Showing posts from July, 2015

NASA's Spitzer Confirms Closest Rocky Exoplanet

Source:   NASA Release 15-160 Excerpt: Using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the nearest rocky planet outside our solar system, larger than Earth and a potential gold mine of science data. Dubbed HD 219134b, this exoplanet, which orbits too close to its star to sustain life, is a mere 21 light-years away. While the planet itself can't be seen directly, even by telescopes, the star it orbits is visible to the naked eye in dark skies in the Cassiopeia constellation, near the North Star. HD 219134b is also the closest exoplanet to Earth to be detected transiting, or crossing in front of, its star and, therefore, perfect for extensive research. ..."Most of the known planets are hundreds of light-years away. This one is practically a next-door neighbor," said astronomer and study co-author Lars A. Buchhave of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For reference, the closest known planet is

NASA’s New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

Source:   NASA Release 15-158 Excerpt: Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders. “We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now -- 10 days after closest approach -- we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling." Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze -- one about 50 miles (80 kilometers)

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

Source:  NASA Kepler Mission In a press conference this morning (2015 July 23), NASA's Kepler team announced discovery of planet Kepler-452b which has the closest match of planet characteristics to Earth: 60% larger than Earth, orbiting a Sun-like star in a 385 day orbit period, that puts it in the star's habitable zone. [Kepler confirmed planet count is now 1030.] The team also announced a new Kepler planet catalog with 4696 planet candidates (521 more than previous catalog).

Pluto's Moons Nix and Hydra Show Their Faces

Source:   By  JoAnna Wendel ,  EoS Earth & Space Science News Excerpt:  Pluto’s moons Hydra and Nix appear in unprecedented sharpness in images released today from NASA’s New Horizons mission. For the first time, scientists are also able to estimate the sizes of these tiny natural satellites: Nix (left) at 26 miles (42 kilometers) by 22 miles (36 kilometers) and Hydra (right), 34 miles (55 kilometers) by 25 miles (40 kilometers). Nix’s new portrait, imaged in enhanced colors, shows a reddish patch reminiscent of a bull’s-eye. In a press release , scientists said that they suspect the region could be an impact crater on the jelly bean-shaped moon but are awaiting additional data from the spacecraft to better understand what they’ve observed.

NASA Captures "EPIC" Earth Image

Source:   NASA Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite Excerpt: A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory [DSCOVR] satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away...taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope. [ the first complete picture of our planet since 1972 (those in the interim have actually been composites). ...DSCOVR [is] a joint mission between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Air Force....

Potential geysers spotted on Pluto

Source:   Science online Excerpt: Today, NASA’s New Horizons team unveiled the latest trove of geological goodies in close-up pictures of the surface of Pluto: hummocky hills that rise up above smooth plains of ice, patches of ice pocked by eroded pits, and troughs that form the boundaries of mysterious polygonal structures. Most tantalizing of all, the team has spotted streaks of material that may have blown downwind from dark spots. Although the team is not yet ready to declare that these spots are geysers shooting plumes above Pluto, scientists say the spots and streaks resemble actively spewing geysers on Neptune’s moon Triton that were discovered in 1989. See also NASA Release 15-152, July 15, 2015: From Mountains to Moons: Multiple Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons Pluto Mission - 0 and  NASA Release 15-154, July 17, 2015: NASA’s New Horizons Disc

NASA's Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto Reaches Historic Encounter

Source:   NASA Release 15-149 NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is at Pluto. After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface -- roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. [photo taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. ...the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14.]