samedi 10 janvier 2015

The first images from the spacecraft Resource-P2












ROSCOSMOS logo.

10/01/2015

On January 4, 2015 began testing the target hardware spacecraft Resource-P2, the successful launch of the calculated operating orbit in a single orbital constellation spacecraft (SC) Resource-P1.

On January 5 Roscosmos received the first test shots of high resolution equipment "Geoton-Sangura" in panchromaticmand multispectral mode, as well as wide-field high-resolution set at SC Resource-P2. Work continues on further setup, testing and calibration of the whole complex of the target hardware.


The launch of the space rocket Soyuz-2.1b with promising Russian spacecraft remote sensing of the Earth Resource-P2 held December 26, 2014 at 21:55 MSK from launch pad 31 Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Equipment placed on the SC Resource-P2, allows high resolution imagery of the Earth's surface in the panchromatic and five narrow spectral bands with a ground resolution of 1.0 and 3.0-4.0 meters, respectively, in the band width 38 km; Shoot with wide-swath 97 and 441 km and a resolution 12.0 and 60.0 m in panchromatic band; hyperspectral survey in 96 spectral bands with a resolution of 25-30 m.

Resource-P description

In addition, the SC Resource-P2 installed equipment Automatic Identification (AIS) and scientific equipment "nucleon".

As part of the Russian Federal Space Program for the fourth quarter 2015 is scheduled to launch satellites Resource-P3.

ROSCOSMOS Press Release : http://www.federalspace.ru/21229/

Images, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency/ROSCOSMOS/Translation: Orbiter.ch Aerospace.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

NASA Cargo Launches to Space Station aboard SpaceX Resupply Mission












SpaceX - Falcon 9/Dragon Resupply Mission 5 (CRS-5) patch.

January 10, 2015


Image above: A SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket launches from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:47 a.m. EST on Jan. 10, 2014. The Dragon is loaded with more than two tons of supplies and NASA science investigations for the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA TV.

More than two tons of supplies and NASA science investigations are on the way to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft. The spacecraft launched Saturday on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:47 a.m. EST.

The mission is the company's fifth official cargo delivery flight to the station through NASA's Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon's cargo will support more than 250 experiments that will be conducted by the station’s Expeditions 42 and 43 crews.

video
Liftoff of SpaceX CRS-5

“We are delighted to kick off 2015 with our first commercial cargo launch of the year,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Thanks to our private sector partners, we've returned space station resupply launches to U.S. soil and are poised to do the same with the transport of our astronauts in the very near future. Today’s launch not only resupplies the station, but also delivers important science experiments and increases the station’s unique capabilities as a platform for Earth science with delivery of the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS instrument. I congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams who have made today’s success possible. We look forward to extending our efforts in commercial space to include commercial crew by 2017 and to more significant milestones this year on our journey to Mars.”

The CATS instrument measures the location, composition and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, aerosols and other particulates in the atmosphere. CATS will be attached outside the station on the Japanese Experiment Module. By gaining a deeper understanding of cloud and aerosol coverage, scientists can create a better model of their role in Earth's changing global climate.

F9 & Dragon on the launch pad

A new biological study will use flatworms as a model organism to see how gravity affects tissue regeneration and the rebuilding of damaged organs and nerves. Flatworms regenerate their cells, replacing them as they age or are damaged. This investigation studies the cell signaling mechanisms the worms use while regenerating their tissue in microgravity. Its results could provide insight into how wounds heal in space.

Also making the trip as model organisms will be fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). Scientists will study the flies’ immune systems as a model for the human immune system, to explore how spaceflight can make organisms more susceptible to disease, especially since microbes can become more virulent in space.

The new Micro-5 investigation aims to understand the risks of in-flight infections in space explorers during long-term spaceflight. It will study the interactions between the host and bacteria, cellular responses and the effectiveness of countermeasures during spaceflight. The model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) will be studied along with the microbe Salmonella typhimurium, which is known to cause food poisoning in humans.

SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft

Dragon will be grappled at 6:12 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12, by Expedition 42 Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore of NASA, using the space station's robotic arm to take hold of the spacecraft. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will support Wilmore in a backup position. Dragon is scheduled to spend about a month attached to the space station before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean, west of Baja California, Mexico, carrying more than 3,800 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies, hardware and computer resources, science experiments, space station hardware and trash.

The International Space Station is a convergence of science, technology and human innovation that demonstrates new technologies and makes research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. The space station has been occupied continuously since November 2000. In that time, more than 200 people and a variety of international and commercial spacecraft have visited the orbiting laboratory. The space station remains the springboard to NASA's next great leap in exploration, including future missions to an asteroid and Mars.

SpaceX rocket landing report:

Meanwhile, SpaceX attempted to land the first stage on an autonomous spaceport drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean after stage separation. While the rocket made it to the drone ship, it landed hard. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get good landing video because of the dark and fog, but we are in the process of evaluating invaluable telemetry data which will inform future attempts.

Autonomous spaceport drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean

"Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future though."

For more information about SpaceX's mission to the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacex

For more information about the International Space Station, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/station

Images, Video, Text, Credits: SpaceX/NASA/Josh Buck/Johnson Space Center/Dan Huot.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

jeudi 8 janvier 2015

Scientists Pinpoint Saturn With Exquisite Accuracy












NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

January 8, 2015

Scientists have paired Cassini spacecraft with the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio-telescope system to pinpoint the position of Saturn and its family of moons to within about 2 miles (4 kilometers). The measurement is some 50 times more precise than those provided by ground-based optical telescopes. The feat improves astronomers' knowledge of Saturn's orbit and benefits spacecraft navigation and basic physics research.

The team of researchers used the VLBA -- a giant array of radio-telescope antennas spread from Hawaii to the Virgin Islands -- to pinpoint the position of Cassini as it orbited Saturn over the past decade by receiving the signal from the spacecraft's radio transmitter. They combined this data with information about Cassini's orbit from NASA's Deep Space Network. The combined observations allowed the scientists to make the most accurate determinations yet of the position of the center of mass, or barycenter, of Saturn and its numerous moons.


Image above: Researchers have determined the location of the Saturn system's center of mass to within just a couple of miles (or kilometers), a factor of 50 improvement over previous knowledge. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

The study team included researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Socorro, New Mexico. The scientists are presenting the results of their work today at the American Astronomical Society's meeting in Seattle.

The new measurement was made possible by two factors: Cassini's long-term presence in the Saturn system and the VLBA's ability to discern extremely fine detail. The result is a greatly improved table of predicted positions of objects in the Saturn system, known as an ephemeris. An ephemeris is one of the basic tools of astronomy.

"This work is a great step toward tying together our understanding of the orbits of the outer planets of our solar system and those of the inner planets," said Dayton Jones of JPL, who led the study.

The improved positional information will help enhance precise navigation of interplanetary spacecraft and help refine measurements of the masses of solar system objects. It will also improve predictions of when Saturn or its rings will pass in front of background stars -- events that provide a variety of research opportunities for astronomers.

VLBA measurements of Cassini's position have even helped scientists who seek to make ever-more-stringent tests of Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity by observing small changes in the apparent positions of actively feeding black holes, or quasars, as Saturn appears to pass in front of them on the sky.

Cassini spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cassini's navigation team, charged with plotting the spacecraft's course around Saturn, began using new positional information provided by the ongoing study in 2013. The new ephemeris has enabled them to design better maneuvers for the spacecraft, leading to mission-enhancing savings in propellant. Previously, the navigators performed their own estimates of the positions of Saturn and its satellites using data gleaned by tracking Cassini's radio signal during its communications with Earth. The new calculations, enhanced by VLBA data, are about 20 times more accurate.

Jones and colleagues plan to continue the joint observations with Cassini and the VLBA through the end of Cassini's mission in late 2017. The team plans to use similar techniques to observe the motion of NASA's Juno spacecraft when it reaches Jupiter in mid-2016. They hope to improve the orbital knowledge of that giant planet as well.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Cassini and Juno missions and the Deep Space Network for NASA. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

More information about Cassini, the Deep Space Network and Juno: http://www.nasa.gov

For more information about Cassini Mission from European Space Agency (ESA) website: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Cassini-Huygens

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Preston Dyches/National Radio Astronomy Observatory/Dave Finley.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Machines Teach Astronomers About Stars











NASA logo.

January 8, 2015

Astronomers are enlisting the help of machines to sort through thousands of stars in our galaxy and learn their sizes, compositions and other basic traits.

The research is part of the growing field of machine learning, in which computers learn from large data sets, finding patterns that humans might not otherwise see. Machine learning is in everything from media-streaming services that predict what you want to watch, to the post office, where computers automatically read handwritten addresses and direct mail to the correct zip codes.

Now astronomers are turning to machines to help them identify basic properties of stars based on sky survey images. Normally, these kinds of details require a spectrum, which is a detailed sifting of the starlight into different wavelengths. But with machine learning, computer algorithms can quickly flip through available stacks of images, identifying patterns that reveal a star's properties. The technique has the potential to gather information on billions of stars in a relatively short time and with less expense.

"It's like video-streaming services not only predicting what you would like to watch in the future, but also your current age, based on your viewing preferences," said Adam Miller of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, lead author of a new report on the findings appearing in the Astrophysical Journal. "We are predicting fundamental properties of the stars."


Image above: Astronomers have turned to a method called "machine learning" to help them understand the properties of large numbers of stars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Miller presented the results today at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

Machine learning has been applied to the cosmos before; what makes this latest effort unique is that it is the first to predict specific traits of stars, such as size and metal content, using images of those stars taken over time. These traits are essential to learning about when a star was born, and how it has changed since that time.

"With more information about the different kinds of stars in our Milky Way galaxy, we can better map the galaxy's structure and history," said Miller.

Every night, telescopes around the world obtain thousands of images of the sky. The flood of new data is only expected to rise with upcoming wide-field surveys like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a National Science Foundation and Department of Energy project that will be based in Chile. That survey will image the entire visible sky every few nights, gathering data on billions of stars and how some of those stars change in brightness over time. NASA's Kepler mission has already captured the same kind of time-varying data on hundreds of thousands of stars.

Humans alone can't easily make sense of all this data. That is where machines, or in this case, computers using specialized algorithms, can help out.

But before the machines can learn, they first need a “training period.” Miller and his colleagues started with 9,000 stars as their training set. They obtained spectra for these stars, which revealed several of their basic properties: sizes, temperatures and the amount of heavy elements, such as iron. The varying brightness of the stars had also been recorded by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, producing plots called light curves. By feeding the computer both sets of data, it could then make associations between the star properties and the light curves.

Once the training phase was over, the computer was able to make predictions on its own about other stars by only analyzing light-curves.

"We can discover and classify new types of stars without the need for spectra, which are expensive and time-consuming to obtain," said Miller.

The technique essentially works in the same way as email spam filters. The spam filters are programmed to identify key words associated with junk mail, and then remove the unwanted emails containing those words. With time, a user continues to “teach” the filtering program more key words, and the program becomes better at filtering spam. The machine learning program used by Miller and collaborators likewise becomes better at accurately predicting properties of the stars with additional training from the astronomers.

The team's next goal is to get their computers smart enough to handle the more than 50 million variable stars that the LSST project will observe.

"This is an exciting time to be applying advanced algorithms to astronomy," said Miller. "Machine learning allows us to mine for rare and obscure gems within the deep data sets that astronomers are only now beginning to acquire."

The Astrophysical Journal study is online at: http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/798/2/122/article.

The California Institute of Technology manages JPL for NASA.

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Whitney Clavin.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Will the Real Monster Black Hole Please Stand Up?








NASA - Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuStar) patch.

January 8, 2015

A new high-energy X-ray image from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively called Arp 299, located 134 million light-years away. Each of the galaxies has a supermassive black hole at its heart.

NuSTAR has revealed that the black hole located at the right of the pair is actively gorging on gas, while its partner is either dormant or hidden under gas and dust.

The findings are helping researchers understand how the merging of galaxies can trigger black holes to start feeding, an important step in the evolution of galaxies.

"When galaxies collide, gas is sloshed around and driven into their respective nuclei, fueling the growth of black holes and the formation of stars," said Andrew Ptak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of a new study accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. "We want to understand the mechanisms that trigger the black holes to turn on and start consuming the gas."


Images above: The real monster black hole is revealed in this new image from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array of colliding galaxies Arp 299. In the center panel, the NuSTAR high-energy X-ray data appear in various colors overlaid on a visible-light image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC.

NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of pinpointing where high-energy X-rays are coming from in the tangled galaxies of Arp 299. Previous observations from other telescopes, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, which detect lower-energy X-rays, had indicated the presence of active supermassive black holes in Arp 299. However, it was not clear from those data alone if one or both of the black holes was feeding, or "accreting," a process in which a black hole bulks up in mass as its gravity drags gas onto it.

The new X-ray data from NuSTAR -- overlaid on a visible-light image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope -- show that the black hole on the right is, in fact, the hungry one. As it feeds on gas, energetic processes close to the black hole heat electrons and protons to about hundreds of millions of degrees, creating a superhot plasma, or corona, that boosts the visible light up to high-energy X-rays. Meanwhile, the black hole on the left either is "snoozing away," in what is referred to as a quiescent, or dormant state, or is buried in so much gas and dust that the high-energy X-rays can't escape.

"Odds are low that both black holes are on at the same time in a merging pair of galaxies," said Ann Hornschemeier, a co-author of the study who presented the results Thursday at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. "When the cores of the galaxies get closer, however, tidal forces slosh the gas and stars around vigorously, and, at that point, both black holes may turn on."

NASA - Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuStar). Image Credit: NASA/JPL

NuSTAR is ideally suited to study heavily obscured black holes such as those in Arp 299. High-energy X-rays can penetrate the thick gas, whereas lower-energy X-rays and light get blocked.

Ptak said, "Before now, we couldn't pinpoint the real monster in the merger."

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Virginia. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley; Columbia University, New York; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, California, and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

NuSTAR's mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, with the ASI providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission's outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA's Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

NASA is exploring our solar system and beyond to understand the universe and our place in it. The agency seeks to unravel the secrets of our universe, its origins and evolution, and search for life among the stars.

For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/nustar and http://www.nustar.caltech.edu/

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Whitney Clavin.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Snowy Pyrenees












ESA - Proba-V Mission logo.

January 8, 2014

Snowy Pyrenees seen by Proba-V

In this Proba-V image, acquired on 1 January 2015, the southern part of France with the snow-capped Pyrenees Mountains is shown.

In the upper part of the image a persistent cloud field in the Garonne Valley is visible. The image resolution is 300 metres.

Proba-V is a miniaturised ESA satellite tasked with a full-scale mission: to map land cover and vegetation growth across the entire planet every two days.

For more information about Proba-V, visit:  http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Engineering_Technology/Proba_Missions/Overview2

Image, Text, Credits: ESA-BELSPO 2015, produced by VITO.

Cheers, Orbiter.ch

mercredi 7 janvier 2015

747 embeds Solar Impulse 2 for Abu Dhabi











SolarImpulse - Around the World logo.

January 7, 2014

Boeing 747-400 landed Monday at 4:50 p.m. on the military airfield of Payerne. From Luxembourg, he picked parts of Solar Impulse 2 for his world tour.


Image Above: During the night, the solar plane was loaded in the 747-400.

"This is a great day because we left Switzerland and Payerne, we received a wonderful welcome. The plane leaves the nest, "said Monday at ats Bertrand Piccard initiator and President of Solar Impulse.

"The next 48 hours will be a little tense, because the operation is extremely delicate," said André Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse. With a wingspan of 72 meters, eight meters higher than the jumbo jet that will take him, the second Solar Impulse was dismantled into pieces, he said.

The wing was notably disassembled into three pieces 24 meters. "There is still 2 cm on each side of the entrance to get the parts," says Bertrand Piccard.

Solar Impulse 2 size comparison with Boeing 747-81

Far into the night

It is designed to withstand strong turbulence, the solar plane is fragile handling. Weighing 2,300 kg, it is larger and more delicate than its predecessor, the HB-SIA, which was sent to the United States in 2013.

For loading, the parts will be placed on a special holder designed for the occasion. They will then be securely fastened. A small mistake could result in delays in time, says André Borschberg. But the team of five, six specialists is well prepared for this operation, which was to last into the night.

Stop in Basel

Arrived almost empty to be able to land on the short runway of 2.2 km from the military airfield, the 747 had to leave Tuesday morning about 08:00, in charge of the 2,300 kilos of SI2. The giant air will fill kerosene and will take some equipment in Basel, before flying to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

The cost of the transaction amounts to approximately CHF 400,000, against 500,000 francs for the transport of the first solar airplane to the United States.

The departure approaches

Within the team, starting changes the perspective of a complex project that has undergone many stages: "Around the world, this time it's for that year; it feels, "reports the CEO.

Once at Al Bateen Airport in Abu Dhabi, the aircraft will be reassembled, tested, readjusted. From the end of January, he will perform some flight test to complete its preparation before the big trip planned in late February. The final program will be announced in Abu Dhabi on January 20, said Mr Borschberg.

Around the world in a dozen steps expected to last five months, from March to July. It should go through India, China, the United States, southern Europe or North Africa.

Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg will take turns in the cockpit. "One starts, the other end and we will have one each ocean," notes the project initiator.

video
Solar Impulse plane set to circle world using renewable energy

Flagship of Switzerland

"We can now use Solar Impulse as a symbol demonstrating that with clean technologies, we can do amazing things," says eco-adventurer. "The SI2 will be the flagship of Switzerland. It will show its innovative side. "

In twelve years, the project cost $ 150 million. "We have the money for a basic tour of the world. We are looking for partners for educational programs and materials for visits, notes Bertrand Piccard. "The more we have the means, the more we realize projects," he added.

Prototype in Paris

Bertrand Piccard does not yet know what will become the SI2 after its journey around the earth. In contrast, the HB-SIA will join the City of Science in Paris. There will be transported by truck in March. "This is an incredible opportunity. This museum technologies welcomes three million visitors a year, "says eco-adventurer.

As for the Solar Impulse team, she finally left the premises payernois until the end of 2015. "We will definitely need spare parts during the world tour," says Bertrand Piccard.

The cargo plane flew with his load around 8 am Tuesday to rally Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Solar Impulse 2 arrived in Abu Dhabi

Solar Impulse 2 arrived safely in Abu Dhabi, the starting point of its future around the world. The jumbo jet that carried the solar plane Tuesday at Payerne, UAE landed at 19:04 local time (3:04 p.m. Swiss time) at the airport in the capital.

The flight went very well, in good weather, said Claudia Durgnat, spokesman of Solar Impulse. A four-person team is currently working to unload the plane with Abu Dhabi airport staff.


Image Above: A "747" embarks Solar Impulse 2 for Abu Dhabi.

The SI 2 will then be installed in a shed to be reassembled, tested, readjusted. During Monday night, solar aircraft was loaded in pieces in a 747-400 arrived in the afternoon at Payerne. Tuesday, Boeing took off at 8:24 of the military airfield and made a stopover in Basel before flying to the UAE.

From the end of January, the SI 2 will perform some flight test to complete its preparation before the big trip planned for late February. Around the world in a dozen steps expected to last five months, from March to July. It should go through India, China, the United States, southern Europe or North Africa. In twelve years, the adventure of the solar airplane cost some 150 million.

For more information about Solar Impulse, visit: http://www.solarimpulse.com/

Images, Video, Text, Credits: Solar Impulse/ATS/Euronews/Orbiter.ch Aerospace.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Andromeda in HD












ESA - Hubble Space Telescope logo.

 7 January 2015

Hubble captures the sharpest ever view of neighbouring spiral Galaxy

Sharpest ever view of the Andromeda Galaxy

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured the sharpest and biggest image ever taken of the Andromeda galaxy — otherwise known as Messier 31. The enormous image is the biggest Hubble image ever released and shows over 100 million stars and thousands of star clusters embedded in a section of the galaxy’s pancake-shaped disc stretching across over 40 000 light-years.

This sweeping view shows one third of our galactic neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy, with stunning clarity. The panoramic image has a staggering 1.5 billion pixels — meaning you would need more than 600 HD television screens to display the whole image [1]. It traces the galaxy from its central galactic bulge on the left, where stars are densely packed together, across lanes of stars and dust to the sparser outskirts of its outer disc on the right.

The area around the Andromeda Galaxy (ground-based image)

The large groups of blue stars in the galaxy indicate the locations of star clusters and star-forming regions in the spiral arms, whilst the dark silhouettes of obscured regions trace out complex dust structures. Underlying the entire galaxy is a smooth distribution of cooler red stars that trace Andromeda's evolution over billions of years.

Wide-field view of the Andromeda Galaxy showing the extent of the PHAT

The Andromeda Galaxy is a large spiral galaxy — a galaxy type home to the majority of the stars in the Universe — and this detailed view, which captures over 100 million stars, represents a new benchmark for precision studies of this galaxy type [2]. The clarity of these observations will help astronomers to interpret the light from the many galaxies that have a similar structure but lie much further away.

Annotated section of Hubble image of the Andromeda Galaxy

Because the Andromeda Galaxy is only 2.5 million light-years from Earth it is a much bigger target on the sky than the galaxies Hubble routinely photographs that are billions of light-years away. In fact its full diameter on the night sky is six times that of the full Moon. To capture the large portion of the galaxy seen here — over 40 000 light-years across — Hubble took 411 images which have been assembled into a mosaic image.

video
Zooming in on the Andromeda Galaxy

This panorama is the product of the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury
(PHAT) programme. Images were obtained from viewing the galaxy in near-ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared wavelengths, using the Advanced Camera for Surveys aboard Hubble. This view shows the galaxy in its natural visible-light colour as photographed in red and blue filters.

video
Panning across the Andromeda Galaxy

This image is too large to be easily displayed at full resolution and is best appreciated using the zoom tool.

The image was presented today at the 225th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington, USA.

Notes:

[1] The image featured here has 69 536 x 22 230 pixels and is a cropped version of the full uncropped image which has 3.9 billion pixels and covers a length of almost 60 000 light years.

[2] The whole galaxy contains over one thousand billion stars.

Notes for editors

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.

Links:

Images of Hubble: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/category/spacecraft/

Zoom tool: http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/heic1502a/zoomable/

NASA Release: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2015/02/

Images, Videos, Text, Credits: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton (University of Washington, USA), B. F. Williams (University of Washington, USA), L. C. Johnson (University of Washington, USA), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler/Digitized Sky Survey 2 (Acknowledgement: Davide De Martin)/PHAT team.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA Observatories Take an Unprecedented Look into Superstar Eta Carinae












NASA patch.

January 7, 2015

Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years of Earth, is known for its surprising behavior, erupting twice in the 19th century for reasons scientists still don't understand. A long-term study led by astronomers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used NASA satellites, ground-based telescopes and theoretical modeling to produce the most comprehensive picture of Eta Carinae to date. New findings include Hubble Space Telescope images that show decade-old shells of ionized gas racing away from the largest star at a million miles an hour, and new 3-D models that reveal never-before-seen features of the stars' interactions.

"We are coming to understand the present state and complex environment of this remarkable object, but we have a long way to go to explain Eta Carinae's past eruptions or to predict its future behavior," said Goddard astrophysicist Ted Gull, who coordinates a research group that has monitored the star for more than a decade.

Located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, Eta Carinae comprises two massive stars whose eccentric orbits bring them unusually close every 5.5 years. Both produce powerful gaseous outflows called stellar winds, which enshroud the stars and stymy efforts to directly measure their properties. Astronomers have established that the brighter, cooler primary star has about 90 times the mass of the sun and outshines it by 5 million times. While the properties of its smaller, hotter companion are more contested, Gull and his colleagues think the star has about 30 solar masses and emits a million times the sun's light.

video
Missions Take an Unparalleled Look into Superstar Eta Carinae

Video above: Explore Eta Carinae from the inside-out with the help of supercomputer simulations and data from NASA satellites and ground-based observatories. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Speaking at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle on Wednesday, the Goddard researchers discussed recent observations of Eta Carinae and how they fit with the group's current understanding of the system.

At closest approach, or periastron, the stars are 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) apart, or about the average distance between Mars and the sun. Astronomers observe dramatic changes in the system during the months before and after periastron. These include X-ray flares, followed by a sudden decline and eventual recovery of X-ray emission; the disappearance and re-emergence of structures near the stars detected at specific wavelengths of visible light; and even a play of light and shadow as the smaller star swings around the primary.

During the past 11 years, spanning three periastron passages, the Goddard group has developed a model based on routine observations of the stars using ground-based telescopes and multiple NASA satellites. "We used past observations to construct a computer simulation, which helped us predict what we would see during the next cycle, and then we feed new observations back into the model to further refine it," said Thomas Madura, a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at Goddard and a theorist on the Eta Carinae team.


Animation above: Seen in blue light emitted by doubly ionized iron atoms (4,659 angstroms), these images of Eta Carinae were captured by Hubble's STIS instrument between 2010 and 2014. Gas shells created during the binary's 2003 close approach race outward at about 1 million mph (1.6 million km/h). Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/T. Gull et al.

According to this model, the interaction of the two stellar winds accounts for many of the periodic changes observed in the system. The winds from each star have markedly different properties: thick and slow for the primary, lean and fast for the hotter companion. The primary's wind blows at nearly 1 million mph and is especially dense, carrying away the equivalent mass of our sun every thousand years. By contrast, the companion's wind carries off about 100 times less material than the primary's, but it races outward as much as six times faster.

Madura's simulations, which were performed on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, reveal the complexity of the wind interaction. When the companion star rapidly swings around the primary, its faster wind carves out a spiral cavity in the dense outflow of the larger star. To better visualize this interaction, Madura converted the computer simulations to 3-D digital models and made solid versions using a consumer-grade 3-D printer. This process revealed lengthy spine-like protrusions in the gas flow along the edges of the cavity, features that hadn't been noticed before.   


Animation above: supercomputer simulation of the stars of Eta Carinae.
In this supercomputer simulation, the stars of Eta Carinae are shown as black dots. Lighter colors indicate greater densities in the stellar winds produced by each star. At closest approach, the fast wind of the smaller star carves a tunnel in the thicker wind of the larger star. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/T. Madura.

"We think these structures are real and that they form as a result of instabilities in the flow in the months around closest approach," Madura said. "I wanted to make 3-D prints of the simulations to better visualize them, which turned out to be far more successful than I ever imagined." A paper detailing this research has been submitted to the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The team detailed a few key observations that expose some of the system's inner workings. For the past three periastron passages, ground-based telescopes in Brazil, Chile, Australia and New Zealand have monitored a single wavelength of blue light emitted by helium atoms that have lost a single electron. According to the model, the helium emission tracks conditions in the primary star's wind. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) aboard Hubble captures a different wavelength of blue light emitted by iron atoms that have lost two electrons, which uniquely reveals where gas from the primary star is set aglow by the intense ultraviolet light of its companion. Lastly, X-rays from the system carry information directly from the wind collision zone, where the opposing winds create shock waves that heat the gas to hundreds of millions of degrees.


Image above: Eta Carinae's great eruption in the 1840s created the billowing Homunculus Nebula, imaged here by Hubble. Now about a light-year long, the expanding cloud contains enough material to make at least 10 copies of our sun. Astronomers cannot yet explain what caused this eruption. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team.

"Changes in the X-rays are a direct probe of the collision zone and reflect changes in how these stars lose mass," said Michael Corcoran, an astrophysicist with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland. He and his colleagues compared periastron emission measured over the past 20 years by NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, which ceased operation in 2012, and the X-ray Telescope aboard NASA's Swift satellite. In July 2014, as the stars rushed toward each other, Swift observed a series of flares culminating in the brightest X-ray emission yet seen from Eta Carinae. This implies a change in mass loss by one of the stars, but X-rays alone cannot determine which one.

Goddard's Mairan Teodoro led the ground-based campaign tracking the helium emission. "The 2014 emission is nearly identical to what we saw at the previous periastron in 2009, which suggests the primary wind has been constant and that the companion's wind is responsible for the X-ray flares," he explained.

After NASA astronauts repaired the Hubble Space Telescope's STIS instrument in 2009, Gull and his collaborators requested to use it to observe Eta Carinae. By separating the stars' light into a rainbow-like spectrum, STIS reveals the chemical make-up of their environment. But the spectrum also showed wispy structures near the stars that suggested the instrument could be used to map a region close to the binary system in never-before-seen detail.

STIS views its targets through a single narrow slit to limit contamination from other sources. Since December 2010, Gull's team has regularly mapped a region centered on the binary by capturing spectra at 41 different locations, an effort similar to building up a panoramic picture from a series of snapshots. The view spans about 430 billion miles (670 billion km), or about 4,600 times the average Earth-sun distance.

The resulting images, revealed for the first time on Wednesday, show that the doubly ionized iron emission comes from a complex gaseous structure nearly a tenth of a light-year across, which Gull likens to Maryland blue crab. By stepping through the STIS images, vast shells of gas representing the crab's "claws" can be seen racing away from the stars with measured speeds of about 1 million mph (1.6 million km/h). With each close approach, a spiral cavity forms in the larger star's wind and then expands outward along with it, creating the moving shells.

"These gas shells persist over thousands of times the distance between Earth and the sun," Gull explained. "Backtracking them, we find the shells began moving away from the primary star about 11 years or three periastron passages ago, providing us with an additional way to glimpse what occurred in the recent past."

When the stars approach, the companion becomes immersed in the thickest part of the primary's wind, which absorbs its UV light and prevents the radiation from reaching the distant gas shells. Without this energy to excite it, the doubly ionized iron stops emitting light and the crab structure disappears at this wavelength. Once the companion swings around the primary and clears the densest wind, its UV light escapes, re-energizes iron atoms in the shells, and the crab returns.

Both of the massive stars of Eta Carinae may one day end their lives in supernova explosions. For stars, mass is destiny, and what will determine their ultimate fate is how much matter they can lose -- through stellar winds or as-yet-inexplicable eruptions -- before they run out of fuel and collapse under their own weight.

For now, the researchers say, there is no evidence to suggest an imminent demise of either star. They are exploring the rich dataset from the 2014 periastron passage to make new predictions, which will be tested when the stars again race together in February 2020.

NASA is exploring our solar system and beyond to understand the universe and our place in it. We seek to unravel the secrets of our universe, its origins and evolution, and search for life among the stars.

Related Link:

- Download this video and additional multimedia in HD formats from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?11725

- "Astronomers Bring the Third Dimension to a Doomed Star's Outburst" (07.08.2014): http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/astronomers-bring-the-third-dimension-to-a-doomed-stars-outburst/

Images (mentioned), Animations (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy.

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Dark cloud obscures hundreds of background stars












ESO - European Southern Observatory logo.

7 January 2015

Where Did All the Stars Go?

The dark nebula LDN 483

Some of the stars appear to be missing in this intriguing new ESO image. But the black gap in this glitteringly beautiful starfield is not really a gap, but rather a region of space clogged with gas and dust. This dark cloud is called LDN 483 — for Lynds Dark Nebula 483. Such clouds are the birthplaces of future stars. The Wide Field Imager, an instrument mounted on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, captured this image of LDN 483 and its surroundings.

LDN 483 in the constellation of Serpens

LDN 483 [1] is located about 700 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens (The Serpent). The cloud contains enough dusty material to completely block the visible light from background stars. Particularly dense molecular clouds, like LDN 483, qualify as dark nebulae because of this obscuring property. The starless nature of LDN 483 and its ilk would suggest that they are sites where stars cannot take root and grow. But in fact the opposite is true: dark nebulae offer the most fertile environments for eventual star formation.

Wide-field view of the sky around the dark nebula LDN 483

Astronomers studying star formation in LDN 483 have discovered some of the youngest observable kinds of baby stars buried in LDN 483’s shrouded interior. These gestating stars can be thought of as still being in the womb, having not yet been born as complete, albeit immature, stars.

In this first stage of stellar development, the star-to-be is just a ball of gas and dust contracting under the force of gravity within the surrounding molecular cloud. The protostar is still quite cool — about –250 degrees Celsius — and shines only in long-wavelength submillimetre light [2]. Yet temperature and pressure are beginning to increase in the fledgling star’s core.

video
Zooming in on the dark nebula LDN 483

This earliest period of star growth lasts a mere thousands of years, an astonishingly short amount of time in astronomical terms, given that stars typically live for millions or billions of years. In the following stages, over the course of several million years, the protostar will grow warmer and denser. Its emission will increase in energy along the way, graduating from mainly cold, far-infrared light to near-infrared and finally to visible light. The once-dim protostar will have then become a fully luminous star.

video
Close-up view of the dark nebula LDN 483

As more and more stars emerge from the inky depths of LDN 483, the dark nebula will disperse further and lose its opacity. The missing background stars that are currently hidden will then come into view — but only after the passage of millions of years, and they will be outshone by the bright young-born stars in the cloud [3].

Notes:

[1] The Lynds Dark Nebula catalogue was compiled by the American astronomer Beverly Turner Lynds, and published in 1962. These dark nebulae were found from visual inspection of the Palomar Sky Survey photographic plates.

[2] The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), operated in part by ESO, observes in submillimetre and millimetre light and is ideal for the study of such very young stars in molecular clouds.

[3] Such a young open star cluster can be seen here, and a more mature one here.

More information:

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world’s largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning the 39-metre European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Links:

Photos of the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/search/?adv=&subject_name=mpg

Other photos taken with the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/search/?adv=&facility=15

Photos of La Silla: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/lasilla/

Lynds Dark Nebula catalogue: http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1962ApJS....7....1L&data_type=PDF_HIGH&whole_paper=YES&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf

Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA): http://www.eso.org/alma

Images, Text, Credits: Credit: ESO/IAU and Sky & Telescope/Digitized Sky Survey 2/Videos: ESO/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org)/Digitized Sky Survey 2. Music: movetwo.

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Volunteer 'Disk Detectives' Classify Possible Planetary Habitats











NASA - NEO WISE Mission logo.

January 7, 2015

A NASA-sponsored website designed to crowdsource analysis of data from the agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has reached an impressive milestone. In less than a year, citizen scientists using DiskDetective.org have logged 1 million classifications of potential debris disks and disks surrounding young stellar objects (YSO). This data will help provide a crucial set of targets for future planet-hunting missions.

"This is absolutely mind-boggling," said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the project's principal investigator. "We've already broken new ground with the data, and we are hugely grateful to everyone who has contributed to Disk Detective so far."


Image above: he marked asymmetry of the debris disk around the star HD 181327 suggests it may have formed as a result of the collision of two small bodies. The Disk Detective project aims to discover many other stellar disks using volunteer classifications of data from NASA's WISE mission. Image credit: NASA/ESA/Univ. of Arizona/HST/GO 12228 Team.

Combing through objects identified by WISE during its infrared survey of the entire sky, Disk Detective aims to find two types of developing planetary environments. The first, known as a YSO disk, typically is less than 5 million years old, contains large quantities of gas, and often is found in or near young star clusters. The second planetary habitat, known as a debris disk, tends to be older than 5 million years, holds little or no gas, and possesses belts of rocky or icy debris that resemble the asteroid and Kuiper belts found in our own solar system. Vega and Fomalhaut, two of the brightest stars in the sky, host debris disks.

Planets form and grow within disks of gas, dust and icy grains surrounding young stars. The particles absorb the star's light and reradiate it as heat, which makes the stars brighter at infrared wavelengths -- in this case, 22 microns -- than they would be without a disk.

Computer searches already have identified some objects seen by the WISE survey as potential dust-rich disks. But software can't distinguish them from other infrared-bright sources, such as galaxies, interstellar dust clouds and asteroids. There may be thousands of potential planetary systems in the WISE data, but the only way to know for sure is to inspect each source by eye.

Kuchner recognized that searching the WISE database for dusty disks was a perfect opportunity for crowdsourcing. He worked with NASA to team up with the Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the Internet.

At DiskDetective.org, volunteers watch a 10-second "flip book" of a disk candidate shown at several different wavelengths as observed from three different telescopes, including WISE. They then click one or more buttons that best describe the object's appearance. Each classification helps astronomers decide which images may be contaminated by background galaxies, interstellar matter or image artifacts, and which may be real disks that should be studied in more detail.

In March 2014, just two months after Disk Detective launched, Kuchner was amazed to find just how invested in the project some users had become. Volunteers complained about seeing the same object over and over. "We thought at first it was a bug in the system," Kuchner explained, "but it turned out they were seeing repeats because they had already classified every single object that was online at the time."

Some 28,000 visitors around the world have participated in the project to date. What's more, volunteers have translated the site into eight foreign languages, including Romanian, Mandarin and Bahasa, and have produced their own video tutorials on using it.

Many of the project's most active volunteers are now joining in science team discussions, and the researchers encourage all users who have performed more than 300 classifications to contact them and take part.

One of these volunteers is Tadeáš Cernohous, a postgraduate student in geodesy and cartography at Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic. "I barely understood what scientists were looking for when I started participating in Disk Detective, but over the past year I have developed a basic sense of which stars are worthy of further exploration," he said.

video
'Disk Detectives' Top 1 Million Classifications in Search for Planetary Habitats

Alissa Bans, a postdoctoral fellow at Adler Planetarium in Chicago and a member of the Disk Detective science team, recalls mentioning that she was searching for candidate YSOs and presented examples of what they might look like on Disk Detective. "In less than 24 hours," she said, "Tadeáš had compiled a list of nearly 100 objects he thought could be YSOs, and he even included notes on each one."

Speaking at a press conference at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle on Tuesday, Kuchner said the project has so far netted 478 objects of interest, which the team is investigating with a variety of ground-based telescopes in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Argentina and Chile. "We now have at least 37 solid new disk candidates, and we haven't even looked at all the new telescope data yet," he said.

Disk Detective currently includes about 278,000 WISE sources. The team expects to wrap up the current project sometime in 2018, with a total of about 3 million classifications and perhaps 1,000 disk candidates. The researchers then plan to add an additional 140,000 targets to the site.

"We've come a long way, but there's still lots and lots more work to do -- so please drop by the site and do a little science with us!" added Kuchner.

WISE has made infrared measurements of more than 745 million objects, compiling the most comprehensive survey of the sky at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With its primary mission complete, the satellite was placed in hibernation in 2011. WISE was awoken in September 2013, renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE), and given a new mission to assist NASA's efforts in identifying the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs).

  Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). Image Credit: NASA

JPL manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Facilities involved in follow-up studies of objects found with Disk Detective include Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico; Palomar Observatory on Palomar Mountain, California; the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mount Hopkins, Arizona; the Leoncito Astronomical Complex in El Leoncito National Park, Argentina; and Las Campanas Observatory, located in the Atacama Desert of Chile.

NASA is exploring our solar system and beyond to understand the universe and our place in it. We seek to unravel the secrets of our universe, its origins and evolution, and search for life among the stars. Today's announcement shares the discovery of our ever-changing cosmos, and brings us closer to learning whether we are alone in the universe.

More information about WISE is online at: http://www.nasa.gov/wise

Related link:

DiskDetective.org: http://www.diskdetective.org/

Images (mentioned), Video, Text, Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Written by Francis Reddy/JPL/Whitney Clavin/Video: NASA Goddard.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

mardi 6 janvier 2015

Kepler Marks 1,000th Exoplanet Discovery, Uncovers More Small Worlds in Habitable Zones












NASA - Kepler Mission patch.

January 6, 2015


Image above: NASA Kepler's Hall of Fame: Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, eight are less than twice Earth-size and in their stars' habitable zone. All eight orbit stars cooler and smaller than our sun. The search continues for Earth-size habitable zone worlds around sun-like stars.

How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study -- the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets. The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.

Three of the newly-validated planets are located in their distant suns’ habitable zone, the range of distances from the host star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. Of the three, two are likely made of rock, like Earth.

"Each result from the planet-hunting Kepler mission's treasure trove of data takes us another step closer to answering the question of whether we are alone in the Universe," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “The Kepler team and its science community continue to produce impressive results with the data from this venerable explorer."

To determine whether a planet is made of rock, water or gas, scientists must know its size and mass. When its mass can’t be directly determined, scientists can infer what the planet is made of based on its size.

Two of the newly validated planets, Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b, are less than 1.5 times the diameter of Earth. Kepler-438b, 475 light-years away, is 12 percent bigger than Earth and orbits its star once every 35.2 days. Kepler-442b, 1,100 light-years away, is 33 percent bigger than Earth and orbits its star once every 112 days.

Both Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b orbit stars smaller and cooler than our sun, making the habitable zone closer to their parent star, in the direction of the constellation Lyra. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope

"With each new discovery of these small, possibly rocky worlds, our confidence strengthens in the determination of the true frequency of planets like Earth," said co-author Doug Caldwell, SETI Institute Kepler scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. "The day is on the horizon when we’ll know how common temperate, rocky planets like Earth are.”

With the detection of 554 more planet candidates from Kepler observations conducted May 2009 to April 2013, the Kepler team has raised the candidate count to 4,175. Eight of these new candidates are between one to two times the size of Earth, and orbit in their sun's habitable zone. Of these eight, six orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature. All candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.

“Kepler collected data for four years -- long enough that we can now tease out the Earth-size candidates in one Earth-year orbits”, said Fergal Mullally, SETI Institute Kepler scientist at Ames who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. “We’re closer than we’ve ever been to finding Earth twins around other sun-like stars. These are the planets we’re looking for”.

These findings also have been submitted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement.

Work is underway to translate these recent discoveries into estimates of how often rocky planets appear in the habitable zones of stars like our sun, a key step toward NASA's goal of understanding our place in the universe.

Scientists also are working on the next catalog release of Kepler’s four-year data set. The analysis will include the final month of data collected by the mission and also will be conducted using sophisticated software that is more sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of small Earth-size planets than software used in the past.

Ames is responsible for Kepler's mission operations, ground system development and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado, developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/Felicia Chou/Ames Research Center/Michele Johnson.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch