is video shows a simulation of the space environment all the way out to Pluto in the months surrounding New Horizons’ July 2015 flyby. At the time, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, worked with the New Horizons team to test how well their models—and other models contributed by scientists around the world—predicted the space environment at Pluto. Understanding the environment through which our spacecraft travel can ultimately help protect them from radiation and other potentially damaging effects. Visualizers at Goddard recently updated the movie of the model, creating this new release.
Though the vacuum of space is about a thousand times emptier than a laboratory vacuum, it’s still not completely empty. The sun releases a constant stream of particles called the solar wind—as well as occasional denser clouds of particles known as coronal mass ejections, or CMEs—both containing embedded magnetic fields. The density, speed, and temperature of these particles, as well as the direction and strength of the embedded magnetic fields, make up the space environment.
To map the space environment at Pluto, scientists combined the predictions of several models—and looked at events that had long since passed Earth.
"We set the simulation to start in January of 2015, because the particles passing Pluto in July 2015 took some six months to make the journey from the sun," said Dusan Odstrcil, a space weather scientist at Goddard who created the Enlil model. The Enlil model, named for the Sumerian god of the wind, is one of the primary models used to simulate the space environment near Earth and is the basis for the New Horizons simulation.
The new, combined model tracks CMEs longer than ever before. Because particles must travel for many months before reaching Pluto, the CMEs eventually spread out and merge with other CMEs and the solar wind to form larger clouds of particles and magnetic field. These combined clouds stretch out as they travel away from the sun, forming thin ring shapes by the time they reach Pluto—quite different from the typical balloon shape of CMEs seen here at Earth.
Source: NASA press release
There’s no two-ways about it, the Universe is an extremely big place! And thanks to the limitations placed upon us by Special Relativity, traveling to even the closest star systems could take millennia. As we addressed in a previous article, the estimated travel time to the nearest star system (Alpha Centauri) could take anywhere from 19,000 to 81,000 years using conventional methods.
New NASA research confirms that Saturn is losing its iconic rings at the maximum rate estimated from Voyager 1 & 2 observations made decades ago. The rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field.
Recently analyzed data from NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has revealed water locked inside the clays that make up its scientific target, the asteroid Bennu.
It’s embarrassing, but astrophysicists are the first to admit it. Our best theoretical model can only explain 5% of the universe. The remaining 95% is famously made up almost entirely of invisible, unknown material dubbed dark energy and dark matter. So even though there are a billion trillion stars in the observable universe, they are actually extremely rare.
'Oumuamua, meaning scout or messenger in Hawaiian, is the name given to the first detected interstellar object to visit our Solar System. On discovery last year, 'Oumuamua was classified as a comet, but this was later withdrawn when no evidence for cometary activity was detected.
The potential discovery of a planet orbiting Barnard’s Star – the second closest stellar system to the Sun – was announced by researchers today in Nature.
In the past thirty years, the number of planets discovered beyond our Solar System has grown exponentially. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of our technology, the vast majority of these exoplanets have been discovered by indirect means, often by detecting the transits of planets in front of their stars (the Transit Method) or by the gravitational influence they exert on their star (the Radial Velocity Method)
Imagine trying to map out your home town using only information you could gather from your window. Even with a pair of binoculars you’d find it a difficult task. Mapping out our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is a similarly daunting mission. Unlike other galaxies that we can view from a distance, we sit inside the Milky Way – around 26,000 light years from its center. This means that when we try to look at the opposite side of the galaxy, much of our view is blocked by the stars and dust in between.
In December of 2013, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Gaia mission. Since that time, this space observatory has been busy observing over 1 billion astronomical objects in our galaxy and beyond – including stars, planets, comets, asteroids, quasars, etc. – all for the sake of creating the largest and most precise 3D space catalog ever made.
In Star Wars VI we first meet the Ewoks living on the Forest Moon of Endor. The planet Endor itself is a gas giant, but the Forest Moon is a habitable world, peopled by small furry sentient creatures. While we may not be living in the Star Wars universe, astronomers have now found the first evidence for a moon orbiting a gas giant planet in a star system other than our own.