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Space mission: Land a drone on Saturn's moon Titan.
Recall the fuss when drones forced Gatwick airport to close. Well, now NASA is looking at a nuclear powered drone to fly around and explore large areas of the moon Titan
Space.com
Space.com
space.com
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With Google+ sadly closing down, Universe and Astronomy will be continuing on Facebook. I hope you will all join there:

https://www.facebook.com/nightskyuniverse/
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Milky Way and Telescope

Milky Way & the Harland J. Smith Telescope @ the McDonald Observatory photographed by Clark C

Facebook Astronomy blog: https://www.facebook.com/nightskyuniverse/
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A Cauldron of Star Birth in the Center of a Young Galaxy

This illustration reveals the celestial fireworks deep inside the core of a developing galaxy in the young Universe, as seen from a hypothetical planetary system.

The sky is depicted as ablaze with the glow from nebulae, fledgling star clusters, and stars exploding as supernovae.

The rapidly forming core may eventually become the heart of a mammoth galaxy similar to one of the giant elliptical galaxies seen today.

Credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and G. Bacon (Space Telescope Science Institute)

Facebook Astronomy blog: https://www.facebook.com/nightskyuniverse/
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Next generation astronomy is in the planning right now ...
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Elegance conceals an eventful past

The elegant simplicity of NGC 4111, seen here in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, hides a more violent history than you might think. NGC 4111 is a lenticular, or lens-shaped, galaxy, lying about 50 million light-years from us in the constellation of Canes Venatici (The Hunting Dogs).

Lenticular galaxies are an intermediate type of galaxy between an elliptical and a spiral. They host aged stars like ellipticals and have a disk like a spiral. However, that’s where the similarities end: they differ from ellipticals because they have a bulge and a thin disk, but are different from spirals because lenticular discs contain very little gas and dust, and do not feature the many-armed structure that is characteristic of spiral galaxies. In this image we see the disc of NGC 4111 edge-on, so it appears as a thin sliver of light on the sky.

At first sight, NGC 4111 looks like a fairly uneventful galaxy, but there are unusual features that suggest it is not such a peaceful place. Running through its centre, at right angles to the thin disc, is a series of filaments, silhouetted against the bright core of the galaxy. These are made of dust, and astronomers think they are associated with a ring of material encircling the galaxy’s core. Since it is not aligned with the galaxy’s main disc, it is possible that this polar ring of gas and dust is actually the remains of a smaller galaxy that was swallowed up by NGC 4111 long ago.

Credit:

ESA/Hubble & NASA
Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt
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All-sky view of the Magellanic Stream

This image shows a long ribbon of gas called the Magellanic Stream, which stretches nearly halfway around the Milky Way.

In this combined radio and visible-light image, the gaseous stream is shown in pink. The radio observations are taken from the Leiden/Argentine/Bonn (LAB) Survey. The Milky Way is the light blue band in the centre of the image. The brown clumps are interstellar dust clouds in our galaxy. The Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, are the white regions at the bottom right.

Credit:

David L. Nidever, et al., NRAO/AUI/NSF and Mellinger, Leiden/Argentine/Bonn Survey, Parkes Observatory, Westerbork Observatory, and Arecibo Observatory.

Facebook Astronomy blog: https://www.facebook.com/nightskyuniverse/
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A glimpse of the future

This image, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, shows what happens when two galaxies become one. The twisted cosmic knot seen here is NGC 2623 — or Arp 243 — and is located about 250 million light-years away in the constellation of Cancer (The Crab).

NGC 2623 gained its unusual and distinctive shape as the result of a major collision and subsequent merger between two separate galaxies. This violent encounter caused clouds of gas within the two galaxies to become compressed and stirred up, in turn triggering a sharp spike of star formation. This active star formation is marked by speckled patches of bright blue; these can be seen clustered both in the centre and along the trails of dust and gas forming NGC 2623’s sweeping curves (known as tidal tails). These tails extend for roughly 50 000 light-years from end to end. Many young, hot, newborn stars form in bright stellar clusters — at least 170 such clusters are known to exist within NGC 2623.

NGC 2623 is in a late stage of merging. It is thought that the Milky Way will eventually resemble NGC 2623 when it collides with our neighbouring galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy, in four billion years time.

In contrast to the image of NGC 2623 released in 2009 (heic0912), this new version contains data from recent narrow-band and infrared observations that make more features of the galaxy visible.


Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA

Facebook Astronomy blog: https://www.facebook.com/nightskyuniverse/
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Comprehensive Spectrum of WASP-39b

Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescopes as well as data gathered by other telescopes in space and on the ground astronomers have analysed the atmosphere of the exoplanet WASP-39b. It is the most complete spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere possible with present-day technology.

By dissecting starlight filtering through the planet’s atmosphere into its component colours, the team found clear evidence for water vapour. Although the researchers predicted they would see water, they were surprised by how much water they found — three times as much as Saturn has. This suggests that the planet formed farther out from the star, where it was bombarded by icy material.

Credit:

NASA, ESA, G. Bacon and A. Feild (STScI), and H. Wakeford (STScI/Univ. of Exeter)
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Hubble and Gaia measure Cepheid variable stars

Using two of the world’s most powerful space telescopes — the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and ESA’s Gaia — astronomers have made the most precise measurements to date of the Universe’s expansion rate. This is calculated by gauging the distances between nearby galaxies using special types of stars called Cepheid variables as cosmic yardsticks. By comparing their intrinsic brightness — measured with Hubble — with their apparent brightness as seen from Earth, scientists can calculate their distances. Gaia further refines this yardstick by measuring the distances to Cepheid variables within our Milky Way Galaxy using astrometry. This allowed astronomers to more precisely calibrate the distances to Cepheids that are seen in other galaxies.


Credit:

NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI)
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