Voyager Spacecraft Enters a Strange, Mysterious Region 11 Billion Miles from Earth --Upending Long-Standing Theories Launched 36 years ago, the Voyager 1 spacecraft speeds a rate of about a million miles a day entering a bizarre and mysterious region more than 11 billion miles from Earth that scientists are struggling to make sense of. It's a region where the fierce solar winds have all but vanished and pieces of atoms blasted across the galaxy by ancient supernovae drift into the solar system, the NASA probe is causing scientists to question some long-standing theories on the nature of our solar system and life beyond its cold dark edge dubbed the "magnetic highway" --a newly discovered area of the heliosphere, the vast bubble of magnetism that shields the solar system from deadly cosmic rays. Voyager 1 entered the edge of the solar wind in 2003, when the spacecraft’s instruments indicated that particles around it were moving subsonically, having slowed down after traveling far from the sun. "This is a new region that we didn't know existed," Krimigis says. Image credit: Southwest Research Institute
The Extinction Protocol: 2012 and beyond | 2012 and Earthchanges News events Titan’s Haze Could Hold Recipe for Life, No Water Needed | Wired Science When it comes to determining exactly where in the solar system life began, things have never been so up in the air. Scientists over the past decade have suggested deep-sea hydrothermal vents, underground aquifers, partially frozen lakes and even comets as locations for the origin of life. Now an experiment that simulates chemical reactions in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s haze-shrouded moon, adds a new location to the list of unexpected places where life could have begun — in the sky. The study used radio waves as an energy source, simulating the action of ultraviolet radiation from the sun that strikes the top of Titan’s thick atmosphere and breaks apart molecules such as methane and molecular nitrogen. The experiment is the first to produce amino acids and the nucleotide bases that make up DNA and RNA — the basic ingredients of life — without the need for liquid water, says Sarah Hörst of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Image: NASA See Also:
The Asteroid That Is Coming Really Close To Earth In February, Asteroid 2012 DA 14 will come so close to earth that it will be nearer to our planet than many satellites are. This asteroid, which really should get a new name, is about half the size of a football field. Its orbit is similar to that of the Earth itself, in size and shape, but at an angle to the Earth’s plane, so it’s like the asteroid and the earth are driving in circles on two oval tracks that intersect at two points but there is no red light. Asteroid 2012 DA 14 was discovered with gear provided to an observatory with a grant from the Planetary Society. This asteroid is not going to hit the earth now or during any of the next few decades, but eventually it may well do so. The closest approach will be on Feb 15th, when it will be a mere 27,330 kilometers from the surface of the earth.
First Images of Our Solar System's Tail Revealed | IBEX Heliotail Observations Astronomers have gotten the first-ever peek at our solar system's tail, called the heliotail, finding that it's shaped like a four-leaf clover, NASA scientists announced today (July 10). The discovery was made using NASA's Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a coffee table-sized spacecraft that is studying the edge of the solar system. "Many models have suggested the heliotail might look like this or like that, but we have had no observations," David McComas, IBEX principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Tex., said in a statement. "We always drew pictures where the tail of the solar system just trailed off the page, since we couldn't even speculate about what it really looked like." [Images: NASA's IBEX Sees Our Solar System's Tail] The tail drags behind the bullet-shaped heliosphere, or the bubble surrounding our solar system that's created by the solar wind and solar magnetic field. The new findings are detailed in the Astrophysical Journal.
Astronomers Get First Peek at Atmosphere of a "Super-Earth" Exoplanet Someday in the coming years, if astronomers finally succeed in locating a virtual Earth twin outside the solar system—a tiny dot of a world at a temperate, life-enabling distance from a sunlike star—the achievement will hardly be cause for resting on observational laurels. Instead another race will begin: to characterize the planet and its atmosphere and to determine if the world is truly habitable or, tantalizingly, if it is already inhabited by some extraterrestrial life-form. In the meantime, astronomers are honing their techniques on the closest thing available—so-called super-Earths, just a few times the mass of our own planet, which are too hot to be habitable but are interesting in their own right. To that end, a team of researchers has managed to capture the light spectrum of a super-Earth backlit by its host star. "This is the most accessible way to study these planets' atmospheres," says lead study author Jacob Bean of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
WebStars: Astrophysics in Cyberspace This list of astronomical resource sites is intended as a resource for users who have a general interest in astronomical topics. For a translation of any acronyms you may have seen in our pages check out our acronyms page. In the News Read the latest NASA news! The Solar System Planetary Exploration The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has information on missions around the solar system: past, present, future, and proposed. The SOHO gallery SOHO (the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) is a joint NASA/ESA mission to study the Sun during the quiet portion of the solar cycle. Project Galileo Galileo is a space probe to Jupiter, whose mission ended in September 2003. The Cassini Mission Cassini is a space probe to Saturn launched in October, 1997. New Horizons The Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission will help us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of Pluto and Charon a "double planet" system and the last in our solar system to be visited by spacecraft. Mars
Orbiting Earth 101: What You’d See / What You’d Do “I saw for the first time the earth’s shape. I could easily see the shores of continents, islands, great rivers, folds of the terrain, large bodies of water. The horizon is dark blue, smoothly turning to black. . . the feelings which filled me I can express with one word–joy.” It takes a tremendous amount of energy to do any type of heavy lifting, and the most extreme example of this is lifting something all the way up off of the Earth, out of the atmosphere, and into space! And once you’re up there, at least 300 km above the Earth’s surface, the sights you’ve got are bound to be absolutely amazing! But gravity is a funny thing. But while the Moon is 384,000 km away from the center of the Earth and takes about four weeks to orbit the Earth, these man-made satellites and space vehicles, at an altitude of around 300 km, are only 6,700 km away from the center of the Earth. Image credit: Boeing. Any guesses as to what that speed is at the altitude of the International Space Station?
Earth has Ring Of Anti-Protons Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter PAMELA team and detector in Rome before launch. Photo courtesy of the PAMELA Experiment When it comes to planets with rings, we know the answer: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. “The existence of a significant flux of antiprotons confined to Earth’s magnetosphere has been considered in several theoretical works.” says team leader, O. The PAMELA experiment – short for Payload for Antimatter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics – is based on an international collaboration involving about 100 physicists. “The satellite orbit (70 degree inclination and 350–610 km altitude) allows PAMELA to perform a very detailed measurement of the cosmic radiation in different regions of Earth’s magnetosphere, providing information about the nature and energy spectra of sub-cutoff particles.” says Adriani. From its subdetectors, PAMELA dished up a serving of antiprotons, but it wasn’t an easy job. About Tammy Plotner
Space Zen: Will Humans' Brains Change During Travel in Outer Space? -A Galaxy Insight In February, 1971, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell experienced the little understood phenomenon sometimes called the “Overview Effect”. He describes being completely engulfed by a profound sense of universal connectedness. Without warning, he says, a feeing of bliss, timelessness, and connectedness began to overwhelm him. He describes becoming instantly and profoundly aware that each of his constituent atoms were connected to the fragile planet he saw in the window and to every other atom in the Universe. He described experiencing an intense awareness that Earth, with its humans, other animal species, and systems were all one synergistic whole. He says the feeling that rushed over him was a sense of interconnected euphoria. Rusty Schweikart experienced it on March 6th 1969 during a spacewalk outside his Apollo 9 vehicle: “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. This is done with Faraday cages.
Ever wondered why Mars is red? One scientists thinks he knows By Daily Mail Reporter Updated: 22:51 GMT, 2 April 2011 Mars has not always been red. At least that is the theory proposed by a scientist who has discovered a reason as to how the red planet got its rosy colour. According to Dr John Brandednberg, about 180 million years ago, a planet-shattering yet naturally occurring nuclear reaction may have wiped out everything on Mars, sending a shockwave that turned the planet into dry sand. Surface: Mars is covered with a thin layer of radioactive substances including uranium, thorium and radioactive potassium He told Fox News: 'The Martian surface is covered with a thin layer of radioactive substances including uranium, thorium and radioactive potassium - and this pattern radiates from a hot spot on Mars. 'A nuclear explosion could have sent debris all around the planet. 'Maps of gamma rays on Mars show a big red spot that seems like a radiating debris pattern ... on the opposite side of the planet there is another red spot.'
Strongest evidence yet indicates Enceladus hiding saltwater ocean This image shows icy spray spewing from Saturn's moon, Enceladus. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute The new discovery was made during the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn , a collaboration of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Launched in 1997, the mission spacecraft arrived at the Saturn system in 2004 and has been touring the giant ringed planet and its vast moon system ever since. The plumes shooting water vapor and tiny grains of ice into space were originally discovered emanating from Enceladus -- one of 19 known moons of Saturn -- by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005. During three of Cassini's passes through the plume in 2008 and 2009, the Cosmic Dust Analyser, or CDA, on board measured the composition of freshly ejected plume grains. The study shows the ice grains found further out from Enceladus are relatively small and mostly ice-poor, closely matching the composition of the E Ring. Enlarge University of Colorado at Boulder
Snow White: a Distant Icy World | Astronomy Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have discovered that the dwarf planet 2007 OR10 — nicknamed Snow White — is an icy world, with about half its surface covered in water ice that once flowed from ancient, slush-spewing volcanoes. The new findings also suggest that the red-tinged dwarf planet may be covered in a thin layer of methane, the remnants of an atmosphere that’s slowly being lost into space. ‘You get to see this nice picture of what once was an active little world with water volcanoes and an atmosphere, and it’s now just frozen, dead, with an atmosphere that’s slowly slipping away,’ says Mike Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor and professor of planetary astronomy, who is the lead author on a paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters describing the findings. An artist's conception of Snow White 2007 OR10 (NASA) As expected, Snow White was red.