Rogue Planet, Dangerous Dance, SpaceX & Electric Propulsion

This image from the NASA / ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows two interacting galaxies that are so closely related that they have a collective name – Arp 91. Credit: ESA / Hubble & NASA, J. Dalcanton, Acknowledgments: J. Schmidt

Hubble detects a dangerous dance

This ">Nasa/ ESA The Hubble Space Telescope The image shows two interacting galaxies that are so closely related that they have a collective name – Arp 91. Their delicate galactic dance takes place more than 100 million light years from Earth. The two galaxies that make up Arp 91 have their own names: the lower galaxy, which looks like a bright spot, is NGC 5953, and the oval shaped galaxy at the top right is NGC 5954. In reality, both are spiral galaxies, but their shapes appear very different due to their orientation relative to the Earth.

Arp 91 provides a particularly striking example of galactic interaction. NGC 5953 is clearly pulling on NGC 5954, which appears to extend a downward spiral arm. The immense gravitational pull of the two galaxies makes them interact. Such gravitational interactions are common and form an important part of galactic evolution. Most astronomers believe that collisions between spiral galaxies lead to the formation of another type of galaxies, called elliptical galaxies. However, these extremely energetic and massive collisions occur on time scales that eclipse human life. They take place over hundreds of millions of years, so we shouldn’t expect Arp 91 to be any different in our lifetimes!

International Space Station Expedition 65 crew

The seven crew members of Expedition 65 gathered for a portrait inside the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Smile! You are on the International Space Station

On October 4, 2021, the seven crew of Expedition 65 gathered for a portrait inside the vestibule between the Unity module and the Tranquility module of the International Space Station. In the first row on the left are; Commander Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency; and NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough. In the back: Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy; Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide; NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei; and the Roscosmos cosmonaut Piotr Dubrovnik.

Jupiter-like rogue planet

This artist’s design depicts a Jupiter-like planet alone in the darkness of space, floating freely without a parent star. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Jupiter-like rogue planet roams space alone

This artist’s conception illustrates a Jupiter-like a lonely planet in the darkness of space, floating freely without a mother star.

Exoplanet hunters have found thousands of planets, most orbiting near their host stars, but relatively few alien worlds have been detected that float freely across the galaxy as rogue planets, unrelated to any stars. Many astronomers believe these planets are more common than we think, but our planet-finding techniques have not been up to the task of locating them.

A study of the planet, called Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA), scanned the central bulge of our Milky Way galaxy from 2006 to 2007. He used a 1.8-meter (5.9-foot) telescope at the Mount John University Observatory in New Zealand, and a technique called a gravitational microlens. In this method, a planet-sized body is identified indirectly as it passes just in front of a more distant star, causing the star to brighten. The effect is like a funhouse cosmic mirror, or magnifying lens – the light from the background star is distorted and amplified, becoming brighter.

Using the latest technology, NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will investigate to discover many more exoplanets using powerful techniques available for a wide-field telescope.

SpaceX Cargo Dragon Supply Ship Departure

The SpaceX Cargo Dragon supply ship is pictured as it pulls away from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

A colorful departure from the space station

In this image from September 30, 2021, the EspaceX The Cargo Dragon supply ship is pictured as it pulls away from the forward-facing International Docking Adapter of the International Space Station. The Cargo Dragon’s rotating beacons and a plume from one of its engines when it left made a colorful spectacle.

Electric Hall Thruster NASA Psyche Spacecraft

On the left, xenon plasma emits a blue glow from an electric Hall-effect thruster identical to those that will propel NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to the main asteroid belt. On the right is a similar non-operational thruster. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Psyche mission to an asteroid: electric propulsion matures

When the time comes for NASA’s Psyche spacecraft to propel itself into deep space, it will be more the brain than the muscles that will do the work. Once the business of science fiction, the efficient and quiet power of electric propulsion will provide the force that propels the Psyche spacecraft up to the main asteroid belt between ">March and Jupiter. The orbiter’s target is a metal-rich asteroid also known as Psyche.

The photo on the left captures an electric Hall thruster in operation identical to those that will power NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch in August 2022 and travel to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Xenon plasma emits a blue glow when the thruster is operating. The photo on the right shows a similar Hall thruster inoperative. The photo on the left was taken at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; the photo on the right was taken at NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

The Hall of Psyche thrusters will be the first to be used beyond lunar orbit, demonstrating that they could play a role in supporting future deep space missions. The spacecraft is slated for launch in August 2022 and its super efficient propulsion mode uses solar panels to capture sunlight which is converted into electricity to power the spacecraft’s thrusters. Thrusters work by converting xenon gas, a neutral gas used in car headlights and plasma televisions, into xenon ions. When the xenon ions are accelerated out of the thruster, they create the thrust that will propel the spacecraft.


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Arline J. Mercier

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