Jupiter’s Auroras; Distant Universe in Detail; Severe Fire Season For Amazon

Posted July 1st, 2016 at 4:00 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

Astronomers are using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras — stunning light shows in a planet's atmosphere — on the poles of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter. (NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester))

Astronomers are using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to study auroras on the poles of  Jupiter. (NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester))

NASA’s Hubble and Juno Probe Study Jupiter’s Auroras

As NASA’s probe Juno buzzes closer and closer for its 4th of July rendezvous with Jupiter, astronomers are using the good ole Hubble Space Telescope to study the planet’s auroras, which are just like our own northern and southern lights.

These spectacular light shows in the Jovian atmosphere hover above the giant planet’s two poles just like they do on Earth.

Scientists say they are created when high-energy particles, such as the solar wind or from disturbances of the sun, enter a planet’s atmosphere near its magnetic poles and smash into gas atoms.

NASA says that while Hubble takes care of observing and measuring Jupiter’s auroras, Juno is gauging the properties of the solar wind itself.

Scientists want to find out how various elements of the Jovian auroras react to different conditions within the solar wind.

An image of a small section (0.4 percent) of the UDS field. Most of the objects in the image are very distant galaxies, observed as they were over 9 billion years ago. (Omar Almaini, University of Nottingham)

UDS image of a small section of the distant universe. (Omar Almaini, University of Nottingham)

New Images Provide Detailed View of Distant Universe

A group of British astronomers just released a number of infrared images that provide an extraordinarily deep and detailed view of the distant universe.

Final data released from the Ultra-Deep Survey, a component of the UKIRT Infrared Deep Sky Survey, allowed the astronomers to create a map of an area of space that’s four times the size of the full Moon.

The survey spotted 250,000 galaxies, several hundred of which show light that was produced within the first billion years after the Big Bang (13.7 billion years ago).

The Ultra Deep Survey began scanning the skies in 2005 with astronomers using a wide field near-infrared camera mounted on the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Scientists involved with the Ultra Deep Survey say that their new images will help astronomers to study and get a better understanding of some of the earliest phases of the formation and evolution of galaxies.

The smoke from multiple fires in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil rises over forested and deforested areas in this astronaut photograph taken from the International Space Station on August 19, 2014. International Space Station (NASA)

The smoke from multiple fires in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil rises over forested and deforested areas in a photo taken from the International Space Station on 8/19/14.  (NASA)

NASA El Nino Data Predicts Nasty Amazon Fire Season Ahead

Scientists at NASA and the University of California, Irvine are predicting that the El Nino that took place during late 2015 into early 2016 will produce an intense fire season for the Amazon region of South America.

This periodic weather phenomenon caused a change the rainfall pattern for many parts of the world over the past year, with some areas getting more rain than usual while others got much less.

For the Amazon region, the scientists say that the recent El Nino cut back the amount of rain that fell during its wet season, which usually lasts from November until May.

According to NASA satellite data, the decreased rainfall left this huge area of South America drier at the start of its 2016 dry season, which lasts from July through September, than any year since 2002.

Jim Randerson, a professor of Earth system science at the University of California Irvine says that this is the driest he has seen at the start of a fire season. He says that an important challenge right now is to come up with ways to use what they’ve learned to help limit damages in coming months.

Artist impression of ESA's Rosetta approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet image was taken on 2 August 2014 by the spacecraft's navigation camera at a distance of about 500 km. (Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Artist impression of ESA’s Rosetta approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet image was taken on 8/2/14 by the spacecraft’s navigation camera at a distance of about 500 km. (Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

Comet Chasing Spacecraft to Wrap-Up Mission in September

The European Space Agency says its comet chasing Rosetta orbiter will wrap up its mission on September 30th.

That’s when the space agency will send the spacecraft on a controlled descent to the surface of its comet, 67P-Churyumov/Gerasimenko.

ESA says the mission has to end because the spacecraft and the comet are traveling too far from the sun, which is reducing the solar power needed to operate Rosetta and its instruments.

Adding to the decision to terminate the mission is the plain fact that the spacecraft is pretty much near the end of its life, having to deal with the harsh environment of space for over twelve years, two of which was spent close to the dusty comet.

As it drops to the surface of 67P during the final hours of its mission Rosetta will capture some close up images and make a number of what ESA calls once-in-a-lifetime measurements of the comet.

Photographs of the megalithic cluster of Carregal do Sal: a) Dolmen da Orca, a typical dolmenic structure in western Iberia; b) view of the passage and entrance while standing within the d'window of visibility'; c) Orca de Santo Tisco, a much smaller passage or corridor. (F. Silva)

Photographs of the megalithic cluster of Carregal do Sal: a) Dolmen da Orca, a typical dolmenic structure in western Iberia; b) view of the passage and entrance while standing within the d’window of visibility’; c) Orca de Santo Tisco, a much smaller passage or corridor. (F. Silva)

How Were Astronomical Observations Made 6,000 Years Ago?

It’s thought that the first optic telescopes emerged sometime in the 17 century.

But is it possible that ancient stargazers could have studied the heavens with their own observation tools long before the modern telescope was invented?

In a project presented to the National Astronomy meeting, that was held this past week in England, scientists proposed to learn whether or not long, narrow passageways or prehistoric tombs were used as a way to enhance views of the night sky some 6,000 years ago.

The scientists want to find out if the human eye might be able to see stars of any given brightness or color without the help of any telescopic device in locations such as the Seven-Stone Antas in central Portugal.

Those proposing this investigation say that perhaps ancient astronomers were able to better observe certain stars from deep within one of these passageways.  The researchers also suggest that in ancient times, spotting a particular star, after not being able to see it for a period of time, may have provided a way to mark the seasons.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

One response to “Jupiter’s Auroras; Distant Universe in Detail; Severe Fire Season For Amazon”

  1. Hubert Hyman says:

    I always thought that the ancients were efficient observers of the cosmos. There are evidences of their observatories in many parts of the world. Why must we now wonder about their abilities?