Posts Tagged ‘JPL’

Bumblebees and the Bubbles of Scutum

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Wisconsin

A bumblebee hums around the part of the night-time sky dominated by the constellation Scutum in this infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the bubbles in this image. What shapes or stories do you see? Leave a note in the comments below.

The Milky Way Galaxy is full of wonders and not all of them can be seen easily with our naked eye. The stars and shapes in this image cannot be seen without the help of special telescopes and sensors aboard the orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer helps astronomers see warm objects, such as new stars, lurking in cold dust clouds. These objects are hidden from view by a thick veil of dust. The orbiting telescope sees the Universe in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum that lies just below the range of visible light, like a rainbow. We don’t see infrared light but we can feel it as heat.

New stars forming deep in these clouds blew bubbles into the gas and dust. As they become hotter, the surrounding nebula will expand and begin to glow as ultraviolet light floods the area. Someday our naked eyes will behold new and spectacular nebulae.

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Just a Boulder

NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Rocks and waves of sand dominate this image of Mars from the HiRISE camera. However, some find an mysterious rectangular-shaped boulder sticking out of a hillside.

Explore the rugged terrain of Mars starting in the area of the enigmatic, rectangular boulder. What shapes and stories do you see in the sands of Mars? Leave a note below.

If you look around the boulder-field at the bottom of this hillside, you’ll find lots of shadows that are rectangular looking. But are they all “monoliths” placed by aliens similar to those created by Arthur C. Clarke in his story “The Sentinel” and popularized in the Stanley Kubrick film “2001: A Space Odyssey?” The answer lies probably in the play between shadows and image resolution. Pixels on images are square. If you look really close at the monitor you are using you’ll find a rectangular grid of glowing square pixels make up the text and images on this screen. The HiRISE camera has a resolution of about 30 centimeters. That means that one pixel equals about 30 centimeters or about one foot. That’s only about the size of a beach ball. Big boulders become square-like objects; shadows become square-like as well. An early morning or late afternoon sun creates long shadows making objects appear larger than they really are. Very similar to walking down a road with your back to the Sun at sunset and seeing your shadow stretch out tens of feet in front of you.

You can read more about this effect in a post at Life’s Little Mysteries.

The more interesting stuff in this image are the ripples of sand that drift across the plateau craters and then march along the bottom of the canyon at the bottom of the image. Sand has nearly filled in the double craters in the center of the image creating a pie-shape. Geologists find this image interesting because of the layers of rock that make up the wall of the canyon.

Launched with Mars Recon­nais­sance Orbiter, or MRO, in 2005, HiRISE is one of six instru­ments aboard the spacecraft orbiting Mars. HiRISE’s cam­era can see objects on the sur­face as small as a beach ball. The instru­ment can also offer scientists stereo views of the surface.

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Sandy Tuning Forks

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Tuning forks on tuning forks cross Mars in this image from HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Explore the snaking dunes in this image. What stories or pictures does your imagination make in the shifting sands of Mars? Leave a note below.

Wind is a main force on Mars stirring up dust devils and sometimes global dust storms. Typically, wind on Mars creates fascinating dune fields. Many types of dunes are seen in this image from the mid latitudes of Mars. The long ridges of sand are called linear dunes. On Earth, these dunes can extend for more than a hundred kilometers. They form when the wind blows from two directions. In this image, the wind seems to blow from bottom to top and from the side. As time passes, these dunes will move slowly along the surface acting like a snake as they move. Some dunes merge to form Y-shaped dunes; the tuning forks we see in the image.

As you zoom into the dunes, look for star-shaped dunes, crescent-shaped dunes and smaller ripples on the larger dunes. In the lower left-hand corner of the image, look for a crater that is nearly filled with sand and dunes.

Launched with MRO in 2005, HiRISE is one of six instruments aboard the spacecraft orbiting Mars. HiRISE’s cameras can see objects on the surface as small as a beach ball. The camera also offers scientists stereo views of the surface.

Starry Garden of Petals and Waves

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Allen (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA) and the IRAC GTO Team

A starry garden full of dusty petals and waves of gas fill this image of the Coronet Cluster from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the star-forming clouds of the Coronet Cluster. What patterns or stories do you see? Leave a note below.

The Coronet Cluster lies at the heart of this nebula in the Corona Australis region. Like the well-known Orion Nebula, this region of space is full of gas and dust creating a perfect place for stars to form. As gas and dust gather in the nebula, gravity pulls it together. When enough material clumps together, the cloud can begin to collapse. A star is born when it shines on its own and starts to convert hydrogen gas into energy in a process called fusion.

The infrared eyes of the Spitzer Space Telescope peer through the thick dust of this nebula showing faint structures not seen with our regular eyes. New stars in the central cluster of stars warm and excite the hydrogen gas in the cloud causing it to glow. If you look closely in the center of the image, you can see a sheet of green gas. This cold dust reflects the light from the new stars rather than glowing.

The nebula surrounding the Coronet Cluster is one of the nearest and most active regions of star formation. The cluster is found about 424 light-years from Earth toward the faint constellation Corona Australis, or the Southern Crown. The ancient Greeks saw the constellation as a laurel wreath, not as a crown.

Cool Cosmic Shades

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With sparkling stars for gems, Messier 78 glows like a pair of cool cosmic shades in this image from NASA‘s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Explore the greenish nebula. What other shapes or images do you see in this image? Leave a note below.

The two round nebulae that make up M78 are actually cavities carved out of a darker dust clouds. Intense light and blistering ultraviolet radiation streaming from newborn stars carve cavities from the dust. This dust helped create the new stars. Spitzer looks deep into the clouds revealing warm objects deep within the cold cloud. It’s that warm dust that shows so brightly in this image. Through a telescope, we cannot see these new stars. Along the rim of the glasses, look for a string of reddish pinpoints. These are new stars that have yet to blow away the shells of gas and dust from which they were born.

Messier 78 is easily seen through a small telescope just northeast of Orion’s belt from Earth. The nebula is found about 1,600 light-years from Earth toward the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.


The ancient peoples saw pictures in the sky. From those patterns in the heavens, ancient storytellers created legends about heroes, maidens, dragons, bears, centaurs, dogs and mythical creatures...
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