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News Article | February 27, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

CLEMSON, South Carolina -- When the universe was young, a supermassive black hole -- bloated to the bursting point with stupendous power -- heaved out a jet of particle-infused energy that raced through the vastness of space at nearly the speed of light. Billions of years later, a trio of Clemson University scientists, led by College of Science astrophysicist Marco Ajello, has identified this black hole and four others similar to it that range in age from 1.4 billion to 1.9 billion years old. These objects emit copious gamma rays, light of the highest energy, that are billions of times more energetic than light that is visible to the human eye. The previously known earliest gamma-ray blazars -- a type of galaxy whose intense emission is powered by extremely powerful relativistic jets launched by monstrous black holes -- were more than 2 billion years old. Currently, the universe is estimated to be approximately 14 billion years old. "The discovery of these supermassive black holes, which launch jets that emit more energy in one second than our sun will produce in its entire lifetime, was the culmination of a yearlong research project," said Ajello, who has spent much of his career studying the evolution of distant galaxies. "Our next step is to increase our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the formation, development and activities of these amazing objects, which are the most powerful accelerators in the universe. We can't even come close to replicating such massive outputs of energy in our laboratories. The complexities we're attempting to unravel seem almost as mysterious as the black holes themselves." Ajello conducted his research in conjunction with Clemson post-doc Vaidehi Paliya and Ph.D candidate Lea Marcotulli. The trio worked closely with the Fermi-Large Area Telescope collaboration, which is an international team of scientists that includes Roopesh Ojha, an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Dario Gasparrini of the Italian Space Agency. Their scientific paper titled "Gamma-Ray Blazars Within the First 2 Billion Years" was published Monday in a journal called Astrophysical Journal Letters. (Ackermann, M., et al. 2017, ApJL, 837, L5.) The Clemson team's breakthroughs were made possible by recently juiced-up software on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Telescope. The refurbished software significantly boosted the orbiting telescope's sensitivity to a level that made these latest discoveries possible. "People are calling it the cheapest refurbishment in history," Ajello said. "Normally, for the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA had to send someone up to space to physically make these kinds of improvements. But in this case, they were able to do it remotely from an Earth-bound location. And of equal importance, the improvements were retroactive, which meant that the previous six years of data were also entirely reprocessed. This helped provide us with the information we needed to complete the first step of our research and also to strive onward in the learning process." Using Fermi data, Ajello and Paliya began with a catalog of 1.4 million quasars, which are galaxies that harbor at their centers active supermassive black holes. Over the course of a year, they narrowed their search to 1,100 objects. Of these, five were finally determined to be newly discovered gamma-ray blazars that were the farthest away - and youngest - ever identified. "After using our filters and other devices, we were left with about 1,100 sources. And then we did the diagnostics for all of these and were able to narrow them down to 25 to 30 sources," Paliya said. "But we still had to confirm that what we had detected was scientifically authentic. So we performed a number of other simulations and were able to derive properties such as black hole mass and jet power. Ultimately, we confirmed that these five sources were guaranteed to be gamma-ray blazars, with the farthest one being about 1.4 billion years old from the beginning of time." Marcotulli, who joined Ajello's group as a Ph.D student in 2016, has been studying the blazars' mechanisms by using images and data delivered from another orbiting NASA telescope, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). At first, Marcotulli's role was to understand the emission mechanism of gamma-ray blazars closer to us. Now she is turning her attention toward the most distant objects in a quest to understand what makes them so powerful. "We're trying to understand the full spectrum of the energy distribution of these objects by using physical models," Marcotulli said. "We are currently able to model what's happening far more accurately than previously devised, and eventually we'll be able to better understand what processes are occurring in the jets and which particles are radiating all the energy that we see. Are they electrons? Or protons? How are they interacting with surrounding photons? All these parameters are not fully understood right now. But every day we are deepening our understanding." All galaxies have black holes at their centers - some actively feeding on the matter surrounding them, others lying relatively dormant. Our own galaxy has at its center a super-sized black hole that is currently dormant. Ajello said that only one of every 10 black holes in today's universe are active. But when the universe was much younger, it was closer to a 50-50 ratio. The supermassive black holes at the center of the five newly discovered blazar galaxies are among the largest types of black holes ever observed, on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of our own sun. And their accompanying accretion disks - rotating swirls of matter that orbit the black holes - emit more than two trillion times the energy output of our sun. One of the most surprising elements of Ajello's research is how quickly - by cosmic measures - these supersized black holes must have grown in only 1.4 billion years. In terms of our current knowledge of how black holes grow, 1.4 billion years is barely enough time for a black hole to reach the mass of the ones discovered by Ajello's team. "How did these incomprehensibly enormous and energy-laden black holes form so quickly?" Ajello said. "Is it because one black hole ate a lot all the time for a very long time? Or maybe because it bumped into other black holes and merged into one? To be honest, we have no observations supporting either argument. There are mechanisms at work that we have yet to unravel. Puzzles that we have yet to solve. When we do eventually solve them, we will learn amazing things about how the universe was born, how it grew into what it has become, and what the distant future might hold as the universe continues to progress toward old age."


News Article | October 27, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Astronomers using observations from NASA's Kepler and Swift missions have discovered a batch of rapidly spinning stars that produce X-rays at more than 100 times the peak levels ever seen from the sun. The stars, which spin so fast they've been squashed into pumpkin-like shapes, are thought to be the result of close binary systems where two sun-like stars merge. "These 18 stars rotate in just a few days on average, while the sun takes nearly a month," said Steve Howell, a senior research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and leader of the team. "The rapid rotation amplifies the same kind of activity we see on the sun, such as sunspots and solar flares, and essentially sends it into overdrive." The most extreme member of the group, a K-type orange giant dubbed KSw 71, is more than 10 times larger than the sun, rotates in just 5.5 days, and produces X-ray emission 4,000 times greater than the sun does at solar maximum. These rare stars were found as part of an X-ray survey of the original Kepler field of view, a patch of the sky comprising parts of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. From May 2009 to May 2013, Kepler measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars in this region to detect the regular dimming from planets passing in front of their host stars. The mission was immensely successful, netting more than 2,300 confirmed exoplanets and nearly 5,000 candidates to date. An ongoing extended mission, called K2, continues this work in areas of the sky located along the ecliptic, the plane of Earth's orbit around the sun. "A side benefit of the Kepler mission is that its initial field of view is now one of the best-studied parts of the sky," said team member Padi Boyd, a researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who designed the Swift survey. For example, the entire area was observed in infrared light by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, and NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer observed many parts of it in the ultraviolet. "Our group was looking for variable X-ray sources with optical counterparts seen by Kepler, especially active galaxies, where a central black hole drives the emissions," she explained. Using the X-ray and ultraviolet/optical telescopes aboard Swift, the researchers conducted the Kepler-Swift Active Galaxies and Stars Survey (KSwAGS), imaging about six square degrees, or 12 times the apparent size of a full moon, in the Kepler field. "With KSwAGS we found 93 new X-ray sources, about evenly split between active galaxies and various types of X-ray stars," said team member Krista Lynne Smith, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park who led the analysis of Swift data. "Many of these sources have never been observed before in X-rays or ultraviolet light." For the brightest sources, the team obtained spectra using the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory in California. These spectra provide detailed chemical portraits of the stars and show clear evidence of enhanced stellar activity, particularly strong diagnostic lines of calcium and hydrogen. The researchers used Kepler measurements to determine the rotation periods and sizes for 10 of the stars, which range from 2.9 to 10.5 times larger than the sun. Their surface temperatures range from somewhat hotter to slightly cooler than the sun, mostly spanning spectral types F through K. Astronomers classify the stars as subgiants and giants, which are more advanced evolutionary phases than the sun's caused by greater depletion of their primary fuel source, hydrogen. All of them eventually will become much larger red giant stars. A paper detailing the findings will be published in the Nov. 1 edition of the Astrophysical Journal and is now available online. Forty years ago, Ronald Webbink at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign noted that close binary systems cannot survive once the fuel supply of one star dwindles and it starts to enlarge. The stars coalesce to form a single rapidly spinning star initially residing in a so-called "excretion" disk formed by gas thrown out during the merger. The disk dissipates over the next 100 million years, leaving behind a very active, rapidly spinning star. Howell and his colleagues suggest that their 18 KSwAGS stars formed by this scenario and have only recently dissipated their disks. To identify so many stars passing through such a cosmically brief phase of development is a real boon to stellar astronomers. "Webbink's model suggests we should find about 160 of these stars in the entire Kepler field," said co-author Elena Mason, a researcher at the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics Astronomical Observatory of Trieste. "What we have found is in line with theoretical expectations when we account for the small portion of the field we observed with Swift." The team has already extended their Swift observations to additional fields mapped by the K2 mission. Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Goddard manages the Swift mission in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University in University Park, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia. Other partners include the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Science Laboratory in the United Kingdom, Brera Observatory and the Italian Space Agency in Italy, with additional collaborators in Germany and Japan.


News Article | March 9, 2016
Site: phys.org

CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System) has been developed by a team led by the University of Bern. It is scheduled to be launched on a PROTON rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10:31 (CET) on Monday 14 March 2016. It will be carried by the European Space Agency's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). The launch will send the spacecraft towards an encounter with Mars in October 2016. CaSSIS is a high resolution imaging system designed to complement the data acquired by the other payload on TGO and other Mars orbiters while also enhancing our knowledge of the surface of Mars. The camera is a cooperation between the University of Bern, the Astronomical Observatory of Padua, and the Space Research Center in Warsaw with the support of local industries and funded by the Swiss Space Office (SSO), the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Polish Space Agency (POLSA). The instrument will obtain stereo images of the surface in colour at a resolution of better than 5 m. It is now known that Mars is more dynamic than previously thought. Of particular interest to the 25-strong science team from 9 countries (incl. US and Russia) is the chance CaSSIS offers to study changes that occur over the day and over the Martian seasons. Further studies of recently discovered liquid water on the surface will be one of the main aims. "CaSSIS is the best system we could build with the available resources," says the leader of the science team, Nicolas Thomas of the Center of Space and Habitability (CSH). "It was a real challenge completing the instrument in time. But we have done a lot of tests remotely from Bern, with CaSSIS on the spacecraft in Baikonur and it really seems to be good to go. The launcher now has to do its part." The first signals from the ExoMars spacecraft are expected 9 hours after launch at 19:28 CET. "That is going to be a long wait," says Thomas who will be a guest of ESA at the launch in Baikonur. "I will definitely need a drop of vodka at some point," he jokes. The first switch-on of CaSSIS is planned for mid-April when the Uni Bern team will see if their instrument performs as expected. "That will also be a nervous time," said Thomas. "But whatever happens, the Swiss engineering team did a fantastic job and showed how to build a high precision space instrument in an unbelievably short time."


Billions of years later, a trio of Clemson University scientists, led by College of Science astrophysicist Marco Ajello, has identified this black hole and four others similar to it that range in age from 1.4 billion to 1.9 billion years old. These objects emit copious gamma rays, light of the highest energy, that are billions of times more energetic than light that is visible to the human eye. The previously known earliest gamma-ray blazars—a type of galaxy whose intense emission is powered by extremely powerful relativistic jets launched by monstrous black holes—were more than 2 billion years old. Currently, the universe is estimated to be approximately 14 billion years old. "The discovery of these supermassive black holes, which launch jets that emit more energy in one second than our sun will produce in its entire lifetime, was the culmination of a yearlong research project," said Ajello, who has spent much of his career studying the evolution of distant galaxies. "Our next step is to increase our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the formation, development and activities of these amazing objects, which are the most powerful accelerators in the universe. We can't even come close to replicating such massive outputs of energy in our laboratories. The complexities we're attempting to unravel seem almost as mysterious as the black holes themselves." Ajello conducted his research in conjunction with Clemson post-doc Vaidehi Paliya and Ph.D candidate Lea Marcotulli. The trio worked closely with the Fermi-Large Area Telescope collaboration, which is an international team of scientists that includes Roopesh Ojha, an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Dario Gasparrini of the Italian Space Agency. Their scientific paper titled "Gamma-Ray Blazars Within the First 2 Billion Years" was published Monday in a journal called Astrophysical Journal Letters. (Ackermann, M., et al. 2017, ApJL, 837, L5.) The Clemson team's breakthroughs were made possible by recently juiced-up software on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Telescope. The refurbished software significantly boosted the orbiting telescope's sensitivity to a level that made these latest discoveries possible. "People are calling it the cheapest refurbishment in history," Ajello said. "Normally, for the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA had to send someone up to space to physically make these kinds of improvements. But in this case, they were able to do it remotely from an Earth-bound location. And of equal importance, the improvements were retroactive, which meant that the previous six years of data were also entirely reprocessed. This helped provide us with the information we needed to complete the first step of our research and also to strive onward in the learning process." Using Fermi data, Ajello and Paliya began with a catalog of 1.4 million quasars, which are galaxies that harbor at their centers active supermassive black holes. Over the course of a year, they narrowed their search to 1,100 objects. Of these, five were finally determined to be newly discovered gamma-ray blazars that were the farthest away - and youngest - ever identified. "After using our filters and other devices, we were left with about 1,100 sources. And then we did the diagnostics for all of these and were able to narrow them down to 25 to 30 sources," Paliya said. "But we still had to confirm that what we had detected was scientifically authentic. So we performed a number of other simulations and were able to derive properties such as black hole mass and jet power. Ultimately, we confirmed that these five sources were guaranteed to be gamma-ray blazars, with the farthest one being about 1.4 billion years old from the beginning of time." Marcotulli, who joined Ajello's group as a Ph.D student in 2016, has been studying the blazars' mechanisms by using images and data delivered from another orbiting NASA telescope, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). At first, Marcotulli's role was to understand the emission mechanism of gamma-ray blazars closer to us. Now she is turning her attention toward the most distant objects in a quest to understand what makes them so powerful. "We're trying to understand the full spectrum of the energy distribution of these objects by using physical models," Marcotulli said. "We are currently able to model what's happening far more accurately than previously devised, and eventually we'll be able to better understand what processes are occurring in the jets and which particles are radiating all the energy that we see. Are they electrons? Or protons? How are they interacting with surrounding photons? All these parameters are not fully understood right now. But every day we are deepening our understanding." All galaxies have black holes at their centers - some actively feeding on the matter surrounding them, others lying relatively dormant. Our own galaxy has at its center a super-sized black hole that is currently dormant. Ajello said that only one of every 10 black holes in today's universe are active. But when the universe was much younger, it was closer to a 50-50 ratio. The supermassive black holes at the center of the five newly discovered blazar galaxies are among the largest types of black holes ever observed, on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of our own sun. And their accompanying accretion disks - rotating swirls of matter that orbit the black holes - emit more than two trillion times the energy output of our sun. One of the most surprising elements of Ajello's research is how quickly - by cosmic measures - these supersized black holes must have grown in only 1.4 billion years. In terms of our current knowledge of how black holes grow, 1.4 billion years is barely enough time for a black hole to reach the mass of the ones discovered by Ajello's team. "How did these incomprehensibly enormous and energy-laden black holes form so quickly?" Ajello said. "Is it because one black hole ate a lot all the time for a very long time? Or maybe because it bumped into other black holes and merged into one? To be honest, we have no observations supporting either argument. There are mechanisms at work that we have yet to unravel. Puzzles that we have yet to solve. When we do eventually solve them, we will learn amazing things about how the universe was born, how it grew into what it has become, and what the distant future might hold as the universe continues to progress toward old age." Explore further: Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope discovers the most extreme blazars yet More information: M. Ackermann et al, Gamma-Ray Blazars within the First 2 Billion Years, The Astrophysical Journal (2017). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/aa5fff


NASA's Cassini spacecraft probing Saturn's systems has sent dazzling images of the planet's icy rings with new details that were totally unseen before. The images have amazingly captured the ring's exterior up close with higher prominence to features like straws and propellers. Though Cassini had taken images of these features in the past as well, the current ring grazing phase of the spacecraft has added a new dimension to the details. Cassini is now half way in its mission of 20 orbits in the penultimate mission at the tether edge of the main rings which it has been gazing since November. Until late April, the ring encounter will go on before it starts the "end game" to vanish. The grand details of the rings showed up the fascinating features of the rings wherein "straw" with its clumped-up ring particles and "propellers" are readily impressing. The latter is formed by the embedding of tiny moonlets. Propeller takes its name for looking like a propeller. It may be known that some of the Saturnian moons have considerable influence in determining the shape of the planet's rings. "As the person who planned those initial orbit-insertion ring images, I am taken aback by how vastly improved are the details in this new collection," said Carolyn Porco, who is the Cassini Imaging Team Lead and is attached to Colorado's Space Science Institute in Boulder. The images indicate how the rings might be housing millions of orbiting "moonlets." On a scale of 550 meters, the images carry unseen features such as double-armed "propellers" pointing to a constellation of tiny moons hiding within the planetary rings. In terms of makeup, the Saturnian rings are made of ice, dust, and rocks. Propellers are also deemed as gaps in the ring material stretching thousands of miles created by moonlets. There are also grainy structures showing up in the individual rings, which are straws in which materials are transiently clumped for which astronomers are searching for answers. One reason highlighted for the high-quality images with more details is Cassini aiming both the sunlit as well backlit part of the rings. In the past, Cassini's brief passes that lasted a few hours had returned images that were less conspicuous in details. Now, Cassini is in the final months and making one fulsome weekly pass near the rings. Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist noted the close views will open up more on the knowledge about Saturn's rings and exciting data will be coming in months as cameras will trail other parts of the rings closer to the planet. The images have reinforced the impression that Cassini, at the fag end of the mission that started in 2004, has been very successful. It has many discoveries to take credit of, prime among them are a global ocean of suspected hydrothermal activity in Enceladus and a liquid methane sea in Titan. Cassini was conceived as a collaborative project of NASA, the Italian Space Agency and European Space Agency. By September end, Cassini will wrap up its mission by plunging into Saturn's atmosphere for which the first "finale plunge" will begin on April 26. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 28, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

Researchers have recently discovered a group of five black holes believed to be some of the youngest and most powerful ever identified. A group of Clemson University scientists have identified a black hole and four others similar to it that range from 1.4 billion and 1.9 billion years old that emit copious gamma rays—light of the highest energy—that are billions of times more energetic than light that is visible to the human eye. Previously the earliest gamma-ray blazars—a type of galaxy whose intense emission is powered by extremely powerful relativistic jets launched by monstrous black holes—were more than 2 billion years old. Marco Ajello, an astrophysicist at the Clemson University College of Science, explained the discovery. “The discovery of these supermassive black holes, which launch jets that emit more energy in one second than our sun will produce in its entire lifetime, was the culmination of a yearlong research project,” Ajello said in a statement. “Our next step is to increase our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the formation, development and activities of these amazing objects, which are the most powerful accelerators in the universe. “We can't even come close to replicating such massive outputs of energy in our laboratories,” he added. “The complexities we're attempting to unravel seem almost as mysterious as the black holes themselves.” Ajello, working with Clemson post-doc Vaidehi Paliya and Ph.D. candidate Lea Marcotulli, worked closely with the Fermi-Large Area Telescope collaboration, an international team of scientists that includes Roopesh Ojha, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Dario Gasparrini, of the Italian Space Agency. The team used refurbished software to significantly boost the orbiting telescope’s sensitivity to a level that made these latest discoveries possible. “People are calling it the cheapest refurbishment in history,” Ajello said. “Normally, for the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA had to send someone up to space to physically make these kinds of improvements. “But in this case, they were able to do it remotely from an Earth-bound location,” he added. “And of equal importance, the improvements were retroactive, which meant that the previous six years of data were also entirely reprocessed.” The research team cataloged 1.4 million quasars—galaxies that harbor at their centers active supermassive black holes. Over the course of a year, they narrowed their search to 1,100 objects, of which five were determined to be newly discovered gamma-ray blazars that were the farthest away and youngest ever identified. “After using our filters and other devices, we were left with about 1,100 sources,” Paliya said in a statement. “And then we did the diagnostics for all of these and were able to narrow them down to 25 to 30 sources. “But we still had to confirm that what we had detected was scientifically authentic,” he added. “So we performed a number of other simulations and were able to derive properties such as black hole mass and jet power. “Ultimately, we confirmed that these five sources were guaranteed to be gamma-ray blazars, with the farthest one being about 1.4 billion years old from the beginning of time.” They are also some of the largest types of black holes ever observed, on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of the Sun. All galaxies have black holes at their centers with some actively feeding on the matter surrounding them and others lying relatively dormant. According to Ajello, one out of every 10 black holes in today’s universe is active, but during the earlier days of the universe about half of black holes were considered active. Ajello said one of the most surprising parts of the discovery was how much the black hole grew in just 1.4 billion years. “How did these incomprehensibly enormous and energy-laden black holes form so quickly?” Ajello said. “Is it because one black hole ate a lot all the time for a very long time? Or maybe because it bumped into other black holes and merged into one? “To be honest, we have no observations supporting either argument,” he added. “When we do eventually solve them, we will learn amazing things about how the universe was born, how it grew into what it has become, and what the distant future might hold as the universe continues to progress toward old age.”


News Article | November 7, 2016
Site: www.cnet.com

I see a dragon. I see a ferret. Saturn's largest moon, Titan, is home to some exotic cloud formations reminiscent of what we have on Earth. There is one big difference: Methane is the main ingredient for Titan's clouds, while ours consist of water drops and ice crystals. NASA's Cassini spacecraft got a good look at some wispy clouds moving through the atmosphere and skirting the moon's hydrocarbon seas. Cassini captured the fluffy images in late October and NASA posted the video compilation Friday. The video covers 11 hours with a frame taken every 20 minutes. The space agency looped the time-lapse footage and added an appropriately mystical soundtrack. NASA estimates the clouds are moving at 14 to 22 mph (23 to 35 kph). "Time-lapse movies like this allow scientists to observe the dynamics of clouds as they develop, move over the surface and fade," says NASA. Cassini, a joint mission from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004 to send back observations on the ringed planet and its many moons. NASA plans to continue monitoring Titan's weather in 2017 to better understand the satellite's seasonal changes.


News Article | November 8, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA has unveiled a new time-lapse video that shows how clouds of methane gas streamed across the northern region of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, last month. According to the space agency, the 11-hour movie sequence was created using images taken by the Cassini spacecraft from Oct. 29 to Oct. 30, with each of the frames captured every 20 minutes. A majority of the clouds seen on the video were long streaks located between 49 and 55 degrees of Titan's northern latitude. While cloud activity in the region has remained persistent throughout Cassini's observation period, some individual cloud streaks were seen to form and disappear after a while. These cloud formations moved across Saturn's moon at a pace of about 14 to 22 miles per hour. Smaller clouds were also seen forming over hydrocarbon lakes in the north, such as those spotted between Punga Mare and Neagh Lacus. These clouds streamed across the region at 0.7 to 1.4 miles per hour, after which they disappeared over the course of the video. While scientists already have an abundance of information on cloud formations on Earth, not much is known about the dynamics behind cloud development in other planets. NASA explained that time-lapse movies, such as the one captured by Cassini, can provide researchers with knowledge on how clouds typically form on alien worlds. These videos can also help them determine whether a particular part of an image shows actual cloud formations or mere noise produced by cosmic rays. Aside from Saturn's moon, cloud formations have also been observed on Mars in the past. These clouds appeared as visible wisps on the red planet's atmosphere. This is not the first time methane clouds were seen forming on Titan. Researchers observed gas formations on the moon's southern hemisphere in 2006, as well as near its South Pole in 2001. Scientists believe these methane clouds developed as a result of powerful solar heating bombarding Titan's pole ahead of the summer solstice in the south. In 2005, researchers spotted cloud formations over Titan's midlatitudes. This was later substantiated by observations from Cassini. NASA said the spacecraft will continue its observation of weather patterns on Titan's northern hemisphere. The mission will run all through the summer solstice of 2017. The Cassini spacecraft project is a joint venture between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | January 20, 2017
Site: www.huffingtonpost.com

Titan, the largest of Saturn's many moons, is one of the most fascinating bodies in the solar system, and scientists think there could be some sort of strange life living in the moon's liquid methane lakes. Now, NASA has shared an absolutely amazing video of this alien world, taken from a probe as it landed on Titan's surface. The probe, Huygens, landed on Titan back in 2005. Huygens, which was named after Titan's discoverer, Christiaan Huygens, separated from NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Christmas Eve in 2004 and entered the moon's atmosphere 20 days later. As the probe began its descent, it passed through Titan's thick atmosphere, revealing a stunning landscape underneath. "The Huygens images were everything our images from orbit were not," said Carolyn Porco, the leader of the Cassini imaging team. Instead of hazy, sinuous features that we could only guess were streams and drainage channels, here was incontrovertible evidence that at some point in Titan's history -- and perhaps even now -- there were flowing liquid hydrocarbons on the surface. Huygens' images became a Rosetta stone for helping us interpret our subsequent findings on Titan. On its way down, Huygens sampled the atmosphere and took hundreds of pictures, the last few of which even showed the shadow of the probe's parachute as it floated down on Huygens after it landed. The probe, which was created by the European Space Agency, still holds the record for being the most distant landing of any craft that mankind has ever achieved. NASA and the ESA, which worked together on the Cassini-Huygens mission alongside the Italian Space Agency, are highlighting Huygens 12-year-old landing with this astounding video because Cassini's own mission will soon draw to a close. After two decades in space, Cassini has begun its final series of orbits grazing the Saturn's rings. On September 15, Cassini will dive into the gas giant's atmosphere, and that will be the end. One can only imagine, for now, what Cassini will see, but you can check out Huygens's view of Titan in the video above.


News Article | January 25, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The much-waited images of Saturn's big moon, Tethys, taken by NASA Cassini spacecraft may easily pass off as the planet's own Death Star Mimas. The image of Tethys has been compared by NASA to an eyeball, conspicuous for the presence of Odysseus crater. The death star look was compounded by the circular mark on the left adding more sharpness to the resemblance with the Empire's planet-destroying space station made famous by the Star Wars franchise. Tethys' image was taken by Cassini spacecraft on Nov. 10 at a distance of approximately 228,000 miles from the icy moon. Tethys is the fifth largest moon of Saturn among its 53 confirmed moons and is "composed almost entirely of water ice plus a small amount of rock," according to NASA. Tethys' temperatures are at around -305 degrees Fahrenheit. As noted, the Saturnian icy moon's image is like an eyeball staring off into space. The fiery look by Tethys is contributed by the deep crater borne by the moon with the name Odysseus along with a web of high peaks. Spread in 660 miles, Tethys bears many marks of impacts that shaped its appearance. Big impacts led to the formation of the crater Odysseus and the retreat formed mountain peaks named as Scheria Montes, in the middle of the crater. Meanwhile, Cassini also sent a detailed image of Saturn's Death Star moon Mimas — one of the most ominous moons of Saturn. NASA has already released the image on its official website. Mimas earned the nickname "Death Star" from the movie Star Wars for its resemblance to the famous spacecraft. Cassini captured the image of Mimas when it got close to the moon on Oct. 22, 2016. The images vividly showed Mimas', Herschel Crater. NASA's Cassini mission since 2004 has been very profuse in offering incredible views of Saturn and its ring systems. Thanks to Cassini's ring grazing, many fine images have been unveiled. Recently, the dazzling photos of Daphnis -- Saturn's tiny moon highlighted many processes at work in Saturn's rings. The images of Daphnis showed the ripples caused by the gravities of the small moon when it plowed through the 26-mile-wide gap Keeler Gap with a dramatic effect on the particles at the gap's borders. Cassini is a collaborative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency, The Cassini mission is coming to an end in September 2017. After a long study of Saturn for 12 years, Cassini will be ending itself on 15 September by plunging into the Saturn's atmosphere. As a memorable space mission, the joint U.S-European mission has been able to transform the understanding of the Saturn. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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