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Webb telescope captures stunning new image of young stars in the Tarantula Nebula – CTV News

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A giant space tarantula has been caught by a Webb — NASA’s highly sensitive James Webb Space Telescope, that is.

At 161,000 light-years away from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, the Tarantula Nebula is the nickname for 30 Doradus, the “largest and brightest star-forming region in the Local Group, the galaxies nearest our Milky Way,” according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Resembling a burrowing tarantula’s home line with its silk, it houses the hottest and most massive stars known to astronomers, according to NASA.

The Webb telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera, also called NIRCam, has helped researchers see the region “in a new light, including tens of thousands of never-before-seen young stars that were previously shrouded in cosmic dust,” according to NASA.

The densest surrounding areas of the nebula resist erosion by the stars’ strong winds, forming pillars that seem to point back toward the cluster and hold forming protostars.

These protostars emerge from their “dusty cocoons” and help shape the nebula. The Webb telescope’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) caught a very young star doing that, which changed astronomers’ previous beliefs about that star.

“Astronomers previously thought this star might be a bit older and already in the process of clearing out a bubble around itself,” according to NASA. “However, NIRSpec showed that the star was only just beginning to emerge from its pillar and still maintained an insulating cloud of dust around itself.

“Without Webb’s high-resolution spectra at infrared wavelengths, this episode of star formation in action could not have been revealed.”

Viewing through another Webb instrument that detects longer infrared wavelengths, and therefore penetrates dust grains in the nebula, revealed a “previously unseen cosmic environment,” NASA said — the hot stars faded while the cooler gas and dust glowed.

The Tarantula Nebula has long been a focus of astronomers studying star formation because it has a chemical makeup similar to that of the gigantic star-forming regions at the universe’s cosmic noon — when the cosmos was just a feel billion years old and star formation was at its peak, according to NASA.

Since star-forming regions in our galaxy don’t produce stars at the same rate as the Tarantula Nebula and have a different chemical composition, the Tarantula is the closest example of what occurred in the universe as it reached high noon.

Capturing star formation in the Tarantula Nebula is just the latest discovery by NASA’s Webb telescope.

Just a few days ago, NASA released stunning new images produced by the Webb telescope and the Hubble Telescope showcasing the Phantom Galaxy, a spiral of solar systems 32 million light-years away from Earth. The galaxy is located in the constellation Pisces, according to the European Space Agency, which collaborates with NASA on Hubble and Webb.

Webb launched on Christmas Day last year after decades of work to create the world’s largest most sophisticated space telescope.

NASA first released Webb’s first high-resolution images just weeks ago in July.

Bigger than Hubble, the telescope is capable of observing extremely distant galaxies, allowing scientists to learn about early star formation. Hubble orbits Earth, but Webb orbits the sun, around 1 million miles away from Earth.

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NASA’s DART spacecraft is about to smash into an asteroid – Freethink

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NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) has gotten its first look at the Didymos asteroid system — and in just a few days, it will attempt to smash into one of the space rocks in the hope of helping NASA prevent a future asteroid impact with Earth. 

The challenge: Our solar system contains millions of rocky objects left over after the formation of the planets and moons. The biggest of these are asteroids, and while most never get close to us, if a large one were to hit Earth’s surface, the impact could be devastating.

NASA keeps an eye out for potentially hazardous asteroids, and if it saw one heading our way, we might be able to prevent the collision by slamming something into the threatening space rock to redirect it — but no one has attempted an asteroid-redirection mission before, so we don’t know for sure how or if it would work.

“This first set of images is being used as a test to prove our imaging techniques.”

Elena Adams

The DART spacecraft: Since we wouldn’t want to wait until our planet is at risk to find out whether it is possible to redirect an asteroid, NASA launched DART, the world’s first planetary defense experiment, in November 2021. 

The DART spacecraft is expected to make impact with Dimorphos, a small asteroid orbiting the larger Didymos asteroid, on September 26, 2022, when the pair are about 7 million miles from Earth — nowhere near close enough to harm our planet.

NASA will then use data from the collision to inform future asteroid redirection experiments and, if needed, actual planetary defense missions.

[embedded content]

Eyes on the prize: During its 10-month journey to the Didymos asteroid system, the DART spacecraft has used an imager, DRACO (Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical navigation), to snap thousands of photos.

By combining nearly 250 images captured by DRACO on July 27, 2022, NASA has produced DART’s first image of Didymos and Dimorphos.

This image of Didymos and its moonlet Dimorphos is a composite of 243 images taken by DRACO. Credit: NASA JPL DART Navigation Team

Why it matters: DART’s ability to capture and process images of its target using DRACO is essential to the success of the mission — in the final four hours before impact, the DART spacecraft will need to navigate to the asteroids without human intervention, and those images will be vital to ensuring it hits its target.

“This first set of images is being used as a test to prove our imaging techniques,” said Elena Adams, the DART mission systems engineer at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

“The quality of the image is similar to what we could obtain from ground-based telescopes,” she continued, “but it is important to show that DRACO is working properly and can see its target to make any adjustments needed before we begin using the images to guide the spacecraft into the asteroid autonomously.”

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

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N.W.T. man among finalists in international astronomy photographer contest

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YELLOWKNIFE — A man from Yellowknife is gaining international recognition for a photo capturing a stunning display of dancing green aurora lights over the Cameron River.

Frank Bailey was the only Canadian among the finalists in the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s 2022 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. His time-lapse photo taken outside the Northwest Territories capital landed him the runner-up spot in the Aurorae category.

“I was of course thrilled, but also humbled at the news given the quality of the entries this year,” he said. “Once the overall standings were made fully public, it sunk in really quickly that this was a significant achievement and shows that I am heading in the right direction with my photography.”

The annual competition is the largest of its kind and showcases space and sky photography from astrophotographers around the world. More than 100 winning and shortlisted images from this year’s entries are currently on display at the National Maritime Museum in London, featuring planets, galaxies, skyscapes and other celestial bodies.

Gerald Rhemann from Austria was named the overall winner for his photo of Comet C/2021 A1, commonly known as Comet Leonard.

The top spot in the Aurorae category went to Filip Hrebenda for his photo titled “In the Embrace of a Green Lady,” showing the lights reflected in a frozen lake above Eystrahorn mountain in Hvalnes, Iceland.

Bailey’s photo, titled “Misty Green River,” was taken last September using a 15-second exposure. He said the photo was taken looking up the river toward the riffle as mist rose off the water.

Bailey, who has lived in Yellowknife for 18 years, said he first photographed the aurora when he and his wife, Karen, lived in Yukon in the early 1980s.

He said he likes to enter competitions to get feedback on his photography.

“As for future goals, I have always said it would be a good retirement job,” he said, noting he and his wife have dabbled with making sellable products such as calendars and producing prints for friends and family.

Another photo Bailey took of the aurora over the Cameron River, which he submitted to the National Wildlife Federation’s photo contest in 2020, was selected for use in a holiday card collection.

He said three of his aurora photos received a bronze award from the Epson International Pano Awards in 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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Tonga volcano blast was unusual, could even warm the Earth – Kelowna Capital News – Kelowna Capital News

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When an undersea volcano erupted in Tonga in January, its watery blast was huge and unusual — and scientists are still trying to understand its impacts.

The volcano, known as Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, shot millions of tons of water vapor high up into the atmosphere, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The researchers estimate the eruption raised the amount of water in the stratosphere — the second layer of the atmosphere, above the range where humans live and breathe — by around 5%.

Now, scientists are trying to figure out how all that water could affect the atmosphere, and whether it might warm Earth’s surface over the next few years.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said lead author Holger Voemel, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

Big eruptions usually cool the planet. Most volcanoes send up large amounts of sulfur, which blocks the sun’s rays, explained Matthew Toohey, a climate researcher at the University of Saskatchewan who was not involved in the study.

The Tongan blast was much soggier: The eruption started under the ocean, so it shot up a plume with much more water than usual. And since water vapor acts as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, the eruption will probably raise temperatures instead of lowering them, Toohey said.

It’s unclear just how much warming could be in store.

Karen Rosenlof, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who was not involved with the study, said she expects the effects to be minimal and temporary.

“This amount of increase might warm the surface a small amount for a short amount of time,” Rosenlof said in an email.

The water vapor will stick around the upper atmosphere for a few years before making its way into the lower atmosphere, Toohey said. In the meantime, the extra water might also speed up ozone loss in the atmosphere, Rosenlof added.

But it’s hard for scientists to say for sure, because they’ve never seen an eruption like this one.

The stratosphere stretches from around 7.5 miles to 31 miles (12 km to 50 km) above Earth and is usually very dry, Voemel explained.

Voemel’s team estimated the volcano’s plume using a network of instruments suspended from weather balloons. Usually, these tools can’t even measure water levels in the stratosphere because the amounts are so low, Voemel said.

Another research group monitored the blast using an instrument on a NASA satellite. In their study, published earlier this summer, they estimated the eruption to be even bigger, adding around 150 million metric tons of water vapor to the stratosphere — three times as much as Voemel’s study found.

Voemel acknowledged that the satellite imaging might have observed parts of the plume that the balloon instruments couldn’t catch, making its estimate higher.

Either way, he said, the Tongan blast was unlike anything seen in recent history, and studying its aftermath may hold new insights into our atmosphere.

—Maddie Burakoff, The Associated Press

RELATED: Flights sent to assess Tonga damage after volcanic eruption

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