May 12

WISE Catches Aging Star Erupting With Dust

Source: NASA Press Release

Star shedding loads of dust (orange dot at upper left).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Images from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) reveal an old star in the throes of a fiery outburst and spraying the cosmos with dust. The findings offer a rare, real-timelook at the process by which stars like our sun seed the universe with building blocks for other stars, planets and even life.

The star, catalogued as WISE J180956.27-330500.2, was discovered in images taken during the WISE survey in 2010, the most detailed infrared survey to date of the entire celestial sky. It stood out from other objects because it glowed brightly with infrared light. When compared to images taken more than 20 years ago, astronomers found the star was 100 times brighter.

"We were not searching specifically for this phenomenon, but because WISE scanned the whole sky, we can find such unique objects," said Poshak Gandhi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), lead author of a new paper to be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Results indicate the star recently exploded with copious amounts of fresh dust, equivalent in mass to our planet Earth. The star is heating the dust and causing it to glow with infrared light.

"Observing this period of explosive change while it is actually ongoing is very rare," said co-author Issei Yamamura of JAXA. "These dust eruptions probably occur only once every 10,000 years in the lives of old stars, and they are thought to last less than a few hundred years each time. It's the blink of an eye in cosmological terms."

The aging star is in the "red giant" phase of its life. Our own sun will expand into a red giant in about 5 billion years. When a star begins to run out of fuel, it cools and expands. As the star puffs up, it sheds layers of gas that cool and congeal into tiny dust particles. This is one of the main ways dust is recycled in our universe, making its way from older stars to newborn solar systems. The other way, in which the heaviest of elements are made, is through the deathly explosions, or supernovae, of the most massive stars.

"It's an intriguing glimpse into the cosmic recycling program," said Bill Danchi, WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Evolved stars, which this one appears to be, contribute about 50 percent of the particles that make up humans."

Astronomers know of one other star currently pumping out massive amounts of dust. Called Sakurai's Object, this star is farther along in the aging process than the one discovered recently by WISE.

After Poshak and his team discovered the unusual, dusty star with WISE, they went back to look for it in previous infrared all-sky surveys. The object was not seen at all by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which flew in 1983, but shows up brightly in images taken as part of the Two Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS) in 1998.

Poshak and his colleagues calculated the star appears to have brightened dramatically since 1983. The WISE data show the dust has continued to evolve over time, with the star now hidden behind a very thick veil. The team plans to follow up with space and ground-based telescopes to confirm its nature and to better understand how older stars recycle dust back into the cosmos.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode after it scanned the entire sky twice, completing its main objectives. The principal investigator for WISE, Edward Wright, is at the University of California, Los Angeles. The mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The IRAS mission was a collaborative effort between NASA (JPL), the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The 2MASS mission was a joint effort between Caltech, the University of Massachusetts and NASA (JPL). Data are archived at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech.

For more information about WISE, visit:

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Oct 11

New partners for the SpaceLab Contest for students

Source: ESA and YouTube

On October 10th, ESA, JAXA of Japan and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) joined the launch of 'YouTube Space Lab', an exciting campaign initiated by YouTube, NASA, Space Adventures and Lenovo that challenges students around the world to design a science experiment for the International Space Station.

The winning experiments will be conducted in space on the International Space Station (ISS), making it the Universe's largest science lesson, streamed live for the world to see via YouTube.

Space Lab is part of a larger YouTube effort, aimed at providing educators access to the wealth of educational content available on YouTube. Individually or in groups of up to three, students aged 14–18 years may submit a YouTube video describing their experiment to www.youtube.com/spacelab.

A panel of prestigious scientists, astronauts and teachers, including the renowned Professor Stephen Hawking, astronauts Frank De Winne, Samantha Cristoforetti and Timothy Peake of ESA, NASA’s Leland Melvin, Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA, Chris Hadfield of CSA and Cirque du Soleil’s founder Guy Laliberté, will judge the entries with input from the YouTube community. Six regional finalists will gather in the USA in March 2012 to experience a zero-gravity flight and receive other prizes. (Go to SpaceLab Contest webpage)


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Aug 11

Earth from Space: Madagascar jellyfish

Source: ESA

Credits: JAXA, ESA.

The Betsiboka estuary in northwest Madagascar is pictured in this image from Japan’s ALOS observation satellite. (read more)

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Jun 11

Hot stuff: the making of BepiColombo

Source: ESA Space Engineering

BepiColombo, a joint ESA/JAXA mission to Mercury.
Image credit: ESA /JAXA BepiColombo.

For BepiColombo, ESA has had to extend the limits of existing design standards and develop altogether new design concepts as well. How to begin building a spacecraft that needs to endure sunlight 10 times more intense than in Earth orbit, with surfaces hotter than a kitchen hot plate – high enough, in fact, to melt lead?(read more)

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Feb 11

"Lover's Island" seen from Space

Source: ESA

Image credits: JAXA, ESA

As we approach Valentine's Day, Space Agencies do their best to gives images that are related to the occasion. After NASA's announcement of the close encounter between  the close encounter between the Stardust spacecraft and comet Tempel 1, ESA has today released a beautiful image of a romantically shaped  island.

The small heart-shaped island of Galešnjak is featured in this image acquired by ALOS – Japan's four-tonne Earth observation satellite. The 500 m-wide island is situated off the Croatian coast in the Adriatic Sea.

Since its recent rise in popularity due to satellite images, the privately owned island has become a big hit in the media and with romantic tourists. Local media report the owner has received numerous requests from couples wanting to celebrate St Valentine’s Day there. (read more)

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