Superstar Binaries Like Eta Carinae More Common Than First Thought

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes discovered similar superstar binaries in four nearby galaxies

Eta Carinae's great eruption in the 1840s created the billowing Homunculus Nebula, imaged here by Hubble, and transformed the binary into a unique object in our galaxy. Astronomers cannot yet explain what caused this eruption. The discovery of likely Eta Carinae twins in other galaxies will help scientists better understand this brief phase in the life of a massive star. Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team
Eta Carinae’s great eruption in the 1840s created the billowing Homunculus Nebula, imaged here by Hubble, and transformed the binary into a unique object in our galaxy. Astronomers cannot yet explain what caused this eruption. The discovery of likely Eta Carinae twins in other galaxies will help scientists better understand this brief phase in the life of a massive star.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

Space news (February 15, 2016) – 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina

Astronomers combing through data provided by the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes looking for superstar binaries like Eta Carinae think they have finally found a few additional instances in nearby galaxies. 

The signature balloon-shaped clouds of gas blown from a pair of massive stars called Eta Carinae have tantalized astronomers for decades. Eta Carinae has a volatile temperament, prone to violent outbursts over the past 200 years. Observations by the newly repaired Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal some of the chemical elements that were ejected in the eruption seen in the middle of the 19th century. Image credit: NASA/ESA
The signature balloon-shaped clouds of gas blown from a pair of massive stars called Eta Carinae have tantalized astronomers for decades. Eta Carinae has a volatile temperament, prone to violent outbursts over the past 200 years.
Observations by the newly repaired Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope reveal some of the chemical elements that were ejected in the eruption seen in the middle of the 19th century.
Image credit: NASA/ESA

We knew others were out there,” said co-investigator Krzysztof Stanek, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University in Columbus. “It was really a matter of figuring out what to look for and of being persistent.

Astrophysicists had previously conducted a survey of data on seven galaxies provided by the pair of space telescopes between 2012-2014. During this extensive study of the data, scientists found no superstar binaries similar to Eta Carinae. They determined they needed to devise a more sensitive way to identify possible candidates. 

Astronomers devised an optical and infrared fingerprint to detect and identify these five superstar binaries similar to Eta Carinae. With Spitzer we see a steady increase in brightness starting at around 3 microns and peaking between 8 and 24 microns,” explained Khan. “By comparing this emission to the dimming we see in Hubble’s optical images, we could determine how much dust was present and compare it to the amount we see around Eta Carinae.

During the follow-up survey conducted in 2015, astronomers discovered data indicating the existence of five superstar binaries similar to Eta Carinae in four nearby galaxies. 

The nearby spiral galaxy M83 is currently the only one known to host two potential Eta Carinae twins. This composite of images from the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 instrument shows a galaxy ablaze with newly formed stars. A high rate of star formation increases the chances of finding massive stars that have recently undergone an Eta Carinae-like outburst. Bottom: Insets zoom into Hubble data to show the locations of M83's Eta twins. Credits: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) and R. Khan (GSFC and ORAU)
The nearby spiral galaxy M83 is currently the only one known to host two potential Eta Carinae twins. This composite of images from the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument shows a galaxy ablaze with newly formed stars. A high rate of star formation increases the chances of finding massive stars that have recently undergone an Eta Carinae-like outburst. Bottom: Insets zoom into Hubble data to show the locations of M83’s Eta twins.
Credits: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) and R. Khan (GSFC and ORAU)

In nearby galaxy M83, just 15 million light-years away, astronomers discovered two superstar binaries similar to Eta Carinae. They also found one superstar binary each in NGC 6946, M101 and M51, located between 18-26 million light-years away.

Researchers found likely Eta twins in four galaxies by comparing the infrared and optical brightness of each candidate source. Infrared images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope revealed the presence of warm dust surrounding the stars. Comparing this information with the brightness of each source at optical and near-infrared wavelengths as measured by instruments on Hubble, the team was able to identify candidate Eta Carinae-like objects. Top: 3.6-micron images of candidate Eta twins from Spitzer's IRAC instrument. Bottom: 800-nanometer images of the same sources from various Hubble instruments. Credits: NASA, ESA, and R. Khan (GSFC and ORAU)
Researchers found likely Eta twins in four galaxies by comparing the infrared and optical brightness of each candidate source. Infrared images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope revealed the presence of warm dust surrounding the stars. Comparing this information with the brightness of each source at optical and near-infrared wavelengths as measured by instruments on Hubble, the team was able to identify candidate Eta Carinae-like objects. Top: 3.6-micron images of candidate Eta twins from Spitzer’s IRAC instrument. Bottom: 800-nanometer images of the same sources from various Hubble instruments.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and R. Khan (GSFC and ORAU)

An additional study indicates each of these five candidates has the same optical and infrared fingerprint as Eta Carinae. Astronomers think within each a high mass star is buried in five to ten solar masses of gas and dust, like Eta Carinae. 

More study’s needed

They plan additional study of these five candidate superstar binaries similar to Eta Carinae, to determine if they’re indeed what they were looking for. The launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, late in 2018, will enable additional and better study of these five possible superstar binaries. 

The James Webb Telescope’s Mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) has ten times the angular resolution of the Spitzer Space Telescope. It’s also most sensitive to the wavelengths needed to detect superstar binaries at their brightest. 

Combined with Webb’s larger primary mirror, MIRI will enable astronomers to better study these rare stellar laboratories and to find additional sources in this fascinating phase of stellar evolution,” said Sonneborn, NASA’s project scientist for Webb telescope operations. It will take Webb observations to confirm the Eta twins as true relatives of Eta Carinae.

Take the journey of the Spitzer Space Telescope here.

Discover the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Learn more about NASA here.

Discover Eta Carinae here.

Read about astronomers witnessing the first moments of a rare, newborn supernovae.

Learn more about US congress recognizing the right of US citizens to own asteroid resources.

Are you one of the millions of earthlings thinking about moving to Mars in the near future.

Survey of Debris Fields Around Infant Suns Reveals Structures with Unexpected Diversity and Complexity

Structures created during cataclysmic collisions between objects left over from planet formation or something unknown?

This is a set of images from a NASA Hubble Space Telescope survey of the architecture of debris systems around young stars. Ten previously discovered circumstellar debris systems, plus MP Mus (a mature protoplanetary disk of age comparable to the youngest of the debris disks), were studied.
This is a set of images from a NASA Hubble Space Telescope survey of the architecture of debris systems around young stars. Ten previously discovered circumstellar debris systems, plus MP Mus (a mature protoplanetary disk of age comparable to the youngest of the debris disks), were studied.

Space news (July 13, 2015) – collisions indicating possible gravitational effects of unseen orbiting exoplanets or consequences of the star traveling through interstellar space –

Space scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope recently completed a visible-light imaging survey of the debris field systems around 10 young stars between the ages of 10 million to 1 billion years old. Debris fields they studied in order to better understand the early solar system and formation of the planets.

Explore 25 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope NASA will host a one-day-long event for 50 social media and media attendees at the Newseum and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into a low Earth orbit and began returning groundbreaking images and data that continue to revolutionize astronomy.
Explore 25 Years of the Hubble Space Telescope
NASA will host a one-day-long event for 50 social media and media attendees at the Newseum and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into a low-Earth orbit and began returning groundbreaking images and data that continue to revolutionize astronomy.

It’s like looking back in time to see the kinds of destructive events that once routinely happened in our solar system after the planets formed,” said survey leader Glenn Schneider of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

eclipseguy with Glenn Schneider from The Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Glenn is the Project Lead – he makes the calculations for our Totality Run: the aircraft’s interception of the Moon’s umbra. He’s seen 32 Total Solar Eclipses
eclipseguy with Glenn Schneider from The Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Glenn is the Project Lead – he makes the calculations for our Totality Run: the aircraft’s interception of the Moon’s umbra. He’s seen 32 Total Solar Eclipses

What did the survey find?

Space scientists studying the evolution of stars and the formation of planets used to think debris fields surrounding young stars should be composed of simple pancake-like structures.

The complexity and diversity in debris fields studied in this recent survey strongly suggest this scenario is a little more involved than theories suggest. Facts indicate the possibility of gravitational effects of unseen exoplanets hidden within the dusty debris, the results of the young star traveling through interstellar space, or something unthought of as the reason for the deviation from theory.

We find that the systems are not simply flat with uniform surfaces,” Schneider said. “These are actually pretty complicated three-dimensional debris systems, often with embedded smaller structures. Some of the substructures could be signposts of unseen planets.” The astronomers used Hubble’s Space Telescope

Imaging Spectrograph to study 10 previously discovered circumstellar debris systems.

Star HD 181327 Shows Huge Debris Spray

Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this image shows the huge dusty debris discs around a star called HD 181327, showing a huge spray of debris possibly caused by the recent collision of two bodies into the outer part of the system. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2826048/Hubble-spots-massive-eye-sky-reveal-massive-dust-clouds-left-planets-form-say-moon-formed.html#ixzz3gjPl6sI1 Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
Captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, this image shows the huge dusty debris discs around a star called HD 181327, showing a huge spray of debris possibly caused by the recent collision of two bodies into the outer part of the system. Image credit NASA

The ring-like debris system surrounding star HD 181327 has irregularities space scientists think could be due to a recent collision between two bodies on the outer part of the system.

This spray of material is fairly distant from its host star — roughly twice the distance that Pluto is from the sun,” said co-investigator Christopher Stark. “Catastrophically destroying an object that massive at such a large distance is difficult to explain, and it should be very rare. If we are in fact seeing the recent aftermath of a massive collision, the unseen planetary system may be quite chaotic.

Another interpretation for the irregularity is that the disk has been mysteriously warped by the star’s passage through interstellar space, directly interacting with the unseen interstellar material. “Either way, the answer is exciting,” Schneider said. “Our team is currently analyzing follow-up observations that will help reveal the true cause of the irregularity.

As of 07/09/2015 space scientists have verified the existence of 1858 exoplanets, including 468 exosolar systems with multiple planets, and 92 Earth-size terrestrial-type planets. The structure and overall architecture of the systems discovered so far are more diverse than astrophysicists first proposed.

Habitable Worlds Image Credit & Licence: Planetary Habitability Laboratory (UPR Arecibo) Explanation: Is Earth the only known world that can support life? In an effort to find life-habitable worlds outside our Solar System, stars similar to our Sun are being monitored for slight light decreases that indicate eclipsing planets. Many previously-unknown planets are being found, including over 700 worlds recently uncovered by NASA's Kepler satellite. Depicted above in artist's illustrations are twelve extrasolar planets that orbit in the habitable zones of their parent stars. These exoplanets have the right temperature for water to be a liquid on their surfaces, and so water-based life on Earth might be able to survive on them. Although technology cannot yet detect resident life, finding habitable exoplanets is a step that helps humanity to better understand its place in the cosmos.
Habitable Worlds
Image Credit & Licence: Planetary Habitability Laboratory (UPR Arecibo)
Explanation: Is Earth the only known world that can support life? In an effort to find life-habitable worlds outside our Solar System, stars similar to our Sun are being monitored for slight light decreases that indicate eclipsing planets. Many previously unknown planets are being found, including over 700 worlds recently uncovered by NASA’s Kepler satellite. Depicted above in artist’s illustrations are twelve extrasolar planets that orbit in the habitable zones of their parent stars. These exoplanets have the right temperature for water to be a liquid on their surfaces, and so water-based life on Earth might be able to survive on them. Although technology cannot yet detect resident life, finding habitable exoplanets is a step that helps humanity to better understand its place in the cosmos.

During this time, space scientists have only viewed about two dozen light-scattering, circumstellar debris systems due to their comparative faintness and proximity to their parent stars. Despite the small sample size in exoplanetary debris systems astronomers view a surprising variety of architectures.

We are now seeing a similar diversity in the architecture of the accompanying debris systems,” Schneider said. “How are the planets affecting the disks, and how are the disks affecting the planets? There is some sort of interdependence between a planet and the accompanying debris that might affect the evolution of these exoplanetary debris systems.

What’s next?

Space scientists will now use the results obtained through this survey and the overall study of the debris system disks viewed to devise new theories and experiments to determine more about the evolution and growth of young stars in the cosmos.

They’ll also use the data and information gained to begin looking at how our solar system formed and evolved during the past 4.6 billion years. They want to study collisions between objects like HD 181327 and Earth-like planets to give more insight into the birth and evolution of our planet and the Moon during the first moments of the solar system.

You can learn more about and follow NASA’s space mission here.

Learn more about the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Learn about the NExSS Coalition’s Search for Habitable Planets and Life Beyond Earth.

Read about NASA telescopes detection of water vapor and clear skies on a Neptune-sized exoplanet.

Learn how to calculate the orbit of asteroids within the Main Asteroid Belt.

NExSS Coalition Searches for Habitable Planets and Life Beyond Earth

Groundbreaking collaboration between sciences explores planetary zoo for candidates with the ingredients for life

The search for life beyond our solar system requires unprecedented cooperation across scientific disciplines. NASA's NExSS collaboration includes those who study Earth as a life-bearing planet (lower right), those researching the diversity of solar system planets (left), and those on the new frontier, discovering worlds orbiting other stars in the galaxy (upper right). Credits: NASA
The search for life beyond our solar system requires unprecedented cooperation across scientific disciplines. NASA’s NExSS collaboration includes those who study Earth as a life-bearing planet (lower right), those researching the diversity of solar system planets (left), and those on the new frontier, discovering worlds orbiting other stars in the galaxy (upper right).
Credits: NASA

Space news (June 06, 2015) – The human search for life beyond Earth reaches for new horizons this week with the announcement NASA’s bringing together space scientists spanning a variety of scientific fields to form Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS).

Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) brings together top research teams in Earth and planetary science and Helio and Astrophysics in an effort to determine the habitability of exoplanets discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

“This interdisciplinary endeavor connects top research teams and provides a synthesized approach in the search for planets with the greatest potential for signs of life,” says Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science. “The hunt for exoplanets is not only a priority for astronomers, it’s of keen interest to planetary and climate scientists as well.”

Since the beginning of NASA’s Kepler Space Mission six years ago planet hunters have discovered 1852 exoplanets. Currently, there are another 4661 candidates detected by the Kepler Space Telescope, being examined closely for evidence to prove the existence of life beyond Earth. NExSS space scientists will develop techniques to confirm the habitability of these exoplanets by searching for ‘signs of life’.

Earth and planetary scientists, Heliophysicists and Astrophysicists use a “System Science” approach to better understand the ‘signs of life’ they need to look for on exoplanets discovered. They want to understand how life-on-Earth interacts with the atmosphere, geology, oceans and interior of the planet, and how this is affected by our sun. In an effort to develop better techniques to detect life on distant planets.

Dr. Paul Hertz, Director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA notes, “NExSS scientists will not only apply a systems science approach to existing exoplanet data, their work will provide a foundation for interpreting observations of exoplanets from future exoplanet missions such as TESS, JWST, and WFIRST.” The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is working toward a 2017 launch, with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) scheduled for launch in 2018. The Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is currently being studied by NASA for a launch in the 2020’s.

The search for life goes on

NExSS is led by Natalie Batalha of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Dawn Gelino of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute, and Anthony del Genio of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. They’ll lead team members from ten universities and two research institutes as they search for exoplanets with signs of life.

Humans have searched for signs of life in the night sky for thousands of years and some claim to have met and interacted with extraterrestrial beings during this time.

Now, humans desire to meet and communicate with beings from another world, and NExSS is the next step towards finding the answer to the eternal question.

Are we alone in the universe?

To learn more about NExSS and the search for life visit here.

You can learn more about NASA’s space mission to the stars here.

Learn more about planets in four star systems

Read about NASA reaching out to private and business concerns to help enable the human desire to travel to Mars and beyond.

Learn how to calculate the orbits of asteroids within the Main Asteroid Belt.

NASA Telescopes Detecting Clear Skies and Steamy Water Vapor on Neptune-size Exoplanet

A Neptune-size planet with a clear atmosphere is shown crossing in front of its star in this artist's depiction. Such crossings, or transits, are observed by telescopes like NASA's Hubble and Spitzer to glean information about planets' atmospheres.
A Neptune-size planet with a clear atmosphere is shown crossing in front of its star in this artist’s depiction. Such crossings, or transits, are observed by telescopes like NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer to glean information about planets’ atmospheres Image Credit NASA

Is a sign smaller exoplanets could have similar or more hospitable environments

Space news (November 07, 2014) 120 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus –

NASA space scientists using the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes detected clear skies and steamy water vapor on exoplanet HAT-P-11b. This is the first detection of molecules on an exoplanet the size of Neptune or smaller. It’s also a sign smaller exoplanets have similar or more hospitable environments.  

Scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Space scientists were excited to discover clear skies on a relatively small planet, about the size of Neptune, using the combined power of NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer, and Kepler space telescopes.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

How did space scientists detect clear skies and steamy vapor on a planet 120 light-years away in the Constellation Cygnus? Astronomers used the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to observe HAT-P-11b as it passed in front of its parent star in relation to Earth. By analyzing the starlight passing through the atmosphere of the exoplanet, space scientists determined the specific molecules making it up. 

This scientific technique is called Transmission Spectroscopy and it was particularly effective in the case of HAT-P-11b because of this Neptune-size exoplanet (exo-Neptune), unlike previous ones detected, has no clouds in the atmosphere to block the starlight from coming through, which allowed for the detection of water vapor molecules.  

A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA's Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI
A plot of the transmission spectrum for exoplanet HAT-P-11b, with data from NASA’s Kepler, Hubble and Spitzer space observatories combined. The results show a robust detection of water absorption in the Hubble data. Transmission spectra of selected atmospheric models are plotted for comparison.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI

“This discovery is a significant milepost on the road to eventually analyzing the atmospheric composition of smaller, rocky planets more like Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Such achievements are only possible today with the combined capabilities of these unique and powerful observatories.” 

“When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, College Park, lead author of a new study appearing in Nature. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That’s lucky for us because it means clouds didn’t block our view of water molecules.” 

“We think that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions, which reflect their formation histories,” said study co-author Heather Knutson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Now with data like these, we can begin to piece together a narrative for the origin of these distant worlds.” 

“We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from the University of Maryland. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.” 

NASA space scientists will now use the Hubble, Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes to begin looking at more exoplanets the size of HAT-P-11b for clear skies and water vapor. They’ll also hope to use Transmission Spectroscopy to detect smaller exoplanets, more like our home planet, called super-Earths orbiting distant stars. Once the James Webb Space Telescope comes online in 2018, they’ll begin looking at any super-Earths detected for signs of water vapor and other molecules. 

Find more on the Hubble Space Telescope here

More information on the Spitzer Space Telescope can be found here

Look here for more on the Kepler Space Telescope. 

Go here for more information on NASA and the exoplanets discovered.

Read about the possibility of intelligent lifeforms existing in the universe

Read about the Chelyabinsk Meteorite

Read about ancient astronomers looking at Algol for signs of the gods

Space Exploration Takes Time

It took five decades to develop and ultimately launch the Hubble Space Telescope 

Artists conception of possible successor to the Hubble Space Telescope
Artists conception of possible successor to the Hubble Space Telescope Image Credit NASA

Future space telescopes (Oct. 15, 2014) –

Traveling and exploring space is an adventure unlike anything experienced by travelers during thousands of years of life on Earth. A space journey requires careful planning, patience, and determination far beyond any adventure ever undertaken by people traveling over land or water. Exploring space for possible new worlds orbiting distant stars takes a space telescope requiring decades to develop and ultimately launch into space.

For example, the space telescope most people associate with hunting for new worlds, the Hubble Space Telescope, took five decades to design, engineer and finally launch into space. In the same fashion, the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to make the leap into space in 2018, almost 24 years after work first started on the idea. In fact, NASA engineers and scientists believe it will take so long to actually build a true successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, they have already started work on a replacement.

Dubbed the Advanced Telescope Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST), the successor to the first planet hunter incorporates improved technology first pioneered by the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes. Studying the ultraviolet, visible and near-infrared universe, ATLAST is designed to be a long-term space observatory for the next phase of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Engineers and scientists are currently taking a look at the costs and scientific and technical requirements of constructing a replacement planet hunter sometime within the next twenty or thirty years.

Team of NASA scientists and engineers studying the feasibility and costs of building ATLAST
Team of NASA scientists and engineers studying the feasibility and costs of building ATLAST Images Credit NASA

“Conceptually, ATLAST would leverage the technological advances pioneered by the Webb telescope, such as deployable, large segmented mirror arrays,” said Mark Clampin, ATLAST study scientist and Webb’s project scientist.

“We will be leveraging a lot of heritage from the Webb telescope and then developing new technologies over the next few years for the primary mirror assembly, wavefront sensing and control, and ultra-stable structures to achieve this wavefront error stability,” Clampin said.

“One of the killer apps currently planned for ATLAST is the ability to detect signatures of life in the atmospheres of Earth-like planets in the solar neighborhood,” Clampin said.“While other observatories will image larger exoplanets, they would not have ATLAST’s advanced ability to identify chemicals that may indicate the presence of life in these far-flung, Earth-size worlds.”

ATLAST will reside in the same Sun-Earth L2 orbit the James Webb Space Telescope will occupy once it’s launched around 2018. Carrying a state-of-the-art star shade designed to help reduce the light from an Earth-sized planet’s home star, ATLAST should detect worlds that could be a new cradle for the human race to begin life again.

ATLAST also has a large main mirror capable of studying star and galaxy birth in high definition. It would be able to provide detailed images of stars in galaxies over 10 million light-years away and regions of space where new stars are being created over 100 parsecs in size anywhere in the visible universe. This mirror would be quite a bit larger than the largest segmented mirror NASA has ever launched into space, the one on the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA identified a need to begin development of a replacement for Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope in a recent document outlining its vision for astrophysics during the next three decades titled “Enduring Quests, Daring Visions“.

“While people expect Hubble and Webb to operate for many years, we are looking ahead to the telescope and instrument requirements needed to answer the questions posed in NASA’s 30-year vision,” said Harley Thronson, the Goddard senior scientist for Advanced Concepts in Astrophysics and ATLAST study scientist.

“ATLAST would achieve critically important science goals not possible with ground-based observatories or with any other planned space missions,” added Thronson. “Now is the time to plan for the future.”

“One of the pertinent attributes about ATLAST is that it’s being designed to be modular and serviceable, following the Hubble Space Telescope model,” observed Julie Crooke, one of the Goddard study leads. “Mission planners would design the observatory so that it could be serviced to upgrade instrumentation — a potential capability that depends on available budget and science requirements. Serviceability has been one of the great paradigms in mission architecture that separates the Hubble Space Telescope from all of the other space missions to date,” Crooke said.

You can find more information on ATLAST here.

For more information on the James Webb Space Telescope visit here.

Read about methane clouds over the northern seas of Titan

Read about icy geysers on Enceladus

Read about our calculations concerning the possibility of intelligent life existing in the universe other than on Earth

Earth-size Planet Discovered Orbiting Within Habitable Zone of Star

Earth-sized planets could be more common than we first assumed

This artists conception of Kepler-186f is elegant, but still imagination at work
This artist’s conception of Kepler-186f is elegant, but still imagination at work

Space news (astrophysics: exoplanets; Kepler-186f )

NASA astronomers working with the Kepler Space Telescope have discovered the first Earth-sized planet orbiting within the ‘habitable zone’ of its host star. Kepler-186f, as its name implies, is in the Kepler-186 star system, around 500 light-years from Sol in the constellation Cygnus. A discovery that implies planets the size of Earth, residing within their host star’s habitable zone, could be more common than we first thought.

Space scientists believe there’s a good chance Kepler-186f is a rocky planet, similar in many ways to the Earth. The fact it resides within the habitable zone implies liquid water could exist on the surface of this planet and possibly life based on the same principles as on Earth. The M dwarf, or red dwarf, sun it orbits is a common star making up about 70 percent of the suns in our home galaxy and is only half the volume and mass of Sol. This star is also orbited by four other planets, according to the latest information, but this number could change as more data is obtained.

“The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind’s quest to find truly Earth-like worlds.”

NASA astronomers have no idea, yet, what Kepler-186f is made of, or even its mass. They’ll now focus more instruments and time to look into some of these facts, and hopefully, soon we’ll know a lot more about this possible twin-Earth.

“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth,” said Elisa Quintana, a research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science. “Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”

Earth-size planets are more familiar to scientists than the larger planets discovered lying within the habitable zone of their host stars. It will be easier to understand the data they obtain concerning Kepler-186f, and hopefully, this translates into a better picture of the planet.

M dwarfs are the most numerous stars,” said Quintana. “The first signs of other life in the galaxy may well come from planets orbiting an M dwarf.”

What would a day on Kepler-186f be like? This planet is near the outer boundary of its host star’s habitable zone, which results in it receiving about 30 percent of the energy Earth gets from Sol. Viewed from the surface of the planet at high noon, the host star would only be as bright as Sol an hour before sunset. A day on Kepler-186f isn’t going to be a walk in the park on a sunny day.

“Being in the habitable zone does not mean we know this planet is habitable. The temperature on the planet is strongly dependent on what kind of atmosphere the planet has,” said Thomas Barclay, a research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, and co-author of the paper. “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth.”

What’s next for the team?

The next step for NASA astronomers is to find Earth-size planets that are a true twin for Earth, which will be a day to remember. Determining the chemical composition of any planets found will be an exciting time for both astronomers and humankind. A planet with a similar chemical composition to Earth would open up eyes and change the prospect of the possibility of alien life in the galaxy and universe.

It would truly be something to experience.

What is the possibility of alien life existing in the universe? Read “The Possibility of Intelligent Lifeforms Existing in the Universe”.

What has Kepler discovered lately? Read “Kepler Mission Introduces 715 New Planets

Read about “The Search for Life Beyond Earth Takes a Turn at Jupiter

Watch this YouTube video on Kepler-186f

This artists conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer

Kepler Mission Introduces 715 New Planets

This artists conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer
This artist’s conception of depicts multiple-transiting planet systems seen edge-on from the vantage point of the viewer

Astronomy News –

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

NASA announced recently the Kepler mission had found another 715 planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers determined these planets orbit a total of 305 stars, but this total could change after all the facts are in. This points to a lot more multiple planet-star systems, like our own solar system existing in the Milky Way.

Kepler-62f looks dark and foreboding in this artists conception of the exo-planet
Kepler-62f looks dark and foreboding in this artist’s conception of the exo-planet

Astronomers believe around 95 percent of these newly discovered planets are smaller than Neptune, which is nearly four times larger than Earth. This means Earth-size planets outside our own solar system are a lot more common than astronomers first thought.

Kepler-62e is depicted in this artists conception
Kepler-62e is depicted in this artist’s conception

“The Kepler team continues to amaze and excite us with their planet hunting results,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “That these new planets and solar systems look somewhat like our own, portends a great future when we have the James Webb Space Telescope in space to characterize the new worlds.”

Work still to be done

Astronomers have had two decades to work out a new way to identify planets among the thousands of star systems they examine using the Kepler Space Telescope and other instruments. The initial process involves laboriously doing a planet-by-planet analysis to determine if a candidate is a planet. Astronomers now use a statistical technique, which they apply to star systems they think have more than one planet.

Jack Lissauer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, and a team of scientists analyzed star systems they think have more than one planet. All of these planet candidates were initially found in the first two years of the Kepler Mission – May 2009 to March 2011.

The statistical technique they used is called verification by multiplicity and it partly uses mathematical probability to determine if a candidate is a planet. Astronomers have observed that planets tend to be found together while stars like to roam on their own. If they find a candidate has two or more planet candidates, then it’s probably a star, with orbiting planets. Using these statistical technique astronomers were able to find these 715 new planets.

“Four years ago, Kepler began a string of announcements of first hundreds, then thousands, of planet candidates –but they were only candidate worlds,” said Lissauer. “We’ve now developed a process to verify multiple planet candidates in bulk to deliver planets wholesale, and have used it to unveil a veritable bonanza of new worlds.”

At least four of these new planets astronomers believe are only 2.5 bigger than Earth and orbit their home sun at a distance compatible with the possibility of life. Planets that fall within the habitable zone, or goldilocks zone, of their home star, are planets where water could exist in its various forms. Astronomers believe the temperature and conditions on these four planets could be suitable for biological life forms to exist.

This artists conception is of Kepler-69 and its possible solar system
This artist’s conception is of Kepler-69 and its possible solar system

The home star of one of these new planets called Kepler-296f, astronomers believe is only half the mass and 5 percent of our own Sun. Kepler-296f astronomers believe is at least twice the size of Earth and they’re wondering if it could be a gaseous world, with a thick soupy atmosphere, or possibly a water planet, with a life-sustaining ocean of water.

What’s next?

“From this study, we learn planets in these multi-systems are small and their orbits are flat and circular — resembling pancakes — not your classical view of an atom,” said Jason Rowe, a research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., and co-leader of the research. “The more we explore the more we find familiar traces of ourselves amongst the stars that remind us of home.”

With the latest planets discovered, this puts the total number of planets the Kepler mission has found at around 1,700. Around 961 of these candidates, NASA is sure are planets. One day we will venture out into the unknown of space and land on one of these distant planets. Each planet we discover brings us closer to this day.

You can view the Stream feed here www.ustream.tv/channel/NASA-arc

For more information on the Kepler Space Telescope and its mission to discover planets visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

Read this article on the year ahead for the human journey to the beginning of space and time

Read this article on the Chelyabinsk meteorite

Read this article on a supernova NASA thinks could have given birth to a black hole

Sources:

http://www.nasa.gov/ames/kepler/digital-press-kit-kepler-planet-bonanza

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All images and diagrams provided by NASA.