This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a variety of intriguing cosmic phenomena.

Surrounded by bright stars, towards the upper middle of the frame we see a small young stellar object (YSO) known as SSTC2D J033038.2+303212. Located in the constellation of Perseus, this star is in the early stages of its life and is still forming into a fully-grown star. In this view from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys(ACS) it appears to have a murky chimney of material emanating outwards and downwards, framed by bright bursts of gas flowing from the star itself. This fledgling star is actually surrounded by a bright disk of material swirling around it as it forms — a disc that we see edge-on from our perspective.

However, this small bright speck is dwarfed by its cosmic neighbor towards the bottom of the frame, a clump of bright, wispy gas swirling around as it appears to spew dark material out into space. The bright cloud is a reflection nebula known as [B77] 63, a cloud of interstellar gas that is reflecting light from the stars embedded within it. There are actually a number of bright stars within [B77] 63, most notably the emission-line star LkHA 326, and it nearby neighbor LZK 18.

These stars are lighting up the surrounding gas and sculpting it into the wispy shape seen in this image. However, the most dramatic part of the image seems to be a dark stream of smoke piling outwards from [B77] 63 and its stars — a dark nebula called Dobashi 4173. Dark nebulae are incredibly dense clouds of pitch-dark material that obscure the patches of sky behind them, seemingly creating great rips and eerily empty chunks of sky. The stars speckled on top of this extreme blackness actually lie between us and Dobashi 4173.

European Space Agency
Credit: ESA/NASA

Artist concept of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) 70-metric-ton configuration launching to space. SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built for deep space missions, including to an asteroid and ultimately to Mars. The first SLS mission — Exploration Mission 1 — will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to a stable orbit beyond the moon and bring it back to Earth to demonstrate the integrated system performance of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft’s re-entry and landing prior to a crewed flight.
Image credit: NASA/MSFC
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NASA has completed a complex series of tests on one of the largest composite cryogenic fuel tanks ever manufactured, bringing the aerospace industry much closer to designing, building, and flying lightweight, composite tanks on rockets. At NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the tank was lowered into a structural test stand where it was tested with cryogenic hydrogen and structural loads to simulate stresses the tank would experience during launch. The project is part of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is innovating, developing, testing and flying hardware for use in NASA’s future missions.
Cryogenic propellants are gasses chilled to subfreezing temperatures and condensed to form highly combustible liquids, providing high-energy propulsion solutions critical to future, long-term human exploration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. In the past, propellant tanks have been fabricated out of metals. Switching from metallic to composite construction holds the potential to dramatically increase the performance capabilities of future space systems through a dramatic reduction in weight.
> NASA Completes Successful Battery of Tests on Composite Cryotank
Image Credit: NASA/David Olive

On Aug. 24, 2014, the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 8:16 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. This flare is classified as an M5 flare. M-class flares are ten times less powerful than the most intense flares, called X-class flares.
Image Credit: NASA/SDO

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first glimpse of Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. This picture of Neptune was produced from the last whole planet images taken through the green and orange filters on the Voyager 2 narrow angle camera. The images were taken on Aug. 20, 1989, at a range of 4.4 million miles from the planet, 4 days and 20 hours before closest approach on Aug. 25. The picture shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge; on the west limb the fast moving bright feature called “Scooter” and the little dark spot are visible. These clouds were seen to persist for as long as Voyager’s cameras could resolve them. North of these, a bright cloud band similar to the south polar streak may be seen.
In the summer of 2015, another NASA mission to the farthest zone of the solar system, New Horizons, will make a historic first close-up study of Pluto. Although a fast flyby, New Horizons’ Pluto encounter on July 14, 2015, will not be a replay of Voyager but more of a sequel and a reboot, with a new and more technologically advanced spacecraft and, more importantly, a new cast of characters. Those characters are Pluto and its family of five known moons, all of which will be seen up close for the first time next summer.
Image Credit: NASA

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits have installed a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module and are checking the fit next to the middle back shell tile panel. Preparations are underway for Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1.
Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The first unpiloted test flight of the Orion is scheduled to launch later this year atop a Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to an altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth’s surface. The two-orbit, four-hour flight test will help engineers evaluate the systems critical to crew safety including the heat shield, parachute system and launch abort system.
> Engineers and Technicians Install Protective Shell on NASA’s Orion Spacecraft
Image Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

Supernova Seen In Two Lights

September 2, 2014

The destructive results of a mighty supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate blend of infrared and X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton.
The bubbly cloud is an irregular shock wave, generated by a supernova that would have been witnessed on Earth 3,700 years ago. The remnant itself, called Puppis A, is around 7,000 light-years away, and the shock wave is about 10 light-years across.
The pastel hues in this image reveal that the infrared and X-ray structures trace each other closely. Warm dust particles are responsible for most of the infrared light wavelengths, assigned red and green colors in this view. Material heated by the supernova’s shock wave emits X-rays, which are colored blue. Regions where the infrared and X-ray emissions blend together take on brighter, more pastel tones.
The shock wave appears to light up as it slams into surrounding clouds of dust and gas that fill the interstellar space in this region.
From the infrared glow, astronomers have found a total quantity of dust in the region equal to about a quarter of the mass of our sun. Data collected from Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph reveal how the shock wave is breaking apart the fragile dust grains that fill the surrounding space.
Supernova explosions forge the heavy elements that can provide the raw material from which future generations of stars and planets will form. Studying how supernova remnants expand into the galaxy and interact with other material provides critical clues into our own origins.
Infrared data from Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer (MIPS) at wavelengths of 24 and 70 microns are rendered in green and red. X-ray data from XMM-Newton spanning an energy range of 0.3 to 8 kiloelectron volts are shown in blue.

Retreat of Yakutat Glacier

September 2, 2014

Located in the Brabazon Range of southeastern Alaska, Yakutat Glacier is one of the fastest retreating glaciers in the world. It is the primary outlet for the 810-square kilometer (310-square mile) Yakutat ice field, which drains into Harlequin Lake and, ultimately, the Gulf of Alaska.
The Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite captured this image of the glacier and lake on Aug. 13, 2013. Snow and ice appear white and forests are green. The brown streaks on the glaciers are lateral and medial moraines.
Over the past 26 years, the glacier’s terminus has retreated more than 5 kilometers (3 miles). What is causing the rapid retreat? University of Alaska glaciologist Martin Truffer and colleagues pointed to a number of factors in their 2013 study published in the Journal of Glaciology. The chief cause is the long-term contraction of the Yakutat Ice Field, which has been shrinking since the height of the Little Ice Age.
Once part of a much larger ice field, Yakutat has been contracting for hundreds of years. As other nearby glaciers retreated, Yakutat ice field was cut off from higher-elevation areas that once supplied a steady flow of ice from the north. With that flow cut off, there simply is not enough snow falling over the low-elevation Yakutat ice field to prevent it from retreating.
Beyond this natural change, human-caused global warming has hastened the speed of the retreat. Between 1948–2000, mean annual temperatures in Yakutat increased by 1.38° Celsius (2.48° Fahrenheit). Between 2000 and 2010, they rose by another 0.48°C (0.86°F). The warmer temperatures encourage melting and sublimation at all ice surfaces exposed to the air.
In the past few years, the breakdown of a long, floating ice tongue has triggered especially dramatic changes in the terminus of Yakutat glacier. For many years, Yakutat’s two main tributaries merged and formed a 5-kilometer (3-mile) calving face that extended far into Harlequin Lake. In the past decade, satellites observed a rapid terminus retreat and the breakup of the ice tongue in 2010. As a result, the calving front divided into two sections, with one running east-west and another running north-south. 
> More information and annotated images
Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey
Caption: Adam Voiland

Testing Electric Propulsion

September 2, 2014

On Aug. 19, National Aviation Day, a lot of people are reflecting on how far aviation has come in the last century. Could this be the future – a plane with many electric motors that can hover like a helicopter and fly like a plane, and that could revolutionize air travel?
Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., are studying the concept with models such as the unmanned aerial system GL-10 Greased Lightning. The GL-10, which has a 10-foot wingspan, recently flew successfully while tethered. Free-flight tests are planned in the fall of 2014.
This research has helped lead to NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate efforts to better understand the potential of electric propulsion across all types, sizes and missions for aviation.
Image Credit: NASA Langley/David C. Bowman

The pale rocks in the foreground of this fisheye image from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover include the “Bonanza King” target under consideration to become the fourth rock drilled by the Mars Science Laboratory mission.  No previous mission has collected sample material from the interior of rocks on Mars. Curiosity delivers the drilled rock powder into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.
Curiosity’s front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Hazcam), which has a very wide-angle lens, recorded this view on Aug. 14, 2014, during the 719th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.  The view faces southward, looking down a ramp at the northeastern end of sandy-floored “Hidden Valley.” Wheel tracks show where Curiosity drove into the valley, and back out again, earlier in August 2014.  The largest of the individual flat rocks in the foreground are a few inches (several centimeters) across.  For scale, the rover’s left front wheel, visible at left, is 20 inches (0.5 meter) in diameter.
A map showing Hidden Valley is at .
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover and the rover’s Navcam.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech