samedi 13 janvier 2018

NASA's Great Observatories Team Up to Find Magnified and Stretched Image of Distant Galaxy

NASA - Spitzer Space Telescope patch / NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 13, 2018

An intensive survey deep into the universe by NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has yielded the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack: the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

Image above: This Hubble Space Telescope image shows the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Image Credits: NASA , ESA, and B. Salmon (STScI).

The embryonic galaxy named SPT0615-JD existed when the universe was just 500 million years old. Though a few other primitive galaxies have been seen at this early epoch, they have essentially all looked like red dots, given their small size and tremendous distances. However, in this case, the gravitational field of a massive foreground galaxy cluster not only amplified the light from the background galaxy but also smeared the image of it into an arc (about 2 arcseconds long).

"No other candidate galaxy has been found at such a great distance that also gives you the spatial information that this arc image does. By analyzing the effects of gravitational lensing on the image of this galaxy, we can determine its actual size and shape," said the study's lead author, Brett Salmon of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. He is presenting his research at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington.

First predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, the warping of space by the gravity of a massive foreground object can brighten and distort the images of far more distant background objects. Astronomers use this "zoom lens" effect to go hunting for amplified images of distant galaxies that otherwise would not be visible with today's telescopes.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credit: NASA

SPT0615-JD was identified in Hubble's Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey (RELICS) and companion S-RELICS Spitzer program. "RELICS was designed to discover distant galaxies like these that are magnified brightly enough for detailed study," said Dan Coe, principal investigator of RELICS. RELICS observed 41 massive galaxy clusters for the first time in infrared with Hubble to search for such distant lensed galaxies. One of these clusters was SPT-CL J0615-5746, which Salmon analyzed to make this discovery. Upon finding the lens-arc, Salmon thought, "Oh, wow! I think we're on to something!"

By combining the Hubble and Spitzer data, Salmon calculated the lookback time to the galaxy of 13.3 billion years. Preliminary analysis suggests the diminutive galaxy weighs in at no more than 3 billion solar masses (roughly 1/100th the mass of our fully grown Milky Way galaxy). It is less than 2,500 light-years across, half the size of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The object is considered prototypical of young galaxies that emerged during the epoch shortly after the big bang.

The galaxy is right at the limits of Hubble's detection capabilities, but just the beginning for the upcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope's powerful capabilities, said Salmon. "This galaxy is an exciting target for science with the Webb telescope as it offers the unique opportunity for resolving stellar populations in the very early universe." Spectroscopy with Webb will allow for astronomers to study in detail the firestorm of starbirth activity taking place at this early epoch, and resolve its substructure.

Spitzer Space Telescope. Animation Credit: NASA

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

Related links:

Hubble's Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey (RELICS):

For more information about Hubble, visit:

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.


Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist, week of January 1, 2018

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

Jan. 13, 2018

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

(Highlights: Week of January 1, 2018) - The crew members aboard the International Space Station had a busy week of science this week as they explored research in the fields of Earth remote sensing, radiation measurements and shielding, microbiology and orbital debris.

The Radi-N2 Neutron Field Study (Radi-N2) measures neutron radiation levels aboard the orbiting laboratory using Space Bubble Detectors, which are designed to detect neutrons and ignore all other forms of radiation. Results from this investigation may provide a better understanding of the connections between neutron radiation and DNA damage and mutation rates, symptoms that affect some astronauts, and other radiation health issues. Last week, eight bubble detectors were deployed for the experiment and this week, they were collected to be processed in the Bubble Reader.

Animation above: NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Scott Tingle and Joe Acaba aboard the space station. Animation Credit: NASA.

The Microbial Observatory of Pathogenic Viruses, Bacteria, and Fungi Project (Microbial Tracking-2) investigation seeks to catalog and characterize potential disease-causing microorganisms aboard the space station. The development of an all-encompassing, integrated, comprehensive microbial database enables various strategies of screening for, and identifying, specific subsets of microorganisms. This dataset creates a capability to compare fluctuating viral and microbial communities to "baseline" standards, enables more accurate assessments of crew health associated with a given mission and future mission planning, and capitalizes on parallel research from institutions such as the Human Microbiome Project and Indoor Microbiome Project efforts. This week, a crew member provided body and saliva samples in support of the investigation. Samples from the crew pre-flight, in-flight, and post-flight, as well as environmental samples from the station’s surfaces and air are used to identify any associations between the microbial content of the samples, as well as any potential health effects.

The Space Debris Sensor (SDS) monitors the small debris environment around the space station, recording instances of debris between the sizes of .05mm to.5mm. The space station has orbital debris shields in place to protect from debris less than 1.5 centimeters in size. Larger debris pieces are tracked by ground control, and if needed, the space station thrusters can be used to safely move station away from the debris. This week, SDS was removed from Dragon’s trunk for installation on the exterior of the Columbus module.

Animation above: The Space Debris Sensor is unpacked from the trunk of the SpaceX Dragon. Animation Credit: NASA.

Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS) measures the sun's energy input to Earth. Various satellites have captured a continuous record of this solar energy input to Earth since 1978. TSIS sensors advance previous measurements with three times the accuracy, enabling scientists to study the sun’s natural influence on Earth’s ozone layer, atmospheric circulation, clouds, and ecosystems. These observations are essential for a scientific understanding of the effects of solar variability on the Earth system. Last week, TSIS was unpacked from Dragon and installed on the space station’s ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3.

Other work was done on these investigations: Two-Phase Flow, Transparent Alloys, Amyloid, Biochemical Profile, Repository, APEX-05, Meteor, At Home in Space, BEAM, Circadian Rhythms, ACME, Space Headaches, ACE-T-6, MagVector, JEM Internal Ball Camera, Synthetic Bone, Rodent Research-6, Cell Science Validation and Arthrospira-B.

Related links:

Radi-N2 Neutron Field Study (Radi-N2):

Space Bubble Detectors:

Microbial Tracking-2:

Space Debris Sensor (SDS):

Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS):

ExPRESS Logistics Carrier 3:

Two-Phase Flow:

Transparent Alloys:

Biochemical Profile:




At Home in Space:


Circadian Rhythms:


Space Headaches:



JEM Internal Ball Camera:

Synthetic Bone:

Rodent Research-6:

Space Station Research and Technology:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Erling Holm/John Love, Lead Increment Scientist Expeditions 53 & 54.

Best regards,

Dragon Departs Station and Heads Back to Earth for Splashdown

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-13 Mission patch.

January 13, 2018

Dragon Departs Station

Ground controllers released the SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft from the International Space Station’s robotic arm at 4:58 a.m. EST. The capsule will begin a series of departure burns and maneuvers to move beyond the “keep out sphere” around the station for its return trip to Earth.

Dragon’s thrusters will be fired to move the spacecraft a safe distance from the station before SpaceX flight controllers in Hawthorne, California, command its deorbit burn about 9:43 a.m. The capsule will splashdown about 10:36 a.m. in the Pacific Ocean, where recovery forces will retrieve the capsule and its nearly 4,100 pounds of cargo. This cargo will include science samples from human and animal research, external payloads, biology and biotechnology studies, physical science investigations and education activities.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship is pictured moments after being released from the grips of the Canadarm2 robotic arm on Jan. 13, 2018. Image Credit: NASA TV.

The deorbit burn and splashdown will not be broadcast on NASA TV.

NASA and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the non-profit organization that manages research aboard the U.S. national laboratory portion of the space station, will receive time-sensitive samples and begin working with researchers to process and distribute them within 48 hours of splashdown.

Dragon, the only space station resupply spacecraft currently able to return to Earth intact, launched Dec. 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and arrived at the station Dec. 17 for the company’s 13th NASA-contracted commercial resupply mission.

Related links:


Expedition 54:

International Space Station (ISS):

Image (mentioned), Video (NASA TV), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

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vendredi 12 janvier 2018

Dragon Cargo Craft Prepped for Saturday Morning Release

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

January 12, 2018

International Space Station (ISS). Image Credit: NASA

NASA Television coverage of the departure of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from the International Space Station will begin on Saturday, Jan. 13 at 4:30 a.m. EST. The spacecraft is targeted for release at 5 a.m. Watch live on NASA TV or the agency’s website.

Dragon was robotically detached from the Earth-facing side of the station’s Harmony module today at 5:47 p.m. The resupply ship launched to the space station Dec. 15 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying more than 4,800 pounds of supplies and cargo on SpaceX’s 13th commercial resupply mission to the station for NASA.

Image above: Dragon prepared for departure. Flying over South Pacific Ocean seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'581 Km/h, altitude: 413,97 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on January 12, 2018 at 18:13 UTC.

The capsule is currently scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean at about 10:36 a.m., just to the west of Baja California. It will return about 4,100 pounds of cargo, including research samples.

Keep up with the International Space Station, and its research and crew members, at

Related links:



Expedition 54:

International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

Best regards,

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches NROL-47

ULA - Delta IV / NROL-47 Mission poster.

Jan. 12, 2018

United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches NROL-47 Mission for the National Reconnaissance Office

Image above: United Launch Alliance launched a Delta IV rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, carrying the classified NROL-47 mission for the US National Reconnaissance. Image Credit: ULA.

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifted off from Space Launch Complex-6 on Jan. 12 at 2:11 p.m. PST. Designated NROL-47, the mission is in support of national defense.

“As the nation’s most trustworthy launch provider, today’s launch exemplifies ULA’s ongoing commitment to 100 percent mission success,” said Will Crawford, ULA’s NRO program manager. “My sincere thanks to the entire ULA team and our mission partners at the NRO and U.S. Air Force who made this, our 27th NRO launch, possible.”

Delta IV NROL-47 Launch Highlights

This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium+ (5, 2) configuration Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) powered by one common booster core and two solid rocket motors built by Orbital ATK. The common booster core was powered by an RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine. A single RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine powered the second stage. The booster and upper stage engines are both built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. ULA constructed the Delta IV Medium+ (5,2) launch vehicle in Decatur, Alabama.

This is ULA’s first launch in 2018 and the 124th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. It was also the 36th flight of the Delta IV rocket since its inaugural launch in 2002.

The EELV program was established by the U.S. Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads. The commercially developed EELV program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the legacy launch systems.

ULA's next launch is the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) GEO Flight 4 mission for the U.S. Air Force on an Atlas V rocket. The launch is scheduled for Jan. 18 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 120 satellites to orbit that aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, unlock the mysteries of our solar system, provide critical capabilities for troops in the field and enable personal device-based GPS navigation.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at

Image, Video, Text, Credit: United Launch Alliance (ULA).


CASC launches latest Beidou-3M satellite duo

CASC - China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation logo.

January 12, 2018

Long March 3B carrying Beidou-3M launches. Image Credit: Xinhua

A new pair of navigation satellites were successfully launched by China on Thursday, using a Long March-3B/YZ-1. The launch of the Beidou-3M pair took place at around 23:18 UTC from the LC2 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan province. It took over four hours to complete the mission.

The launch was previously scheduled for 2017. However, this was delayed due to a partial launch failure with a previous launch of this rocket during the Zhongxing-9A (ChinaSat-9A) mission, which resulted in the satellite being lofted to a lower than planned orbit.

China Sends Twin Beidou-3 Navigation Satellites into Space

It is expected that the Beidou-3MEO3 (Beidou-26) and Beidou-3MEO4 (Beidou-27) satellites will be onboard, but a TV news report following last November’s BDS launch – featuring the satellite production facility in Shanghai – referred that the two satellites about to be shipped were marked as “M7 & M8”. So, we will have to wait what designation is given to the satellites when in orbit.

The MEO satellites are the Medium Earth Orbit component of the 3rd phase of the Chinese Beidou (Compass) satellite navigation system. The satellites are part of a fleet that will expand the system to a global navigation coverage.

The satellites are using a new bus that features a phased array antenna for navigation signals and a laser retroreflector, with a launch mass 1,014 kg. Spacecraft dimensions are noted to be 2.25 by 1.0 by 1.22 meters. Usually, the satellites reside in a 21,500 – 21,400 km nominal orbit at 55.5 degrees.

Beidou-3 satellite. Image Credit: J. Huart

The Beidou Phase III system includes the migration of its civil Beidou 1 or B1 signal from 1561.098 MHz to a frequency centered at 1575.42 MHz – the same as the GPS L1 and Galileo E1 civil signals – and its transformation from a quadrature phase shift keying (QPSK) modulation to a multiplexed binary offset carrier (MBOC) modulation similar to the future GPS L1C and Galileo’s E1.

The Phase II B1 open service signal uses QPSK modulation with 4.092 megahertz bandwidth centered at 1561.098 MHz.

The current Beidou constellation spacecraft are transmitting open and authorized signals at B2 (1207.14 MHz) and an authorized service at B3 (1268.52 MHz).

For more information about China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), visit:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: CASC/Xinhua/J. Huart/CCTV+/NASA C. Barbosa.


PSLV-C40/Cartosat-2 Series Satellite Mission Success

ISRO - PSLV-C40 Mission patch.

January 12, 2018

PSLV-C40 carrying Cartosat-2 launch

India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, in its forty second flight (PSLV-C40), successfully launched the 710 kg Cartosat-2 Series Satellite for earth observation and 30 co-passenger satellites together weighing about 613 kg at lift-off. PSLV-C40 was launched from the First Launch Pad (FLP) of Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota.

The co-passenger satellites comprise one Microsatellite and one Nanosatellite from India as well as 3 Microsatellites and 25 Nanosatellites from six countries, namely, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and USA. The total weight of all the 31 satellites carried onboard PSLV-C40 is about 1323 kg.

PSLV-C40 launches Cartosat-2F

The 28 International customer satellites were launched as part of the commercial arrangements between Antrix Corporation Limited (Antrix), a Government of India company under Department of Space (DOS), the commercial arm of ISRO and the International customers.

Cartosat-2 Series Satellite

PSLV-C40/Cartosat-2 Series Satellite Mission was launched on Friday, Jan 12, 2018 at 09:29 Hrs (IST).

ISRO Press Release:

Images, Video, Text, Credits: ISRO/SciNews/Günter Space Page.


NASA Space Telescopes Provide a 3-D Journey Through the Orion Nebula

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

January 12, 2018

Image above: This image showcases both the visible and infrared visualizations of the Orion Nebula. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, F. Summers, G. Bacon, Z. Levay, J. DePasquale, L. Frattare, M. Robberto and M. Gennaro (STScI), and R. Hurt (Caltech/IPAC).

Astronomers and visualization specialists from NASA's Universe of Learning program have combined visible and infrared vision of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to create an unprecedented, three-dimensional, fly-through view of the picturesque Orion Nebula, a nearby star-forming region.

Flight Through the Orion Nebula in Visible and Infrared Light

Video above: This visualization explores the Orion Nebula using both visible and infrared light. The sequence begins with a wide-field view of the sky showing the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, then zooms down to the scale of the Orion Nebula. The visible light observation (from the Hubble Space Telescope) and the infrared light observation (from the Spitzer Space Telescope) are compared first in two-dimensional images, and then in three-dimensional models. Video Credit: NASA.

Viewers experience this nearby stellar nursery "up close and personal" as the new digital visualization ferries them among newborn stars, glowing clouds heated by intense radiation, and tadpole-shaped gaseous envelopes surrounding protoplanetary disks.

Using actual scientific imagery and other data, combined with Hollywood techniques, a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the Caltech/Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) in Pasadena, California, has created the best and most detailed multi-wavelength visualization yet of this photogenic nebula. The fly-through enables people to experience and learn about the universe in an exciting new way.

The three-minute movie, which shows the Orion Nebula in both visible and infrared light, was released to the public today. It is available to planetariums and other centers of informal learning worldwide to help audiences explore fundamental questions in science such as, "How did we get here?"

"Being able to fly through the nebula's tapestry in three dimensions gives people a much better sense of what the universe is really like," explained the Space Telescope Science Institute's visualization scientist Frank Summers, who led the team that developed the movie. "By adding depth and structure to the amazing images, this fly-through helps elucidate the universe for the public, both educating and inspiring."

"Looking at the universe in infrared light gives striking context for the more familiar visible-light views. This movie provides a uniquely immersive chance to see how new features appear as we shift to wavelengths of light normally invisible to our eyes," said Robert Hurt, lead visualization scientist at IPAC.

One of the sky's brightest nebulas, the Orion Nebula, is visible to the naked eye. It appears as the middle "star" in the sword of the constellation Orion, the Hunter, and is located about 1,350 light-years away. At only 2 million years old, the nebula is an ideal laboratory for studying young stars and stars that are still forming. It offers a glimpse of what might have happened when the Sun was born 4.6 billion years ago.

The three-dimensional video provides a look at the fantastic topography of the nebula. A torrent of ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from the massive, central stars of the Trapezium star cluster has carved out a cavernous bowl-like cavity in the wall of a giant cloud of cold molecular hydrogen laced with dust.

Astronomers and visualizers worked together to make a three-dimensional model of the depths of this cavernous region, like plotting mountains and valleys on the ocean floor. Colorful Hubble and Spitzer images were then overlaid on the terrain.

The scientific visualization takes the viewer on a breathtaking flight through the nebula, following the contours of the gas and dust. By toggling between the Hubble and Spitzer views, the movie shows strikingly different details of the Orion Nebula.

Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Animation Credit: NASA

Hubble sees objects that glow in visible light, which are typically in the thousands of degrees. Spitzer is sensitive to cooler objects with temperatures of just hundreds of degrees. Spitzer's infrared vision pierces through obscuring dust to see stars embedded deep into the nebula, as well as fainter and less massive stars, which are brighter in infrared than in visible light. The new visualization helps people experience how the two telescopes provide a more complex and complete picture of the nebula.

The visualization is one of a new generation of products and experiences being developed by NASA's Universe of Learning program. The effort combines a direct connection to the science and scientists of NASA's astrophysics missions with attention to audience needs to enable youth, families and lifelong learners to explore fundamental questions in science, experience how science is done, and discover the universe for themselves.

The three-dimensional interpretation is guided by scientific knowledge and scientific intuition. Starting with the two-dimensional Hubble and Spitzer images, Summers and Hurt worked with experts to analyze the structure inside the nebula. They first created a visible-light surface, and then an underlying structure of the infrared features.

To give the nebula its ethereal feel, Summers wrote a special rendering code for efficiently combining the tens of millions of semi-transparent elements of the gas. The customized code allows Summers to run this and other visualizations on desktop workstations, rather than on a supercomputing cluster.

The other components of the nebula were isolated into image layers and modeled separately. These elements included stars, protoplanetary disks, bow shocks, and the thin gas in front of the nebula called "the veil." After rendering, these layers and the gaseous nebula are brought back together to create the visualization.

The three-dimensional structures serve as scientifically reasonable approximations for imagining the nebula. "The main thing is to give the viewer an experiential understanding, so that they have a way to interpret the images from telescopes," explained Summers. "It's a really wonderful thing when they can build a mental model in their head to transform the two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional scene."

This movie demonstrates the power of multi-wavelength astronomy. It helps audiences understand how science is done -- how and why astronomers use multiple regions of the electromagnetic spectrum to explore and learn about our universe. It is also whetting astronomers' appetites for what they will see with NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which will show much finer details of the deeper, infrared features.

More visualizations and connections between the science of nebulas and learners can be explored through other products produced by NASA's Universe of Learning, such as ViewSpace. ViewSpace is a video exhibit currently at almost 200 museums and planetariums across the United States. Visitors can go beyond video to explore the images produced by space telescopes with interactive tools now available for museums and planetariums.

NASA's Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.

Caltech/Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC):

For more information about Hubble, visit:

Image (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Elizabeth Landau/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ann Jenkins/Ray Villard (Written by Ann Jenkins).

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Steep Slopes on Mars Reveal Structure of Buried Ice

NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

January 12, 2018

Underground Martian Ice Deposit Exposed at Scarp

Image above: A cross-section of underground ice is exposed at the steep slope that appears bright blue in this enhanced-color view from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The scene is about 550 yards wide. The scarp drops about 140 yards from the level ground in the upper third of the image. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/USGS.

Researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have found eight sites where thick deposits of ice beneath Mars' surface are exposed in faces of eroding slopes.

These eight scarps, with slopes as steep as 55 degrees, reveal new information about the internal layered structure of previously detected underground ice sheets in Mars' middle latitudes.

The ice was likely deposited as snow long ago. The deposits are exposed in cross section as relatively pure water ice, capped by a layer one to two yards (or meters) thick of ice-cemented rock and dust. They hold clues about Mars' climate history. They also may make frozen water more accessible than previously thought to future robotic or human exploration missions.

Researchers who located and studied the scarp sites with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on MRO reported the findings today in the journal Science. The sites are in both northern and southern hemispheres of Mars, at latitudes from about 55 to 58 degrees, equivalent on Earth to Scotland or the tip of South America.

"There is shallow ground ice under roughly a third of the Martian surface, which records the recent history of Mars," said the study's lead author, Colin Dundas of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. "What we've seen here are cross-sections through the ice that give us a 3-D view with more detail than ever before."

Windows into underground ice

The scarps directly expose bright glimpses into vast underground ice previously detected with spectrometers on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, with ground-penetrating radar instruments on MRO and on the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter, and with observations of fresh impact craters that uncover subsurface ice. NASA sent the Phoenix lander to Mars in response to the Odyssey findings; in 2008, the Phoenix mission confirmed and analyzed the buried water ice at 68 degrees north latitude, about one-third of the way to the pole from the northernmost of the eight scarp sites.

The discovery reported today gives us surprising windows where we can see right into these thick underground sheets of ice," said Shane Byrne of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson, a co-author on today's report. "It's like having one of those ant farms where you can see through the glass on the side to learn about what's usually hidden beneath the ground."

Scientists have not determined how these particular scarps initially form. However, once the buried ice becomes exposed to Mars' atmosphere, a scarp likely grows wider and taller as it "retreats," due to sublimation of the ice directly from solid form into water vapor. At some of them, the exposed deposit of water ice is more than 100 yards, or meter, thick. Examination of some of the scarps with MRO's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) confirmed that the bright material is frozen water. A check of the surface temperature using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera helped researchers determine they're not seeing just thin frost covering the ground.

Pit Where a Scarp Exposes an Underground Deposit of Martian Ice

Image above: At this pit on Mars, the steep slope at the northern edge (toward the top of the image) exposes a cross-section of a thick sheet of underground water ice. The image is from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, with an enhanced-color central swath between grayscale on each side. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/USGS.

Researchers previously used MRO's Shallow Radar (SHARAD) to map extensive underground water-ice sheets in middle latitudes of Mars and estimate that the top of the ice is less than about 10 yards beneath the ground surface. How much less? The radar method did not have sufficient resolution to say. The new ice-scarp studies confirm indications from fresh-crater and neutron-spectrometer observations that a layer rich in water ice begins within just one or two yards of the surface in some areas.

Astronauts' access to Martian water

The new study not only suggests that underground water ice lies under a thin covering over wide areas, it also identifies eight sites where ice is directly accessible, at latitudes with less hostile conditions than at Mars' polar ice caps. "Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need," Byrne said.

The exposed ice has scientific value apart from its potential resource value because it preserves evidence about long-term patterns in Mars' climate. The tilt of Mars' axis of rotation varies much more than Earth's, over rhythms of millions of years. Today the two planets' tilts are about the same. When Mars tilts more, climate conditions may favor buildup of middle-latitude ice. Dundas and co-authors say that banding and color variations apparent in some of the scarps suggest layers "possibly deposited with changes in the proportion of ice and dust under varying climate conditions."

This research benefited from coordinated use of multiple instruments on Mars orbiters, plus the longevities at Mars now exceeding 11 years for MRO and 16 years for Odyssey. Orbital observations will continue, but future missions to the surface could seek additional information.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

"If you had a mission at one of these sites, sampling the layers going down the scarp, you could get a detailed climate history of Mars," suggested MRO Deputy Project Scientist Leslie Tamppari of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "It's part of the whole story of what happens to water on Mars over time: Where does it go? When does ice accumulate? When does it recede?"

The University of Arizona operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, leads MRO's CRISM investigation. The Italian Space Agency provided MRO's SHARAD instrument, Sapienza University of Rome leads SHARAD operations, and the Planetary Science Institute, based in Tucson, Arizona, leads U.S. involvement in SHARAD. Arizona State University, Tempe, leads the Odyssey mission's THEMIS investigation. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the MRO and Odyssey projects for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built both orbiters and supports their operation.

For more information about MRO, visit: and

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Laurie Cantillo/Dwayne Brown/JPL/Guy Webster/U.S. Geological Survey/Jennifer LaVista.


NASA Science to Return to Earth aboard SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

SpaceX - Dragon CRS-13 Mission patch.

Jan. 12, 2018

SpaceX's Dragon cargo spacecraft is scheduled to splash down in the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, Jan. 13, west of Baja California, with approximately 4,100 pounds of NASA cargo, science and technology demonstration samples from the International Space Station.

The Dragon spacecraft will be taken by ship to Long Beach, California, where some cargo will be removed immediately for return to NASA. Dragon then will be prepared for a return trip to SpaceX's test facility in McGregor, Texas, for final processing.

A variety of technological and biological studies are returning in Dragon. Hardware from the Made in Space Fiber Optics payload, which demonstrated manufacturing fiber optic filaments in a microgravity environment. Designed by the company Made in Space and sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the investigation pulled fiber optic wire from ZBLAN, a heavy metal fluoride glass commonly used to make fiber optic glass. Research indicates that ZBLAN fiber pulled in microgravity may not crystalize as much, giving it better optical qualities than the silica used in most fiber optic wire. Results from this investigation could lead to the production of higher-quality fiber optic products both in space and on Earth.

Samples from APEX-05 were used to study a stress reaction in plants when experiencing reduced oxygen availably (hypoxia), which occurs for example, during times of soil flooding. Such natural hypoxic events are sensed by plants and can lead to either changes in growth and development to aid in the plant’s survival, or in extreme cases, lead to significant losses in productivity and even death. These spaceflight experiments may help provide molecular targets for manipulation to help make plants more tolerant of low oxygen conditions and so contribute to agriculturally important traits such as crop flood tolerance.

Mice from NASA’s Rodent Research-6 study also will return live to Earth for additional study. The investigation, which was conducted jointly with the U.S. National Lab, evaluated a new drug delivery device for administering continuous low doses, which could help counteract muscle wasting and prevent the need for daily or frequent drug administration. A tiny capsule, implanted under the skin, delivers a constant, low dose of a drug via a silicone membrane, with channels as narrow as 1/50,000 the width of a human hair. The drug, called formoterol, is a common therapy in asthma inhalers and for other lung diseases that relaxes muscles responsible for tightening a patient’s airways. The low-dose delivery also could help avoid the known side effects of taking high doses long-term.

Dragon is the only space station resupply spacecraft currently able to return cargo to Earth. The spacecraft lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Dec. 15 carrying about 4,800 pounds of supplies and scientific cargo on the company’s 13th commercial resupply mission to the station. It arrived on station Dec. 17.

For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,100 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

Keep up with the International Space Station, and its research and crew members, at:

Related links:

Made in Space Fiber Optics:

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Rodent Research-6:

Commercial Resupply:

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Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Cheryl Warner.

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Jupiter’s Colorful Cloud Belts

NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

Jan. 12, 2018

Colorful swirling cloud belts dominate Jupiter’s southern hemisphere in this image captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

Jupiter appears in this color-enhanced image as a tapestry of vibrant cloud bands and storms. The dark region in the far left is called the South Temperate Belt. Intersecting the belt is a ghost-like feature of slithering white clouds. This is the largest feature in Jupiter’s low latitudes that’s a cyclone (rotating with clockwise motion).

This image was taken on Dec. 16, 2017 at 10:12 PST (1:12 p.m. EST), as Juno performed its tenth close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 8,453 miles (13,604 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of 27.9 degrees south.

The spatial scale in this image is 5.6 miles/pixel (9.1 kilometers/pixel).

Citizen scientist Kevin M. Gill processed this image using data from the JunoCam imager.

JunoCam's raw images are available for the public to peruse and process into image products at:

More information about Juno is at: and

Image, Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill.


Multi-planet System Found Through Crowdsourcing

NASA - Kepler Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 12, 2018

Image above: his artist concept shows K2-138, the first multi-planet system discovered by citizen scientists. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

A system of at least five exoplanets has been discovered by citizen scientists through a project called Exoplanet Explorers, part of the online platform Zooniverse, using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope. This is the first multi-planet system discovered entirely through crowdsourcing. A study describing the system has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

Thousands of citizen scientists got to work on Kepler data in 2017 when Exoplanet Explorers launched. It was featured on a program called Stargazing Live on the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). On the final night of the three-day program, researchers announced the discovery of a four-planet system. Since then, they have named it K2-138 and determined that it has a fifth planet -- and perhaps even a sixth, according to the new paper.

Image above: This artist concept depicts a top-down view of the K2-138 system, showing the orbits and relative sizes of the five known planets. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Another batch of 2017 Kepler data was recently uploaded to Exoplanet Explorers for citizen scientists to peer through. Astronomers have not yet searched through most of it for planets.

Read more from Caltech:

NASA's Ames Research Center manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Kepler and K2:


Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Tony Greicius.


jeudi 11 janvier 2018

No Planets Needed: NASA Study Shows Disk Patterns Can Self-Generate

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center logo.

Jan. 11, 2018

When exoplanet scientists first spotted patterns in disks of dust and gas around young stars, they thought newly formed planets might be the cause. But a recent NASA study cautions that there may be another explanation — one that doesn’t involve planets at all.

Exoplanet hunters watch stars for a few telltale signs that there might be planets in orbit, like changes in the color and brightness of the starlight. For young stars, which are often surrounded by disks of dust and gas, scientists look for patterns in the debris — such as rings, arcs and spirals — that might be caused by an orbiting world. 

“We’re exploring what we think is the leading alternative contender to the planet hypothesis, which is that the dust and gas in the disk form the patterns when they get hit by ultraviolet light,” said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Debris Disk Simulations Generate Spirals, Rings and Arcs

Video above: Astronomers thought patterns spotted in disks around young stars could be planetary signposts. But is there another explanation? A new simulation performed on NASA's Discover supercomputing cluster shows how the dust and gas in the disk could form those patterns — no planets needed. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Kuchner presented the findings of the new study on Thursday, Jan. 11, at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington. A paper describing the results has been submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.

When high-energy UV starlight hits dust grains, it strips away electrons. Those electrons collide with and heat nearby gas. As the gas warms, its pressure increases and it traps more dust, which in turn heats more gas. The resulting cycle, called the photoelectric instability (PeI), can work in tandem with other forces to create some of the features astronomers have previously associated with planets in debris disks.

Kuchner and his colleagues designed computer simulations to better understand these effects. The research was led by Alexander Richert, a doctoral student at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, and includes Wladimir Lyra, a professor of astronomy at California State University, Northridge and research associate at NASA’s Jet Propulstion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The simulations were run on the Discover supercomputing cluster at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation at Goddard.

In 2013, Lyra and Kuchner suggested that PeI could explain the narrow rings seen in some disks. Their model also predicted that some disks would have arcs, or incomplete rings, which were first directly observed in 2016.

“People very often model these systems with planets, but if you want to know what a disk with a planet looks like, you first have to know what a disk looks like without a planet,” Richert said.

Richert is lead author on the new study, which builds on Lyra and Kuchner’s previous simulations by including an additional new factor: radiation pressure, a force caused by starlight striking dust grains.

Light exerts a minute physical force on everything it encounters. This radiation pressure propels solar sails and helps direct comet tails so they always point away from the Sun. The same force can push dust into highly eccentric orbits, and even blow some of the smaller grains out of the disk entirely.

Image above: Arcs, rings and spirals appear in the debris disk around the star HD 141569A. The black region in the center is caused by a mask that blocks direct light from the star. This image incorporates observations made in June and August 2015 using the Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument. Image Credits: NASA/Hubble/Konishi et al. 2016.

The researchers modeled how radiation pressure and PeI work together to affect the movement of dust and gas. They also found that the two forces manifest different patterns depending on the physical properties of the dust and gas.

The 2013 simulations of PeI revealed how dust and gas interact to create rings and arcs, like those observed around the real star HD 141569A. With the inclusion of radiation pressure, the 2017 models show how these two factors can create spirals like those also observed around the same star. While planets can also cause these patterns, the new models show scientists should avoid jumping to conclusions.

“Carl Sagan used to say extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” Lyra said. “I feel we are sometimes too quick to jump to the idea that the structures we see are caused by planets. That is what I consider an extraordinary claim. We need to rule out everything else before we claim that.”

Kuchner and his colleagues said they would continue to factor other parameters into their simulations, like turbulence and different types of dust and gas. They also intend to model how these factors might contribute to pattern formation around different types of stars.

A NASA-funded citizen science project spearheaded by Kuchner, called Disk Detective, aims to discover more stars with debris disks. So far, participants have contributed more than 2.5 million classifications of potential disks. The data has already helped break new ground in this research.

Related links:

The Astrophysical Journal:

Disk Detective:


Goddard Space Flight Center:

Image (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Rob Garner/Goddard Space Flight Center, by Jeanette Kazmierczak.


Crew Monitors Student Contest, Packs Dragon and Works Biomedical Science

ISS - Expedition 54 Mission patch.

Jan. 11, 2018

Image above: Flying over Argentina (South) seen by EarthCam on ISS, speed: 27'575 Km/h, altitude: 419,21 Km, image captured by Roland Berga (on Earth in Switzerland) from International Space Station (ISS) using ISS-HD Live application with EarthCam's from ISS on January 11, 2018 at 22:28 UTC.

Students on Earth are remotely testing algorithms on a pair of internal satellites as part of a competition aboard the International Space Station today. Meanwhile, the Expedition 54 crew is packing up the SpaceX Dragon cargo craft for its Saturday departure and conducting biomedical operations.

Commander Alexander Misurkin and Flight Engineer Joe Acaba are monitoring tiny satellites known as SPHERES flying inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module. Students on Earth have uploaded algorithms maneuvering the SPHERES to compete for creating the best designs relevant to future space missions.

Image above: The SpaceX Dragon resupply ship and the Canadarm2 robotic arm with the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, Dextre, attached are pictured as the space station orbited above the Gulf of Alaska. Image Credit: NASA.

NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle are transferring rodents from the station’s animal habitat to a transporter aboard the Dragon resupply ship for return and analysis on Earth. The rodents were treated with a compound that fights muscle loss in microgravity and will be compared to a group of mice on Earth.

Japanese astronaut Norishige Kanai concluded a session of the Airways Monitoring experiment stowing the research gear in the U.S. Quest airlock. The study is analyzing exhaled air to maintain astronaut health on long-term space missions. Kanai also collected his biological samples for the Probiotics study looking at the immune system and intestinal microbes living inside space station crew members.

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Airways Monitoring:


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International Space Station (ISS):

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia/ Aerospace/Roland Berga.

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Hubble Yields New Discoveries at the Winter AAS Meeting

NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Jan. 11, 2018

Astronomers gathering at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society at National Harbor in Washington, D.C., will have a chance to learn about groundbreaking new research with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The new science discoveries with the Earth-orbiting observatory stretch from nearby star-forming regions, to the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, to the horizon of the observable universe. All of these findings exploit the telescope’s extraordinary resolution, sensitivity, and broad wavelength capabilities to gather information about the universe from space-based observations.

Hubble Space Telescope. Animation Credit: NASA

Unprecedented Fly-through Combines the Visible and Infrared Vision of the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes

By combining the visible and infrared capabilities of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, astronomers and visualization specialists from NASA’s Universe of Learning program have created a spectacular, three-dimensional, fly-through movie of the magnificent Orion Nebula, a nearby stellar nursery. Using actual scientific data along with Hollywood techniques, a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California, has produced the best and most detailed multi-wavelength visualization yet of the Orion Nebula. The two-minute movie allows viewers to glide through the picturesque star-forming region and experience the universe in an exciting new way.

Flight Through Orion Nebula in Visible and Infrared Light

Video above: By combining the visible and infrared capabilities of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, astronomers and visualization specialists from NASA’s Universe of Learning program have created a spectacular, three-dimensional, fly-through movie of the magnificent Orion Nebula, a nearby stellar nursery. Using actual scientific data along with Hollywood techniques, a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California, has produced the best and most detailed multi-wavelength visualization yet of the Orion Nebula. Video Credits: Space Telescope Science Institute.

More information and other visualizations:

Brown Dwarfs Everywhere

In an unprecedented deep survey for small, faint objects in the Orion Nebula, astronomers using Hubble have uncovered the largest population yet of brown dwarfs sprinkled among newborn stars. Brown dwarfs are more massive than planets but too small to generate energy like stars. Brown dwarfs provide important clues to understanding how stars and planets form, and may be among the most common objects in our galaxy. Astronomers used Hubble to identify them by the presence of water in brown dwarf atmospheres, that are so cold that water vapor forms. Water is a clear signature of substellar objects.  The water signature cannot be easily seen from Earth, due to the absorbing effects of water vapor in our own atmosphere.

Image above: This image is part of a Hubble Space Telescope survey for low-mass stars, brown dwarfs, and planets in the Orion Nebula. Each symbol identifies a pair of objects, which can be seen in the symbol’s center as a single dot of light. Special image processing techniques were used to separate the starlight into a pair of objects. The thicker inner circle represents the primary body, and the thinner outer circle indicates the companion. The circles are color-coded: Red for a planet; orange for a brown dwarf; and yellow for a star. Located in the upper left corner is a planet-planet pair in the absence of a parent star. In the middle of the right side is a pair of brown dwarfs. The portion of the Orion Nebula measures roughly 4 by 3 light-years. Image Credits: NASA , ESA, and G. Strampelli (STScI).

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Archeology of the Milky Way’s Central Bulge

A new analysis of about 10,000 normal Sun-like stars in the central hub of the Milky Way reveals that our galaxy’s bulge is a dynamic environment of stars of various ages zipping around at different speeds. This conclusion is based on nine years’ worth of archival data from Hubble. This study of the complicated, chaotic heart of our Milky Way may provide new clues to the evolution of our galaxy and its merger with smaller satellite galaxies.  Currently, only Hubble has sharp enough resolution to simultaneously measure the motions of thousands of Sun-like stars at the galaxy bulge's distance from Earth over time. Hubble gives a narrow, pencil-beam view of the galaxy’s core to unveil thousands more stars than those spotted in earlier studies.

Image above: A new analysis of about 10,000 normal Sun-like stars in the Milky Way's galactic bulge reveals that our galaxy's hub is a dynamic environment of variously aged stars zipping around at different speeds, like travelers bustling about a busy airport. Only Hubble has sharp enough resolution to simultaneously measure the motions of thousands of Sun-like stars at the distance of the galaxy's bulge from Earth. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and T. Brown (STScI).

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Zoom Lens in Space Stretches Image of One of Farthest Galaxies Yet Seen

An intensive survey deep into the universe by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has yielded the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack: the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. The embryonic galaxy named SPT0615-JD existed when the universe was just 500 million years old. Though a few other primitive galaxies have been seen at this early epoch, they have essentially all looked like red dots given their small size and tremendous distances. However, in this case, the gravitational field of a massive foreground galaxy cluster not only amplified the light from the background galaxy but also smeared the image into an arc. No other candidate galaxy has been found at such a great distance that also gives spatial information about the size and mass of such an embryonic galaxy.

Image above: This Hubble view shows galaxy cluster SPT-CL J0615-5746. Embedded in the photo is an arc-like structure that is not only the amplified image of a background galaxy, but an image that has been smeared into a crescent shape. Astronomers estimate the diminutive galaxy weighs in at no more than 3 billion solar masses and it is less than 2,500 light-years across. Image Credits: NASA, ESA, and B. Salmon (STScI).

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Flickering Black Hole Caught by Hubble and Chandra

Astronomer using NASA’s Hubble and Chandra space telescopes have caught a supermassive black hole in a distant galaxy snacking on gas and then “burping” out light – not once, but twice. The galaxy under study, known as J1354, is about 900 million light-years from Earth.  The supermassive black hole under study appears to have blasted out jets of bright light from gas it accreted. This happened twice in the past 100,000 years. While astronomers have predicted such objects can flicker on and off as a result of gas-feeding events, this is the first time one has convincingly been caught in the act. The black hole is being fed by material from the companion galaxy. The material swirls toward the center of J1354 and then is being devoured by the supermassive black hole.

Image above: Galaxy J1354. Image Credits: X-ray NASA/CXC/University of Colorado/J. Comerford et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI.

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Animation (mentioned), Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Felicia Chou/Karl Hille/Space Telescope Science Institute/Ray Villard.