Space

July 2, 2013

NASA decommissions its Galaxy Hunter spacecraft

This image from NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) shows Messier 94, also known as NGC 4736, in ultraviolet light. It is located 17 million light-years away in the constellation Canes Venatici. The spiral galaxy is punctuated by a distinct ring of stars at its center. The young stars glow with ultraviolet light and thus appear bright to the detectors of GALEX. Astronomers think the galaxy’s oval shape may be the reason for this sharp ring of star formation. The ultraviolet light at the very center of the galaxy, within the ring, is likely produced by a combination of extremely old stars, about 10 billion years old. GALEX highlights the complex star formation history in the outer arms as well. There, the blue-white regions highlight areas of current star formation, and the diffuse faint red light is from regions where star formation ceased more than 100 million years ago.

NASA has turned off its Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) after a decade of operations in which the venerable space telescope used its ultraviolet vision to study hundreds of millions of galaxies across 10 billion years of cosmic time.

“GALEX is a remarkable accomplishment,” said Jeff Hayes, NASA’s GALEX program executive in Washington. “This small Explorer mission has mapped and studied galaxies in the ultraviolet, light we cannot see with our own eyes, across most of the sky.”

Operators at Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va., sent the signal to decommission GALEX at 3:09 p.m., EDT, June 28. The spacecraft will remain in orbit for at least 65 years, then fall to Earth and burn up re-entering the atmosphere. GALEX met its prime objectives and its mission was extended three times before NASA decided to end it.

Highlights from the mission’s decade of sky scans include:

  •  The discovery of a gargantuan comet-like tail behind a speeding star called Mira.
  • Catching a black hole “red-handed” as it munched on a star.
  • Finding giant rings of new stars around old, dead galaxies.
  • Independently confirming the nature of dark energy.
  • The discovery of a missing link in galaxy evolution – the teenage galaxies transitioning from young to old.

 

The mission also captured a dazzling collection of snapshots, showing everything from ghostly nebulas to a spiral galaxy with huge, spidery arms.

In a first-of-a-kind move for NASA, the agency in May 2012 loaned GALEX to Caltech, which used private funds to continue operating the satellite while NASA retained ownership. Since then, investigators from around the world have used GALEX to study everything from stars in our own Milky Way galaxy to hundreds of thousands of galaxies 5 billion light-years away.

In the space telescope’s last year, it scanned across large patches of sky, including the bustling, bright center of our Milky Way. The telescope spent time staring at some areas of the sky exploded stars, called supernovae, and monitoring how objects, such as the centers of active galaxies, change over time. GALEX also scanned the sky for massive, feeding black holes and shock waves from early supernova explosions.

Data from the last year of the mission will be made public in the coming year.

“GALEX, the mission, may be over, but its science discoveries will keep on going,” said Kerry Erickson, the mission’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

A slideshow showing some of the popular GALEX images can be seen here: http://go.nasa.gov/17xAVDd.

JPL managed the GALEX mission and built the science instrument. The mission’s principal investigator, Chris Martin, is at Caltech. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., developed the mission under the Explorers Program it manages. Researchers sponsored by Yonsei University in South Korea and the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in France collaborated on the mission.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory finds planet that makes star act deceptively old

Image courtesy of NASA/CXC/M. Weiss A new study from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory shows that a giant exoplanet, WASP-18b, is making the star that it orbits very closely act much older than it actually is. This artist&...
 
 
NASA photographs by Tom Tschida

NASA Shuttle Carrier Aircraft 911 moves to final home

NASA photographs by Tom Tschida NASA 911, one of two retired Shuttle Carrier Aircraft that ferried NASA’s space shuttles across the country for three decades, is towed from NASA Armstrong’s Bldg. 703 on its final journey to...
 
 
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover arrives at Martian mountain

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp, a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission’s long-term prime destination. “Curiosity n...
 

 

NASA announces 2014 aeronautics scholarship recipients

NASA has selected 20 students from across the nation to receive the agency’s Aeronautics Scholarship for the 2014-2015 school year. This scholarship program, which is in its seventh year, is designed to assist undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in fields of study related to aeronautics. Recipients were selected from hundreds of applications to the program....
 
 
NASA photograph by Dan Casper

NASA’s Orion spacecraft nears completion, ready for fueling

NASA photograph by Dan Casper The Orion crew module, stacked atop its service module, moved out of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept 11. Orion was transporte...
 
 

NASA awards cross-track infrared sounder instrument for the JPSS-2

NASA has awarded a sole source contract modification to Exelis, Inc., Geospatial Systems, of Fort Wayne, Ind., for the Cross-track Infrared Sounder Instrument for flight on the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 mission. This is a cost-plus-award-fee modification in the amount of $221 million. This action extends the period of performance of the contract from November...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>