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Monthly Archives: September 2016

Anthony Lydgate, editor of Elements, newyorker.com’s science-and-tech blog provides details of the September 8 launch and goals of the OSIRIS-REx mission, to collect and return about 60 g of material from the asteroid Bennu. Read the full New Yorker article here.

(Note: newyorker.com restricts how many articles non-subscribers may read each month.)

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Credit: United Launch Alliance

Links: OSIRIS-REx mission homepage.

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From an ESA press release, September 14, 2016 :

The first catalogue of more than a billion stars from ESA’s Gaia satellite was published on September 14, 2016 – the largest all-sky survey of celestial objects to date.

On its way to assembling the most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way galaxy, Gaia has pinned down the precise position on the sky and the brightness of 1.142 billion stars. As a taster of the richer catalogue to come in the near future, this data release also features the distances and the motions across the sky for more than two million stars.

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Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC

The map projection above shows an all-sky view of stars in the Milky Way and our neighboring galaxies, based on the first year or so of Gaia’s observations. It shows the density of stars observed by Gaia in each portion of the sky. Brighter regions indicate denser concentrations of stars, while darker regions correspond to patches of the sky where fewer stars are observed. Darker regions across the Galactic Plane correspond to dense clouds of interstellar gas and dust that absorb starlight along the line of sight. Many globular and open clusters – groupings of stars held together by their mutual gravity – are also sprinkled across the image.

Note that the faint curved features and dark stripes are not of astronomical origin but rather reflect Gaia’s scanning procedure. As this map is based on observations performed during the mission’s first year, the survey is not yet uniform across the sky. These artefacts will gradually disappear as more data are gathered during the five-year mission.

Links: ESA press release, Gaia sky map.

From a press release of the European Space Agency (ESA), September 5, 2016:

Less than a month before the end of the mission, the Rosetta orbiter’s high-resolution camera has revealed the Philae lander wedged into a dark crack on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

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Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team

The images were taken on September 2 by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera as the orbiter came within 2.7 km of the surface and show the main body of the lander, along with two of its three legs.

The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation, making it clear why establishing communications was so difficult following its landing on November 12, 2014.

The discovery comes less than a month before Rosetta descends to the comet’s surface. On September 30, the orbiter will be sent on a final one-way mission to investigate the comet from close up, including the open pits in the Ma’at region, where it is hoped that critical observations will help to reveal secrets of the body’s interior structure.

Link: full Rosetta mission press release, including further images and explanations.

From an article in the New York Times, August 31, 2016:

Geologists in Greenland have discovered evidence for ancient life in rocks that are 3.7 billion years old.

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Credit: Allen Nutman/NYT

They are thought to be stromatolites, layers of sediment packed together by microbial communities living in shallow water. They are some 220 million years more ancient than the oldest previously known fossils, also stromatolites, from the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The find, if confirmed, would make these fossils the oldest on Earth and may change scientific understanding of the origins of life.

Link: the full NYT article.