The picture, taken by the powerful HiRISE camera, has focused attention on Mar’s polar region. However, the trees are nothing but an optical illusion.
Latest pictures from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show hilly desert area with islands of trees on Mar’s surface.
The orbiter, which was commissioned to search for water on the planet, took the images that show a thin coating of frozen carbon dioxide or dry ice.
However, the trees are nothing but an optical illusion.
NASA’s Candy Hansen told The Sun, “The streaks are sand, dislodged as ice evaporates, which slide down the dune. At this time of the Martian year the whole scene is covered by CO2 frost.”
“The color of the ice surrounding adjacent streaks of material suggests that dust has settled on the ice at the bottom after similar events,” he added.
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How similar is exoplanet CoRoT-7b to Earth? The newly discovered extra-solar planet (depicted in the above artist’s illustration) is the closest physical match yet, with a mass about five Earths and a radius of about 1.7 Earths. Also, the home star to CoRoT-7b, although 500 light years distant, is very similar to our Sun. Unfortunately, the similarities likely end there, as CoRoT-7b orbits its home star well inside the orbit of Mercury, making its year last only 20 hours, and making its peak temperature much hotter than humans might find comfortable. Credit: ESO/L. Calcada
Rocky planets — Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars — make up half the planets in our solar system. Rocky planets are considered better environments to support life than planets that are mainly gaseous, like the other half of the planets in our system: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
The rocky planet CoRoT-7 b was discovered circling a star some 480 light years from Earth. It is, however, a forbidding place and unlikely to harbor life. That’s because it is so close to its star that temperatures might be above 4,000 degrees F (2,200 C) on the surface lit by its star and as low as minus 350 F (minus 210 C) on its dark side.
Now scientists led by a University of Washington astronomer say that if CoRoT-7 b’s orbit is not almost perfectly circular, then the planet might also be undergoing fierce volcanic eruptions. It could be even more volcanically active than Jupiter’s moon Io, which has more than 400 volcanoes and is the most geologically active object in our solar system.
“If conditions are what we speculate, then CoRoT-7 b could have multiple volcanoes going off continuously and magma flowing all over the surface,” says Rory Barnes, a UW postdoctoral researcher of astronomy and astrobiology. Any planet where the surface is being remade at such a rate is a place nearly impossible for life to get a foothold, he says.
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Russia is considering a project to launch a spaceship to try to divert a large asteroid from hitting Earth after 2030, the head of the country’s space program said today.
Anatoly Perminov, head of Roscosmos, tells Voice of Russia radio that Moscow may invite experts from Europe, the United States and China to join the project aimed at thwarting the menacing asteroid Apophis.
“People’s lives are at stake. We should pay several hundred million dollars and design a system that would prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people,” Perminov says, according to RIA Novosti news agency.
He says it is his understanding that the 850-foot asteroid “will surely collide with the Earth in the 2030s.”
For NASA, 2009 proved to be a stellar year, one filled with five extremely successful Space Shuttle missions (one of which repaired the Hubble Space Telescope), the test flight of the Ares I-X rocket, the launch of the Kepler Space Telescope, the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and companion spacecraft the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), and the launch of the WISE spacecraft earlier this month.
In all, the first half of 2009 proved an extremely challenging and rewarding time for NASA. Form January to June, NASA completed a complicated analysis of the Space Shuttle fleets Flow Control Valves, launched the Kepler Space Telescope to search for extra-solar Earth-like planets, conducted the STS-119 Shuttle mission, performed a dual-pad flow for STS-125 and STS-400 and the subsequent and highly successful STS-125 mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope, and launched LRO/LCROSS.
In a recent interview with NASASpaceFlight.com, Space Shuttle Program Launch Integration Manager Mike Moses talked extensively about the incredible year the Shuttle processing teams had and their ability to accomplish everything they did in 2009.
“It was all about the teams and their ability to create triple and quadruple redundancies in schedules,” Moses said.
“On the surface, it didn’t appear that we had all that challenging of a year. But if you take it month by month you can really see the issues the teams worked through and the amazing jobs those teams did to get us into a launch posture six times this year.”
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An artist’s conception shows New Horizons at Pluto. Credit: NASA / JHU APL
NASA’s New Horizons probe passed a key milestone today on its nine-year journey and is now closer to Pluto, its primary target, than it is to Earth. But it still has more than five years and more than 1.5 billion miles to go.
The 1,054-pound (480-kilogram) piano-sized spacecraft blasted off for the solar system’s most controversial dwarf planet almost four years ago. New Horizons was the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth, and thanks to a gravitational boost from Jupiter, it’s closing in on Pluto at the rate of 750,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) per day. The probe is due to zoom past Pluto and its three moons on July 14, 2015.
As of today, New Horizons is between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus – a little more than 1.527 billion miles (2.463 billion kilometers) from Earth and 1.526 billion miles (nearly 2.462 billion kilometers) from Pluto, according to today’s status report from mission control at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. (APL is managing the mission on NASA’s behalf.)
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A map of the Milky Way. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Holiday tidings come from NASA’s Voyager 2 this week, offering a view of deep space beyond our sun’s solar system.
Now speeding through space at more than 34,000 miles-per-hour, the 1977 space probe resides more than 8.3. billion miles away from the sun. That is twice as far as Pluto. Two years ago, Voyager 2 passed into the region of space where the sun’s solar wind peters out as it plows into the interstellar gases of our Milky Way galaxy. And now it’s giving us some news from this region, called the “heliosheath,” by astrophysicists.
“This is a magic mission,” says space scientist Merav Opher of George Mason University. in Fairfax, Va.. “After all these years, Voyager 2 is still working and sending us first hand (on-site) data.”
Voyager 2’s vantage, revealed in the Dec. 24 Nature journal in a study led by Opher and colleagues, shows that beyond the solar system, the galaxy’s magnetic field is unexpectedly strong, about twice as much as expected, and unexpectedly tilted. Our galaxy is essentially a twin-armed flat disk of stars 100,000 light years across rotating around a spherical ball of stars in its center (one light year is about 5.9 trillion miles.).
Taken by astronaut William Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft, this December 1968 photo of Earth rising over the lunar surface would become one of the most famous images of the 20th century. Credit: NASA
NASA heads into 2010 with the bittersweet assignment of retiring the space shuttle after nearly three decades. But that’s not all the agency has planned: There are also launches of three new satellites aimed at better understanding the Earth’s climate and oceans, and the sun.
Two of the probes will examine Earth — specifically the concentration of salt in the world’s oceans and the presence of aerosol particles, such as soot, in the atmosphere. A third mission will study the sun and its effect on space weather including solar flares that can disrupt communication on Earth.
All three come at a critical time for NASA. Data from the two Earth probes will likely influence global-warming research, and the trio of launches could serve as bright spots in a year otherwise dominated by debate over the future of the agency’s manned space program.
“They are extraordinary timely,” said Michael Freilich, head of NASA’s Earth-science division, of the two Earth probes. “It is a quest for understanding of the Earth system and [to improve] our ability to predict how our wonderful environment and our planet is going to change in the future.”
Combined, the three missions will cost more than $1.5 billion.
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A photo from Cassini shows sunlight reflecting from a giant lake of methane on the northern half of Saturn’s moon Titan.
NASA scientists revealed Friday a first-of-its-kind image from space showing reflecting sunlight from a lake on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
It’s the first visual “smoking gun” evidence of liquid on the northern hemisphere of the moon, scientists said, and the first-ever photo from another world showing a “specular reflection” — which is reflection of light from an extremely smooth surface and in this case, a liquid one.
“This is the first time outside Earth we’ve seen specular reflection from another liquid from another body,” said Ralf Jaumann, a scientist analyzing data from the Cassini unmanned space probe.
Jaumann said he was surprised when he first saw the photos transmitting from Cassini, orbiting Saturn about a billion miles from Earth.
“It was great because if you look at photos of planets, you mostly see nothing is happening. But in two hours we saw a glint of light getting brighter.”
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This artist’s conception shows the WISE telescope mapping the whole sky in infrared. The mission will unveil hundreds of thousands of asteroids, and hundreds of millions of stars and galaxies. Credit: NASA
NASA is getting ready to launch a new space telescope that will scan the entire sky for the infrared glow of hidden asteroids and stars that are close to Earth but too dim to be easily seen.
Unlike telescopes that look for visible light, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE telescope, will pick up infrared light. All objects that have any heat give off infrared light — and that includes things we normally think of as being cold. WISE will be able to see objects at a wide range of temperatures, from as cold as liquid nitrogen to as hot as molten aluminum, according to NASA.
To make sure WISE isn’t blinded by its own heat, it has to be kept supercold. It will work inside a giant thermos bottle called a cryostat, and hydrogen ice will keep the telescope at -438 degrees Fahrenheit. “We have now 40 pounds of solid hydrogen in our cryostat,” says William Irace, WISE project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in California. “Some people think it looks like R2D2 without wheels. It’s kind of a funny-looking thing.”
The funny-looking thing is about the size of a polar bear. A rocket will blast it into orbit around the Earth. NASA is targeting launch for Monday morning.
Once it reaches orbit, WISE will spend about six months taking over 1 million images that will be stitched together to create a panoramic, infrared view of the entire sky.
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A tiny piece of a defunct Russian satellite zipped by the International Space Station Tuesday, but was far enough away that outpost’s two-man crew did not have to strap into their lifeboat to wait out the close shave, NASA officials said.
The debris — a small piece of a Cosmos satellite less than four inches (10 cm) wide — zoomed by the station at 1:19 p.m. EST (1819 GMT) and came less than a mile (1 km) of the outpost at its closest point.
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