Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Earth and Moon from Mars and other space and astronomy news

Just like last week, when the real top story for space was NASA and Super Bowl, this week's top story was Space and climate at Sochi followed by NASA on California drought and other drought and water stories.  Even after two entries, there were a lot of space and astronomy stories left.  Since something has to lead, I give the honor to for Curiosity Sees Earth and Moon From Mars | Video.

The Mars Science Laboratory captured imagery of the brightest object in its twilight sky, Earth and its orbiting Moon. The rover's Mast Camera imaged them on January 31st, 2014, its 529th day on the Red Planet.
That's not scientifically significant, but the image is important for its emotional impact, as it gives another perspective on our home planet.  Besides, it's really cool.

Follow over the jump for more from NASA and on last week's space and astronomy news.

NASA: Webb Telescope's progress on This Week @NASA

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Goddard Center Director Chris Scolese congratulated the Goddard team recently for progress in development of the James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope's flight instruments and primary mirrors are being integrated at Goddard. JWST is the agency's flagship science project and the most powerful space telescope ever built. Scheduled to launch in 2018, it will study every phase in the history of our universe, including the first luminous glows after the big bang and the evolution of our own solar system. Also, Crawler-Transporter test drive, Adapter ring complete, Engine test, Progress up, Progress down and more!
JPL/NASA: What's Up for February 2014

See all the planets, plus mission updates from comet and asteroid missions Dawn and Rosetta.
NASA Goddard: Playing Tag With an Asteroid

What's the best way get a sample of an asteroid? Play tag with it! That's the plan for OSIRIS-REx, a NASA spacecraft that will approach the asteroid Bennu in 2018. The collection will be done with an instrument on board called the Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism, or, TAGSAM. Learn how it works in this video. Hubble Telescope Helps Solve Mystery of Universe's Massive Galactic Burnouts
By Megan Gannon, News Editor
February 07, 2014 07:11am ET
Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observatories, astronomers are learning why some massive galaxies hit their peak young and quit making stars when the universe was less than a quarter of its current age.

Scientists have been puzzled by compact, elliptical-shaped galaxies that seem to have burned out when the universe was 3 billion years old. For comparison, our Milky Way galaxy is 12 billion years old and still making stars. These burnouts are sometimes nicknamed "red and dead" galaxies because of their reddish color, compared to the blue hues of star-making galaxies, according to NASA. Strangely, these dead galaxies are just as massive as today's large spiral galaxies, but with stars squeezed into an area three times smaller.

"This means that the density of stars was 10 times greater," Sune Toft, an astrophysics and cosmology professor at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, explained in a statement. "Furthermore, the galaxies were already dead, so they were no longer forming new stars. It was a great mystery." Black Holes Heated Early Universe Slower Than Previously Thought
By Nola Taylor Redd, Contributor
February 05, 2014 01:01pm ET
Black holes acting as companions to early stars may have taken more time to raise the temperature of the ancient universe than previously thought, a new study suggests.

Scientists found that the energy streaming from these early pairings took longer to raise the temperature of the universe, which means astronomers could detect signs of the heating process previously thought to be out of bounds. Two cosmic milestones occurred in the universe a few hundred million years after the Big Bang— dominating hydrogen gas was both heated and made transparent.

"Previously, it was thought that these two milestones are well separated in time, and thus in observational data as well," study co-author Rennan Barkana, of Tel Aviv University, told via email. Wobbly Alien Planet with Wild Seasons Found by NASA Telescope
By Megan Gannon, News Editor
February 05, 2014 01:00pm ET
Astronomers have discovered an alien planet that wobbles at such a dizzying rate that its seasons must fluctuate wildly.

Throughout all of the planet's fast-changing seasons, however, no forecast would be friendly to humans. The warm planet is a gassy super-Neptune that orbits too close to its two parent stars to be in its system's "habitable zone," the region where temperatures would allow liquid water, and perhaps life as we know it, to exist.

The faraway world, which lies 2,300 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus, was discovered by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope. Dubbed Kepler-413b, the planet orbits a pair of orange and red dwarf stars every 66 days. NASA Spacecraft Snaps More than 200,000 Photos of Mercury (Image)
By Miriam Kramer, Staff Writer
February 07, 2014 10:51am ET
A probe orbiting Mercury has beamed more than 200,000 images to ground controllers on Earth, and it's still going strong.

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft has been in orbit around Mercury since 2011. Originally, scientists only expected the probe to beam 1,000 or 2,000 images of Mercury home during the life of its mission, but the spacecraft surpassed that goal long ago.

"Returning over 200,000 images from orbit about Mercury is an impressive accomplishment for the mission, and one I've been personally counting down for the last few months," Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab's Nancy Chabot, instrument scientist for the Mercury Dual Imaging System on MESSENGER, said in a statement. "However, I’m really more excited about the many thousands of images that are still in MESSENGER's future, especially those that we plan to acquire at low altitudes and will provide the highest resolution views yet of Mercury's surface."
And that's it for the past week's space and astronomy news.  Stay tuned for more next week.

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