Archive for the ‘New Horizons’ Tag

New Year 2019 Flyby – Ultima Thule!   19 comments

New Horizons – Ultima Thule Flyby! Making history in New Year 2019!

Ultima Thule Credit- John Hopkins APL

New Horizons (NASA’s spacecraft) historic $700 million mission to Pluto launched in January 2006 and arriving on July 14, 2015. It was the first ever flyby of a probe past Pluto and it did so from approximately 7,800 miles (12,550 km) away.

Pluto from Charon_thetimes3

 

 

 

The Ultima Thule flyby is a continuation of this mission and will take New Horizons into new territory far beyond Pluto at the solar system’s edge, to an area of icy worlds in space, further out than the orbit of Neptune, (1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometres on) in a region known as the Kuiper Belt.

On New Year’s Day at 12:33 a.m. EST (0533 GMT) hopefully, New Horizons will flyby Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) at under 2,200 miles (3,500 km) away. At this point it will be 4 billion miles+ (6.4 billion km+) away from Earth.

New Horizons_Desert Fantasy_New Horizonns7A

Ultima Thule is, in point of fact, an enigmatic solar system body that scientists know almost nothing about. It is about 23-mile-wide (37 km) and currently it may or may not be just a single body. Alternatively, it is possible that it is made up of two objects that are in fact in orbit around one another.

NASA has given us the opportunity to send a message to Ultima Thule. Six choices were offered and Icewolf has chosen “Go New Horizons, Go NASA!” And we even get a certificate! Cosmic way to start the New Year 2019!!

EIW New Horiz Cert

“Travelling at light speed, the signals carrying these messages will reach the spacecraft about six hours after being beamed from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (in Laurel, Maryland, which manages the New Horizons mission for NASA), largest dish antenna, on the very same day that New Horizons flies by Ultima Thule! How cool is that?” – New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Happy New Year 2019!!

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Smashing the Final Planetary Frontier!   31 comments

It’s Pluto Time!

New Horizons_Desert Fantasy_New Horizonns7A

Seen from Pluto the Sun would be no more than a very bright star, the large yellow disc of Earth skies would be a distant memory in the mind of the intergalactic tourist. The light Pluto receives from the Sun is a thousand times dimmer than that enjoyed on Earth and although Pluto does have a thin atmosphere, which scatters the little sunlight it receives, the bright skies of Earth will never be seen on Pluto.

Weather and atmospheric conditions can also affect the amount of sunlight received by Pluto although at this point little is known about these matters. What is known however, is that Pluto’s day lasts approximately 153 hours. Combine this with long seasons and a long axial tilt parts of Pluto can remain sunlit for four years at a time!

So what can the intrepid intergalactic tourist actually do on Pluto? Lying on a sun-soaked Plutonian beach catching a fantastic suntan certainly is not on the agenda! Reading a good book, for example, “The Interspatial Tourist Guide Galactica” would be a great starting point – once the eyes have adjusted to Pluto light.

Alternatively it is perfectly possible to take brilliantly clear pictures of the Plutonian planetscape for the photographic enthusiast. For the avid WordPress blogger this would make for great blog material! Be sure to use a long exposure or a wider aperture to collect as much light as possible and better still take a few tips from the New Horizons probe!

pluto-timepluto-seen-from-the-surface-ron-miller2AA

Pluto Time is a moment on Earth when the light conditions at sunrise and sunset matches sunlight at high noon on Pluto.

It’s always Pluto Time somewhere on our planet.

Next Pluto timeFind your personal Pluto Time visiting by NASA’s “Pluto Time” website and entering your location into the NASA web tool.

Pluto Time generates the next exact available time from any location in the world when you can go outside and discover what it would be like to actually be on Pluto experiencing the midday Plutonian light conditions . (Everyone has two chances each day, around dusk and dawn.)

NASA is also encouraging users of the tool to take photos during their local Pluto Time and share the images via Twitter with the hashtag #PlutoTime.

Pluto from Charon_thetimes3Charon, the largest of the 5 known moons of Pluto looms large in the Plutonian sky. It is actually bigger than Pluto and the two worlds both orbit each other – like a double planet. Charon is tidally locked to Pluto and therefore can only be seen from one side of the planet. On that side Charon would, on occasion, shine very brightly in the Plutonian skies. This is a similar effect to that of Earth and The Moon where we see only the bright side of the Moon but never the dark, far-side.

It turns out that we were compluto-lolcatpletely wrong about the colour we always believed Pluto to be which was shades of steely blue or grey.

Recent images sent back by New Horizons show that it is in fact a sandy reddish colour.

Competition for Mars the traditional red planet! However Mars should probably not be too worried now that it is sporting unexpected blue sunsets and green-blue auroras to set it apart from the competition.

Not to be outdone by Mars with its latest batch of tourist-attracting features, images from New Horizons also show that Pluto has a huge heart shape slicing intpluto with square close up highlighted o the surface of what is not far short of fifty percent of its side. Just for good measure the images also show that there is a whale on Pluto! Otherwise known as an expansive shadowy area at the base going by the nick-name of “the whale”.

a-scene-on-pluto-with-charon-its-giant-ron-millerX5

Despite Pluto being undeniably similar in colour to Mars, the reasons for this colouration are worlds apart. Mars’s rich red hues are a result of the iron oxide or rust which colours the planet’s rocks and soil. Whereas in Pluto’s case its colour seems to owe itself to the interaction between the Plutonian sunlight and hydrocarbon molecules. According to NASA, “The reddish colour is likely caused by hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto’s atmosphere and on its surface.”

Sources:

space.com 

solarsystem.nasa.gov

mic.com (Tech.mic)

independent.co.uk

universetoday.com

New Discovery! Great Lake On Jupiter’s Icy Moon Europa!   40 comments

Great Lake of Europa

INTRODUCTION –SEARCHING FOR LIFE BEYOND EARTH

A large liquid lake has been discovered just below Europa’s icy shell may provide a habitat for life.

Europa's icy surface_plains of bright ice

Europa’s icy surface, as viewed from NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Visible are plains of bright ice, jumbled cracks an indication of a sub-surface heat source that run to the horizon, and dark patches that likely contain both ice and dirt. CREDIT: NASA/Ted Stryk

HOW HAVE SCIENTISTS DETERMINED THE EXISTENCE OF THESE LAKES ON EUROPA?

  • New research studies show Jupiter’s moon could have numerous large lakes just beneath its icy shell, and consequently closer to energy from the Sun, potentially providing a habitat for life.

JUPITER’S ICY MOON EUROPA IN BRIEF

  • Europa is one of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter which has at least 63 moons in total including Europa
  • Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon and orbits Jupiter every 3.5 days. It has an iron core, a rocky mantle (shell), a radius of 1,569 km and it is 670,900 km distant from Jupiter.
  • Although Europa is about 500 million miles away from earth it comes closer to resembling our planet and providing potential for life than anything else in the solar system
  • There is a large, subsurface ocean of salty water deep beneath its frozen, ice pack crust thought to be in some areas tens of kilometers thick.
  • Recently discovered lakes appear to be embedded closer to the surface.
  • Europa has more water than all the oceans of Earth

EUROPA’S GREAT LAKE

  • New research: A large liquid lake discovered approximately just 1.5 miles (3km) below Europa’s icy shell. Estimated to be equal in volume to all the North American Great Lakes combined.
  • Europa could have numerous large shallow lakes just beneath its icy shell placing them closer to energy from the Sun.

Thera Macula

One such lake lies underneath Thera Macula, one of Europa’s chaos terrains. Thera Macula (false color) is a region of likely active chaos production above a large liquid water lake in the icy shell of Europa. Color indicates topographic heights relative to background terrain. Purples and reds indicate the highest terrain.
CREDIT: Paul Schenk/NASA

  • Research also explains how nutrients and energy could get from the moon’s surface to its buried ocean.
  • In doing so they could possibly provide a habitat for life which would be a key finding in the search for places where life might exist beyond Earth.

Europa's Great Lake

Europa’s "Great Lake." Scientists speculate many more exist throughout the shallow regions of the moon’s icy shell.
CREDIT: Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel VFX/Univ. of Texas at Austin

HABITAT FOR LIFE

Scientists believe that

  • The interaction between the Europa ice pack and the subsurface bodies of water transfer nutrients and energy that may lead to life existing under the Europa surface.
  • Life in the oceans of Europa would be similar to that which exists deep beneath the oceans on Earth where light does not penetrate.
  • Liquid water is thought to be necessary for life,
  • Microbial organisms may survive in this buried sea.

The “lake” holds potential as a habitat for life, and there may be many more such lakes throughout the shallower regions of Europa’s shell, said lead author Britney Scmhidt, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Geophysics.

“The potential for exchange of material between the surface and subsurface is a big key for astrobiology. Europa’s subsurface harbours much of what we believe is necessary for life but chemical nutrients found at the surface are likely vital for driving biology.”~Wes Patterson, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. and a co-author of the study.

“Now we see evidence that it’s a thick ice shell that can mix vigorously, and new evidence for giant shallow lakes. That could make Europa and its ocean more habitable. The material cycled into the ocean via these lakes may make Europa’s ocean even more habitable than previously imagined. The lakes may even be habitats themselves."~Britney Schmidt, lead author.

CHAOS TERRAIN ON EUROPA POINTS TO SUBSURFACE LAKES

Determining the existence of such a body of water

Chaos terrain on Europa

Chaos terrain on Europa points to subsurface lakes. (NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)

  • Europa’s surface is cold, around minus 170 degree Celsius (minus 100 K). The bottom of the ice is slightly warmer.
  • Two circular bumpy features on Europa’s surface called "chaos terrains." similar to features on Earth suggest that Europa is still geologically active heated likely by tidal forces. These tidal forces provide more heat on Europa than would normally be the case for a celestial body that far away from the sun.
  • That means plumes of warm water well up against the Europa ice cap, fracturing them, to churn the ice and subsurface water causing the "chaos" terrain features.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF LIFE ON EUROPA?

Nutrients and energy are transferred from the frozen surface to the vast ocean below resulting in the possibility that environments suitable for life could exist under the Europa surface. Life in the oceans of Europa would be similar to that which exists deep beneath the oceans on Earth where light does not penetrate. This could also mean that Europa is more likely to harbour extra-terrestrial life than Mars.

"On Earth, it is the volcano [melting the ice]. On Europa, it is the warm ice plume coming up from below” ~Schmidt

"You and I might not notice the difference, but geologically it’s very different. Heat melts some of the ice into enormous lakes beneath the crust. Think of Europa as one giant ice shelf floating on a global ocean, with a really rocky core.” ~ Paul Schenk, of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Europa rising above Jupiter

The icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter’s cloud tops. The picture was one of a handful of the Jupiter system that New Horizons took primarily for artistic, rather than scientific, value.
CREDIT: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

CONFIRMATION? – the next step in confirming liquid water under Europa?

  • Confirmation of the existence of these lakes will involve a thorough investigation of both above and below the icy surface of Europa meaning a future mission to Europa is essential. The National Research Council’s Planetary Science Decadal Survey gave such missions one of the highest priority ratings.

FUTURE EUROPA EXPLORATION MISSIONS PROPOSALS

A joint NASA/EUROPEAN SPACE STATION SPACE mission to Europa known as the EUROPA JUPITER SYSTEM MISSION is being considered. The intention being that the EUROPA ORBITER probe, which is estimated to launch in 2020 arriving in orbit off Europa in 2028 will by remote study hopefully give clues as to how the ice layers and the subsurface ocean interact. It will also study the organic exchange between them which could result in the existence of microscopic life in the subsurface ocean and lakes.

The EUROPA ICEPICK MISSION would involve the drilling through of Europa’s ice pack and a unique opportunity to explore the subsurface ocean, in the hope of finding some form of life and also other valuable scientific data.

"Europa is likely to have a deep ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust, making it an object of enormous interest as a possible abode for life," ~Planetary scientist Steve Squyres, with Cornell University

Funding for such missions to Europa is very uncertain. Most likely the Europa landers would cost anything from $800 million to $2 billion and that is only a rough estimate. This would involve input from several nations in order to obtain the necessary funding to make any one of these missions a reality.