Tag Archives: James Webb Space Telescope

NASA Night Sky Notes: The Orion Nebula – Window Into A Stellar Nursery

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in December, 2019.

By David Prosper

Winter begins in December for observers in the Northern Hemisphere, bringing cold nights and the return of one of the most famous constellations to our early evening skies: Orion the Hunter!

Orion is a striking pattern of stars and is one of the few constellations whose pattern is repeated almost unchanged in the star stories of cultures around the world. Below the three bright stars of Orion’s Belt lies his sword, where you can find the famous Orion Nebula, also known as M42. The nebula is visible to our unaided eyes in even moderately light-polluted skies as a fuzzy “star” in the middle of Orion’s Sword. M42 is about 20 light years across, which helps with its visibility since it’s roughly 1,344 light years away! Baby stars, including the famous “Trapezium” cluster, are found inside the nebula’s whirling gas clouds. These gas clouds also hide “protostars” from view: objects in the process of becoming stars, but that have not yet achieved fusion at their core.

The Orion Nebula is a small window into a vastly larger area of star formation centered around the constellation of Orion itself. NASA’s Great Observatories, space telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer, Compton, and Chandra, studied this area in wavelengths we can’t see with our earthbound eyes, revealing the entire constellation alight with star birth, not just the comparatively tiny area of the nebula. Why then can we only see the nebula? M42 contains hot young stars whose stellar winds blew away their cocoons of gas after their “birth,” the moment when they begin to fuse hydrogen into helium. Those gas clouds, which block visible light, were cleared away just enough to give us a peek inside at these young stars. The rest of the complex remains hidden to human eyes, but not to advanced space-based telescopes.

We put telescopes in orbit to get above the interference of our atmosphere, which absorbs many wavelengths of light. Infrared space telescopes, such as Spitzer and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, detect longer wavelengths of light that allow them to see through the dust clouds in Orion, revealing hidden stars and cloud structures. It’s similar to the infrared goggles firefighters wear to see through smoke from burning buildings and wildfires.

Learn more about how astronomers combine observations made at different wavelengths with the Night Sky Network activity, ‘The Universe in a Different Light,” downloadable from bit.ly/different-light-nsn. You can find more stunning science and images from NASA’s Great Observatories at nasa.gov.

This image from NASA’s Spitzer missions shows Orion in a different light – quite literally! Note the small outline of the Orion Nebula region in the visible light image on the left, versus the massive amount of activity shown in the infrared image of the same region on the right. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/IRAS /H. McCallon. From bit.ly/SpitzerOrion

The Night Sky Network program supports astronomy clubs across the USA dedicated to astronomy outreach. Visit nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov to find local clubs, events, and more!

Free Astronomy Magazine – January-February 2018 Issue Available For Reading And Download

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (January-February 2018) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure at www.astropublishing.com (click the link to go directly to the issue).

Free Astronomy Magazine was featured as the first of a series of articles on great free online content for amateur astronomers (see A Universe Of Free Resources Part 1) and we’ll be keeping track of future publications under the Online Resources category on the CNYO website.

You can find previous Free Astronomy Magazine issues by checking out our Free Astronomy Magazine Category (or look under the Education link in our menu).

For those wanting a quick look at what the issue has to offer, the Table of Contents is reproduced below.

January-February 2018

The web browser-readable version of the issue can be found here:

January-February 2018 – www.astropublishing.com/1FAM2018/

For those who want to jump right to the PDF download (27 MB), Click here: January-February 2018

NASA Space Place – One Incredible Galaxy Cluster Yields Two Types Of Gravitational Lenses

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in September, 2016.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceThere is this great idea that if you look hard enough and long enough at any region of space, your line of sight will eventually run into a luminous object: a star, a galaxy or a cluster of galaxies. In reality, the universe is finite in age, so this isn’t quite the case. There are objects that emit light from the past 13.7 billion years—99 percent of the age of the universe—but none before that. Even in theory, there are no stars or galaxies to see beyond that time, as light is limited by the amount of time it has to travel. But with the advent of large, powerful space telescopes that can collect data for the equivalent of millions of seconds of observing time, in both visible light and infrared wavelengths, we can see nearly to the edge of all that’s accessible to us.

The most massive compact, bound structures in the universe are galaxy clusters that are hundreds or even thousands of times the mass of the Milky Way. One of them, Abell S1063, was the target of a recent set of Hubble Space Telescope observations as part of the Frontier Fields program. While the Advanced Camera for Surveys instrument imaged the cluster, another instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3, used an optical trick to image a parallel field, offset by just a few arc minutes. Then the technique was reversed, giving us an unprecedentedly deep view of two closely aligned fields simultaneously, with wavelengths ranging from 435 to 1600 nanometers.

With a huge, towering galaxy cluster in one field and no comparably massive objects in the other, the effects of both weak and strong gravitational lensing are readily apparent. The galaxy cluster—over 100 trillion times the mass of our sun—warps the fabric of space. This causes background light to bend around it, converging on our eyes another four billion light years away. From behind the cluster, the light from distant galaxies is stretched, magnified, distorted, and bent into arcs and multiple images: a classic example of strong gravitational lensing. But in a subtler fashion, the less optimally aligned galaxies are distorted as well; they are stretched into elliptical shapes along concentric circles surrounding the cluster.

A visual inspection yields more of these tangential alignments than radial ones in the cluster field, while the parallel field exhibits no such shape distortion. This effect, known as weak gravitational lensing, is a very powerful technique for obtaining galaxy cluster masses independent of any other conditions. In this serendipitous image, both types of lensing can be discerned by the naked eye. When the James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2018, gravitational lensing may well empower us to see all the way back to the very first stars and galaxies.

If you’re interested in teaching kids about how these large telescopes “see,” be sure to see our article on this topic at the NASA Space Place: spaceplace.nasa.gov/telescope-mirrors/en/

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Caption: Galaxy cluster Abell S1063 (left) as imaged with the Hubble Space Telescope as part of the Frontier Fields program. The distorted images of the background galaxies are a consequence of the warped space dues to Einstein’s general relativity; the parallel field (right) shows no such effects. Image credit: NASA, ESA and Jennifer Lotz (STScI)

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

NASA Space Place – Hubble Shatters The Cosmic Record For Most Distant Galaxy

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in April, 2016.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceThe farther away you look in the distant universe, the harder it is to see what’s out there. This isn’t simply because more distant objects appear fainter, although that’s true. It isn’t because the universe is expanding, and so the light has farther to go before it reaches you, although that’s true, too. The reality is that if you built the largest optical telescope you could imagine — even one that was the size of an entire planet — you still wouldn’t see the new cosmic record-holder that Hubble just discovered: galaxy GN-z11, whose light traveled for 13.4 billion years, or 97% the age of the universe, before finally reaching our eyes.

There were two special coincidences that had to line up for Hubble to find this: one was a remarkable technical achievement, while the other was pure luck. By extending Hubble’s vision away from the ultraviolet and optical and into the infrared, past 800 nanometers all the way out to 1.6 microns, Hubble became sensitive to light that was severely stretched and redshifted by the expansion of the universe. The most energetic light that hot, young, newly forming stars produce is the Lyman-α line, which is produced at an ultraviolet wavelength of just 121.567 nanometers. But at high redshifts, that line passed not just into the visible but all the way through to the infrared, and for the newly discovered galaxy, GN-z11, its whopping redshift of 11.1 pushed that line all the way out to 1471 nanometers, more than double the limit of visible light!

Hubble itself did the follow-up spectroscopic observations to confirm the existence of this galaxy, but it also got lucky: the only reason this light was visible is because the region of space between this galaxy and our eyes is mostly ionized, which isn’t true of most locations in the universe at this early time! A redshift of 11.1 corresponds to just 400 million years after the Big Bang, and the hot radiation from young stars doesn’t ionize the majority of the universe until 550 million years have passed. In most directions, this galaxy would be invisible, as the neutral gas would block this light, the same way the light from the center of our galaxy is blocked by the dust lanes in the galactic plane. To see farther back, to the universe’s first true galaxies, it will take the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb’s infrared eyes are much less sensitive to the light-extinction caused by neutral gas than instruments like Hubble. Webb may reach back to a redshift of 15 or even 20 or more, and discover the true answer to one of the universe’s greatest mysteries: when the first galaxies came into existence!

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


Caption: (top); NASA, ESA, P. Oesch (Yale University), G. Brammer (STScI), P. van Dokkum (Yale University), and G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz) (bottom), of the galaxy GN-z11, the most distant and highest-redshifted galaxy ever discovered and spectroscopically confirmed thus far.

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 4 February – 19 February 2016

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News Service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these announcements from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to: hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Primary Mirror Fully Assembled

RELEASE 16-013 (Click here for the full article) – 4 February 2016

2016feb19_16-013bThe 18th and final primary mirror segment is installed on what will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever launched. The final mirror installation Wednesday at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland marks an important milestone in the assembly of the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope.

“Scientists and engineers have been working tirelessly to install these incredible, nearly perfect mirrors that will focus light from previously hidden realms of planetary atmospheres, star forming regions and the very beginnings of the Universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the Universe.”

Using a robotic arm reminiscent of a claw machine, the team meticulously installed all of Webb’s primary mirror segments onto the telescope structure. Each of the hexagonal-shaped mirror segments measures just over 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across — about the size of a coffee table — and weighs approximately 88 pounds (40 kilograms). Once in space and fully deployed, the 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3-foot diameter (6.5-meter) mirror.

To watch the Webb telescope being built at Goddard, visit the “Webb-cam” page at: www.jwst.nasa.gov/webcam.html

NASA Administrator Remembers Apollo-Era Astronaut Edgar Mitchell

RELEASE 16-014 (Click here for the full article) – 5 February 2016

2016feb19_edgar_mitchell_portraitThe following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell:

“On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell. As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe.

“Edgar spoke poetically about seeing our home planet from the moon saying: ‘Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth … home.’

“He believed in exploration, having been drawn to NASA by President Kennedy’s call to send humans to the moon. He is one of the pioneers in space exploration on whose shoulders we now stand.”

For more information about Mitchell’s NASA career, and his agency biography, visit:


NASA, University Study Shows Rising Seas Slowed by Increasing Water on Land

RELEASE 16-015 (Click here for the full article) – 11 February 2016

2016feb19_16-015New measurements from a NASA satellite have allowed researchers to identify and quantify, for the first time, how climate-driven increases of liquid water storage on land have affected the rate of sea level rise.

A new study by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and the University of California, Irvine, shows that while ice sheets and glaciers continue to melt, changes in weather and climate over the past decade have caused Earth’s continents to soak up and store an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, temporarily slowing the rate of sea level rise by about 20 percent.

The water gains over land were spread globally, but taken together they equal the volume of Lake Huron, the world’s seventh largest lake. The study is published in the Feb. 12 issue of the journal Science.

For more on NASA’s sea level rise research: sealevel.nasa.gov

More information on the GRACE mission can be found at: grace.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/grace/

For more on how NASA studies Earth: science.nasa.gov/earth-science/

Record Number of Americans Apply to #BeAnAstronaut at NASA

RELEASE 16-018 (Click here for the full article) – 19 February 2016

2016feb19_16-018_0More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

Applications opened Dec. 14, and closed Thursday, but that is just the beginning of an 18-month process that will end with the selection of 8-14 individuals for the opportunity to become astronaut candidates. NASA expects to announce its selections in mid-2017.

For more information about NASA astronauts, visit: www.nasa.gov/astronauts

For information about other NASA job opportunities, visit: www.nasa.gov/about/career

NASA Invites Public to Send Artwork to an Asteroid

RELEASE 16-019 (Click here for the full article) – 19 February 2016

2016feb19_16-019NASA is calling all space enthusiasts to send their artistic endeavors on a journey aboard NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. This will be the first U.S. mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth for study.

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in September and travel to the asteroid Bennu. The #WeTheExplorers campaign invites the public to take part in this mission by expressing, through art, how the mission’s spirit of exploration is reflected in their own lives. Submitted works of art will be saved on a chip on the spacecraft. The spacecraft already carries a chip with more than 442,000 names submitted through the 2014 “Messages to Bennu” campaign.

“The development of the spacecraft and instruments has been a hugely creative process, where ultimately the canvas is the machined metal and composites preparing for launch in September,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It is fitting that this endeavor can inspire the public to express their creativity to be carried by OSIRIS-REx into space.”

For details on how to include your submission on the mission to Bennu, go to: www.asteroidmission.org/WeTheExplorers

For more information on OSIRIS-Rex, visit: www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex