Image of a black hole

You can’t actually see the black hole, as we see light and no light escapes a black hole, but this shows clearly (apparently) where a black hole is.

6.5 billion times more massive than the sun is quite big.

CNN: This is the first photo of a black hole

In April 2017, scientists used a global network of telescopes to see and capture the first-ever picture of a black hole, according to an announcement by researchers at the National Science Foundation Wednesday morning. They captured an image of the supermassive black hole and its shadow at the center of a galaxy known as M87.

This is the first direct visual evidence that black holes exist, the researchers said. In the image, a central dark region is encapsulated by a ring of light that looks brighter on one side.

The massive galaxy, called Messier 87 or M87, is near the Virgo galaxy cluster 55 million light-years from Earth. The supermassive black hole has a mass that is 6.5 billion times that of our sun.

“We have seen what we thought was unseeable,” said Sheperd Doeleman, director of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. “We have seen and taken a picture of a black hole.”

The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, called EHT, is a global network of telescopes that captured the first-ever photograph of a black hole. More than 200 researchers were involved in the project. They have worked for more than a decade to capture this. The project is named for the event horizon, the proposed boundary around a black hole that represents the point of no return where no light or radiation can escape.

In their attempt to capture an image of a black hole, scientists combined the power of eight radio telescopes around the world using Very-Long-Baseline-Interferometry, according to the European Southern Observatory, which is part of the EHT. This effectively creates a virtual telescope around the same size as the Earth itself.

What are black holes?

Black holes are made up of huge amounts of matter squeezed into a small area, according to NASA, creating a massive gravitational field which draws in everything around it, including light. They also have a way of super-heating the material around them and warping spacetime. Material accumulates around black holes, is heated to billions of degrees and reaches nearly the speed of light. Light bends around the gravity of the black hole, which creates the photon ring seen in the image.

The imaging methods used to capture the photo reveal that the supermassive black hole has a ring-like structure and a shadow, which is represented by a dark central region.

 

Ultima Thule (Kuiper Belt) photographed by New Horizons

The New Horizons spacecraft that was launched on 19 January 2006 and passed Pluto on 14 July 2015 continued travelling into the Kuiper Belt, and has just photographed an object named Ultima Thule (‘beyond the known world’).

This image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft.

Image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) by the New Horizons spacecraft.
Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

RNZ – NASA’s New Horizons: ‘Snowman’ shape of distant Ultima Thule revealed

A new picture returned from US space agency NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows the little world to be two objects joined together – to give a look like a “snowman”.

The US probe’s images acquired as it approached Ultima hinted at the possibility of a double body, but the first detailed picture confirms it.

New Horizons encountered Ultima 6.5 billion km from Earth.

The event set a record for the most distant ever exploration of a Solar System object. The previous mark was also set by New Horizons when it flew past the dwarf planet Pluto in 2015.

But Ultima is a further 1.5 billion km further out.

Jeff Moore, a New Horizons co-investigator from NASA’s Ames Research Center, said the pair would have come together at very low speed, at maybe 2-3km/h. He joked that if they were cars, “you probably wouldn’t fill out the insurance form.

Ultima orbits the Sun in a region of the Solar System known as the Kuiper belt.

There are hundreds of thousands of Kuiper members like Ultima, and their frigid state almost certainly holds clues to how all planetary bodies came into being some 4.6 billion years ago.

About New Horizons and Ultima Thule:

The New Horizons team used the Hubble Space Telescope to search for the next Kuiper Belt object to fly by after Pluto. Using observations made with Hubble on June 26, 2014, the science team discovered an object that New Horizons could reach with its available fuel. The object was subsequently designated 2014 MU69, given the minor planet number 485968, and based on public votes, nicknamed “Ultima Thule”, which means “beyond the known world”.

Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune. In the early morning of January 1st 2019 Eastern Time, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly by Ultima Thule at a distance of 3500 km (2200 miles). At this time, Ultima Thule will be at a distance of almost 6.5 billion km (4 billion miles) from the Sun, making this the most distant planetary flyby that has yet been attempted, and the first time that a Solar System object of this type has been seen close-up.

Ultima Thule measures approximately 30 km in diameter, and is irregularly shaped. In July 2017, Ultima Thule passed in front of a star as seen from Earth (a stellar occultation), allowing astronomers to determine that its shape is most likely a contact binary (two bodies that are touching) or a close binary system (two objects that are orbiting each other). An artist’s impression of Ultima Thule as a contact binary is shown in the accompanying picture.

We will only know what Ultima Thule’s surface looks like once New Horizons has sent back the first pictures after it has flown by, although based on observations of similar-sized Solar System objects, it will almost certainly display impact craters. The lighting environment at its surface is very dim, as it receives only about 0.05% of the light from the Sun that Earth does. We do know that Ultima Thule has a reddish color, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years. The flyby will also reveal whether it has any moons, or even a ring system. Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classicals”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane, and which have not been perturbed since their formation perhaps 4.6 billion years ago. Ultima Thule will therefore be the most primitive planetary object yet explored, and will reveal to us what conditions were like in this distant part of the Solar System as it condensed from the solar nebula.

 

 

Jupiter and Saturn moon videos

Some great videos created out of still shots from the Cassini spacecraft as it flew by Jupiter and Saturn, showing orbiting moons.

Diamond shaped asteroid one of 29k+ NEO’s detected

Japan’s space agency is preparing to attempt two landings on a diamond shaped asteroid called Ryugu. It is one of over 18,000 Near Earth objects that have now been detected.

Image result for ryugu asteroid

900 metre wide Ryugu asteroid

Ryugu has been described as ‘unusually shaped’ but I think it has become obvious that asteroids are a wide variety of seemingly random shapes, so no particular shape should be seen as unusual. It would be very unusual if they all looked similar,

Ryugu is a C-type asteroid. Asteroids (NASA):

C-type (carbonaceous): Includes more than 75 percent of known asteroids. Very dark with an albedo of 0.03-0.09.
Composition is thought to be similar to the Sun, depleted in hydrogen, helium, and other volatiles. C-type asteroids inhabit the main belt’s outer regions.

S-type (silicaceous): Accounts for about 17 percent of known asteroids. Relatively bright with an albedo of 0.10-0.22. Composition is metallic iron mixed with iron- and magnesium-silicates. S-type asteroids dominate the inner asteroid belt.

M-type (metallic): Includes many of the rest of the known asteroids. Relatively bright with an albedo of 0.10-0.18. Composition is apparently dominated by metallic iron. M-type asteroids inhabit the main belt’s middle region.

CNN:

Japan’s space agency will attempt to land a robotic unmanned landing craft on the surface of an asteroid 300 million-kilometers (186.4 million-miles) away from Earth next month.

The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is currently orbiting around the diamond-shaped asteroid Ryugu, which it reached in June after a three-and-a-half year journey.

On September 21, the spacecraft will deploy the first of two landers onto the asteroid itself, where they will gather samples and conduct experiments. A second lander will be launched on October 3.

Later in the mission, the spacecraft itself will land on the asteroid after blowing a small crater in it using explosives, so samples can be gathered from below the object’s surface which have not been exposed to space.

JASA’s Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2” descended from its orbiting position (at a 20km altitude from Ryugu) to a minimum altitude of 851 m, on 6 -7 August 2018.

NASA has detected more than 29,000 Near Earth Objects, most over the last ten years, so the number is likely to keep increasing.

 

Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood. Composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, comets originally formed in the cold outer planetary system while most of the rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

On a daily basis, about one hundred tons of interplanetary material drifts down to the Earth’s surface. Most of the smallest interplanetary particles that reach the Earth’s surface are the tiny dust particles that are released by comets as their ices vaporize in the solar neighborhood.

With an average interval of about 10,000 years, rocky or iron asteroids larger than about 100 meters would be expected to reach the Earth’s surface and cause local disasters or produce the tidal waves that can inundate low lying coastal areas. On an average of every several hundred thousand years or so, asteroids larger than a kilometer could cause global disasters.

No one should be overly concerned about an Earth impact of an asteroid or comet. The threat to any one person from auto accidents, disease, other natural disasters and a variety of other problems is much higher than the threat from NEOs. Over long periods of time, however, the chances of the Earth being impacted are not negligible so that some form of NEO insurance is warranted.

https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/about/basics.html

Evidence of possible life on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence that adds weight to the possibility there has been life on Mars (in the distant past).

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill in

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at the site from which it reached down
to drill into a rock target called “Buckskin” on lower Mount Sharp.

The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.

Mars isn’t an easy place to escape to if things turn pear shaped on Earth, but if life is proven to have survived there in the past it would add weight to the lack of uniqueness of life on Earth.

Near miss asteroid whizzed by in the weekend

An asteroid whizzed past us in the weekend with little warning it was on it’s way. It was only detected 21 hours before it’s closest approach, giving no time to do anything but observe.

It missed Earth by about half the distance to the moon, so we weren’t close to disaster, but that’s a near miss in the scale of the solar system.

Space.com: ‘Tunguska’-Size Asteroid Makes Surprise Flyby of Earth

An asteroid similar in size to one that exploded more than 100 years ago in Russia’s Tunguska region in Siberia gave Earth a close shave on Sunday (April 15), just one day after astronomers discovered the object.

The asteroid, designated 2018 GE3, made its closest approach to Earth at around 2:41 a.m. EDT (0641 GMT), whizzing by at a distance of 119,400 miles (192,000 kilometers), or about half the average distance between Earth and the moon, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies(CNEOS).

NASA estimated that this asteroid measures 157 to 360 feet (48 to110 meters) wide, making the space rock up to 3.6 times the size of the one that leveled 500,000 acres (2,000 square kilometers) of Siberian forest when it exploded over Tunguska in 1908.

So quite a bit bigger than than the Tunguska asteroid. If an asteroid like that hit Earth the odds are it would hit water or uninhabited land, but it would make quite a mess if it struck a populated area.

The asteroid 2018 GE3 was first spotted on Saturday (April 14) at 5:23 a.m. EDT (0923 GMT) by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-sponsored program based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This first sighting occurred just 21 hours before the asteroid’s closest approach to Earth.

So it was seen on Saturday about 9 pm NZ time, and it’s closest approach was about 6 pm on Sunday NZ time, so if it struck near here it would have missed making the evening TV news.

This was closer miss than usual but ‘near misses’ are common. The database at NEO Earth Close Approaches shows 139 ‘close approaches’ within the last 60 days.

On 21 February and also on 2 March and again on 18 and 30 March Earth was missed by asteroids by less than the 2018 GE3 approach, but most are much further away.

If one does strike there may not be much we can do about it but hope it is somewhere else. Would we be warned in advance of impending doom? There was a lot of attention given to the Chinese space station re-entry, but there was plenty of notice for that.

If a ‘not missing’ approach is detected a day or a week or a month before it gets here I wonder if we will be told about it.

Tour of the Moon

NASA has released a video tour of the Moon.

Take a virtual tour of the Moon in all-new 4K resolution, thanks to data provided by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. As the visualization moves around the near side, far side, north and south poles, we highlight interesting features, sites, and information gathered on the lunar terrain.

This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4619 Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/David Ladd

Music Provided By Killer Tracks: “Never Looking Back” – Frederick Wiedmann. “Flying over Turmoil” – Benjamin Krause & Scott Goodman.

Ingredients for life found in meteorites

Two meteorites that fell to Earth in 1998 have been analysed using modern methods and have been found to contain essential ingredients for life – water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

CNN:  Ingredients for life found in meteorites that crashed to Earth

Although two 4.5-billion-year-old meteorites crashed to Earth in 1998, it’s taken until now to uncover some of their secrets.

The two meteorites, called Monahans and Zag, are the first discovered to contain the ingredients for life: liquid water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

A chemical-makeup analysis of blue and purple salt and potassium crystals from the meteorites was published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.

Although it’s not exactly proof that life exists beyond Earth, the traces of water in the salt crystals could date to the earliest days of our solar system.

This indicates a probability there are ingredients for life elsewhere in our own solar system, but while the odds are strongly in favour that this could be replicated elsewhere in the Universe it is not proof beyond our tiny patch.

Before slamming into Earth — one near a youth basketball game in Texas in March 1998 and another near Morocco in August 1998 — the meteorites lived in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years.

The salt crystals from the two meteorites are similar, and researchers believe that these two objects crossed paths at some point. But the salt crystals were not always part of the meteorites themselves. It’s possible that they came from volcanic activity that ejected water or ice, which happens on ocean worlds in our solar system, and attached to the meteorites through impact.

A blue crystal recovered from a meteorite that fell near Morocco in 1998.

“Our coordinated organic analysis of the salt crystals suggest that the organic matter originated from a water-rich, or previously water-rich parent body — an ocean world in the early solar system, possibly Ceres,” Queenie Chan, study author and postdoctoral research associate at The Open University in the UK, wrote in an email.

Chan said her team has saved some of the larger blue salt crystals for future analysis. They hope to discover more liquid water in the salt crystals and investigate the origin of the water itself. There are also other meteorite samples with well-preserved crystals that they want to test.

“Our finding that the meteorites contain a wide diversity of organic compounds is exciting, but what made me jump up and down was that we were able to investigate the soluble — such as amino acids, the building blocks of life — and insoluble organic compounds contain within the tiny salt crystals which are only about 2 mm in size each, and which are the hosts to liquid water — another crucial ingredient for life to occur,” Chan said.

“These results pay off the amount of time and effort I spent in the laboratory trying to break the meteorite sample apart to ‘hand pick’ and collect the stunning blue salt crystals.”

It has taken nearly twenty years to get these results.

Technology had to catch up before researchers could even think about the in-depth analysis they wanted to carry out.

More could be discovered from these and other meteorites in the future.

Another 8 planet solar system

NASA have now discovered an eighth planet orbiting the Kepler-9 sun – or at least they were 2,545 light-years ago, we can only look back into history.

NASA: Artificial Intelligence, NASA Data Used to Discover Eighth Planet Circling Distant Star

The planet was discovered in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

The newly-discovered Kepler-90i – a sizzling hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days – was found using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers “learn.” In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets.

The discovery came about after researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings recorded by Kepler – the minuscule change in brightness captured when a planet passed in front of, or transited, a star. Inspired by the way neurons connect in the human brain, this artificial “neural network” sifted through Kepler data and found weak transit signals from a previously-missed eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90, in the constellation Draco.

While machine learning has previously been used in searches of the Kepler database, this research demonstrates that neural networks are a promising tool in finding some of the weakest signals of distant worlds.

Other planetary systems probably hold more promise for life than Kepler-90. About 30 percent larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on par with Mercury. Its outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits at a similar distance to its star as Earth does to the Sun.

“The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system. You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer,” said Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.

I don’t know how accurate this planet detection is – and of course there could be more planets not yet detected there.

A lot closer to earth: Is ‘Oumuamua an alien spacecraft? First scans show no signs of technology

The first scans for alien technology aboard a mysterious object that is barreling through the solar system have found no evidence it is the work of an intelligent civilisation.

The cigar-shaped object was spotted hurtling through the solar system in Octoberand while astronomers suspected it was an interstellar asteroid, its curious shape led them to propose sweeping it for radio signals in case it happened to be an alien craft.

While the long, slender object may have been well suited to flying through clouds of interstellar gas at breakneck speed, as some researchers noted, the observation that the body was tumbling through space suggests any aerodynamic advantage was at best minimal.

Scientists on the Breakthrough Listen project, funded by the internet billionaire Yuri Milner, used the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia to eavesdrop on the 400m-long body named ‘Oumuamua, from the Hawaiian word for “messenger” or “scout”. The body is twice as far from Earth as the sun, but the telescope is so sensitive it could detect transmissions as weak as those produced by a mobile phone.

But on Thursday, the astronomers declared that the first observations across four bands of the radio spectrum had found no evidence that ‘Oumuamua is anything other than a long lump of space rock. Scientists on the project have released the data from the observations so anyone can study the information.

I suppose until it’s proven that it isn’t aliens then it theoretically could be, but I wonder why there was speculation this rock could have been anything different.

Images of Saturn and Earth

Just over a week ago the Cassini spacecraft was deliberately crashed into Saturn at the end of it’s extended mission orbiting the gas giant planet.

Saturn and its magnificent rings

NASA:  Cassini Spacecraft Ends Its Historic Exploration of Saturn

Cassini launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and arrived at Saturn in 2004. NASA extended its mission twice – first for two years, and then for seven more. The second mission extension provided dozens of flybys of the planet’s icy moons, using the spacecraft’s remaining rocket propellant along the way. Cassini finished its tour of the Saturn system with its Grand Finale, capped by Friday’s intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn’s moons – particularly Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity – remain pristine for future exploration.

While the Cassini spacecraft is gone, its enormous collection of data about Saturn – the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons – will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.

Just prior to this:  Cassini Spacecraft Makes Its Final Approach to Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is on final approach to Saturn, following confirmation by mission navigators that it is on course to dive into the planet’s atmosphere on Friday, Sept. 15.

Cassini is ending its 13-year tour of the Saturn system with an intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn’s moons – in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity – remain pristine for future exploration. The spacecraft’s fateful dive is the final beat in the mission’s Grand Finale, 22 weekly dives, which began in late April, through the gap between Saturn and its rings. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before.

Some of the last images taken by Cassini:

Saturn Hemisphere

Saturn’s northern hemisphere with rings in the background

Enceladus

One of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, on the horizon
(Saturn has 62 confirmed moons)

 

Saturn Rings

Saturn’s rings

Saturn's rings and our planet Earth

An earlier (2013) photo of Earth from Saturn

And zooming in a bit closer:

New Earthrise Image from LRO spacecraft

A view of earth from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute