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APOD: A Plutonian Landscape (2015 Sep 18) Image Credit: NASA, JHU-APL, SwRI http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150918.html Explanation: This shadowy landscape of majestic mountains and icy plains stretches toward the horizon of a small, distant world. It was captured from a range of about 18,000 kilometers when New Horizons looked back toward Pluto, 15 minutes after the spacecraft's closest approach on July 14. The dramatic, low-angle, near-twilight scene follows rugged mountains still popularly known as Norgay Montes from foreground left, and Hillary Montes along the horizon, giving way to smooth Sputnik Planum at right. Layers of Pluto's tenuous atmosphere are also revealed in the backlit view. With a strangely familiar appearance, the frigid terrain likely includes ices of nitrogen and carbon monoxide with water-ice mountains rising up to 3,500 meters (11,000 feet). That's comparable in height to the majestic mountains of planet Earth. This Plutonian landscape is 380 kilometers (230 miles) across. http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/ http://www.swri.edu/ Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=150918 #APOD

Say Hello To Our Dwarf Galaxy Neighbors

These are the magnetic fields of the Magellanic Clouds<p>When the European Space Agency's Planck Satellite was scanning the sky a few years ago, it gathered frequency data that produced this lovely image of the two Magellanic Clouds--two of our nearest dwarf galaxy neighbors.<p>The image, which ESA …

Giant stars’ birth makes cosmic hourglass

The birth throes of high-mass stars have been shrouded in mystery. While penetrating the mystery, astronomers working in Chile discovered a vast …

APOD: Pillars and Jets in the Pelican Nebula (2015 Mar 04) Image Credit & Copyright: Larry Van Vleet (LVVASTRO) http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150304.html Explanation: What dark structures arise from the Pelican Nebula? Visible as a bird-shaped nebula toward the constellation of a bird (Cygnus, the Swan), the Pelican Nebula is a place dotted with newly formed stars but fouled with dark dust. These smoke-sized dust grains formed in the cool atmospheres of young stars and were dispersed by stellar winds and explosions. Impressive Herbig-Haro jets are seen emitted by a star on the right that is helping to destroy the light year-long dust pillar that contains it. The featured image was scientifically-colored to emphasize light emitted by small amounts of ionized nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur in the nebula made predominantly of hydrogen and helium. The Pelican Nebula (IC 5067 and IC 5070) is about 2,000 light-years away and can be found with a small telescope to the northeast of the bright star Deneb. http://lvvastro.com/ Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=150304 #APOD

APOD: Along the Cygnus Wall (2015 Mar 12) Image Credit & Copyright: Jimmy Walker http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150312.html Explanation: The W-shaped ridge of emission featured in this vivid skyscape is known as the Cygnus Wall. Part of a larger emission nebula with a distinctive outline popularly called The North America Nebula, the cosmic ridge spans about 20 light-years. Constructed using narrowband data to highlight the telltale reddish glow from ionized hydrogen atoms recombining with electrons, the two frame mosaic image follows an ionization front with fine details of dark, dusty forms in silhouette. Sculpted by energetic radiation from the region's young, hot, massive stars, the dark shapes inhabiting the view are clouds of cool gas and dust with stars likely forming within. The North America Nebula itself, NGC 7000, is about 1,500 light-years away. http://jwalk.smugmug.com/ Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=150312 #APOD

APOD: Ring Galaxy AM 0644-741 from Hubble (2015 Apr 19) Image Credit: Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI), J. Higdon (Cornell), I. Jordan (STScI), ESA, NASA http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150419.html Explanation: How could a galaxy become shaped like a ring? The rim of the blue galaxy pictured on the right is an immense ring-like structure 150,000 light years in diameter composed of newly formed, extremely bright, massive stars. That galaxy, AM 0644-741, is known as a ring galaxy and was caused by an immense galaxy collision. When galaxies collide, they pass through each other -- their individual stars rarely come into contact. The ring-like shape is the result of the gravitational disruption caused by an entire small intruder galaxy passing through a large one. When this happens, interstellar gas and dust become condensed, causing a wave of star formation to move out from the impact point like a ripple across the surface of a pond. The intruder galaxy is just outside of the frame taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. This featured image was taken to commemorate the anniversary of Hubble's launch in 1990. Ring galaxy AM 0644-741 lies about 300 million light years away. http://www.aura-astronomy.org/ http://www.stsci.edu/ http://heritage.stsci.edu/ http://isc.astro.cornell.edu/ http://hubble.esa.int/ http://www.nasa.gov/hubble http://heritage.stsci.edu/2004/15/ http://hubblesite.org/news/2004/15 Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=150419 #APOD

100,000 galaxies scanned for signs of alien life

After searching 100,000 galaxies for signs of highly advanced extraterrestrial life, a team of scientists using observations from NASA’s WISE …

Galaxies

Scientists find key to 'turbo-charging' immune system to kill all cancers

Imperial College scientists are developing a gene therapy designed to boost immune cells<p>A protein which ‘turbo-charges’ the immune system so that it can fight off any cancer or virus has been discovered by scientists.<p>In a breakthrough described as a ‘game-changer’ for cancer treatment, researchers …

Before Messenger crashes on Mercury, NASA bids spacecraft farewell

NASA's Messenger spacecraft is about to end its mission with a bang. After spending more than four years and 4,100 orbits circling the closest planet to the sun, the satellite will crash into Mercury's crater-pocked surface April 30.<p>NASA officials and mission scientists have given tribute to the …

Swedish Brothers Launch First Doughnut Into Space

A sweet experiment<p>Last week will go down in history as the first time a doughnut was ever launched into space.<p>Alexander and Benjamin Jönsson and their friends launched their sprinkled spaceship from Askim, Norway. Using a weather balloon, the brothers sent the sugary snack and an onboard camera 32 …

Kepler 438b isn’t Earth’s twin – there are more habitable planets out there | Stuart Clark

The planet announced on Tuesday may be the most Earth-like to date, but there are better candidates for alien life waiting to be discovered<p>The Kepler space telescope is the most successful planet-finding instrument ever built. On Tuesday, it chalked up its 1,000th confirmed planet discovery and one …

Planetary Habitability

Kepler 438b: Most Earth-like planet ever discovered could be home for alien life

An alien world that orbits a distant star in the constellation of Lyra may be the most Earth-like planet ever found outside the solar system.<p>The planet, named Kepler 438b, is slightly larger than Earth and circles an orange dwarf star that bathes it in 40% more heat than our home planet receives …

Astronomy

APOD: At the Heart of Orion (2015 Jan 02) Image Credit & Copyright: László Francsics http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150102.html Explanation: Near the center of this sharp cosmic portrait, at the heart of the Orion Nebula, are four hot, massive stars known as the Trapezium. Tightly gathered within a region about 1.5 light-years in radius, they dominate the core of the dense Orion Nebula Star Cluster. Ultraviolet ionizing radiation from the Trapezium stars, mostly from the brightest star Theta-1 Orionis C powers the complex star forming region's entire visible glow. About three million years old, the Orion Nebula Cluster was even more compact in its younger years and a dynamical study indicates that runaway stellar collisions at an earlier age may have formed a black hole with more than 100 times the mass of the Sun. The presence of a black hole within the cluster could explain the observed high velocities of the Trapezium stars. The Orion Nebula's distance of some 1,500 light-years would make it the closest known black hole to planet Earth. http://www.ptes.hu Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=150102 #APOD

Volcanoes Reveal Lunar Eruptions Long-Lived

Changing Planet<p><b>Astronomers are moonstruck! The man in the moon, we learned just last week, formed from dark flowing lava over three billion years ago, instead of a long supposed giant asteroid impact.</b><p><b>Now, we learn that same volcanism may have kept on erupting until surprisingly recent …

APOD: The Sun in X-rays from NuSTAR (2014 Dec 29) Image Credit: NuSTAR, SDO, NASA http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap141229.html Explanation: Why are the regions above sunspots so hot? Sunspots themselves are a bit cooler than the surrounding solar surface because the magnetic fields that create them reduce convective heating. It is therefore unusual that regions overhead -- even much higher up in the Sun's corona -- can be hundreds of times hotter. To help find the cause, NASA directed the Earth-orbiting Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) satellite to point its very sensitive X-ray telescope at the Sun. Featured above is the Sun in ultraviolet light, shown in a red hue as taken by the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Superimposed in false-colored green and blue is emission above sunspots detected by NuSTAR in different bands of high-energy X-rays, highlighting regions of extremely high temperature. Clues about the Sun's atmospheric heating mechanisms may not only come from this initial image, but future NuSTAR images aimed at finding hypothesized nanoflares, brief bursts of energy that may drive the unusual heating. http://www.nasa.gov/nustar http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/ http://www.nasa.gov/ Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=141229 #APOD

Helium ‘fumes’ buy Messenger a bit more time

A NASA spacecraft circling Mercury will soon be running on fumes. This clever strategy helps squeeze a few more weeks of valuable science from a …

Astronomy

New video shows life in the deepest ocean

An international team of scientists has set a new record for the deepest known ocean fish. They were filming in the Mariana Trench – the deepest part …

Filmmaking

Science Word of the Day: Kleptothermy

Imagine for a moment that you’re a sea snake and you’re feeling a little chilly. That’s quite understandable for an ectotherm. Your body temperature rises and falls with that of your environment, and spending all day slither-swimming through the water can wick away your precious body heat.<p>You <i>could</i> …

APOD: A Fox Fur, a Unicorn, and a Christmas Tree (2015 Jan 05) Image Credit & Copyright: R. Colombari & F. Antonucci; Data: Subaru, ESO, & Francesco Antonucci http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap150105.html Explanation: What do the following things have in common: a cone, the fur of a fox, and a Christmas tree? Answer: they all occur in the constellation of the unicorn (Monoceros). Pictured as a star forming region and cataloged as NGC 2264, the complex jumble of cosmic gas and dust is about 2,700 light-years distant and mixes reddish emission nebulae excited by energetic light from newborn stars with dark interstellar dust clouds. Where the otherwise obscuring dust clouds lie close to the hot, young stars they also reflect starlight, forming blue reflection nebulae. The image spans about the diameter of a full moon, covering about 30 light-years at the distance of NGC 2264. Its cast of cosmic characters includes the Fox Fur Nebula, whose convoluted pelt lies on the lower right, bright variable star S Mon visible just above the Fox Fur, and the Cone Nebula on the image left. Given their distribution, the stars of NGC 2264 are also known as the Christmas Tree star cluster. The triangular tree shape traced by the stars appears here with its apex at the Cone Nebula on the left with its broader base near S Mon on the right. Annotated: http://cdn.astrobin.com/images/solutions/3ac4443d-102a-46f9-89db-b81c705b9912.jpg http://www.astrobin.com/users/rob77/ http://www.astrobin.com/users/FrankAntonucci/ http://subarutelescope.org/ http://www.eso.org/ Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=150105 #APOD

New Year’s Comet Lovejoy

Wow! Comet Lovejoy is really living up to its name! A wonderful December 29 photo from Justin Ng of Singapore and a link below to how you can see the …

Astronomy

Are these the five craziest space missions?

We’ve landed on a comet – so where next? David Robson rounds up five of the strangest space missions that are already on the cards.<p>The landing of the Philae Lander – on a comet travelling at 135,000km/h (84,000mph) – has been hailed as the start of a new chapter in space exploration. It will take …

Traces of Glass-Eating Microbes Found in Ancient Lake Bed

In December 2014, scientists reported that the Curiosity rover has detected belches of methane, which could have been produced by microbes, wafting …

Planetary Habitability

APOD: W5: Pillars of Star Formation (2014 Dec 16) Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap141216.html Explanation: How do stars form? Images of the star forming region W5 like those in the infrared by NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) satellite provide clear clues with indications that massive stars near the center of empty cavities are older than stars near the edges. A likely reason for this is that the older stars in the center are actually triggering the formation of the younger edge stars. The triggered star formation occurs when hot outflowing gas compresses cooler gas into knots dense enough to gravitationally contract into stars. In the featured scientifically-colored infrared image, spectacular pillars, left slowly evaporating from the hot outflowing gas, provide further visual clues. W5 is also known as IC 1848, and together with IC 1805 form a complex region of star formation popularly dubbed the Heart and Soul Nebulas. The above image highlights a part of W5 spanning about 2,000 light years that is rich in star forming pillars. W5 lies about 6,500 light years away toward the constellation of Cassiopeia. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/WISE/main/ http://irsa.ipac.caltech.edu/Missions/wise.html http://www.astrobin.com/users/FrankAntonucci/ Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=141216 #APOD

Rosetta Spacecraft Suggests Asteroids, Not Comets, Birthed Earth's Oceans

Ice on comet 67P displays chemistry unlike seawater, the spacecraft circling overhead reveals.<p>Asteroids, not comets, likely delivered Earth's ancient oceans from space, concludes a Wednesday study from the Rosetta spacecraft, now in orbit around a comet that is a frozen relic from the dawn of the …

APOD: Moondog Night (2014 Dec 11) Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Ratcliffe http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap141211.html Explanation: In this night scene from the early hours of November 14, light from a last quarter Moon illuminates clouds above the mountaintop domes of Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. Bright Jupiter is just left of the overexposed lunar disk with a streak of camera lens flare immediately to the right, but that's no fireball meteor exploding near the center of the picture. Instead, from the roadside perspective a stunningly bright moondog or paraselene stands directly over Kitt Peaks's WIYN telescope. Analogous to a sundog or parhelion, a paraselene is produced by moonlight refracted through thin, hexagonal, plate-shaped ice crystals in high cirrus clouds. As determined by the crystal geometry, paraselenae (plural) are seen at an angle of 22 degrees or more from the Moon. Compared to the bright lunar disk they are more often faint and easier to spot when the Moon is low. About 10 minutes after the photograph even this bright moondog had faded from the night. Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=141211 #APOD

APOD: Molecular Cloud Barnard 68 (2014 Dec 14) Image Credit: FORS Team, 8.2-meter VLT Antu, ESO http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap141214.html Explanation: Where did all the stars go? What used to be considered a hole in the sky is now known to astronomers as a dark molecular cloud. Here, a high concentration of dust and molecular gas absorb practically all the visible light emitted from background stars. The eerily dark surroundings help make the interiors of molecular clouds some of the coldest and most isolated places in the universe. One of the most notable of these dark absorption nebulae is a cloud toward the constellation Ophiuchus known as Barnard 68, pictured above. That no stars are visible in the center indicates that Barnard 68 is relatively nearby, with measurements placing it about 500 light-years away and half a light-year across. It is not known exactly how molecular clouds like Barnard 68 form, but it is known that these clouds are themselves likely places for new stars to form. In fact, Barnard 68 itself has been found likely to collapse and form a new star system. It is possible to look right through the cloud in infrared light. http://www.eso.org/sci/facilities/paranal/instruments/fors.html http://www.eso.org/projects/vlt/ http://www.eso.org/ Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=141214 #APOD

APOD: The Potsdam Gravity Potato (2014 Dec 15) Image Credit: CHAMP, GRACE, GFZ, NASA, DLR http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap141215.html Explanation: Why do some places on Earth have higher gravity than others? Sometimes the reason is unknown. To help better understand the Earth's surface, sensitive measurments by the orbiting satellites GRACE and CHAMP were used to create a map of Earth's gravitational field. Since a center for studying this data is in Potsdam, Germany, and since the result makes the Earth look somewhat like a potato, the resulting geoid has been referred to as the Potsdam Gravity Potato. High areas on this map, colored red, indicate areas where gravity is slightly stronger than usual, while in blue areas gravity is slightly weaker. Many bumps and valleys on the Potsdam Gravity Potato can be attributed to surface features, such as the North Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Himalayan Mountains, but others cannot, and so might relate to unusually high or low sub-surface densities. Maps like this also help calibrate changes in the Earth's surface including variable ocean currents and the melting of glaciers. The above map was made in 2005, but more recent and more sensitive gravity maps of Earth was produced in 2011. http://science.nasa.gov/missions/champ/ http://science.nasa.gov/missions/grace/ http://www.gfz-potsdam.de/en/home/ http://www.nasa.gov/ http://www.dlr.de/ Now Available: APOD 2015 Wall Calendars http://friendsofapod.org/?page_id=42 http://www.facebook.com/FoAPoD Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=141215 #APOD

APOD: The Lagoon Nebula in Stars Dust and Gas (2014 Sep 24) Image Credit & Copyright: Remus Chua (Celestial Portraits) http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140924.html Explanation: The large majestic Lagoon Nebula is home for many young stars and hot gas. Spanning 100 light years across while lying only about 5000 light years distant, the Lagoon Nebula is so big and bright that it can be seen without a telescope toward the constellation of Sagittarius. Many bright stars are visible from NGC 6530, an open cluster that formed in the nebula only several million years ago. The greater nebula, also known as M8 and NGC 6523, is named "Lagoon" for the band of dust seen to the left of the open cluster's center. A bright knot of gas and dust in the nebula's center is known as the Hourglass Nebula. The featured picture is a newly processed panorama of M8, capturing five times the diameter of the Moon. Star formation continues in the Lagoon Nebula as witnessed by the many globules that exist there. http://celestialportraits.com/ Nebulas and Star Clusters Wall Calendar: http://friendsofapod.org/?page_id=42 Starship Asterisk* • APOD Discussion Page http://asterisk.apod.com/discuss_apod.php?date=140924 #APOD