Oooh Aaah Oort Cloud!

Oort Cloud as a spherical envelope around our Solar System! Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Oort Cloud as a spherical envelope around our Solar System! Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hello, Earthlings!

The Oort Cloud beyond the reaches of the Kuiper Belt is very fascinating and mysterious! Through its mysteriousness, there are several interesting facts about this region surrounding our tiny solar system!

Here are the top 7 facts about the Oort Cloud!

1-The Oort Cloud is thought ti be a spherical ball surrounding our solar system, with an estimated thickness that starts at about 2,000 – 5,000 AU (0.03 – 0.08 light years) from the Sun, and stretches to about 100,000 – 200,000 AU (1.58 – 3.16 light years) from the Sun.

2-The Oort cloud contains several TRILLION objects that are bigger than 1 km in diameter, and further on there are several billion objects that are around 20 km in diameter, with the typical distance between objects being on the order of a few tens of millions of km. That’s a lot of space!

3-Although the total mass of the Oort cloud is not known, calculations based on the mass of Halley’s Comet (a suspected Oort-cloud comet) yield a total mass of the objects in the Oort cloud of about 3×10^25 kilograms, which is roughly 5 times the mass of Earth!

4-Astronomers have used the observed orbits of long period comets, such as Halley’s Comet, as the basis for the notion that all long period comets, as well as “centaurs” and Jupiter-family comets, have their origin from the Oort cloud. 

5-The origin and chemical makeup of the Oort Cloud is still unknown!

6- Stars can actually pass through this Oort Cloud! The binary star designated WISE J072003.20-084651.2 (Scholz’s star) passed through the outer reaches of the Oort cloud about 70,000 years ago! Another star, Gliese 710, has the potential to dislodge large numbers of comets from the Oort cloud during the next 10 million years or so.

7-The Oort Cloud is “kneading,” meaning the Oort cloud is both stretched in one direction, and compressed in another direction by the tidal forces of the galactic gravitational field by the Milky Way!

Distance and relative thicknesses of our Solar System compared to the Oort Cloud! Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Distance and relative thicknesses of our Solar System compared to the Oort Cloud! Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thank you for reading! I’ll be taking a planet-hopping trip next week, but I’ll be back soon for some awesome stories coming up!

Keep looking up!

Miranda!

Uranus' moon Miranda with the 3 main, prominent coronae as imaged by NASA's Voyager 2 probe on Jan. 24, 1986. (Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Uranus' moon Miranda with the 3 main, prominent coronae as imaged by NASA's Voyager 2 probe on Jan. 24, 1986. (Image: © NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Hello, Earthlings! Apologies for not radioing in earlier, my communications station got frozen with this crazy Earth weather you are experiencing! BRRRR!

Anyways, I have some interesting views into one of the moons of Uranus- Miranda! Miranda may seem like a fairly normal name for a moon (compared to Io or Enceladus or Hyperion), but Miranda, along with other moons of Uranus, is named after a character from Shakespeare’s plays. Miranda was the daughter of Prospero in “The Tempest.”

At only 500-km in diameter, Miranda sports some glorious tectonic features, which is strange for such a tiny moon. Usually, tiny moons are mainly cratered, and that’s about it…not Miranda!

Miranda has one of the most strangest landscapes, known as “coronae"".” They are light-colored canyons of ridges that twist and turn, separated by angled, darker terrains of heavily-cratered surfaces. In essence, it looks like a patchwork sort of surface! Miranda's giant fault canyons are nearly 12 times as deep as the Grand Canyon. Due to Miranda's very low gravity and large cliffs, a rock dropped off the edge of the highest cliff would take a full 10 minutes to reach the foot of the cliff. Weeeeeeeee!

Close-up of the corona edge. Acquired by Voyager 2 on Jan. 24, 1986, around its close approach to the Uranian moon. Image Credit: JPL

Close-up of the corona edge. Acquired by Voyager 2 on Jan. 24, 1986, around its close approach to the Uranian moon. Image Credit: JPL

There are a number of possible scenarios for creating these features, but it is still under debate. These scenarios include: Miranda being struck by large metallic pieces of meteor, Miranda being smashed and pulled back together under gravity, or episodes of freeze-thaw material slushing around from the inside to the surface!

Hopefully Uranus will get its own mission so that we may study these features more closely!

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at facts about the Oort Cloud!


Discovery of Bedin 1

Bedin 1 Dwarf Galaxy located behind a bright globular cluster! News release ID:  STScI-2019-09  Image credit:  NASA ,  ESA , L. Bedin (Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Italy), and Digitized Sky Survey 2

Bedin 1 Dwarf Galaxy located behind a bright globular cluster! News release ID: STScI-2019-09 Image credit: NASA, ESA, L. Bedin (Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Italy), and Digitized Sky Survey 2

Hello, Earthlings! Let’s see what the Hubble Space Telescope has been up to, shall we?

Seems like the Hubble Space Telescope has recently involved an international team of astronomers to discover a lone dwarf galaxy that has never been seen before!

Let’s take a look at Bedin 1…(Bedin is the lead astronomer of this study!)

In space, everything from stars to galaxies are all over the place. But from a single standpoint, like on Earth, or the Hubble Space Telescope taking pictures, objects tend to block other objects, like photo-bombing!

This happened when astronomers used Hubble to photograph the globular star cluster NGC 6752 (located 13,000 light-years away in our Milky Way's amorphous halo-center). From those images, a never-before-seen dwarf galaxy was found far behind the cluster’s bright starry population. Turns out, this lone, hidden galaxy is in our own “cosmic backyard”, only 30 million light-years away (approximately 2,300 times farther than the globular cluster).

From HubbleSite News: “The object is classified as a dwarf spheroidal galaxy because it measures only around 3,000 light-years at its greatest extent (barely 1/30th the diameter of the Milky Way), and it is roughly a thousand times dimmer than the Milky Way. Because of its 13-billion-year-old age, and its isolation — which resulted in hardly any interaction with other galaxies — the dwarf is the astronomical equivalent of a ‘living fossil’ from the early universe. “

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at the Uranian moon, Miranda!

What's (Lunar) Shakin'?

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin with the seismic experiment. Solar panels have deployed on the left and right and the antenna is pointed at Earth.  Image credit: NASA

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin with the seismic experiment. Solar panels have deployed on the left and right and the antenna is pointed at Earth.  Image credit: NASA

Hello Earthlings, and welcome back to another Universe Playpen blog post!

Today, let’s take a look at the first seismometer placed somewhere other than Earth! Where was that? The MOON!

The Passive Seismic Experiment was conducted from the Apollo-era, Apollo 11 to be exact! It would detect “moon quakes” and help us understand the internal structure of the Moon as well as how impact craters would effect the shaking of the ground!

Here are some more fun facts about this experiment:

1- During the 340 hour lunar night, when temperatures can plummet to minus 170ºC the instrument was kept to a minimum of minus 54ºC by a radioisotope heater, the first major use of nuclear energy in a NASA manned mission!

2- More than 1700 meteoroid impacts were recorded by the seismometer network, with impactor masses estimated to be between 0.5 and 5000 kilograms. Most moonquakes occur at depths of 800-1000 kilometers

3-These moonquakes are quite small, mostly with Richter scale magnitudes less than 2

4-Below 1000 kilometers depth, seismic wave attenuation increases, possibly indicating the presence of a small amount of molten rock!

5- More designs were improved for later seismometers that were later used at the Apollo 12, 14, 15, and 16 lunar landing sites!

Three types of moonquakes are shown here (explanation: see text). The top three rows are the recordings of a three-component long-period seismometer; the bottom row are the registriations of a short period instrument.Graphics by Yosio Nakamura, UT Austin.  Description by: UC Berkeley Seismology Lab.

Three types of moonquakes are shown here (explanation: see text). The top three rows are the recordings of a three-component long-period seismometer; the bottom row are the registriations of a short period instrument.Graphics by Yosio Nakamura, UT Austin. Description by: UC Berkeley Seismology Lab.

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at the latest “Living Fossil Galaxy” discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope!

Spidernauts!

Spider onboard the ISS in 2008. Image credit: NASA

Spider onboard the ISS in 2008. Image credit: NASA

Good morning, Earthlings!

Let’s chat spiders….IN SPACE! Sounds like a science fiction horror movie gone wrong (or right?)

Actually, there has been several missions onboard Skylab and the International Space Station involving spiders!

First, why spiders? We all know spiders spin their webs into beautiful patterns and shapes, but how about in zero gravity? Would spiders be able to maintain their web structures? What about different kinds of spiders, as in, not all spiders spin the same kind of web…

Let’s take a look at some of our spider astronauts- SPIDERNAUTS!

Arabella and Anita (1973): These two cross spiders (common western European garden type spider) were onboard the Skylab, being the first spiders in space and zero gravity! The spiders were able to spin webs, but with varying thicknesses, but eventually died of dehydration.

Spiderman and Elmo (2008): These spiders are similar to Charlotte’s Web species of spider. These little guys were able to build a web, feed off fruit flies, successfully tear down their webs and rebuild!

Gladys and Esmerelda (2011): a pair of golden orb spiders were monitored with live cameras where hundreds of schools can keep watch of the experiments.

Nefertiti and Cleopatra (2012): a pair of jumping spiders build nest-like webs, which had no trouble in zero-gravity conditions! The box where Cleopatra lived (plus Cleopatra’s preserved body) is currently on display at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science!

So what happens to these spiders after they’ve done their space duties? They are sent back to Earth in a small capsule for return and further studies. Unfortunately, most spiders do not survive the coming back to Earth, more likely due to extreme pressures through Earth’s atmosphere and re-entry!

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at the Apollo seismometers!

Titan showers brings...

Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons, shown here from composite images from the Cassini spacecraft.  Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons, shown here from composite images from the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Good morning, Earthlings!

Today, we’ll venture forth to the mysterious moon of Saturn, Titan! A brief recap about Titan: it is Saturn’s largest moon (may have even been a captured mini-planet!), has a thick atmosphere, various geology, and is thought to be a “primordial Earth” (or what Earth may have been in its young development billions of years ago!)

Let’s take a look at the recent weather forecasts…

A recent study led by doctoral student Rajani Dhingra at the University of Idaho would analyze images from the Cassini spacecraft for evidence of seasonal summer rainfalls, especially in the northern pole where the giant lake regions of Titan reside. However, the team ran into a problem- there were no clouds like models predicted.

On an image taken in summer 2016, Dhingra and her team identified a reflective feature near Titan’s northern pole. This feature was not present in previous images and covered over 46,000 square miles.

What was it?

Turns out, it’s analogous to looking at the reflection off wet sidewalks. The feature was a reflection of sunlight against a recently wet surface, attributing to a methane rainfall event.

What’s the next step?

Now to compare Earth’s early climate models and behavior to that of Titan. Where Earth has a yearly cycle of 4 seasons, 1 season on Titan lasts nearly 7 years!

But this rainfall should provide clues to how seasons transition on Titan, lake behavior in the northern and southern hemispheres, and reactions of the rain to the various geologic features.

You can read her paper here: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1029/2018GL080943

Figure from Dhingra’s paper. Titan’s north pole as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Dark blue arrows mark clouds. Red arrows mark the mirror-like reflection from a lake called Xolotlan Lacus. Pink arrows mark the “wet sidewalk”region. The black dot marks the actual north pole of Titan. Light blue arrows mark the edges of the largest north polar sea, Kraken Mare. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho.

Figure from Dhingra’s paper. Titan’s north pole as seen by the Cassini spacecraft. Dark blue arrows mark clouds. Red arrows mark the mirror-like reflection from a lake called Xolotlan Lacus. Pink arrows mark the “wet sidewalk”region. The black dot marks the actual north pole of Titan. Light blue arrows mark the edges of the largest north polar sea, Kraken Mare. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho.

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at Cleo the Spider!

A look at the farthest object to date!

Latest Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 imaged by New Horizons. Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/ SwRI

Latest Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 imaged by New Horizons. Credit: NASA/JHU-APL/ SwRI

Greetings Earthlings to another segment of Universe Playpen!

And our universe of knowledge has expanded just a little these past couple weeks! The New Horizons mission just successfully imaged the farthest object we have- MU69 in the Kuiper Belt!

This magnificent object has been puzzling us since it became the next extended mission as New Horizons ZOOMS through the Kuiper Belt. And it didn’t disappoint! In fact, it gave us even more questions to think about, such as: how do binary objects form in the Kuiper Belt? What kind of ices are involved? Are there others with the same coloring and structure of squishiness?

SO MANY QUESTIONS! This should keep us busy for a while…

A little bit about MU69:

From the latest pictures downloaded from New Horizons, there are numerous small pits up to about 0.7 kilometers in diameter. The large circular feature, about 7 km across, on the smaller of the two lobes, also appears to be a deep depression. Not clear is whether these pits are impact craters or features resulting from other processes, such as venting of volatile materials, like comets.

Both lobes also show many intriguing light and dark patterns of unknown origin, which may reveal clues about how this body was assembled during the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. One of the most striking of these is the bright "collar" separating the two lobes!

Currently, data downloading is REALLY SLOW! That is, New Horizons is currently over 4 billion miles away, so a 1-way signal to the spacecraft takes over 6 hours! Hopefully we’ll get more updated images in the coming weeks!

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at some awesome Titan rain clouds!

And the winner is...

Jezero crater regional topography from the MOLA instrument. Image credit:  NASA / MIT / Goudge et al 2017

Jezero crater regional topography from the MOLA instrument. Image credit: NASA / MIT / Goudge et al 2017

Good morning, Earthlings! On a previous Universe Playpen blog posting, I had mentioned the top 3 landing sites chosen for the Mars 2020 rover!

And the winner is…

Jezero Crater!

Jezero crater is a 45-kilometer wide crater north of the Martian equator. Research suggests that this was once a lake, making this one of the most prominent paleolake areas on Mars. The main tell-tale sign that this had running water?

Jezero is home to an astonishing delta fan! Delta fans are fan-like structures of clays and other sediments when a moving body of water pushes the sediment through a channel, and it spreads out, like a fan!

The mineralogy of this delta fan is still being researched, mainly trying to figure out a timeline of these mineral abundances and origins! The vast amount of water activity all over Mars has been dated to die off in the middle-Hesperian age of Mars’ geologic history. From this time, the delta fan would dry and erode. The most recent Martian geologic time, the Amazonian era, involved lavas from the Syrtis area (where Jezero is nearby), spilling into the crater floor. Throughout this time, groundwater could have been percolating through the rocks, altering original minerals to new ones, like clays!

Jezero Crater on Mars with its prominent and gorgeous delta fan! Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

Jezero Crater on Mars with its prominent and gorgeous delta fan! Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/JHU-APL

The Mars 2020 rover will plan to land near the delta fan in prospects of finding signs of ancient water and possible habitability components. The Mars 2020 rover will also try a new technique of bagging-and-tagging rock samples with the hopes of future astronauts collecting them in a cache (kind of puts geo-caching to a new extreme, right?)

Mars 2020 rover will launch in July 2020 and land in February 2021!

Thanks for reading and come back next week for a look at MU69!

Back Again! And a look at Phoebe!

Cassini image of Phoebe in 2004. Image credit: NASA, JPL, VIMS Team, ISS Team, U. Arizona

Cassini image of Phoebe in 2004. Image credit: NASA, JPL, VIMS Team, ISS Team, U. Arizona

Hello, Earthlings! Wow, have I got some fun stuff in store for you in 2019! Apologies for the lateness in the posts, my spaceship kept breaking down near Jupiter’s magnetic field. Always seems to be Jupiter…hmm…

Anyways, let’s start the week off with a fun look at Phoebe, a tiny moon of Saturn with some mysterious water signatures!

Phoebe was discovered in 1898, but studied up-close by Cassini in 2004, one of the few tiny, irregular moons to have a wonderful close-up!

Phoebe orbits Saturn at a distance of 12,952,000 kilometers, which is almost four times the distance from Saturn than its nearest neighbor, the moon Iapetus.

Phoebe is roughly spherical and has a radius of about 106.5 kilometers, about one-sixteenth the radius of Earth's Moon. Phoebe rotates on its axis every nine hours, and it completes a full orbit around Saturn in about 18 Earth months. Phoebe's orbit is also retrograde, which means it goes around Saturn in the opposite direction than most other moons!

Unlike most major moons orbiting Saturn, Phoebe is very dark and reflects only 6% of the sunlight it receives. Its darkness and irregular, retrograde orbit suggest Phoebe is most likely a captured object. Phoebe's darkness, in particular, suggests that the small moon comes from the outer solar system, an area where there is plenty of dark material.

A recent discovery in December 2018 by the Planetary Science Institute reported that Saturn’s rings have the same water signatures as Earth’s water, except for Phoebe! Phoebe apparently shows a different isotopic ratio of the oxygen and hydrogen associated with water, making this hypothesis that Phoebe is a captured object true!

But it gets weirder…where did it come from? It may be from the Kuiper Belt arena of the Solar System, making the capture history of this tiny moon of Saturn intriguing!

Close-up of the dark-streaked craters of Phoebe as imaged by Cassini. Image Credit: NASA, JPL, VIMS Team, ISS Team, U. Arizona

Close-up of the dark-streaked craters of Phoebe as imaged by Cassini. Image Credit: NASA, JPL, VIMS Team, ISS Team, U. Arizona

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a fantastic look at the new Mars 2020 landing site!

Rembrandt on Mercury

Rembrandt crater as seen by MESSENGER. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Smithsonian Institution/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Rembrandt crater as seen by MESSENGER. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Smithsonian Institution/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Hello and good morning, Earthlings!

Today I want to look at the beautiful Rembrandt crater on Mercury!

Mercury is our Solar System’s closest planet to the Sun, so it is very difficult to study. But after 2 missions to Mercury- Mariner 10 and MESSENGER- we have just scratched the surface on how mysterious some features are!

Rembrandt crater is 715 km in diameter, and the second largest impact crater on Mercury (the largest being Caloris Basin!)

The outer boundary (crater rim) is outlined by a ring of scarps and massifs. The crater is then surrounded by clocky impact deposits made when the impacting excavated subsurface material and uplifted it off to the sides.

The interior of Rembrandt includes two terrain types: hummocky terrain and smooth plains. The hummocky terrain occupies a part of the basin's floor near its northern margin forming an incomplete ring. The smoother plains fill much of the interior of Rembrandt. These two plain types are separated from each other by a ring of massifs.

The smooth plains are of interest to planetary geologists on Mercury. The smooth plains filling the inner part of Rembrandt are interpreted to be of the volcanic origin. Similar to Lunar mare, although lighter in color than their surroundings (rather than darker like the Lunar mare). Smooth plains are intersected by systems of wrinkle ridges and scarps, relating to local tectonics.

Rim of Rembrandt crater. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Smithsonian Institution/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Rim of Rembrandt crater. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Smithsonian Institution/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Thank you for reading and next week- we’ll look at Phoebe!

Opals on Mars!

Opal layers in an outcrop located in Valles Marineris as imaged by HiRISE. HiRISE ID: ESP_022620_1690   Image credit: ASU/NASA

Opal layers in an outcrop located in Valles Marineris as imaged by HiRISE. HiRISE ID: ESP_022620_1690 Image credit: ASU/NASA

Greetings, Earthlings!

On this segment of Universe Playpen, we’re going to take a fascinating look at opals on Mars!

Now, you have probably heard about opals- the really pretty iridescent mineral usually made into jewelry or found at rock and mineral shows!

Opal is a type of mineral actually called a mineraloid. Mineraloids are where its silica crystal nature is amorphous (not structured). Its also a “hydrated silica”, meaning it has water in its chemical formula, but not entirely water-based (usually between 6-10% water in its structure!)

BUT….

Having a little bit of a water-based mineral on a planet with no present water on the surface is the real mystery! How did the opals form? We do know that there must have been ancient water all over Mars to some extent, but the formation of opals is still even being studied here on Earth!

Finding opal fields on Mars, like from the HiRISE camera, to finding opals under microscopes from martian meteorites- these could be a clue as to the entrapment of water, mineral formations on an early Mars, and maybe even entrapment of ancient bacteria in that water!

Piece of the Nakhla martian meteorite that was discovered to have microscopic pieces of opal! Image credit: http://www.geologyin.com/2016/09/discovery-of-opal-on-mars-hints-at.html

Piece of the Nakhla martian meteorite that was discovered to have microscopic pieces of opal! Image credit: http://www.geologyin.com/2016/09/discovery-of-opal-on-mars-hints-at.html

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at the Rembrandt Crater on Mercury!

Kaiser Dune Fields

HiRISE image of the main Kaiser barchan dune. Can you spot the dust devil tracks on the left of the dune? HiRISE ESP-025689-1330

HiRISE image of the main Kaiser barchan dune. Can you spot the dust devil tracks on the left of the dune? HiRISE ESP-025689-1330

Good morning and welcome back to Universe Playpen!

This week, let’s take a look at some awesome dune formations, particularly found on one of the largest barchan dunes found in Kaiser crater, Mars!

Kaiser crater is located in the southern hemisphere on Mars and is one of several large craters with extensive dune fields in the center. Investigating these dune fields help us figure out how dunes can form within an enclosed area, how minerals move and shape dunes, and if seasonal reactions occur on the dunes.

Kaiser dunes show some awesome seasonal effects- mainly frost and the occasional dust devil tracks! When the frost thaws, gullies and slope streaks run down the dune, creating wild patterns!

Kaiser dunes have been imaged multiple times with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE camera so that we may observe these changes!

Kaiser dune thawing from seasonal frost! Look how dramatic the dune gullies have become compared to the previous image! HiRISE PSP-001862-1330

Kaiser dune thawing from seasonal frost! Look how dramatic the dune gullies have become compared to the previous image! HiRISE PSP-001862-1330

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a segment on opal on Mars!

Winter is coming

Martian frosted dune with black jets of gas escaping! HiRISE ID: ESP-011917-1080. Image credit: HiRISE/ASU

Martian frosted dune with black jets of gas escaping! HiRISE ID: ESP-011917-1080. Image credit: HiRISE/ASU

Hello Earthlings and welcome back to another section of Universe Playpen!

Winter is certainly around the corner and thought I would share with you the fascinating facts about “winter” on other planets and moons! Here’s the Top 5 Facts about Planetary Winters:

1- “Snow” in the planetary sense refers to “clumps of material in-falling from the atmosphere”- so not necessarily water ice. On Venus, it “snows” metal. On Titan, it “snows” irradiated methane, called tholins!

2-Dunes on Mars freeze in the winter months. This means that these large piles of sand are almost frozen in time with a layer of frost! It also traps nitrogen and carbon, so when the frosting defrosts, the trapped gases burst in small jets!

3- On the moon Titan as the poles change from summer to winter, the lakes evaporate in the summer and move as clouds to the the opposite pole and fill the lakes with frozen methane and ethane!

4- A winter season on Mars lasts 7 months; at Jupiter it is 3 years; and at Saturn it is 7 years!

5- A winter season on Pluto lasts more than a century! BRRR!

Illustration of how organic compounds in-fall on the surface and lakes of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Image credit: ESA

Illustration of how organic compounds in-fall on the surface and lakes of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Image credit: ESA

Thank you for reading and keep warm this winter season! Come back next week for a look at the Kaiser Dune field on Mars!

World of Asteroids

Two sides of Bennu as imaged by the OSIRIS-REx approaching closer by the hour! Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Two sides of Bennu as imaged by the OSIRIS-REx approaching closer by the hour! Image credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Hello Lifeforms!

Welcome back to another segment of Universe Playpen! This Monday, we’re looking at the exciting missions ongoing or upcoming for asteroids in the Solar System!

OSISRIS-REx: Today marks the last course correction maneuver for this small spacecraft to reach in synchronous orbit with the asteroid Bennu! It will then arrive at Bennu on December 3rd, 2018! It will then orbit the asteroid and look for a target site. Once the target site is selected, the maneuver Touch-and-Go will be put into play! This is where an arm of OSIRIS-REx will scoop the surface for up to 5 seconds. From there, more course corrections will occur to bring back the sample to Earth!

OSIRIS-REx in the clean room at Lockheed Martin in April 2016 after the completion of testing and the final stowage of the TAGSAM arm. Image credit: University of Arizona/Christine Hoekenga

OSIRIS-REx in the clean room at Lockheed Martin in April 2016 after the completion of testing and the final stowage of the TAGSAM arm. Image credit: University of Arizona/Christine Hoekenga

PSYCHE: This in-the-works mission, set to launch in 2022, will have 4 scientific instruments to study the metal-rich asteroid, Psyche. Psyche has many theories as to its origin, so having a mission dedicated to this asteroid will help determine many characteristics of metal-heavy asteroids- possibly even theories on planetary core formation!

NASA-JPL mock-up of the design for Psyche orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL

NASA-JPL mock-up of the design for Psyche orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL

ARRM: NASA is very keen on Near Earth Object (NEO) safety. This mission, the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM), still on the drawing board, will hope to develop technologies on redirecting asteroids to orbit the Moon or further out (away from Earth essentially!)

Preliminary design of the arm mechanics for ARRM. Image credit: NASA

Preliminary design of the arm mechanics for ARRM. Image credit: NASA

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at winter seasons on other planets!

Swirls on the Moon!

Reiner Gamma lunar swirl. Image credit: NASA/LRO

Reiner Gamma lunar swirl. Image credit: NASA/LRO

Welcome back, Earthlings!

The moon has some mysterious looking “tattoos” that swirl and look like coffee creamer. What could cause these mysterious swirls? Turns out, we may have an answer!

The answer may point to the moon’s internally-generated magnetic field and previous volcanic activity! A joint study between Rutgers University and University of California Berkeley researchers are on the case!

We have known recently that the lunar swirls share space with localized magnetic fields and that when those fields deflect particles from solar wind, parts of the moon’s surface weathers more slowly than other regions. But in what capacity and evolution? This is what makes these markings so mysterious!

What could the geology be? Let’s think of it like a magnet beneath the surface!

Researchers think that these subsurface magnets are actually long, narrow lava tubes formed by ancient flowing lava! Past experiments have shown that, when heated above 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit in a zero-oxygen environment, certain minerals in moon rocks break down and release metallic iron, making the rocks extremely magnetic!

LROC image of more lunar swirl patterns!

LROC image of more lunar swirl patterns!

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at upcoming asteroid missions and discoveries!

Spoooooooky Astronomy

Happy Halloween, Earthlings!

While you ponder on which piece of candy to eat while reading this post, here are some spook-tacular astronomy images for 2018! Enjoy! (These images came from the APOD archive!)

5127020922_a5977dcbf1.jpg

1- SKULLS! This skull was seen by the Chandra Observatory in the x-rays. This is typically a cluster of galaxies, but the amount of interstellar gas in this region gives it a spooky glow in the x-rays!

LeluVDB141_1rot1024.jpg

2-Ghosts! This region is in the Cepheus constellation. The “ghosts” are wisps of interstellar dust that is backlit by surround starlight reflections!

NGC6543-BYU-L1024.jpg

3-Cat’s Eye! This is the planetary nebula, Cat’s Eye Nebula, which has numerous halos. These halos are a telltale sign that the nebula has cycles of explosions as the white dwarf in the middle dies off!

GhostShipTrails_kotsiopoulos.jpg

4- Ghost ship! Star trails arc over this abandoned old ship off the coast of Greece. If you look at the picture close enough, you could actually see the photographer (accidentally as a ghost!)


Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at some Moon Swirls!

Touch the Sun!

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe on a mission to touch the Sun, on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.  Image credit: NASA

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe on a mission to touch the Sun, on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Image credit: NASA

Greetings, Earthlings!

There is still much to learn about our own Sun! Such questions and exploration studies, such as helio-physics, solar seismology, plasma, radiation, and solar sunspot cycles, are but a few themes for the Parker Solar Probe!

The Parker Solar Probe launched in August 2018 and will travel to the Sun and be the closest man-made object EVER to explore the Sun!

Here are some extraordinary facts about the Parker Solar Probe:

1-The spacecraft will fly close enough to the Sun to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic!

2-The spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43 cm) carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach nearly 2,500 F!!!

3-According to NASA, at closest approach, the Parker Solar Probe hurtles around the Sun at approximately 430,000 mph! That's fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in one second!!!

4-The Parker Solar Probe will fly to within 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface — more than seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came within 27 million miles in 1976, and about a tenth as close as Mercury, which is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun.

5-It is comprised of 4 main instruments: IOSIS, SWEAP, WISPR, and FIELDS

6-Currently, the Parker Solar Probe used Venus as a gravity assist planet to sling shot the probe closer and FASTER to the Sun!

Interior of Parker Solar Probe inside the shield after final clean room testing.  Image credit: NASA

Interior of Parker Solar Probe inside the shield after final clean room testing. Image credit: NASA

Thank you for reading, and come back next week for a look at some SPOOOOOKY astronomy!

Dusty, dusty Titan

This compilation of images from nine Cassini flybys of Titan in 2009 and 2010 captures three instances when clear bright spots suddenly appeared in images taken by the spacecraft's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer.   Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University Paris Diderot/IPGP/S. Rodriguez et al. 2018

This compilation of images from nine Cassini flybys of Titan in 2009 and 2010 captures three instances when clear bright spots suddenly appeared in images taken by the spacecraft's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University Paris Diderot/IPGP/S. Rodriguez et al. 2018

Hello, Earthlings!

Earth and Mars have very similar geologies, mainly due to similar minerals and crustal material! Plus the dust storms! On Mars, however, dust storms can engulf the entire planet for weeks or months at a time! These are the only planets to have significant dust storms…until now.

Welcome in Saturn’s largest moon, Titan- just recently discovered to have dust storms!

“Dust” however to a geologist means tiny particles of material, so not necessarily the same material as Mars and Earth, and certainly not just sand!

Instead, Titan has sand of ice and organics. On Earth such rivers, lakes and seas are filled with water, while on Titan it is primarily methane and ethane that flows through these liquid reservoirs. In this unique cycle, the hydrocarbon molecules evaporate, condense into clouds and rain back onto the ground.

Plus, just like Earth and Mars, these dust storms appear to regulate on a seasonal cycle, some seasons more prominent than others. However, as the data was taken from the Cassini mission which spun around and around the Saturnian system, not every season was captured by Cassini- so some data is missing.

Just means we have to go back!

Come back next week for a look at the Parker Solar Probe!

Cosmic Tadpoles

The Tadpole Galaxy recorded with the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Tadpole Galaxy recorded with the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hello, Earthlings!

This week, let us journey beyond our galaxy to look at a weird structure of interacting galaxies…Tadpoles! Tadpole galaxies are a classification of massive, elongated, disrupted galaxies!

How are they disrupted? When galaxies collide, some collide at an angle and different speeds, usually morphing a beautiful spiral galaxy into a long, stretched out galaxy that looks like…well…a tadpole!

The original galaxy, the Tadpole Galaxy (or UGC 10214), is the prime example and has led other astronomers to observe other galaxy interactions that resulted in the same fashion.

Here’s some fun fats about the Tadpole Galaxy:

1-The tail is around 280,000 light years long!

2-The interaction caused the tail to create many newer stars from dust interacting and clumping together!

3-According to astronomers, a smaller compact galaxy (the intruder galaxy) passed or crossed from in front of the Tadpole Galaxy from left to right.

4- The interaction is estimated to have happened 100 million years ago

5-There are two clusters of stars in the tail. These two clusters will very likely turn into dwarf galaxies and they will orbit in the halo of the Tadpole Galaxy.

36 young galaxies caught in the act of merging with other galaxies. Astronomers have dubbed them "tadpole galaxies" because of their distinct knot-and-tail shapes.  Credit:   NASA , A. Straughn, S. Cohen, and R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and the HUDF team (  Space Telescope Science Institute

36 young galaxies caught in the act of merging with other galaxies. Astronomers have dubbed them "tadpole galaxies" because of their distinct knot-and-tail shapes. Credit: NASA, A. Straughn, S. Cohen, and R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and the HUDF team ( Space Telescope Science Institute

Thank you for reading! Next week, we’ll take a look at dust storms on Titan!

Chang'e-4 Mission Awesome Facts!

Von Karman crater for Chang’e-4 landing site!

Von Karman crater for Chang’e-4 landing site!

Greetings Lunar Fanatics, which I’ll lovingly call Lunatics!

This week I want to give an update on the cool Chang’e-4 mission from the China National Space Administration (CNSA)! This mission is part of the growing Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, which is designed to build and operate orbiters, landers, and rovers to the lunar surface!

In December 2018, the Chang’e-4 mission will deploy the lander and rover, and we’re so excited!

Here are some awesome updates about the upcoming Chang’e-4 mission!

1- The landing site is Crater Von Karman, which is situated in the South Pole-Aitken Basin! It is also observed to be the oldest crater on the Moon!

2-spacecraft is named after Chang’e the Chinese Moon goddess.

3-The orbiter has been there since May 2018, but the lander and rover will land in December 2018. The rover is only 120 kg! (The Curiosity rover on Mars is 899 kg!)

4- Some of the science objectives include: measuring lunar surface temperature, measure the chemical compositions of lunar rocks and soils, low-frequency radio astronomical observations, and solar radiation/cosmic ray effects.

5-In addition, the lander will carry a container with seeds and insect eggs to test whether plants and insects could hatch and grow together. The experiment includes seeds of potatoes and Arabidopsis thaliana (flowering plant in Eurasia), and silkworm eggs!  

Arabidopsis thaliana  plants to be taken to the Moon onboard the Chang’e-4 rover!

Arabidopsis thaliana plants to be taken to the Moon onboard the Chang’e-4 rover!

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at Tadpole Galaxies!