Category: universe

A cluster of newborn stars herald their birth …

A cluster of newborn stars herald their birth in this interstellar picture obtained with our Spitzer Space Telescope. These bright young stars are found in a rosebud-shaped (and rose-colored) nebulosity. The star cluster and its associated nebula are located at a distance of 3300 light-years in the constellation Cepheus.

A recent census of the cluster reveals the presence of 130 young stars. The stars formed from a massive cloud of gas and dust that contains enough raw materials to create a thousand Sun-like stars. In a process that astronomers still poorly understand, fragments of this molecular cloud became so cold and dense that they collapsed into stars. Most stars in our Milky Way galaxy are thought to form in such clusters.

The Spitzer Space Telescope image was obtained with an infrared array camera that is sensitive to invisible infrared light at wavelengths that are about ten times longer than visible light. In this four-color composite, emission at 3.6 microns is depicted in blue, 4.5 microns in green, 5.8 microns in orange, and 8.0 microns in red. The image covers a region that is about one quarter the size of the full moon.

As in any nursery, mayhem reigns. Within the astronomically brief period of a million years, the stars have managed to blow a large, irregular bubble in the molecular cloud that once enveloped them like a cocoon. The rosy pink hue is produced by glowing dust grains on the surface of the bubble being heated by the intense light from the embedded young stars. Upon absorbing ultraviolet and visible-light photons produced by the stars, the surrounding dust grains are heated and re-emit the energy at the longer infrared wavelengths observed by Spitzer. The reddish colors trace the distribution of molecular material thought to be rich in hydrocarbons.

The cold molecular cloud outside the bubble is mostly invisible in these images. However, three very young stars near the center of the image are sending jets of supersonic gas into the cloud. The impact of these jets heats molecules of carbon monoxide in the cloud, producing the intricate green nebulosity that forms the stem of the rosebud.

Not all stars are formed in clusters. Away from the main nebula and its young cluster are two smaller nebulae, to the left and bottom of the central ‘rosebud,’each containing a stellar nursery with only a few young stars.

Astronomers believe that our own Sun may have formed billions of years ago in a cluster similar to this one. Once the radiation from new cluster stars destroys the surrounding placental material, the stars begin to slowly drift apart.

Additional information about the Spitzer Space Telescope is available at http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu.

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

The Hunt for New Worlds Continues with TESS

We’re getting ready to start our next mission to find new worlds! The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will find thousands of planets beyond our solar system for us to study in more detail. It’s preparing to launch from our Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

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Once it launches, TESS will look for new planets that orbit bright stars relatively close to Earth. We’re expecting to find giant planets, like Jupiter, but we’re also predicting we’ll find Earth-sized planets. Most of those planets will be within 300 light-years of Earth, which will make follow-up studies easier for other observatories.

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TESS will find these new exoplanets by looking for their transits. A transit is a temporary dip in a star’s brightness that happens with predictable timing when a planet crosses between us and the star. The information we get from transits can tell us about the size of the planet relative to the size of its star. We’ve found nearly 3,000 planets using the transit method, many with our Kepler space telescope. That’s over 75% of all the exoplanets we’ve found so far!

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TESS will look at nearly the entire sky (about 85%) over two years. The mission divides the sky into 26 sectors. TESS will look at 13 of them in the southern sky during its first year before scanning the northern sky the year after.

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What makes TESS different from the other planet-hunting missions that have come before it? The Kepler mission (yellow) looked continually at one small patch of sky, spotting dim stars and their planets that are between 300 and 3,000 light-years away. TESS (blue) will look at almost the whole sky in sections, finding bright stars and their planets that are between 30 and 300 light-years away.

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TESS will also have a brand new kind of orbit (visualized below). Once it reaches its final trajectory, TESS will finish one pass around Earth every 13.7 days (blue), which is half the time it takes for the Moon (gray) to orbit. This position maximizes the amount of time TESS can stare at each sector, and the satellite will transmit its data back to us each time its orbit takes it closest to Earth (orange).

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Kepler’s goal was to figure out how common Earth-size planets might be. TESS’s mission is to find exoplanets around bright, nearby stars so future missions, like our James Webb Space Telescope, and ground-based observatories can learn what they’re made of and potentially even study their atmospheres. TESS will provide a catalog of thousands of new subjects for us to learn about and explore.

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The TESS mission is led by MIT and came together with the help of many different partners. Learn more about TESS and how it will further our knowledge of exoplanets, or check out some more awesome images and videos of the spacecraft. And stay tuned for more exciting TESS news as the spacecraft launches!

Watch the Launch + More!

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Sunday, April 15
11 a.m. EDT – NASA Social Mission Overview

Join mission experts to learn more about TESS, how it will search for worlds beyond our solar system and what scientists hope to find! Have questions? Use #askNASA to have them answered live during the broadcast.

Watch HERE


1 p.m. EDT – Prelaunch News Conference

Get an update on the spacecraft, the rocket and the liftoff operations ahead of the April 16 launch! Have questions? Use #askNASA to have them answered live during the broadcast.

Watch HERE.


3 p.m. EDT – Science News Conference

Hear from mission scientists and experts about the science behind the TESS mission. Have questions? Use #askNASA to have them answered live during the broadcast. 

Watch HERE.


4 p.m. EDT – TESS Facebook Live

This live show will dive into the science behind the TESS spacecraft, explain how we search for planets outside our solar system and will allow you to ask your questions to members of the TESS team. 

Watch HERE


Monday, April 16
10 a.m. EDT – NASA EDGE: TESS Facebook Live

This half-hour live show will discuss the TESS spacecraft, the science of searching for planets outside our solar system, and the launch from Cape Canaveral.

Watch HERE.

1 p.m. EDT – Reddit AMA

Join us live on Reddit for a Science AMA to discuss the hunt for exoplanets and the upcoming launch of TESS!

Join in HERE.


6 p.m. EDT – Launch Coverage!

TESS is slated to launch at 6:32 p.m. EDT on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Watch HERE.

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Ten Observations From Our Flying Telescope

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SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP aircraft with a 100-inch telescope used to study the solar system and beyond by observing infrared light that can’t reach Earth’s surface.

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What is infrared light? It’s light we cannot see with our eyes that is just beyond the red portion of visible light we see in a rainbow. It can be used to change your TV channels, which is how remote controls work, and it can tell us how hot things are.

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Everything emits infrared radiation, even really cold objects like ice and newly forming stars! We use infrared light to study the life cycle of stars, the area around black holes, and to analyze the chemical fingerprints of complex molecules in space and in the atmospheres of other planets – including Pluto and Mars.

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Above, is the highest-resolution image of the ring of dust and clouds around the back hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. The bright Y-shaped feature is believed to be material falling from the ring into the black hole – which is located where the arms of the Y intersect.

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The magnetic field in the galaxy M82 (pictured above) aligns with the dramatic flow of material driven by a burst of star formation. This is helping us learn how star formation shapes magnetic fields of an entire galaxy.

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A nearby planetary system around the star Epsilon Eridani, the location of the fictional Babylon 5 space station, is similar to our own: it’s the closest known planetary system around a star like our sun and it also has an asteroid belt adjacent to the orbit of its largest, Jupiter-sized planet.

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Observations of a supernova that exploded 10,000 years ago, that revealed it contains enough dust to make 7,000 Earth-sized planets!

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Measurements of Pluto’s upper atmosphere, made just two weeks before our New Horizons spacecraft’s Pluto flyby. Combining these observations with those from the spacecraft are helping us understand the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

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A gluttonous star that has eaten the equivalent of 18 Jupiters in the last 80 years, which may change the theory of how stars and planets form.

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Molecules like those in your burnt breakfast toast may offer clues to the building blocks of life. Scientists hypothesize that the growth of complex organic molecules like these is one of the steps leading to the emergence of life.

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This map of carbon molecules in Orion’s Horsehead nebula (overlaid on an image of the nebula from the Palomar Sky Survey) is helping us understand how the earliest generations of stars formed. Our instruments on SOFIA use 14 detectors simultaneously, letting us make this map faster than ever before!

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Pinpointing the location of water vapor in a newly forming star with groundbreaking precision. This is expanding our understanding of the distribution of water in the universe and its eventual incorporation into planets. The water vapor data from SOFIA is shown above laid over an image from the Gemini Observatory.

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We captured the chemical fingerprints that revealed celestial clouds collapsing to form young stars like our sun. It’s very rare to directly observe this collapse in motion because it happens so quickly. One of the places where the collapse was observed is shown in this image from The Two Micron All Sky Survey.

Learn more by following SOFIA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

Planets Outside Our Solar System

Let the planet-hunting begin!

Our Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will scan the skies to look for planets beyond our solar system—known as exoplanets—is now in Florida to begin preparations for launch in April. Below, 10 Things to know about the many, many unknown planets out there awaiting our discovery.

1Exo-what?

We call planets in our solar system, well, planets, but the many planets we’re starting to discover outside of our solar system are called exoplanets. Basically, they’re planets that orbit another star.

2All eyes on TRAPPIST-1.

Remember the major 2016 announcement that we had discovered seven planets 40 light-years away, orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1? Those are all exoplanets. (Here’s a refresher.)

3Add 95 new ones to that.

Just last month, our Kepler telescope discovered 95 new exoplanets beyond our solar system (on top of the thousands of exoplanets Kepler has discovered so far). The total known planet count beyond our solar system is now more than 3,700. The planets range in size from mostly rocky super-Earths and fluffy mini-Neptunes, to Jupiter-like giants. They include a new planet orbiting a very bright star—the brightest star ever discovered by Kepler to have a transiting planet.

4Here comes TESS.

How many more exoplanets are out there waiting to be discovered? TESS will monitor more than 200,000 of the nearest and brightest stars in search of transit events—periodic dips in a star’s brightness caused by planets passing in front—and is expected to find thousands of exoplanets.

5With a sidekick, too.

Our upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, will provide important follow-up observations of some of the most promising TESS-discovered exoplanets. It will also allow scientists to study their atmospheres and, in some special cases, search for signs that these planets could support life.

6Prepped for launch.

TESS is scheduled to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station nearby our Kennedy Space Center in Florida, no earlier than April 16, pending range approval.

7A groundbreaking find.

In 1995, 51 Pegasi b (also called “Dimidium”) was the first exoplanet discovered orbiting a star like our Sun. This find confirmed that planets like the ones in our solar system could exist elsewhere in the universe.

8Trillions await.

A recent statistical estimate places, on average, at least one planet around every star in the galaxy. That means there could be a trillion planets in our galaxy alone, many of them in the range of Earth’s size.

9Signs of life.

Of course, our ultimate science goal is to find unmistakable signs of current life. How soon can that happen? It depends on two unknowns: the prevalence of life in the galaxy and a bit of luck. Read more about the search for life.

10Want to explore the galaxy?

No need to be an astronaut. Take a trip outside our solar system with help from our Exoplanet Travel Bureau.

Read the full version of this week’s ‘10 Things to Know’ article HERE

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What’s Inside SOFIA? High Flying Instruments

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Our flying observatory, called SOFIA, carries a 100-inch telescope inside a Boeing 747SP aircraft. Having an airborne observatory provides many benefits.

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It flies at 38,000-45,000 feet – above 99% of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks infrared light from reaching the ground! 

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It is also mobile! We can fly to the best vantage point for viewing the cosmos. We go to Christchurch, New Zealand, nearly every year to study objects best observed from the Southern Hemisphere. And last year we went to Daytona Beach, FL, to study the atmosphere of Neptune’s moon Triton while flying over the Atlantic Ocean.

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SOFIA’s telescope has a large primary mirror – about the same size as the Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror. Large telescopes let us gather a lot of light to make high-resolution images!

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But unlike a space-based observatory, SOFIA returns to our base every morning.

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Which means that we can change the instruments we use to analyze the light from the telescope to make many different types of scientific observations. We currently have seven instruments, and new ones are now being developed to incorporate new technologies.

So what is inside SOFIA? The existing instruments include:

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Infrared cameras that can peer inside celestial clouds of dust and gas to see stars forming inside. They can also study molecules in a nebula that may offer clues to the building blocks of life

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…A polarimeter, a device that measures the alignment of incoming light waves, that we use to study magnetic fields. The left image reveals that hot dust in the starburst galaxy M82 is magnetically aligned with the gas flowing out of it, shown in blue on the right image from our Chandra X-ray Observatory. This can help us understand how magnetic fields affect how stars form.

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…A tracking camera that we used to study New Horizon’s post-Pluto flyby target and found that it may have its own moon

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…A spectrograph that spreads light into its component colors. We’re using one to search for signs of water plumes on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and to search for signs of water on Venus to learn about how it lost its oceans

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…An instrument that studies high energy terahertz radiation with 14 detectors. It’s so efficient that we made this map of Orion’s Horsehead Nebula in only four hours! The map is made of 100 separate views of the nebula, each mapping carbon atoms at different velocities.

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…And we have an instrument under construction that will soon let us study how water vapor, ice and oxygen combine at different times during planet formation, to better understand how these elements combine with dust to form a mass that can become a planet.

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Our airborne telescope has already revealed so much about the universe around us! Now we’re looking for the next idea to help us use SOFIA in even more new ways. 

Discover more about our SOFIA flying observatory HERE

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Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

Week of March 5: Great Shots
Inspiring views of our solar system and beyond

1-Mars-By-Numbers

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“The first TV image of Mars, hand colored strip-by-strip, from Mariner 4 in 1965. The completed image was framed and presented to JPL director, William H. Pickering. Truly a labor of love for science!” -Kristen Erickson, NASA Science Engagement and Partnerships Director

2-Night Life

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“There are so many stories to this image. It is a global image, but relates to an individual in one glance. There are stories on social, economic, population, energy, pollution, human migration, technology meets science, enable global information, etc., that we can all communicate with similar interests under one image.” -Winnie Humberson, NASA Earth Science Outreach Manager

3-Pale Blue Dot

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“Whenever I see this picture, I wonder…if another species saw this blue dot what would they say and would they want to discover what goes on there…which is both good and bad. However, it would not make a difference within the eternity of space—we’re so insignificant…in essence just dust in the galactic wind—one day gone forever.”

-Dwayne Brown, NASA Senior Communications Official

4-Grand Central

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“I observed the Galactic Center with several X-ray telescopes before Chandra, including the Einstein Observatory and ROSAT. But the Chandra image looks nothing like those earlier images, and it reminded me how complex the universe really is. Also I love the colors.” -Paul Hertz, Director, NASA Astrophysics Division

5-Far Side Photobomb

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“This image from the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite captured a unique view of the Moon as it moved in front of the sunlit side of Earth in 2015. It shows a view of the farside of the Moon, which faces the Sun, that is never directly visible to us here on Earth. I found this perspective profoundly moving and only through our satellite views could this have been shared.” -Michael Freilich, Director NASA Earth Science Division

6-”Shocking, Exciting and Wonderful”

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“Pluto was so unlike anything I could imagine based on my knowledge of the Solar System. It showed me how much about the outer solar system we didn’t know. Truly shocking, exciting and wonderful all at the same time.” -Jim Green, Director, NASA Planetary Science Division

7-Slices of the Sun

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“This is an awesome image of the Sun through the Solar Dynamic Observatory’s many filters. It is one of my favorites.” – Peg Luce, Director, NASA Heliophysics Division (Acting)

8-Pluto’s Cold, Cold Heart

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“This high-resolution, false color image of Pluto is my favorite. The New Horizons flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015 capped humanity’s initial reconnaissance of every major body in the solar system. To think that all of this happened within our lifetime! It’s a reminder of how privileged we are to be alive and working at NASA during this historic era of space exploration.” – Laurie Cantillo, NASA Planetary Science Public Affairs Officer

9-Family Portrait

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“The Solar System family portrait, because it is a symbol what NASA exploration is really about: Seeing our world in a new and bigger way.” – Thomas H. Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate

10-Share Your Favorite Space Shots

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Tag @NASASolarSystem on your favorite social media platform with a link to your favorite image and few words about why it makes your heart thump.

Check out the full version of this article HERE.

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The Universe’s Brightest Lights Have Some Dark…

Did you know some of the brightest sources of light in the sky come from black holes in the centers of galaxies? It sounds a little contradictory, but it’s true! They may not look bright to our eyes, but satellites have spotted oodles of them across the universe. 

One of those satellites is our Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Fermi has found thousands of these kinds of galaxies in the 10 years it’s been operating, and there are many more out there!

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Black holes are regions of space that have so much gravity that nothing – not light, not particles, nada – can escape. Most galaxies have supermassive black holes at their centers – these are black holes that are hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of our sun – but active galactic nuclei (also called “AGN” for short, or just “active galaxies”) are surrounded by gas and dust that’s constantly falling into the black hole. As the gas and dust fall, they start to spin and form a disk. Because of the friction and other forces at work, the spinning disk starts to heat up.

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The disk’s heat gets emitted as light – but not just wavelengths of it that we can see with our eyes. We see light from AGN across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from the more familiar radio and optical waves through to the more exotic X-rays and gamma rays, which we need special telescopes to spot.

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About one in 10 AGN beam out jets of energetic particles, which are traveling almost as fast as light. Scientists are studying these jets to try to understand how black holes – which pull everything in with their huge amounts of gravity – somehow provide the energy needed to propel the particles in these jets.

Many of the ways we tell one type of AGN from another depend on how they’re oriented from our point of view. With radio galaxies, for example, we see the jets from the side as they’re beaming vast amounts of energy into space. Then there’s blazars, which are a type of AGN that have a jet that is pointed almost directly at Earth, which makes the AGN particularly bright.  

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Our Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has been searching the sky for gamma ray sources for 10 years. More than half (57%) of the sources it has found have been blazars. Gamma rays are useful because they can tell us a lot about how particles accelerate and how they interact with their environment.

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So why do we care about AGN? We know that some AGN formed early in the history of the universe. With their enormous power, they almost certainly affected how the universe changed over time. By discovering how AGN work, we can understand better how the universe came to be the way it is now.

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Fermi’s helped us learn a lot about the gamma-ray universe over the last 10 years. Learn more about Fermi and how we’re celebrating its accomplishments all year.

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Solar System: 10 Things to Know This Week

Pioneer Days

Someone’s got to be first. In space, the first explorers beyond Mars were Pioneers 10 and 11, twin robots who charted the course to the cosmos.

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1-Before Voyager

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Voyager, with its outer solar system tour and interstellar observations, is often credited as the greatest robotic space mission. But today we remember the plucky Pioneers, the spacecraft that proved Voyager’s epic mission was possible.

2-Where No One Had Gone Before

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Forty-five years ago this week, scientists still weren’t sure how hard it would be to navigate the main asteroid belt, a massive field of rocky debris between Mars and Jupiter. Pioneer 10 helped them work that out, emerging from first the first six-month crossing in February 1973. Pioneer 10 logged a few meteoroid hits (fewer than expected) and taught engineers new tricks for navigating farther and farther beyond Earth.

3-Trailblazer No. 2

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Pioneer 11 was a backup spacecraft launched in 1973 after Pioneer 10 cleared the asteroid belt. The new mission provided a second close look at Jupiter, the first close-up views of Saturn and also gave Voyager engineers plotting an epic multi-planet tour of the outer planets a chance to practice the art of interplanetary navigation.

4-First to Jupiter

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Three-hundred and sixty-three years after humankind first looked at Jupiter through a telescope, Pioneer 10 became the first human-made visitor to the Jovian system in December 1973. The spacecraft spacecraft snapped about 300 photos during a flyby that brought it within 81,000 miles (about 130,000 kilometers) of the giant planet’s cloud tops.

5-Pioneer Family

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Pioneer began as a Moon program in the 1950s and evolved into increasingly more complicated spacecraft, including a Pioneer Venus mission that delivered a series of probes to explore deep into the mysterious toxic clouds of Venus. A family portrait (above) showing (from left to right) Pioneers 6-9, 10 and 11 and the Pioneer Venus Orbiter and Multiprobe series. Image date: March 11, 1982. 

6-A Pioneer and a Pioneer

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Classic rock has Van Halen, we have Van Allen. With credits from Explorer 1 to Pioneer 11, James Van Allen was a rock star in the emerging world of planetary exploration. Van Allen (1914-2006) is credited with the first scientific discovery in outer space and was a fixture in the Pioneer program. Van Allen was a key part of the team from the early attempts to explore the Moon (he’s pictured here with Pioneer 4) to the more evolved science platforms aboard Pioneers 10 and 11.

7-The Farthest…For a While

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For more than 25 years, Pioneer 10 was the most distant human-made object, breaking records by crossing the asteroid belt, the orbit of Jupiter and eventually even the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1, moving even faster, claimed the most distant title in February 1998 and still holds that crown.

8-Last Contact

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We last heard from Pioneer 10 on Jan. 23, 2003. Engineers felt its power source was depleted and no further contact should be expected. We tried again in 2006, but had no luck. The last transmission from Pioneer 11 was received in September 1995. Both missions were planned to last about two years.

9-Galactic Ghost Ships

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Pioneers 10 and 11 are two of five spacecraft with sufficient velocity to escape our solar system and travel into interstellar space. The other three—Voyagers 1 and 2 and New Horizons—are still actively talking to Earth. The twin Pioneers are now silent. Pioneer 10 is heading generally for the red star Aldebaran, which forms the eye of Taurus (The Bull). It will take Pioneer over 2 million years to reach it. Pioneer 11 is headed toward the constellation of Aquila (The Eagle) and will pass nearby in about 4 million years.

10-The Original Message to the Cosmos

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Years before Voyager’s famed Golden Record, Pioneers 10 and 11 carried the original message from Earth to the cosmos. Like Voyager’s record, the Pioneer plaque was the brainchild of Carl Sagan who wanted any alien civilization who might encounter the craft to know who made it and how to contact them. The plaques give our location in the galaxy and depicts a man and woman drawn in relation to the spacecraft.

Read the full version of this week’s 10 Things article HERE

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When galaxies collide — a common event in the …

When galaxies collide — a common event in the
universe — a fresh burst of star formation typically takes place as gas clouds
mash together. At this point, the galaxy has a blue hue, but the color does not
mean it is cold: it is a result of the intense heat of newly formed blue–white
stars. Those stars do not last long, and after a few billion years the reddish
hues of aging, smaller stars dominate an elliptical galaxy’s spectrum. 

Our Hubble Space Telescope (@NASAHubble) caught
sight of a soft, diffuse-looking galaxy, perhaps the aftermath of a long-ago
galactic collision when two spiral galaxies, each perhaps much like the Milky
Way, swirled together for millions of years.

In such mergers, the original galaxies are often
stretched and pulled apart as they wrap around a common center of gravity.
After a few back-and-forths, this starry tempest settles down into a new, round
object. The now subdued celestial body is technically known as an elliptical
galaxy.

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Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Help Explore Your Own Solar Neighborhood

We’re always making amazing discoveries about the farthest reaches of our universe, but there’s also plenty of unexplored territory much closer to home.

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Our “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” is a citizen science project that asks curious people like you — yes, you there! — to help us spot objects in the area around our own solar system like brown dwarfs. You could even help us figure out if our solar system hosts a mysterious Planet 9!

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In 2009, we launched the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Infrared radiation is a form of light that humans can’t see, but WISE could. It scans the sky for infrared light, looking for galaxies, stars and asteroids. Later on, scientists started using it to search for near-Earth objects (NEOWISE) like comets and asteroids.

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These searches have already turned up so much data that researchers have trouble hunting through all of it. They can’t do it on their own. That’s why we asked everyone to chip in. If you join Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, you’ll learn how to look at noisy images of space and spot previously unidentified objects

You’ll figure out how to tell the difference between real objects, like planets and stars, and artifacts. Artifacts are blurry blobs of light that got scattered around in WISE’s instruments while it was looking at the sky. These “optical ghosts” sometimes look like real objects.

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Why can’t we use computers to do this, you ask? Well, computers are good at lots of things, like crunching numbers. But when it comes to recognizing when something’s a ghostly artifact and when it’s a real object, humans beat software all the time. After some practice, you’ll be able to recognize which objects are real and which aren’t just by watching them move!

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One of the things our citizen scientists look for are brown dwarfs, which are balls of gas too big to be planets and too small to be stars. These objects are some of our nearest neighbors, and scientists think there’s probably a bunch of them floating around nearby, we just haven’t been able to find all of them yet. 

But since Backyard Worlds launched on February 15, 2016, our volunteers have spotted 432 candidate brown dwarfs. We’ve been able to follow up 20 of these with ground-based telescopes so far, and 17 have turned out to be real!

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Image Credit: Ryan Trainor, Franklin and Marshall College

How do we know for sure that we’ve spotted actual, bona fide, authentic brown dwarfs? Well, like with any discovery in science, we followed up with more observation. Our team gets time on ground-based observatories like the InfraRed Telescope Facility in Hawaii, the Magellan Telescope in Chile (pictured above) and the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico and takes a closer look at our candidates. And sure enough, our participants found 17 brown dwarfs!

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But we’re not done! There’s still lots of data to go through. In particular, we want your help looking for a potential addition to our solar system’s census: Planet 9. Some scientists think it’s circling somewhere out there past Pluto. No one has seen anything yet, but it could be you! Or drop by and contribute to our other citizen science projects like Disk Detective.

Congratulations to the citizen scientists who spotted these 17 brown dwarfs:
Dan Caselden, Rosa Castro, Guillaume Colin, Sam Deen, Bob Fletcher, Sam Goodman, Les Hamlet, Khasan Mokaev, Jörg Schümann and Tamara Stajic.

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