Here’s an info-graphic from astroshop.eu about possible astronomical explanations for the Star of Bethlehem:
- Turn the Page: Print Your 2015 Commercial Crew Calendar | Commercial Crew Program
- Commercial Crew Program 2015 Childrens Artwork Calendar (pdf)
Houston, TX—December 19th, 2014 – DreamUp, powered by NanoRacks, is a nonprofit organization now providing a place for student project teams to raise required funds to fly a science experiment to the International Space Station (ISS).
The goal of DreamUp is to help students integrate into the commercial space community by delivering their experiments via NanoRacks to the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the ISS.
“Whether you are a large company or a high school student, space is complex…and although it isn’t quite as expensive as in the past, it’s still outside of the average student budget” says DreamUp Director Patricia Mayes. “Our platforms give access to the frontlines of space research and we see all of our educational payloads as a contribution to the space industry. We are thrilled to see NASA and the ISS Program Office supporting commercial and student research on Station.”
DreamUp allows junior high, high school, and undergraduate college students to take advantage of NanoRacks’ three standardized research platforms on the International Space Station by establishing an account for each team to hold donations towards the costs. These platforms include: NanoLabs, and the NanoRacks Platform-3 and Centrifuge. Find out more about NanoRacks’ standardized research platforms onboard the ISS.
The first team to join the revamped DreamUp program calls themselves “Chicks in Space.” This team, made up of three sisters, is on the search for more science than they receive in a regular school day. The sisters, Lillith, MaryAnn, and Adia, invented a microgravity plant growing chamber named ‘The Garden of E.T.O.N. (Extra Terrestrial Organic Nutrition). They placed as semi-finalists in a 2013 National STEM contest and now want to test their project on the ISS. The Garden of E.T.O.N. uses centrifuge to water the plants in space.
The girls have raised $1,200 out of a required $15,000 to get to space. To learn more about Chicks’ in Space experiment, check out their experiment.com page.
To further engage space youth, students across the world now have an opportunity to report where they spot the ISS flying over them, and tweet their story with the hashtag #ISSDreamUp for the chance to win a prize each month from DreamUp and NanoRacks.
For more information on DreamUp student projects and how to spot the ISS, please visit: www.unitedspaceschool.org/dreamup/
Download the full press release and further press inquiries, please contact Abby Dickes at 202 750 0914.
About NanoRacks, LLC:
NanoRacks LLC was formed in 2009 to provide commercial hardware and services for the U.S. National Laboratory onboard the International Space Station via a Space Act Agreement with NASA. NanoRacks’ main office is in Houston, Texas, right alongside the NASA Johnson Space Center. The Business Development office is in Washington, DC. The Company seeks to democratize outer space utilization by owning and marketing its own family of research equipment and by providing low-cost, high quality services in low-earth orbit and beyond.
To date over 200 payloads have been deployed by the Company on the International Space Station and our customer base includes the European Space Agency (ESA) the German Space Agency (DLR,) the American space agency (NASA,) US Government Agencies, Planet Labs, Urthecast, Space Florida, NCESSE, Virgin Galactic, pharmaceutical drug companies, and organizations in Vietnam, UK, Romania and Israel. Our customer base has propelled NanoRacks into a leadership position in understanding the emerging commercial market for low-earth orbit utilization.
Here is a compilation of time-lapse imagery of the earth shot from the ISS by ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst and set to a nice soundtrack:
The ESA Rosetta team has created a sequence of images showing the rotation of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko:
As the incredible year of 2014 draws to a close, we have prepared a small treat for all of the readers of this blog who have followed Rosetta’s progress over the months, in particular those who like to download images and play with them.
We started our CometWatch in July, when Rosetta was still a few thousand kilometres away from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. We saw this curiously-shaped comet grow larger and richer in details as the spacecraft got closer and closer until rendezvous at 100 km on 6 August. The NAVCAM images released over that period provided a good overview of our approach to this amazing new world.
In September, as we drew closer to the comet, we had to switch to taking four-image mosaics in order to ensure that we could cover enough of it for navigation purposes. Since then, we have been publishing some of these four-image sets as montages and mosaics, as well as releasing the individual frames so that you could work with them and create your own mosaics. Some have been taken within 8 km of the surface of 67P/C-G, providing amazing views.
But to mark the end of this exciting year, instead of just one new image, montage, or mosaic, the last CometWatch release of the year is … a movie, featuring no less than 24 montages based on NAVCAM images taken between 19 November and 3 December 2014. A reduced version of the movie can be seen inline here, but the full-sized version is available if you click through.
These images were taken while Rosetta was in a 30-km orbit around the comet (see the second half of this video showing the trajectory of the spacecraft after 12 November). As usual, each montage comprises four individual images taken over a 20-minute period, at either around 11:00 UT (12:00 CET) or 23:00 UT (0:00 Next Day CET). At 30 km from the comet’s centre, the pixel scale is about 2.56 m/pixel.
The path of Rosetta after 12 November 2014. Credit: ESA
As Comet 67P/C-G rotates with a period of 12.4 hours, images taken at 12-hour intervals result in views that are slightly offset with respect to one another, as the comet will have completed slightly less than a full rotation in that time.
In addition, there is also the orbital motion of Rosetta with respect to the comet: over the two weeks over which the images were taken, Rosetta completed almost one full orbit at 30 km from the comet.
Taking these factors into account, we have ordered the images according to the apparent rotation phase in order to make a movie. In fact, we have sorted the images in an almost reverse chronological sequence, starting with a montage taken on 2 December, then working backwards one day at a time to 19 November. The last montage in the sequence, however, is from 3 December.
Given the limited time available to us in the run up to Christmas, this is all we have been able to do: a phase-ordered sequence of montages made into a movie. There has been no processing of the images apart from the removal of the basic instrumental signature.
But we know that you can do better, and as a thank you to everyone who has produced and shared dozens and dozens of excellent NAVCAM mosaics and images over the past few months, we’ve made the full set of 24 montages and of 96 individual 1024 x 1024 pixel frames available for download.
So, if you have the time over the holiday period, we invite you to create your own mosaics and perhaps even your own movies, and to share them on your social networks under the terms of the Creative Commons licence that applies to NAVCAM images (CC BY-SA IGO 3.0). Let us know about them in the New Year.
For those who want to know exactly where the spacecraft was at the moment when each image was taken and perhaps factor that into their movie-making, the so-called ‘SPICE’ files for Rosetta are available here, and the tools to read and process those files can be found here. Few parameters are already included in the filenames of the provided images, such as rotation phase, date and time (rot.phase_ESA_ROSETTA_NAVCAM_yymmddThh).
We hope you have enjoyed following our CometWatch in 2014 and we are looking forward to another exciting year as 67P/C-G gets closer and closer to the Sun. Rosetta will be there to monitor its changes and discover what it really means “to live with a comet”.
The UK’s Bristol Spaceplanes is running a crowd-funding campaign to raise £10,000 to fund design work and to buildscale flying models for their suborbital Ascender spaceplane and the SpaceCab and SpaceBus two-stage horizontal takeoff and landing systems: Bristol Spaceplanes, a Business project from Frome, Somerset Crowdfunding on Crowdfunder.co.uk
1. Monday, Dec. 22, 2014: 2:00-3:30PM PST (5:00-& 6:30 PM EST, 4:00-5:30 PM CST): GOLDEN OLDIE IN ADVANCE OF THE TOM OLSON 2014 YEAR IN REVIEW SHOW ON DEC. 30. The show today is Tom’s 2011 Space Year in review program. We will be replaying the 2011, 2012 and 2013 review shows prior to the live 2014 review. Take notes, see how accurate our discussion was year by year. When you see the program archived on the website and blog, it is ready for play.
2. Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014:,7-8:30 PM PST (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CST): We welcome TED SOUTHERN of Final Frontier Design, a commercial spacesuit company. Visit www.finalfrontierdesign.com.
3. Friday, Dec. 29, 2014, 9:30 -11 AM PST (12:30-2 PM EST; 11:30-1 PM CST): GOLDEN OLDIE IN ADVANCE OF THE TOM OLSON 2014 YEAR IN REVIEW SHOW ON DEC. 30. The show today is Tom’s 2012 Space Year in review program. We will be replaying the 2011, 2012 and 2013 review shows prior to the live 2014 review. Take notes, see how accurate our discussion was year by year. When you see the program archived on the website and blog, it is ready for play. .
4. Sunday, Dec.28, 2014, 9:30-11 AM PST (12:30-2 PM EST, 11:30 AM – 1 PM CST): OPEN LINES, out last one of 2014. All space and STEM calls welcome. First time callers welcome. Give us your 2015 space predictions.
The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.
A Christmas message from Menna Mulugeta (the daughter of a cousin of my wife) and her family pointed us to this new video with a beautiful rendition of Dolly Parton’s classic pop song :
Find more songs by Menna here.
Update: Here’s a song by Menna that’s especially Chrismas-y:
The latest TMRO live program reviewed space developments in the past year: A look back at 2014 – TMRO
The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University is presenting an exhibition of artist Robert Rauschenberg‘s works that he created in a NASA sponsored art program during the Apollo era:
Cantor Exhibition Presents Rarely Seen Art by Robert Rauschenberg Documenting First Manned Flight to the Moon: Loose in Some Real Tropics: Robert Rauschenberg’s “Stoned Moon” Projects, 1969–70
December 20, 2014–March 16, 2015
Here is a review of the show: Art review: Robert Rauschenberg views the moon mission – SFGate.
“Hot Shot” – Lithograph by Robert Rauschenberg. This work was created to share and express the artist’s belief in the spiritual and physical improvement of life and the mind through curiosity.
Artist Nina Waisman will join the SETI Institute’s Artist in Residence Program along with five other artists: Nina Waisman named artist-in-residence with SETI Institute – UTSanDiego.com –
Elon Musk introduced his Hyperloop super-fast mass transit concept in August of 2013. He has too much on his plate (i.e. SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and Solar City) to pursue the idea himself and instead has encouraged others to try to make it happen.
In September of 2013 came word that a Hyperloop company had been formed to try to develop a hyperloop system. The company is a virtual one based at the JumpStartFund with over 100 engineers who work part time on developing real-world build-able design. Here are a couple of reports on their progress so far:
- These Dreamers Are Actually Making Progress Building Elon’s Hyperloop – WIRED
- Hyperloop is coming ‘within a decade,’ says CEO – Mashable
And here’s an article about their project: Hyperloop: UCLA graduate students explore feasibility of high-speed tube transportation system – Daily Breeze.
Most of the 25 students are from China, where large urban populations make the Hyperloop and other high-speed rail attractive alternatives to cars and planes. Only two Americans are enrolled in the program.
Over the years there have been those who have argued that Venus, not Mars, is the best place for humans to explore and even settle. They are not proposing that people go down into the poisonous atmosphere and onto the hellishly hot surface but instead to use habitats that float upon the dense atmosphere. The proverbial cloud cities of innumerable science fiction books and movies could eventually become feasible. Last summer I posted some links to such proposals: Colonies on the clouds of Venus.
A NASA group has released a study outlining an exploration program of Venus that is based on airships: NASA Study Proposes Airships, Cloud Cities for Venus Exploration: Should crewed exploration of Venus come before we try to go to Mars? – IEEE Spectrum.
This video shows the architecture of such an exploration program:
NASA Langley researchers want to get a better idea about conditions on our nearest planetary neighbor, Venus, so they have come up with HAVOC or a High Altitude Venus Operational Concept – a lighter-than-air rocket ship that would help send two astronauts on a 30-day mission to explore the planet’s atmosphere. Exploration of Venus is a challenge not only because its smog-like sulfuric acid-laced atmosphere, but also its extremely hot surface temperature and extremely high air pressure on the surface.
The latest NASA report on activities on the International Space Station:
All 38 episodes of the 1950s space adventure series Men Into Space have been posted on YouTube: Men Into Space, TV Series Before The Moon Landing – YouTube.
Here is the first episode:
An announcement from The Philip K. Dick Film Festival :
The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival
Announces Schedule for 2015 Event
Four-Days Jam-Packed with Award-Winning and Groundbreaking
Features and Shorts
HIGHLIGHT: Mark Netter’s “Nightmare Code” Starring
“The Walking Dead’s” Andrew J. West
NYC PREMIERE: Jacob Akira Okada’s Documentary Short
“Painting The Way To The Moon”
(New York City, N.Y.) December 18, 2014 – Legend states that events come in threes — a phenomenon in its truest form for The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival as it embarks on a third year honoring the literary world’s most nuanced and visionary author, Philip K. Dick. The highly anticipated four-day experience from January 15-18, 2015 will screen at three distinguished locations including The Cervantes Institute, Tribeca Cinemas and The Producer’s Club and features a slate of innovative features and shorts which capture the distinctive boldness of the the genre and brings forth the most riveting moments of science fiction cinema ever to grace the big screen.
The festival launches on Thursday, January 15, 2015 at The Cervantes Institute with a free-admission night of international science fiction shorts beginning at 7pm. The exciting schedule includes Martín Rosete’s Voice Over (2011, Spain), Michel Goossens’ Exit (2013, Spain/Netherlands), MacGregor and Bruno Zacarías’ Similo (2014, Spain), Daniel Romero’s No Mires Ahí (2014, Spain), Fernandez Sanchez’s Sujeto Darwin (2014, Spain), Antonio Souto Fraguas’ Renacimiento (2013, Spain), Thierry Lorenzi’s On/Off (2013, France), Didier Philippe’s Seule (2014, France), Lee Citron’s Martian American (2014, USA/Mexico) and Federico Telerman’s Albino (2014, Argentina).
The mayhem comes full force on Friday, January 16, 2015 at Tribeca Cinemas with the frighteningly entertaining and award-winning Nightmare Code (2014) at 7pm in Theater One. The starstudded film features Andrew J. West, widely known to audiences as Gareth on AMC’s mega-hit The Walking Dead, Mei Melançon (X Men: The Last Stand, The L Word) and Googy Gress (Apollo 13, Parenthood) and follows the gripping account of a start-up programmer who battles a mysterious software code that takes on a life of its own following the murderous rampage of his predecessor. The feature film is directed and produced by Mark Netter, written by Netter and M.J. Rotondi and executive produced by Craig Allen and Avi Bachar. A Q&A session with Netter is scheduled to follow.
Having premiered to critical success across the board, Jacob Akira Okada’s documentary short Painting the Way to the Moon (2013) will have its exclusive New York City premiere at 9pm in Theater One. Produced by Adam Morrow and Carylanna Taylor the film follows Princeton mathematician and artist Ed Belbruno, who discovered a new form of space travel. His “eureka” moment while working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the 1980s came to him while painting. The groundbreaking conjecture that satellites could use the mathematics of the chaos theory rather than rocket fuel to orbit around the moon and send experiments into space was initially rejected by NASA and he was soon fired. However, his work eventually found a home at the agency. The film examines how “art and science share a common process and explores how creative thinking is not only for artists,” according to the official film synopsis. A Q&A session with Belbruno is scheduled to follow.
A block of international science fiction short films begins at 7:30pm in Theater Two. A highlight of the evening is Room 731 (2014, USA) which stars Tim Kang, best known as Kimball Cho on CBS’ smash-hit The Mentalist. The film directed by Young Min Kim and written by Kim and Christie Cushing is a supernatural mystery along the bloodlines of The Grudge and Saw and follows an amnesiac girl who awakens in a jail-like room and is haunted by dangerous spirits. Also starring Yoojung Kim and Nikki SooHoo, the film sheds light on the traumas of the WWII-era Japanese concentration camp known as “Unit 731.” Industry professionals including Eddie Yang (co-founder, Alliance Studio), SFX makeup artist Diana Choi (The Dark Knight), Vanessa Mi Kyung Lee (The Hunger Games), editor Jimmy Gadd (The Mentalist) and executive producers Anna Liza Recto and Michael Kaleda (Bold MP) have rallied behind the project. The evening continues with Thomas Charles’ Désaffection (2013, France), Mat Owen’s Turn On (2013, UK), Winnie Cheung’s Dear Lucas (2014, USA), Laura Maxfield’s A Girl, A Cat, A Bomb (2014, USA), [followed by Room 731 in sequence], Faroukh Virani’s Vimana (2014, USA/India), Aldo Romero’s Silent Threat (2014, USA), Erin Li’s Kepler X-47 (2014, USA) and Vanessa Gould’s The Atom Bomb (2013, USA).
And just when you thought the screams had died down, three filmmakers barricade themselves in a haunted house where no one has survived past 21 Days (2014) at 9:30pm in Theater Two. The spine-chilling and multiple award-winning feature film written and directed by Kathleen Behun stars Whitney Rose Pynn (co-star of NBC’s upcoming David Duchovny series Aquarius), Max Hambleton and Mickey River. A Q&A session with Behun is scheduled to follow.
The festival continues on Saturday, January 17, 2015 at The Producer’s Club with three blocks of short films. First up are Philip K. Dick-inspired films of “Paranoia, Conspiracy and Dystopia” at 3pm including John Butler’s The Terminal Node (2014), Stephen Parkhurst’s Frontier (2014), Scott Danzig’s Sky Paradise (2013), Alessandro Bricoli’s Ignorenatus Alius (2014), Gavin Williams’ Sleepworking (2013), Anthony Willis’ Escapement (2014), Etienne Gravrand’s The Fischer Case (2014), Joachim Huveneers’ I Wish My Life (2014), Ayoub Qanir’s Artificio Conceal (2014) and William Hart and Ciaran Birks’ Serpent Dreams (2014). After the block, audience members will have the opportunity to vote for the “Best PKD Short.” Next is “Wonders, Curiosities and Oddities” at 5pm include Zac Grant and Jason Markowitz’s The Dahl House (2014), Peter LaSala and Christopher Ventura’s Except for Us (2014), Dustin Lee’s The Astronomer (2015), Michel Goossens’ Ego (2014), Edmond Deraedt and Kristin Arnesen’s Reliquary (2014) and Keaton Smith’s The Story of Christopher Jenkins (2014). “Horror and Supernatural” closes out the lineup with Andy Green’s Vomica (2014), Lauren Morrison’s Viscera (2014) and Kristen Swinkels’ Nigredo (2013).
But the night is far from over with the screening of the award-winning feature film The Perfect 46 (2014) starring Whit Hertford, Don McManus and James M. Connor. Written and directed by Brett Ryan Bonowicz, the film follows the story of a geneticist who develops a website to pair individuals of a pure genetic match in order to create the “perfect child.” Ending the night is the feature There (2014), a high-octane thriller about a socially displaced war veteran who ” justifies domestic terrorism by interpreting his actions with alien invasion.” Written and directed by prolific underground filmmaker James Fotopoulos, the film stars Xander O’Connor, Brenda Bakke and Sarah Brooks.
The festival ends on Sunday, January 18, 2015 but not before the twists and turns of Inverse (2014) at 4pm in Tribeca Cinemas’ Theater One. Written and directed by Matt Duggan, the feature film stars Josh Wingate, Luisa Beck, W.C. Boelter and John Burish in this story of eternal ruination and forbidden desire. Experience captivating shocks as a man awakens from what he perceived as death but is in fact a parallel universe all the while he falls in love with his doppelgänger’s wife and mankind is threatened with total destruction. A Q&A session with Duggan is scheduled to follow. When all is dead and done, the highly anticipated awards ceremony brings the festival to a satisfying close.
The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival has thrilled its attendees with entertaining and visually captivating themes which have made the event a favorable and continued success. For full schedule and ticketing information please visit www.thephilipkdickfilmfestival.com. The festival will take place on January 15, 2015 at The Cervantes Institute (day is free admission) at 211 East 49th Street, New York, NY 10017 (visit nyork.cervantes.es/en/default.shtm or call 212-308-7720), January 16 and 18, 2015 at Tribeca Cinemas at 54 Varick Street, New York, NY 10013 [at Laight Street, one block below Canal Street] (visit www.tribecacinemas.com or call 212-941-2001) and January 17, 2015 at The Producer’s Club at 358 W 44th Street, New York, NY 10036 (visit www.producersclub.com or call 212-315-4743). And always be sure to visit the festival’s Twitter page at twitter.com/PhilipKDickFest (tweet the hashtag #PKDFestNYC) and the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ThePhilipKDickFilmFestival.
About The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival: The Philip K. Dick International Film Festival of Science, Science Fiction, Fantastic Film and the Supernatural is New York City’s first festival of its kind and is organized by individuals and filmmakers who understand the difficulties and challenges of telling a unique story in a corporate environment. With extremely successful 2012-2013 festivals, a 2013 international event in Lille, France and endless screening events the festival is only beginning its vision of honoring the legacy of the great Philip K. Dick. From guest speakers and writers who best represent the goals of the festival, original voices and enhanced visions in works submitted, this is a festival created by filmmakers for filmmakers.
About Philip K. Dick: “Reality is whatever refuses to go away when I stop believing in it.” – Philip K. Dick Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) was one of the 20th century’s most profound novelists and writers within the science fiction community. His exploration, analysis and beliefs led to the publishings of 44 novels and 121 short stories. Dick’s enormous library of works led to several film developments including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990), Minority Report (2002), Paycheck (2003) A Scanner Darkly (2006), Radio Free Albemuth (2010), The Adjustment Bureau (2011) andTotal Recall (2012). Dick’s enormously effective views comprised of fictional universes, virtual realities and human mutation foresaw an exaggerated version of the current state of government and contemporary life. Though he is gone in the physical form his philosophies live on in the techniques applied to modern stories and films and generate large displays of appreciation and understanding.
Festival Websites/Social Media
Official Website: www.thephilipkdickfilmfestival.com
Twitter Hashtag: #PKDFestNYC
International Website: www.philipkdickfilmfestival-europe.com
Fractured Atlas Donation Page: www.fracturedatlas.org/site/contribute/donate/6853
The latest science from the European Southern Observatory (ESO):
This spectacular image of the star cluster Messier 47 was taken using the Wide Field Imager camera, installed on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This young open cluster is dominated by a sprinkling of brilliant blue stars but also contains a few contrasting red giant stars.
The Star ClusterThis spectacular image of the star cluster Messier 47 was taken using the Wide Field Imager camera, installed on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. This young open cluster is dominated by a sprinkling of brilliant blue stars but also contains a few contrasting red giant stars. Credit: ESO
Messier 47 is located approximately 1600 light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Puppis (the poop deck of the mythological ship Argo). It was first noticed some time before 1654 by Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Hodierna and was later independently discovered by Charles Messier himself, who apparently had no knowledge of Hodierna’s earlier observation.
Although it is bright and easy to see, Messier 47 is one of the least densely populated open clusters. Only around 50 stars are visible in a region about 12 light-years across, compared to other similar objects which can contain thousands of stars.
Messier 47 has not always been so easy to identify. In fact, for years it was considered missing, as Messier had recorded the coordinates incorrectly. The cluster was later rediscovered and given another catalogue designation — NGC 2422. The nature of Messier’s mistake, and the firm conclusion that Messier 47 and NGC 2422 are indeed the same object, was only established in 1959 by Canadian astronomer T. F. Morris.
This chart shows the constellation of Puppis (The Poop) and includes all the stars that can be seen with the unaided eye on a clear and dark night. This region of the sky includes some bright star clusters, chief amongst them Messier 47 (circled) and its contrasting sister cluster Messier 46. Both clusters are well seen in small telescopes, with Messier 47 having far fewer, but brighter, stars. Credit: ESO, IAU & Sky and Telescope
The bright blue–white colours of these stars are an indication of their temperature, with hotter stars appearing bluer and cooler stars appearing redder. This relationship between colour, brightness and temperature can be visualised by use of the Planck curve. But the more detailed study of the colours of stars using spectroscopy also tells astronomers a lot more — including how fast the stars are spinning and their chemical compositions. There are also a few bright red stars in the picture — these are red giant stars that are further through their short life cycles than the less massive and longer-lived blue stars .
By chance Messier 47 appears close in the sky to another contrasting star cluster — Messier 46. Messier 47 is relatively close, at around 1600 light-years, but Messier 46 is located around 5500 light-years away and contains a lot more stars, with at least 500 stars present. Despite containing more stars, it appears significantly fainter due to its greater distance.
Messier 46 could be considered to be the older sister of Messier 47, with the former being approximately 300 million years old compared to the latter’s 78 million years. Consequently, many of the most massive and brilliant of the stars in Messier 46 have already run through their short lives and are no longer visible, so most stars within this older cluster appear redder and cooler.
This image of Messier 47 was produced as part of the ESO Cosmic Gems programme .
An announcement from NASA JPL:
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.
The hold drilled by Curiosity into the rock named Cumberland.
“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”
Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.
Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars. These Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites.
Possible ways to produce and reduce methane on Mars
Organic molecules, which contain carbon and usually hydrogen, are chemical building blocks of life, although they can exist without the presence of life. Curiosity’s findings from analyzing samples of atmosphere and rock powder do not reveal whether Mars has ever harbored living microbes, but the findings do shed light on a chemically active modern Mars and on favorable conditions for life on ancient Mars.
“We will keep working on the puzzles these findings present,” said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Can we learn more about the active chemistry causing such fluctuations in the amount of methane in the atmosphere? Can we choose rock targets where identifiable organics have been preserved?”
Researchers worked many months to determine whether any of the organic material detected in the Cumberland sample was truly Martian. Curiosity’s SAM lab detected in several samples some organic carbon compounds that were, in fact, transported from Earth inside the rover. However, extensive testing and analysis yielded confidence in the detection of Martian organics.
The ways that Mars makes it difficult to find its organic molecules.
Identifying which specific Martian organics are in the rock is complicated by the presence of perchlorate minerals in Martian rocks and soils. When heated inside SAM, the perchlorates alter the structures of the organic compounds, so the identities of the Martian organics in the rock remain uncertain.
“This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise,” said Curiosity Participating Scientist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials. The challenge now is to find other rocks on Mount Sharp that might have different and more extensive inventories of organic compounds.”
Researchers also reported that Curiosity’s taste of Martian water, bound into lakebed minerals in the Cumberland rock more than three billion years ago, indicates the planet lost much of its water before that lakebed formed and continued to lose large amounts after.
SAM analyzed hydrogen isotopes from water molecules that had been locked inside a rock sample for billions of years and were freed when SAM heated it, yielding information about the history of Martian water. The ratio of a heavier hydrogen isotope, deuterium, to the most common hydrogen isotope can provide a signature for comparison across different stages of a planet’s history.
“It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars,” said Paul Mahaffy, SAM principal investigator of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of a report published online this week by the journal Science
The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen has changed because the lighter hydrogen escapes from the upper atmosphere of Mars much more readily than heavier deuterium. In order to go back in time and see how the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in Martian water changed over time, researchers can look at the ratio in water in the current atmosphere and water trapped in rocks at different times in the planet’s history.
Martian meteorites found on Earth also provide some information, but this record has gaps. No known Martian meteorites are even close to the same age as the rock studied on Mars, which formed about 3.9 billion to 4.6 billion years ago, according to Curiosity’s measurements.
The ratio that Curiosity found in the Cumberland sample is about one-half the ratio in water vapor in today’s Martian atmosphere, suggesting much of the planet’s water loss occurred since that rock formed. However, the measured ratio is about three times higher than the ratio in the original water supply of Mars, based on the assumption that supply had a ratio similar to that measured in Earth’s oceans. This suggests much of Mars’ original water was lost before the rock formed.
Curiosity is one element of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and JPL manages Curiosity rover science investigations for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The SAM investigation is led by Paul Mahaffy of Goddard. Two SAM instruments key in these discoveries are the Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer, developed at Goddard, and the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, developed at JPL.
The results of the Curiosity rover investigation into methane detection and the Martian organics in an ancient rock were discussed at a news briefing Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco. The methane results are described in a paper published online this week in the journal Science by NASA scientist Chris Webster of JPL, and co-authors.
A report on organics detection in the Cumberland rock by NASA scientist Caroline Freissenet, of Goddard, and co-authors, is pending publication.
For copies of the new Science papers about Mars methane and water, visit: go.nasa.gov/1cbk35X
Learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars at: www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars/