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Space News Reports

Researchers Test Smartphones for Earthquake Warning
Crowdsourced Smartphone Data Could Give Advance Notice for People in Quake Zones Smartphones and other personal electronic devices could, in regions where they are in widespread use, function as early warning systems for large
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NASA/Forest Service Maps Aid Fire Recovery 13 April 2015, 23.28 Space
NASA/Forest Service Maps Aid Fire Recovery
Fast Facts: › New maps of burn areas from two California megafires are so detailed, they can show individual trees. › The maps are being used in rehabilitating the burn areas and protecting wildlife. New maps of two
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Mars Test Rover Joins Runners at Finish Line
Runners at JPL are celebrating the first Martian marathon -- the Opportunity rover's achievement in surpassing marathon distance of total driving on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech › Larger image About 90 employees at
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NASA-funded Study Explains Saturn's Epic Tantrums
This series of images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows the development of a huge storm of the type that erupts about every 30 years on Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI › Full image and caption The long-standing
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Dawn's Ceres Color Map Reveals Surface Diversity
A new color map of dwarf planet Ceres, which NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting since March, reveals the diversity of the surface of this planetary body. Differences in morphology and color across the surface suggest
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NASA Mars Rover's Weather Data Bolster Case for Brine
Fast Facts: › Conditions that might produce liquid brine in Martian soil extend closer to the equator than expected › Perchlorate salt in soil can pull water molecules from the atmosphere and act as anti-freeze ›
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Puzzle of Saturn's "Great White Spots" Solved --"Water was the Missing Piece"
      Every 20 to 30 years, Saturn's atmosphere roils with giant, planet-encircling thunderstorms that produce intense lightning and enormous cloud disturbances. The head of one of these
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The Milky Way's Globular Star Clusters --"Relics from the Early Universe"
        About 160 globular clusters have been spotted encircling our galaxy, the Milky Way, mostly toward its central bulge. These clusters are among the oldest objects in the Universe.
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The Dark Side of the Universe --"Mapping an Invisible Force"
    Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey have released the first in a series of dark matter maps of the cosmos. These maps, created with one of the world's most powerful digital cameras, are the
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Hubble Captures Rare Triple-Moon Conjunction
Get larger image formats Firing off a string of snapshots like a sports photographer at a NASCAR race, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured a rare look at three of Jupiter's largest moons zipping across the banded face
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Hubble Spies a Loopy Galaxy 13 April 2015, 23.27 Space
Hubble Spies a Loopy Galaxy
Get larger image formats At first glance, galaxy NGC 7714 resembles a partial golden ring from an amusement park ride. This unusual structure is a river of Sun-like stars that has been pulled deep into space by the
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NASA's Hubble Observations Suggest Underground Ocean on Jupiter's Largest Moon
Get larger image formats Nearly 500 million miles from the Sun lies a moon orbiting Jupiter that is slightly larger than the planet Mercury and may contain more water than all of Earth's oceans. Temperatures are so cold,
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Hubble Sees Supernova Split into Four Images by Cosmic Lens
Get larger image formats Three-leaf clover plants abound everywhere: on lawns, in gardens, and in forests. But spotting a four-leaf clover is a rare, lucky find. Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found the
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Hubble Gets Best View of a Circumstellar Debris Disk Distorted by a Planet
Get larger image formats Over a decade before planets were found orbiting normal stars, the astronomy world was intrigued by the discovery of a vast, edge-on, pancake-flat disk of dust and gas encircling the newborn star
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Hubble and Chandra Discover Dark Matter Is Not as Sticky as Once Thought
Get larger image formats In particle physics labs, like the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, scientists smash atoms together to study the underpinnings of matter and energy. On the scale of the macrocosm,
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Hubble Source Catalog: One-Stop Shopping for Astronomers
Get larger image formats Astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute and the Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore, Maryland, have created a new master catalog of astronomical objects called the Hubble
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Our Sun Came Late to the Milky Way's Star-Birth Party
Get larger image formats Our Sun missed the stellar "baby boom" that erupted in our young Milky Way galaxy 10 billion years ago. During that time the Milky Way was churning out stars 30 times faster than it does today. Our
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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Passes Critical Milestone
[image-36] NASA's groundbreaking science mission to retrieve a sample from an ancient space rock has moved closer to fruition. The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx)
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NASA and STScI Select Hubble Fellows for 2015
Get larger image formats NASA and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) have announced the selection of 17 new Hubble Fellows. STScI in Baltimore, Maryland, administers the Hubble Fellowship Program for NASA. The
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NASA's Opportunity Mars Rover Finishes Marathon, Clocks in at Just Over 11 Years
[image-36] There was no tape draped across a finish line, but NASA is celebrating a win. The agency’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity completed its first Red Planet marathon Tuesday -- 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) –
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Hubble Finds Phantom Objects Near Dead Quasars
Get larger image formats In 2007, Dutch schoolteacher Hanny van Arkel discovered a never-before-seen ghostly structure near a galaxy, while she was participating in an online amateur scientist project called Galaxy Zoo.
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Curiosity Sniffs Out History of Martian Atmosphere
[image-36] NASA's Curiosity rover is using a new experiment to better understand the history of the Martian atmosphere by analyzing xenon. While NASA's Curiosity rover concluded its detailed examination of the rock layers
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Weekly Space Hangout – Jan. 23, 2015: SpaceX, Rosetta, and Asteroid Updates!
Send to Email Address Your Name Your Email Address Cancel Post was not sent - check your email addresses! Email check failed, please try again Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by
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The Entire Milky Way Might Be a Huge Wormhole That’s Stable and Navigable
Artist rendering of a wormhole connecting two galaxies. Credit: Davide and Paolo Salucci. Our very own Milky Way could be home to a giant tunnel in spacetime. At least, that’s what the authors of a new study have proposed.
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Latest Research Reveals a Bizarre and Vibrant Rosetta’s Comet
A bleak yet beautiful boulder-strewn landscape on the smaller of the two lobes of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken from a distance of  just 5 miles (8 km). Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team
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CATS Out of The Bag, Crawling Around ISS for Science Down Below
The Japanese robotic arm installs the CATS experiment on an external platform on Japan’s Kibo lab module. The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is seen at the right center of the image. Credit: NASA TV See way cool
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There’s a Crack Forming on Rosetta’s 67P. Is it Breaking Up?
A fissure spanning over 100 meters across the neck of Rosetta’s comet 67P raises the question of if, or when, the comet will breakup. The fissure is part of released studies by Rosetta scientists in the Journal Science
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See a Rare Comet-Moon Conjunction Tonight 24 January 2015, 00.27 Space
See a Rare Comet-Moon Conjunction Tonight
Tonight (Friday, Jan. 23rd) the moon will pass only about 1° (two moon diameters) south of Comet 15P/Finlay as seen from the Americas. This map shows the view from the upper Midwest at 7 p.m. Two 6th magnitude stars in
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Dawn Delivers New Image of Ceres 24 January 2015, 00.26 Space
Dawn Delivers New Image of Ceres
As NASA's Dawn spacecraft closes in on Ceres, new images show the dwarf planet at 27 pixels across, about three times better than the calibration images taken in early December. These are the first in a series of images that
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SPIDER Experiment Touches Down in Antarctica 24 January 2015, 00.26 Space
SPIDER Experiment Touches Down in Antarctica
Jeff Filippini, a postdoctoral scholar who worked on the SPIDER receiver team at Caltech, stands in front of the instrument as it was being readied for launch. Credit: Jeff Filippini › Full image and caption After spending
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Telescope To Seek Dust Where Other Earths May Lie
The NASA-funded Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, or LBTI, has completed its first study of dust in the "habitable zone" around a star, opening a new door to finding planets like Earth. Dust is a natural byproduct of
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NASA, Microsoft Collaboration Will Allow Scientists to 'Work on Mars'
NASA and Microsoft have teamed up to develop software called OnSight, a new technology that will enable scientists to work virtually on Mars using wearable technology called Microsoft HoloLens. Developed by NASA's Jet
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Gullies on Vesta Suggest Past Water-Mobilized Flows
This image shows Cornelia Crater on the large asteroid Vesta. On the right is an inset image showing an example of curved gullies, indicated by the short white arrows, and a fan-shaped deposit, indicated by long white arrows.
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Five Things about NASA's SMAP 24 January 2015, 00.26 Space
Five Things about NASA's SMAP
Last week, NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite was transported across Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to Space Launch Complex 2, where it will be mated to a Delta II rocket for launch. Image credit:
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Enormous Structure at Milky Way Center --Aftermath of an Explosion 2 Million Years Ago Speeding Out at 2 Million MPH
The enormous structure was discovered five years ago as a gamma-ray glow on the sky in the direction of the galactic center. Astronomers have since observed the balloon-like features in X-rays and radio waves, but
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Future News Reports

Obama's War Against US Energy Independence:  Give Away Oil Rich Alaskan Islands to Russia!
  By Joe Miller The Obama administration, despite the nation’s economic woes, effectively killed the job-producing Keystone Pipeline last month. The Arab Spring is turning the oil production of Libya and other Arab
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OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials 08 April 2012, 02.33 Administrator Energy
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials
OSBIT Power's MaXccess system completes successful offshore trials Visit http://www.osbitpower.com for further information OSBIT Power (OP), Siemens Wind Power and Statoil have successfully completed offshore
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North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost 12 January 2012, 02.01 Administrator Energy
North America's EV charging infrastructure to get a boost
        North America’s EV charging infrastructure may soon see significant improvements, thanks to a recent agreement between Eaton Corporation and Coulomb Technologies. Under the deal, Eaton’s Level II and
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Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source? 28 May 2011, 01.34 Administrator Energy
Could The Gravitomagnetic Field Be The Ultimate Energy Source?
      Have scientists already unknowingly discovered the source for all atomic energy reactions, and could the discovery of the gravitomagnetic field be the ultimate energy source?  What if our understandings on how
Read More 5301 Hits 1 Rating
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation 25 September 2011, 16.27 Administrator Energy
Physicists urge caution over apparent speed of light violation
Physicists wary of junking light speed limit yet Physicist Antonio Ereditato poses before presenting the result of an experiment, which found a subatomic particle, the neutrino, seemed to move faster than the speed of
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STEORN ORBO  FREE ENERGY:  What's Next a Self Charging Unit for your Electric Car?
Steorn's Free Energy Orbo -- From Permanent Magnets to Solid State Systems   My associate, Hank Mills composed this for PESN, Saturday, February 12, 2011 6:17 Steorn is a small company based in Dublin, Ireland. For
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Cold Fusion, Releases Energy from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field 16 January 2011, 09.17 Administrator Energy
Cold Fusion, Releases Energy  from Hydrogen's Gravitomagnetic Field
Cold Fusion "In Bologna we did it" By Ilaria VENTURI, La Republica News, Bolona, Italy For the first time in Italy, in front of experts, the process was carried out using nickel and hydrogen. It 's the way to achieve
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Abu Dhabi Media Zone to generate renewable energy through its façade
Eco Factor: Sustainable development to generate renewable solar energy. Bernard Tschumi Architects have re-imagined their master plan for the new Abu Dhabi Media Zone, by incorporating several environmentally-friendly
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The Universe is a 'Complexity Machine' --"Intelligent Life and Technology May be Common in the Cosmos" PDF Print E-mail

 

 

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Recent developments in science are beginning to suggest that the universe naturally produces complexity. The emergence of life in general and perhaps even rational life, with its associated technological culture, may be extremely common, argues Clemson researcher Kelly Smith in a recently published paper in the journal Space Policy. What's more, he suggests, this universal tendency has distinctly religious overtones and may even establish a truly universal basis for morality.



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Unusual Light Signal Hints at Distant Black Hole Merger PDF Print E-mail

An artist's conception of a black hole binary in a heart of a quasar An artist's conception of a black hole binary in a heart of a quasar, with the data showing the periodic variability superposed. Credit: Santiago Lombeyda, Center for Data-Driven Discovery, Caltech.
› Larger image

The central regions of many glittering galaxies, our own Milky Way included, harbor cores of impenetrable darkness -- black holes with masses equivalent to millions, or even billions, of suns. What's more, these supermassive black holes and their host galaxies appear to develop together, or "co-evolve." Theory predicts that as galaxies collide and merge, growing ever more massive, so too do their dark hearts.

Black holes by themselves are impossible to see, but their gravity can pull in surrounding gas to form a swirling band of glowing material called an accretion disk. When this process happens to a supermassive black hole, the result is a "quasar" -- an extremely luminous object that outshines all of the stars in its host galaxy, visible from across the universe.

"Quasars are valuable probes of the evolution of galaxies and their central black holes," said S. George Djorgovski, professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "If we can systematically study a large population of quasars, we can discover rare and unusual phenomena that can help us better understand the overall picture of their evolution."

In the Jan. 7 issue of the journal Nature, Djorgovski and his collaborators, including Daniel Stern of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, report on an unusual repeating light signal from a distant quasar that they say is most likely the result of two supermassive black holes in the final stages of a merger -- something that is predicted from theory but which has never been observed before. The findings could lead to a better understanding of black hole mergers and galaxy evolution, and also help shed light on a long-standing conundrum in astrophysics called the "final parsec problem." That refers to the failure of theoretical models to predict what the final stages of a black hole merger look like, or even how long the process might take.

"Until now, the only known examples of supermassive black holes on their way to a merger have been separated by tens or hundreds of thousands of light-years," said Stern. "At such vast distances it would take many millions, or even billions, of years for a collision and merger to occur. In contrast, these black holes are at most a few hundredths of a light-year apart, and could merge in about a million years or less."

Read the full Caltech story online:

https://www.caltech.edu/news/unusual-light-signal-yields-clues-about-elusive-black-hole-merger-45188

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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Whitney Clavin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-4673
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2015-006

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Volunteer 'Disk Detectives' Classify Possible Planetary Habitats PDF Print E-mail

A NASA-sponsored website designed to crowdsource analysis of data from the agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has reached an impressive milestone. In less than a year, citizen scientists using DiskDetective.org have logged 1 million classifications of potential debris disks and disks surrounding young stellar objects (YSO). This data will help provide a crucial set of targets for future planet-hunting missions.

"This is absolutely mind-boggling," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the project's principal investigator. "We've already broken new ground with the data, and we are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed to Disk Detective so far."

Combing through objects identified by WISE during its infrared survey of the entire sky, Disk Detective aims to find two types of developing planetary environments. The first, known as a YSO disk, typically is less than 5 million years old, contains large quantities of gas, and often is found in or near young star clusters. The second planetary habitat, known as a debris disk, tends to be older than 5 million years, holds little or no gas, and possesses belts of rocky or icy debris that resemble the asteroid and Kuiper belts found in our own solar system. Vega and Fomalhaut, two of the brightest stars in the sky, host debris disks.

Planets form and grow within disks of gas, dust and icy grains surrounding young stars. The particles absorb the star's light and reradiate it as heat, which makes the stars brighter at infrared wavelengths -- in this case, 22 microns -- than they would be without a disk.

Computer searches already have identified some objects seen by the WISE survey as potential dust-rich disks. But software can't distinguish them from other infrared-bright sources, such as galaxies, interstellar dust clouds and asteroids. There may be thousands of potential planetary systems in the WISE data, but the only way to know for sure is to inspect each source by eye.

Kuchner recognized that searching the WISE database for dusty disks was a perfect opportunity for crowdsourcing. He worked with NASA to team up with the Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the Internet.

At DiskDetective.org, volunteers watch a 10-second "flip book" of a disk candidate shown at several different wavelengths as observed from three different telescopes, including WISE. They then click one or more buttons that best describe the object's appearance. Each classification helps astronomers decide which images may be contaminated by background galaxies, interstellar matter or image artifacts, and which may be real disks that should be studied in more detail.

In March 2014, just two months after Disk Detective launched, Kuchner was amazed to find just how invested in the project some users had become. Volunteers complained about seeing the same object over and over. "We thought at first it was a bug in the system," Kuchner explained, "but it turned out they were seeing repeats because they had already classified every single object that was online at the time."

Some 28,000 visitors around the world have participated in the project to date. What's more, volunteers have translated the site into eight foreign languages, including Romanian, Mandarin and Bahasa, and have produced their own video tutorials on using it.

Many of the project's most active volunteers are now joining in science team discussions, and the researchers encourage all users who have performed more than 300 classifications to contact them and take part.

One of these volunteers is Tadeáš Cernohous, a postgraduate student in geodesy and cartography at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic. "I barely understood what scientists were looking for when I started participating in Disk Detective, but over the past year I have developed a basic sense of which stars are worthy of further exploration," he said.

Alissa Bans, a postdoctoral fellow at Adler Planetarium in Chicago and a member of the Disk Detective science team, recalls mentioning that she was searching for candidate YSOs and presented examples of what they might look like on Disk Detective. "In less than 24 hours," she said, "Tadeáš had compiled a list of nearly 100 objects he thought could be YSOs, and he even included notes on each one."

Speaking at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle on Tuesday, Kuchner said the project has so far netted 478 objects of interest, which the team is investigating with a variety of ground-based telescopes in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Argentina and Chile. "We now have at least 37 solid new disk candidates, and we haven't even looked at all the new telescope data yet," he said.

Disk Detective currently includes about 278,000 WISE sources. The team expects to wrap up the current project sometime in 2018, with a total of about 3 million classifications and perhaps 1,000 disk candidates. The researchers then plan to add an additional 140,000 targets to the site.

"We've come a long way, but there's still lots and lots more work to do -- so please drop by the site and do a little science with us!" added Kuchner.

WISE has made infrared measurements of more than 745 million objects, compiling the most comprehensive survey of the sky at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With its primary mission complete, the satellite was placed in hibernation in 2011. WISE was awoken in September 2013, renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), and given a new mission to assist NASA's efforts in identifying the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs).

JPL manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Facilities involved in follow-up studies of objects found with Disk Detective include Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico; Palomar Observatory on Palomar Mountain, California; the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Arizona; the Leoncito Astronomical Complex in El Leoncito National Park, Argentina; and Las Campanas Observatory, located in the Atacama Desert of Chile.

NASA is exploring our solar system and beyond to understand the universe and our place in it. We seek to unravel the secrets of our universe, its origins and evolution, and search for life among the stars. Today's announcement shares the discovery of our ever-changing cosmos, and brings us closer to learning whether we are alone in the universe.

More information about WISE is online at:

http://www.nasa.gov/wise

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Written by Francis Reddy
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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2015-004

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NASA's Kepler Marks 1,000th Exoplanet Discovery, Uncovers More Small Worlds in Habitable Zones PDF Print E-mail

Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA's Kepler Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA's Kepler, eight are less than twice Earth-size and in their stars' habitable zone. All eight orbit stars cooler and smaller than our sun. The search continues for Earth-size habitable zone worlds around sun-like stars. Credit: NASA Ames/W Stenzel
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How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA's Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study -- the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets. The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.

Three of the newly-validated planets are located in their distant suns' habitable zone, the range of distances from the host star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. Of the three, two are likely made of rock, like Earth.

"Each result from the planet-hunting Kepler mission's treasure trove of data takes us another step closer to answering the question of whether we are alone in the universe," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "The Kepler team and its science community continue to produce impressive results with the data from this venerable explorer."

To determine whether a planet is made of rock, water or gas, scientists must know its size and mass. When its mass can't be directly determined, scientists can infer what the planet is made of based on its size.

Two of the newly validated planets, Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b, are less than 1.5 times the diameter of Earth. Kepler-438b, 475 light-years away, is 12 percent bigger than Earth and orbits its star once every 35.2 days. Kepler-442b, 1,100 light-years away, is 33 percent bigger than Earth and orbits its star once every 112 days.

Both Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b orbit stars smaller and cooler than our sun, making the habitable zone closer to their parent star, in the direction of the constellation Lyra. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

"With each new discovery of these small, possibly rocky worlds, our confidence strengthens in the determination of the true frequency of planets like Earth," said co-author Doug Caldwell, SETI Institute Kepler scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. "The day is on the horizon when we'll know how common temperate, rocky planets like Earth are."

With the detection of 554 more planet candidates from Kepler observations conducted May 2009 to April 2013, the Kepler team has raised the candidate count to 4,175. Eight of these new candidates are between one to two times the size of Earth, and orbit in their sun's habitable zone. Of these eight, six orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature. All candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

"Kepler collected data for four years -- long enough that we can now tease out the Earth-size candidates in one Earth-year orbits," said Fergal Mullally, SETI Institute Kepler scientist at Ames who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. "We're closer than we've ever been to finding Earth twins around other sun-like stars. These are the planets we're looking for."

These findings also have been submitted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement.

Work is underway to translate these recent discoveries into estimates of how often rocky planets appear in the habitable zones of stars like our sun, a key step toward NASA's goal of understanding our place in the universe.

Scientists also are working on the next catalog release of Kepler's four-year data set. The analysis will include the final month of data collected by the mission and also will be conducted using sophisticated software that is more sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of small Earth-size planets than software used in the past.

Ames is responsible for Kepler's mission operations, ground system development and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

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Whitney Clavin
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
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Felicia Chou
NASA Headquarters, Washington
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Michele Johnson
NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California
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2015-003

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Will the Real Monster Black Hole Please Stand Up? PDF Print E-mail

A new high-energy X-ray image from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively called Arp 299, located 134 million light-years away. Each of the galaxies has a supermassive black hole at its heart.

NuSTAR has revealed that the black hole located at the right of the pair is actively gorging on gas, while its partner is either dormant or hidden under gas and dust.

The findings are helping researchers understand how the merging of galaxies can trigger black holes to start feeding, an important step in the evolution of galaxies.

"When galaxies collide, gas is sloshed around and driven into their respective nuclei, fueling the growth of black holes and the formation of stars," said Andrew Ptak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of a new study accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "We want to understand the mechanisms that trigger the black holes to turn on and start consuming the gas."

NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of pinpointing where high-energy X-rays are coming from in the tangled galaxies of Arp 299. Previous observations from other telescopes, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, which detect lower-energy X-rays, had indicated the presence of active supermassive black holes in Arp 299. However, it was not clear from those data alone if one or both of the black holes was feeding, or "accreting," a process in which a black hole bulks up in mass as its gravity drags gas onto it.

The new X-ray data from NuSTAR -- overlaid on a visible-light image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope -- show that the black hole on the right is, in fact, the hungry one. As it feeds on gas, energetic processes close to the black hole heat electrons and protons to about hundreds of millions of degrees, creating a superhot plasma, or corona, that boosts the visible light up to high-energy X-rays. Meanwhile, the black hole on the left either is "snoozing away," in what is referred to as a quiescent, or dormant state, or is buried in so much gas and dust that the high-energy X-rays can't escape.

"Odds are low that both black holes are on at the same time in a merging pair of galaxies," said Ann Hornschemeier, a co-author of the study who presented the results Thursday at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. "When the cores of the galaxies get closer, however, tidal forces slosh the gas and stars around vigorously, and, at that point, both black holes may turn on."

NuSTAR is ideally suited to study heavily obscured black holes such as those in Arp 299. High-energy X-rays can penetrate the thick gas, whereas lower-energy X-rays and light get blocked.

Ptak said, "Before now, we couldn't pinpoint the real monster in the merger."

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Virginia. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University, New York; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, California, and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

NuSTAR's mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission's outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA's Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

NASA is exploring our solar system and beyond to understand the universe and our place in it. The agency seeks to unravel the secrets of our universe, its origins and evolution, and search for life among the stars.

For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/nustar and http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/ .

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2015-007

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NASA Satellite Set to Get the Dirt on Soil Moisture PDF Print E-mail

A new NASA satellite that will peer into the topmost layer of Earth's soils to measure the hidden waters that influence our weather and climate is in final preparations for a Jan. 29 dawn launch from California.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will take the pulse of a key measure of our water planet: how freshwater cycles over Earth's land surfaces in the form of soil moisture. The mission will produce the most accurate, highest-resolution global maps ever obtained from space of the moisture present in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of Earth's soils. It also will detect and map whether the ground is frozen or thawed. This data will be used to enhance scientists' understanding of the processes that link Earth's water, energy and carbon cycles.

"With data from SMAP, scientists and decision makers around the world will be better equipped to understand how Earth works as a system and how soil moisture impacts a myriad of human activities, from floods and drought to weather and crop yield forecasts," said Christine Bonniksen, SMAP program executive with the Science Mission Directorate's Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "SMAP's global soil moisture measurements will provide a new capability to improve our understanding of Earth's climate."

Globally, the volume of soil moisture varies between three and five percent in desert and arid regions, to between 40 and 50 percent in saturated soils. In general, the amount depends on such factors as precipitation patterns, topography, vegetation cover and soil composition. There are not enough sensors in the ground to map the variability in global soil moisture at the level of detail needed by scientists and decision makers. From space, SMAP will produce global maps with 6-mile (10-kilometer) resolution every two to three days.

Researchers want to measure soil moisture and its freeze/thaw state better for numerous reasons. Plants and crops draw water from the soil through their roots to grow. If soil moisture is inadequate, plants fail to grow, which over time can lead to reduced crop yields. Also, energy from the sun evaporates moisture in the soil, thereby cooling surface temperatures and also increasing moisture in the atmosphere, allowing clouds and precipitation to form more readily. In this way, soil moisture has a significant effect on both short-term regional weather and longer-term global climate.

In summer, plants in Earth's northern boreal regions -- the forests found in Earth's high northern latitudes -- take in carbon dioxide from the air and use it to grow, but lay dormant during the winter freeze period. All other factors being equal, the longer the growing season, the more carbon plants take in and the more effective forests are in removing carbon dioxide from the air. Since the start of the growing season is marked by the thawing and refreezing of water in soils, mapping the freeze/thaw state of soils with SMAP will help scientists more accurately account for how much carbon plants are removing from the atmosphere each year. This information will lead to better estimates of the carbon budget in the atmosphere and, hence, better assessments of future global warming.

SMAP data will enhance our confidence in projections of how Earth's water cycle will respond to climate change.

"Assessing future changes in regional water availability is perhaps one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world today," said Dara Entekhabi, SMAP science team leader at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "Today's computer models disagree on how the water cycle -- precipitation, clouds, evaporation, runoff, soil water availability -- will increase or decrease over time and in different regions as our world warms. SMAP's higher-resolution soil moisture data will improve the models used to make daily weather and longer-term climate predictions."

SMAP also will advance our ability to monitor droughts, predict floods and mitigate the related impacts of these extreme events. It will allow the monitoring of regional deficits in soil moisture and provide critical inputs into drought monitoring and early warning systems used by resource managers. The mission's high-resolution observations of soil moisture will improve flood warnings by providing information on ground saturation conditions before rainstorms.

SMAP's two advanced instruments work together to produce soil moisture maps. Its active radar works much like a flash camera, but instead of transmitting visible light, it transmits microwave pulses that pass through clouds and moderate vegetation cover to the ground and measures how much of that signal is reflected back. Its passive radiometer operates like a natural-light camera, capturing emitted microwave radiation without transmitting a pulse. Unlike traditional cameras, however, SMAP's images are in the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is invisible to the naked eye. Microwave radiation is sensitive to how much moisture is contained in the soil.

The two instruments share a large, lightweight reflector antenna that will be unfurled in orbit like a blooming flower and then spin at about 14 revolutions per minute. The antenna will allow the instruments to collect data across a 621-mile (1,000-kilometer) swath, enabling global coverage every two to three days.

SMAP's radiometer measurements extend and expand on soil moisture measurements currently made by the European Space Agency's Soil Moisture Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission, launched in 2009. With the addition of a radar instrument, SMAP's soil moisture measurements will be able to distinguish finer features on the ground.

SMAP will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket and maneuver into a 426-mile (685-kilometer) altitude, near-polar orbit that repeats exactly every eight days. The mission is designed to operate at least three years.

SMAP is managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington by the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, with instrument hardware and science contributions made by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. JPL is responsible for project management, system engineering, radar instrumentation, mission operations and the ground data system. Goddard is responsible for the radiometer instrument. Both centers collaborate on science data processing and delivery to the Alaska Satellite Facility, in Fairbanks, and the National Snow and Ice Data Center, at the University of Colorado in Boulder, for public distribution and archiving. NASA's Launch Services Program at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about the Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/smap

and

http://smap.jpl.nasa.gov

SMAP will be the fifth NASA Earth science mission to launch within a 12-month period. NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing.

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

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2015-009

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NASA Robot Plunges Into Volcano to Explore Fissure PDF Print E-mail

Volcanoes have always fascinated Carolyn Parcheta. She remembers a pivotal moment watching a researcher take a lava sample on a science TV program video in 6th grade.

"I said to myself, I'm going to do that some day," said Parcheta, now a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Exploring volcanoes is risky business. That's why Parcheta and her co-advisor, JPL robotics researcher Aaron Parness, are developing robots that can get into crevices where humans wouldn't be able to go, gaining new insights about these wondrous geological features.

"We don't know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic," Parcheta said.

Parcheta's research endeavors were recently honored in National Geographic's Expedition Granted campaign, which awards $50,000 to the next "great explorer." Parcheta was a finalist, and was voted number 2 by online participants for her research proposal for exploring volcanoes with robots.

"Having Carolyn in the lab has been a great opportunity for our robotics team to collaborate with someone focused on the geology. Scientists and engineers working together on such a small team is pretty rare, but has generated lots of great ideas because our perspectives on the problems are so different," Parness said.

The research has implications for extraterrestrial volcanoes. On both Earth and Mars, fissures are the most common physical features from which magma erupts. This is probably also true for the previously active volcanoes on the moon, Mercury, Enceladus and Europa, although the mechanism of volcanic eruption -- whether past or present -- on these other planetary bodies is unknown, Parcheta said.

"In the last few years, NASA spacecraft have sent back incredible pictures of caves, fissures and what look like volcanic vents on Mars and the moon. We don't have the technology yet to explore them, but they are so tantalizing! Working with Carolyn, we're trying to bridge that gap using volcanoes here on Earth for practice. We're learning about how volcanoes erupt here on Earth, too, and that has a lot of benefits in its own right," Parness said.

Parcheta, Parness, and JPL co-advisor Karl Mitchell first explored this idea last year using a two-wheeled robot they call VolcanoBot 1, with a length of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and 6.7-inch (17-centimeter) wheels. It is a spinoff of a different robot that Parness's laboratory developed, the Durable Reconnaissance and Observation Platform (DROP).

"We took that concept and redesigned it to work inside a volcano," Parcheta said.

For their experiments in May 2014, they had VolcanoBot 1 roll down a fissure - a crack that erupts magma - that is now inactive on the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

Finding preserved and accessible fissures is rare. VolcanoBot 1 was tasked with mapping the pathways of magma from May 5 to 9, 2014. It was able to descend to depths of 82 feet (25 meters) in two locations on the fissure, although it could have gone deeper with a longer tether, as the bottom was not reached on either descent.

"In order to eventually understand how to predict eruptions and conduct hazard assessments, we need to understand how the magma is coming out of the ground. This is the first time we have been able to measure it directly, from the inside, to centimeter-scale accuracy," Parcheta said.

VolcanoBot 1 is enabling the researchers to put together a 3-D map of the fissure. They confirmed that bulges in the rock wall seen on the surface are also present deep in the ground, but the robot also found a surprise: The fissure did not appear to pinch shut, although VolcanoBot 1 didn't reach the bottom. The researchers want to return to the site and go even deeper to investigate further.

Specifically, Parcheta and Parness want to explore deeper inside Kilauea with a robot that has even stronger motors and electrical communications, so that more data can be sent back to the surface. They have responded to these challenges with the next iteration: VolcanoBot 2.

VolcanoBot 2 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, at a length of 10 inches (25 centimeters). Its vision center can tip up and down, with the ability to turn and look at features around it.

"It has better mobility, stronger motors and smaller (5 inch, or 12 centimeter) wheels than the VolcanoBot 1. We've decreased the amount of cords that come up to the surface when it's in a volcano," Parcheta said.

While VolcanoBot 1 sent data to the surface directly from inside the fissure, data will be stored onboard VolcanoBot 2. VolcanoBot 2 has an electrical connection that is more secure and robust so that researchers can use the 3-D sensor's live video feed to navigate.

The team plans to test VolcanoBot 2 at Kilauea in early March.

The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

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2015-005

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Neutron Star Sparks Brightest Flare Recorded from Milky Way's Supermassive Black Hole PDF Print E-mail

The gas cloud, known as G2, was calculated to come close to the central black hole—known as Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A**--in spring 2014. Astronomers were expecting a huge increase in emissions from the region at many different wavelengths as G2 ploughed through the disk of material orbiting the black hole, or perhaps was even swallowed by it. But for reasons that astronomers are still arguing vociferously over, nothing happened.

“We really expected to see a bow shock [when G2 hit], but we really didn’t see it,” says astronomer Daryl Haggard of Amherst College in Massachusetts.

But Haggard and her team, who like many others had booked copious amounts of observing time to witness the event, didn’t come away empty handed. First, somewhat to their annoyance, a magnetar—a type of neutron star with a very strong magnetic field--exploded into view very close to Sgr A* with a burst of x-rays. For a time it was brighter than Sgr A* and the researchers were concerned it might spoil their view of G2’s arrival. But in the end, says Haggard, it was an interesting event in itself: there are only around 30 known magnetars and this was the first anywhere near Sgr A*. If it remains bright, she says, they may be able to see it move around the black hole and use it “to probe this very busy neighbourhood.”

Then, in early 2014, a bright x-ray flare erupted from close to Sgr A*. Such flares can be common but this one was the brightest ever recorded. “It was really exciting,” Haggard says. It couldn’t have been caused by G2, she adds, because its short duration was characteristic of something much closer in to Sgr A* than G2.

But what caused it? Using models of the area around Sgr A*, the researchers were able to suggest two possibilities: that it could have been caused by an asteroid that strayed too close to the black hole and was torn apart, its remains being heated to enormous temperature before slipping below Sgr A*’s event horizon; or it could be caused by field lines of the black hole’s powerful magnetic field snapping apart and reconnecting, a process—common on the Sun—which releases strong bursts of energy. “It’s an unsolved mystery,” Haggard says.

That flare was followed by another one in October 2014, this time half as bright and also unexplained. "Such rare and extreme events give us a unique chance to use a mere trickle of infalling matter to understand the physics of one of the most bizarre objects in our galaxy," Gabriele Ponti of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, a co-author on the study, said in a statement.

Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, says such observations are valuable because supermassive black holes are common throughout the universe. “Our theories about what happens at the center of a quasar are all about things falling into a supermassive black hole,” he says. “This is the first time we can see such things close up, although on a smaller scale. It’s a fair bet that this is happening at a larger scale elsewhere in the universe.”

The image at the top of the page shows orbits of stars that fly by at millions of miles per hour around the Milky Way's black hole (courtesy Stanford Astronomy Program).

The Daily Galaxy via Daniel Clery/AAAS

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Massive Eta Carinae's Great Eruptions Baffle Astronomers PDF Print E-mail

A long-term study led by astronomers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used NASA satellites, ground-based telescopes and theoretical modeling to produce the most comprehensive picture of Eta Carinae to date. New findings include Hubble Space Telescope images that show decade-old shells of ionized gas racing away from the largest star at a million miles an hour, and new 3-D models that reveal never-before-seen features of the stars' interactions.

Located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, Eta Carinae comprises two massive stars whose eccentric orbits bring them unusually close every 5.5 years. Both produce powerful gaseous outflows called stellar winds, which enshroud the stars and stymy efforts to directly measure their properties. Astronomers have established that the brighter, cooler primary star has about 90 times the mass of the sun and outshines it by 5 million times. While the properties of its smaller, hotter companion are more contested, Gull and his colleagues think the star has about 30 solar masses and emits a million times the sun's light.

"We are coming to understand the present state and complex environment of this remarkable object, but we have a long way to go to explain Eta Carinae's past eruptions or to predict its future behavior," said Goddard astrophysicist Ted Gull, who coordinates a research group that has monitored the star for more than a decade.

Speaking at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle on Wednesday, the Goddard researchers discussed recent observations of Eta Carinae and how they fit with the group's current understanding of the system.

At closest approach, or periastron, the stars are 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) apart, or about the average distance between Mars and the sun. Astronomers observe dramatic changes in the system during the months before and after periastron. These include X-ray flares, followed by a sudden decline and eventual recovery of X-ray emission; the disappearance and re-emergence of structures near the stars detected at specific wavelengths of visible light; and even a play of light and shadow as the smaller star swings around the primary.

During the past 11 years, spanning three periastron passages, the Goddard group has developed a model based on routine observations of the stars using ground-based telescopes and multiple NASA satellites. "We used past observations to construct a computer simulation, which helped us predict what we would see during the next cycle, and then we feed new observations back into the model to further refine it," said Thomas Madura, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Goddard and a theorist on the Eta Carinae team.

According to this model, the interaction of the two stellar winds accounts for many of the periodic changes observed in the system. The winds from each star have markedly different properties: thick and slow for the primary, lean and fast for the hotter companion. The primary's wind blows at nearly 1 million mph and is especially dense, carrying away the equivalent mass of our sun every thousand years. By contrast, the companion's wind carries off about 100 times less material than the primary's, but it races outward as much as six times faster.

Madura's simulations, which were performed on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, reveal the complexity of the wind interaction. When the companion star rapidly swings around the primary, its faster wind carves out a spiral cavity in the dense outflow of the larger star. To better visualize this interaction, Madura converted the computer simulations to 3-D digital models and made solid versions using a consumer-grade 3-D printer. This process revealed lengthy spine-like protrusions in the gas flow along the edges of the cavity, features that hadn't been noticed before.

"We think these structures are real and that they form as a result of instabilities in the flow in the months around closest approach," Madura said. "I wanted to make 3-D prints of the simulations to better visualize them, which turned out to be far more successful than I ever imagined." A paper detailing this research has been submitted to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The team detailed a few key observations that expose some of the system's inner workings. For the past three periastron passages, ground-based telescopes in Brazil, Chile, Australia and New Zealand have monitored a single wavelength of blue light emitted by helium atoms that have lost a single electron. According to the model, the helium emission tracks conditions in the primary star's wind. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard Hubble captures a different wavelength of blue light emitted by iron atoms that have lost two electrons, which uniquely reveals where gas from the primary star is set aglow by the intense ultraviolet light of its companion. Lastly, X-rays from the system carry information directly from the wind collision zone, where the opposing winds create shock waves that heat the gas to hundreds of millions of degrees.

"Changes in the X-rays are a direct probe of the collision zone and reflect changes in how these stars lose mass," said Michael Corcoran, an astrophysicist with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland. He and his colleagues compared periastron emission measured over the past 20 years by NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, which ceased operation in 2012, and the X-ray Telescope aboard NASA's Swift satellite. In July 2014, as the stars rushed toward each other, Swift observed a series of flares culminating in the brightest X-ray emission yet seen from Eta Carinae. This implies a change in mass loss by one of the stars, but X-rays alone cannot determine which one.

Goddard's Mairan Teodoro led the ground-based campaign tracking the helium emission. "The 2014 emission is nearly identical to what we saw at the previous periastron in 2009, which suggests the primary wind has been constant and that the companion's wind is responsible for the X-ray flares," he explained.

After NASA astronauts repaired the Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument in 2009, Gull and his collaborators requested to use it to observe Eta Carinae. By separating the stars' light into a rainbow-like spectrum, STIS reveals the chemical make-up of their environment. But the spectrum also showed wispy structures near the stars that suggested the instrument could be used to map a region close to the binary system in never-before-seen detail.

STIS views its targets through a single narrow slit to limit contamination from other sources. Since December 2010, Gull's team has regularly mapped a region centered on the binary by capturing spectra at 41 different locations, an effort similar to building up a panoramic picture from a series of snapshots. The view spans about 430 billion miles (670 billion km), or about 4,600 times the average Earth-sun distance.

The resulting images, revealed for the first time on Wednesday, show that the doubly ionized iron emission comes from a complex gaseous structure nearly a tenth of a light-year across, which Gull likens to Maryland blue crab. By stepping through the STIS images, vast shells of gas representing the crab's "claws" can be seen racing away from the stars with measured speeds of about 1 million mph (1.6 million km/h). With each close approach, a spiral cavity forms in the larger star's wind and then expands outward along with it, creating the moving shells.

"These gas shells persist over thousands of times the distance between Earth and the sun," Gull explained. "Backtracking them, we find the shells began moving away from the primary star about 11 years or three periastron passages ago, providing us with an additional way to glimpse what occurred in the recent past."

When the stars approach, the companion becomes immersed in the thickest part of the primary's wind, which absorbs its UV light and prevents the radiation from reaching the distant gas shells. Without this energy to excite it, the doubly ionized iron stops emitting light and the crab structure disappears at this wavelength. Once the companion swings around the primary and clears the densest wind, its UV light escapes, re-energizes iron atoms in the shells, and the crab returns.

Both of the massive stars of Eta Carinae may one day end their lives in supernova explosions. For stars, mass is destiny, and what will determine their ultimate fate is how much matter they can lose -- through stellar winds or as-yet-inexplicable eruptions -- before they run out of fuel and collapse under their own weight.

For now, the researchers say, there is no evidence to suggest an imminent demise of either star. They are exploring the rich dataset from the 2014 periastron passage to make new predictions, which will be tested when the stars again race together in February 2020.

In 2012, University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Nathan Smith suggested that Eta Carinae did in fact explode, but managed to survive. "There is a class of stellar explosions going off in other galaxies for which we still don't know the cause, but Eta Carinae is the prototype," said Smith, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow, who believes that the explosion was less energetic than a real supernova, but an explosion nonetheless.

A massive star with an estimated mass of between 100 and 150 greater than that of our own Sun, and four million times brighter as well, Eta Carinae is one of the most heavily studied stars, second only to our own. The Homunculus Nebula surrounding Eta Carinae is believed to be the resulting debris of gas and dust from the explosion. There are also remnants of another explosion also visible, dating from approximately a thousand years ago.

Using observations from the international Gemini South 8-meter telescope and the Blanco 4-meter telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, Smith has found extremely fast filaments of gas moving five times faster than debris in the Homunculus Nebula were propelled away from Eta Carinae in the same event. The contents of the Homunculus Nebula was already moving at such a pace as to present a problem to scientific theory; that these new discoveries are travelling even faster presents real problems under those current theories.

"These observations force us to modify our interpretation of what happened in the 1843 eruption," he said. "Rather than a steady wind blowing off the outer layers, it seems to have been an explosion that started deep inside the star and blasted off its outer layers. It takes a new mechanism to cause explosions like this."

Based on Smith’s observations, some are suggesting that supermassive stars akin to Eta Carinae might produce these mini-supernovas in an effort to discard large amounts of mass in periodic explosions. It would theoretically minimize the massiveness of the final supernova, resulting in the death of the star.

"This could be an important clue for understanding the last violent phases in the lives of massive stars," said Smith.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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