50 years ago today, in the heat of the Space Race, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space — two whole decades before the late Sally Ride made history as the first American woman in space and the youngest astronaut to ever launch into the cosmos.
Side Note: The two images shown above are mere crop outs from ESA’s recent hit: The 9 Billion Pixel Image of 84 Million Stars. These two focus on the bright center of the image for the purpose of highlighting what a peak at 84,000,000 stars looks like.
Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory’s Paranal Observatory in Chile have released a breathtaking new photograph showing the central area of our Milky Way galaxy. The photograph shows a whopping 84 million stars in an image measuring 108500×81500, which contains nearly 9 billion pixels.
It’s actually a composite of thousands of individual photographs shot with the observatory’s VISTA survey telescope, the same camera that captured the amazing 55-hour exposure. Three different infrared filters were used to capture the different details present in the final image.
The VISTA’s camera is sensitive to infrared light, which allows its vision to pierce through much of the space dust that blocks the view of ordinary optical telescope/camera systems.
First X-ray view of Martian soil
This graphic shows results of the first analysis of Martian soil by the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) experiment on NASA’s Curiosity rover. The image reveals the presence of crystalline feldspar, pyroxenes and olivine mixed with some amorphous (non-crystalline) material. The soil sample, taken from a wind-blown deposit within Gale Crater, where the rover landed, is similar to volcanic soils in Hawaii.
Curiosity scooped the soil on Oct. 15, 2012, the 69th sol, or Martian day, of operations. It was delivered to CheMin for X-ray diffraction analysis on October 17, 2012, the 71st sol. By directing an X-ray beam at a sample and recording how X-rays are scattered by the sample at an atomic level, the instrument can definitively identify and quantify minerals on Mars for the first time. Each mineral has a unique pattern of rings, or “fingerprint,” revealing its presence. The colors in the graphic represent the intensity of the X-rays, with red being the most intense.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ames
Credit: SOHO - LASCO Consortium, ESA, NASA
Explanation: SOHO, the space-based SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory, has become by far the reigning champion facility for discovering comets, its total having recently reached 200. As might be expected of a solar observatory, most of the SOHO discovered comets are sungrazers, destined to dive within a mere 50 thousand kilometers or so of the solar photosphere. At that range the intense heat and gravitational forces make it unlikely these primitive chunks of ice and dust will survive. Based on their similar orbits, as first worked out by 19th century German astronomer Heinrich Kreutz, all sungrazers are believed to originate from a single large parent comet which broke up during a perihelion passage perhaps 2,000 years ago. Over time, pieces have continued to split off producing a family of smaller comets which seem to travel in the same orbit. These frames from SOHO’s coronograph were taken two hours apart on April 29 of this year. They show a sungrazer (SOHO comet discovery number 111) with a long, bright tail headed toward its fiery encounter. The sun itself is hidden behind the coronograph’s occulting disk at each frame’s upper right.
At a time when life as we know it was just getting its start on Earth, Martian clay may have harbored a key component for one of life’s molecular building blocks, researchers say.
Boron found in a Martian meteorite suggests the Red Planet may once have had the right chemistry to give rise to RNA, according to a new study.
“In early life RNA is thought to have been the informational precursor to DNA,” study researcher James Stephenson, an evolutionary biologist, said in a statement.
Billions of years ago, RNA may have been the first molecule to program information and pass it on to the next generation. Today, that task is DNA’s domain. RNA, meanwhile, is responsible for carrying genetic information from DNA to proteins. Researchers believe the RNA sugar component, ribose, relies on borates (the oxidized form of boron) to form spontaneously.
“Borates may have been important for the origin of life on Earth because they can stabilize ribose, a crucial component of RNA,” added Stephenson, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hawaii at Manoa NASA Astrobiology Institute (UHNAI).
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Image: Electron microscope image showing the 700-million-year-old Martian clay veins containing boron. CREDIT: UHNAI
Preparing NASA’s next solar satellite for launch
Orbital Sciences team members move the second half of the payload fairing before it is placed over NASA’s IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) spacecraft. The fairing connects to the nose of the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket that will lift the solar observatory into orbit. The work is taking place in a hangar at Vandenberg Air Force Base, where IRIS is being prepared for launch on a Pegasus XL rocket.
Scheduled for launch from Vandenberg on June 26, 2013, IRIS will open a new window of discovery by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the chromospheres and transition region into the sun’s corona using spectrometry and imaging. IRIS fills a crucial gap in our ability to advance studies of the sun-to-Earth connection by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the foundation of the corona and the region around the sun known as the heliosphere.
Image credit: NASA/Tony Vauclin
(NASA) Sculpted by stellar winds and radiation, these fantastic, undulating shapes lie within the stellar nursery known as M17, the Omega Nebula, some 5,500 light-years away in the nebula-rich constellation Sagittarius. The lumpy features in the dense cold gas and dust are illuminated by stars off the upper left of the image and may themselves represent sites of future star formation. Colors in the fog of surrounding hotter material indicate M17’s chemical make up. The predominately green glow corresponds to abundant hydrogen, with trace sulfur and oxygen atoms contributing red and blue hues. The picture spans about 3 light-years and was released to celebrate the thirteenth year of the Hubble Space Telescope’s cosmic voyage of exploration.