Hurricane Florence | International Space Station


ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst: “Watch out, America! Hurricane Florence is so enormous, we could only capture her with a super wide angle lens from ISS, 400 km directly above the eye. Get prepared on the East Coast, this is a no-kidding nightmare coming for you.”

“This is why the big picture matters, and listening to the official evacuation orders. Please stay safe down there!”

Follow Alexander and his Horizons mission:
http://bit.ly/AlexanderGerstESA and on http://bit.ly/HorizonsBlogESA

Credit: ESA/NASA
Image Date: September 12, 2018

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2018 Lunar Eclipse & Mars

Credit: ManuelJ
Release Date: August 1, 2018

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Moravian G3 11002 + Astrodon LRGB E series gen 2
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A Former NASA Astronaut’s Plea for Earth


Image: British-American astronaut Piers Sellers (1955-2016) during a spacewalk outside the International Space Station.
Astronaut and scientist Piers Sellers is no longer with us, but his words still resonate. A posthumous plea from Sellers arrived this week in the form of an article in the latest issue of PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America):
http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/07/05/1716613115

The topic was one that he cared deeply about: building a better space-based system for observing and understanding the carbon cycle and its climate feedback.

As NASA’s Patrick Lynch reported, Sellers wrote the paper along with colleagues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma. Work on the paper began in 2015, and Sellers continued working with his collaborators up until about six weeks before he died. They carried on the research and writing of the paper until its publication in July 2018.

The carbon cycle refers to the constant flow of carbon between rocks, water, the atmosphere, plants, soil, and fossil fuels. Climate change feedbacks—natural effects that may amplify or diminish the human emissions of greenhouse gases—are one of the most poorly understood aspects of climate science.

Here is how Sellers and colleagues characterized the current state of the carbon cycle in the PNAS article:

“It is quite remarkable and telling that human activity has significantly altered carbon cycling at the planetary scale. The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) have dramatically exceeded their envelope of the last several million years.”

They also explain in detail how we have altered the carbon cycle:

“The perturbation by humans occurs first and foremost through the transfer of carbon from geological reservoirs (fossil fuels) into the active land–atmosphere–ocean system and, secondarily, through the transfer of biotic carbon from forests, soils, and other terrestrial storage pools (e.g., industrial timber) into the atmosphere.”

Scientists understand the broad outlines of how this works relatively well. What worried Sellers was the potential curve balls the climate might throw at us with unanticipated feedbacks. They addressed some of the the challenges in understanding how climate change might affect concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane through feedbacks.

For carbon dioxide:

“While experimental studies consistently show increases in plant growth rates under elevated CO2 (termed carbon dioxide fertilization), the extrapolation of even the largest-scale experiments to ecosystem carbon storage is problematic, and some ecologists have argued that the physiological response could be eliminated entirely by restrictions due to limitation by nutrients or micronutrients. However, there is recent evidence from the atmosphere that suggests increasing CO2 enhances terrestrial carbon storage, leading to the continued increase in land uptake paralleling CO2 concentrations.”

As we detailed in a separate story, the situation is even more complicated for methane. Sellers and his colleagues explained some of the challenges in understanding the feedbacks that affect that potent greenhouse gas this way:

“Atmospheric methane is currently at three times its preindustrial levels, which is clearly driven by anthropogenic emissions, but equally clearly, some of the change is because of carbon-cycle–climate feedbacks. Atmospheric CH4 rose by about 1 percent per year in the 1970s and 1980s, plateaued in the 1990s, and resumed a steady rise after 2006. Why did the plateau occur? These trends in atmospheric methane concentration are not understood. They may be due to changes in climate: increases in temperature, shifts in the precipitation patterns, changes to wetlands, or proliferation in the carbon availability to methane-producing bacteria.”

The consequences of the gaps in understanding could be significant.

“Terrestrial tropical ecosystem feedbacks from the El Nino drove an ∼2-PgC increase in global CO2 emissions in 2015. If emissions excursions such as this become more frequent or persistent in the future, agreed-upon mitigation commitments could become ineffective in meeting climate stabilization targets. Earth system models disagree wildly about the magnitude and frequency of carbon–climate feedback events, and data to this point have been astonishingly ineffective at reducing this uncertainty.”

Sellers and his colleagues do offer a solution. It has much to do with satellites.

“Space-based observations provide the global coverage, spatial and temporal sampling, and suite of carbon cycle observations required to resolve net carbon fluxes into their component fluxes (photosynthesis, respiration, and biomass burning). These space-based data substantially reduce ambiguity about what is happening in the present and enable us to falsify models more effectively than previous datasets could, leading to more informed projections.”

Credit: Adam Voiland for NASA
Release Date: July 19, 2018

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RCW 38: A Colorful Celestial Landscape | ESO


July 11, 2018: New observations with ESO’s Very Large Telescope show the star cluster RCW 38 in all its glory. This image was taken during testing of the HAWK-I camera with the GRAAL adaptive optics system. It shows RCW 38 and its surrounding clouds of brightly glowing gas in exquisite detail, with dark tendrils of dust threading through the bright core of this young gathering of stars.

This image shows the star cluster RCW 38, as captured by the HAWK-I infrared imager mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile. By gazing into infrared wavelengths, HAWK-I can examine dust-shrouded star clusters like RCW 38, providing an unparalleled view of the stars forming within. This cluster contains hundreds of young, hot, massive stars, and lies some 5500 light-years away in the constellation of Vela (The Sails).

The central area of RCW 38 is visible here as a bright, blue-tinted region, an area inhabited by numerous very young stars and protostars that are still in the process of forming. The intense radiation pouring out from these newly born stars causes the surrounding gas to glow brightly. This is in stark contrast to the streams of cooler cosmic dust winding through the region, which glow gently in dark shades of red and orange. The contrast creates this spectacular scene—a piece of celestial artwork.

Previous images of this region taken in optical wavelengths are strikingly different—optical images appear emptier of stars due to dust and gas blocking our view of the cluster. Observations in the infrared, however, allow us to peer through the dust that obscures the view in the optical and delve into the heart of this star cluster.

HAWK-I is installed on Unit Telescope 4 (Yepun) of the VLT, and operates at near-infrared wavelengths. It has many scientific roles, including obtaining images of nearby galaxies or large nebulae as well as individual stars and exoplanets. GRAAL is an adaptive optics module which helps HAWK-I to produce these spectacular images. It makes use of four laser beams projected into the night sky, which act as artificial reference stars, used to correct for the effects of atmospheric turbulence—providing a sharper image.

This image was captured as part of a series of test observations — a process known as science verification—for HAWK-I and GRAAL. These tests are an integral part of the commissioning of a new instrument on the VLT, and include a set of typical scientific observations that verify and demonstrate the capabilities of the new instrument.

More information
The Principal Investigator of the observing proposal which led this spectacular image was Koraljka Muzic (CENTRA, University of Lisbon, Portugal). Her collaborators were Joana Ascenso (CENTRA, University of Porto, Portugal), Amelia Bayo (University of Valparaiso, Chile), Arjan Bik (Stockholm University, Sweden), Hervé Bouy (Laboratoire d’astrophysique de Bordeaux, France), Lucas Cieza (University Diego Portales, Chile), Vincent Geers (UKATC, UK), Ray Jayawardhana (York University, Canada), Karla Peña Ramírez (University of Antofagasta, Chile), Rainer Schoedel (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain), and Aleks Scholz (University of St Andrews, UK).

The Science Verification of HAWK-I with the GRAAL adaptive optics module was presented in an article in ESO’s quarterly journal The Messenger entitled HAWK-I GRAAL Science Verification.

The science verification team was composed of Bruno Leibundgut, Pascale Hibon, Harald Kuntschner, Cyrielle Opitom, Jerome Paufique, Monika Petr-Gotzens, Ralf Siebenmorgen, Elena Valenti and Anita Zanella, all from ESO.

ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world’s most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It has 15 Member States: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a strategic partner. ESO carries out an ambitious program focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organizing cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its world-leading Very Large Telescope Interferometer as well as two survey telescopes, VISTA working in the infrared and the visible-light VLT Survey Telescope. ESO is also a major partner in two facilities on Chajnantor, APEX and ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-meter Extremely Large Telescope, the ELT, which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Release Date: July 11, 2018

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Mars: An Ancient Valley Network | NASA MRO


[Notice the fine shadows in the upper left corner…]
Most of the oldest terrains on Mars have eroded into branching valleys, as seen here in by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), much like many land regions of Earth are eroded by rain and snowmelt runoff. This is the primary evidence for major climate change on Mars billions of years ago. How the climate of Mars could have supported a warmer and wetter environment has been the subject of scientific debates for 40 years. A full-resolution enhanced color closeup reveals details in the bedrock and dunes on the valley floor (upper left). The bedrock of ancient Mars has been hardened and cemented by groundwater.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Image Date: December 2016
Release Date: May 10, 2017

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Orion Above Easter Island


Yuri: “King of the night…Mysterious night on Easter Island in the Southern Pacific. And only statues of moai are always awake, looking into the starry sky. When you are staying next to those giants at night its difficult to describe the atmosphere—its truly incredible and spiritual. Orion constellation as well as Sirius are glowing above illuminating the landscape with bluish soft light. This is the real magic of the Island.”

Easter Island is a Chilean island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park. (Source: Wikipedia)

Credit: Yuri Beletsky
Yuri’s website: https://500px.com/ybeletsky
Location: Easter Island, Chile
Release Date: October 5, 2016

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Our Moon Meets Jupiter


What’s that next to the Moon? Jupiter—and its four largest moons. Skygazers around planet Earth enjoyed the close encounter of planets and Moon during the predawn skies of July 15, 2012. And while many saw bright Jupiter next to the slender, waning crescent, Europeans also had the opportunity to watch the ruling gas giant pass behind the lunar disk, occulted by the Moon as it slid through the night. Clouds threaten in this telescopic view from Montecassiano, Italy, but the frame still captures Jupiter after it emerged from the occultation along with all four of its large Galilean moons. The sunlit crescent is overexposed with the Moon’s night side faintly illuminated by Earthshine. Lined up left to right beyond the dark lunar limb are Callisto, Ganymede, Jupiter, Io, and Europa. In fact, Callisto, Ganymede, and Io are larger than Earth’s Moon, while Europa is only slightly smaller. Last week, NASA’s Juno became the second spacecraft ever to orbit Jupiter.

Image Credit & Copyright: Cristian Fattinnanzi
Cristian’s website: www.cristianfattinnanzi.it
Release Date: July 10, 2016

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