Meet #UltimaThule! After flying by the most distant object ever explored, our New Horizons spacecraft beamed back the first pictures and science data. These new images, taken from as close as 17,000 miles, revealed that this object is a “contact binary,” consisting of two connected spheres. End to end, Ultima Thule measures 19 miles in length. The team has dubbed the larger sphere “Ultima” and the smaller sphere “Thule”. The team says that the two spheres likely joined as early as 99 percent of the way back to the formation of the solar system, colliding no faster than two cars in a fender-bender. It likely formed over time as a rotating cloud of small, icy bodies started to combine. Eventually, 2 larger bodies remained and slowly spiraled closer until they touched, forming the bi-lobed object we see today.
Studying Ultima Thule is helping us understand how planets form — both those in our own solar system and those orbiting other stars in our galaxy. Data from the New Year's Day flyby will continue to arrive over the next weeks and months, with much higher resolution images yet to come.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
11717 10977788:29 PM Jan 2, 2019
Happy Holidays & Merry Christmas! This @NASAHubble Space Telescope image of a bipolar star-forming region reminds us of a soaring, celestial snow angel. The outstretched “wings” aren’t snow at all, but are actually twin lobes of super-hot gas that glows blue. Additionally, a ring of dust and gas orbits the star like a belt.
Just admire the space-angel that lies nearly 2,000 light-years from us and appears in a relatively isolated region of the Milky Way galaxy. A massive, young star is responsible for the furious activity we see in the nebula. Hubble's sharp resolution reveals ripples and ridges in the gas as it interacts with the cooler interstellar medium in this February 2011 view. Visible narrow-band filters that isolate the hydrogen gas were combined with near-infrared filters that show structure in the cooler gas and dust.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
5455 7685163:57 PM Dec 25, 2018
“The vast loneliness up here of the Moon is awe-inspiring, and it makes you realize just what you have back there on Earth. The Earth from here is a grand oasis to the big vastness of space.” — Apollo 8 astronaut Jim Lovell
Fifty years ago today, this iconic 'Earthrise' photo was taken aboard Apollo 8 by Bill Anders. Before humanity ventured to the Moon, our view of our home planet consisted of what we could see from horizon to horizon. It was not until this stunning photo (along with many others) came back to Earth with the three Apollo 8 astronauts in December 1968 that we saw Earth as a vibrant, delicate, blue and white globe framed by the velvety blackness of space. This iconic picture shows Earth peeking out from beyond the lunar surface as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon.
Image credit: NASA
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8540 11501605:31 PM Dec 24, 2018
Starry night🌟4,000 light years from Earth, the Lagoon Nebula is seen with its swirling clouds of gas and dust in a pattern reminiscent of Van Gogh. This nebula provides astronomers an excellent opportunity to study the properties of very young stars. Many infant stars give off copious amounts of high-energy light including X-rays, which are seen in the Chandra X-ray data (in pink) to reveal the infant stars budding in the surreal nightscape. The X-ray data have been combined with an optical image of Messier 8 from the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center in Arizona.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona
2903 6607927:02 PM Dec 23, 2018
A celestial holiday wreath made of sparkling lights! Swaddled in a gossamer cocoon of reflective dust and illuminated, the super star in the center of this image from the @NASAHubble Space Telescope is ten times more massive than the Sun and 200 times larger. The super star is also one of the most luminous with an average intrinsic brightness is 15,000 times greater than the Sun's luminosity.
This star also rhythmically brightens and dims over a six-week cycle. The nebula flickers in brightness as pulses of light from the star propagate outwards. Hubble took a series of photos of light flashes rippling across the nebula in a phenomenon known as a "light echo." Even though light travels through space fast enough to span the gap between Earth and the Moon in a little over a second, the nebula is so large that reflected light can actually be photographed traversing the nebula.
By observing the fluctuation of light itself, as well as recording the faint reflections of light pulses moving across the nebula, astronomers are able to measure these light echoes and pin down a very accurate distance. The distance to the super star has been narrowed down to 6,500 light-years (with a margin of error of only one percent). Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) – Hubble/Europe Collaboration; Acknowledgement: H. Bond (STScI and Pennsylvania State University)
2355 6005488:31 PM Dec 22, 2018
Using the @NASAHubble Space Telescope's past observations of six massive galaxy clusters, astronomers saw that intracluster light — the diffuse glow between galaxies in a cluster — traces the path of dark matter, illuminating its distribution more accurately than existing methods that observe X-ray light.
Hubble's powerful sensitivity and resolution captures a soft blue haze, called intracluster light, among innumerable galaxies in the cluster pictured here. It is the byproduct of interactions between galaxies that disrupt their structures. In the chaos, individual stars are thrown free from their home galaxies to realign themselves with the gravity of the overall cluster.
This is also where the vast majority of dark matter, the unobservable material that makes up the majority of the universe, resides. X-ray light indicates where groups of galaxies are colliding, but not the underlying structure of the cluster. This makes it a less precise tracer of dark matter.
Credits: NASA, ESA and M. Montes (University of New South Wales)
Behold, Moon rise!
Captured by a crew member on the International Space Station (@ISS) on November 22, 2018, the full Moon is seen as the orbiting outpost was 252 miles above the Indian Ocean about 1,000 kilometers due south of India.
The Moon is the fifth largest moon in the solar system and the only place beyond Earth where humans have set foot. The brightest and largest object in our night sky, the Moon makes Earth a more livable planet by moderating our home planet's wobble on its axis, leading to a relatively stable climate. It also causes tides, creating a rhythm that has guided humans for thousands of years. The Moon was likely formed after a Mars-sized body collided with Earth.
Image credit: NASA
5622 8947174:38 AM Dec 20, 2018
Here comes the Sun… 🌞
Heliophysicists (Scientists who study the Sun!) have been waiting more than 60 years for a mission like this to be possible.
Parker Solar Probe is journeying closer to the Sun than any of our spacecraft before, in order to help us solve the solar mysteries waiting in the corona (the Sun’s outer atmosphere). The solar wind, along with the Sun’s magnetic field, envelops the inner part of our solar system. Occasionally, large amounts of this solar material spews out in a coronal mass ejection. These can create geomagnetic storms in space, which can cause power outages, disrupt satellite electronics, and even endanger astronauts! Therefore, it’s critical to understand the fundamental physics that power our Sun.
This image from Parker Solar Probe shows a coronal streamer — a structure of solar material within the corona that usually indicate regions of increased solar activity. Parker Solar Probe was about 16.9 million miles from the Sun’s surface when this image was taken on Nov. 8, 2018. The bright object near the center of the image is Mercury!
As Parker Solar Probe circles closer and closer to the Sun, we look forward to retrieving data to help us address some of our longest unanswered questions about our Sun! ☀️ Credits: NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe
How much effort do you put into YOUR selfies? How many photos do you need to take before you’re ready to share? Well, our InSight Mars lander is no stranger to the painstaking selfie process. The spacecraft’s first selfie had to be stitched together from 11 separate images, taken from a camera on its robotic arm.
In the selfie, you can easily see the lander’s solar panel and science instruments, including weather sensor booms and UHF antenna. In the coming weeks, scientists will begin the strenuous process deciding where in the “workspace” — a 14-by-7-foot piece of terrain in front of the spacecraft — the instruments should be placed. Then, they will command InSight’s robotic arm to carefully set the seismometer and heat-flow probe in the chosen locations. The more level the ground, the more easily InSight’s heat-flow probe will reach its goal of 16 feet underneath the surface of Mars.
There’s a lot to be excited about for InSight— and the selfie is just the start of it!