Videos: “Space to Ground” report on the ISS – April.20.2018

Here is this week’s Space to Ground report from NASA on activities related to the International Space Station:

** Checkout the Aeon video of magnificent earth imagery and astronauts describing their experiences of seeing such views from space:  The majestic Earth as seen through the eyes of astronauts orbiting above | Aeon Videos

‘Even if you’re a tough person you can’t avoid becoming a child again…’

In this video composed of time-lapse imagery recorded from the International Space Station, four veteran astronauts – Helen Sharman, Michael Barratt, Jean-François Clervoy and Daniel Tani – describe the singular, life-changing experience of looking down at Earth. In providing context for these images of our planet (the station orbits Earth every 92 minutes, for instance) and trying to find words for the profound sense of wonder that has come to be known as ‘the overview effect’, the astronauts strive valiantly to share their rarified perspective, giving us just a glimmer of an experience that many people think is just around the corner for a much greater number of us.

** An intro to how NASA can help researchers get their experiments to the ISS and to communicate what they are doing to other researchers and the general public: ISS R&T Opportunities | NASA:

Your science is heading to space, now let’s make sure you get the most from it. We have a team of communicators who are ready to take your science and share it with the world, sparking potential collaboration and new opportunities. See how we take the information you provide to feed stories, videos, social media, and other communications efforts across NASA’s highly visible platforms. Your science has a story. Help us share it. 

** NASA’s Launch Services Program arranges for the agency’s uncrewed spacecraft to fly on commercial rockets. In this video, Tim Dunn of LSP talks about this week’s TESS launch on a Falcon 9 (see earlier posting) and about other spacecraft launches this year:

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Hubble Telescope: 28th anniversary celebrated with a visit to the Lagoon Nebula

Some beautiful pictures of the Lagoon Nebula from the Hubble:

Hubble celebrates 28th anniversary
with a trip through the Lagoon Nebula

To celebrate its 28th anniversary in space the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope took this amazing and colourful image of the Lagoon Nebula. The whole nebula, about 4000 light-years away, is an incredible 55 light-years wide and 20 light-years tall. This image shows only a small part of this turbulent star-formation region, about four light-years across. This stunning nebula was first catalogued in 1654 by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Hodierna, who sought to record nebulous objects in the night sky so they would not be mistaken for comets. Since Hodierna’s observations, the Lagoon Nebula has been photographed and analysed by many telescopes and astronomers all over the world. The observations were taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 between 12 February and 18 February 2018. [Larger versions]

This colourful cloud of glowing interstellar gas is just a tiny part of the Lagoon Nebula, a vast stellar nursery. This nebula is a region full of intense activity, with fierce winds from hot stars, swirling chimneys of gas, and energetic star formation all embedded within a hazy labyrinth of gas and dust. Hubble used both its optical and infrared instruments to study the nebula, which was observed to celebrate Hubble’s 28th anniversary.

Since its launch on 24 April 1990, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revolutionised almost every area of observational astronomy. It has offered a new view of the Universe and has reached and surpassed all expectations for a remarkable 28 years. To celebrate Hubble’s legacy and the long international partnership that makes it possible, each year ESA and NASA celebrate the telescope’s birthday with a spectacular new image. This year’s anniversary image features an object that has already been observed several times in the past: the Lagoon Nebula.

To celebrate its 28th anniversary in space the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope took this amazing and colourful image of the Lagoon Nebula. Using its infrared capabilities, the telescope was able to peer through the thick clouds of dust and gas. The most obvious difference between Hubble’s infrared and visible images of this region is the abundance of stars that fill the field of view in the infrared. Most of them are more distant, background stars located behind the nebula. However, some of them are young stars within the Lagoon Nebula itself. [Larger images]
The Lagoon Nebula is a colossal object 55 light-year wide and 20 light-years tall. Even though it is about 4000 light-years away from Earth, it is three times larger in the sky than the full Moon. It is even visible to the naked eye in clear, dark skies. Since it is relatively huge on the night sky, Hubble is only able to capture a small fraction of the total nebula. This image is only about four light-years across, but it shows stunning details.

The inspiration for this nebula’s name may not be immediately obvious in this image. It becomes clearer only in a wider field of view, when the broad, lagoon-shaped dust lane that crosses the glowing gas of the nebula can be made out. This new image, however, depicts a scene at the very heart of the nebula.

Like many stellar nurseries, the nebula boasts many large, hot stars. Their ultraviolet radiation ionises the surrounding gas, causing it to shine brightly and sculpting it into ghostly and other-worldly shapes. The bright star embedded in dark clouds at the centre of the image is Herschel 36. Its radiation sculpts the surrounding cloud by blowing some of the gas away, creating dense and less dense regions.

This image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows the area around the Lagoon Nebula, otherwise known as Messier 8. This nebula is filled with intense winds from hot stars, churning funnels of gas, and energetic star formation, all embedded within an intricate haze of gas and pitch-dark dust. [ Larger images ]
Among the sculptures created by Herschel 36 are two interstellar twisters — eerie, rope-like structures that each measure half a light-year in length. These features are quite similar to their namesakes on Earth — they are thought to be wrapped into their funnel-like shapes by temperature differences between the hot surfaces and cold interiors of the clouds. At some point in the future, these clouds will collapse under their own weight and give birth to a new generation of stars.

Hubble observed the Lagoon Nebula not only in visible light but also at infrared wavelengths. While the observations in the optical allow astronomers to study the gas in full detail, the infrared light cuts through the obscuring patches of dust and gas, revealing the more intricate structures underneath and the young stars hiding within it. Only by combining optical and infrared data can astronomers paint a complete picture of the ongoing processes in the nebula.

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Check out this Slider comparison of the Lagoon Nebula in optical and infrared images. This video also shows a slide comparison:

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Videos: Falcon 9 launches TESS exoplanet finding observatory

On Wednesday at Cape Canaveral, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully put TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) on the first (big) step to its final operational orbit, which will have an apogee nearly as far out as the Moon and an perigee far beyond that of geostationary satellites. (See the recent post here about TESS.)

Here is a NASA release about the launch of TESS:

NASA Planet Hunter on Its Way to Orbit

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) launched on the first-of-its-kind mission to find worlds beyond our solar system, including some that could support life.

TESS, which is expected to find thousands of new exoplanets orbiting nearby stars, lifted off at 6:51 p.m. EDT Wednesday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. At 7:53 p.m., the twin solar arrays that will power the spacecraft successfully deployed.

“We are thrilled TESS is on its way to help us discover worlds we have yet to imagine, worlds that could possibly be habitable, or harbor life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With missions like the James Webb Space Telescope to help us study the details of these planets, we are ever the closer to discovering whether we are alone in the universe.”

Over the course of several weeks, TESS will use six thruster burns to travel in a series of progressively elongated orbits to reach the Moon, which will provide a gravitational assist so that TESS can transfer into its 13.7-day final science orbit around Earth. After approximately 60 days of check-out and instrument testing, the spacecraft will begin its work.

“One critical piece for the science return of TESS is the high data rate associated with its orbit,” said George Ricker, TESS principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in Cambridge. “Each time the spacecraft passes close to Earth, it will transmit full-frame images taken with the cameras. That’s one of the unique things TESS brings that was not possible before.”

For this two-year survey mission, scientists divided the sky into 26 sectors. TESS will use four unique wide-field cameras to map 13 sectors encompassing the southern sky during its first year of observations and 13 sectors of the northern sky during the second year, altogether covering 85 percent of the sky.

TESS will be watching for phenomena called transits. A transit occurs when a planet passes in front of its star from the observer’s perspective, causing a periodic and regular dip in the star’s brightness. More than 78 percent of the approximately 3,700 confirmed exoplanets have been found using transits.

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft found more than 2,600 exoplanets, most orbiting faint stars between 300 and 3,000 light-years from Earth, using this same method of watching for transits. TESS will focus on stars between 30 and 300 light-years away and 30 to 100 times brighter than Kepler’s targets.

The brightness of these target stars will allow researchers to use spectroscopy, the study of the absorption and emission of light, to determine a planet’s mass, density and atmospheric composition. Water, and other key molecules, in its atmosphere can give us hints about a planets’ capacity to harbor life.

“The targets TESS finds are going to be fantastic subjects for research for decades to come,” said Stephen Rinehart, TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s the beginning of a new era of exoplanet research.”

Through the TESS Guest Investigator Program, the worldwide scientific community will be able to conduct research beyond TESS’s core mission in areas ranging from exoplanet characterization to stellar astrophysics, distant galaxies and solar system science.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT and managed by Goddard. George Ricker, of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, serves as principal investigator for the mission. TESS’s four wide-field cameras were developed by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. Additional partners include Orbital ATK, NASA’s Ames Research Center, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

For more information on TESS, go to: https://www.nasa.gov/tess

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Here is a view of the return and landing of the Falcon 9 first stage onto the unmanned droneship “Of Course I Still Love You”. The view is primarily from a camera on the rocket with a brief view from the ship before the shaking caused by the engine plume knocks the transmitter antenna off target:

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The Breakthrough Junior Challenge offers $250,000 prize for a student with a great science or math idea

The Breakthrough Junior Challenge is

an annual global competition for students to inspire creative thinking about science. Students ages 13 to 18 from countries across the globe are invited to create and submit original videos (3 minutes in length maximum) that bring to life a concept or theory in the life sciences, physics or mathematics. The submissions are judged on the student’s ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in engaging, illuminating, and imaginative ways. The Challenge is organized by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

If your video is selected as the winner, you will receive a $250,000 college scholarship, $50,000 prize for your teacher, and $100,000 for your school’s laboratory facilities. In addition, a get a free trip for you and a parent or guardian to receive your award at the live televised Breakthrough Prize Ceremony in November of 2018 (date to be announced).

Here is a video about the competition:

The competition began on April 1, 2018 and will end on July 1, 2018 at 11:59 pm PDT. This video describes the registration process:

Check the Breakthrough Junior Challenge website and FAQ for further details.