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Destination: History

Destination: History

On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn made history by becoming the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the place we call home--planet Earth.

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Guide to Stars and PlanetsGuide to Stars and Planets

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Sky View Cafe
Sky View Cafe

Sky View Café is a Java applet that lets you use your web browser to see many types of astronomical information, in both graphical and numerical form. You can see which stars and planets will be out tonight in the sky above your home town, see how the next solar or lunar eclipse will look from London, or find out when the Moon rose over Sydney on your birthday ten years ago. Sky View Café includes star charts, a 3-D orrery, displays of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, an astronomical event calendar, an ephemeris generator, and many other features. Enter Sky View Café now!

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The Sky Tonight Astronomy News
Surfing complete - Read more >
Wed, 21 Feb 2018 11:00:00 +0100


Slowed by skimming through the very top of the upper atmosphere, ESA’s ExoMars has lowered itself into a planet-hugging orbit and is about ready to begin sniffing the Red Planet for methane.




NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to Reveal Secrets of the Red Planet
Tue, 20 Feb 2018 10:00:00 ESTHubble Image

Webb will investigate how Mars went from wet to dry

Mars rovers and orbiters have found signs that Mars once hosted liquid water on its surface. Much of that water escaped over time. How much water was lost, and how does the water that’s left move from ice to atmosphere to soil? During its first year of operations, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will seek answers. Webb also will study mysterious methane plumes that hint at possible geological or even biological activity.



Off-piste - Read more >
Mon, 19 Feb 2018 10:45:00 +0100


Space Science Image of the Week: These enticing peaks in the outer Solar System would challenge even skilled Olympic skiers



Hubble Sees Neptune's Mysterious Shrinking Storm
Thu, 15 Feb 2018 13:00:00 ESTHubble Image

Storms on Neptune Play Peek-A-Boo With Planetary Astronomers

Three billion miles away on the farthest known major planet in our solar system, an ominous, stinky, dark storm is shrinking out of existence as seen in pictures of Neptune taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Immense dark storms on Neptune were first discovered in the late 1980s by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. Since then, only Hubble has tracked these elusive features that play a game of peek-a-boo over the years. Hubble found two dark storms that appeared in the mid-1990s and then vanished. This latest storm was first seen in 2015, but is now shrinking away. The dark spot material may be hydrogen sulfide, with the pungent smell of rotten eggs.



Leaky atmosphere linked to lightweight planet - Read more >
Thu, 08 Feb 2018 13:03:00 +0100


The Red Planet’s low gravity and lack of magnetic field makes its outermost atmosphere an easy target to be swept away by the solar wind, but new evidence from ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft shows that the Sun’s radiation may play a surprising role in its escape.




Hubble Probes Atmospheres of Exoplanets in TRAPPIST-1 Habitable Zone
Mon, 05 Feb 2018 11:00:00 ESTHubble Image

Worlds in the Star’s Habitable Zone Are Not Smothered Under Primordial Atmospheres

Only 40 light-years away — a stone’s throw on the scale of our galaxy — several Earth-sized planets orbit the red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. Four of the planets lie in the star’s habitable zone, a region at a distance from the star where liquid water, the key to life as we know it, could exist on the planets’ surfaces.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have conducted the first spectroscopic survey of these worlds. Hubble reveals that at least three of the exoplanets do not seem to contain puffy, hydrogen-rich atmospheres similar to gaseous planets such as Neptune. This means the atmospheres may be more shallow and rich in heavier gases like those found in Earth’s atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen.

Astronomers plan to use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2019, to probe deeper into the planetary atmospheres to search for the presence of such elements that could offer hints of whether these far-flung worlds are habitable.



ESA creates quietest place in space - Read more >
Mon, 05 Feb 2018 16:00:00 +0100


Imagine a packed party: music is blaring and you can feel the bass vibrate in your chest, lights are flashing, balloons are falling from the ceiling and the air is filled with hundreds of separate conversations. At the same time your cell phone is vibrating in your pocket and your drink is fizzing in the glass. Now imagine you can block out this assault on your senses to create a perfectly quiet bubble around you, only letting in the unmistakable voice of your best friend who’s trying to get your attention from the other side of the room.




Stellar winds behaving unexpectedly - Read more >
Fri, 02 Feb 2018 15:00:00 +0100


ESA’s XMM-Newton has spotted surprising changes in the powerful streams of gas from two massive stars, suggesting that colliding stellar winds don’t behave as expected.




LISA Pathfinder wins American Astronautical Society award - Read more >
Wed, 24 Jan 2018 15:00:00 +0100


ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission has been honoured with the 2017 Space Technology Award of the American Astronautical Society.




Crater Neukum named after Mars Express founder - Read more >
Thu, 18 Jan 2018 11:00:00 +0100


A fascinating martian crater has been chosen to honour the German physicist and planetary scientist, Gerhard Neukum, one of the founders of ESA’s Mars Express mission.




Rosetta and Planck honoured in annual Royal Astronomical Society awards - Read more >
Fri, 12 Jan 2018 17:00:00 +0100


ESA’s Matt Taylor has been awarded the 2018 Service Award for Geophysics by the Royal Astronomical Society for his outstanding contribution to the Rosetta mission, while the Planck mission has been honoured with the Group Achievement Award for their extraordinary achievements in cosmology.




Hubble Finds Substellar Objects in the Orion Nebula
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 14:15:00 ESTHubble Image

Deep Survey Looks for Faint Objects in Nearby Stellar Nursery

Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to peer deep into the vast stellar nursery called the Orion Nebula, astronomers searched for small, faint bodies. What they found was the largest population yet of brown dwarfs — objects that are more massive than planets but do not shine like stars. Researchers identified 17 brown dwarf companions to red dwarf stars, one brown dwarf pair, and one brown dwarf with a planetary companion. They also found three giant planets, including a binary system where two planets orbit each other in the absence of a parent star. This survey could only be done with Hubble’s exceptional resolution and infrared sensitivity.



NASA's Great Observatories Team Up to Find Magnified and Stretched Out Image of Distant Galaxy
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:15:00 ESTHubble Image

Small, Embryonic Galaxy Formed Just 500 Million Years After the Big Bang

As powerful as NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes are, they need a little help from nature in seeking out the farthest, and hence earliest galaxies that first appeared in the universe after the big bang. This help comes from a natural zoom lens in the universe, formed by the warping of space by intense gravitational fields.

The most powerful “zoom lenses” out there are formed by very massive foreground clusters that bend space like a bowling ball rolling across a soft mattress. The lens boosts the brightness of distant background objects. The farthest candidates simply appear as red dots in Hubble photos because of their small size and great distance.

However, astronomers got very lucky when they looked at galaxy cluster SPT-CL J0615-5746. Embedded in the photo is an arc-like structure that is not only the amplified image of a background galaxy, but an image that has been smeared into a crescent-shape. This image allowed astronomers to estimate that the diminutive galaxy weighs in at no more than 3 billion solar masses (roughly 1/100th the mass of our fully grown Milky Way galaxy). It is less than 2,500 light-years across, half the size of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The object is considered prototypical of young galaxies that emerged during the epoch shortly after the big bang. Hubble’s clarity, combined with Spitzer’s infrared sensitivity to light reddened by the expanding universe, allowed for the object’s vast distance to be calculated.



Hubble Probes the Archeology of Our Milky Way's Ancient Hub
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:15:00 ESTHubble Image

Swarms of Young and Older Stars Yield Clues to our Galaxy’s Formation

Every star has a story to tell. Study a star and it will give you information about its composition, age, and possibly even clues to where it first formed. The stars residing in the oldest structure of our Milky Way galaxy, the central bulge, offer insight into how our pinwheel-shaped island of myriad stars evolved over billions of years. Think of our Milky Way as a pancake-shaped structure with a big round dollop of butter in the middle — that would be our galaxy’s central hub.

For many years, astronomers had a simple view of our Milky Way’s bulge as a quiescent place composed of old stars, the earliest homesteaders of our galaxy. A new analysis of about 10,000 normal Sun-like stars in the bulge reveals that our galaxy’s hub is a dynamic environment of variously aged stars zipping around at different speeds, like travelers bustling about a busy airport. This conclusion is based on nine years’ worth of archival data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The faster-moving and later-generation stars may have arrived at the hub through our Milky Way cannibalizing smaller galaxies. They mingle with a different population of older, slowing-moving stars. Currently, only Hubble has sharp enough resolution to simultaneously measure the motions of thousands of Sun-like stars at the bulge's distance from Earth.



Researchers Catch Supermassive Black Hole Burping — Twice
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:15:00 ESTHubble Image

NASA Great Observatories Team-up to Identify Flickering Black Hole

Supermassive black holes, weighing millions of times as much as our Sun, are gatherers not hunters. Embedded in the hearts of galaxies, they will lie dormant for a long time until the next meal happens to come along.

The team of astronomers using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and as well as the W.M. Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and the Apache Point Observatory (APO) near Sunspot, New Mexico, zeroed in on a flickering black hole.

A black hole in the center of galaxy SDSS J1354+1327, located about 800 million light-years away, appears to have consumed large amounts of gas while blasting off an outflow of high-energy particles. The fresh burst of fuel might have been supplied by a bypassing galaxy. The outflow eventually switched off then turned back on about 100,000 years later. This is strong evidence that accreting black holes can switch their power output off and on again over timescales that are short compared to the 13.8-billion-year age of the universe.



NASA Space Telescopes Provide a 3D Journey Through the Orion Nebula
Thu, 11 Jan 2018 10:00:00 ESTHubble Image

Unprecedented Fly-through Combines the Visible and Infrared Vision of the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes

By combining the visible and infrared capabilities of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, astronomers and visualization specialists from NASA's Universe of Learning program have created a spectacular, three-dimensional, fly-through movie of the magnificent Orion nebula, a nearby stellar nursery. Using actual scientific data along with Hollywood techniques, a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California, has produced the best and most detailed multi-wavelength visualization yet of the Orion nebula. The three-minute movie allows viewers to glide through the picturesque star-forming region and experience the universe in an exciting new way.



NASA's Webb Telescope to Investigate Mysterious Brown Dwarfs
Thu, 04 Jan 2018 11:00:00 ESTHubble Image

Strange Star or Rogue Planet? Brown Dwarfs Defy Definition

Brown dwarfs are often described as failed stars. However, this label misrepresents the true nature of these unusual objects. They may live in the fuzzy boundary between planets and stars, but it’s that exact ambiguity that makes them so intriguing to scientists. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will study brown dwarfs to measure their properties and probe their origins.



Günther Hasinger appointed as ESA Director of Science - Read more >
Thu, 14 Dec 2017 15:00:00 +0100


The Council of the European Space Agency announced the appointment of Günther Hasinger as the next Director of Science. He will succeed Alvaro Giménez, who has served in the position since 2011.




Mars upside down - Read more >
Thu, 14 Dec 2017 11:00:00 +0100


Which way is up in space? Planets are usually shown with the north pole at the top and the south pole at the bottom. In this remarkable image taken by ESA’s Mars Express, the Red Planet is seen with north at the bottom, and the equator at the top.




Two tales of one galaxy - Read more >
Wed, 13 Dec 2017 14:50:00 +0100


Explore the stars in our galactic neighbour, the Large Magellanic Cloud, as viewed by ESA’s Gaia satellite



Hubble's Celestial Snow Globe
Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:00:00 ESTHubble Image

A Hubble Space Telescope View of Globular Cluster M79

It's beginning to look a lot like the holiday season in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a blizzard of stars, which resembles a swirling snowstorm in a snow globe. The stars are residents of the globular star cluster Messier 79, or M79, located 41,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Lepus. The cluster is also known as NGC 1904.



Hot and cold - Read more >
Fri, 08 Dec 2017 10:55:00 +0100


BepiColombo module withstands extreme temperatures in final space simulation



NASA's James Webb Space Telescope Early Science Observations Revealed
Mon, 13 Nov 2017 10:00:00 ESTHubble Image

First Publicly Available Science Observations for Webb Announced

The Space Telescope Science Institute is announcing some of the first science programs NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will conduct following its launch and commissioning. These specific observations are part of a program of Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science (DD-ERS), which will provide the scientific community with immediate access to Webb data. These data will help inform proposals for observations in the second year of Webb operations. The 13 ERS programs will address a broad variety of science areas, from black hole growth and the assembly of galaxies to star formation and the study of exoplanets.



Hubble Movie Shows Movement of Light Echo Around Exploded Star
Thu, 09 Nov 2017 13:00:00 ESTHubble Image

Light from Supernova Bouncing Off Giant Dust Cloud

Voices reverberating off mountains and the sound of footsteps bouncing off walls are examples of an echo. Echoes happen when sound waves ricochet off surfaces and return to the listener.

Space has its own version of an echo. It’s not made with sound but with light, and occurs when light bounces off dust clouds.

The Hubble telescope has just captured one of these cosmic echoes, called a “light echo,” in the nearby starburst galaxy M82, located 11.4 million light-years away. A movie assembled from more than two years’ worth of Hubble images reveals an expanding shell of light from a supernova explosion sweeping through interstellar space three years after the stellar blast was discovered. The “echoing” light looks like a ripple expanding on a pond. The supernova, called SN 2014J, was discovered on Jan. 21, 2014.

A light echo occurs because light from the stellar blast travels different distances to arrive at Earth. Some light comes to Earth directly from the supernova blast. Other light is delayed because it travels indirectly. In this case, the light is bouncing off a huge dust cloud that extends 300 to 1,600 light-years around the supernova and is being reflected toward Earth.

So far, astronomers have spotted only 15 light echoes around supernovae outside our Milky Way galaxy. Light echo detections from supernovae are rarely seen because they must be nearby for a telescope to resolve them.



Hubble Sees Nearby Asteroids Photobombing Distant Galaxies
Thu, 02 Nov 2017 13:00:00 EDTHubble Image

Asteroid Trails Streak Across This Deep-Space View of Thousands of Galaxies

Photobombing asteroids from our solar system have snuck their way into this deep image of the universe taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. These asteroids are right around the corner in astronomical terms, residing roughly 160 million miles from Earth. Yet they’ve horned their way into this picture of thousands of galaxies scattered across space and time at inconceivably farther distances.



Hubble Observes Exoplanet that Snows Sunscreen
Thu, 26 Oct 2017 13:00:00 EDTHubble Image

Nighttime Titanium Dioxide Snow Leaves Dayside Cloud-Free and Cooler

Travelers to the nightside of exoplanet Kepler-13Ab should pack an umbrella because they will be pelted with precipitation. But it's not the kind of watery precipitation that falls on Earth. On this alien world, the precipitation is in the form of sunscreen.

Ironically, the sunscreen (titanium dioxide) is not needed on this side of the planet because it never receives any sunlight. But bottling up some sunlight protection is a good idea if travelers plan on visiting the sizzling hot, permanent dayside, which always faces its star. Visitors won't find any desperately needed sunscreen on this part of the planet.

Astronomers didn't detect the titanium dioxide directly. They used Hubble to find that the atmospheric temperature grows increasingly colder with altitude on the dayside of Kepler-13Ab, which was contrary to what they had expected. On this super-hot dayside, titanium dioxide should exist as a gas, called titanium oxide. If titanium oxide were present in the daytime atmosphere, it would absorb light and heat the upper atmosphere. Instead, high winds carry the titanium oxide around to the permanently dark side of the planet where it condenses to form clouds and precipitation, and rains down as titanium dioxide. The planet's crushing gravity pulls all the titanium dioxide so far down it can't be recycled back into the upper atmosphere on the daytime side.

The Hubble observations represent the first time astronomers have detected this precipitation process, called a "cold trap," on an exoplanet.

Kepler-13Ab is one of the hottest known planets, with a dayside temperature of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Kepler-13 system resides 1,730 light-years from Earth.



NASA Missions Catch First Light From a Gravitational-Wave Event
Mon, 16 Oct 2017 10:00:00 EDTHubble Image

Neutron Star Collision Cooks Up Exotic Elements, Gravitational Waves

When some people get in the kitchen, they create a delicious meal but leave behind a chaotic mess of splattered food and dirty dishes. Cosmic cookery can be just as messy. While a star can create chemical elements as heavy as iron within its core, anything heavier needs a more powerful source like a stellar explosion or the collision of two neutron stars.

Colliding neutron stars can yield gold, plutonium, and a variety of other elements. Theoretically, they also generate gravitational waves as they spiral together at breakneck speed before merging. The first gravitational wave signal from a neutron star merger was detected on August 17. It was accompanied by gamma rays and other light, allowing astronomers to locate a gravitational wave source for the first time.

Hubble photographed the glow from this titanic collision, shining within the galaxy NGC 4993 at a distance of 130 million light-years. Hubble also obtained an infrared spectrum that may yield signs of exotic, radioactive elements. The analysis will continue while astronomers wait for the gravitational wave source to emerge from behind the Sun from Earth’s point of view, where it slipped just days after discovery.



NASA's Hubble Observes the Farthest Active Inbound Comet Yet Seen
Thu, 28 Sep 2017 13:00:00 EDTHubble Image

The Comet that Came in from the Cold

A solitary frozen traveler has been journeying for millions of years toward the heart of our planetary system. The wayward vagabond, a city-sized snowball of ice and dust called a comet, was gravitationally kicked out of the Oort Cloud, its frigid home at the outskirts of the solar system. This region is a vast comet storehouse, composed of icy leftover building blocks from the construction of the planets 4.6 billion years ago.

The comet is so small, faint, and far away that it eluded detection. Finally, in May 2017, astronomers using the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) in Hawaii spotted the solitary intruder at a whopping 1.5 billion miles away — between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus. The Hubble Space Telescope was enlisted to take close-up views of the comet, called C/2017 K2 PANSTARRS (K2).

The comet is record-breaking because it is already becoming active under the feeble glow of the distant Sun. Astronomers have never seen an active inbound comet this far out, where sunlight is merely 1/225th its brightness as seen from Earth. Temperatures, correspondingly, are at a minus 440 degrees Fahrenheit. Even at such bone-chilling temperatures, a mix of ancient ices on the surface — oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide — is beginning to sublimate and shed as dust. This material balloons into a vast 80,000-mile-wide halo of dust, called a coma, enveloping the solid nucleus.

Astronomers will continue to study K2 as it travels into the inner solar system, making its closest approach to the Sun in 2022.



From stars to galaxies - Read more >
Thu, 21 Sep 2017 12:00:00 +0200


Explore stellar nurseries in our Milky Way and other galaxies as viewed through the infrared eye of the Herschel space observatory



Comet or Asteroid? Hubble Discovers that a Unique Object is a Binary
Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:00:00 EDTHubble Image

An Asteroid That Split in Two 5,000 Years Ago Is Spouting a Comet Tail

Astronomers categorize the minor bodies in the solar system according to their location and physical composition. Comets are a loose collection of ice and dust that fall in toward the Sun from beyond the orbits of the major planets, and grow long tails of dust and gas along the way. Asteroids are rocky or metallic and are relegated to a zone between Mars and Jupiter. But nature isn't that tidy. The Hubble Space Telescope photographed a pair of asteroids orbiting each other that have a tail of dust, which is definitely a comet-like feature. The odd object, called 2006 VW139/288P, is the first known binary asteroid that is also classified as a main-belt comet. Roughly 5,000 years ago, 2006 VW139/288P probably broke into two pieces due to a fast rotation.



Parting views - Read more >
Fri, 15 Sep 2017 15:10:00 +0200


Cassini’s last look around Saturn’s neighbourhood before concluding its 13-year journey of discovery



NASA's Hubble Captures Blistering Pitch-Black Planet
Thu, 14 Sep 2017 10:00:00 EDTHubble Image

Alien world traps most of the visible light falling into its atmosphere

Don't go looking for the proverbial black cat eating licorice in a coal bin on the planet WASP-12b. Twice the size of any planet found in our solar system, the world is as black as fresh asphalt. Unlike other planets in its class, WASP-12b has the unique capability to trap at least 94 percent of the visible starlight falling into its atmosphere.

The temperature of the atmosphere is a seething 4,600 degrees Fahrenheit, which prevents the formation of reflective clouds on the day side. The planet orbits so close to its host that it is tidally locked, which means that it keeps the same side always facing the star.

The exoplanet isn't dining alone. Its host star is also having a feast: gobbling up material swirling off the exoplanet's super-heated atmosphere.

This oddball exoplanet is one of a class of so-called "hot Jupiters" that orbit very close to their host star and are heated to extreme temperatures. WASP-12b circles a Sun-like star 1,400 light-years from Earth.



Space science starts here - Read more >
Wed, 17 Aug 2016 11:20:00 +0200


Video showcase of ESA's fleet of space science missions and how they are helping us to understand our place in the Universe


This Month's Sky Map
This Month's Sky Map

Take a look at this month's Sky Map to help you explore the wonders of the night sky!

Ideal for all sky watchers including beginners to astronomy.

The Sky Map will help you identify planets, bright stars, constellations and nebulae!
Printable version available too!


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