Solar System, in Perspective

This artist’s concept puts solar system distances in perspective. The scale bar is in astronomical units, with each set distance beyond 1 AU representing 10 times the previous distance. One AU is the distance from the sun to the Earth, which is about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers. Neptune, the most distant planet from the sun, is about 30 AU. Informally, the term "solar system" is often used to mean the space out to the last planet. Scientific consensus, however, says the solar system goes out to the Oort Cloud, the source of the comets that swing by our sun on long time scales. Beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, the gravity of other stars begins to dominate that of the sun. The inner edge of the main part of the Oort Cloud could be as close as 1,000 AU from our sun. The outer edge is estimated to be around 100,000 AU. NASA’s Voyager 1, humankind’s most distant spacecraft, is around 125 AU. Scientists believe it entered interstellar space, or the space between stars, on Aug. 25, 2012. Much of interstellar space is actually inside our solar system. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 1 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly about 30,000 years to fly beyond it. Alpha Centauri is currently the closest star to our solar system. But, in 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will be closer to the star AC +79 3888 than to our own sun. AC +79 3888 is actually traveling faster toward Voyager 1 than the spacecraft is traveling toward it. The Voyager spacecraft were built and continue to be operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The Voyager missions are a part of NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. For more information about Voyager, visit: www.nasa.gov/voyager and voyager.jpl.nasa.gov . Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA image use policy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagram

'Oumuamua Races Toward Outskirts of Solar System (Artist's Concept)

This artist’s illustration shows ‘Oumuamua racing toward the outskirts of our solar system. Figure 1 is annotated with the locations of the planetary orbits. As the complex rotation of the object makes it difficult to determine the exact shape, there are many models of what it could look like. An artist’s animation is available at https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA22357

TESS Rounds Up its First Planets, Snares Far-flung Supernovae

NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) has found three confirmed exoplanets, or worlds beyond our solar system, in its first three months of observations. The mission’s sensitive cameras also captured 100 short-lived changes — most of them likely stellar outbursts — in the same region of the sky. They include six supernova explosions whose brightening light was recorded by TESS even before the outbursts were discovered by ground-based telescopes. The new discoveries show that TESS is delivering on its goal of discovering planets around nearby bright stars. Using ground-based telescopes, astronomers are now conducting follow-up observations on more than 280 TESS exoplanet candidates. The first confirmed discovery is a world called Pi Mensae c about twice Earth’s size. Every six days, the new planet orbits the star Pi Mensae, located about 60 light-years away and visible to the unaided eye in the southern constellation Mensa. The bright star Pi Mensae is similar to the Sun in mass and size. Next is LHS 3884b, a rocky planet about 1.3 times Earth’s size located about 49 light-years away in the constellation Indus, making it among the closest transiting exoplanets known. The star is a cool M-type dwarf star about one-fifth the size of our Sun. Completing an orbit every 11 hours, the planet lies so close to its star that some of its rocky surface on the daytime side may form pools of molten lava. The third — and possibly fourth — planets orbit HD 21749, a K-type star about 80 percent the Sun’s mass and located 53 light-years away in the southern constellation Reticulum. The confirmed planet, HD 21749b, is about three times Earth’s size and 23 times its mass, orbits every 36 days, and has a surface temperature around 300 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius). It is the longest-period transiting planet within 100 light-years of the solar system, and it has the coolest surface temperature of a transiting exoplanet around a star brighter than 10th magnitude, or about 25 times fainter than the limit of unaided human vision. What’s even more exciting are hints the system holds a second candidate planet about the size of Earth that orbits the star every eight days. If confirmed, it could be the smallest TESS planet to date. In its primary two-year mission, TESS will observe nearly the whole sky, providing a rich catalog of worlds around nearby stars. Their proximity to Earth will enable detailed characterization of the planets through follow-up observations from space- and ground-based telescopes. But in its month-long stare into each sector, TESS records many additional phenomena, including comets, asteroids, flare stars, eclipsing binaries, white dwarf stars and supernovae, resulting in an astronomical treasure trove. In the first TESS sector alone, observed between July 25 and Aug. 22, 2018, the mission caught dozens of short-lived, or transient, events, including images of six supernovae in distant galaxies that were later seen by ground-based telescopes. These early observations hold the key to understanding a class of supernovae that serve as an important yardstick for cosmological studies. Type Ia supernovae form through two channels. One involves the merger of two orbiting white dwarfs, compact remnants of stars like the Sun. The other occurs in systems where a white dwarf draws gas from a normal star, gradually gaining mass until it becomes unstable and explodes. Astronomers don’t know which scenario is more common, but TESS could detect modifications to the early light of the explosion caused by the presence of stellar companion.

NASA’s Hubble Telescope Finds Potential Kuiper Belt Targets for New Horizons Pluto Mission

This is an artist’s impression of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located on the outer rim of our solar system at a staggering distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. A HST survey uncovered three KBOs that are potentially reachable by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft after it passes by Pluto in mid-2015. Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI) — Peering out to the dim, outer reaches of our solar system, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered three Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) the agency’s New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after it flies by Pluto in July 2015. The KBOs were detected through a dedicated Hubble observing program by a New Horizons search team that was awarded telescope time for this purpose. “This has been a very challenging search and it’s great that in the end Hubble could accomplish a detection – one NASA mission helping another,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission. The Kuiper Belt is a vast rim of primordial debris encircling our solar system. KBOs belong to a unique class of solar system objects that has never been visited by spacecraft and which contain clues to the origin of our solar system. The KBOs Hubble found are each about 10 times larger than typical comets, but only about 1-2 percent of the size of Pluto. Unlike asteroids, KBOs have not been heated by the sun and are thought to represent a pristine, well preserved deep-freeze sample of what the outer solar system was like following its birth 4.6 billion years ago. The KBOs found in the Hubble data are thought to be the building blocks of dwarf planets such as Pluto. Read more: 1.usa.gov/1vzUcyK NASA image use policy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagram

Hubble’s View of a Changing Fan

The Universe is rarely static, although the timescales involved can be very long. Since modern astronomical observations began we have been observing the birthplaces of new stars and planets, searching for and studying the subtle changes that help us to figure out what is happening within. The bright spot located at the edge of the bluish fan-shaped structure in this Hubble image is a young star called V* PV Cephei, or PV Cep. It is a favorite target for amateur astronomers because the fan-shaped nebulosity, known as GM 1-29 or Gyulbudaghian’s Nebula, changes over a timescale of months. The brightness of the star has also varied over time. Images of PV Cep taken in 1952 showed a nebulous streak, similar to a comet’s tail. However, this had vanished when new images of the star were obtained some twenty-five years later. Instead, the blue fan-shaped nebula had appeared. Twenty-five years is a very short period on cosmic timescales, so astronomers think that the mysterious streak may have been a temporary phenomenon, such as the remnants of a massive stellar flare — similar to the solar flares we are used to seeing in the solar system. At the same time as this was happening, the star itself was brightening. This provided the light to illuminate the newly formed fan-shaped nebula. This brightening might be related to the start of the hydrogen-burning phase of the star, which would mean that it was reaching maturity. PV Cep is thought to be surrounded by a disc of gas and dust, which would stop light from escaping in all directions. The fan-like appearance is therefore probably a result of starlight escaping from the dust disc and projecting onto the nebula. PV Cep is located in the northern constellation of Cepheus at a distance of over 1600 light-years from Earth. European Space Agency/NASA Hubble NASA image use policy. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission. Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Find us on Instagram

KSC-97PC1256

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. — With drag chute deployed, the Space Shuttle orbiter Discovery touches down on Runway 33 at KSC’s Shuttle Landing Facility at 7:07:59 a.m. EDT Aug. 19 to complete the 11-day, 20-hour and 27-minute-long STS-85 mission. At the controls are Commander Curtis L. Brown, Jr. and Pilot Kent V. Rominger. The first landing opportunity on Aug. 18 was waved off due to the potential for ground fog. Also onboard the orbiter are Payload Commander N. Jan Davis, Mission Specialist Robert L. Curbeam, Jr., Mission Specialist Stephen K. Robinson and Payload Specialist Bjarni V. Tryggvason. During the 86th Space Shuttle mission, the crew deployed the Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers and Telescopes for the AtmosphereShuttle Pallet Satellite-2 (CRISTA-SPAS-2) free-flyer to conduct research on the Earth’s middle atmosphere, retrieving it on flight day 9. The crew also conducted investigations with the Manipulator Flight Demonstration (MFD), Technology Applications and Science-1 (TAS-1) and International Extreme Ultraviolet Hitchhiker-2 (IEH-2) experiments. Robinson also made observations of the comet Hale-Bopp with the Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System (SWIS) while other members of the crew conducted biological experiments in the orbiter’s crew cabin. This was the 39th landing at KSC in the history of the Space Shuttle program and the 11th touchdown for Discovery at the space center

KSC-99pp0724

Inside an M-113 armored personnel carrier at the launch pad, the STS-93 crew take part in emergency egress training under the watchful eyes of Capt. George Hoggard (center), trainer with the KSC Fire Department. From left are Mission Specialist Michel Tognini of France, Commander Eileen M. Collins, Hoggard, Mission Specialist Steven A. Hawley (Ph.D.), Pilot Jeffrey S. Ashby, and Mission Specialist Catherine G. Coleman (Ph.D.). Collins is the first woman to serve as mission commander. Tognini represents the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES). The training is part of Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test activities that also include a launch-day dress rehearsal culminating with a simulated main engine cut-off. The primary mission of STS-93 is the release of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, which will allow scientists from around the world to obtain unprecedented X-ray images of exotic environments in space to help understand the structure and evolution of the universe. Chandra is expected to provide unique and crucial information on the nature of objects ranging from comets in our solar system to quasars at the edge of the observable universe. Since X-rays are absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere, space-based observatories are necessary to study these phenomena and allow scientists to analyze some of the greatest mysteries of the universe. The targeted launch date for STS-93 is no earlier than July 20 at 12:36 a.m. EDT from Launch Pad 39B

History of Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

This artist’s concept depicts the Hubble Space Telescope after being released into orbit, with the high gain anternas and solar arrays deployed and the aperture doors opened. The HST is the product of a partnership between NASA, European Space Agency Contractors, and the international community of astronomers. It is named after Edwin P. Hubble, an American Astronomer who discovered the expanding nature of the universe and was the first to realize the true nature of galaxies. The purpose of the HST, the most complex and sensitive optical telescope ever made, is to study the cosmos from a low-Earth orbit. By placing the telescope in space, astronomers are able to collect data that is free of the Earth’s atmosphere. The HST detects objects 25 times fainter than the dimmest objects seen from Earth and provides astronomers with an observable universe 250 times larger than visible from ground-based telescopes, perhaps as far away as 14 billion light-years. The HST views galaxies, stars, planets, comets, possibly other solar systems, and even unusual phenomena such as quasars, with 10 times the clarity of ground-based telescopes. The major elements of the HST are the Optical Telescope Assembly (OTA), the Support System Module (SSM), and the Scientific Instruments (SI). The HST is 42.5-feet (13-meters) long and weighs about 25,000 pounds (11,600 kilograms). The HST was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31 mission) into Earth orbit in April 1990. The Marshall Space Flight Center had responsibility for design, development, and construction of the HST. The Perkin-Elmer Corporation, in Danbury, Connecticut, developed the optical system and guidance sensors. The Lockheed Missile and Space Company of Sunnyvale, California produced the protective outer shroud and spacecraft systems, and assembled and tested the finished telescope.

History of Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

This artist’s concept depicts the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) being positioned for release from the Space Shuttle orbiter by the Remote Manipulator System (RMS). The HST is the product of a partnership between NASA, European Space Agency Contractors, and the international community of astronomers. It is named after Edwin P. Hubble, an American Astronomer who discovered the expanding nature of the universe and was the first to realize the true nature of galaxies. The purpose of the HST, the most complex and sensitive optical telescope ever made, is to study the cosmos from a low-Earth orbit. By placing the telescope in space, astronomers are able to collect data that is free of the Earth’s atmosphere. The HST detects objects 25 times fainter than the dimmest objects seen from Earth and provides astronomers with an observable universe 250 times larger than visible from ground-based telescopes, perhaps as far away as 14 billion light-years. The HST views galaxies, stars, planets, comets, possibly other solar systems, and even unusual phenomena such as quasars, with 10 times the clarity of ground-based telescopes. The major elements of the HST are the Optical Telescope Assembly (OTA), the Support System Module (SSM), and the Scientific Instruments (SI). The HST is 42.5-feet (13- meters) long and weighs about 25,000 pounds (11,600 kilograms). The HST was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31 mission) into Earth orbit in April 1990. The Marshall Space Flight Center had responsibility for design, development, and construction of the HST. The Perkin-Elmer Corporation, in Danbury, Cornecticut, developed the optical system and guidance sensors. The Lockheed Missile and Space Company of Sunnyvale, California produced the protective outer shroud and spacecraft systems, and assembled and tested the finished telescope.

History of Hubble Space Telescope (HST)

This image illustrates the overall Hubble Space Telescope (HST) configuration. The HST is the product of a partnership between NASA, European Space Agency Contractors, and the international community of astronomers. It is named after Edwin P. Hubble, an American Astronomer who discovered the expanding nature of the universe and was the first to realize the true nature of galaxies. The purpose of the HST, the most complex and sensitive optical telescope ever made, is to study the cosmos from a low-Earth orbit. By placing the telescope in space, astronomers are able to collect data that is free of the Earth’s atmosphere. The HST detects objects 25 times fainter than the dimmest objects seen from Earth and provides astronomers with an observable universe 250 times larger than visible from ground-based telescopes, perhaps as far away as 14 billion light-years. The HST views galaxies, stars, planets, comets, possibly other solar systems, and even unusual phenomena such as quasars, with 10 times the clarity of ground-based telescopes. The major elements of the HST are the Optical Telescope Assembly (OTA), the Support System Module (SSM), and the Scientific Instruments (SI). The HST is approximately the size of a railroad car, with two cylinders joined together and wrapped in a silvery reflective heat shield blanket. Wing-like solar arrays extend horizontally from each side of these cylinders, and dish-shaped anternas extend above and below the body of the telescope. The HST was deployed from the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-31 mission) into Earth orbit in April 1990. The Marshall Space Flight Center had responsibility for design, development, and construction of the HST. The Perkin-Elmer Corporation, in Danbury, Connecticut, developed the optical system and guidance sensors. The Lockheed Missile and Space Company of Sunnyvale, California produced the protective outer shroud and spacecraft systems, and assembled and tested the finished telescope.