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Monthly Archives: November 2013

A massive telescope buried in the Antarctic ice has detected 28 record-breaking, extremely high-energy neutrinos – elementary particles that likely originate far beyond our Solar System. (See Sections 12.7c and 13.2g)

The achievement, which comes nearly 25 years after the pioneering idea of detecting neutrinos in ice, provides the first solid evidence for astrophysical neutrinos from cosmic accelerators and has been hailed as the dawn of a new age of astronomy. The team of researchers that detected the neutrinos with the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica published a paper describing the detections on November 22, 2013, in the journal Science.

Credit: IceCube Collaboration

The neutrinos had energies greater than 1,000,000,000,000,000 electron volts, or 1 peta-electron volt (PeV). Two of these neutrinos had energies many thousands of times higher than the highest-energy neutrino that any man-made particle accelerator has ever produced. (1 joule of energy = 6.2419 × 1018 eV.)

While not telling scientists what the cosmic accelerators are or where they’re located, the IceCube results do provide scientists with a compass that can help guide them to the answers. Unlike other cosmic particles, neutrinos are electrically neutral and nearly massless, so that they travel through space in a straight line from their point of origin, passing through virtually everything in their path without being deflected by interstellar masses and magnetic fields.

Credit: Jamie Yang, IceCube Collaboration

The IceCube observatory consists of over 5,000 basketball-sized light detectors called Digital Optical Modules (DOMs). These are suspended along 86 strings that are embedded in a cubic kilometer of clear ice starting 1.5 kilometers beneath the Antarctic surface. Out of the trillions of neutrinos that pass through the ice each day, a couple of hundred will collide with oxygen nuclei, yielding the blue light of Cherenkov radiation that IceCube’s DOMs detect.

Links: LBNL press release; U. Wisconsin press release (with image gallery); Penn State press release (with movie).

A new NASA mission that will investigate how Mars lost its atmosphere and abundant liquid water launched into space on November 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Credit: NASA

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft separated from an Atlas V Centaur rocket’s second stage 53 minutes after launch. The solar arrays deployed approximately one hour after launch and now power the spacecraft. MAVEN has embarked on a 10-month interplanetary cruise before its arrival at Mars next September.

In the next four weeks, MAVEN will power on and check out each of its eight instruments. Upon arrival at Mars, the spacecraft will execute an orbit insertion maneuver, firing six thrusters that will allow it to be captured by Mars’ orbit. In the following five weeks, MAVEN will establish itself in an orbit where it can conduct science operations, deploy science appendages, and commission all instruments before starting its one-Earth-year scientific primary mission.

Credit: Lockheed Martin

MAVEN is traveling to Mars to explore how the Red Planet may have lost its atmosphere over billions of years. By analyzing the planet’s upper atmosphere and measuring current rates of atmospheric loss, MAVEN scientists hope to understand how Mars transitioned from a warm, wet planet to the dry desert world we see today.

Links: NASA press release; short artist concept video; NY Times article summarizing MAVEN’s science goals; Emily Lakdawalla’s blog post explaining the launch, the spacecraft and the science.

On July 19, 2013, NASA’s Cassini orbiter passed into Saturn’s shadow and turned toward the Sun, capturing an image of the planet’s night side and the backlit semi-transparent rings. Cassini also captured seven of the moons and three planets. This was the third time our home planet was imaged from the outer Solar System; the second time it was imaged by Cassini from Saturn’s orbit; and it was the first time ever that inhabitants of Earth were made aware in advance that their photo would be taken from such a great distance.

Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

In this video posted on her blog, Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society talks us through some of the hidden features of this spectacular mosaic.

Credit: Emily Lakdawalla (via YouTube)

One of the most famous objects in the sky, the Cassiopeia A supernova remnant (see Figure 13-18c) – Cas A, for short – has been rendered for display like never before, thanks to NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and a new project from the Smithsonian Institution. A new three-dimensional viewer allows users to interact with many one-of-a-kind objects from the Smithsonian as part of a large-scale effort to digitize many of the Institutions objects and artifacts.

Scientists have combined data from Chandra, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and ground-based facilities to construct a unique 3D model of the 300-year old remains of a stellar explosion that blew a massive star apart, sending the stellar debris rushing into space at millions of miles per hour. The collaboration with this new Smithsonian 3D project allows the astronomical data collected on Cas A to be featured and highlighted in an open-access program.

casa_525

Credit: NASA/CSC/SAO

To coincide with Cas A being featured in this new 3D effort, a specially-processed version of Chandra’s data of this supernova remnant has been released. This new image shows with better clarity the appearance of Cas A in different energy bands, which will aid astronomers in their efforts to reconstruct details of the supernova process such as the size of the star, its chemical makeup, and the explosion mechanism. The color scheme used in this image is the following: low-energy X-rays are red, medium-energy ones are green, and the highest-energy X-rays detected by Chandra are colored blue.

Cas A is the only astronomical object to be featured in the new Smithsonian 3D project. This and other objects in the collection – which include the Wright brothers plane, a 1600-year-old stone Buddha, a gunboat from the Revolutionary War, and fossil whales from Chile – were showcased in the Smithsonian X 3D event on November 13th and 14th at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

Links: Smithsonian X 3D beta tour; Chandra X-ray Center press release; NASA press release; YouTube movie of a fly-through.

Click below to play a YouTube movie of the entire Moon or follow this APOD link. (Credits: LRO, Arizona State U., NASA)

No one, presently, sees the Moon rotate like this. That’s because it is tidally locked to the Earth, showing us only one side. Given modern digital technology, however, combined with many detailed images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a high resolution virtual Moon rotation movie has now been composed. The time-lapse video starts with the standard Earth view of the Moon. Quickly, though, Mare Orientale, a large crater with a dark center that is difficult to see from the Earth, rotates into view just below the equator. From an entire lunar month condensed into 24 seconds, the video clearly shows that the Earth side (i.e. the near side) of the Moon contains an abundance of dark lunar maria, while the lunar far side is dominated by bright lunar highlands. Two new missions are scheduled to begin exploring the Moon within the year, the first of which is NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE). LADEE, which launched early September 2013 will explore the thin and unusual lunar atmosphere. In early December 2013, the Chinese Chang’e 3 is scheduled to launch, a mission that includes a soft lander that will dispatch a robotic rover.

The November 11, 2013, Astronomy Picture of the Day shows the total solar eclipse of November 3, as covered by several different solar observatories.

eclipsesun_pasachoff_960

Credit and copyright: D. Seaton (ROB), A. Davis & J. M. Pasachoff (Williams College Eclipse Expedition), NRL, ESA, NASA, NatGeo.

The innermost image shows the Sun in ultraviolet light as recorded over a few hours by ESA’s PROBA2 mission in a Sun-synchronous low Earth orbit. This image is surrounded by a ground-based eclipse image, reproduced in blue, taken from Gabon by Allen Davis and Jay M. Pasachoff during the Williams College Eclipse Expedition. Further out is a circular blocked region used to artificially dim the central Sun by the Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO) instrument of the Sun-orbiting SOHO spacecraft. The outermost image – showing the outflowing solar corona – was taken by LASCO ten minutes after the eclipse and shows an outflowing solar corona.

Over the past few weeks, our Sun has been showing an unusually high amount of sunspots, CMEs, and flares – activity that was generally expected as the Sun is currently going through Solar Maximum – the busiest part of its 11 year solar cycle. This image is a picturesque montage of many solar layers at once that allows solar astronomers to better match up active areas on or near the Sun’s surface with outflowing jets in the Sun’s corona.

Mordecai-Mark Mac Low, Curator of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, presents short, fun features on the history of mysterious dark matter (see Section 16.10) and dark energy (see Section 19.3b).

Credit: AMNH Rose Center for Earth and Space and Hayden Planetarium

The AMNH’s new planetarium show ‘Dark Universe’ celebrates the pivotal discoveries that have led us to greater knowledge of the structure and history of the Universe and our place in it — and to new frontiers for exploration. It is narrated by the planetarium director, Neil deGrasse Tyson. A trailer for the new show may be seen here, along with further information about the show’s creation.

This movie, called “Death Valley Dreamlapse” illustrates the apparent movements of the celestial sphere (caused by Earth’s own rotation) during the course of the night, as  (see Figure 4-19). See if you can identify what might be planes, satellites and meteors!

Credits: hosted by the LA Times. Shot and edited by Gavin Heffernan. Produced by Sunchaser Pictures.