NASA’s Planning on Visiting the Water Worlds of the Solar System and Beyond

Next stop the ocean worlds of Enceladus and Europa

This illustration shows Cassini diving through the Enceladus plume in 2015. New ocean world discoveries from Cassini and Hubble will help inform future exploration and the broader search for life beyond Earth.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space news (planetary science: water worlds of the solar system; Enceladus and Europa) – planets and moons around the solar system and exoplanets across the universe covered with water

This graphic illustrates how scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission think water interacts with rock at the bottom of the ocean of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, producing hydrogen gas (H2).
The Cassini spacecraft detected the hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy material spraying from Enceladus during its deepest and last dive through the plume on Oct. 28, 2015. Cassini also sampled the plume’s composition during previous flybys, earlier in the mission. From these observations, scientists have determined that nearly 98 percent of the gas in the plume is water vapor, about 1 percent is hydrogen, and the rest is a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.
The graphic shows water from the ocean circulating through the seafloor, where it is heated and interacts chemically with the rock. This warm water, laden with minerals and dissolved gasses (including hydrogen and possibly methane) then pours into the ocean creating chimney-like vents.
The hydrogen measurements were made using Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer, or INMS, instrument, which sniffs gasses to determine their composition.
The finding is an independent line of evidence that hydrothermal activity is taking place in the Enceladus ocean. Previous results from Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer instrument, published in March 2015, suggested hot water is interacting with rock beneath the ocean; the new findings support that conclusion and indicate that the rock is reduced in its geochemistry. With the discovery of hydrogen gas, scientists can now conclude that there is a source of chemical free energy in Enceladus’ ocean.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer was designed and built by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; the team is based at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio.
For more information about the Cassini mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
Image Credit: NASA.

The solar system’s awash in water! NASA missions have provided verifiable facts showing ocean worlds and moons exist in our solar system and beyond, other than Earth. Planetary bodies where water is locked in a frozen embrace and even flowing beneath miles of ice. Liquid water exobiologists are keen to explore for life forms they would love to meet and get to know a little better during the next phase of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Watch this YouTube video on NASA’s search for life on the ocean worlds of the solar system.

Best Evidence Yet for Reoccurring Water Vapor Plumes Erupting from Jupiter’s Moon
When Galileo discovered Jupiter’s moon Europa in 1610, along with three other satellites whirling around the giant planet, he could have barely imagined it was such a world of wonder.
This revelation didn’t happen until 1979 when NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by Jupiter and found evidence that Europa’s interior, encapsulated under a crust of ice, has been kept warm over billions of years. The warmer temperature is due to gravitational tidal forces that flex the moon’s interior — like squeezing a rubber ball — keeping it warm. At the time, one mission scientist even speculated that the Voyagers might catch a snapshot of geysers on Europa.
Such activity turned out to be so elusive that astronomers had to wait over three decades for the peering eye of Hubble to monitor the moon for signs of venting activity. A newly discovered plume seen towering 62 miles above the surface in 2016 is at precisely the same location as a similar plume seen on the moon two years earlier by Hubble. These observations bolster evidence that the plumes are a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the satellite.
The location of the plumes corresponds to the position of an unusually warm spot on the moon’s icy crust, as measured in the late 1990s by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Researchers speculate that this might be circumstantial evidence for material venting from the moon’s subsurface. The material could be associated with the global ocean that is believed to be present beneath the frozen crust. The plumes offer an opportunity to sample what might be in the ocean, in the search for life on that distant moon. Credits: NASA/JPL

Papers published by the journal Science and written by Cassini mission scientists and researchers working with the Hubble Space Telescope indicate hydrogen gas believed pouring from the subsurface ocean of Enceladus could potentially provide chemical energy life could use to survive and evolve. Watch this YouTube video called “NASA: Ingredients for Life at Saturn’s moon Enceladus“, it shows the proof scientists used to come to these conclusions. Their work provides new insights concerning possible oceans of water on moons of Jupiter and Saturn and other ocean moons in the solar system and beyond. 

Best Evidence Yet for Reoccurring Water Vapor Plumes Erupting from Jupiter’s Moon
When Galileo discovered Jupiter’s moon Europa in 1610, along with three other satellites whirling around the giant planet, he could have barely imagined it was such a world of wonder.
This revelation didn’t happen until 1979 when NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by Jupiter and found evidence that Europa’s interior, encapsulated under a crust of ice, has been kept warm over billions of years. The warmer temperature is due to gravitational tidal forces that flex the moon’s interior — like squeezing a rubber ball — keeping it warm. At the time, one mission scientist even speculated that the Voyagers might catch a snapshot of geysers on Europa.
Such activity turned out to be so elusive that astronomers had to wait over three decades for the peering eye of Hubble to monitor the moon for signs of venting activity. A newly discovered plume seen towering 62 miles above the surface in 2016 is at precisely the same location as a similar plume seen on the moon two years earlier by Hubble. These observations bolster evidence that the plumes are a real phenomenon, flaring up intermittently in the same region on the satellite.
The location of the plumes corresponds to the position of an unusually warm spot on the moon’s icy crust, as measured in the late 1990s by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Researchers speculate that this might be circumstantial evidence for material venting from the moon’s subsurface. The material could be associated with the global ocean that is believed to be present beneath the frozen crust. The plumes offer an opportunity to sample what might be in the ocean, in the search for life on that distant moon. Credits: NASA/JPL

“This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. ”These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.”

Portrait of Thomas Zurbuchen taken on Monday, October 17, 2016, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Researchers believe they have found evidence indicating hydrogen gas could be pouring out of hydrothermal vents on the floor of Saturn’s moon Enceladus and into these oceans of water. Any microbes existing in these distant waters could use this gas as a form of chemical energy to operate biological processes. By combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide dissolved in this ocean of water in a chemical reaction called methanogenesis, geochemists think methane could be produced which could act as the basis of a tree of life similar to the one observed on Earth. 

Dramatic plumes, both large and small, spray water ice and vapor from many locations along the famed “tiger stripes” near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The tiger stripes are four prominent, approximately 84-mile- (135-kilometer-) long fractures that cross the moon’s south polar terrain.
This two-image mosaic is one of the highest resolution views acquired by Cassini during its imaging survey of the geyser basin capping the southern hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. It clearly shows the curvilinear arrangement of geysers, erupting from the fractures. .From left to right, the fractures are Alexandria, Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus.
As a result of this survey, 101 geysers were discovered: 100 have been located on one of the tiger stripes (PIA17188), and the three-dimensional configurations of 98 of these geysers have also been determined (PIA17186). The source location of the remaining geyser could not be definitively established. These results, together with those of other Cassini instruments, now strongly suggest that the geysers have their origins in the sea known to exist beneath the ice underlying the south polar terrain.
These findings from the imaging survey, of which the two images composing this mosaic are a part, were presented in a paper by Porco, DiNino, and Nimmo and published in the online version of the Astronomical Journal in July 2014: http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-6256/148/3/45.
A companion paper, by Nimmo et al., is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-6256/148/3/46.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini. The Cassini imaging team homepage is at http://ciclops.org.
Photojournal notes: This image has been rotated 180 degrees from its original orientation published on February 2, 2010.
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

On Earth, this process is thought to be at the root of the tree of life, and could even be essential, critical to the origin of life on our little blue dot. Life existing on our planet requires three main ingredients, liquid water, a source of energy for metabolic processes, and specific chemical ingredients to develop and continue to thrive. This study shows Enceladus could have the right ingredients for life to exist, but planetary scientists and exobiologists are looking for evidence of the presence of sulfur and phosphorus. 

This set of images from NASA’s Cassini mission shows how the gravitational pull of Saturn affects the amount of spray coming from jets at the active moon Enceladus. Enceladus has the most spray when it is farthest away from Saturn in its orbit (inset image on the left) and the least spray when it is closest to Saturn (inset image on the right).
Water ice and organic particles gush out of fissures known as “tiger stripes” at Enceladus’ south pole. Scientists think the fissures are squeezed shut when the moon is feeling the greatest force of Saturn’s gravity. They theorize the reduction of that gravity allows the fissures to open and release the spray. Enceladus’ orbit is slightly closer to Saturn on one side than the other. A simplified version of that orbit is shown as a white oval.
Scientists correlate the brightness of the Enceladus plume to the amount of solid material being ejected because the fine grains of water ice in the plume are very bright when lit from behind. Between the dimmest and brightest images, they detected a change of about three to four times in brightness, approximately the same as moving from a dim hallway to a brightly lit office.
This analysis is the first clear finding that shows the jets at Enceladus vary in a predictable manner. The background image is a mosaic made from data obtained by Cassini’s imaging science subsystem in 2006. The inset image on the left was obtained on Oct. 1, 2011. The inset image on the right was obtained on Jan. 30, 2011.
A related image, PIA17039, shows just the Enceladus images. The Saturn system mosaic was created from data obtained by Cassini’s imaging cameras in 2006.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, DC. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer was built by JPL, with a major contribution by the Italian Space Agency. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer science team is based at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/.
Image Credit:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Cornell/SSI

Previous data shows the rocky core of this moon is similar to meteorites containing these two elements, so they’re thought to be chemically similar in nature, and scientists are looking for the same chemical ingredients of life found on Earth, primarily carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and of course hydrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur.

Linda Spilker
Cassini Project Scientist. Credits: NASA

“Confirmation that the chemical energy for life exists within the ocean of a small moon of Saturn is an important milestone in our search for habitable worlds beyond Earth,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft about to make one of its dives between Saturn and its innermost rings as part of the mission’s grand finale.
Cassini will make 22 orbits that swoop between the rings and the planet before ending its mission on Sept. 15, 2017, with a final plunge into Saturn. The mission team hopes to gain powerful insights into the planet’s internal structure and the origins of the rings, obtain the first-ever sampling of Saturn’s atmosphere and particles coming from the main rings, and capture the closest-ever views of Saturn’s clouds and inner rings.
During its time at Saturn, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean that showed indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its moon Titan.
The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini detected hydrogen in plumes of gas and frozen matter spewing from Enceladus during the spacecraft’s deepest pass over its surface on October 28, 2015. This combined with previous data obtained by Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) during earlier flybys around 2005, helped scientists determine that nearly 98 percent of the material spraying from the surface of the moon is water. The remaining two percent is thought to be around 1 percent hydrogen with some carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and assorted unknown molecules in the mix. 

Cassini has shown us two independent detections of possible water spewing from the surface of Enceladus. NASA and its partners are currently looking over proposals to send spacecraft to determine if there is an ocean of water beneath its surface by taking a sample. The Europa Life Finder (ELF) is the proposal NASA’s seriously looking at undertaking at this point, but reports indicate a few other proposals are also being discussed. We’ll provide additional information on other proposals as they’re released to media outlets.

“Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it. It would be like a candy store for microbes,” said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study.

Two different observations of possible plumes of water spraying from the icy surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus provides proof hydrothermal activity is occurring beneath. Geophysicists believe hot water is combining chemically with rock and other matter at the bottom of an ocean of water underneath its icy surface to produce hydrogen gas. Hydrogen gas exobiologists think could be used as energy, food of a sort, to sustain life forms exobiologists want to meet and learn more about. A meeting that would change our place in the cosmos, the way we think about the universe, and reality.

Looking for an interplanetary vacation destination? Consider a visit to Europa, one of the Solar System’s most tantalizing moons. Ice-covered Europa follows an elliptical path in its 85-hour orbit around our ruling gas giant Jupiter. Heat generated from strong tidal flexing by Jupiter’s gravity keeps Europa’s salty subsurface ocean liquid all year round. That also means even in the absence of sunlight Europa has energy that could support simple life forms. Unfortunately, it is currently not possible to make reservations at restaurants on Europa, where you might enjoy a dish of the local extreme shrimp. But you can always choose another destination from Visions of the Future.

Astronomers and researchers working with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016 reported on an observation of a possible plume erupting from the icy surface of Europa in the same general location Hubble observed a possible plume in 2014. This location also corresponds to the unusually warm region with cracks in the icy surface observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft back in the 1990s. This provides evidence this phenomenon could be periodic, intermittent in this region of the moon. Mission planners are looking at this region as a possible location to obtain a sample of water erupting from a possible ocean of water beneath its icy surface. Watch this video on Europa.

Estimates of the size of this most recently observed plume indicate it rose about 62 miles (~100 kilometers) from the surface of Europa, while the plume in 2014 only reached a height of around 30 miles (50 kilometers). 

William Sparks
Space Telescope Science Institute. Credits: Space Science Institute/NASA/JPL

“The plumes on Enceladus are associated with hotter regions, so after Hubble imaged this new plume-like feature on Europa, we looked at that location on the Galileo thermal map. We discovered that Europa’s plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly,” said William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Sparks led the Hubble plume studies in both 2014 and 2016.

One interesting thought’s the plumes and the hot spot is somehow linked. If this is the case, it could mean the vented water’s falling onto the surface of the moon, which would change the structure and chemistry of the surface grains and allow them to retain heat longer than the surrounding region. This location would be a great place to search for the ingredients of life and a possible entry point into an ocean of water beneath.

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is being designed to fly by the icy Jovian moon multiple times and investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

These observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and future looks enable future space missions to Europa and other ocean worlds in the solar system. Specifically, laying the groundwork for NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, which is set for a launch sometime in the 2020s. 

James Green: Director of Planetary Science, NASA Headquarters. Credits: NASA

“If there are plumes on Europa, as we now strongly suspect, with the Europa Clipper we will be ready for them,” said Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science, at NASA Headquarters.

NASA has indicated they’re looking to identify a possible site with persistent, intermittent plume activity as a target location for a mission to Europa to explore using its powerful suite of science instruments. Another team’s currently at work on a powerful ultraviolet camera to add to the Europa Clipper that would offer data similar to that provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, while some members of the Cassini team are working on a very sensitive, next generation INMS instrument to put on the spacecraft. 

Water’s the story of life on Earth! Science has shown it played and plays the main part in the birth, evolution, and sustenance of life on Earth. 

NASA’s planning on taking the human journey to the beginning of space and time to the ocean worlds of the solar system during the decades ahead. To search for the ingredients of life and even possibly simple one-celled life forms, of an unknown type. We plan on going along for the ride to have a look for ourselves and we hope to see your name on the ship manifest. We’ll save a seat for you.

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by taking part in NASA’s Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Participants take part in the search for hidden worlds between Neptune and Proxima Centauri.

NASA’s and FEMA are currently tracking the progress of a 300 to 800 ft asteroid they think has around a 2 percent chance of hitting the Earth around September 20, 2020.

Planetary scientists searching the Red Planet for signs of past and present water believe they have found evidence indicating Mars once was a lot wetter and a possible location for the evolution of life.

Europa Spacecraft

Set to blast off sometime in the 2020s

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. This view shows the spacecraft configuration, which could change before launch, as of early 2016.
The mission would place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of the giant planet’s moon Europa — a world that shows strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust and which could host conditions favorable for life. The highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft would enter into a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa.
The concept image shows two large solar arrays extending from the sides of the spacecraft, to which the mission’s ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached. A saucer-shaped high-gain antenna is also side mounted, with a magnetometer boom placed next to it. On the forward end of the spacecraft (at left in this view) is a remote-sensing palette, which houses the rest of the science instrument payload.
The nominal mission would perform at least 45 flybys of Europa at altitudes varying from 1,700 miles to 16 miles (2,700 kilometers to 25 kilometers) above the surface.
This view takes artistic liberty with Jupiter’s position in the sky relative to Europa and the spacecraft. Credits: NASA/JPL/ESA

Space news (The search for life beyond Earth) – An artist’s rendition of the Europa spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

This 12-frame mosaic provides the highest resolution view ever obtained of the side of Jupiter’s moon Europa that faces the giant planet. It was obtained on Nov. 25, 1999 by the camera onboard the Galileo spacecraft, a past NASA mission to Jupiter and its moons which ended in 2003. NASA will announce today, Tuesday, May 26, the selection of science instruments for a mission to Europa, to investigate whether it could harbor conditions suitable for life. The Europa mission would conduct repeated close flybys of the small moon during a three-year period.
Numerous linear features in the center of this mosaic and toward the poles may have formed in response to tides strong enough to fracture Europa’s icy surface. Some of these features extend for over 1,500 kilometers (900 miles). Darker regions near the equator on the eastern (right) and western (left) limb may be vast areas of chaotic terrain. Bright white spots near the western limb are the ejecta blankets of young impact craters.
North is to the top of the picture and the sun illuminates the surface from the left. The image, centered at 0 latitude and 10 longitude, covers an area approximately 2,500 by 3,000 kilometers. The finest details that can discerned in this picture are about 2 kilometers across (about 1,550 by 1,860 miles). The images were taken by Galileo’s camera when the spacecraft was 94,000 kilometers (58,000 miles) from Europa.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this artists rendering of the Europa spacecraft, which is set to head to Jupiter sometime in the 2020s. The Europa Mission spacecraft configuration in early 2016 is shown in this image. The final spacecraft configuration at launch could easily be different, so stay tuned here for more news. The position of Jupiter in the sky relative to Europa and the spacecraft are also off in this drawing

This is an artist’s concept of a plume of water vapor thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of the Jovian moon Europa, located about 500 million miles (800 million kilometers) from the sun. Spectroscopic measurements from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope led scientists to calculate that the plume rises to an altitude of 125 miles (201 kilometers) and then it probably rains frost back onto the moon’s surface. Previous findings already pointed to a subsurface ocean under Europa’s icy crust.
Image credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

Two large solar arrays are shown extending from the sides of the Europa spacecraft to which the ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached in this artist’s rendition. On the side of the craft, a saucer-shaped high gain antenna is depicted next to a magnetometer boom. On the forward section is a remote-sensing palette with the remaining science instruments.

Jupiter’s moon Europa has a crust made up of blocks, which are thought to have broken apart and ‘rafted’ into new positions, as shown in the image on the left. These features are the best geologic evidence to date that Europa may have had a subsurface ocean at some time in its past.
Combined with the geologic data, the presence of a magnetic field leads scientists to believe an ocean is most likely present at Europa today. In this false color image, reddish-brown areas represent non-ice material resulting from geologic activity. White areas are rays of material ejected during the formation of the Pwyll impact crater. Icy plains are shown in blue tones to distinguish possibly coarse-grained ice (dark blue) from fine-grained ice (light blue). Long, dark lines are ridges and fractures in the crust, some of which are more than 1,850 miles long. These images were obtained by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft during Sept. 7, 1996, Dec. 1996 and Feb. 1997 at a distance of 417,489 miles.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Europa Mission profile has a very capable, radiation-resistant spacecraft traveling to Jupiter, where it enters into a long, looping orbit of the giant planet in order to perform at least 45 repeated flybys of Europa at altitudes ranging from 1700 miles to 16 miles (2700 kilometers to 25 kilometers) above its surface. Planetary scientists want to take a closer look at the evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. An ocean of liquid water that could be the habitat of alien lifeforms we want to get to know better. 

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by joining the people helping NASA scientists look for possible planetary bodies between Neptune and Alpha Centauri.

Learn more about NASA plans to handle a possible future asteroid impact on Earth around Sept. 20, 2020, of a body estimated at around 300 to 800 ft in diameter.

Travel into the heart of a cosmic storm over 200,000 light-years away in one of many large satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way, the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Learn more about NASA’s Europa Mission here.

Explore NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Learn more about Jupiter and its moons here.

Explore Europa.

Learn more about the Large Magellanic Cloud.

NASA’s Successor to Curiosity Rover Working Toward Summer Launch in 2020

To investigate Martian rocks for evidence of past life in advance of sending humans to work and live on the Red Planet

An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The instruments will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet as never before. IMAGE CREDIT: NASA
An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The instruments will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet as never before.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA

Space news (missions to Mars: successor to Curiosity rover; Mars 2020 rover) – NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California –

Planning for NASA's 2020 Mars rover envisions a basic structure that capitalizes on the design and engineering work done for the NASA rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, but with new science instruments selected through competition for accomplishing different science objectives. Mars 2020 is a mission concept that NASA announced in late 2012 to re-use the basic engineering of Mars Science Laboratory to send a different rover to Mars, with new objectives and instruments, launching in 2020. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages NASA's Mars Exploration Program for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Planning for NASA’s 2020 Mars rover envisions a basic structure that capitalizes on the design and engineering work done for the NASA rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, but with new science instruments selected through competition for accomplishing different science objectives. Mars 2020 is a mission concept that NASA announced in late 2012 to re-use the basic engineering of Mars Science Laboratory to send a different rover to Mars, with new objectives and instruments, launching in 2020. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages NASA’s Mars Exploration Program for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA managers are looking forward to shifting gears on the Mars rover program in the 2020s. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover’s expected to arrive at the Red Planet around February 2021, carrying a science instrument package designed to build upon the success of NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover. It will investigate regions of the planet astrobiologists think were once favorable to microbial life, by collecting soil and rock samples, and then leaving them on the surface for a future Mars mission to collect for the possible return to Earth.

Terrain-Relative Navigation helps us land safely on Mars - especially when the land below is full of hazards like steep slopes and large rocks!
Terrain-Relative Navigation helps us land safely on Mars – especially when the land below is full of hazards like steep slopes and large rocks! The Mars 2020 spacecraft follows an entry, descent, landing process similar to that used in landing the Mars rover, Curiosity. It also has major new technologies that improve entry, descent, and landing: Range Trigger, Terrain-Relative Navigation, MEDLI and its EDL caneras and microphone. Credits: NASA/JPL

“The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth,” said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission marks a significant milestone in NASA’s Journey to Mars, to determine whether life has ever existed on Mars, and to advance our goal of sending humans to the Red Planet.”

The surface operations phase is the time when the rover conducts its scientific studies on Mars. After landing safely, Mars 2020 has a primary mission span of at least one Martian year (687 Earth days). The Mars 2020 rover uses a depot caching strategy for its exploration of Mars.
The surface operations phase is the time when the rover conducts its scientific studies on Mars. After landing safely, Mars 2020 has a primary mission span of at least one Martian year (687 Earth days).
The Mars 2020 rover uses a depot caching strategy for its exploration of Mars. Credits: NASA/JPL

NASA engineers, scientists and mission planners are ready to begin final design and construction of the next Mars rover. In the end, Mars 2020 will look like its six-wheeled, one-ton predecessor, Curiosity, but with a science instrument package designed to begin a new phase of exploration of the surface of Mars. It will begin exploring specifically selected regions of the planet for signs of life and the resources needed for future colonists to survive. Using two science instruments mounted on the rover’s robotic arm and two instruments on the mast, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover’s expected to show us new things about the Red Planet.

Current plans call for the Mars 2020 rover to use an upgraded version of the same sky crane landing system used by Curiosity. Engineers and designers have added a few improvements to the system opening up more potential landing sites on Mars with this edition. Giving mission planners more options to explore the Red Planet to a greater degree and hopefully provide a few more answers to the questions we have all been asking ourselves about Mars. 

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Entry Descent & Landing (EDL) activities in SFOF MSA Fishbowl. Pre-Landing. Date: 05 August/2012 Photographer: T. Wynne
Allen Chen, Mars 2020 entry, descent, and landing lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory conducting Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Entry Descent & Landing (EDL) activities in SFOF MSA Fishbowl. Pre-Landing. 
Date: 05 August/2012
Photographer: T. Wynne

“By adding what’s known as range trigger, we can specify where we want the parachute to open, not just at what velocity we want it to open,” said Allen Chen, Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “That shrinks our landing area by nearly half.”

NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010.
NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s – goals outlined in the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act of 2010 and in the U.S. National Space Policy, also issued in 2010. Credits: NASA/JPL

Engineers and designers have also added a suite of cameras and a microphone providing data onboard computers will analysis during descent and landing of the rover. This will help the spacecraft land in a safe zone and capture the sounds and imagery of the entry, descent, and landing as never before. We expect this data to eventually make for a thrilling video and improve the chances of future Mars missions. 

“As it is descending, the spacecraft can tell whether it is headed for one of the unsafe zones and divert to safe ground nearby,” said Chen. “With this capability, we can now consider landing areas with unsafe zones that previously would have disqualified the whole area. Also, we can land closer to a specific science destination, for less driving after landing.”

“Nobody has ever seen what a parachute looks like as it is opening in the Martian atmosphere,” said JPL’s David Gruel, assistant flight system manager for the Mars 2020 mission. “So this will provide valuable engineering information.”

“This will be a great opportunity for the public to hear the sounds of Mars for the first time, and it could also provide useful engineering information,” said Mars 2020 Deputy Project Manager Matt Wallace of JPL.

Mars 2020 rover goes forward

As the optimist said, “So far, so good.” NASA has completed stage three of a four-stage approval process needed for the Mars 2020 rover to go for launch. Now engineers and designers get to work assembling the final systems of NASA’s next Mars rover. Fortunately, they have already done a lot of the work during the building of Curiosity, and even have some spare parts and hardware that should work just fine laying around somewhere in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

“Since Mars 2020 is leveraging the design and some spare hardware from Curiosity, a significant amount of the mission’s heritage components have already been built during Phases A and B,” said George Tahu, Mars 2020 program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With the KDP to enter Phase C completed, the project is proceeding with final design and construction of the new systems, as well as the rest of the heritage elements for the mission.”

Read and learn about the latest method astrophysicists have developed to help determine distances to objects on the other side of the Milky Way.

Learn more about the titanic, massive plasma jets astronomers have detected emanating from near some supermassive black holes.

Read about some of China’s contributions to the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Read more about NASA’s Mars 2020 rover.

Join NASA’s journey to the beginning of space and time here.

Follow NASA’s Curiosity rover as it explores the surface of Mars.

Learn what NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers have told us about the Red Planet here.

Learn more about NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

 

Astronomers Discover an Extremely Unusual Galaxy

Sitting in the arms of Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen) 

This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, shows a spiral galaxy named NGC 278. This cosmic beauty lies some 38 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen). While NGC 278 may look serene, it is anything but. The galaxy is currently undergoing an immense burst of star formation. This flurry of activity is shown by the unmistakable blue-hued knots speckling the galaxy’s spiral arms, each of which marks a clump of hot newborn stars. However, NGC 278’s star formation is somewhat unusual; it does not extend to the galaxy’s outer edges, but is only taking place within an inner ring some 6500 light-years across. This two-tiered structure is visible in this image — while the galaxy’s centre is bright, its extremities are much darker. This odd configuration is thought to have been caused by a merger with a smaller, gas-rich galaxy — while the turbulent event ignited the centre of NGC 278, the dusty remains of the small snack then dispersed into the galaxy’s outer regions. Whatever the cause, such a ring of star formation, called a nuclear ring, is extremely unusual in galaxies without a bar at their centre, making NGC 278 a very intriguing sight.
This image, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, shows a spiral galaxy named NGC 278. This cosmic beauty lies some 38 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen). Credits: NASA/Hubble/ESA

Space news (galaxy evolution: unusual galaxies; spiral galaxy NGC 278) – 38 million light-years away, sitting in the arms of northern constellation Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen) – 

The image above shows spiral galaxy NGC 278, a very unusual island universe astronomers are currently studying looking for clues to its unique nature. This unusual galaxy looks quiet and serene from here, but there’s unusual starburst activity taking place astronomers are currently trying to explain.  

Each of the unmistakable blue knots seen strewn across NGC 278’s spiral arms is a clump of hot, newly born stars. These blue knots of young stars doesn’t extend to the outer edges of the galaxy but only reside within an inner ring some 6,500 light-years across. The two-tiered structure astronomers have identified within NGC 278 shows a bright galactic center, with much darker outer regions. 

Astrophysicists studying this unusual spiral galaxy think this weird two-tiered structure and current starburst activity is due to a recent merger with a smaller, gas-rich galaxy. A merger that has ignited starburst within the center of this island universe, while the leftovers of the galactic snack dispersed into its outer regions. This activity created the ring of blue knots of newly formed stars seen here, which astronomers have dubbed a nuclear ring. A very unusual structure not often observed in galaxies with a bar across their center region. Making NGC 278 an unusual, intriguing galactic specimen they plan on studying closer for clues to its unusual nature. 

Learn more about why simple elliptical galaxy UGC 1382 astonishes astronomers?

Read about the transition phase older spiral galaxy NGC 5010 is going through.

Read about how galaxy CGCG254-021 got its tail?

Learn about the things NASA has discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time here.  

Read and learn more about galaxies

Discover everything they know about spiral galaxy NGC 278 here

Learn more about the northern constellation Cassiopeia (The Seated Queen)

Read, learn and discover more about starburst galaxies here

Rosetta Spacecraft Says Its Final Goodbye

An image of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko worth a thousand words

The OSIRIS narrow-angle camera aboard the Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft captured this image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 30, 2016, from an altitude of about 10 miles (16 kilometers) above the surface during the spacecraft’s controlled descent. The image scale is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) per pixel and the image itself measures about 2,000 feet (614 meters) across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
The OSIRIS narrow-angle camera aboard the Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft captured this image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 30, 2016, from an altitude of about 10 miles (16 kilometers) above the surface during the spacecraft’s controlled descent. The image scale is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) per pixel and the image itself measures about 2,000 feet (614 meters) across.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Space news (solar system science: planetary science; cometary science) – 66 feet above the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko; in a controlled descent –

Rosetta's last image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken shortly before impact, at an estimated altitude of 66 feet (20 meters) above the surface. The image was taken with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera on 30 September. The image scale is about 5 mm/pixel and the image measures about 2.4 m across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Rosetta’s last image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken shortly before impact, at an estimated altitude of 66 feet (20 meters) above the surface. The image was taken with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera on 30 September. The image scale is about 5 mm/pixel and the image measures about 2.4 m across.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The image above is the last thing the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera aboard the European Space Agency”s (ESA)Rosetta spacecraft captured before it hit the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 4:19 a.m. PDT (7:19 a.m. EDT/1:19 p.m. CEST) on September 30, 2016. During this controlled crash landing of the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous and escort a comet as it orbits the Sun. Astronomers were able to conduct an additional study of the gas, dust and plasma environment close to the surface of the comet and take these high-resolution images.

Comet from 5.7 km – narrow-angle camera Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Comet from 5.7 km – narrow-angle camera
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The OSIRIS narrow-angle camera also captured the image shown at the top of the page from a height of around 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This image spans a distance of around 2,000 feet (614 meters) across the comet’s icy and volatile surface. Attempting to walk across such a surface as Bruce Willis and his drilling crew did in the movie Armageddon is going to be tricky at best.

OSIRIS narrow-angle camera image with Philae, 2 September Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
OSIRIS narrow-angle camera image with Philae, 2 September
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

It might seem like a waste to purposely crash the Rosetta spacecraft on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but in the end, it’s probably the best solution. This comets headed out beyond the orbit of Jupiter, which is further from the Sun than the spacecraft has traveled before, and there wouldn’t be enough solar power to operate its systems. Communicating with the spacecraft’s also about to become difficult for a month, with the Sun being close to the line-of-sight between Earth and Rosetta during this time period.

Close-up of the Philae lander, imaged by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 2 September 2016 from a distance of 2.7 km. The image scale is about 5 cm/pixel. Philae’s 1 m-wide body and two of its three legs can be seen extended from the body. The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation. The image is a zoom from a wider-scene, and has been interpolated. More information: Philae found! Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Close-up of the Philae lander, imaged by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 2 September 2016 from a distance of 2.7 km. The image scale is about 5 cm/pixel. Philae’s 1 m-wide body and two of its three legs can be seen extended from the body. The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation.
The image is a zoom from a wider-scene, and has been interpolated.
More information: Philae found!
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta mission complete

Feel happy for Rosetta and team, they both did the job, and then some in the end. It took a decade of careful planning and travel to rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and write history. Just one month and two days later, a smaller lander named Philae touched down on the surface of the comet. It bounced on the surface a few times, before finally setting down. During the next few days, it took the first images ever of a comet’s surface up close and sent back important data planetary scientists will use to look for clues to the role comets played in the formation of the planets 4.5 billion years ago. Clues they hope to use to learn more about the origin and evolution of our solar system and possibly the formation of solar systems in general.

JPL/NASA Rosetta Team From left to right: Dongsuk (Don) Han- Outer Planet Navigation Bruce Tsurutani - Rpc-mag Essam Heggy - Consert Sam Gulkis - Miro Danny Tran - Aspen Josh Doubleday - Aspen Gregg Rabideau - Aspen Tim Koch - Miro Martina Troesch - Software Barbara Hesselgesser - Acquisitions Paul Von Allmen - Miro Belinda Arroyo - DSN Sophia Lee - Scheduling Paul Friz-Rosetta Shadow Project Liz Barrios - Illustrator Paul Springer - Miro Steve Chien - Aspen Cynthia Kahn-Former SE David Delgado - Public Engagement Claudia Alexander - Project Scientist Grant Faris - MA Shyam Bhaskaran - NAV Mark Hofstadter - Miro Seungwon Lee - Miro Lei Pan - Miro Jacky Bagumyan - Assistant Adans Ko - MA Sarah Marcotte - Mars consultant Charlene Barone - Rosetta Web Project Lead Dan Goods - Creative Director Virgil Adumitroale - Miro Richard Flores - Acquisitions Artur Chmielewski - Rosetta Project Manager Veronica McGregor - Social Media Credits: NASA/JPL
JPL/NASA Rosetta Team
From left to right:
Dongsuk (Don) Han- Outer Planet Navigation
Bruce Tsurutani – Rpc-mag
Essam Heggy – Consert
Sam Gulkis – Miro
Danny Tran – Aspen
Josh Doubleday – Aspen
Gregg Rabideau – Aspen
Tim Koch – Miro
Martina Troesch – Software
Barbara Hesselgesser – Acquisitions
Paul Von Allmen – Miro
Belinda Arroyo – DSN
Sophia Lee – Scheduling
Paul Friz-Rosetta Shadow Project
Liz Barrios – Illustrator
Paul Springer – Miro
Steve Chien – Aspen
Cynthia Kahn-Former SE
David Delgado – Public Engagement
Claudia Alexander – Project Scientist
Grant Faris – MA
Shyam Bhaskaran – NAV
Mark Hofstadter – Miro
Seungwon Lee – Miro
Lei Pan – Miro
Jacky Bagumyan – Assistant
Adans Ko – MA
Sarah Marcotte – Mars consultant
Charlene Barone – Rosetta Web Project Lead
Dan Goods – Creative Director
Virgil Adumitroale – Miro
Richard Flores – Acquisitions
Artur Chmielewski – Rosetta Project Manager
Veronica McGregor – Social Media
Credits: NASA/JPL

Watch this YouTube video of the last few hours of ESA’s Rosetta mission.

Read and learn more about planetary scientists anticipation of studying a sample of material from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, material left over from the early moments of the birth of the solar system.

Read about comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Prepare to journey to comet 103P/Hartley.

Join the space journey of NASA.

Learn more about comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko here.

Read and learn more about the discoveries of the Rosetta spacecraft.

Learn more about the work of the ESA.

Read and learn more about comets here.

 

Simple Elliptical Galaxy UGC 1382 Astonishes Astronomers

With 10 times the mass than first estimates and a younger inner region than outer, this out-of-the-way galaxy appears to be composed of assorted parts from other island universes 

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Space news (astrophysics: unusual, rare galaxy types; UGC 1382) – 250 million light-years from Earth in an out-of-the-way, isolated little corner of the cosmos – 

Living in a suburban neighborhood of an out-of-the-way little town or city is beneficial if you want to stop change due to foreign influences and exchanges. In a similar way, astronomers believe humongous, bizarre galaxy UGC 1382 kept its stunning size and the backward ages of its inner and outer components. At around 720,000 light-years across its more than seven times wider than the Milky Way and one of the largest isolated galaxies detected during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The inner regions of this unusual galaxy are also younger than its outer parts, which would be like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than its outer rings. It’s like UGC 1382 was put together from different parts of other galaxies that are held together by a delicate balance between processes and forces. An equilibrium scientists study in order to gain more understanding and knowledge of the evolution of galaxies and the universe. 

Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories
Mark Seibert Credits: Carnegie Observatories

“This rare, ‘Frankenstein’ galaxy formed and is able to survive because it lies in a quiet little suburban neighborhood of the universe, where none of the hubbub of the more crowded parts can bother it,” said study co-author Mark Seibert of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science, Pasadena, California. “It is so delicate that a slight nudge from a neighbor would cause it to disintegrate.” 

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech
The Galaxy Evolution Explorer Credits: NASA/JPL/Cal-tech

Seibert and graduate student Lea Hagen discovered the massive size and backward ages of the inner and outer portions of UGC 1382 while looking at images of the galaxy taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) in ultraviolet wavelengths. They had been searching for data on star formation in average elliptical galaxies, instead, a titan with intangible arms extending far outside UGC 1382 emerged from the darkness.   

“We saw spiral arms extending far outside this galaxy, which no one had noticed before, and which elliptical galaxies should not have,” said Hagen, who led the study. “That put us on an expedition to find out what this galaxy is and how it formed.” 

Painstakingly searching through data of the galaxy obtained by a team of telescopes astronomers built a new model of the structure and dimensions of this mysterious behemoth. Spanning nearly 720,000 light-years, UGC 1382 is one of the largest galaxies ever discovered. Very few new stars form in this island universe because gas is spread thinly along its rotating disk. Astronomers are studying the history of star formation and evolution of this unusual galaxy looking for clues to explain the mysteries uncovered. 

The most tantalizing clue’s the relative ages of the various parts of galaxy UGC 1382 are backward compared to previous galaxies observed during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Normally, astrophysicists expect to see new star formation primarily in the outer, newer regions of a galaxy, while the older, inner regions contain mainly older stars. By combining data collected by the team, scientists determined the unusual structure and evolution of star formation in this massive galaxy. 

“The center of UGC 1382 is actually younger than the spiral disk surrounding it,” Seibert said. “It’s old on the outside and young on the inside. This is like finding a tree whose inner growth rings are younger than the outer rings.” 

The final conclusion

Astronomers think this unique galaxy resulted around 3 billion years ago when two smaller galaxies began orbiting a larger, possibly lenticular galaxy, which eventually settled into current galaxy UGC 1382. They continue to study this unusual galaxy looking for additional clues to explain its unique structure and evolution compared to other members of the Galaxy Zoo. This data will enable the search for more examples of this galaxy to help explain its unusual structure and evolution. 

“By understanding this galaxy, we can get clues to how galaxies form on a larger scale, and uncover more galactic neighborhood surprises,” Hagen said. 

Learn how astronomers think galaxy CGCG254-021 Got Its Tail.

Read about giant elliptical galaxy Centaurus A.

Learn more about lenticular galaxies.

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Read and learn more about galaxy UGC 1382

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Read about the space discoveries of Carnegie’s du Pont Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory here

The Helix Nebula: The Eye of God

Expelled outer layers of white dwarf glowing brightly in the infrared 

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Space news (astrophysics: planetary nebula; Helix Nebula) – 650 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius – 

This composite image shows a visually stunning planetary nebula labeled “The Eye of God” more serious observers call the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293). Planetary nebula are the remains of a dying star much like our own Sol, only 5 billion years in the future. At this time the Sun will run out of hydrogen to use as its fuel source for the fusion process and will start using helium to create heavier carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Once it runs out of helium to fuse, it will die and expel its outer gas layers, leaving a tiny, hot core called a white dwarf. An Earth-sized core so dense a teaspoon full would weigh more than a few black rhinos. 

First discovered in the 18th century, planetary nebula like the Helix Nebula emit across a similar, broad spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. The image shown at the top uses a combination of ultraviolet radiation collected by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer ((GALEX in blue(0.15 to 2.3 microns)) and infrared light detected by their Spitzer Space Telescope ((red(8 to 24 microns) and green(3.6 to 4.5 microns)) and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer ((WISE in red(3.4 to 4.5 microns)) showing the subtle differences observed in the different wavelengths of light emitted by ghostly celestial objects like NGC 7293 and NGC 6369 (The Little Ghost). 

Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star. Spitzer data show the nebula's central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system's Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star's evolution. Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.
Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star.
Spitzer data show the nebula’s central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system’s Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star’s evolution.
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.

Astronomers have studied planetary nebulae like the Helix Nebula and M2-9 (Wings of a Butterfly Nebula) as much as any recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The remnant of a rapidly evolving star near the end of its lifespan, the white dwarf star is a tiny, barely perceptible point of light at the center of the nebula in this composite image. Thousands of planetary nebula have been detected within a distance of about 100 million light-years of Earth and astronomers estimate about 10,000 exist in the Milky Way. Making planetary nebula a relatively common celestial mystery observed as we trace our roots to their beginning. 

Watch this YouTube video on the Helix Nebula.

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This collage of planetary nebula images was put together by NASA technicians to express the beauty and wonder of planetary nebula. Credits: NASA

Read and learn about the icy blue wings of planetary nebula Hen 2-437.

Read about planetary nebula Menzel 2.

Learn about the last days of planetary nebula Hen 2-362.

Learn more about the Helix Nebula here

Read and learn more about planetary nebulae

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Discover the Spitzer Space Telescope here

Read and discover more about NGC 6369. 

Learn more about what NASA’s WISE has discovered about the infrared cosmos here

Discover the Wings of a Butterfly Nebula.