Tag: Hubble

New Dive Into Old Data Finds Plumes Erupt From Jupiter’s Moon Europa

Spinnable maps of Jupiter and the Galilean moons.

Europa is an ice-encrusted moon of Jupiter with a global ocean flowing underneath its surface. NASA is planning a mission soon that will look for signs of possible life there.

Now, a new finding from old data makes that mission even more tantalizing.

In recent years, the Hubble Space Telescope has spotted what looks like plumes, likely of water vapor, reaching more than 100 miles above the surface.

The plumes, if they exist, could contain molecules that hint at whether Europa possesses the building blocks of life.

In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy, scientists are reporting a belated discovery that Galileo, an earlier NASA spacecraft that studied Jupiter, appears to have flown through one of the Europa plumes more than 20 years ago.

And that occurred close to one of four regions where Hubble has observed plumes.




That’s too many coincidences just to dismiss as ‘There’s nothing there’ or ‘We don’t understand the data,’” said Robert T. Pappalardo, the project scientist for NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission, which may launch as soon as 2022.

“It sure seems like there’s some phenomenon, and plumes seem consistent.”

Galileo, which launched in 1989, arrived at Jupiter in 1995 and spent almost eight years examining the planet and its moons until its mission ended with a swan dive into Jupiter in 2003.

During a flyby of Europa on Dec. 16, 1997, instruments on Galileo measured a swing in the magnetic field and a jump in the density of electrons. At the time, scientists noted the unusual readings, but they did not have an explanation.

An image taken by the Cassini spacecraft in 2010 showing Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which also shoots plumes of ice crystals into space.Credit

Then, in 2005, another spacecraft passing by another moon around another planet made a startling observation.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft — which completed its mission last September — found geysers of ice crystals erupting out of Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn. Enceladus, it turns out, also has an ocean of liquid water under its ice.

That spurred renewed curiosity about Europa and whether it too might burp bits of its ocean into space. The Hubble first recorded signs of possible plumes in 2012, then again in 2014 and 2016.

But at other times, Hubble has looked and seen nothing. That suggests the plumes are sporadic.

An image of Europa’s surface. Scientists hope the Europa Clipper mission, which may launch in 2022, can be tweaked to allow one of its 40 planned flybys to pass through a plume.

Last year, Melissa A. McGrath, a senior scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. who was not involved in the new study, took a look at some radio experiments conducted by Galileo which examined how signals bent as Europa passed between Earth and the spacecraft.

The experiments showed Europa possesses an atmosphere.

Astronomers will certainly be taking more looks at Europa with the Hubble, trying to better understand how often the plumes erupt.

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Scientists Probably Found The Next Big Discovery In Astronomy Years Ago – But They Don’t Know It Yet

This year, astronomers stumbled across a fascinating finding: Thousands of black holes likely exist near the center of our galaxy.

The X-ray images that enabled this discovery weren’t from some state-of-the-art new telescope. Nor were they even recently taken – some of the data was collected nearly 20 years ago.

No, the researchers discovered the black holes by digging through old, long-archived data.

Discoveries like this will only become more common, as the era of “big data” changes how science is done.




The evolution of astronomy

Sixty years ago, the typical astronomer worked largely alone or in a small team. They likely had access to a respectably large ground-based optical telescope at their home institution.

Their observations were largely confined to optical wavelengths – more or less what the eye can see.

That meant they missed signals from a host of astrophysical sources, which can emit non-visible radiation from very low-frequency radio all the way up to high-energy gamma rays.

For the most part, if you wanted to do astronomy, you had to be an academic or eccentric rich person with access to a good telescope.

Astronomers are gathering an exponentially greater amount of data every day – so much that it will take years to uncover all the hidden signals buried in the archives.

Old data was stored in the form of photographic plates or published catalogs. But accessing archives from other observatories could be difficult – and it was virtually impossible for amateur astronomers.

Unlocking new science

The data deluge will make astronomy become a more collaborative and open science than ever before. Thanks to internet archives, robust learning communities and new outreach initiatives, citizens can now participate in science.

For example, with the computer program [email protected], anyone can use their computer’s idle time to help search for gravitational waves from colliding black holes.

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NASA Releases Astounding Video Of The Lagoon Nebula To Celebrate Hubble’s Birthday

The Lagoon Nebula as seen by Hubble in 1996.

Ever wanted to zoom near that central bulge in the Milky Way in the Sagittarius constellation where stars are born? NASA has almost made it possible thanks to the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope.

As a kind of a 28th Hubble birthday gift for all of us, the space agency has posted astounding videos and photos of what’s known as the Lagoon Nebula.

The main video takes viewers from far away into the very heart of the massive, colorful nebula, what NASA calls a “raucous star nursery full of birth and destruction,” 4,000 light-years away from Earth.




At the Lagoon Nebula’s heart is a massive “young” star (the million-year-old Hershel 36), 200,000 times brighter and eight times hotter than Earth’s sun.

It roils the region with ultraviolet radiation and winds carving out an exploding, undulating “fantasy landscape of ridges, cavities, and mountains of gas and dust,” gushes NASA.

Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, aboard the space shuttle Discovery and was a joint project of NASA and the European Space Agency.

The lagoon nebula seen in visible light ( left) and infrared (right).

Once a year the telescope takes a break from its assigned observations to take a detailed image of a particular spot of the cosmos.

The Hubble “has offered a new view of the universe and has reached and surpassed all expectations for a remarkable 28 years,” said NASA and the ESA. The telescope has “revolutionized almost every area of observational astronomy.”

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