Archive for category NASA
In this new Hubble image two objects are clearly visible, shining brightly. When they were first discovered in 1979, they were thought to be separate objects — however, astronomers soon realized that these twins are a little too identical! They are close together, lie at the same distance from us, and have surprisingly similar properties. The reason they are so similar is not some bizarre coincidence; they are in fact the same object.
These cosmic doppelgangers make up a double quasar known as QSO 0957+561, also known as the “Twin Quasar,” which lies just under 14 billion light-years from Earth. Quasars are the intensely powerful centers of distant galaxies. So, why are we seeing this quasar twice?
Some 4 billion light-years from Earth — and directly in our line of sight — is the huge galaxy YGKOW G1. This galaxy was the first ever observed gravitational lens, an object with a mass so great that it can bend the light from objects lying behind it. This phenomenon not only allows us to see objects that would otherwise be too remote, in cases like this it also allows us to see them twice over.
Along with the cluster of galaxies in which it resides, YGKOW G1 exerts an enormous gravitational force. This doesn’t just affect the galaxy’s shape, the stars that it forms, and the objects around it — it affects the very space it sits in, warping and bending the environment and producing bizarre effects, such as this quasar double image.
The first detection of gravitational lensing meant more than just the discovery of an impressive optical illusion allowing telescopes like Hubble to effectively see behind an intervening galaxy. It was evidence for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. This theory had identified gravitational lensing as one of its only observable effects, but until the observation of these quasar “twins,” no such lensing had been observed since the idea was first mooted in 1936.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA
A photo of the surface of the planet Mercury has set astronomers giggling with what appears to be Star Wars’ hero Han Solo — frozen in carbonite.
The picture, released by the Messenger spacecraft division of NASA, shows a formation in the terrain of the Caloris basin “in the shape of a certain carbonite-encased smuggler who can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.”
“If there are two things you should remember, it’s not to cross a Hutt, and that Mercury’s surface can throw up all kinds of surprises,” the NASA website posted.
The region of Mercury’s surface was shaped by magma ejected during the formation of the Caloris basin. The body-shaped lumps may be remnants of what was there before.
The Messenger spacecraft is the first sent in to orbit the inferno planet closest to our Sun. During its two years of operation, it has so far taken more than 150,000 images as well as many other sensor readings.
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This image of Mercury, acquired by the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) aboard NASA’s MESSENGER mission on April 23, 2013, allows us to take a step back to view the planet. Prior to the MESSENGER mission, Mercury’s surface was often compared to the surface of Earth’s moon, when in fact, Mercury and the moon are very different. This image in particular highlights many basins near Mercury’s terminator, including Bach crater. Many craters with central peaks and the nearby bright rays of Han Kan crater are also evident.
Once per week, MDIS captures images of Mercury’s limb, with an emphasis on imaging the southern hemisphere limb. These limb images provide information about Mercury’s shape and complement measurements of topography made by the Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA) of Mercury’s northern hemisphere.
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
The spinning vortex of Saturn’s north polar storm resembles a deep red rose of giant proportions surrounded by green foliage in this false-color image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Measurements have sized the eye at a staggering 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) across with cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second).
This image is among the first sunlit views of Saturn’s north pole captured by Cassini’s imaging cameras. When the spacecraft arrived in the Saturnian system in 2004, it was northern winter and the north pole was in darkness. Saturn’s north pole was last imaged under sunlight by NASA’s Voyager 2 in 1981; however, the observation geometry did not allow for detailed views of the poles. Consequently, it is not known how long this newly discovered north-polar hurricane has been active.
The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2012, using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light. The images filtered at 890 nanometers are projected as blue. The images filtered at 728 nanometers are projected as green, and images filtered at 752 nanometers are projected as red. In this scheme, red indicates low clouds and green indicates high ones.
The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 261,000 miles (419,000 kilometers) from Saturn and at a sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 94 degrees. Image scale is 1 mile (2 kilometers) per pixel. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
The Pioneer 11 spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral forty years ago, on April 5, 1973. Pioneer 11’s path through Saturn’s outer rings took it within 21,000 km of the planet, where it discovered two new moons (almost smacking into one of them in September 1979) and a new “F” ring. The spacecraft also discovered and charted the magnetosphere, magnetic field and mapped the general structure of Saturn’s interior. The spacecraft’s instruments measured the heat radiation from Saturn’s interior and found that its planet-sized moon, Titan, was too cold to support life.
This image from Pioneer 11 shows Saturn and its moon Titan. The irregularities in ring silhouette and shadow are due to technical anomalies in the preliminary data later corrected. At the time this image was taken, Pioneer was 2,846,000 km (1,768,422 miles) from Saturn.
Image credit: NASA Ames
The ring-like swirls of dust filling the Andromeda galaxy stand out colorfully in this new image from the Herschel Space Observatory, a European Space Agency mission with important NASA participation.
The glow seen here comes from the longer-wavelength, or far, end of the infrared spectrum, giving astronomers the chance to identify the very coldest dust in our galactic neighbor. These light wavelengths span from 250 to 500 microns, which are a quarter to half of a millimeter in size. Herschel’s ability to detect the light allows astronomers to see clouds of dust at temperatures of only a few tens of degrees above absolute zero. These clouds are dark and opaque at shorter wavelengths. The Herschel view also highlights spokes of dust between the concentric rings.
The colors in this image have been enhanced to make them easier to see, but they do reflect real variations in the data. The very coldest clouds are brightest in the longest wavelengths, and colored red here, while the warmer ones take on a bluish tinge.
These data, together with those from other observatories, reveal that other dust properties, beyond just temperature, are affecting the infrared color of the image. Clumping of dust grains, or growth of icy mantles on the grains towards the outskirts of the galaxy, appear to contribute to these subtle color variations.
These observations were made by Herschel’s spectral and photometric imaging receiver (SPIRE) instrument. The data were processed as part of a project to improve methods for assembling mosaics from SPIRE observations. Light with a wavelength of 250 microns is rendered as blue, 350-micron is green, and 500-micron light is red. Color saturation has been enhanced to bring out the small differences at these wavelengths.
Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/NHSC