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The striking south polar region of our solar system’s largest inhabitant, Jupiter, was viewed by our Juno (@NASAJuno ) spacecraft as it neared completion of its 10th close flyby on Dec. 16, 2017. The “empty” space above and below Jupiter in this color-enhanced image can trick the mind, causing the viewer to perceive the gas giant planet is less colossal than it is. In reality, Jupiter is wide enough to fit 11 Earths across!
Citizen scientist Gerald Eichstädt processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager. All of JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products! Just visit www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. It was Jupiter's wife, the goddess Juno, who was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter's true nature. Our Juno spacecraft arrived at planet Jupiter on July 4, 2016, not seeking signs of misbehavior, but to help us to understand the planet's structure and history.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt
Like humans, our Sun loses mass as it ages, weakening its gravitational pull. To study the dynamics of our aging star, researchers have enlisted Mercury, the smallest, innermost planet in the solar system. Mercury’s proximity to the Sun and small size make it exquisitely sensitive to the dynamics of the Sun and its gravitational pull.
Now, a team of scientists has indirectly measured this mass loss and other solar parameters by looking at changes in Mercury’s orbit. The new values improve upon earlier predictions by reducing the amount of uncertainty and this new estimate of the rate of solar mass loss represents one of the first times this value has been constrained based on observations rather than theoretical calculations.
Seen here is Mercury backdropped by our Sun in an image taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Antarctica from Above: Flying for Science, Finding Beauty
These images, captured between Nov. 4 and Jan. 11, were all taken during operational flights to survey the snow and ice in the polar region below but, there is no denying their beauty…
Our mission, Operation IceBridge, is in its ninth year of flights to map the snow and ice of Antarctica. It is the largest airborne survey of Earth's polar ice ever flown and yields an unprecedented three-dimensional view of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and sea ice. These views from above are intended to provide a tremendous amount of information about the huge expanses of snow and ice around Earth’s polar regions and how they are changing. In addition, this critical data is used to predict the response of Earth’s polar ice to climate change and resulting sea-level rise.
To view more images from our IceBridge mission and learn about the research being collected, visit: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/OperationIceBridge/
Photo Credit: NASA/Digital Mapping System/ John Sonntag /NathanKurtz
Millions AND billions! This enormous galaxy cluster, seen by our Hubble Space Telescope (@NASAHubble ), contains the mass of a staggering three million billion suns! Nicknamed “El Gordo” (“the Fat One” in Spanish), it is the largest, hottest and brightest X-ray galaxy ever discovered in the distant Universe.
Galaxy clusters are the largest objects in the Universe that are bound together by gravity. They form over billions of years as smaller groups of galaxies slowly come together. In 2012, observations showed that El Gordo is actually composed of two galaxy clusters colliding at millions of kilometers per hour.
The formation of galaxy clusters depends heavily on dark matter and dark energy studying such clusters can therefore help shed light on these elusive phenomena. In 2014, Hubble found that most of El Gordo’s mass is concealed in the form of dark matter. Evidence suggests that El Gordo’s “normal” matter — largely composed of hot gas that is bright in the X-ray wavelength domain — is being torn from the dark matter in the collision. The hot gas is slowing down, while the dark matter is not.
Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, RELICS
“Pardon Me!”…This supermassive black hole, billions of times the mass of our Sun, was caught by our Chandra X-Ray Observatory doing some cosmic snacking then "burping" 🗣— twice!
This image shows the galaxy, in a composite image with data from Chandra (purple), and the Hubble Space Telescope (@NASAHubble ) (red, green and blue). Chandra detected a bright, point-like source of X-ray emission from the galaxy, a telltale sign of the presence of a supermassive black hole millions or billions of times more massive than our sun. The X-rays are produced by gas heated to millions of degrees by the enormous gravitational and magnetic forces near the black hole. Some of this gas will fall into the black hole, while a portion will be expelled in a powerful outflow of high-energy particles.
By comparing images from Chandra and Hubble, the team determined that the black hole is located in the center of the galaxy, the expected location for such an object. The X-ray data also provide evidence that the supermassive black hole is embedded in a heavy veil of dust and gas.
Credit: X-ray NASA/CXC/University of Colorado/J. Comerford et al. Optical: NASA/STScI
Saturn’s rings, made of countless icy particles, form a translucent veil in this view from our Cassini spacecraft. That little dot peeking through the ring gap is Saturn’s tiny moon Pan, which is about 17 miles across. Beyond, we can see the arc of Saturn itself, its cloud tops streaked with dark shadows cast by the rings.
This image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Feb. 12, 2016, at a distance of approximately 746,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Pan.
Although the Cassini spacecraft ended its mission on Sept. 15, 2017, an enormous collection of data about Saturn – the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons – will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.
Want to learn more about the giant ringed planet? Check out the latest Gravity Assist Podcast to explore all of Saturn’s mysteries: go.nasa.gov/GravityAssistSaturn
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Bright and early this morning, a SpaceX #Dragon cargo vehicle departed its month-long home on the International Space Station (@iss ). Astronauts Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle of NASA released the spacecraft from the station's robotic arm at 4:58 a.m. EST. Dragon, the only space station resupply spacecraft currently able to return to Earth intact, carried nearly 4,100 pounds of cargo and science experiments back to our home planet.
Currently, six humans are living and working on the space station, which orbits our planet at 17,500 mph. Located 250 miles above Earth, the crew conducts important science and research that will help send us deeper into the solar system than ever before.
Looking for planets outside our solar system, also known as exoplanets, just got a little more complicated. Scientists typically search for patterns like rings, arcs and spirals in disks of dust and gas around young stars because those patterns are often considered a sign that an unseen planet orbits a star. But this new simulation shows that planets aren’t the only explanation — the dust and gas in the disk can interact to make those patterns, too.
The light from the star strips the dust of electrons, which heats up the gas, which traps more dust, creating a cycle. Lumps of dust grow into spirals, rings and arcs. No planets necessary. Of course, planets could still be the cause, but the new study cautions against jumping to conclusions!
Credit: NASA/Alex Richert
Behold the gold! The massive, 18-segment primary mirror of our James Webb Space Telescope (@NASAWebb ) will allow us to see out to 13 billion years of cosmic time. Spying some of the very first luminous objects formed in the universe, Webb will not only change what we know…but will change how we think about ourselves.
Ahead of its launch next year, the telescope is being put to the test! In order to ensure it can withstand the extreme environment of space, Webb was put into a cryogenic chamber at our Johnson Space Center (@NASAJohnson ) for about 100 days. These cryogenic tests, performed in a massive thermal vacuum chamber that is capable of reaching temperatures of -440°F/-262°C, mimic the extreme coldness of space. Once in space, Webb will travel more than 1 million miles from Earth, where it will need to operate perfectly in theses frigid conditions.
One of the main science goals of Webb is to look back through time when galaxies were young. This giant, gold-plated primary mirror will allow Webb to do just that. Check out the people in the picture for scale!
A telescope’s sensitivity, or how much detail it can see, is directly related to the size of the mirror area that collects light from the objects being observed. A larger area collects more light, just like a larger bucket collects more water in a rain shower. A mirror the size of Webb’s has never before been launched into space! Why is the mirror gold? Gold improves the mirror's reflection of infrared light.
Learn more about this mission at nasa.gov/webb.
Credit: NASA/Chris Gunn
Just days after a powerful nor’easter dumped snow across a thousand miles of the U.S. East Coast, another blast of bitterly cold air spilled into the region. One of our Earth observing satellites saw the many rivers, bays and estuaries that have frozen over, including some that only rarely have ice.
Swipe to see them all!
The first image shows ice in the Delaware Bay – between New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware – and the northern part of the Chesapeake Bay between Maryland and Delaware.
Ice in the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina is visible in the second image.
The third image shows Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, with ice in Buzzards Bay and Nantucket Sound.
The Terra satellite that captured these views explores the connections between Earth's atmosphere, land, snow and ice, ocean, and energy balance to understand Earth's climate and climate change and to map the impact of human activity and natural disasters on communities and ecosystems.
Credit: NASA/Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response/Adam Voiland