Here’s a preview of the night sky for July from NASA JPL:
– look fantastic and would clearly be places where many people would live if they existed today. The problem, of course, is that they do not exist and it’s difficult to convince people that it’s possible to ever build such gigantic habitats. But there are in fact ways to get from here to there.
When I fly into a big city and look out the window as the plane descends, I’m always amazed at just how enormous such places are. How could mere mortals create such a vast landscape of houses, buildings, skyscrapers, roads, bridges, harbors, and more? The answer, of course, is a city starts as a small settlement and over many decades the incremental efforts of thousands upon tens of thousands of people and their machines working in parallel day after day, year after year, create such massive metropolises.
Such a process can create cities in space as well. We just need to get small “starter” settlements off the ground, so to speak.
That’s easy to say but what about the high cost of getting to space?
Fully reusable space transports like that being developed by SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other companies can bring down the cost of getting to space by factors of 10-100. The cost of propellants is a less than a half percent of the cost of an orbital rocket launch. The rest of the $60M cost of Falcon 9 is goes for the vehicle, which is thrown away on each flight.
What about the detrimental effects of microgravity and radiation on human health?
Rotation of a habitat can provide artificial gravity and bulk materials such as water and structural metals can shield people in a habitat just as the atmosphere shields people on earth.
The toughest question is how to get started. When giant habitats like those above were being designed in the 1970s, it was assumed that most of the material would be sent from the Moon. All of this would be paid for by huge investments from governments who would appreciate the construction of in-space solar power stations feeding energy via microwave to the earth.
Excavation activities on the Moon, space base solar power, and big government funding do not look likely to happen anytime soon, to say the least. Is there any other way to get space settlement underway?
Yes, it can still happen if the process can start small and pay its own way. Al Globus, who works as a contractor at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, describes in a set of three documents listed below a plan for small affordable space habitats in low earth equatorial orbit that will provide 1 g gravity and enjoy sufficient radiation protection for residents to live a healthy life. Space tourism will be a primary industry similar to the way many island economies on earth rely on tourism.
* Space Settlement the Easy Way, Al Globus and Stephen Covey, presentation at ISDC 2015, May 2015.
“This presentation shows how the results of the next two papers — “Space Settlement Population Rotation Tolerance” and “Orbital Space Settlement Radiation Shielding” — when combined suggest that small space settlements in equatorial LEO with little or no radiation shielding may be viable. Hopefully, this will be turned into a paper in the not-too-distant-future.”
* Space Settlement Population Rotation Tolerance, Al Globus and Theodore Hall, preprint, June 2015.
“This paper reviews the literature to find that space settlement residents and visitors can tolerate at least four, and proabaly six, rotations per minute to achieve 1g of artificial gravity. This means settlements can be radically smaller, and thus easier to build, than previously believed. Combined with the next paper on radiation shielding, the first space settlements can be two orders of magnitude less massive and closer to Earth than previous designs making launch from Earth practical.”
* Orbital Space Settlement Radiation Shielding, Al Globus and Joe Strout, preprint, May 2015.
“The major result of this paper is that settlements in low (~500 km) Earth ***equatorial*** orbits may not require any radiation shielding at all based on a careful analysis of requirements and extensive simulation of radiation effects. This radically reduces system mass and has profound implications for space settlement as extraterrestrial mining and manufacturing are no longer on the critical path to the first settlements, although they will be essential in later stages. It also means the first settlements can evolve from space stations, hotels, and retirement communities in relatively small steps.”
Globus answered questions about space settlements in a recent on line forum: A NASA Expert Is Here To Answer Your Questions About Orbital Settlements – Gizmodo.
Below is a NASA video and article about protein growth in microgravity. (Note that a Schering Plough protein crystal experiment carried out on Shuttle Columbia’s last flight led directly to a treatment for Hepatitis-C: Space KSC: I’m a Doctor, Not an Astronaut – Space KSC) :
In one of many direct Earth applications of International Space Station research, the newest Benefits for Humanity video in the Benefits series highlights how high-quality crystals grown in microgravity lead to new therapeutics for disease. Learn how the investigation of protein crystals in space is helping to treat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), an incurable genetic disorder affecting the muscles with onset usually in early childhood and primarily in young males.
Research into a disease like DMD involves the study of the structure of associated proteins by crystallization, which helps researchers better understand protein function. This comprises making millions of copies of that protein and arranging them in three-dimensional rows. Crystals grown on Earth are impacted by gravity, which may affect the way the molecules align on the surface of the crystal. Researchers have discovered that growing crystals aboard the space station allows for slower growth and higher quality crystals.
Since 2003, scientists with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency have conducted protein crystal growth investigations on the space station, including proteins associated with DMD. Having a better understanding of the protein’s shape enabled researchers to design a drug that fits specifically into a location on the protein associated with DMD. The research team estimates that the drug may be able to slow the progression of DMD by half.
“Studying this protein led to a huge discovery,” said Dr. Yoshihiro Urade, Ph.D., professor at the University of Tsukuba in Tsukuba, Japan. “What we’re talking about is potentially doubling the lifespan of many DMD patients, and it’s all because of research opportunities afforded to us by the International Space Station.”
With many other protein crystal growth studies occurring or planned aboard the space station, many thousands of other proteins’ structures could be determined. This is yet another way the orbiting laboratory is enabling research Off the Earth, For the Earth
My interview with David Livingston on The Space Show in the evening is now available on line: Dr. Clark Lindsey, Tuesday, 6-30-15 – Thespaceshow’s Blog.
Listen to the audio (mp3).
David provides a detailed review of our discussion. We had a fun chat about everything from smallsats to SpaceX to in-space fuel depots to NewSpace Global. (At NSG I am the managing editor of the NewSpace Watch daily report on happenings in the industry and community.)
David also provides a link to the slides (pdf) from my talk about the satellite industry that I gave at the Space Access meeting in Phoenix in the spring.
The Mars One project was given a lot of grief several months ago when an MIT student team found several flaws in their preliminary outline for life support for the people living in a habitat on the surface of the Red Planet. (See Mars One (and done?) – MIT News.) Mars One, however, had contracted a study on life support by Paragon Space Development Corporation. Paragon is a leader in the field of environmental control and life support systems (ECLSS) and has been involved in many projects for NASA, Boeing, and others.
Below is a statement from Mars One on the results of Paragon’s assessment of the feasibility of a sustainable habitat on Mars. The general conclusion is that it is feasible to sustain a crew on the planet. The results of the study are available in this document: Mars One Habitat ECLSS Conceptual Design Assessment (pdf).
Mars One will also participate in a debate with the MIT team at the upcoming Mars Society Conference in D.C. in August: Mars One to Debate MIT Critics at Mars Society Convention – The Mars Society.
Amersfoort, 1st July 2015 – Mars One is pleased to present the initial conceptual design of the Surface Habitat Environmental Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) performed by Paragon Space Development Corporation®. The ECLSS is one of the key systems required to support a human settlement on Mars and will create a safe environment for the future Mars inhabitants, supplying them with clean air and water while recycling wastes.
“Paragon was provided the opportunity to conduct a completely independent study on the feasibility of a system that would support life on Mars and that study led us to believe that it is an attainable goal.” said Grant Anderson, President and CEO of Paragon. “If the will and the means are provided, we will see humans begin to explore and even colonize other planets in our lifetime.”
Mars One contracted Paragon due to their specialization in engineering and manufacturing thermal control and life support systems with a specific focus on extreme environments.
“An ECLSS design for a permanent human settlement on Mars has never been implemented and will need to consider the unique challenges of an extreme Martian environment.” said Arno Wielders, Mars One’s Chief Technical Officer and Co-founder. “Paragon is very experienced with both Space and extreme Earth conditions. They have an established reputation as an ‘honest broker’ and an impressive track record of developing innovative yet practical life support and thermal control solutions for spaceflight and terrestrial applications, which makes them a good match.”
The ECLSS Functions
The ECLSS will primarily provide water and a healthy and comfortable atmosphere within the habitat. Since shipping resources from Earth to Mars is a costly endeavour, all breathable air and the water for the habitat will be produced using local Martian resources, otherwise known as in-situ resource utilization or ISRU. This process is vital to the long term goal of self-sufficiency for humans on Mars. The functions of the ECLSS are distributed across its five primary systems, which are described below:
“Paragon has been in business for more than two decades developing life support solutions for extreme environments and Mars is the ultimate destination for us.” said Barry Finger, Paragon Chief Engineer and Director of Life Support Systems. “The challenges to humans surviving and thriving on Mars are significant and not to be taken lightly, but we are convinced that the goal is achievable with the tools and technologies that exist today.”
Mars One’s ECLSS has been designed with specific focus on simplicity, redundancy, reliability, and maintainability. The conceptual design has identified an architecture with local resources supplying most of the consumable needs of the Mars One outpost. The full report is available here: Mars One Habitat ECLSS (ECLSS) Conceptual Design Assessment.
About Mars One: Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that will establish permanent human life on Mars. Human settlement on Mars is possible today. Mars One’s mission plan integrates core technologies that are readily available from industry leaders worldwide. The first footprint on Mars and lives of the crew thereon will captivate and inspire this generation and generations to come. It is this public interest that will help finance this human mission to Mars.
For more information about Mars One, please visit www.mars-one.com
About Paragon Space Development Corporation®: Paragon is a premier provider of environmental controls for extreme and hazardous environments. They design, build, test and operate life support and thermal control products and systems for astronauts, contaminated water divers, and extreme environment adventurers, as well as for unmanned space and terrestrial applications.
For more information about Paragon, please visit www.paragonsdc.com
Yet more news and pictures from New Horizons:
Yes, there is methane on Pluto, and, no, it doesn’t come from cows. The infrared spectrometer on NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has detected frozen methane on Pluto’s surface; Earth-based astronomers first observed the chemical compound on Pluto in 1976.
“We already knew there was methane on Pluto, but these are our first detections,” said Will Grundy, the New Horizons Surface Composition team leader with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Soon we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice from one part of Pluto to another.”
Methane (chemical formula CH4) is an odorless, colorless gas that is present underground and in the atmosphere on Earth. On Pluto, methane may be primordial, inherited from the solar nebula from which the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. Methane was originally detected on Pluto’s surface by a team of ground-based astronomers led by New Horizons team member Dale Cruikshank, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California.
Come Fly with New Horizons on its Approach to Pluto
Images from New Horizons show the view from aboard the spacecraft closes in on the Pluto system for a July 14 flyby.
This time-lapse approach movie was made from images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera aboard New Horizons spacecraft taken between May 28 and June 25, 2015. During that time the spacecraft distance to Pluto decreased almost threefold, from about 35 million miles to 14 million miles (56 million kilometers to 22 million kilometers). The images show Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, growing in apparent size as New Horizons closes in. As it rotates, Pluto displays a strongly contrasting surface dominated by a bright northern hemisphere, with a discontinuous band of darker material running along the equator. Charon has a dark polar region, and there are indications of brightness variations at lower latitudes.
Same sequence as above but with some extra information included
The New Horizons spacecraft has made a critical observation in preparation for its upcoming observations of Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere. Just hours after its flyby of Pluto on July 14, the spacecraft will observe sunlight passing through the planet’s atmosphere, to help scientists determine the atmosphere’s composition. “It will be as if Pluto were illuminated from behind by a trillion-watt light bulb,” said Randy Gladstone, a New Horizons scientist from Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. On June 16, New Horizons’ Alice ultraviolet imaging spectrograph successfully performed a test observation of the sun from 3.1 billion miles away (5 billion kilometers), which will be used to interpret the July 14 observations.
New Horizons is now less than 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) from the Pluto system. The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.
The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Follow the New Horizons mission on social media, and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. The mission’s official NASA Twitter account is @NASANewHorizons. Live updates will be available on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/new.horizons1
Here is a separate notice about a course correction for the spacecraft:
With just two weeks to go before its historic July 14 flight past Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft tapped the accelerator late last night and tweaked its path toward the Pluto system.
The 23-second thruster burst was the third and final planned targeting maneuver of New Horizons’ approach phase to Pluto; it was also the smallest of the nine course corrections since New Horizons launched in January 2006. It bumped the spacecraft’s velocity by just 27 centimeters per second – about one-half mile per hour – slightly adjusting its arrival time and position at a flyby close-approach target point approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.
While it may appear to be a minute adjustment for a spacecraft moving 32,500 miles per hour, the impact is significant. New Horizons Mission Design Lead Yanping Guo, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, says without the adjustment, New Horizons would have arrived 20 seconds late and 114 miles (184 kilometers) off-target from the spot where it will measure the properties of Pluto’s atmosphere. Those measurements depend on radio signals being sent from Earth to New Horizons at precise times as the spacecraft flies through the shadows of Pluto and Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.
In fact, timing and accuracy are critical for all New Horizons flyby observations, since those commands are stored in the spacecraft’s computers and programmed to “execute” at exact times.
This latest shift was based on radio-tracking data on the spacecraft and range-to-Pluto measurements made by optical-navigation imaging of the Pluto system taken by New Horizons in recent weeks. Using commands transmitted to the spacecraft on June 28, the thrusters began firing at 11:01 p.m. EDT on June 29 and stopped 23 seconds later. Telemetry indicating the spacecraft was healthy and that the maneuver went as designed began reaching the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at APL, through NASA’s Deep Space Network at 5:30 a.m. EDT on June 30.
“We are really on the final path,” said New Horizons Project Manager Glen Fountain, of APL. “It just gets better and more exciting every day.”
“This maneuver was perfectly performed by the spacecraft and its operations team,” added mission principal investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “Now we’re set to fly right down the middle of the optimal approach corridor.”
New Horizons is now about 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) from the Pluto system – some 2.95 billion miles (4.75 billion kilometers) from Earth
Yesterday was the 107th anniversary of the Tunguska airburst that leveled a 2000 square kilometer area of forest in Siberia. So June 30th is now commemorated as Asteroid Day and there were various events and many articles about asteroids and the threat of asteroid and comet impacts on earth. For example,
Brian May, guitarist for Queen and an astrophysicist, talks about the asteroid threat:
May did the soundtrack for this short film for Asteroid Day:
Here two Planetary Radio Live reports on a conference in Italy:
The New Horizons probe will pass by Pluto 14 days from now. Closest approach will happen on July 14 at 11:49:57 UTC. Here is a video update released today:
Here is an interesting article about Alan Stern, the New Horizons science principle investigator: How Alan Stern’s tenacity, drive, and command got a NASA spacecraft to Pluto – Science/AAAS
Emily Lakdawalla provides lots of info, links and time line on the fly-by: What to expect when you’re expecting a flyby: Planning your July around New Horizons’ Pluto Pictures – The Planetary Society
Here is an infographic sent to me about Pluto:
1. Monday, June 29, 2015: 2-3:30 PM PDT (5-6:30 PM EDT; 4-5:30 PM CDT): We welcome back BRENT SHERWOOD from JPL to discuss human spaceflight, Discovery Proposals, t and much more.
2. Tuesday, June 30, 2015:,7-8:30 PM PDT (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CDT): DR. CLARK LINDSEY now with NewSpace Global is back with us. – This is me! Here is the blurb in the newsletter:
Dr. Clark Lindsey is currently the Managing Editor of the NewSpace Watch daily news and commentary service
at NewSpace Global (NewSpaceGlobal.com), a company that provides information, data, and analysis regarding the NewSpace industry. He has followed entrepreneurial space efforts closely since the 1990s and has witnessed many ups and downs in the long struggle to reduce the costs of space endeavors, especially the high cost of accessing space.
Like most in the NewSpace community, he considers space access cost to be the overwhelmingly most important barrier to space development and believes fully reusable space transports will surmount this high hurdle.
He also blogs occasionally at Space-for-All.com about general space topics ranging from space art to student satellites that involve ways for the general public to participate directly or vicariously in humanity’s great adventure in space. His HobbySpace.com website provides extensive web resources for space related hobbies and participatory activities.
Dr. Lindsey has a PhD in experimental physics from the University of California at Riverside. After post-docs with Iowa State and Fermilab, he worked for several years at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.
3. Friday, July 3, 2015; 9:30 -11 AM PDT (12:30-2 PM EDT; 11:30-1 PM CDT):No show today as this is part of the July 4th holiday weekend.
4. Sunday, July 5, 2015: 12-1:30 PM PDT (3-4:30 PM EDT, 2-3:30 PM CDT): No show today as part of July 4th holiday weekend.
The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.
Here’s a story about a neat 3D projection display technology that just might make it to market: This Touchable Midair 3D Laser Display Is Pretty Magical – Singularity HUB –
I’ve often posted about the many projects of JP Aerospace, a hybrid commercial/volunteer organization that carries out high altitude balloon and airship flights with innovative hardware and is even trying to get to orbit (pdf). To make a living they often fly products of various sorts as promotions for companies. For example, they flew phones for Samsung and a laptop for Lenovo. Here is a report about another JPA near space flight with one of their more unusual payloads:
Success! Amazing Footage Of The First Slot Machine In Space Is Released
(San Jacinto, CA) – It was a galactic 20 years in the making but finally on the morning of Sunday, June 14th 2015, just before 10 a.m. – the team at Soboba had lift off! 25 crew members, engineers and volunteers gathered just outside Lovelock, Nevada to cheer on the first slot machine successfully launched into space.
Soboba Casino’s slot, nicknamed “Icarus,” was carried aboard a spacecraft designed by the not for profit and independent space company JP Aerospace. It ascended with the help of a super high-altitude weather balloon. Rising to an elevation of 99,000 feet (just shy of its 100,000 foot goal) aboard “Away 117”, Soboba launched the world’s first slot machine into space! Also accompanying the miniaturized three-wheel, one-armed bandit was a payload of specially produced commemorative Soboba Club cards by Ablecard of Azusa, California which will be distributed to select Soboba players and VIPs. After a five hour journey and over 16 hours of searching at the edge of a Northern Nevada mountain, “Away 117” and Icarus were successfully recovered and the spectacular footage of the “slot in space” was intact.
“This is yet another first for Soboba Casino,” declares Soboba Casino’s General Manager Scott Sirois. “Our partnership with the great people of JP Aerospace was out-of-this-world and we could not be happier with the result. This launch lets our players know that we will go to the stars and back to win them over.”
Icarus is a fully-functioning, albeit much smaller slot machine, and is operated with coins, reels, gears and springs, similar to the devices used when slot machines had their start in the 1900’s. Unlike other slot machines it contained a small, hidden compartment with messages penned by casino employees; this mechanical-celestial voyager is pulling double duty as a time capsule to be opened during Soboba’s 40th anniversary in 2035.
“In June of 2015 Soboba Casino celebrated its twentieth anniversary,” exclaimed Soboba Casino’s Director of Marketing Michael J. Broderick. “The Team at Soboba decided to honor this monumental occasion by accomplishing a monumental feat: to be the first casino in history to launch a slot machine into space, and prove that “Soboba is out of this world”. We successfully did it and with that success we have made a lasting mark on space travel as well as gaming history”.
The entire journey was filmed, and will be produced and edited by Inman Productions of Riverside, CA. From preparation, to lift-off, to the final moments of the slow decent by parachute, every step of the 12-inch tall, 2.5 pound Icarus’ flight was captured on film. “Soboba Casino’s Mission to Space” will debut at the 20th Anniversary party on June 27, 2015 along with the unveiling and display of the slot machine Icarus and a mockup of the space vehicle “Away 117”.
Be the first to see the video of the first slot machine in space click here: First Slot Machine in Space
Celebrating 20 years Soboba Casino features approximately 2,000 of the newest, hottest slot machines, an expansive and modern non-smoking room, 20 classic gaming tables featuring all your favorite card games, and a large outdoor event arena which easily accommodates over 10,000 people. Need to recharge & refresh? Visit the cozy Soboba Café and Coffee Kiicha, or experience AC’s Lounge with full cocktail bar and three giant HD flat screens including the “Sobobatron”, the Inland Empire’s biggest HD video wall.
Soboba Casino is proudly owned and operated by the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians. Come join us for all the fun and then some! Soboba Casino. Where Everybody Goes to Play! For more information visit: soboba.com
This week’s episode of NASA’s Space to Ground report on activities related to the International Space Station:
Scott Nammacher is a prolific astrophotographer who is profiled in this article: White Plains artist keeps eye on universe – Lohud.com.
Check out the wonderful gallery of astronomical images on his website: Starmere
The UK Space Agency is sponsoring a Announcement of Opportunity: Arts and Creative Technology – Publications – GOV.UK.
From the announcement document (pdf):
The upcoming flight of Tim Peake to the International Space Station has boosted interest in human spaceflight in the UK. The current scheme, however, looks beyond this one mission: the Agency is seeking original ideas which give new perspectives on science, technology and exploration in a sociocultural context.
Awards are available from £10k up to a maximum of £50k. The Agency expects to make between 1 and 5 awards.
What we are looking for
Creative work which responds to space science and technology in new and interesting ways. Funding may be matched from other sources or be used to fund one part of a larger project.
Proposals are welcome in these areas:
• Visual arts
• Video games
• Creative technology + immersive media
Some examples of effective work in this field could include: Elizabeth Price’s SUNLIGHT; Superflux’s Mangala For All ; Helen White’s Solar Wind Chime. (NB these are illustrative only of the breadth and diversity of possible approaches.)
This video has been out for a month or so but I just saw it. Don’t know if the flying platform will develop into a practical recreational system but it’s quite an impressive technical accomplishment regardless: Video: Watch incredible footage of farthest flight by a hoverboard record set by Canada’s Catalin Alexandru Duru – Guinness World Records
The MIT spinoff company 24M has unveiled a new approach to lithium battery manufacturing that it says can reduce the cost by a factor of two. The standard li-ion construction process involves coating the active materials onto long strips of an inert tape material that adds bulk and weight to the battery but does not contributed directly to energy storage. The 24M process gets rid of the tape using a new approach developed by Dr. Yet-Ming Chiang, who has been involved in previous battery ventures including A123. The energy and power density of the battery is thus increased. The new manufacturing system also eliminates a great many processing steps, so it reduces the manufacturing cost as well.
The company has been working in stealth mode for several years and this week made its public debut: 24M Introduces The Semisolid Lithium-Ion Battery: Company Emerges From Stealth With $50M In Private Capital And A Revolutionary New Technology That Will Slash Today’S Lithium-Ion Battery Costs By 50% – 24M.
Articles about 24M:
Tesla Motors‘ Gigafactory under construction in northern Nevada is also intended to lower costs but through sheer economies of scale more than by new manufacturing or battery technology advances. The Tesla batteries are intended both for the company’s cars and for energy storage systems for the home (Powerwall) and utilities and industry.
Li-ion batteries have progressed in a steady but rather slow incremental pace despite periodic claims of big breakthroughs. Nevertheless, I expect Elon and others at Tesla must still have some concern that a new development like that of 24M or Sakti or whomever might make their giant battery factory obsolete before it can pay off the investment in it.
Here are a couple of recent videos in which Elon Musk talks about Tesla and the Gigafactory:
Below is a new video overview of the New Horizons mission, which will fly past the Pluto system on July 14th. A team led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is in charge of the NASA funded project. Alan Stern of SwRI is the Principle Investigator.
The ESO (European Southern Observatory)
Giant Galaxy is Still Growing
Messier 87 has swallowed an entire galaxy in the last billion years
New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope have revealed that the giant elliptical galaxy Messier 87 has swallowed an entire medium-sized galaxy over the last billion years. For the first time a team of astronomers has been able to track the motions of 300 glowing planetary nebulae to find clear evidence of this event and also found evidence of excess light coming from the remains of the totally disrupted victim.
Astronomers expect that galaxies grow by swallowing smaller galaxies. But the evidence is usually not easy to see — just as the remains of the water thrown from a glass into a pond will quickly merge with the pond water, the stars in the infalling galaxy merge in with the very similar stars of the bigger galaxy leaving no trace.
But now a team of astronomers led by PhD student Alessia Longobardi at the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany has applied a clever observational trick to clearly show that the nearby giant elliptical galaxy Messier 87 merged with a smaller spiral galaxy in the last billion years.
“This result shows directly that large, luminous structures in the Universe are still growing in a substantial way — galaxies are not finished yet!” says Alessia Longobardi. “A large sector of Messier 87’s outer halo now appears twice as bright as it would if the collision had not taken place.”
Messier 87 lies at the centre of the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. It is a vast ball of stars with a total mass more than a million million times that of the Sun, lying about 50 million light-years away.
Rather than try to look at all the stars in Messier 87 — there are literally billions and they are too faint and numerous be studied individually — the team looked at planetary nebulae, the glowing shells around ageing stars . Because these objects shine very brightly in a specific hue of aquamarine green, they can be distinguished from the surrounding stars. Careful observation of the light from the nebulae using a powerful spectrograph can also reveal their motions .
Just as the water from a glass is not visible once thrown into the pond — but may have caused ripples and other disturbances that can be seen if there are particles of mud in the water — the motions of the planetary nebulae, measured using the FLAMES spectrograph on the Very Large Telescope, provide clues to the past merger.
“We are witnessing a single recent accretion event where a medium-sized galaxy fell through the centre of Messier 87, and as a consequence of the enormous gravitational tidal forces, its stars are now scattered over a region that is 100 times larger than the original galaxy!” adds Ortwin Gerhard, head of the dynamics group at the Max-Planck-Institut für extraterrestrische Physik, Garching, Germany, and a co-author of the new study.
The team also looked very carefully at the light distribution in the outer parts of Messier 87 and found evidence of extra light coming from the stars in the galaxy that had been pulled in and disrupted. These observations have also shown that the disrupted galaxy has added younger, bluer stars to Messier 87, and so it was probably a star-forming spiral galaxy before its merger.
“It is very exciting to be able to identify stars that have been scattered around hundreds of thousands of light-years in the halo of this galaxy — but still to be able to see from their velocities that they belong to a common structure. The green planetary nebulae are the needles in a haystack of golden stars. But these rare needles hold the clues to what happened to the stars,” concludes co-author Magda Arnaboldi (ESO, Garching, Germany).
RR Auction is selling a large set of Apollo related items from the estate of noted space collector Leon Ford. The auction includes some items that were taken to the Moon and returned by astronauts: Space collector’s legacy heads to auction: Leon Ford’s NASA artifacts for sale – collectSPACE.
Among the highlights of Ford’s collection was a pouch that held some of Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin’s personal mementos as they were flown to lunar orbit and back. The Personal Preference Kit (PPK) bag had already attracted bids topping $25,000 when absentee pre-bidding closed on Wednesday.
Other exceptional artifacts include a life support backpack strap worn by Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad on the moon’s surface, selling for more than $36,000; a U.S. flag from Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden’s spacesuit, with bids already above $20,000; and a drawing depicting NASA’sMercury and Gemini spacecraft autographed by all of the astronauts who flew on the capsules, at $25,000.
Here is an eCatalog of the collection.
And here is a video about the collection: