Latest Space News
NASA's Kepler Witnesses Vampire Star System Undergoing Super-Outburst
Fri, 24 Jan 2020 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

Astronomers searching archival data from NASA's Kepler exoplanet hunting mission identified a previously unknown dwarf nova that underwent a super-outburst, brightening by a factor of 1,600 times in less than a day. While the outburst itself has a theoretical explanation, the slow rise in brightness that preceded it remains a mystery. Kepler's rapid cadence of observations were crucial for recording the entire event in detail.

The dwarf nova system consists of a white dwarf star with a brown dwarf companion. The white dwarf is stripping material from the brown dwarf, sucking its essence away like a vampire. The stripped material forms an accretion disk around the white dwarf, which is the source of the super-outburst. Such systems are rare and may go for years or decades between outbursts, making it a challenge to catch one in the act.

Solar Orbiter launch - fairing separation - Read more >
Wed, 22 Jan 2020 09:00:00 +0100

Solar Orbiter launch - fairing separation Image:

Artist's impression of the fairing encapsulating Solar Orbiter being released following launch on an Atlas V 411.

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection. It is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA in February 2020.

Solar Orbiter solar array deployment - Read more >
Wed, 22 Jan 2020 09:00:00 +0100

Solar Orbiter solar array deployment Image:

Artist's impression of Solar Orbiter following launch and separation, with its solar arrays deployed. The instrument boom and antennas have not been deployed at this stage.

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection. It is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA in February 2020.

Solar Orbiter Earth flyby - Read more >
Wed, 22 Jan 2020 09:00:00 +0100

Solar Orbiter Earth flyby Image:

Artist's impression of Solar Orbiter making a flyby at Earth.

Solar Orbiter will make one gravity assist flyby of Earth and numerous flybys of Venus over the course of its mission to adjust its orbit, bringing it closer to the Sun and also out of the plane of the Solar System to observe the Sun from progressively higher inclinations. This will result in the spacecraft being able to take the first ever images of the Sun’s polar regions, crucial for understanding how the Sun ‘works’.

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high-latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection. It is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA in February 2020.

Solar Orbiter separation - Read more >
Wed, 22 Jan 2020 09:00:00 +0100

Solar Orbiter separation Image:

Artist's impression of Solar Orbiter following separation from the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas V 411 rocket launching the mission into space.

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection. It is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA in February 2020.

Solar Orbiter antenna deployment - Read more >
Wed, 22 Jan 2020 09:00:00 +0100

Solar Orbiter antenna deployment Image:

Artist's impression of Solar Orbiter following launch, with solar arrays and antennas deployed.

Solar Orbiter is a space mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high-latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection. It is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA in February 2020.

Call for Media: Solar Orbiter launch to face the Sun - Read more >
Tue, 21 Jan 2020 17:00:00 +0100

ESA’s new Sun explorer will be launched from Cape Canaveral on 6 February. Media are invited to Europe’s mission control centre in Darmstadt, Germany, to follow the launch and moment of signal acquisition.

Global Gaia campaign reveals secrets of stellar pair - Read more >
Tue, 21 Jan 2020 10:00:00 +0100

Stellar pair discovered in Gaia16aye microlensing event

A 500-day global observation campaign spearheaded more than three years ago by ESA’s galaxy-mapping powerhouse Gaia has provided unprecedented insights into the binary system of stars that caused an unusual brightening of an even more distant star.

Building blocks of life spotted on Rosetta’s comet hint at composition of its birthplace - Read more >
Mon, 20 Jan 2020 17:00:00 +0100

Approaching perihelion – Animation

Observations from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft are shedding light on the mysterious make-up of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, revealing a mix of compounds thought to be essential precursors to life – including salts of ammonium and a particular type of hydrocarbons.

XMM-Newton maps black hole surroundings - Read more >
Mon, 20 Jan 2020 17:00:00 +0100

Mapping the surroundings of a black hole

Material falling into a black hole casts X-rays out into space – and now, for the first time, ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray observatory has used the reverberating echoes of this radiation to map the dynamic behaviour and surroundings of a black hole itself.

XMM-Newton discovers scorching gas in Milky Way’s halo - Read more >
Thu, 16 Jan 2020 16:00:00 +0100

The hot, gaseous components of the Milky Way’s halo – artist’s impression

ESA’s XMM-Newton has discovered that gas lurking within the Milky Way’s halo reaches far hotter temperatures than previously thought and has a different chemical make-up than predicted, challenging our understanding of our galactic home.

Goldilocks Stars Are Best Places to Look for Life
Wed, 08 Jan 2020 15:10:00 EST

Hubble Image

To date astronomers have discovered over 4,000 planets orbiting other stars. Statistically, there should be over 100 billion planets in our Milky Way galaxy. They come in a wide range of sizes and characteristics, largely unimagined before exoplanets were first discovered in the mid-1990s. The biggest motivation for perusing these worlds is to find "Genesis II," a planet where life has arisen and evolved beyond microbes. The ultimate payoff would be finding intelligent life off the Earth.

A major step in searching for habitable planets is finding suitable stars that could foster the emergence of complex organisms. Because our Sun has nurtured life on Earth for nearly 4 billion years, conventional wisdom would suggest that stars like it would be prime candidates. But stars like our Sun represent only about 10% of the Milky Way population. What's more, they are comparatively short-lived. Our Sun is halfway through its estimated 10 billion-year lifetime.

Complex organisms arose on Earth only 500 million years ago. And, the modern form of humans has been here only for the blink of an eye on cosmological timescales: 200,000 years. The future of humanity is unknown. But what is for certain is that Earth will become uninhabitable for higher forms of life in a little over 1 billion years, as the Sun grows warmer and desiccates our planet.

Therefore, stars slightly cooler than our Sun — called orange dwarfs — are considered better hang-outs for advanced life. They can burn steadily for tens of billions of years. This opens up a vast timescape for biological evolution to pursue an infinity of experiments for yielding robust life forms. And, for every star like our Sun there are three times as many orange dwarfs in the Milky Way.

The only type of star that is more abundant are red dwarfs. But these are feisty little stars. They are so magnetically active they pump out 500 times as much radiation in the form of X-rays and ultraviolet light as our Sun does. Planets around these stars take a beating. They would be no place to call home for organisms like us.

An emerging idea, bolstered by stellar surveys performed by Hubble and other telescopes, is that the orange dwarfs are "Goldilocks stars" — not too hot, not too cool, and above all, not too violent to host life-friendly planets over a vast horizon of cosmic time.

Cosmic Magnifying Glasses Yield Independent Measure of Universe's Expansion
Wed, 08 Jan 2020 14:55:00 EST

Hubble Image

People use the phrase "Holy Cow" to express excitement. Playing with that phrase, researchers from an international collaboration developed an acronym—H0LiCOW—for their project's name that expresses the excitement over their Hubble Space Telescope measurements of the universe's expansion rate.

Knowing the precise value for how fast the universe expands is important for determining the age, size, and fate of the cosmos. Unraveling this mystery has been one of the greatest challenges in astrophysics in recent years.

Members of the H0LiCOW (H0 Lenses in COSMOGRAIL's Wellspring) team used Hubble and a technique that is completely independent of any previous method to measure the universe's expansion, a value called the Hubble constant.

This latest value represents the most precise measurement yet using the gravitational lensing method, where the gravity of a foreground galaxy acts like a giant magnifying lens, amplifying and distorting light from background objects. This latest study did not rely on the traditional "cosmic distance ladder" technique to measure accurate distances to galaxies by using various types of stars as "milepost markers." Instead, the researchers employed the exotic physics of gravitational lensing to calculate the universe's expansion rate.

The researchers' result further strengthens a troubling discrepancy between the expansion rate calculated from measurements of the local universe and the rate as predicted from background radiation in the early universe, a time before galaxies and stars even existed. The new study adds evidence to the idea that new theories may be needed to explain what scientists are finding.

Hubble Detects Smallest Known Dark Matter Clumps
Wed, 08 Jan 2020 14:40:00 EST

Hubble Image

When searching for dark matter, astronomers must go on a sort of "ghost hunt." That's because dark matter is an invisible substance that cannot be seen directly. Yet it makes up the bulk of the universe's mass and forms the scaffolding upon which galaxies are built. Dark matter is the gravitational "glue" that holds galaxies as well as galaxy clusters together. Astronomers can detect its presence indirectly by measuring how its gravity affects stars and galaxies.

The mysterious substance is not composed of the same stuff that makes up stars, planets, and people. That material is normal "baryonic" matter, consisting of electrons, protons, and neutrons. However, dark matter might be some sort of unknown subatomic particle that interacts weakly with normal matter.

A popular theory holds that dark matter particles don't move very fast, which makes it easier for them to clump together. According to this idea, the universe contains a broad range of dark matter concentrations, from small to large.

Astronomers have detected dark matter clumps around large- and medium-sized galaxies. Now, using Hubble and a new observing technique, astronomers have found that dark matter forms much smaller clumps than previously known.

The researchers searched for small concentrations of dark matter in the Hubble data by measuring how the light from faraway quasars is affected as it travels through space. Quasars are the bright black-hole-powered cores of very distant galaxies. The Hubble images show that the light from these quasars images is warped and magnified by the gravity of massive foreground galaxies in an effect called gravitational lensing. Astronomers used this lensing effect to detect the small dark matter clumps. The clumps are located along the telescope’s line of sight to the quasars, as well as in and around the foreground lensing galaxies.

NASA's Hubble Surveys Gigantic Galaxy
Sun, 05 Jan 2020 15:15:00 EST

Hubble Image

Galaxies are like snowflakes. Though the universe contains innumerable galaxies flung across time and space, no two ever look alike. One of the most photogenic is the huge spiral galaxy UGC 2885, located 232 million light-years away in the northern constellation, Perseus. It's a whopper even by galactic standards. The galaxy is 2.5 times wider than our Milky Way and contains 10 times as many stars, about 1 trillion. This galaxy has lived a quiescent life by not colliding with other large galaxies. It has gradually bulked up on intergalactic hydrogen to make new stars at a slow and steady pace over many billions of years. The galaxy has been nicknamed "Rubin's galaxy," after astronomer Vera Rubin (1928 – 2016). Rubin used the galaxy to look for invisible dark matter. The galaxy is embedded inside a vast halo of dark matter. The amount of dark matter can be estimated by measuring its gravitational influence on the galaxy's rotation rate.

NASA's Great Observatories Help Astronomers Build a 3D Visualization of Exploded Star
Sun, 05 Jan 2020 14:30:00 EST

Hubble Image

In the year 1054 AD, Chinese sky watchers witnessed the sudden appearance of a "new star" in the heavens, which they recorded as six times brighter than Venus, making it the brightest observed stellar event in recorded history. This "guest star," as they described it, was so bright that people saw it in the sky during the day for almost a month. Native Americans also recorded its mysterious appearance in petroglyphs.

Observing the nebula with the largest telescope of the time, Lord Rosse in 1844 named the object the "Crab" because of its tentacle-like structure. But it wasn't until the 1900s that astronomers realized the nebula was the surviving relic of the 1054 supernova, the explosion of a massive star.

Now, astronomers and visualization specialists from the NASA's Universe of Learning program have combined the visible, infrared, and X-ray vision of NASA's Great Observatories to create a three-dimensional representation of the dynamic Crab Nebula.

The multiwavelength computer graphics visualization is based on images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. The approximately four-minute video dissects the intricate nested structure that makes up this stellar corpse, giving viewers a better understanding of the extreme and complex physical processes powering the nebula. The powerhouse "engine" energizing the entire system is a pulsar, a rapidly spinning neutron star, the super-dense crushed core of the exploded star. The tiny dynamo is blasting out blistering pulses of radiation 30 times a second with unbelievable clockwork precision.

Simulated Image Demonstrates the Power of NASA's Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope
Sun, 05 Jan 2020 14:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

NASA's upcoming Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), scheduled for launch in the mid-2020s, will have the power to survey the sky 1,000 times faster than the Hubble Space Telescope, with Hubble-quality detail, in the near-infrared.

A simulated image of a 34,000-light-year swath across our neighboring galaxy Andromeda showcases WFIRST’s unique detector configuration, expansive field of view and high resolution. The image was generated using data collected by Hubble, and shows the red and infrared light of more than 50 million individual stars in Andromeda, as they would appear with WFIRST.

WFIRST is designed to address key questions across a wide range of topics, including dark energy, exoplanets, and general astrophysics spanning from our solar system to the most distant galaxies in the observable universe. WFIRST is expected to amass more than 4 petabytes of information per year, all of which will be non-proprietary and immediately accessible to the public.

The simulated image, which represents the staggering amount of data that could be captured in a single pointing over just 90 minutes, demonstrates the power of WFIRST for examining large-scale structures that are otherwise too time-consuming to image. Astronomers are currently using simulations like this to plan future observations.

'Cotton Candy' Planet Mysteries Unravel in New Hubble Observations
Thu, 19 Dec 2019 13:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

When astronomers look around the solar system, they find that planets can be made out of almost anything. Terrestrial planets like Earth, Mars, and Venus have dense iron cores and rocky mantles. The massive outer planets like Jupiter and Saturn are mostly gaseous and liquid. Astronomers can't peel back their cloud layers to look inside, but their composition is deduced by comparing the planet's mass (as calculated from its orbital motion) to its size. The result is that Jupiter has the density of water, and Saturn has an even lower density (it could float in a huge bathtub). These gas giants are just 1/5th the density of rocky Earth.

Now astronomers have uncovered a completely new class of planet unlike anything found in our solar system. Rather than a "terrestrial" or "gas giant" they might better be called "cotton candy" planets because their density is so low. These planets are so bloated they are nearly the size of Jupiter, but are just 1/100th of its mass. Three of them orbit the Sun-like star Kepler 51, located approximately 2,600 light-years away.

The puffed-up planets might represent a brief transitory phase in planet evolution, which would explain why we don't see anything like them in the solar system. The planets may have formed much farther from their star and migrated inward. Now their low-density hydrogen/helium atmospheres are bleeding off into space. Eventually, much smaller planets might be left behind.

Cheops liftoff - Read more >
Wed, 18 Dec 2019 10:00:00 +0100

Video: 00:02:00

ESA’s Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, Cheops, lifts off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The Soyuz-Fregat launcher will also deliver the Italian space agency’s Cosmo-SkyMed Second Generation satellite, and three CubeSats – including ESA’s OPS-SAT – into space today.

Cheops is ESA’s first mission dedicated to the study of extrasolar planets, or exoplanets. It will observe bright stars that are already known to host planets, measuring minuscule brightness changes due to the planet’s transit across the star’s disc.

STScI Astronomers Kathryn Flanagan and Colin Norman Elected AAAS Fellows
Mon, 16 Dec 2019 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Council has elected Kathryn Flanagan of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) and Colin Norman of STScI and Johns Hopkins University, and 441 other AAAS members as Fellows of the AAAS.

Dr. Flanagan is cited by the AAAS for her lead role calibrating grating spectrometers for NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory mission; X-ray observations of astrophysical plasmas; and leadership in the James Webb Space Telescope project.

Dr. Norman is cited by the AAAS for distinguished contributions to an array of subjects in theoretical astrophysics, especially in the areas of the interstellar medium, galaxy dynamics, star formation, and galaxy clusters.

For more information about this announcement, visit the AAAS website.

Interstellar Comet 2I/Borisov Swings Past the Sun
Thu, 12 Dec 2019 13:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

When astronomers see something in the universe that at first glance seems like one-of-a-kind, it's bound to stir up a lot of excitement and attention. Enter comet 2I/Borisov. This mysterious visitor from the depths of space is the first identified comet to arrive here from another star. We don't know from where or when the comet started heading toward our Sun, but it won't hang around for long. The Sun's gravity is slightly deflecting its trajectory, but can't capture it because of the shape of its orbit and high velocity of about 100,000 miles per hour.

Telescopes around the world have been watching the fleeting visitor. Hubble has provided the sharpest views as the comet skirts by our Sun. Since October the space telescope has been following the comet like a sports photographer following horses speeding around a racetrack. Hubble revealed that the heart of the comet, a loose agglomeration of ices and dust particles, is likely no more than about 3,200 feet across, about the length of nine football fields. Though comet Borisov is the first of its kind, no doubt there are many other comet vagabonds out there, plying the space between stars. Astronomers will eagerly be on the lookout for the next mysterious visitor from far beyond.

Hubble Studies Gamma-Ray Burst with the Highest Energy Ever Seen
Wed, 20 Nov 2019 13:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The Star Wars film trilogies are known best for the iconic "Death Star," an alien battle station that shoots out beams of directed energy powerful enough to blow up planets. The real universe makes much more extraordinary beams that can unleash in a few seconds as much energy as our sun will generate over its 10-billion-year lifetime. These beams blast out of imploding stars at over 99% the speed of light. They carry most of their energy in the form of gamma-rays—a lethal form of radiation that can penetrate bone and tear apart living cells. If our planet got caught in a nearby gamma-ray burst (GRB) the atmosphere would be largely stripped away.

The current record for a super-powerful GRB goes to a January 2019 outburst. The eruption came from a galaxy located so far away that the explosion actually happened 5 billion years ago. When the diluted radiation finally arrived at Earth, it was seen by our satellite sentries that monitor the sky for such fireworks: NASA’s Swift and Fermi telescopes, in addition to the Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov (MAGIC) telescopes on the Canary islands.

Hubble can't detect gamma-rays, but its sharp vision was used to see where the burst came from. The host galaxy of the GRB is actually one of a pair of colliding galaxies. The galaxy interactions may have contributed to the blast.

A Weakened Black Hole Allows Its Galaxy To Awaken
Mon, 18 Nov 2019 13:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

Supermassive black holes, weighing millions or even billions of times our Sun's mass, are still only a tiny fraction of the mass of the galaxies they inhabit. But in some cases, the central black hole is the tail wagging the dog. It seems that black holes can run hot or cold when it comes to either enhancing or squelching star birth inside a cluster of galaxies.

Typically, giant black holes, pumping out energy via jets, keep interstellar gas too warm to condense and form stars. Now, astronomers have found a cluster of galaxies, called the Phoenix cluster, where stars are forming at a furious rate because of the black hole's influence. This stellar turboboost is apparently linked to less energetic jets from a central black hole that do not pump up the gas temperature. Instead, the gas loses energy as it glows in X-rays. The gas cools to where it can form large numbers of stars at a breathtaking rate. Where our Milky Way forms one star per year on average, newborn stars are popping out of this cool gas at a rate of about 500 solar masses per year in the Phoenix cluster.

Unraveling this mystery required the combined power of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Very Large Array (VLA) radio observatory near Socorro, New Mexico.

The VLA radio data reveals jets blasting out from the vicinity of the central black hole. These jets inflated bubbles in the hot gas that are detected in X-rays by Chandra. Hubble resolves bright blue filaments of newborn stars in cavities between the hot jet and gas clouds. As the black hole has grown more massive and more powerful, its influence has been increasing.

Proba-2 watches Mercury transit - Read more >
Tue, 12 Nov 2019 17:00:00 +0100

Video: 00:00:27

ESA's Proba-2 had a ring-side seat for the transit of Mercury on 11 November 2019. Proba-2 monitors the Sun from Earth orbit and was able to spot Mercury’s transit as a small black disc – seen here moving from left to right across the face of the Sun.

The images in this movie were taken with the satellite's extreme ultraviolet telescope.

Solar transits – where a celestial body is seen to pass across the solar disc from the perspective of Earth – are relatively rare events. Mercury undergoes around 13 transits a century; the last occurred in 2016 but the next is not until 2032. Both Mercury and the Sun are destinations for ESA missions: BepiColombo will arrive at Mercury in 2025, while Solar Orbiter is getting ready for a 2020 launch to study the Sun up close. Transits are also important outside of our Solar System, in the quest to find exoplanets. For example, a transiting planet causes a dip in brightness of its host star, revealing the presence of an exoplanet. Space missions like ESA’s Cheops will study known transiting exoplanets to determine more about their characteristics.

Rosetta's ongoing science - Read more >
Tue, 12 Nov 2019 08:00:00 +0100

Video: 00:04:38

On 12 November 2014 Philae became the first spacecraft to land on a comet as part of the successful Rosetta mission to study Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Five years later, and after the mission’s official end in 2016, Rosetta is continuing to provide insights into the origins of our Solar System.

Rosetta’s instruments have already discovered that the comet contained oxygen, organic molecules, noble gases and ’heavy’ or deuterated water different to that found on Earth.  
As scientists continue to analyse data from Rosetta’s instruments, including the ionised gas or plasma, the results are improving our understanding of comets. Mission data is also being delivered to an archive as a future resource.

Rosetta orbits the Sun every 6.5 years and will pass the Earth again, visible from ground-based telescopes, in 2021. ESA’s future Comet Interceptor mission will build on Rosetta’s success when it performs a flyby of a comet. But, unlike Rosetta, the comet will be new to our Solar System.

The film contains interviews with Charlotte Goetz, Research Fellow, ESA; Kathrin Altwegg, ROSINA instrument principal investigator, Rosetta/University of Bern; Colin Snodgrass, Comet Interceptor deputy principal investigator/University of Edinburgh

NASA's Hubble Captures a Dozen Galaxy Doppelgangers
Thu, 07 Nov 2019 14:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The “funhouse mirror” has delighted carnival-goers for more than a century by twisting peoples’ images into wildly distorted shapes. Its prolific inventor, Charles Frances Ritchel, called it the "Ritchel's Laugh-O-Graphs.” However, there was nothing funny – but instead practical – about warped images as far as Albert Einstein was concerned. In developing his general theory of relativity, Einstein imagined the universe as a grand funhouse mirror caused by wrinkles in the very fabric of space.

This recent picture from Hubble shows a galaxy nicknamed the "Sunburst Arc" that has been split into a kaleidoscope illusion of no fewer than 12 images formed by a massive foreground cluster of galaxies 4.6 billion light-years away.

This beautifully demonstrates Einstein's prediction that gravity from massive objects in space should bend light in a manner analogous to a funhouse mirror. His idea of space warping was at last proven in 1919 by observations of a solar eclipse where the sun’s bending of space could be measured. A further prediction was that the warping would create a so-called “gravitational lens” that, besides distortion, would increase the apparent size and brightness of distant background objects.

It wasn’t until 1979 that the first such gravitational lens was confirmed. An otherwise obscure galaxy split and amplified the light of a distant quasar located far behind it into a pair of images. Far more than a space-carnival novelty, gravitational lensing observations today are commonly used to find planets around other stars, zoom in on very distant galaxies, and map the distribution of otherwise invisible “dark matter” in the universe.

Building Solar Orbiter - Read more >
Thu, 31 Oct 2019 16:00:00 +0100

Video: 00:02:49

This timelapse shows some of the activities that took place during the integration of ESA's Solar Orbiter in the Hercules cleanroom at Airbus Defence and Space, Stevenage, UK.

Solar Orbiter is an ESA mission with strong NASA participation. The prime contractor is Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK. Solar Orbiter will launch on a NASA-provided Atlas V 411 in February 2020.

The mission will provide new perspectives on our star, including the first images of the Sun’s polar regions. Its complementary suite of instruments means it will be able to study the plasma environment locally around the spacecraft, and collect data from the Sun from afar, connecting the dots between the Sun’s activity, and the space environment in the inner Solar System.

Hubble Captures Galaxies' Ghostly Gaze
Mon, 28 Oct 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

The universe is a bubbling cauldron of matter and energy that have mixed together over billions of years to create a witches' brew of birth and destruction.

Firestorms of star birth sweeping across the heavens. Dying stars rattling the very fabric of space in titanic explosions. Death Star-like beams of energy blasting out of overfed black holes at nearly the speed of light. Large galaxies devouring smaller companions, like cosmic Pac-Men. Colossal collisions between galaxies flinging stars around like breaking pool balls. Hubble has seen them all.

This compulsive mayhem in space can produce weird-looking shapes that resemble creepy creatures seemingly conjured up in stories of the paranormal. Among them is the object in this new Hubble image.

The snapshot reveals what looks like an uncanny pair of glowing eyes glaring menacingly in our direction. The piercing "eyes" are the most prominent feature of what resembles the face of an otherworldly creature. This frightening object is actually the result of a titanic head-on collision between two galaxies.

Each "eye" is the bright core of a galaxy, the result of one galaxy slamming into another. The outline of the face is a ring of young blue stars. Other clumps of new stars form a nose and mouth.

The system is catalogued as Arp-Madore 2026-424, from the Arp-Madore "Catalogue of Southern Peculiar Galaxies and Associations."

Although galaxy collisions are common—especially back in the young universe—most of them are not head-on smashups, like the collision that likely created this Arp-Madore system. The violent encounter gives the system an arresting "ring" structure for only a short amount of time, about 100 million years. The two galaxies will merge completely in about 1 to 2 billion years, hiding their messy past.

Gaia astronomical revolution - Read more >
Tue, 22 Oct 2019 10:00:00 +0200

Video: 00:03:00

Launched in December 2013, the Gaia mission is revolutionising our understanding of the Milky Way. The space telescope is mapping our galaxy in unprecedented detail – measuring the position, movement and distance of stars.

At a meeting in Groningen in the Netherlands, scientists have been discussing the challenge of processing and visualising Gaia data.

Latest science results from the mission, also discussed in this A and B-roll, include a new understanding of how stars cluster together and the fact that today’s Milky Way was formed from a merger of galaxies.

More details on these science results:
Gaia untangles the starry strings of the Milky Way
Gaia uncovers major event in the formation of the Milky Way

Super Spirals Spin Super Fast
Thu, 17 Oct 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

You’ve probably never noticed it, but our solar system is moving along at quite a clip. Stars in the outer reaches of the Milky Way, including our Sun, orbit at an average speed of 130 miles per second. But that’s nothing compared to the most massive spiral galaxies. “Super spirals,” which are larger, brighter, and more massive than the Milky Way, spin even faster than expected for their mass, at speeds up to 350 miles per second.

Their rapid spin is a result of sitting within an extraordinarily massive cloud, or halo, of dark matter – invisible matter detectable only through its gravity. The largest “super spiral” studied here resides in a dark matter halo weighing at least 40 trillion times the mass of our Sun. The existence of super spirals provides more evidence that an alternative theory of gravity known as Modified Newtonian Dynamics, or MOND, is incorrect.

Hubble Observes First Confirmed Interstellar Comet
Wed, 16 Oct 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

No one knows where it came from. No one knows how long it has been drifting through the empty, cold abyss of interstellar space. But this year an object called comet 2I/Borisov came in from the cold. It was detected falling past our Sun by a Crimean amateur astronomer. This emissary from the black unknown captured the attention of worldwide astronomers who aimed all kinds of telescopes at it to watch the comet sprout a dust tail. The far visitor is only the second known object to enter our solar system coming from elsewhere in the galaxy, based on its speed and trajectory. Like a racetrack photographer trying to capture a speeding derby horse, Hubble took a series of snapshots as the comet streaked along at 110,000 miles per hour. Hubble provided the sharpest image to date of the fleeting comet, revealing a central concentration of dust around an unseen nucleus. The comet was 260 million miles from Earth when Hubble took the photo.

In 2017, the first identified interstellar visitor, an object formally named 'Oumuamua, swung within 24 million miles of the Sun before racing out of the solar system. Unlike comet 2I/Borisov, 'Oumuamua still defies any simple categorization. It did not behave like a comet, and it has a variety of unusual characteristics. Comet 2I/Borisov looks a lot like the traditional comets found inside our solar system, which sublimate ices, and cast off dust as they are warmed by the Sun. The wandering comet provides invaluable clues to the chemical composition, structure, and dust characteristics of planetary building blocks presumably forged in an alien star system.

Milky Way Raids Intergalactic 'Bank Accounts,' Hubble Study Finds
Thu, 10 Oct 2019 10:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

Astronomers have discovered an unexplained surplus of gas flowing into our Milky Way after conducting a galaxy-wide audit of outflowing and inflowing gas. Rather than a gas equilibrium and "balanced books," 10 years of data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope show there is more gas coming in than going out.

It is no secret that the Milky Way is frugal with its gas. The valuable raw material is recycled over billions of years—thrown out into the galactic halo via supernovas and violent stellar winds, and then used to form new generations of stars once it falls back to the galactic plane. The surplus of inflowing gas, however, was a surprise.

Hubble distinguished between outflowing and inflowing clouds using its sensitive Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS), which detects the movement of the invisible gas. As the gas moves away it appears redder, while gas falling back toward the Milky Way is bluer.

The source of the excess gas inflow remains a mystery. Astronomers theorize that the gas could be coming from the intergalactic medium, as well as the Milky Way raiding the gas "bank accounts" of its small satellite galaxies using its considerably greater gravitational pull.

NASA's Hubble Finds Water Vapor on Habitable-Zone Exoplanet for the First Time
Fri, 13 Sep 2019 11:00:00 EDT

Hubble Image

To date, approximately 4,000 planets have been found orbiting other stars. The majority are extremely hostile to any chances for life: with exotic atmospheres, wide temperature extremes, and oddball orbits. Astronomers have now made an important step toward the ultimate goal of finding an exoplanet with an atmosphere more like Earth's, and having moderate temperatures. Water vapor has been identified in the atmosphere of a planet called K2-18b, located 110 light-years away. And, where there's water there could be clouds and rain. The planet is also at the right distance from its star to have a temperate climate where the water doesn't evaporate or freeze. But don't go looking for real estate yet. The planet is in a category not found in our solar system. It is larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. It might have a rocky surface, but it is more likely a giant ball of liquid and gas, like Neptune. Hundreds of known exoplanets fall into this mass range. So, it's important for astronomers to characterize the worlds and assess the chances for supporting life as we know it.