Videos: “What’s Up for March 2017” – Night sky highlights

NASA JPL describes what to look for in the night sky in the coming month:

This month the moon hides red Aldebaran, Venus and Mercury show their phases. Find more astronomy information and events in your area by visiting https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/

The Hubble Space Telescope offers its own night sky highlights report:

Backyard stargazers get a monthly guide to the northern hemisphere’s skywatching events with “Tonight’s Sky.” The March equinox still grants plenty of dark nighttime skies for planet-hunting.

ESO: Very Large Telescope gets a sharper view of an edge on galaxy

The latest report from ESO (European Southern Observatory):

A Galaxy on the Edge

This colourful stripe of stars, gas, and dust is actually a spiral galaxy named NGC 1055. Captured here by ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), this big galaxy is thought to be up to 15 percent larger in diameter than the Milky Way. NGC 1055 appears to lack the whirling arms characteristic of a spiral, as it is seen edge-on. However, it displays odd twists in its structure that were probably caused by an interaction with a large neighbouring galaxy.

This colourful image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope shows NGC 1055 in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster).  This large galaxy is thought to be up to 15 percent larger in diameter than the Milky Way. NGC 1055 appears to lack the whirling arms characteristic of a spiral, as it is seen edge-on. However, it displays odd twists in its structure that were probably caused by an interaction with a large neighbouring galaxy. [Larger image.]
Spiral galaxies throughout the Universe take on all manner of orientations with respect to Earth. We see some from above (as it were) or “face-on” — a good example of this being the whirlpool-shaped galaxy NGC 1232. Such orientations reveal a galaxy’s flowing arms and bright core in beautiful detail, but make it difficult to get any sense of a three-dimensional shape.

A new image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope gives a very detailed view of the edge-on galaxy NGC 1055. This ESOcast Light takes a quick look at this image and explains what it shows.

We see other galaxies, such as NGC 3521, at angles. While these tilted objects begin to reveal the three-dimensional structure within their spiral arms, fully understanding the overall shape of a spiral galaxy requires an edge-on view — such as this one of NGC 1055.

This rich wide-field view captures not only the edge-on galaxy NGC 1055 at the centre but also the bright galaxy NGC 1068 (also known as Messier 77, it is an active galaxy with a huge black hole at its centre) to its lower-left, the fainter galaxy NGC 1032 to the upper right and the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1073 to the upper left. In addition, much closer to home, the bright naked-eye blue star Delta Ceti appears at the right of centre. This picture was created from images in the Digitized Sky Survey 2. [Larger images.]
When seen edge-on, it is possible to get an overall view of how stars — both new patches of starbirth and older populations — are distributed throughout a galaxy, and the “heights” of the relatively flat disc and the star-loaded core become easier to measure. Material stretches away from the blinding brightness of the galactic plane itself, becoming more clearly observable against the darker background of the cosmos.

Such a perspective also allows astronomers to study the overall shape of a galaxy’s extended disc, and to study its properties. One example of this is warping, which is something we see in NGC 1055. The galaxy has regions of peculiar twisting and disarray in its disc, likely caused by interactions with the nearby galaxy Messier 77 (eso0319) [1]. This warping is visible here; NGC 1055’s disc is slightly bent and appears to wave across the core.

This video sequence takes the viewer deep into the faint constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster) and finishes on a new and very detailed view of the edge-on galaxy NGC 1055 from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in northern Chile. Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2/A. Fujii. Music: Astral Electronic

NGC 1055 is located approximately 55 million light-years away in the constellation of Cetus (The Sea Monster). This image was obtained using the FOcal Reducer and low dispersion Spectrograph 2 (FORS2) instrument mounted on Unit Telescope 1 (Antu) of the VLT, located at ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. It hails from ESO’s Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative that produces images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes for the purposes of education and outreach.

Notes
[1] Messier 77, also known as NGC 1068, has a very brilliant central region powered by a supermassive black hole. It is one of the nearest examples of what astronomers call active galaxies.

Video: Curiosity rover captures Dust Devils in action

The winds on Mars may never be as forceful as depicted in The Martian but they can certainly pick up dust and move it across the ground as seen in these video clips of Dust Devils: Martian Winds Carve Mountains, Move Dust, Raise Dust – NASA JPL

On recent summer afternoons on Mars, navigation cameras aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover observed several whirlwinds carrying Martian dust across Gale Crater. Dust devils result from sunshine warming the ground, prompting convective rising of air. All the dust devils were seen in a southward direction from the rover. Timing is accelerated and contrast has been modified to make frame-to-frame changes easier to see.

For more information, read the full article at https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.ph…

Video: The Planetary Post with Robert Picardo – “Griffith Observatory with Tim Russ”

Here is the latest of the Planetary Society‘s series The Planetary Post with Robert Picardo:

Star parties are magical events where one can observe the wonders of our night sky…and have a surprise Star Trek: Voyager reunion. Also, news about seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf star, plus learn how you can help prevent an asteroid impact disaster.

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And here is the latest episode of Planetary Radio: Planetary Radio Live: Near Earth Objects—The Killer Asteroid Threat | The Planetary Society

Leaders of the quest to find, understand and protect ourselves from the asteroids and comets called Near Earth Objects gathered with host Mat Kaplan for a live conversation about this existential threat from space. This special episode presents excerpts of that lively discussion with JPL Senior Research Scientist Amy Mainzer, Manager of NASA/JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies Paul Chodas, and NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. Also on stage was Planetary Society Director of Science and Technology Bruce Betts. Bruce stayed for this week’s What’s Up segment.

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SpaceX to fly two private citizens on a flight around the Moon

SpaceX announced on Monday that two private persons will ride a Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by a Falcon Heavy on a trip around the Moon. The target date for the flight is late 2018. TMRO.tv‘s Lisa Stojanovsk gives an overview of the endeavor:

The first launch of the Falcon Heavy is planned for this summer. All three cores will fly back for landings.

The Falcon Heavy system will have flown three or four times before this Moon flyby happens. The Crew Dragon will have flown both unmanned and manned to the ISS before the trip as well.

Here is the official SpaceX announcement:

SpaceX to Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft
Beyond the Moon Next Year

We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.

Most importantly, we would like to thank NASA, without whom this would not be possible. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission. In addition, this will make use of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which was developed with internal SpaceX funding. Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket. At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying.

Later this year, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, we will launch our Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the International Space Station. This first demonstration mission will be in automatic mode, without people on board. A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018. SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew. By also flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions.

Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth. Lift-off will be from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral – the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions. This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them.

Designed from the beginning to carry humans, the Dragon spacecraft already has a long flight heritage. These missions will build upon that heritage, extending it to deep space mission operations, an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars.

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Everyone can participate in space