Mapping Dark Matter 4.5 Billion Light-years Away

by Shannon Hall on July 25, 2014

This image shows the galaxy MCS J0416.1–2403, one of six clusters targeted by the Hubble Frontier Fields programme. The blue in this image is a mass map created by using new Hubble observations combined with the magnifying power of a process known as gravitational lensing. In red is the hot gas detected by NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and shows the location of the gas, dust and stars in the cluster. The matter shown in blue that is separate from the red areas detected by Chandra consists of what is known as dark matter, and which can only be detected directly by gravitational lensing.Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields. Acknowledgement: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK) and Jean-Paul Kneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland).

This image shows the galaxy cluster MCS J0416.1–2403. The blue is dark matter mapped in this study. Image Credit: ESA / Hubble, NASA

The Milky Way measures 100 to 120 thousand light-years across, a distance that defies imagination. But clusters of galaxies, which comprise hundreds to thousands of galaxies swarming under a collective gravitational pull, can span tens of millions of light-years.

These massive clusters are a complex interplay between colliding galaxies and dark matter. They seem impossible to map precisely. But now an international team of astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has done exactly this — precisely mapping a galaxy cluster, dubbed MCS J0416.1–2403, 4.5 billion light-years away.

“Although we’ve known how to map the mass of a cluster using strong lensing for more than twenty years, it’s taken a long time to get telescopes that can make sufficiently deep and sharp observations, and for our models to become sophisticated enough for us to map, in such unprecedented detail, a system as complicated as MCS J0416.1–2403,” said coauthor Jean-Paul Kneib in a press release. [click to continue…]

Artist's conception of commercial satellites orbiting Mars and beaming information back to Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of commercial satellites orbiting Mars and beaming information back to Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Remember during the government shutdown when it looked as though a NASA Mars mission would be delayed? Launch preparations continued because delaying the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft — which could have pushed its window back by years — would cause “imminent risk to life or property”, administrator Charles Bolden told Universe Today in November.

Both NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey currently provide a vital data link to send huge streams of information from the rovers on the surface, Opportunity and Curiosity. (And the Mars 2020 rover is coming up in a few years, too.) While both orbiters are working well, they are both well over their design lifetimes. MAVEN is now on its way to Mars and should get there in September.

MAVEN’s mission, however, is only designed to last for a year. While it could last longer, NASA is already thinking ahead for satellite backups — especially for the 2020s. And that could include commercial participation, according to a new request for information the agency put out this week.

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Apollo 11 Comes Home. The Apollo 11 crew await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic lunar landing mission. The fourth man in the life raft is a United States Navy underwater demolition team swimmer. All four men are wearing biological isolation garments.  The splashed down at 12:49 a.m. EDT, July 24, 1969, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the USS Hornet. Credit: NASA

Apollo 11 Comes Home
The Apollo 11 crew await pickup by a helicopter from the USS Hornet, prime recovery ship for the historic lunar landing mission. The fourth man in the life raft is a United States Navy underwater demolition team swimmer. All four men are wearing biological isolation garments. The splashed down at 12:49 a.m. EDT, July 24, 1969, about 812 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii and only 12 nautical miles from the USS Hornet. Credit: NASA

The three man crew of NASA’s Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 45 years ago today on July 24, 1969 – successfully concluding Earth’s first journey to land humans on another world and return them safely to our Home Planet.

Apollo 11 Commander Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon on July 20, 1969 after he stepped off the footpad of the Lunar Module Eagle soon after the start of the moonwalk EVA at 10:39 p.m. EDT and onto the lunar surface with his left foot at the Sea of Tranquility at 10:56 p.m. EDT. Lunar Module (LM) pilot Buzz Aldrin followed soon thereafter. They came in peace for all mankind! [click to continue…]

How Do We Terraform Venus?

by Fraser Cain on July 24, 2014


It might be possible to terraform Venus some day, when our technology gets good enough. The challenges for Venus are totally different than for Mars. How will we need to fix Venus?
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Artist's conception of gas giant planet HD 209458b in the constellation Pegasus, which has less water vapor in its atmosphere than expected. Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STScI) and N. Madhusudhan (UC)

Artist’s conception of gas giant planet HD 209458b in the constellation Pegasus, which has less water vapor in its atmosphere than expected. Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Bacon (STScI) and N. Madhusudhan (UC)

Surprise! Three planets believed to be good candidates for having water vapor in their atmosphere actually have much lower quantities than expected.

The planets (HD 189733b, HD 209458b, and WASP-12b) are “hot Jupiters” that are orbiting very close to their parent star, at a distance where it was expected the extreme temperatures would turn water into a vapor that could be seen from afar.

But observations of the planets with the Hubble Space Telescope, who have temperatures between 816 and 2,204 degrees Celsius (1,500 and 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit), show only a tenth to a thousandth of the water astronomers expected.

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