Video: Fly Over a Weird Landscape on Mars in 3-D

This isn’t quite like Luke’s trench run in the Battle of Yavin, but it’s waaay more awesome in that this is real.

Go grab your red–green or red–blue 3-D glasses (you always have a pair right by your desk, right?) and enjoy this great flyover video from ESA showcasing some very interesting landforms on Mars that planetary geologists refer to as ‘chaotic terrain.’ There’s nothing quite like this on Earth, and scattered throughout a large area to both the west and east of Valles Marineris are hundreds of isolated mountains up to 2,000 meters high. “Seen from orbit, they form a bizarre, chaotic pattern,” say scientists from the Mars Express orbiter.

What created this weird landscape? Scientists think that during Mars’ early history, water in the form of ice was stored in cavities beneath the surface of the highlands; this was then heated and thawed out. It was then placed under so much pressure that it escaped to the surface with great force through fissures and fault zones. As it flowed out, the water eroded the terrain and gradually left behind the striking landscape visible today. Another factor supporting this theory is that many of the chaotic terrains on Mars are located at the head of large outflow channels, through which enormous quantities of water flowed out of the highlands towards the northern lowlands.

The data used to generate the images and the simulated flyover were acquired with the High Resolution Stereo Camera on ESA’s Mars Express orbiter.

See more imagery and details here.

Our Curiosity: Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Felicia Day Narrate Video About Mars Rover

In honor of the 2nd anniversary of the Curiosity rover reaching Mars, Caltech has put out a wonderful new video about the plucky little rover that has captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the world. And some familiar voices do the narration: astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson and actress Felicia Day. The video was created by Caltech planetary scientist Jeff Marlow, and he called it a “love letter” to the rover.

“As scientifically productive as the mission has been, Curiosity’s inspirational capacity may be its true value, its ability to make us feel as if we too are there, crunching on red dirt, pondering the planet’s past environments,” Marlow wrote on Wired.

Enjoy the look back at Curiosity’s travels so far. If you’re like me, the last line in the video (spoken by de Grasse Tyson) will really get you.

Find out more about the video at ourcuriosity.org, where they promise a “making of” video and more will be available soon.

Awesome Video of a Satellite in Orbit

Here’s a great video from a camera mounted on the exterior of the TechDemoSat-1, an in-orbit technology demonstration mission from the UK. It launched on July 8, 2014 on a Soyuz-2, and the video shows the satellite moments after separation from the upper stage. The satellite even took a selfie, below.

The video shows the satellite’s rotation and reveals a spectacular vista of “blue marble” Earth (visible is cloudy skies over the Pacific, south of French Polynesia).

It’s interesting to note that some identified flying objects zip past the field of view: At :25 seconds, the Fregat upper stage of the Soyuz-2 rocket appears as a gold object passing away from the satellite left to right at a distance of approximately 60 meters. At :34 seconds a white “dot” crosses the frame left to right – which has been identified as one of the other satellites that shared the ride into orbit with TechDemoSat-1.

“It is very rare to see actual footage of our satellites in orbit,” said Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the company behind the mission, “and so viewing the video taken from TechDemoSat-1 moments after separation from the rocket has been a hugely rewarding and exciting experience for everyone at SSTL. We are delighted with the progress of commissioning the TechDemoSat-1 platform, and are looking forward to the next phase – the demonstration of a range of new technologies being flown on this innovative mission.”

The satellite is roughly the size of a refrigerator but wieghs just 150kg. TechDemoSat (TDS-1) carries eight separate payloads from UK academia and industry plus other payloads from SSTL for product development. Find out more here from SSTL.

Stunning 3D Tours of Two Well-Known Nebulae

Two videos recently released by the Hubble team take us on a tour of two famous and intriguing cosmic objects: the stellar wind-blown “celestial snow angel” Sharpless 2-106 and the uncannily equine Horsehead Nebula, imaged in infrared wavelengths by the HST.

Using Hubble imagery complemented with data from the Subaru Infrared Telescope and ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy — VISTA, for short — the videos show us an approximation of the three-dimensional structures of these objects relative to the stars surrounding them, providing a perspective otherwise impossible from our viewpoint on Earth.

The stellar nursery Sharpless 2-106 is above; hop on the Horsehead Nebula tour below:
Continue reading “Stunning 3D Tours of Two Well-Known Nebulae”

Simply Breathtaking Night Sky Timelapse: “Huelux” by Randy Halverson

Regular readers of Universe Today will be well-acquainted with the photography and timelapse work of Randy Halverson. He’s just released his latest timelapse and in a word, it is breathtaking. Aurora, thunderstorms — sometimes both at once — and, of course, stunning views of the night sky.

Randy shot the footage during April-November 2013 in South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah. “The weather in 2013 made it difficult for me to get some of the shots I wanted,” Randy said on Vimeo. “There were many times I planned to shoot the Milky Way or Aurora, and the clouds would roll in. But that also allowed me to get more night storm timelapse than I have any other year.”

He added that the aurora sometimes appeared without warning. In the video, be on the lookout for slow and fast moving satellites, quick meteors and slower moving airplanes. “The meteors are hard to see in timelapse, but you may see a quick flash because they only last one frame,” he said. “If you see a light moving across the sky, it is either an airplane or satellite, not a meteor.”

Sit back, put this on full screen and full sound and take a well-deserved break from your day!

Thanks once more to Randy Halverson for continuing to share his handiwork! Find out more about this timelapse at Randy’s website, Dakotalapse.

Huelux from Randy Halverson on Vimeo.

Video: These Children from Greece (and Poland) Helped Wake Up the Rosetta Spacecraft

The European Space Agency asked for help in waking up the Rosetta spacecraft from 31 months of deep-space hibernation, and sponsored a fun video contest. The votes are in and the winning video comes from the 1,002 children of the Ellinogermaniki Agogi Primary School in Greece. Not only is the video heartwarming, but original music was composed using a “3/2 time signature symbolizing the five gravity assists that Rosetta got from the Earth and Mars. Theme ends with a perfect 5th (interval ratio 3:2) symbolizing Jupiter (5th planet), Rosetta’s ultimate orbit point.”

Wow.

There were 218 entries and 75,000 people voted. Entries came in from notables like Chris Hadfield, Bill Nye, and singer Tasmin Archer.

“We were truly impressed by the effort that all of you put into your videos, from getting your pets, friends and families involved and constructing fantastic model Rosetta spacecraft,”ESA said, “to storyboarding brilliant stop-motion animations with Lego, and writing entire songs and choreographing dance routines for dozens or even hundreds of passionate Rosetta fans.”

The top ten vote-getting videos were transmitted out to Rosetta via one of ESA’s deep-space tracking stations, and the top two video creators are invited to the control center in Darmstadt, Germany for when the Philae lander attempts landing on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in November 2014 after latching on with a harpoon. The second, equal award was given to Józef Dobrowolski, aged 17 student from Ostroleka, Poland, who is from the III Secondary School. He worked on his video himself, and he’s passionate about astronomy and started his hobby with observing the Perseid meteor shower:

You can see all ten winning videos here, or see a mashup of submitted videos, below.

What Is The Hottest Place on Earth?

We’ve talked about Venus, the hottest planet in the Solar System, but we know things can get pretty hot here on Earth, too. You may be wondering, where on the surface of the Earth has the highest natural temperature been recorded?

The location of this world record has had some controversy, but as of 2013, the hottest spot on record was the Furnace Creek Ranch in California’s Death Valley. On July 10, 1913, weather instruments measured 56.7 degrees Celsius, or 134 degrees Fahrenheit.
The previous record of 56 degrees at El Azizia, Libya was overturned because a systematic study in 2012 discovered there were errors in the measuring methods.

Similar temperatures to Death Valley’s record have been recorded around the World:
55 degrees in Africa,
53.6 in Asia,
50.7 in Australia,
and 49.1 in Argentina.

But these are just measurements from weather stations. It’s likely there are hotter temperatures, but nobody was around to measure. NASA satellites have spotted regions in Iran’s Lut desert which might have reached 70 degrees Celsius during the summers of 2004 and 2005.

So that’d be the hottest spot on the surface, but what about the hottest natural spot anywhere in the entire planet? Now you’ve got to travel straight down 6,371 kilometers to the very center of the Earth. At the inner core, the temperatures rise to about 5,430 degrees C, or 5700 Kelvin. Amazingly, this is about the same temperature as the surface of the Sun.

Some of this high temperature comes from leftover heat from the formation of the planet, 4.54 billion years ago, but the vast majority comes from the decay of radioactive minerals inside the Earth. It was likely hotter in the past, but all the short-period isotopes have already been depleted.

I keep saying the word “natural”, but what about “unnatural”? Wondering about the hottest temperature EVER generated on Earth? Thermonuclear explosions reach temperatures of tens of millions of Kelvin. Fusion experiments have hit 500 million Kelvin. But that’s nothing.

In 2012, physicists working with the Large Hadron Collider were investigating the conditions that might have existed during the earliest moments of the Big Bang.
They generated a quark gluon plasma that had a temperature of 5.5 trillion Kelvin.
Unless aliens can do better, this is not only the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth, it’s easily the hottest temperature anywhere in the Universe since the Big Bang itself.

Say Goodbye to Boring Airline Safety Presentations

No more falling asleep before takeoff during those boring safety presentations – at least on Virgin America Airlines. Delta Airlines previously made their safety presentation a bit more interesting (see below) but Virgin has taken the presentation to new heights, turning the video into a song and dance, literally, with the help of dance stars like Todrick Hall and Madd Chadd.

Virgin also has a competition for their next video and are looking for audition videos of the best freestyle dance moves — from ballet to breakdance. Find out how you can enter the competition and submit your video here.

Watch the Sun Split Apart

Here’s your amazing oh-my-gosh-space-is-so-cool video of the day — a “canyon of fire” forming on the Sun after the liftoff and detachment of an enormous filament on September 29-30. A new video, created from images captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and assembled by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, shows the entire dramatic event unfolding in all its mesmerizing magnetic glory.

Watch it below:

Solarrific! (And I highly suggest full-screening it in HD.) That filament was 200,000 miles long, and the rift that formed afterwards was well over a dozen Earths wide!

Captured in various wavelengths of light by SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) the video shows the solar schism in different layers of the Sun’s corona, which varies greatly in temperature at different altitudes.

According to the description from Karen Fox at GSFC:

“The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun’s magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.”

Now, there’s not really any “fire” on the Sun — that’s just an illustrative term. What we’re actually seeing here is plasma contained by powerful magnetic fields that constantly twist and churn across the Sun’s surface and well up from its interior. The Sun is boiling with magnetic fields, and when particularly large ones erupt from deep below its surface we get the features we see as sunspots, filaments, and prominences.

When those fields break, the plasma they contained gets blasted out into space as coronal mass ejections… and this is what typically happens when one hits Earth. (But it could be much worse.)

Hey, that’s what it’s like living with a star!

Stay up to date on the latest solar events on the SDO mission page here.