanks to new technology, an ambitious mission, and an incredible flight plan, we’re about to accomplish what was once unthinkable.

First Stars Formed No Later Than 250 Million Y…

First Stars Formed No Later Than 250 Million Years After The Big Bang, With Direct Proof

“We see MACS1149-JD1 as it was 530 million years after the Big Bang, while inside, it has a special signature: oxygen. Oxygen is only produced by previous generations of stars, indicating that this galaxy is already old.

MACS1149-JD1 was imaged with microwave (ALMA), infrared (Spitzer), and optical (Hubble) data combined.

The results indicate that stars existed nearly 300 million years before our observations.”

One of the great quests of astronomers today is to measure and locate the very first stars in the Universe. As far back as Hubble can see, to when the Universe was just 3-5% its current age, the Universe is still full of galaxies, even though they’re smaller and bluer than the ones we have today. But within these galaxies, we can also find evidence that the stars in there aren’t the very first ones; they contain evidence for prior generations of stars in their spectral signatures. From the second-most distant galaxy ever discovered, itself just 530 million years after the Big Bang, we see evolved stars. They indicate that the very first ones formed no later than 250 million years after the Big Bang.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to see that far! In less than 3 years, we’ll peer beyond where we’ve ever seen before. And there will no doubt be something breathtaking to look at.

The Pillars Of Creation Haven’t Been Des…

The Pillars Of Creation Haven’t Been Destroyed, Say New NASA Images

“Near-infrared observations can see through the dust, revealing a glittering tapestry of young, hot stars inside. But at longer wavelengths, cooler-temperature objects show up. Mid-infrared light revealed that a diffuse heat source was warming the nebula, suggesting a recent supernova. While the far-infrared showed where the gas is evaporating, we needed X-rays to know if the pillars were being destroyed.”

In a stunning new release, NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory has put out a wide-field view of a large portion of the Eagle Nebula, including the famed Pillars of Creation. All told, some 1,700 X-ray sources were identified, perhaps 2/3rds of which are inside the nebula. There are proto-stars, young stars, and stellar corpses. But conspicuously missing from the entire field-of-view is any evidence of a supernova remnant. In 2007, infrared data from Spitzer suggested that there may have been a recent supernova, and hence the pillars may already have been destroyed. The new Chandra data weighs in on that, giving a definitive “no” for an answer.

Come see the incredible suite of images and learn about the science inside this cosmic beauty, on today’s Mostly Mute Monday!

The Brightest Galaxy In The Universe Is Surp…

The Brightest Galaxy In The Universe Is Surprisingly Young And Tiny

“In 2015, a new record was set for the brightest known galaxy, thanks to observations with the WISE telescope. Supermassive black holes power Extremely Luminous Infrared Galaxies. The brightest ones shine 10,000+ times as bright as our Milky Way.Although the Universe is just 10% of its current age and the galaxy is even smaller than ours, it outshines them all.”

I want you to close your eyes and imagine the Milky Way: a typical galaxy. Now, imagine a different galaxy, the brightest one you can think up. What does it look like? How do you imagine it?

Do you imagine something large, massive, with hundreds or even thousands of times as many stars? Do you imagine something that’s built itself up over billions of years? Well if that’s what you imagined, prepare to be shocked! The brightest ones of all are young, ultra-distant, and even smaller than our own galaxy!

Here’s the brightest galaxy in the Universe, which is turbulent, dusty, and looks nothing like you might expect!

NASA’s Next Flagship Mission May Be A Cr…

NASA’s Next Flagship Mission May Be A Crushing Disappointment For Astrophysics

“This is NASA. This is the pre-eminent space agency in the world. This is where science, research, development, discovery, and innovation all come together. The spinoff technologies alone justify the investment, but that’s not why we do it. We are here to discover the Universe. We are here to learn all that we can about the cosmos and our place within it. We are here to find out what the Universe looks like and how it came to be the way it is today.

It’s time for the United States government to step up to the plate and invest in fundamental science in a way the world hasn’t seen in decades. It’s time to stop asking the scientific community to do more with less, and give them a realistic but ambitious goal: to do more with more. If we can afford an ill-thought-out space force, perhaps we can afford to learn about the greatest unexplored natural resource of all. The Universe, and the vast unknowns hiding in the great cosmic ocean.”

While the Trump administration just proposed a new branch of the military, a “space force” if you will, NASA has just demanded that every one of the proposed astrophysics flagship missions abandon their large ambitions and present a scaled-down, sub-$5 billion version of their proposal. That means smaller telescopes, reduced capabilities, and less knowledge that will be revealed about the Universe. Every single one of the four will suffer from this, but the biggest losers may be us. In terms of science, society, spinoffs, and civilization, we’ll all be poorer if we fail to invest in something that truly makes a difference in this world.

Why grandstand when you can literally grandly stand where no human has stood before: at the frontiers of knowledge? It’s time to invest in something that matters.

The EmDrive, NASA’s ‘Impossible&rs…

The EmDrive, NASA’s ‘Impossible’ Space Engine, Really Is Impossible

“Tajmar’s results are exactly what you’d expect for the systematic error explanation: with a properly shielded apparatus, with no additional electromagnetic fields induced by the wires, there is no observed thrust at any power. They conclude that these induced fields by the electrical wires, visibly present in the other setups, are the likely culprit for the observed, unexplained thrust:

‘Our results show that the magnetic interaction from not sufficiently shielded cables or thrusters are a major factor that needs to be taken into account for proper µN thrust measurements for these type of devices.’

To the best of our knowledge, then, rockets will still require propellant.

The EmDrive isn’t a reactionless drive at all, and all the laws of physics should still work. In short, we fooled ourselves.”

For years, many tinkerers and inventors have been claiming that some sort of electromagnetic cavity, e.g., the EmDrive, can create a reactionless drive. That is, they claim they can change the momentum of a rocket without any sort of change-in-momentum of anything else, violating Newton’s action-reaction law. Needless to say, much like perpetual motion, physicists are largely skeptical. But until now, we hadn’t yet found why they were achieving the results that they did. However, a new source of error was just uncovered: magnetic fields originating from the cables that power the device. Properly set up the device, away from cables and loops of wires, as Martin Tajmar’s team did, and guess what: your ‘anomalous thrust’ disappears.

The EmDrive, billed as NASA’s impossible space engine, really was too good to be true.