Tag: Jonathan Amos BBC Science Correspondent

More on the magnificent Hubble!

More on the magnificent Hubble!

The BBC have published an excellent article.

There was such a good response to the article on the Hubble that I published on April 27th that it was an easy decision to republish the article that was presented on the BBC website on the 24th, and this time the photographs can be downloaded.

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Hubble telescope delivers stunning 30th birthday picture

By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, 24 April 2020

It’s 30 years ago to the day that the Hubble telescope was launched – and to celebrate its birthday, the veteran observatory has produced another astonishing image of the cosmos.

This one is of a star-forming region close to our Milky Way Galaxy, about 163,000 light-years from Earth.

The larger object is the nebula NGC 2014; its companion is called NGC 2020.

But astronomers have nicknamed the scene the “Cosmic Reef” because it resembles an undersea world.

[There is an audio by Antonella Nota that is a little under 10 minutes long. I cannot embed it into this post for some unclear reason. Go here if you want to listen to it! It’s well worth listening to.]

Antonella Nota: “It’s called the people’s telescope because it brought the Universe to the people”

Famously blighted by blurred vision at the outset of its mission in 1990, Hubble was eventually repaired and upgraded.

The remarkable pictures it has taken of planets, stars, and galaxies have transformed our view of the cosmos.

Indeed, there are those who think Hubble is the most important scientific tool ever built.

It’s still far from retirement.

The US space agency (Nasa), which runs the observatory in partnership with the European Space Agency (Esa), says operations will be funded for as long as they remain productive.

Last year, its data resulted in almost 1,000 scientific papers being published – so it continues to stand at the forefront of discovery.

For its 25th birthday, Hubble imaged a giant cluster of stars called Westerlund 2

Engineers obviously keep a watching brief on the health of Hubble’s various systems. Pleasingly, all four instruments onboard – the two imagers and two spectrographs – work at full tilt.

In the past, the telescope’s Achilles heel has been the six gyroscopes that help turn and point the facility, maintaining a rock-steady gaze at targets on the sky.

These devices have periodically failed down the years, and during their final servicing mission in 2009 space shuttle astronauts were tasked with replacing all six.

Three have subsequently shut down again, but Nasa project scientist Dr Jennifer Wiseman says this is not yet an issue for serious concern.

“Nominally, we need three gyroscopes, but we can operate on just one due to the ingenuity of the engineers,” she asserted.

There’s a quiet confidence that Hubble can keep working well into the 2020s. Its supposed “successor” – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – is due for launch next year, but the presence in orbit of this more modern observatory will in truth merely just extend capability; it won’t make Hubble redundant.

That’s because the new facility has been designed to see the cosmos at longer wavelengths of light than Hubble. The duo will be complementary and will on occasion actually pursue targets together to get a fuller perspective.

This is an exciting prospect for astronomers everywhere – but especially for those in Europe where Hubble has been such a rewarding endeavour, says Esa project scientist Dr Antonella Nota.

“From the memorandum of understanding there was a guarantee that European astronomers would get 15% of observing time for the duration of the mission. If I look back at how much time European astronomers got – on average it’s 22%. And it is a peer-reviewed process so we never needed to put a finger on the scales. European astronomers are creative; they’re smart; they’re doing leading-edge science,” she told BBC News.

What has Hubble contributed to science?

It’s a bit of a cliche, but Hubble has truly been a “discovery machine”.

Before the telescope launched in 1990, astronomers didn’t know whether the Universe was 10 billion years old or 20 billion years old.

Hubble’s survey of pulsating stars narrowed the uncertainty, and we now know the age extremely well, at 13.8 billion.

The observatory played a central role in revealing the accelerating expansion of the cosmos – a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough – and it provided the definitive evidence for the existence of super-massive black holes at the centre of galaxies.

The Deep Field images require Hubble to stare at the same patch of sky for days on end

It’s amazing to think that when Hubble launched, scientists had yet to detect the first exoplanet, the name given to a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. Today, Hubble is pioneering the study of these far-off worlds, examining their atmospheres to try to gauge their nature.

And although the sparkling eight-metre-class ground-based telescopes can now match – and even exceed – Hubble’s skill in certain fields of study, the space telescope remains peerless in going super-deep.

Its so-called Deep Field observations in which it stared at a small patch of sky for days on end to identify the existence of very distant, extremely faint galaxies is one of the towering achievements in astronomy.

These studies have shown us what the Universe was like just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Only JWST, with its finely-tuned infrared detectors, will go deeper still.

A Hubble classic: The Veil Nebula is the expanding debris of an exploded star

Kathryn Sullivan was one of the astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery when it released Hubble into its 612km-high orbit on 25 April, 1990 – a day she recounts in a recent book, Handprints On Hubble.

“Hubble’s scientific impact has just been immense. But what I had not really appreciated until I started writing my book was the extent to which Hubble – because of its gorgeous images and their mind-bending implications – has really permeated popular culture,” she told BBC News.

“I see Hubble on the side of U-Haul (rental) trailers, on tattoos, on lunchboxes, on shirts, in advertisements, almost ubiquitously.

“And I think part of that is down to Hubble coming into service just as the internet was becoming the thing we now know it to be.

“That’s put the pictures right in front of people.”

JWST will study the Universe at longer wavelengths of light

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This is the most amazing invention and regular missions to service the telescope including regular updates to the technology have kept it current.

It has produced the most distant and beautiful photographs. It has also refined our knowledge of when the universe came into existence – 13.8 billion years ago.

Staggering!

The Cave of Crystal Giants

This will take us away from the daily beat of life!

On the 18th. February the BBC News website carried an article that I found incredible. It was the story of Naica’s crystal caves in Mexico.

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Naica’s crystal caves hold long-dormant life

By Jonathan Amos, BBC Science Correspondent, Boston, 18 February 2017.

 The caves were discovered by miners 100 years ago
The caves were discovered by miners 100 years ago. Picture credit: Penelope J. Boston

It is a remarkable discovery in an amazing place.

Scientists have extracted long-dormant microbes from inside the famous giant crystals of the Naica mountain caves in Mexico – and revived them. [Ed: my emphasis]

The organisms were likely to have been encased in the striking shafts of gypsum at least 10,000 years ago, and possibly up to 50,000 years ago.

It is another demonstration of the ability of life to adapt and cope in the most hostile of environments.

“Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary – they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases,” said Dr Penelope Boston.

The new director of Nasa’s Astrobiology Institute in Moffett Field, California, described her findings here at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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I was delighted to find more details in many other places on the ‘web’.

Such as this one on the National Geographic website:

By Victoria Jaggard

PUBLISHED February 17, 2017

Boston, Massachusetts

Creatures that thrive on iron, sulfur, and other chemicals have been found trapped inside giant crystals deep in a Mexican cave. The microbial life-forms are most likely new to science, and if the researchers who found them are correct, the organisms are still active even though they have been slumbering for tens of thousands of years.

If verified, the discovery adds to evidence that microbial life on Earth can endure harsher conditions in isolated places than scientists previously thought possible. (See “Life Found Deep Under Antarctic Ice for First Time?”)

“These organisms have been dormant but viable for geologically significant periods of time, and they can be released due to other geological processes,” says NASA Astrobiology Institute director Penelope Boston, who announced the find today at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolutionary history of microbial life on this planet.”

Then there’s another article on that NatGeo website: (Apologies for some duplication in the message.)

By Neil Shea, National Geographic Staff
In a nearly empty cantina in a dark desert town, the short, drunk man makes his pitch. Beside him on the billiards table sits a chunk of rock the size of home plate. Dozens of purple and white crystals push up from it like shards of glass. “Yours for $300,” he says. “No? One hundred. A steal!” The three or four other patrons glance past their beers, thinking it over: Should they offer their crystals too? Rock dust on the green felt, cowboy ballads on the jukebox. Above the bar, a sign reads, “Happy Hour: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.”

This remote part of northern Mexico, an hour or so south of Chihuahua, is famous for crystals, and paychecks at the local lead and silver mine, where almost everyone works, are meager enough to inspire a black market. “Thirty dollars.” He leans in. “Ten.” It’s hard to take him seriously. Earlier in the day, in a cave deep below the bar, I crawled among the world’s largest crystals, a forest of them, broad and thick, some more than 30 feet long and half a million years old. So clear, so luminous, they seemed extraterrestrial. They make the chunk on the pool table seem dull as a paperweight.

Nothing compares with the giants found in Cueva de los Cristales, or Cave of Crystals. The limestone cavern and its glittering beams were discovered in 2000 by a pair of brothers drilling nearly a thousand feet below ground in the Naica mine, one of Mexico’s most productive, yielding tons of lead and silver each year. The brothers were astonished by their find, but it was not without precedent. The geologic processes that create lead and silver also provide raw materials for crystals, and at Naica, miners had hammered into chambers of impressive, though much smaller, crystals before. But as news spread of the massive crystals’ discovery, the question confronting scientists became: How did they grow so big?

It takes 20 minutes to get to the cave entrance by van through a winding mine shaft. A screen drops from the van’s ceiling and Michael Jackson videos play, a feature designed to entertain visitors as they descend into darkness and heat. In many caves and mines the temperature remains constant and cool, but the Naica mine gets hotter with depth because it lies above an intrusion of magma about a mile below the surface. Within the cave itself, the temperature leaps to 112 degrees Fahrenheit with 90 to 100 percent humidity—hot enough that each visit carries the risk of heatstroke. By the time we reach the entrance, everyone glistens with sweat.

That article continues here.
Finally, lose yourself in this video. (If the voice doesn’t get to you!)

How to close today’s post?

Both by embracing the power of the natural order of things, life and death, and by reminding us all that there are in the order of over two billion stars in this universe.

That universe must be teeming with life, current and dormant, and the day when we truly confirm that will put everything into perspective!

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Talk about synchronicity!

For yesterday, around 10am PST, the BBC News website carried this big news item: Earliest evidence of life on Earth ‘found’.

Here’s how that article opens:

Earliest evidence of life on Earth ‘found’

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News
Scientists have discovered what they say could be fossils of some of the earliest living organisms on Earth.
They are represented by tiny filaments, knobs and tubes in Canadian rocks dated to be up to 4.28 billion years old.
That is a time not long after the planet’s formation and hundreds of millions of years before what is currently accepted as evidence for the most ancient life yet found on Earth.

The researchers report their investigation in the journal Nature.

As with all such claims about ancient life, the study is contentious. But the team believes it can answer any doubts.

The scientists’ putative microbes from Quebec are one-tenth the width of a human hair and contain significant quantities of haematite – a form of iron oxide or “rust”.

Matthew Dodd, who analysed the structures at University College London, UK, claimed the discovery would shed new light on the origins of life.

Do read the full article including viewing some wonderful photographs.

Stunning NASA Shuttle picture

The incredible achievements of man.

The International Space Station and the Docked Space Shuttle Endeavour

From the BBC website,

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

It is a stunning image and one that is bound to be reproduced over and over again whenever they recall the history of the US space shuttle.

The picture was taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli as he left the International Space Station in May in a Soyuz capsule to return to Earth.

Safety procedures mean the Russian vehicle would never normally be in transit when a shuttle is present.

It makes this the first-ever image of an American orbiter docked to the ISS.

Endeavour sits firmly on the bow of the station, which is moving across the surface of the Earth at a speed of 27,000km/h (17,000mph) and at an altitude of approximately 355km (220 miles).

Nespoli’s camera is looking along the ISS’s truss, or backbone, which carries the four sets of giant solar wings. The stern is occupied by Europe’s robotic freighter – the Johannes Kepler ship.

The pictures were acquired on 23 May but were only released by the US space agency (Nasa) on Tuesday [7th June, PH]. They had been eagerly awaited by space fans.

Nespoli had spent a lot of time during his 159-day stay at the station taking pictures of Earth and life aboard the international outpost. Many of these images were posted on his mission Flickr account. It was widely expected therefore that the European Space Agency astronaut would get some excellent shots during the unique departure.

Enthusiasts on the ground with telescopes routinely try to snap a shuttle attached to the ISS, and some of the results have been very impressive. But none of these pictures compares to the majestic portrait acquired by Nespoli so close to the orbiting complex.

The timing and subject are also perfect. Endeavour is seen here making her final sortie into orbit, making the last big US assembly item delivery – a $2bn particle physics experiment known as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. The seven-tonne machine now sits on top of the platform.

Endeavour was also the orbiter chosen to take up the first American segment of the platform when the project had just got started in the late 1990s.

The youngest of Nasa’s shuttles returned to Earth on 1 June and will now be prepared for public display at a science museum in California. Sister ship Atlantis stands ready on the launch pad in Florida for a swansong of her own in July. Once her mission is done, no orbiter will ever fly again.

Nespoli’s crewmates in the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; and Nasa astronaut Cady Coleman. Apart from the photo opportunity, their departure was a standard ISS crew rotation flight.

Their replacements blasted off from Kazakhstan on Tuesday in another Soyuz vehicle. Nasa astronaut Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa are scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Thursday, raising its complement once again to six individuals.

The venerable Soyuz will be the only way for astronauts and cosmonauts to reach the platform in the years following the retirement of the shuttle fleet.

Nasa hopes some US commercial carriers will become available in the middle of the decade.

The NASA weblink attributed above is here, from which can be read,

This image of the International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour, flying at an altitude of approximately 220 miles, was taken by Expedition 27 crew member Paolo Nespoli from the Soyuz TMA-20 following its undocking on May 23, 2011 (USA time). The pictures taken by Nespoli are the first taken of a shuttle docked to the International Space Station from the perspective of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.  Onboard the Soyuz were Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev; Nespoli, a European Space Agency astronaut; and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. Coleman and Nespoli were both flight engineers. The three landed in Kazakhstan later that day, completing 159 days in space.

Do go to the NASA website here as there are a total of 40 stunning images.