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Space: NASA spacecraft captures closest-ever photo of doomsday asteroid Bennu | Njus Great Britain

ALMA spots merging galaxies in infant universe

Space Astronomy Now

The ALMA radio telescope array has spotted what appears to be the merger of two galaxies in the infant universe, the earliest such encounter yet observed.
'An artist’s impression of merging galaxies known as B14-65666 some 13 billion light years away. Image: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array has spotted what appears to be two galaxies crashing together some 13 billion years ago, the earliest example of a galactic merger yet detected. ALMA detected radio signals indicating the presence of oxygen, carbon and dust in the object, known as B14-65666 in the constellation Sextens, the earliest galactic detection of such signals. Data analysis indicates the radio missions were divided into two blob-like areas where the Hubble Space Telescope earlier revealed two star clusters. The ALMA signals indicate the blobs are actually two galaxies moving at different speeds that are in the process of merging. The researchers estimate the total mass of the system at less than 10 percent of the Milky Way’s, reflecting the extreme youth of the components. Even so, B14-65666 is producing stars 100 times more actively than the Milky Way, yet another indicator that two galaxies are merging. This composite image of B14-65666 shows the distribution of dust (red), oxygen (green) and carbon (blue) as detected by ALMA, along with stars (white) that were imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, Hashimoto et al. “With rich data from ALMA and HST, combined with advanced data analysis, we could put the pieces together to show that B14-65666 is a pair of merging galaxies in the earliest era of the universe,” said Takuya Hashimoto, a postdoctoral researcher at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and Waseda University. “Detection of radio waves from three components in such a distant object clearly demonstrates ALMA’s high capability to investigate the distant universe.”'

A galaxy being stripped of stars as it plows through a cluster

Space Astronomy Now

Stars and long streams of gas are torn away from a galaxy as it plows through the heart of a cluster near the centre of the Great Attractor in a phenomenon known as ram pressure stripping.
'Plowing through its home in the Norma Cluster near the centre of the Great Attractor, galaxy ESO 137-001 leaves streams of lost stars and a bluish mist in its wake as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Galaxy ESO 137-001 as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Image: NASA, ESA, CXC The blue glow is actually made up of hot young stars and huge streams of gas being torn away from the galaxy in a process known as ram pressure stripping, a drag-like force acting on an object moving through a fluid. In this case, the fluid is the superheated gas the galaxy is plowing through in the Norma Cluster near the center of the Great Attractor, a region of space where concentrated gravity is pulling entire galaxy clusters toward it. The Milky Way and the Local Group of galaxies are all headed in that direction. This image of ESO 137-001 was captured in 2014. The video below first shows the the galaxy as seen by Hubble alone and then with the addition of observations by the Chandra X-ray Observatory:'

Giant planets orbiting Sun-like stars may be rare

Space Astronomy Now

A survey of 300 young, nearby stars by the Gemini South telescope indicates giant planets may be rare in solar systems with Sun-like stars.
'An artist’s impression of a Jupiter-class exoplanet known as 51 Eri b, discovered by the Gemini Planet Imager in 2014. Image: Danielle Futselaar & Franck Marchis, SETI Institute The Gemini Planet Imager instrument attached to the 8-metre Gemini South telescope in Chile is wrapping up a four-year survey of 531 young, relatively nearby stars in search of giant exoplanets. Analysis is ongoing, but half of the collected data, representing 300 stars, indicates giant planets around Sun-like stars may be rare. If confirmed, the findings, to be published in The Astrophysical Journal, would have implications for the development of life on terrestrial planets orbiting such stars. “We suspect that in our solar system Jupiter and Saturn sculpted the final architecture that influences the properties of terrestrial planets such as Mars and Earth, including basic elements for life such as the delivery of water, and the impact rates,” said Franck Marchis, a senior researcher at the SETI Institute and a co-author of the paper. “A planetary system with only terrestrial planets and no giant planets will probably be very different to ours, and this could have consequences on the possibility for the existence of life elsewhere in our galaxy.” More than 4,000 exoplanets have now been identified to date, the vast majority found by measuring the slight dimming of a star’s light as a planet moves in front of its sun – the planetary transit method – or by observing the minuscule wobble of a star – changes in radial velocity – caused by an orbiting planet’s gravity. The Gemini Planet Imager instrument and others can be seen extending below the Gemini South telescope’s primary mirror. Image: J. Chilcote. Both techniques favour detection of planets orbiting relatively close to their suns. But the Gemini Planet Imager, or GPI, was designed to directly image giant planets by blocking out the light of a nearby host star and using sophisticated adaptive optics to counteract atmospheric turbulence. Previous observations indicated giant planets more typically form around higher-mass stars and based on statistics, researchers expected to find about a dozen such worlds in the first 300 stars surveyed. But they only found six. As it turned out, 123 of the stars sampled were more than 1.5 times more massive than the Sun. And all six of the planets detected in the survey orbited those higher-mass stars. The GPI is not sensitive to planets Jupiter’s size or smaller, but the new observations, along with the observed prevalence of high-mass planets around stars more massive than the Sun, indicate Earth’s solar system, with the presence of Jupiter and Saturn, may not be typical. “If this finding is confirmed after analysing the rest of the survey data, and more surveys from ground- and space-based telescopes to come, it will have an impact on our understanding of the existence of life on terrestrial planets” said Marchis. “That’s ultimately the raison d’etre of those surveys, to understand how planetary system formed and what kind of life could exist elsewhere.”'

Inside bonkers British firm that will scatter your ashes in SPACE for £3,000 – and even film your final journey in HD

Space The Sun

YOU’LL probably never make it to space in your lifetime – but what about after death? One kooky British firm offers you the chance to literally reach the heavens by scattering your ashes 20 miles above the surface of the Earth. Run by a pair of
'YOU’LL probably never make it to space in your lifetime – but what about after death? One kooky British firm offers you the chance to literally reach the heavens by scattering your ashes 20 miles above the surface of the Earth. Ascension Flights/The Sun If you’re looking for a bonkers sendoff, Ascension Flights will scatter your ashes in space[/caption] Run by a pair of self-proclaimed “garden shed scientists”, Sheffield firm Ascension Flights charges up to £3,000 to strap your remains onto a modified weather balloon. It floats high above the clouds before the payload is released in space. Your ashes then circle the planet before ultimately returning as raindrops or snowflakes, according to co-founder and director Dr Chris Rose. He says the space sendoffs are about giving families a unique way to say their final farewell. The Sun Ascension Flights co-founder Dr Chris Rose[/caption] The Sun How Ascension Flights sends ashes into space[/caption] “It’s a fitting tribute to those of us who have lived in the space age,” Chris told The Sun. “Essentially, we’re all made of stardust. Returning to the stars is a completion of the loop.” Chris, 33, set up Ascension Flights with fellow space fanatic Dr Alex Baker after they met at Sheffield University. It’s part of an odd new trend in funerary services that has punters going extraterrestrial with their loved ones’ remains. In 2018, US company Elysium Flights launched a gram each of 100 people’s ashes beyond orbit on a SpaceX rocket. After the capsule was ejected, families and friends could track the remains until they eventually burned up in the atmosphere. But why would someone want to fire their nearest and dearest to the final frontier? “When it comes to figuring out what to do with someone’s ashes, people are often in a bit of a quandary,” Chris explains. “Maybe the deceased didn’t leave a request on where to spread them, or the location they had in mind is no longer available. \t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t Ascension Flights/The Sun We sent a test flight up with fake ashes on board and got some cracking views of Earth[/caption] “Space burials aren’t location specific, so we can essentially launch and scatter your loved ones onto the Earth. We’ve solved a lot of stress for people looking for that perfect spot.” Chris and Alex cooked up the idea for Ascension Flights a few years ago and took it all the way to Dragon’s Den in 2017 – though they turned down a lucrative offer from Deborah Meadon. Launches began in 2018, and 50 people have been sent up so far, with another 25 flights lined up this year. Cosmic scatterings start at £895 for the basic package, stretching to £3,000 for more elaborate launches and locations. Ashes are loaded into a canister (pictured) designed from the ground up by Ascension Flights. The two arms on either side are attached to modified Go Pro cameras The Sun Mike Goodfellow (right) with Dad Les in 2001. Les’s ashes were scattered with Ascension Flights last year Mike Goodfellow One customer, 48-year-old Thomas Cook pilot Mike Goodfellow, sent the ashes of dad Les up with Ascension Flights last year. Les was also a commercial pilot, and even served in the RAF’s Typhoon squadron in World War 2. Mike says the sendoff was a fitting tribute to their joint passion. “This isn’t the sort of thing you do every day – send someone into space,” Mike told The Sun. “Some people will never make it up there.” “Now when I fly at 40,000 feet I sit there and look into the blue sky and realise he’s up there with me. It’s comforting.” The Sun Chris says the space sendoffs are about giving families a unique way to say their final farewell[/caption] Ascension Flights/The Sun A picturesque view of Derbyshire as snapped during our test flight[/caption] Ascension flights uses launch sites in Sheffield, Derbyshire and Wrexham in North Wales . Ashes are first decanted into a canister designed from the ground up by the Ascension Flights team. It’s dangled under a modified weather balloon that’s filled with helium and released to the stratosphere. As the pressure drops, the balloon expands about 15 metres. “If it was sat in Wembley stadium, it would touch the stands on both sides,” Chris says. Just before it bursts, the ashes are scattered and carried around the world for days or weeks on stratospheric winds. A built-in parachute and GSP system ensure the capsule makes it back to Earth safely before it’s retrieved by the team. Ascension Flights offers a certificate and glass of bubbly when the deed is done, and thanks to cameras hooked to the scattering system can even hand bereaved families an HD video of the trip. “The part we play is much more a celebration than a sombre moment,” says co-founder Alex, 34. The Sun Ascension Flights co-founder Dr Alex Baker[/caption] The Sun Flights are tracked with special GPS equipment that helps the team find canisters after they’ve floated back to Earth under a built-in parachute[/caption] “People tend to have dealt with the death to some degree already. We’re part of honouring that person’s life.” It might feel a little odd to think that people’s ashes are raining down on you from space. Chris admits the idea is “strange and uncomfortable”, but says there’s no reason to be concerned. “They’re natural, sterile and not a body any more,” he says. “But people do find it a bit funny.” The pair hope to expand their 15-strong team to help them send up 200 flights in 2020. The release mechanism is designed to spread the ash out as it’s scattered Ascension Flights/The Sun Ascension Flights/The Sun Each flights floats to 20 miles above Earth’s surface[/caption] \t \t\t \t\t \t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t TOP STORIES IN SCIENCE \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tROCKY HORROR\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tHuge asteroid could hit Earth THIS YEAR and 'flatten area bigger than London'\t\t\t \t\t\t \t \t \t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tSTORMY OUTLOOK\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tPlans to 'hack Earth's weather' could start World War 3, scientists warn\t\t\t \t\t\t \t \t \t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tLUNAR-CY\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tMystery as astronomers spot the Moon 'flashing at us over and over'\t\t\t \t\t\t \t \t \t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tFROZEN BOOTY\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t'Ice pirate' will tow 3000ft ICEBERG from Antarctica..and melt it to drink\t\t\t \t\t\t \t \t \t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tMEGAMIND\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t'Google' brain implants could end school as anyone can learn anything instantly\t\t\t \t\t\t \t \t \t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tNO ISLE-DEA\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\tMysterious islands in Scottish lochs are MAN MADE and built 5,300 years ago\t\t\t \t\t\t \t \t \t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t\t \t\t\t\t \t\t\t \t\t \t \t \t \t They’ve even got plans to offer space burials for pets in the near future. For grieving punters like Mike, the service offers a final farewell unlike any other. “The last I saw of my dad was him ascending into the blue sky,” Mike told The Sun. “I watched the balloon float away until I couldn’t see it any more.” “It’s nice to know I can always look at a clear sky and think of him.” We pay for your stories! Do you have a story for The Sun Online news team? Email us at tips@the-sun.co.uk or call 0207 782 4368 . We pay for videos too. Click here to upload yours.'

Perfecting the technology needed for ‘starshades’

Space Astronomy Now

Engineers are studying plans for a future 'starshade' that would block out a star's light, allowing a distant telescope to directly image smaller exoplanets.
'An artist’s (not to scale) impression of a 26-metre (85-foot) starshade positioned some 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) in front of a future space telescope. The starshade would be maneuvered to block out the light from a target star, eliminating the glare that otherwise would drown out light reflected from smaller exoplanets. A major challenge would be maintaining the separation distance to within 1 metre (3 feet). Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA engineers are studying the feasibility of a giant starshade that could be remotely positioned to block out a targeted sun, allowing a precisely positioned space telescope tens of thousands of kilometres away to directly image Earth-size exoplanets that otherwise would be drowned out in the star’s glare. In the system currently being modelled, the starshade would unfold in space like a flower blossom, expanding to a diameter of 26 metres (85 feet) or so. The exoplanet-hunting telescope would be positioned up to 40,000 kilometres (25,000 miles) away. For the system to work, the two spacecraft would have to maintain their separation to within 1 metre (3 feet). “The distances we’re talking about for the starshade technology are kind of hard to imagine,” said Michael Bottom, an engineer working on the project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “If the starshade were scaled down to the size of a drink coaster, the telescope would be the size of a pencil eraser and they’d be separated by about 60 miles [100 kilometres]. “Now imagine those two objects are free-floating in space. They’re both experiencing these little tugs and nudges from gravity and other forces, and over that distance we’re trying to keep them both precisely aligned to within about 2 millimetres.” Thousands of exoplanets have been found by studying slight changes in a star’s light as it is tugged ever so slightly from side to side by the gravity of an orbiting planet or by monitoring how a star’s light periodically dims when a planet passes in front of it as viewed from the vicinity of Earth. But blocking out most of a star’s light would permit more direct observations like imaging and spectroscopic analysis of the constituents in an exoplanet’s atmosphere. A space-based starshade offers a potential solution that could lead to profound discoveries. Bottom and JPL engineer Thibault Flinois are assessing technology gaps that need to be resolved before a starshade mission could be launched. One of those is making sure the separation distance, and the starshade’s orientation, can be precisely controlled. The specifics of starshade missions depend on the size of the telescope. For the current study, the JPL engineers envisioned using a telescope the size of NASA’s proposed Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope – WFIRST – with a 2.4-metre primary mirror. Bottom wrote a computer program that would allow sensors to detect interference patterns caused by light leaking around the edges of a slightly-out-of-alignment starshade. Flinois and his colleagues then developed algorithms incorporating the alignment data to autonomously generate thruster firing commands to keep the starshade precisely aligned. “We can sense a change in the position of the starshade down to an inch, even over these huge distances,” Bottom said. Said Phil Willems, manager of NASA’s Starshade Technology Development work: “We use formation flying in space every time a capsule docks at the International Space Station. But Michael and Thibault have gone far beyond that, and shown a way to maintain formation over scales larger than Earth itself.”'

Cassini mosaic captures moon sculpting Saturn’s rings

Space Astronomy Now

Data collected by the Cassini spacecraft before its 2017 demise continues to shed light on the composition and dynamics of Saturn's rings.
'A mosaic made up of images during the Cassini spacecraft’s final orbits of Saturn reveals new insights into how the small moon Daphnis gravitationally sculpts nearby ring material into rippling waves. Click on the image for a zoomed-in view. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute NASA’s Cassini mission ended in 2017 with a deliberate plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere. But data and images captured during the spacecraft’s final, closest-ever passes by the planet’s rings continue to reveal new details about the composition of the system and how small moons gravitationally sculpt ring particles into delicate textures and patterns. “It’s like turning the power up one more notch on what we could see in the rings,” said Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker. “Everyone just got a clearer view of what’s going on. Getting that extra resolution answered many questions, but so many tantalising ones remain.” The research, appearing in the journal Science, applies not just to the dynamics of Saturn’s rings. It also sheds light on how astrophysical disc form an evolve, including the protoplanetary discs that give rise to entire solar systems. “These new details of how the moons are sculpting the rings in various ways provide a window into solar system formation, where you also have disks evolving under the influence of masses embedded within them,” said lead author and Cassini scientist Matt Tiscareno of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California. In a spectacular mosaic, Saturn’s tiny moon Daphnis can be seen embedded in the rings, its gravity clearing out a region known as the Keeler gap, trailing three waves in the gap’s outer edge. The crests of the waves diminish in size the farther they are from the moon as ring particles interact and collide. A closeup showing how the most distant crest in the waves trailing Daphnis breaks down as ring particles jostle about in the moon’s gravitational wake. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute The sculpting generated by Daphnis already was well documented, but the new analysis reveals several previously unseen features, including thin strands of ring material spreading out as the more distant crests diminish and break up. The images making up the mosaic were captured at a distance of about 28,000 kilometres (17,000 miles) from Daphnis. “This tells us the way the rings look is not just a function of how much material there is,” Tiscareno said. “There has to be something different about the characteristics of the particles, perhaps affecting what happens when two ring particles collide and bounce off each other. And we don’t yet know what it is.” Cassini’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer revealed yet another mystery, finding a surprisingly weak signal for water ice in Saturn’s outermost A ring, a highly reflective region thought to contain relatively uncontaminated ice bands. In addition, no organic compounds were detected and no detectable amounts of ammonia ice or methane ice. “If organics were there in large amounts, at least in the main A, B and C rings, we’d see them,” said Phil Nicholson, Cassini VIMS scientist of Cornell University. “I’m not convinced yet that they are a major component of the main rings.”'