Jupiter’s Atmosphere is Surprisingly Hot

Temperature measurements of Jupiter's upper atmosphere. Credit: James O’Donoghue

Jupiter is a big planet, but it’s still a planet. That means it doesn’t heat itself through fancy mechanisms like nuclear fusion. Its interior is heated through its own weight, squeezing the interior through hydrostatic equilibrium, and its surface is heated mostly by the Sun. Since Jupiter only gets about 4% of the light per square meter that Earth gets, you’d expect its upper atmosphere to be pretty cold. Traditional models estimate it should be about -70 degrees Celsius. But recent measurements show the upper atmosphere is over 400 degrees Celsius, and in the polar regions as much as 700 degrees Celsius. In the words of Ruby Rhod from the movie The Fifth Element, “It’s Hot Hot Hot!”

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A Fascinating Look at Jupiter's Clouds Where the Light Intensity is Converted Into 3D

A still image from the 3D animation that shows the elevation of Jupiter's cloud tops. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt

In July 2016, NASA’s Juno space probe reached Jupiter, becoming the second spacecraft in history to orbit the gas giant (the first being the Galileo probe that orbited Jupiter from 1995 to 2003). The data it has sent back has led to new revelations about the Jovian atmosphere, magnetosphere, gravitational field, structure, and composition. While its primary mission was intended to only last until 2018, a mission extension means that Juno will continue to orbit Jupiter’s poles (a perijove maneuver) and send back stunning images and data until 2025.

Recently, a team of citizen scientists led by mathematician and software developer Gerald Eichstädt used images taken by the probe’s visible-light camera/telescope (the JunoCam) to create a 3D animation of Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. Eichstädt’s animation was presented at the 2022 Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC), which took place from September 18 – 23 in Granada, and shows the relative heights of the cloud tops of Jupiter that reveal delicately textured swirls and peaks. Eichstädt’s work also showcased the potential for citizen science and public engagement with today’s missions.

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Watch a Nicely Stabilized Video of DART Flying Past Didymos and Slamming Into Dimorphos

The last complete image of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, taken by the DRACO imager on NASA’s DART mission from ~7 miles (12 kilometers) from the asteroid and 2 seconds before impact. The image shows a patch of the asteroid that is 100 feet (31 meters) across. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Here’s one of the best videos we’ve seen of the last minutes of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission as it headed towards and slammed into the asteroid Dimorphos. This stabilized version of the last five-and-a-half minutes of images leading up to DART’s intentional collision with the asteroid was produced from NASA’s DART images. It was produced by the YouTube channel Spei’s Space News from Germany.

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As Hurricane Ian Bears Down on Florida, NASA Decides to Roll Artemis 1 Back to the Assembly Building

As a result of the latest weather predictions regarding Hurricane Ian, NASA managers met on the morning of September 26 and made the decision to roll Artemis 1 back into the Vehicle Assembly Building to protect the rocket from the impending storm, an operation which commenced at 11 pm EDT that evening.

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Upcoming Missions Could Search for Ancient Alien Technology Within the Solar System

An artist’s overview of the mission concept for the Comet Interceptor spacecraft. Credit: ESA

Over sixty years ago, the first search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), known as Project Ozma, was conducted. This campaign was led by legendary astronomer Frank Drake, which relied on the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia to listen to Tau Ceti and Epsilon Eridani for any signs of radio transmissions. Since then, the field of SETI has become more sophisticated thanks to more advanced radio telescopes, improved data analysis, and international collaboration. In the coming years, SETI will also benefit from advances in exoplanet studies and next-generation instruments and surveys.

In addition to examining exoplanets for signs of technological activity (aka. “technosignatures”), there are also those who recommend that we look for them here at home. Examples include the Galileo Project, which is dedicated to studying interstellar objects (ISOs) and unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). There’s also the Penn State Extraterrestrial Intelligence Center, a research group dedicated to advancing SETI through the search for technosignatures. In a recent paper, they explain how future SETI efforts should consider looking for extraterrestrial technology in our Solar System.

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Another Ghostly Spiral Galaxy Revealed by JWST

JWST and IC 5332
This image of the spiral galaxy IC 5332, taken by the NASA/ESA/CSA JWST observatory, with its MIRI instrument. Courtesy ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST and PHANGS-HST Teams

The famous American baseball player once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” That’s certainly true of the JWST, which just released its latest “spider-web” image of a distant galaxy. It “watched” IC 5332 using the onboard Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI). In the process it observed spectacular details not easily seen in visible light.

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Climate Change is Making the Skies Worse for Astronomy

climate change could affect observatories like these on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
The top of Mauna Kea is a prime site for telescopes, as shown in this image. It boasts clear, dry atmospheric conditions. Global climate change could alter that. Image courtesy Mauna Kea Observatories

Light pollution. Satellite trains and radio frequency interference. Encroaching civilization. These all pose threats to ground-based astronomy. But, did anyone ever think that global climate change might wreak havoc on observatories? It turns out the answer is “yes.”

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TESS Finds a Super-Earth and two Mini-Neptunes in a Single System

An artist’s rendition of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The field of extrasolar planet studies continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Currently, 5,090 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,816 systems, and another 8,933 candidates are awaiting confirmation. The majority of these have been Neptune-like gas giants (1,779), gas giants comparable to Jupiter or Saturn (1,536), and rocky planets many times the size of Earth (1,582). The most effective means for finding exoplanets has been the Transit Method (aka. Transit Photometry), where periodic dips in a star’s brightness are seen as an indication of a planet passing in front of its star (transiting) relative to the observer.

Using data from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), an international team of astronomers has discovered a three-planet system orbiting a Sun-like star (HD 22946, or TOI 11) located about 205.5 light-years. Based on size estimates yielded from their transits, the team theorizes that these exoplanets consist of a rocky planet several times the size of Earth (a Super-Earth) and two gas giants smaller than Neptune. Given its proximity, this system could be ideal for follow-up studies and characterization with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

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This is the Last Thing DART saw as it Smashed Into its Asteroid Target

The last complete image of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, taken by the DRACO imager on NASA’s DART mission from ~7 miles (12 kilometers) from the asteroid and 2 seconds before impact. The image shows a patch of the asteroid that is 100 feet (31 meters) across. Dimorphos’ north is toward the top of the image. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

The first-ever planetary defense technology demonstration mission successfully conducted its mission, slamming into the surface of a distant asteroid and going out in a blaze of glory. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft acted as a kinetic impactor, colliding with the small and harmless asteroid Dimorphos on September 26 at 7:14PM ET, with the hope of deflecting it.

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Scientists in Antarctica Have Access to Starlink Now. It’s Available on 7 Continents

SpaceX’s Starlink service is now available in Antarctica, according to a tweet from the National Science Foundation on the morning of September 14, stating, “NSF-supported USAP scientists in #Antarctica are over the moon! Starlink is testing polar service with a newly deployed user terminal at McMurdo Station. Increasing bandwidth and connectivity for service support.” SpaceX replied with a quote tweet saying, “Starlink is now available on all seven continents! In such a remote location like Antarctica, this capability is enabled by Starlink’s space laser network.”

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