Monday, October 16, 2017

Hubble observes first kilonova | NASA/ESA

Hubble observes source of gravitational waves for the first time | Hubblecast 103: Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have observed a visible counterpart to gravitational waves for the first time: a kilonova from merging neutron stars.

For the first time, Hubble has observed the source of a gravitational wave: the merging of two neutron stars. This merger created a kilonova—an object first predicted by theory more than 30 ago. This event also provides the strongest evidence yet that short duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of neutron stars. These observations may help solve another long-standing question in astronomy: the origin of heavy chemical elements, like gold and platinum. In the merger of two neutron stars, the conditions appear just right for their production.

Credit: NASA and ESA
Duration: 4 minutes, 19 seconds
Release Date: October 16, 2017

#ESO #Astronomy #Science #Space #Stars #Neutron #GravitationalWaves #Kilonovae #Kilonova #LIGO #Virgo #Astrophysics #Physics #Telescopes #Chile #Atacama #Desert #SouthAmerica #Europe #History #STEM #Education #Art #Illustration #HD #Video

First Light from Gravitational Wave Source | European Southern Observatory

Artist Illustration: Merging neutron stars scatter gold and platinum into space

Oct. 16, 2017: ESO’s fleet of telescopes in Chile have detected the first visible counterpart to a gravitational wave source. These historic observations suggest that this unique object is the result of the merger of two neutron stars. The cataclysmic aftermaths of this kind of merger—long-predicted events called kilonovae—disperse heavy elements such as gold and platinum throughout the Universe. This discovery, published in several papers in the journal Nature and elsewhere, also provides the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of neutron stars.

For the first time ever, astronomers have observed both gravitational waves and light (electromagnetic radiation) from the same event, thanks to a global collaborative effort and the quick reactions of both ESO’s facilities and others around the world.

On August 17, 2017 the NSF's Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States, working with the Virgo Interferometer in Italy, detected gravitational waves passing the Earth. This event, the fifth ever detected, was named GW170817. About two seconds later, two space observatories, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and ESA’s INTErnational Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL), detected a short gamma-ray burst from the same area of the sky.

The LIGO–Virgo observatory network positioned the source within a large region of the southern sky, the size of several hundred full Moons and containing millions of stars [1]. As night fell in Chile many telescopes peered at this patch of sky, searching for new sources. These included ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) and VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at the Paranal Observatory, the Italian Rapid Eye Mount (REM) telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, the LCO 0.4-meter telescope at Las Cumbres Observatory, and the American DECam at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. The Swope 1-metre telescope was the first to announce a new point of light. It appeared very close to NGC 4993, a lenticular galaxy in the constellation of Hydra, and VISTA observations pinpointed this source at infrared wavelengths almost at the same time. As night marched west across the globe, the Hawaiian island telescopes Pan-STARRS and Subaru also picked it up and watched it evolve rapidly.

“There are rare occasions when a scientist has the chance to witness a new era at its beginning,” said Elena Pian, astronomer with INAF, Italy, and lead author of one of the Nature papers. “This is one such time!”

ESO launched one of the biggest ever “target of opportunity” observing campaigns and many ESO and ESO-partnered telescopes observed the object over the weeks following the detection [2]. ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), New Technology Telescope (NTT), VST, the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) [3] all observed the event and its after-effects over a wide range of wavelengths. About 70 observatories around the world also observed the event, including the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Distance estimates from both the gravitational wave data and other observations agree that GW170817 was at the same distance as NGC 4993, about 130 million light-years from Earth. This makes the source both the closest gravitational wave event detected so far and also one of the closest gamma-ray burst sources ever seen [4].

The ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves are created by moving masses, but only the most intense, created by rapid changes in the speed of very massive objects, can currently be detected. One such event is the merging of neutron stars, the extremely dense, collapsed cores of high-mass stars left behind after supernovae [5]. These mergers have so far been the leading hypothesis to explain short gamma-ray bursts. An explosive event 1000 times brighter than a typical nova—known as a kilonova—is expected to follow this type of event.

The almost simultaneous detections of both gravitational waves and gamma rays from GW170817 raised hopes that this object was indeed a long-sought kilonova and observations with ESO facilities have revealed properties remarkably close to theoretical predictions. Kilonovae were suggested more than 30 years ago but this marks the first confirmed observation.

Following the merger of the two neutron stars, a burst of rapidly expanding radioactive heavy chemical elements left the kilonova, moving as fast as one-fifth of the speed of light. The colour of the kilonova shifted from very blue to very red over the next few days, a faster change than that seen in any other observed stellar explosion.

“When the spectrum appeared on our screens I realised that this was the most unusual transient event I’d ever seen,” remarked Stephen Smartt, who led observations with ESO’s NTT as part of the extended Public ESO Spectroscopic Survey of Transient Objects (ePESSTO) observing programme. “I had never seen anything like it. Our data, along with data from other groups, proved to everyone that this was not a supernova or a foreground variable star, but was something quite remarkable.”

Spectra from ePESSTO and the VLT’s X-shooter instrument suggest the presence of caesium and tellurium ejected from the merging neutron stars. These and other heavy elements, produced during the neutron star merger, would be blown into space by the subsequent kilonova. These observations pin down the formation of elements heavier than iron through nuclear reactions within high-density stellar objects, known as r-process nucleosynthesis, something which was only theorised before.

“The data we have so far are an amazingly close match to theory. It is a triumph for the theorists, a confirmation that the LIGO–VIRGO events are absolutely real, and an achievement for ESO to have gathered such an astonishing data set on the kilonova,” adds Stefano Covino, lead author of one of the Nature Astronomy papers.

“ESO’s great strength is that it has a wide range of telescopes and instruments to tackle big and complex astronomical projects, and at short notice. We have entered a new era of multi-messenger astronomy!” concludes Andrew Levan, lead author of one of the papers.

[1] The LIGO–Virgo detection localised the source to an area on the sky of about 35 square degrees.

[2 The galaxy was only observable in the evening in August and then was too close to the Sun in the sky to be observed by September.

[3] On the VLT, observations were taken with: the X-shooter spectrograph located on Unit Telescope 2 (UT2); the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) and Nasmyth Adaptive Optics System (NAOS) – Near-Infrared Imager and Spectrograph (CONICA) (NACO) on Unit Telescope 1 (UT1); VIsible Multi-Object Spectrograph (VIMOS) and VLT Imager and Spectrometer for mid-Infrared (VISIR) located on Unit Telescope 3 (UT3); and the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) and High Acuity Wide-field K-band Imager (HAWK-I) on Unit Telescope 4 (UT4). The VST observed using the OmegaCAM and VISTA observed with the VISTA InfraRed CAMera (VIRCAM). Through the ePESSTO programme, the NTT collected visible spectra with the ESO Faint Object Spectrograph and Camera 2 (EFOSC2) spectrograph and infrared spectra with the Son of ISAAC (SOFI) spectrograph. The MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope observed using the Gamma-Ray burst Optical/Near-infrared Detector (GROND) instrument.

[4] The comparatively small distance between Earth and the neutron star merger, 130 million light-years, made the observations possible, since merging neutron stars create weaker gravitational waves than merging black holes, which were the likely case of the first four gravitational wave detections.

[5] When neutron stars orbit one another in a binary system, they lose energy by emitting gravitational waves. They get closer together until, when they finally meet, some of the mass of the stellar remnants is converted into energy in a violent burst of gravitational waves, as described by Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2.

More information
This research was presented in a series of papers to appear in Nature, Nature Astronomy and Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Article Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser
Release Date: October 16, 2017

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A Glimpse of Our Galaxy's Future | Hubble

This image, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows what happens when two galaxies become one. The twisted cosmic knot seen here is NGC 2623—or Arp 243—and is located about 250 million light-years away in the constellation of Cancer (The Crab).

NGC 2623 gained its unusual and distinctive shape as the result of a major collision and subsequent merger between two separate galaxies. This violent encounter caused clouds of gas within the two galaxies to become compressed and stirred up, in turn triggering a sharp spike of star formation. This active star formation is marked by speckled patches of bright blue; these can be seen clustered both in the center and along the trails of dust and gas forming NGC 2623’s sweeping curves (known as tidal tails). These tails extend for roughly 50,000 light-years from end to end. Many young, hot, newborn stars form in bright stellar clusters—at least 170 such clusters are known to exist within NGC 2623.

NGC 2623 is in a late stage of merging. It is thought that the Milky Way will eventually resemble NGC 2623 when it collides with our neighboring galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, in four billion years time.

In contrast to the image of NGC 2623 released in 2009, this new version contains data from recent narrow-band and infrared observations that make more features of the galaxy visible.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Release Date: October 16, 2017

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

ALMA looks to the night sky

This photo shows ALMA hard at work in the Atacama desert, looking up at the Nights Sky. ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) is the most powerful telescope for observing the cool Universe—molecular gas and dust as well the distant Universe. ALMA is studying the building blocks of stars, planetary systems, galaxies and life itself.

Credit: D. Kordan/ESO
Release Date: October 6, 2017

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Our Way

This beautiful image of the Milky Way was taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Juan Carlos Muñoz-Mateos. it clearly shows the interstellar dust that blocks visible light from many stars in our Galaxy. Fortunately, other types of radiation can penetrate this dust, so we are able to observe the hidden stars with telescopes that detect a variety of different types of emission.

This image was taken from ESO's Paranal Residencia in the Chilean Atacama desert, home to several world-class telescopes, including ESO's Very Large Telescope.

ESO Hotel at Cerro Paranal (or Residencia) is the accommodation for Paranal Observatory in Chile since 2002. It is mainly used for the ESO (European Southern Observatory) scientists and engineers who work there on a roster system. It has been called a "boarding house on Mars", because the desert surroundings are Mars-like, and an "Oasis for astronomers". It is not a commercial hotel, and the public cannot book rooms. (Source: Wikipedia)

Learn more about the ALMA Residencia (ESO Hotel):

Credit: Juan Carlos Muñoz-Mateos/ESO
Release Date: October 6, 2017

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Monday, October 09, 2017

Dwarf Galaxy ESO 553-46 | Hubble Space Telescope

Size can be deceptive | Some of the largest galaxies in the Universe are dormant, while some dwarf galaxies, such as ESO 553-46 imaged here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, can produce stars at a hair-raising rate. In fact, ESO 553-46 has one of the highest rates of star formation of the 1000 or so galaxies nearest to the Milky Way. No mean feat for such a diminutive galaxy!

Clusters of young, hot stars are speckling the galaxy, burning with a fierce blue glow. The intense radiation they produce also causes surrounding gas to light up, which is bright red in this image. The small mass and distinctive coloring of galaxies of this type prompted astronomers to classify them, appropriately, as blue compact dwarfs (BCD).

Lacking the clear core and structure that many larger galaxies—such as the Milky Way—have, BCDs such as ESO 553-46 are composed of many large clusters of stars bound together by gravity. Their chemical makeup is interesting to astronomers, since they contain relatively little dust and few elements heavier than helium, which are produced in stars and distributed via supernova explosions. Such conditions are strikingly similar to those that existed in the early Universe, when the first galaxies were beginning to form.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA
Release Date: October 10, 2017

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Earth by Moonlight | International Space Station

Cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy:
"Night planet Earth illuminated by the Aurora and Moonlight."
"Ночная планета Земля в лунном свете и сиянии Авроры."

Credit: Roscosmos, Cosmonaut Сергей Рязанский‏
Release Date: October 7, 2017

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Thursday, October 05, 2017

ASPIRE Successfully Launches from NASA Wallops

Oct. 4, 2017: A NASA Black Brant IX sounding rocket carrying a parachute test platform was successfully launched at 6:45 a.m. EST, October 4, from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The 58-foot tall rocket carried the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The mission is to evaluate the performance of the ASPIRE payload, which is designed to test parachute systems in a low-density, supersonic environment.

The flight was conducted through NASA’s Space Mission Directorate.

The payload flew to an altitude of approximately 31.62 miles and then landed in the Atlantic Ocean. The payload is being recovered for data retrieval and inspection.

NASA's Sounding Rocket Program is conducted at the agency's Wallops Flight Facility. Orbital ATK provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations through the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract. NASA's Heliophysics Division manages the sounding-rocket program for the agency.

The next launch currently scheduled from Wallops is Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket carrying the Cygnus spacecraft with supplies and experiments to the International Space Station. Antares is scheduled for launch no earlier than November 10.

Credit: NASA/Terry Zapeach/Jamie Adkins
Release Date: October 4, 2017

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Tuesday, October 03, 2017

SLS Core Stage Pathfinder Arrives at NASA Michoud

The Space Launch System (SLS) core stage pathfinder, which is similar in similar in size, shape and weight to the 212-foot-tall core stage, arrived at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility early in the morning on September 27, 2017. To reduce the risk of first-time operations with one-of-a-kind spaceflight hardware for SLS, the agency built a core stage pathfinder. Like SLS, the core stage pathfinder will be doing something that's never been done—testing new shipping and handling equipment and procedures from the manufacturing site to the test site to the launch site.

Credit: NASA/MSFC/MAF/Steven Seipel
Release Date: September 27, 201

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Monday, October 02, 2017

Aurora | International Space Station

Captured by European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy.

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Credit: NASA/ESA
Capture Date: September 15, 2017

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The Nile river at night | International Space Station

The Nile River is a major north-flowing river in northeastern Africa. It reaches all of these countries:
Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Eritrea

The Nile (Arabic: النيل‎‎, Egyptian Arabic en-Nīl, Standard Arabic an-Nīl; Coptic: ⲫⲓⲁⲣⲱ, P(h)iaro; Ancient Egyptian: Ḥ'pī and Jtrw; Biblical Hebrew: היאור, Ha-Ye'or or השיחור, Ha-Shiḥor).
(Source: Wikipedia)

Captured by ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy

Nespoli is currently working and living aboard the International Space Station as part of his long duration Vita mission.

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Credit: ESA/NASA
Image Date: September 24, 2017

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Saturday, September 30, 2017

From Africa to Russia | International Space Station

Timelapse of Earth from the Space Station
On September 12, 2017, 710 photos were taken by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli to create this timelapse of the Earth (from Africa to Russia) as seen from the International Space Station.

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli is currently working and living aboard the Station as part of his long duration Vita mission.

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Credit: ESA/NASA
Duration: 30 seconds
Capture Date: September 12, 2017
Release Date: September 28, 2017

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Vice President Visits Marshall Space Flight Center on This Week @NASA

Sept. 29, 2017: Vice President Mike Pence visited our Marshall Space Flight Center on Sept. 25 to thank employees working on NASA’s human spaceflight programs. He also spoke to the three NASA astronauts currently serving onboard the International Space Station. During a tour, the Vice President also saw progress being made on our Space Launch System rocket, that will send astronauts in our Orion spacecraft on missions around the Moon and ultimately to Mars.

Also, NASA Data and Tech Aid in Disaster Relief, Congressional Hearing on August 21 Solar Eclipse, OSIRIS-REx Views Earth During Flyby, and “Bladed Terrain” on Pluto Made of Frozen Methane!

Credit: NASA
Duration: 3 minutes, 24 seconds
Release Date: September 29, 2017

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Solar System Show | International Space Station

Sept. 28, 2017: On September 18, 2017, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli shot this beautiful time-lapse showing the Moon rising above the Earth’s horizon together with Mercury, Mars, the star Regulus, and Venus.

Regulus, also designated Alpha Leonis, is the brightest star in the constellation of Leo and one of the brightest stars in the night sky, lying approximately 79 light years from the Sun. Regulus is a multiple star system composed of four stars that are organized into two pairs. (Source: Wikipedia)

ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli is currently working and living on board the International Space Station as part of his long duration Vita mission.

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Credit: ESA/NASA
Duration: 1 minute, 32 seconds
Release Date: September 28, 2017

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Solar System Show | International Space Station

ESA Astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy: "The Moon, Mercury, Mars, the star Regulus and Venus!"

Regulus, also designated Alpha Leonis, is the brightest star in the constellation of Leo and one of the brightest stars in the night sky, lying approximately 79 light years from the Sun. Regulus is a multiple star system composed of four stars that are organized into two pairs. (Source: Wikipedia)

Nespoli is currently working and living aboard the International Space Station as part of his long duration Vita mission.

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Credit: ESA/NASA

Release Date: September 27, 2017

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Solving the Mystery of Pluto’s Giant Blades of Ice | NASA New Horizons

Image: Pluto’s bladed terrain as seen from New Horizons during its July 2015 flyby. | Sept. 26, 2017: NASA’s New Horizons mission revolutionized our knowledge of Pluto when it flew past that distant world in July 2015. Among its many discoveries were images of strange formations resembling giant knife blades of ice, whose origin had remained a mystery.

Now, scientists have turned up a fascinating explanation for this “bladed terrain”: the structures are made almost entirely of methane ice, and likely formed as a specific kind of erosion wore away their surfaces, leaving dramatic crests and sharp divides.

These jagged geological ridges are found at the highest altitudes on Pluto’s surface, near its equator, and can soar many hundreds of feet into the sky—as high as a New York City skyscraper. They are one of the most puzzling feature types on Pluto, and it now appears the blades are related to Pluto’s complex climate and geological history.

A team led by New Horizons team member Jeffrey Moore, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, has determined that formation of the bladed terrain begins with methane freezing out of the atmosphere at extreme altitudes on Pluto, in the same way frost freezes on the ground on Earth, or even in your freezer.

“When we realized that bladed terrain consists of tall deposits of methane ice, we asked ourselves why it forms all of these ridges, as opposed to just being big blobs of ice on the ground,” said Moore. “It turns out that Pluto undergoes climate variation and sometimes, when Pluto is a little warmer, the methane ice begins to basically ‘evaporate’ away.”

Scientists use the term “sublimation” for this process where ice transforms directly into gas, skipping over the intermediate liquid form.

Similar structures can be found in high-altitude snowfields along Earth’s equator, though on a very different scale than the blades on Pluto. The terrestrial structures, called penitentes, are snow formations just a few meters high, with striking similarities to the vastly larger bladed terrain on Pluto. Their spiky texture also forms through sublimation.

This erosion of Pluto’s bladed terrain indicates that its climate has undergone changes over long periods of time—on a scale of millions of years—that cause this ongoing geological activity. Early climatic conditions allowed methane to freeze out onto high elevation surfaces, but, as time progressed, these conditions changed, causing the ice to “burn off” into a gas.

As a result of this discovery, we now know that the surface and air of Pluto are apparently far more dynamic than previously thought. The results have just been published in Icarus, an international journal of planetary science.

Mapping Pluto’s Surface

Identifying the nature of the exotic bladed terrain also brings us a step closer to understanding the global topography of Pluto. The New Horizons spacecraft provided spectacular, high-resolution data about one side of Pluto, called the encounter hemisphere, and observed the other side of Pluto at lower resolution.

Since methane has now been linked to high elevations, researchers can use data that indicates where methane is present around Pluto’s globe to infer which locations are at higher altitudes. This provides an opportunity to map out altitudes of some parts of Pluto’s surface not captured in high resolution, where bladed terrains also appear to exist.

Though the detailed coverage of Pluto’s bladed terrain covers only a small area, NASA researchers and their collaborators have been able to conclude from several types of data that these sharp ridges may be a widespread feature on Pluto’s so-called “far side”, helping to develop a working understanding of Pluto’s global geography, its present and its past.

Release Date: September 26, 2017

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