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Uranus Lights Up for Hubble

HST images of Uranus’ aurorae and rings combined with Voyager 2 images of the planet itself. (NASA)

Those white areas aren’t clouds; they’re aurorae—”northern lights”—around the poles of Uranus, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2012 and 2014. (The image of Uranus itself was acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in January 1986.)

“The auroras on Jupiter and Saturn are well-studied, but not much is known about the auroras of the giant ice planet Uranus. In 2011, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope became the first Earth-based telescope to snap an image of the auroras on Uranus. In 2012 and 2014 a team led by an astronomer from Paris Observatory took a second look at the auroras using the ultraviolet capabilities of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) installed on Hubble.”

Aurorae on Uranus are driven by the same process that creates them around Earth’s polar regions: charged particles from the Sun get caught in the planet’s magnetic field and are focused toward the poles, where they make ions in the upper atmosphere release energy—in these observations in ultraviolet wavelengths. Also, since Uranus orbits the Sun “tilted sideways” its polar regions are near the plane of its orbit.

Read the rest of this article from NASA here: Hubble Spots Auroras on Uranus

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NASA’s Launching Rockets in Alaska to Study Ozone-Killing Compounds

Black Brant IX PolarNOx launch on Jan. 27, 2017. (NASA/Jamie Adkins)

Black Brant IX sounding rocket was launched 175 miles high early Friday morning, Jan. 27, 2017, from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Poker Flat Research Range to study levels of nitric oxide in the atmosphere as part of the Polar Night Nitric Oxide Experiment (PolarNOx).

“The aurora creates nitric oxide, but in the polar night there is no significant process for destroying the nitric oxide,” said Scott Bailey, the principal investigator for PolarNOx from Virginia Tech. “We believe it builds up to large concentrations. The purpose of our rocket is to measure the abundance and altitude of peak abundance for the nitric oxide.”

“Nitric oxide under appropriate conditions can be transported to the stratosphere where it will catalytically destroy ozone,” Bailey said. Those changes in ozone can lead to changes in stratospheric temperature and wind, and may even impact the circulation at Earth’s surface.

Read the full story here: NASA Sounding Rocket Successfully Launches into Alaskan Night

Juno Just Hours from Jupiter Arrival

Juno will reach Jupiter in 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL

Juno is on its way to enter orbit at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Credit: NASA/JPL

After nearly 5 years of traveling through space NASA’s Juno spacecraft is just a few dozen hours away from entering orbit around Jupiter, the Solar System’s largest, most massive, and most extreme planet.

“We are ready,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). “The science team is incredibly excited to be arriving at Jupiter. The engineers and mission controllers are performing at an Olympic level getting Juno successfully into orbit. As Juno barrels down on Jupiter, the scientists are busy looking at the amazing approach science the spacecraft has already returned to Earth. Jupiter is spectacular from afar and will be absolutely breathtaking from close up.”

Learn more about the mission and find out how to watch the long-awaited event live below:

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NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Spots Mars’ Secret Invisible Aurora

In Dec. 2014 MAVEN observed auroras on Mars glowing in ultraviolet wavelengths (University of Colorado)

In Dec. 2014 MAVEN observed auroras on Mars glowing in ultraviolet wavelengths (University of Colorado)

Only a day after skywatchers in mid- to upper-latitudes around the world were treated to a particularly energetic display of auroras on the night of March 17 as a result of an intense geomagnetic storm, researchers from the University of Colorado announced findings from NASA’s MAVEN mission of auroral action observed on Mars – although in invisible ultraviolet wavelengths rather than visible light.

Read the rest of this article here.

Ganymede’s Aurorae Hint at an Ocean Ten Times Deeper than Earth’s

Illustration of Ganymede's auroral ovals, the stability of which hint at a global underground ocean. Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI).

Illustration of Ganymede’s auroral ovals, the stability of which hint at a global underground ocean. Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI).

It’s long been suspected that Jupiter’s giant moon Ganymede may harbor a subsurface ocean of liquid water beneath its icy yet hard-as-rock crust, and now some ingenious observations with the Hubble Space Telescope are making an even more convincing case for it!

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