NASA's Hubble Telescope Images Distant Galaxy With New Computer Code

By applying a new computational analysis to a distant galaxy, astronomers have obtained images 10 times sharper than what Hubble could achieve on its own, NASA has said. The results show an edge-on disk galaxy studded with brilliant patches of newly formed stars.

“When we saw the reconstructed image we said, ‘Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere’,” said astronomer Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The galaxy in question is so far away that we see it as it appeared 11 billion years ago, only 2.7 billion years after the big bang.

It is one of more than 70 strongly lensed galaxies studied by the Hubble space telescope, following up targets selected by the Sloan Giant Arcs Survey, which discovered hundreds of strongly lensed galaxies by searching Sloan Digital Sky Survey imaging data covering one-fourth of the sky.

 NASA's Hubble Telescope Images Distant Galaxy With New Computer Code

The gravity of a giant cluster of galaxies between the target galaxy and Earth distorts the more distant galaxy’s light, stretching it into an arc and also magnifying it almost 30 times.

The team had to develop special computer code to remove the distortions caused by the gravitational lens, and reveal the disk galaxy as it would normally appear.

The resulting reconstructed image revealed two dozen clumps of newborn stars, each spanning about 200 to 300 light-years.

This contradicted theories suggesting that star-forming regions in the distant, early universe were much larger, 3,000 light-years or more in size.

These findings appeared in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and two additional papers published in The Astrophysical Journal.

NASA's Juno Probe to Fly Over Jupiter's Great Red Spot Today

An unmanned NASA spacecraft is about to fly over a massive storm raging on Jupiter, in a long-awaited a journey that could shed new light on the forces driving the planet’s Great Red Spot.

The flyby of the Juno spacecraft, surveilling the 10,000-mile-wide (16,000-kilometer-wide) storm, is scheduled for 9:55pm Monday (1:55am GMT Tuesday, 3:25am IST).

“Jupiter’s mysterious Great Red Spot is probably the best-known feature of Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

“This monumental storm has raged on the solar system’s biggest planet for centuries.”

The storm looks like a churning red knot on the planet’s surface. It has been monitored since 1830, and may have existed for more than 350 years, the US space agency said.

 NASA's Juno Probe to Fly Over Jupiter's Great Red Spot Today

Juno, which earlier this month marked its first year in orbit of the gas giant, will offer “humanity’s first up-close and personal view of the gigantic feature,” NASA said in a statement.

Equipped with instruments that can penetrate clouds to measure how deep the roots of this storm go, scientists hope to learn more about the workings of the raging tempest.

All eight of Juno’s instruments, including its camera, will be on when the spacecraft passes about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the Giant Red Spot clouds, NASA said.

Juno launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in August, 2011, on a mission to learn more about Jupiter’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

NASA's Juno Probe Completes Flyby of Jupiter's Great Red Spot

A NASA spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter began transmitting data and images on Tuesday from humanity’s closest brush with the Great Red Spot, a flyby of the colossal, crimson storm that has fascinated Earthbound observers for hundreds of years.

The Juno probe logged its close encounter with Jupiter’s most distinctive feature on Monday evening Pacific time as it passed about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the clouds of the mammoth cyclone.

But it will take days for readings captured by Juno’s array of cameras and other instruments to be delivered to scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and much longer still for the data to be analyzed.

Scientists hope the exercise will help unlock such mysteries as what forces are driving the storm, how long it has existed, how deeply it penetrates the planet’s lower atmosphere and why it appears to be gradually dissipating.

Astronomers also believe a greater understanding of the Great Red Spot may yield clues to the structure, mechanics and formation of Jupiter as a whole.

 NASA's Juno Probe Completes Flyby of Jupiter's Great Red Spot

“This is a storm bigger than the entire Earth. It’s been there for hundreds of years. We want to know what makes it tick,” said Steve Levin, the lead project scientist for the Juno mission at JPL.

Levin said the storm is believed to be powered by energy oozing from Jupiter’s interior combined with rotation of the planet, but the precise inner workings are unknown.

Some of the most valuable data from Monday’s flyby is expected to come from an instrument designed to peer into the red spot at six different depths, Levin said.

The churning cyclone ranks as the largest known storm in the solar system, measuring about 10,000 miles (16,000 km) in diameter with winds clocked at hundreds of miles (km) an hour around its outer edges. It appears as a deep, red orb surrounded by layers of pale yellow, orange and white.

The red spot has been continuously monitored from Earth since about 1830, though observations believed to have been of the same feature date back more than 350 years.

Once wide enough to swallow three Earth-sized planets, the famed Jovian weather system has been shrinking for the past 100 years and may eventually disappear altogether.

Still, the spot remains the most prominent characteristic of the solar system’s largest planet, a gargantuan ball of gas – mostly hydrogen and helium – 11 times the diameter of Earth with more than twice as much mass as all the other planets combined.

Monday’s encounter with the Great Red Spot was the latest of 12 flyby missions currently scheduled by NASA for Juno, which is to make its next close approach to Jupiter’s cloud tops on September 1.

Moon Express Set to Launch Robotic Lunar Spacecraft by Year-End

A privately owned company plans to use robotic spacecraft to launch a series of commercial missions to the moon, some 45 years after NASA’s last lunar landing, officials said on Wednesday.

Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Moon Express is developing a fleet of low-cost robotic spacecraft that can be assembled like Legos to handle increasingly complex missions, founder and Chief Executive Officer Bob Richards said in an interview.

The initial spacecraft, known as MX-1E, is slated to fly before the end of the year aboard a Rocket Lab Electron booster, which launches from New Zealand. Moon Express hopes the endeavor will clinch a $20 million prize from Google, but Richards said the win was not essential.

Moon Express has raised more than $45 million from private investors to build its first spacecraft and buy launch services.

“The Google Lunar X Prize … is icing on the cake,” Richards said.

Google is offering a top prize of $20 million (roughly Rs. 128 crores) for the first privately funded team to land a spacecraft on the moon; have it fly, drive or hop at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) and relay pictures and video back to Earth. The second prize is $5 million.

Contenders have until Dec. 31 to launch their spaceships.

Google also is offering bonus money for other milestones, such as traveling 5 km (3.1 miles), touching down near an Apollo landing site or finding evidence of water.

Richards presented the spacecraft design in Washington on Wednesday.

moon express mx 1e ascending moon express

Besides vying for the X Prize, Moon Express will fly science equipment and payloads for at least three paying customers, including Houston-based Celestis, which offers memorial spaceflights for cremated remains.

Richards said the company would pay for the initial mission, with customers funding subsequent ones.

The company plans to set up a permanent robot-operated base on the moon’s south pole to prospect for water and other materials. By 2020, Moon Express expects to return lunar samples to Earth for research and commercial sale.

The MX series of spacecraft also can be scaled up for travel to other destinations, such as the moons of Mars. The company expects to complete the first spacecraft in September.

Milky Way's Fastest Stars Are 'Runaways' From Another Galaxy: Study

The fastest-moving stars in our galaxy – which are travelling so swiftly that they can escape the Milky Way – are in fact ‘runaways’ from a much smaller galaxy orbiting around our own, scientists say.

The researchers, from the University of Cambridge in the UK, showed that these stellar sprinters originated in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy orbiting around the Milky Way.

These fast-moving stars, known as hypervelocity stars, were able to escape their original home when the explosion of one star in a binary system caused the other to fly off with such speed that it was able to escape the gravity of the LMC and get absorbed into the Milky Way.

Astronomers first thought that the hypervelocity stars, which are large blue stars, may have been expelled from the centre of the Milky Way by a supermassive black hole.

To date, roughly 20 hypervelocity stars have been observed, mostly in the northern hemisphere.

“The hypervelocity stars are mostly found in the Leo and Sextans constellations – we wondered why that is the case,” said Douglas Boubert, a PhD student at Cambridge.

An alternative explanation to the origin of hypervelocity stars is that they are runaways from a binary system.

In binary star systems, the closer the two stars are, the faster they orbit one another. If one star explodes as a supernova, it can break up the binary and the remaining star flies off at the speed it was orbiting.

The escaping star is known as a runaway. Runaway stars originating in the Milky Way are not fast enough to be hypervelocity because blue stars can not orbit close enough without the two stars merging. However, a fast-moving galaxy could give rise to these speedy stars.

The LMC is the largest and fastest of the dozens of dwarf galaxies in orbit around the Milky Way. It only has 10 percent of the mass of the Milky Way, and so the fastest runaways born in this dwarf galaxy can easily escape its gravity.

Milky Way's Fastest Stars Are 'Runaways' From Another Galaxy: Study

Milky Way Could Have 100 Billion Brown Dwarfs, Claims Study

The LMC flies around the Milky Way at 400 kilometres per second and the speed of these runaway stars is the velocity they were ejected at plus the velocity of the LMC. This is fast enough for them to be the hypervelocity stars.

“This also explains their position in the sky, because the fastest runaways are ejected along the orbit of the LMC towards the constellations of Leo and Sextans,” said Rob Izzard, a Rutherford fellow at the Institute of Astronomy.

The researchers used a combination of data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and computer simulations to model how hypervelocity stars might escape the LMC and end up in the Milky Way.

They simulated the birth and death of stars in the LMC over the past two billion years and noted every runaway star.

The orbit of the runaway stars after they were kicked out of the LMC was then followed in a second simulation that included the gravity of the LMC and the Milky Way.

These simulations allow the researchers to predict where on the sky we would expect to find runaway stars from the LMC.

“We are the first to simulate the ejection of runaway stars from the LMC – we predict that there are 10,000 runaways spread across the sky,” said Boubert.

Mars Surface 'More Uninhabitable' Than Thought: Study

Hopes of finding life on Mars, at least on the surface, were dealt a blow Thursday by a study revealing that salt minerals present on the Red Planet kill bacteria.

In lab tests on Earth, the compounds known as perchlorates killed cultures of the bacteria Bacillus subtilis, a basic life form, a research duo from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy reported.

Perchlorates, stable at room temperature, become active at high heat. Mars is very cold.

In the new study, Jennifer Wadsworth and Charles Cockell showed the compound can also be activated by UV light, without heat, in conditions mimicking those on the martian surface.

It killed bacteria within minutes, said the team, implying the planet was “more uninhabitable than previously thought.”

“If we want to find life on Mars, we have to take this into consideration and look at trying to find sub-surface life that wouldn’t be exposed to these conditions,” Wadsworth told AFP.

Perchlorates are natural and man-made on Earth, but are more abundant on Mars where they were first recorded by NASA’s Phoenix Lander in 2008.

Mars Surface 'More Uninhabitable' Than Thought: Study


The fact that perchlorates killed B. subtilis in the presence of UV radiation did not necessarily mean that all other life forms would similarly die, said Wadsworth. Further tests would have to be done to confirm this.

Perchlorates have previously been spotted in lines, thought to be brine streaks, on the surface of Mars.

Their presence was presented as evidence by scientists in 2015 of liquid water on the Red Planet.

But the new study said brine seeps, “although they represent local regions of water availability, could be deleterious to cells” if they contain perchlorates.

The findings do contain some good news.

They mean that organic contaminants left on Mars by robotic exploration, of which B. subtilis is a common one, are unlikely to survive long.

It is widely accepted that the Red Planet once hosted plentiful water in liquid form, and still has water today, albeit frozen in ice underground.

Liquid water is a prerequisite for life as we know it.

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