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Hubble is getting a bit long in the tooth. Initially launched in 1990, it has been one of the most spectacularly successful orbital satellites in history.  But it has also had its fair share of errors, starting almost immediately upon its launch.  Now the instruments on the telescope have been operating in a “safe mode” for more than a week, and it appears that they will remain so for at least another one.

NASA, the agency that operates Hubble, first announced that the instruments had entered safe mode via a tweet from the official Hubble account on October 25th.  The underlying cause appears to be a “synchronization error” that meant the instruments could not sync up to collect data properly.  It also meant that the instruments “remain in good health.”

Hubble is responsible for some of the most dramatic pictures in all of astronomy, such as the eXtreme Deep Field discussed in this video.

After suspending scientific operations for a week, the agency issued a press release providing more context to the issue and a potential timeline for resolution.  At 1:45 AM EDT on October 23rd, the telescope experienced a synchronization error.  NASA engineers know well the first rule of troubleshooting electronics, so they rebooted the instruments, and the problem seemed to disappear.

Until it appeared again two days later on October 25th at 2:38 AM EDT.  While a reboot might again fix the error messages, it’s better to search for and solve the underlying problem when the same error crops up twice in quick succession.  That is exactly what the NASA engineers are doing. The agency estimates that it will take another week of troubleshooting to find a potential fix to whatever might be causing the synchronization issues.

STS61 was the first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA
STS61 was the first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: NASA

This is yet another string of issues with NASA’s most famous telescope just this year.  A botched software update took it down for a few days in March, while a malfunctioning computer required operators to switch to a backup copy, causing five weeks of downtime back in June-July of this year.

Scientists are still optimistic for Hubble’s future, though.  There are plans to continue its operation as one of NASA’s flagship telescopes until the 2030s.  Increasing numbers of maintenance issues might put a dent in those plans, but with luck, Hubble will still be producing breathtaking images for another decade or so.

Learn More:
NASA – Hubble Instruments Remain in Safe Mode, NASA Team Investigating
SpaceNews – Hubble remains in safe mode after latest glitch
SciTechDaily – Glitches Send Hubble Space Telescope Into Safe Mode – NASA Team Investigating
UT – No News Here, Just a Beautiful Globular Cluster Captured by Hubble. That is all.

Lead Image:
Hubble floating in open space.
Credit – NASA

The post Hubble Science Instruments are Malfunctioning, Putting the Telescope in Safe Mode appeared first on Universe Today.

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Pulsars are the Ideal Probes for Dark Matter

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Pulsars are the remnants of the explosion of massive stars at the end of their lives. The event is known as a supernova and as they rapidly spin they sweep a high energy beam across the cosmos much like a lighthouse. The alignment of some pulsar beams mean they sweep across Earth predictably and with precise regularity. They can be, and often are used as timing gauges but a team of astronomers have found subtle timing changes in some pulsars hinting at unseen mass between pulsars and telescopes—possibly dark matter entities.

The discovery in 1967 of pulsars has revolutionised our understanding of stellar evolution. The are formed during the collapse of supermassive stars at the end of their life. As the fusion in the core ceases, the inrushing stellar material crashing down onto the core compresses it to incredible density. The material that once made up the star is, through this process compressed into a sphere just a few tens of kilometres across. Pulsars are closely related to neutron stars which are formed though the same process and it is believed, the only difference is that one has a highly energetic beam that flashes across the Earth and one doesn’t. 

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Visualization of a fast-rotating pulsar. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

A team studying pulsars has recently detected hints of potential dark matter objects through changes in pulsar timing events as they rotate. Professor John LoSecco from the University of Notre Dame, presented at the National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Hull and emphasised the precision of pulsar-based timekeeping. “Science has advanced with precise time measurement methods,” he noted, comparing Earth’s atomic clocks with pulsars in space. While gravitational effects on light have been understood for over a century, their applications in uncovering hidden masses remain largely unexplored until now.

Professor LoSecco and the team noted tiny deviations in the pulsar timing, suggesting that radio waves may be getting redirected around an unseen mass located somewhere between the pulsar and the telescope. LoSecco theorised that the masses could potentially be dark matter!

By examining the delays and analysing the radio pulse arrivals (which were typically accurate to within a nanosecond) they explored the pathway of radio signals within the latest Parkes Pulsar Timing Array survey. Other telescopes involved in this initiative were the Effelsberg, Nançay, Westerbork, Green Bank, Arecibo, Parkes, and the Lovell telescope in Cheshire. Using this and Parkes data, the pulse arrival times were analysed.

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The Arecibo Radio Telescope Credit: UCF

The results showed that the pulses occur regularly every three weeks across three observational bands. However, when dark matter causes delays in arrival times, these delays display distinct shapes proportional to the mass of the dark matter. Regions with dark matter slow down the passage of light and effect the pulsar timings. The Sun for example, could produce a delay of about 10 microseconds however the timing differences 10,000 times smaller.  A detailed examination of precise data from 65 ‘millisecond pulsars’ has identified approximately twelve instances suggestive of interactions with dark matter.

Source : How astronomers are using pulsars to observe evidence of dark matter

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More Than Half of Near Earth Objects Could Be “Dark Comets”


Next time you’re visiting the seaside or a large lake, or even sipping a frosty glass of water, think about where it all originated. There are many pathways that water could have taken to the infant Earth: via comets, “wet asteroids”, and outgassing from early volcanism. Aster Taylor, a University of Michigan graduate student has another idea: dark comets. They’re something of a cross between asteroids and comets and could have played a role in water delivery to our planet.

Dark comets are small Solar System bodies. They have short rotational periods thanks to non-gravitational pushes by sublimation that creates jets. These mysterious objects probably make up more than half of all near-Earth objects.

Dark Comets and Asteroids

Planetary scientists consider dark comets as a population of active asteroids. Yet, they aren’t in the same category as regular asteroids and comets. They’re on near-Earth orbits, so when one passes close to the Sun, it doesn’t grow a coma. That lack of a coma is why they’re called “dark comets.” Yet, their sublimation jets appear to be a response to radiation from the Sun. They’re likely rich in water ice so that raises an interesting question. Could these also have been a source of water for Earth in the distant past?

“We don’t know if these dark comets delivered water to Earth,” said Taylor. “But we can say that there is still debate over how exactly the Earth’s water got here,” Taylor said. “The work we’ve done has shown that this is another pathway to get ice from somewhere in the rest of the Solar System to the Earth’s environment.”

Water Delivery From Small Bodies

The story of how Earth got its water is still unfolding. One theory says infant Earth formed with molecular precursors to water. Another one says that water-laden asteroids and comets brought water to Earth during or just after formation. That’s interesting because most asteroids exist near the so-called “ice line”—a region well beyond Earth where liquids freeze. Something propelled them to the inner solar system. When they got close to the Sun, their ice sublimated. That’s actually what happens with a comet, too. So, maybe both comets and planetesimals were water-bearers during Earth’s formation. Volcanic activity could have released their trapped water as vapor.

An artist's rendering of the early Moon and Earth, which sustained many asteroid impacts. Many of those asteroids and possibly dark comets contributed their water to the infant Earth. As it cooled, the water outgassed as vapor. Credit: Simone Marchi (SwRI)/SSERVI/NASA
An artist’s rendering of the early Moon and Earth, which sustained many asteroid impacts. Many of those asteroids and possibly dark comets contributed their water to the infant Earth. As it cooled, the water outgassed as vapor. Credit: Simone Marchi (SwRI)/SSERVI/NASA

How about the wet asteroids, though? Where did they come from? We know that comets formed out in the cooler reaches of the protosolar nebula. Somehow they make their way (through gravitational perturbations and dynamical action) to the inner solar system. There, they have collided with Earth (just like Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 encountered Jupiter in 1994).

That leaves the water ice-rich asteroids or “dark comets”. Most water-rich asteroids or “dark comets” exist in the Asteroid Belt. However, plenty of them orbit in the inner solar system, too. Those near-Earth objects probably made their way sunward due to gravitational interactions with Jupiter or other worlds. Those with some amount of water ice trapped on or below their surfaces could have been a delivery mechanism for water to early Earth.

An artist's concept of a rocky planet and a rain of comets and other objects pummeling its surface. These, along with dark comets, could have delivered water to early Earth. Courtesy NASA/JPL.Did you miss our previous article…

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The First 5 Things I Do in Camp When Backpacking

Tet19 047 Me on Teton Crest Trail copy cropped 38

By Michael Lanza

I doubt that I had any typical routine when arriving at a campsite on my earliest backpacking trips; like many backpackers, I probably just dropped my pack, shucked off my boots, and kicked back until motivated to move by the urge to eat, drink, get warm, or go to the bathroom. Over the years, though, I’ve developed a routine that I follow almost religiously when I arrive in camp at the end of a day of backpacking. These five simple, quick, almost effortless steps make a world of difference in how good I feel that evening and the next morning, and how well I sleep.

These tips derive from habits I’ve gradually adopted over more than three decades and innumerable backpacking trips across the U.S. and around the world, including the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. These are practices I’ve followed in every type of environment and on every type of trip, from easier outings with my family when our kids were young—although it didn’t always feel “easier” carrying much of our children’s gear and food—to extreme adventures backpacking 20 to 30 or more miles per day.

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Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-books to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker hiking the Doubletop Mountain Trail, Wind River Range WY.
” data-image-caption=”My wife, Penny, backpacking the Doubletop Mountain Trail in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. Click photo to see “The 10 Best Backpacking Trips in the Wind River Range.”
” data-medium-file=”″ data-large-file=”″ tabindex=”0″ role=”button” src=”×683.jpg?resize=900%2C600&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker hiking the Doubletop Mountain Trail, Wind River Range WY.” class=”wp-image-58503″ srcset=” 1024w, 300w, 768w, 150w, 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />My wife, Penny, backpacking the Doubletop Mountain Trail in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. Click photo to see “The 10 Best Backpacking Trips in the Wind River Range.”

Follow these tips and I think you’ll make your campsite hours—and backpacking trips as a whole—more comfortable.

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