"I have looked farther into space than ever a human being did before me."

— William Herschel

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Arctic sea ice hits its minimum extent for the year — 2 NASA scientists explain what's driving the overall decline

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 10:14am
September marks the end of the summer sea ice melt season and the Arctic sea ice minimum, when sea ice over the Northern Hemisphere ocean reaches its lowest extent of the year.
Categories: Astronomy

How to photograph star trails

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 10:03am
The best camera settings and shooting tips for anyone looking to photograph star trails.
Categories: Astronomy

Landsat 9 Is Set for Liftoff

NASA Image of the Day - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 9:05am
On Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, at 2:12 ET a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket with the Landsat 9 satellite is slated to lift off on a mission to observe Earth.
Categories: Astronomy, NASA

How neutron star collisions flooded Earth with gold and other precious metals

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 9:00am
The universe is pretty good at smashing things together. And when neutron stars do it, the collisions release a flood of elements necessary for life.
Categories: Astronomy

Best lightsaber fights: Epic duels from across the Star Wars universe

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 8:36am
These are the 10 best lightsaber fights in Star Wars, ever. Don't fight us on this, we have the high ground.
Categories: Astronomy

CyberLink PhotoDirector 13 review

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 8:30am
The latest version of CyberLink PhotoDirector is a perfect tool for beginners and social media-savvy photographers, but its newer tools are unlikely to satisfy serious astrophotographers
Categories: Astronomy

Children with more books at home have less mental decline when older

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 8:17am
Older people who had large home libraries as children perform better in memory tests, possibly because early cognitive enrichment helps to buffer the brain
Categories: Astronomy

Children with more books at home have less mental decline when older

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 8:17am
Older people who had large home libraries as children perform better in memory tests, possibly because early cognitive enrichment helps to buffer the brain
Categories: Astronomy

Covid-19 news: Antibodies remain in breast milk months after infection

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 8:13am
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic
Categories: Astronomy

A guide to blue hour photography

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 7:55am
Our guide to blue hour photography has top tips on equipment, settings, and planning – all you need to get inspired for the most magical time to shoot.
Categories: Astronomy

Do space tourists really understand the risk they're taking?

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 7:14am
Space tourism vehicles are probably the only technology with the potential to kill humans that doesn't need to undergo independent safety certification. Is that a good idea?
Categories: Astronomy

Astronomers reveal strange clouds on 'fluffy' alien planet WASP-127b

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 7:11am
Astronomers reveal WASP-127b's clouds are unlike any found on Earth.
Categories: Astronomy

NASA will launch a new Earth-observing satellite today, here's how to watch

Space.com - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 7:11am
NASA is gearing up to launch a new Earth-observing satellite and you can watch the action live online.
Categories: Astronomy

Microgravity on demand with Earth return through ESA’s Boost!

ESO Top News - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 6:30am

A new round-trip commercial space transportation service from 2022, backed by ESA, will enable companies to manufacture in space very pure and more capable materials, discover new pharmaceutical drugs and bring them back for use on Earth.

Categories: Astronomy

US army to 3D print concrete buildings and bridges in disaster areas

New Scientist Space - Cosmology - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 4:00am
The US Army Corps of Engineers has developed technology that can 3D print buildings in disaster areas, and there are plans for the world’s first 3D-printed vehicle bridge
Categories: Astronomy

US army to 3D print concrete buildings and bridges in disaster areas

New Scientist Space - Space Headlines - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 4:00am
The US Army Corps of Engineers has developed technology that can 3D print buildings in disaster areas, and there are plans for the world’s first 3D-printed vehicle bridge
Categories: Astronomy

ESA Open Day 2021

ESO Top News - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 4:00am
Video: 00:01:09

What’s coming next in space? Find out at our virtual ESA Open Day on Sunday 3 October, from 1300 – 1600 CEST (1200 – 1500 BST). Your chance to talk to the people behind future space missions, get close-up views of space hardware and hear from astronaut Alexander Gerst. The Open Day is open to anyone; all you have to do is register to attend.

Find out more here

Categories: Astronomy

Going hyperspectral for CHIME

ESO Top News - Mon, 09/27/2021 - 3:15am

With Covid restrictions a little more relaxed, scientists from Europe and the USA were finally able to team up for a long-awaited field experiment to ensure that a new Copernicus satellite called CHIME will deliver the best possible data products as soon as it is operational in orbit. This new mission is being developed to support EU policies on the management of natural resources, ultimately helping to address the global issue of food security.

Categories: Astronomy

Astronomers Detect Clouds on an Exoplanet, and Even Measure Their Altitude

Universe Today - Sun, 09/26/2021 - 7:26pm

The search for planets beyond our Solar System has grown immensely during the past few decades. To date, 4,521 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in 3,353 systems, with an additional 7,761 candidates awaiting confirmation. With so many distant worlds available for study (and improved instruments and methods), the process of exoplanet studies has been slowly transitioning away from discovery towards characterization.

For example, a team of international scientists recently showed how combining data from multiple observatories allowed them to reveal the structure and composition of an exoplanet’s upper atmosphere. The exoplanet in question is WASP-127b, a “hot Saturn” that orbits a Sun-like star located about 525 light-years away. These findings preview how astronomers will characterize exoplanet atmospheres and determine if they are conducive to life as we know it.

The research paper that describes their findings appeared in the December 2020 issue of Astronomy and Astrophysics. It was also the subject of a presentation made during the recent Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2021, a virtual conference from September 13th to 24th, 2021. During the presentation, lead author Dr. Romain Allart showed how combining data from space-based, and ground-based telescopes detected clouds in WASP-127b’s upper atmosphere and measured their altitudes with unprecedented precision.

Some of the elements making WASP-127b unique, compared with the planets of our Solar System. Credits: David Ehrenreich/Université de Genève, Romain Allart/Université de Montréal.

Like many exoplanets discovered to date, WASP-127b is a gas giant that orbits very close to its parent star and has a very short orbital period – taking less than four days to complete a single orbit. The planet is also 10 billion years old, which is over twice as long as Earth (or “our” Saturn) has been around. Because of its close orbit, WASP-127b receives 600 times more irradiation than Earth and experiences atmospheric temperatures of up to 1,100°C (2012°F).

As a result, the planet’s atmosphere has expanded (or puffed up) to the point that it is 1.3 times as large as Jupiter but far less dense. In fact, WASP-127b is one of the least dense (or “fluffiest”) exoplanets discovered to date. This makes WASP-127b an ideal candidate for researchers working on atmospheric characterization, as the extended nature of fluffy exoplanets makes them easier to observe.

Using data obtained by the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and visible light measurements from the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile, the team observed WASP-127b as it made two passes in front of its star. Consistent with the Transit Method (aka. Transit Photometry), the team monitored WASP-127 for periodic dips in luminosity that indicated an exoplanet passing in front of the star (transiting) relative to the observation team.

Whereas Hubble obtained optical data that confirmed the transits, the VLT’s Echelle SPectrograph for Rocky Exoplanets and Stable Spectroscopic Observation (ESPRESSO) instrument obtained spectra from the light passing through WASP-127b’s upper atmosphere. Dr. Allart, a Trottier Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREX) at the Université de Montréal, led the study.

The Very Large Telescope in Chile firing a laser from its adaptive optics system. Credit: ESO

The combined data allowed the researchers to trace the altitude of the clouds to an atmospheric layer moving at speeds of about 13.5 to 17 km/s (48,600 km/h; 61,200 mph). They further estimated that the cloud deck altitude conformed to an atmospheric pressure range of between 0.3 and 0.5 millibars. Lastly, they detected signs of tenuous atomic sodium in the atmosphere, though there were no indications of other atomic species or water. As he explained in a recent Europlanet Society statement:

“First, as found before in this type of planet, we detected the presence of sodium, but at a much lower altitude than we were expecting. Second, there were strong water vapor signals in the infrared but none at all at visible wavelengths. This implies that water vapor at lower levels is being screened by clouds that are opaque at visible wavelengths but transparent in the infrared.

“We don’t yet know the composition of the clouds, except that they are not composed of water droplets like on Earth. We are also puzzled about why the sodium is found in an unexpected place on this planet. Future studies will help us understand not only more about the atmospheric structure but about WASP-127b, which is proving to be a fascinating place.”

The team’s ESPRESSO observations also showed that WASP-127b has a retrograde orbit, meaning that it orbits in the opposite direction of its star’s rotation and that it orbits on a different plane than the star’s equatorial. “Such alignment is unexpected for a hot Saturn in an old stellar system and might be caused by an unknown companion,” said Allart. “All these unique characteristics make WASP-127b a planet that will be very intensely studied in the future.”

TOI 1338 b is a circumbinary planet orbiting its two stars. It was discovered by TESS. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith

These include space-based observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Nancy Grace Roman State Telescope (RST). Then there are ground-based observatories like the ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). With their combination of advanced imaging, coronagraphs, and/or adaptive optics, these facilities will allow astronomers to conduct detailed studies of exoplanet atmospheres.

Just as important is the fact that these studies will include rocky planets that orbit with the habitable zones (HZs) of their stars, not just gas giants with very distant or very close orbits (as was the case here). Since these “Earth-like” candidates are expected to be the most likely candidates for habitability, astrobiologists anticipate that it won’t be long before they find evidence of extraterrestrial life!

While the results of these studies are somewhat limited, the implications of the team’s research are anything but. In addition to demonstrating the effectiveness of combining data from multiple observatories, it also illustrates how astronomers are getting closer to the point where they can fully characterize an exoplanet’s atmosphere. With the introduction of next-generation observatories in the near future, these capabilities will become far greater.

Further Reading: Europlanet, Astronomy & Astrophysics

The post Astronomers Detect Clouds on an Exoplanet, and Even Measure Their Altitude appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy

Chang’e-5 Returned an Exotic Collection of Moon Rocks

Universe Today - Sun, 09/26/2021 - 4:08pm

Scientists have begun studying the samples returned from the Moon by China’s Chang’e-5 mission in December 2020, and a group of researchers presented their first findings at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) last week.

“The Chang’e-5 samples are very diverse, and includes both local and exotic materials, including some glutenates [sharp, jagged lunar particles], silicas, salts, volcanic glasses, and impact glasses, along with different minerals and different rock types,” said Yuqi Qian, a PhD student at the China University of Geosciences, during his presentation at the EPSC virtual meeting.

A panoramic view from China’s Chang’e-5 probe shows the lunar terrain in front of the lander, including one of the landing legs in the foreground. (CNSA / CLEP Photo)

Chang’e-5 landed on the near side of the Moon in the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, which is located on the western, central part of the Moon from our vantage point on Earth. It landed in an area not visited by the NASA Apollo or the Soviet Luna missions nearly 50 years ago. This area is also one of the youngest lunar surfaces, with an age of about 2 billion years old, and therefore these samples are different to those returned in the 1960s and 70s.

“The samples are very diverse, as we have known for a very long time that the formation of the lunar surface is a very complex process, including solar wind implantation, micrometeorite impacts, and condensation,” Qian said.

The “local” materials, which make up about 90 per cent of the returned samples, include young mare basalts, and local impact ejecta. The “exotic” materials, i.e., materials not native to the region, make up about 10 per cent of the Chang’e-5 samples and include distant impact ejecta, meteoritical materials, and volcanic glass beads. 

The Chang’e-5 lunar lander retrieved about 1.7 kilograms (3.81 pounds) of samples from the Moon. It used a drill to gather samples from the subsurface and robotic arm for surface samples. The Chang’e-5 sample return capsule landed in China’s Inner Mongolia region on December 16, 2020, successfully capping a 23-day odyssey that brought back the first lunar rocks since 1976.

Qian and colleagues from Brown University and the University of Münster have looked at the potential sources of the glass beads, and have traced these rapidly cooled glassy droplets to now-extinct volcanic vents known as ‘Rima Mairan’ and ‘Rima Sharp’ located roughly 230 and 160 kilometers southeast and northeast of the Chang’e-5 landing site. These fragments could give insights into past episodes of energetic, fountain-like volcanic activity on the Moon.

The team also looked at the potential sources of impact-related fragments. The young geological age of the rocks at the landing site narrows the search, as only craters with ages less than 2 billion years can be responsible, and these are relatively rare on the lunar near-side.

Image showing the location of the Chang’e-5 landing site (43.06°N, 51.92°W) and adjacent regions of the Moon, as well as impact craters that were examined as possible sources of exotic fragments among the recently returned lunar materials. Credit: Qian et al. 2021

The team modeled what craters could be responsible for the exotic materials and found that some materials could have been ejected from as far as 1,300 km away from the Chang’e-5 landing site. They found that Harpalus, located farther north of Chang’e-5’s site, is a significant contributor of many exotic fragments among the samples, along with craters to the south and southeast (Aristarchus, Kepler, and Copernicus), and northwest (Harding).

Modelling and review of work by other teams has linked other exotic pieces of rock to domes rich in silica or to highland terrains that surround the landing site.

“All of the local and exotic materials among the returned samples of Chang’e-5 can be used to answer a number of further scientific questions,” said Qian, in a press release. “In addressing these we shall deepen our understanding of the Moon’s history and help prepare for further lunar exploration.”

You can read the team’s findings here.

Lead image caption: Image of the Chang’e-5 sample “CE5C0400” from the Moon’s surface. This fraction of lunar materials returned to Earth by Chang’e-5 weighs nearly 35 grams and was collected by a robotic arm. Credit: CNSA (China National Space Administration) / CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program) / GRAS (Ground Research Application System).

The post Chang’e-5 Returned an Exotic Collection of Moon Rocks appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Astronomy