Category: telescope

image

Are you throwing all your money into a black hole today?

Forget Black Friday — celebrate #BlackHoleFriday with us and get sucked into this recent discovery of a black hole that may have sparked star births across multiple galaxies.

If confirmed, this discovery would represent the widest reach ever seen for a black hole acting as a stellar kick-starter — enhancing star formation more than one million light-years away. (One light year is equal to 6 trillion miles.)

A black hole is an extremely dense object from which no light can escape. The black hole’s immense gravity pulls in surrounding gas and dust. Sometimes, black holes hinder star birth. Sometimes — like perhaps in this case — they increase star birth.

Telescopes like our Chandra X-ray Observatory help us detect the X-rays produced by hot gas swirling around the black hole. Have more questions about black holes? Click here to learn more.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is a satellite in low-Earth orbit that detects gamma rays from exotic objects like black holes, neutron stars and fast-moving jets of hot gas. For 11 years Fermi has seen some of the highest-energy bursts of light in the universe and is helping scientists understand where gamma rays come from.

Confused? Don’t be! We get a ton of questions about Fermi and figured we’d take a moment to answer a few of them here.

1. Who was this Fermi guy?

The Fermi telescope was named after Enrico Fermi in recognition of his work on how the tiny particles in space become accelerated by cosmic objects, which is crucial to understanding many of the objects that his namesake satellite studies.

Enrico Fermi was an Italian physicist and Nobel Prize winner (in 1938) who immigrated to the United States to be a professor of physics at Columbia University, later moving to the University of Chicago.

image

Original image courtesy Argonne National Laboratory

Over the course of his career, Fermi was involved in many scientific endeavors, including the Manhattan Project, quantum theory and nuclear and particle physics. He even engineered the first-ever atomic reactor in an abandoned squash court (squash is the older, English kind of racquetball) at the University of Chicago.

There are a number of other things named after Fermi, too: Fermilab, the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generating Station, the Enrico Fermi Institute and more. (He’s kind of a big deal in the physics world.)

image

Fermi even had something to say about aliens! One day at lunch with his buddies, he wondered if extraterrestrial life existed outside our solar system, and if it did, why haven’t we seen it yet? His short conversation with friends sparked decades of research into this idea and has become known as the Fermi Paradox — given the vastness of the universe, there is a high probability that alien civilizations exist out there, so they should have visited us by now.  

2. So, does the Fermi telescope look for extraterrestrial life?

No. Although both are named after Enrico Fermi, the Fermi telescope and the Fermi Paradox have nothing to do with one another.

image

Fermi does not look for aliens, extraterrestrial life or anything of the sort! If aliens were to come our way, Fermi would be no help in identifying them, and they might just slip right under Fermi’s nose. Unless, of course, those alien spacecraft were powered by processes that left behind traces of gamma rays.

image

Fermi detects gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light, which are often produced by events so far away the light can take billions of years to reach Earth. The satellite sees pulsars, active galaxies powered by supermassive black holes and the remnants of exploding stars. These are not your everyday stars, but the heavyweights of the universe. 

3. Does the telescope shoot gamma rays?

No. Fermi DETECTS gamma rays using its two instruments, the Large Area Telescope (LAT) and the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM).

The LAT sees about one-fifth of the sky at a time and records gamma rays that are millions of times more energetic than visible light. The GBM detects lower-energy emissions, which has helped it identify more than 2,000 gamma-ray bursts – energetic explosions in galaxies extremely far away.

image

The highest-energy gamma ray from a gamma-ray burst was detected by Fermi’s LAT, and traveled 3.8 billion light-years to reach us from the constellation Leo.

4. Will gamma rays turn me into a superhero?

Nope. In movies and comic books, the hero has a tragic backstory and a brush with death, only to rise out of some radioactive accident stronger and more powerful than before. In reality, that much radiation would be lethal.

image

In fact, as a form of radiation, gamma rays are dangerous for living cells. If you were hit with a huge amount of gamma radiation, it could be deadly — it certainly wouldn’t be the beginning of your superhero career.

5. That sounds bad…does that mean if a gamma-ray burst hit Earth, it would wipe out the planet and destroy us all?

Thankfully, our lovely planet has an amazing protector from gamma radiation: an atmosphere. That is why the Fermi telescope is in orbit; it’s easier to detect gamma rays in space!

image

Gamma-ray bursts are so far away that they pose no threat to Earth. Fermi sees gamma-ray bursts because the flash of gamma rays they release briefly outshines their entire home galaxies, and can sometimes outshine everything in the gamma-ray sky.

image

If a habitable planet were too close to one of these explosions, it is possible that the jet emerging from the explosion could wipe out all life on that planet. However, the probability is extremely low that a gamma-ray burst would happen close enough to Earth to cause harm. These events tend to occur in very distant galaxies, so we’re well out of reach.

image

We hope that this has helped to clear up a few misconceptions about the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. It’s a fantastic satellite, studying the craziest extragalactic events and looking for clues to unravel the mysteries of our universe!

Now that you know the basics, you probably want to learn more!
Follow the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope on Twitter (@NASAFermi) or Facebook (@nasafermi), and check out more awesome stuff on our Fermi webpage.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.  

image

The James Webb Space Telescope – our next infrared space observatory – will not only change what we know, but also how we think about the night sky and our place in the cosmos. This epic mission to travel back in time to look back at the first stars and galaxies has inspired artists from around the world to create art inspired by the mission.

image

Image Credit: Anri Demchenko

It’s been exactly two years since the opening of the first James Webb Space Telescope Art + Science exhibit at the NASA Goddard Visitor Center.  The exhibit was full of pieces created by artists who had the special opportunity to visit Goddard and view the telescope in person in late 2016

image

Online Submission Image Credit: Tina Sarmaga

Since the success of the event and exhibit, the Webb project has asked its followers to share any art they have created that was inspired by the mission. They have received over 125 submissions and counting!  

image

Image Credit: Enrico Novelli

image

Online Submission Image Credit: Unni Isaksen

A selection of these submissions will be on display at NASA Goddard’s Visitor Center from now until at least the end of April 2019. The artists represented in this exhibit come not just from around the country, but from around the world, showing how art and science together can bring a love of space down to Earth.

image

More information about each piece in the exhibit can be found in our web gallery. Want to participate and share your own art? Tag your original art, inspired by the James Webb Space Telescope, on Twitter or Instagram with #JWSTArt, or email us through our website! For more info and rules, see: http://nasa.gov/jwstart.

image

Webb is the work of hands and minds from across the planet. We’re leading this international project with our partners from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and we’re all looking forward to its launch in 2021. Once in space, Webb will solve mysteries of our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.

Learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope HERE, or follow the mission on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

image

Ten years ago, on March 6, 2009, a rocket lifted off a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It carried a passenger that would revolutionize our understanding of our place in the cosmos–NASA’s first planet hunter, the Kepler space telescope. The spacecraft spent more than nine years in orbit around the Sun, collecting an unprecedented dataset for science that revealed our galaxy is teeming with planets. It found planets that are in some ways similar to Earth, raising the prospects for life elsewhere in the cosmos, and stunned the world with many other first-of-a-kind discoveries. Here are five facts about the Kepler space telescope that will blow you away:

Kepler observed more than a half million stars looking for planets beyond our solar system.

image

It discovered more than 2,600 new worlds…

image

…many of which could be promising places for life.

image

Kepler’s survey revealed there are more planets than stars in our galaxy.

image

The spacecraft is now drifting around the Sun more than 94 million miles away from Earth in a safe orbit.

image

NASA retired the Kepler spacecraft in 2018. But to this day, researchers continue to mine its archive of data, uncovering new worlds.

*All images are artist illustrations. Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

image

Three
images from our Spitzer Space Telescope show pairs of galaxies on the cusp
of cosmic consolidations. Though the galaxies appear separate now, gravity is
pulling them together, and soon they will combine to form new, merged galaxies.
Some merged galaxies will experience billions of years of growth. For others,
however, the merger will kick off processes that eventually halt star
formation, dooming the galaxies.

image

Only
a few percent of galaxies in the nearby universe are merging, but galaxy
mergers were more common between 6 billion and 10 billion years ago, and these
processes profoundly shaped our modern galactic landscape. Scientists study
nearby galaxy mergers and use them as local laboratories for that earlier
period in the universe’s history. The survey has focused on 200 nearby objects,
including many galaxies in various stages of merging.

image

Merging
galaxies in the nearby universe appear especially bright to infrared
observatories like Spitzer. In these images, different colors correspond to
different wavelengths of infrared light, which are not visible to the human
eye. Blue corresponds to 3.6 microns, and green corresponds to 4.5 microns –
both strongly emitted by stars. Red corresponds to 8.0 microns, a wavelength
mostly emitted by dust.

Read
more: https://go.nasa.gov/2VioFB0.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your
regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Today is Valentine’s Day. What better way to express that
you love someone than with an intergalactic love gram? Check out some of our
favorites and send them to all of your cosmic companions:

Your love is galactic

image

The Hubble Space Telescope revolutionized nearly all areas
of astronomical research — and captured some truly lovely
images
. Here, a pair of intersecting galaxies swirl into the shape of a rose as a
result of gravitational tidal pull. What type of roses are you getting for your
love — red or galactic?

I think you’re n{ice}

image

IceBridge is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar
ice ever flown. It captures 3-D views of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves
and sea ice. This lovely heart-shaped glacier feature was discovered in
northwest Greenland during an IceBridge flight in 2017. Which of your lover’s
features would you say are the coolest?

You’re absolutely
magnetic

image

Even though we can’t see them, magnetic fields are all
around us. One of the solar system’s largest magnetospheres belongs to Jupiter.
Right now, our Juno spacecraft is providing scientists with their first
glimpses of this unseen force. Is your attraction to your loved one magnetic?

You’re MARS-velous

image

This heart-shaped feature on the Martian landscape was
captured by our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It was created by a small impact
crater that blew darker material on the surface away. What impact has your
loved one had on you?

I <3 you

image

From three billion miles away, Pluto sent a “love note” back
to Earth, via our New Horizons spacecraft. This stunning image of Pluto’s
“heart”
shows one of the world’s most dominant features, estimated to
be 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across at its widest point. Will you pass this love
note on to someone special in your life?

Light of my life

image

Our Solar Dynamics Observatory keeps an eye on our closest star
that brings energy to you and your love. The observatory helps us understand
where the Sun’s energy comes from, how the inside of the Sun works, how energy
is stored and released in the Sun’s atmosphere and much more. Who would you say
is your ray of sunshine?

Do any of these cosmic phenomena remind you of someone in
your universe? Download these cards here to
send to all the stars in your sky.

Want something from the Red Planet to match your bouquet of
red roses? Here
is our collection of Martian Valentines.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your
regular dose of space: 
http://nasa.tumblr.com

Our latest space telescope,
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), launched in April. This
week, planet hunters worldwide received all the data from the first two months
of its planet search. This view, from four cameras on TESS, shows just one
region of Earth’s southern sky.

image

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) captured
this strip of stars and galaxies in the southern sky during one 30-minute
period in August. Created by combining the view from all four of its cameras, TESS
images will be used to discover new exoplanets. Notable features in this swath
include the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and a globular cluster called NGC
104. The brightest stars, Beta Gruis and R Doradus, saturated an entire column
of camera detector pixels on the satellite’s second and fourth cameras.

Credit: NASA/MIT/TESS

The data in the images from TESS will soon lead to discoveries of
planets beyond our solar system – exoplanets. (We’re at 3,848 so far!)

image

But first, all that data (about 27 gigabytes a day) needs to be
processed. And where do space telescopes like TESS get their data cleaned up?
At the Star Wash, of course!

image

TESS sends about 10 billion pixels of data to Earth
at a time. A supercomputer at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley processes the raw
data, turning those pixels into measures of a star’s brightness.

image

And that brightness? THAT’S HOW WE FIND PLANETS! A dip in a star’s
brightness can reveal an orbiting exoplanet in transit.

image

TESS will spend a year studying our southern sky, then will turn
and survey our northern sky for another year. Eventually, the space telescope
will observe 85 percent of Earth’s sky, including 200,000 of the brightest and
closest stars to Earth.

image

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Some people watch scary movies because they like being startled. A bad guy jumps out from around a corner! A monster emerges from the shadows! Scientists experience surprises all the time, but they’re usually more excited than scared. Sometimes theories foreshadow new findings — like when there’s a dramatic swell in the movie soundtrack — but often, discoveries are truly unexpected. 

image

Scientists working with the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope have been jumping to study mysterious bumps in the gamma rays for a decade now. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light. Invisible to human eyes, they’re created by some of the most powerful and unusual events and objects in the universe. In celebration of Halloween, here are a few spooky gamma-ray findings from Fermi’s catalog.

image

Stellar Graveyards

If you were to walk through a cemetery at night, you’d expect to trip over headstones or grave markers. Maybe you’d worry about running into a ghost. If you could explore the stellar gravesite created when a star explodes as a supernova, you’d find a cloud of debris expanding into interstellar space. Some of the chemical elements in that debris, like gold and platinum, go on to create new stars and planets! Fermi found that supernova remnants IC 443 and W44 also accelerate mysterious cosmic rays, high-energy particles moving at nearly the speed of light. As the shockwave of the supernova expands, particles escape its magnetic field and interact with non-cosmic-ray particles to produce gamma rays. 

image

Ghost Particles

But the sources of cosmic rays aren’t the only particle mysteries Fermi studies. Just this July, Fermi teamed up with the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica to discover the first source of neutrinos outside our galactic neighborhood. Neutrinos are particles that weigh almost nothing and rarely interact with anything. Around a trillion of them pass through you every second, ghost-like, without you noticing and then continue on their way. (But don’t worry, like a friendly ghost, they don’t harm you!) Fermi traced the neutrino IceCube detected back to a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy. By the time it reached Earth, it had traveled for 3.7 billion years at almost the speed of light!

image

Black Widow Pulsars

Black widows and redbacks are species of spiders with a reputation for devouring their partners. Astronomers have discovered two types of star systems that behave in a similar way. Sometimes when a star explodes as a supernova, it collapses back into a rapidly spinning, incredibly dense star called a pulsar. If there’s a lighter star nearby, it can get stuck in a close orbit with the pulsar, which blasts it with gamma rays, magnetic fields and intense winds of energetic particles. All these combine to blow clouds of material off the low-mass star. Eventually, the pulsar can eat away at its companion entirely.

image

Dark Matter

What’s spookier than a good unsolved mystery? Dark matter is a little-understood substance that makes up most of the matter in the universe. The stuff that we can see — stars, people, haunted houses, candy — is made up of normal matter. But our surveys of the cosmos tell us there’s not enough normal matter to keep things working the way they do. There must be another type of matter out there holding everything together. One of Fermi’s jobs is to help scientists narrow down the search for dark matter. Last year, researchers noticed that most of the gamma rays coming from the Andromeda galaxy are confined to its center instead of being spread throughout. One possible explanation is that accumulated dark matter at the center of the galaxy is emitting gamma rays!

image

Fermi has helped us learn a lot about the gamma-ray universe over the last 10 years. Learn more about its accomplishments and the other mysteries it’s working to solve. What other surprises are waiting out among the stars?

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

Just about every galaxy the size of our Milky Way (or bigger) has a supermassive black hole at its center. These objects are ginormous — hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of the Sun! Now, we know galaxies merge from time to time, so it follows that some of their black holes should combine too. But we haven’t seen a collision like that yet, and we don’t know exactly what it would look like. 

image

A new simulation created on the Blue Waters supercomputer — which can do 13 quadrillion calculations per second, 3 million times faster than the average laptop — is helping scientists understand what kind of light would be produced by the gas around these systems as they spiral toward a merger.

The new simulation shows most of the light produced around these two black holes is UV or X-ray light. We can’t see those wavelengths with our own eyes, but many telescopes can. Models like this could tell the scientists what to look for. 

You may have spotted the blank circular region between the two black holes. No, that’s not a third black hole. It’s a spot that wasn’t modeled in this version of the simulation. Future models will include the glowing gas passing between the black holes in that region, but the researchers need more processing power. The current version already required 46 days!

image

The supermassive black holes have some pretty nifty effects on the light created by the gas in the system. If you view the simulation from the side, you can see that their gravity bends light like a lens. When the black holes are lined up, you even get a double lens!

But what would the view be like from between two black holes? In the 360-degree video above, the system’s gas has been removed and the Gaia star catalog has been added to the background. If you watch the video in the YouTube app on your phone, you can moved the screen around to explore this extreme vista. Learn more about the new simulation here

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

So you think you found an exoplanet – a planet around another star?
It’s not as simple as pointing a telescope to the sky and looking for a
planet that waves back. Scientists gather many observations and
carefully analyze their data before they can be even somewhat sure that
they’ve discovered new worlds.

Here are 10 things to know about finding
and confirming exoplanets.

image

This is an illustration of the different elements in our exoplanet
program, including ground-based observatories, like the W. M. Keck
Observatory, and space-based observatories like Hubble, Spitzer,
Kepler, TESS, James Webb Space Telescope, WFIRST and future missions.

1. Pick your tool to take a look.

The vast majority of planets around other stars have been found
through the transit method so far. This technique involves monitoring
the amount of light that a star gives off over time, and looking for
dips in brightness that may indicate an orbiting planet passing in front
of the star.

We have two specialized exoplanet-hunting telescopes scanning the
sky for new planets right now – Kepler and the Transiting Exoplanet
Survey Satellite (TESS)
– and they both work this way. Other methods of
finding exoplanets include radial velocity (looking for a “wobble” in a
star’s position caused by a planet’s gravity), direct imaging (blocking
the light of the star to see the planet) and microlensing (watching for
events where a star passes in front of another star, and the gravity of
the first star acts as a lens).

Here’s more about finding exoplanets.

image

2. Get the data.

To find a planet, scientists need to get data from telescopes,
whether those telescopes are in space or on the ground. But telescopes
don’t capture photos of planets with nametags. Instead, telescopes
designed for the transit method show us how brightly thousands of stars
are shining over time. TESS, which launched in April and just began
collecting science data, beams its stellar observations back to Earth
through our Deep Space Network, and then scientists get to work.

image

3. Scan the data for planets.

Researchers combing through TESS data are looking for those transit
events that could indicate planets around other stars. If the star’s
light lessens by the same amount on a regular basis – for example,
every 10 days – this may indicate a planet with an orbital period (or
“year”) of 10 days. The standard requirement for planet candidates from
TESS is at least two transits – that is, two equal dips in brightness
from the same star.

image

4. Make sure the planet signature couldn’t be something else.

Not all dips in a star’s brightness are caused by transiting planets.
There may be another object – such as a companion star, a group of
asteroids, a cloud of dust or a failed star called a brown dwarf, that
makes a regular trip around the target star. There could also be
something funky going on with the telescope’s behavior, how it delivered
the data, or other “artifacts” in data that just aren’t planets.
Scientists must rule out all non-planet options to the best of their
ability before moving forward.

image

5. Follow up with a second detection method.

Finding the same planet candidate using two different techniques is a
strong sign that the planet exists, and is the standard for
“confirming” a planet. That’s why a vast network of ground-based
telescopes will be looking for the same planet candidates that TESS
discovers. It is also possible that TESS will spot a planet candidate
already detected by another telescope in the past. With these combined
observations, the planet could then be confirmed. The first planet TESS
discovered, Pi Mensae c, orbits a star previously observed with the
radial-velocity method on the ground. Scientists compared the TESS data
and the radial-velocity data from that star to confirm the presence of
planet “c.”

Scientists using the radial-velocity detection method see a star’s
wobble caused by a planet’s gravity, and can rule out other kinds of
objects such as companion stars. Radial-velocity detection also allows
scientists to calculate the mass of the planet.

image

6. …or at least another telescope.

Other space telescopes may also be used to help confirm exoplanets,
characterize them and even discover additional planets around the same
stars. If the planet is detected by the same method, but by two
different telescopes, and has received enough scrutiny that the
scientists are more than 99 percent sure it’s a planet, it is said to be
“validated” instead of “confirmed.”

image

7. Write a paper.

After thoroughly analyzing the data, and running tests to make sure
that their result still looks like the signature of a planet, scientists
write a formal paper describing their findings. Using the transit
method, they can also report the size of the planet. The planet’s radius
is related to how much light it blocks from the star, as well as the
size of the star itself. The scientists then submit the study to a
journal.

image

8. Wait for peer review.

Scientific journals have a rigorous peer review process. This means
scientific experts not involved in the study review it and make sure the
findings look sound. The peer-reviewers may have questions or
suggestions for the scientists. When everyone agrees on a version of the
study, it gets published.

9. Publish the study.

When the study is published, scientists can officially say they have
found a new planet. This may still not be the end of the story, however.
For example, the TRAPPIST telescope in Chile first thought they had
discovered three Earth-size planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
When our Spitzer Space Telescope and other ground-based telescopes
followed up, they found that one of the original reported planets (the
original TRAPPIST-1d) did not exist, but they discovered five others
–bringing the total up to seven wondrous rocky worlds.

image

10. Catalog and celebrate – and look closer if you can!

Confirmed planets get added to our official catalog. So far,
Kepler has sent back the biggest bounty of confirmed exoplanets of any
telescope – more than 2,600 to date. TESS, which just began its planet
search, is expected to discover many thousands more. Ground-based
follow-up will help determine if these planets are gaseous or rocky, and
possibly more about their atmospheres. The forthcoming James Webb Space
Telescope
will be able to take a deeper look at the atmospheres of the
most interesting TESS discoveries.

Scientists sometimes even uncover planets with the help of people like you: exoplanet K2-138 was discovered through citizen scientists
in Kepler’s K2 mission data. Based on surveys so far, scientists
calculate that almost every star in the Milky Way should have at least
one planet. That makes billions more, waiting to be found! Stay up to
date with our latest discoveries using this exoplanet counter.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.