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    • By NASA
      Star Cluster Westerlund 1.X-ray: NASA/CXC/INAF/M. Guarcello et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI; Image Processing: NASA/CXC/SAO/L. Frattare Westerlund 1 is the biggest and closest “super” star cluster to Earth. New data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, in combination with other NASA telescopes, is helping astronomers delve deeper into this galactic factory where stars are vigorously being produced.
      This is the first data to be publicly released from a project called the Extended Westerlund 1 and 2 Open Clusters Survey, or EWOCS, led by astronomers from the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Palermo. As part of EWOCS, Chandra observed Westerlund 1 for about 12 days in total.
      Currently, only a handful of stars form in our galaxy each year, but in the past the situation was different. The Milky Way used to produce many more stars, likely hitting its peak of churning out dozens or hundreds of stars per year about 10 billion years ago and then gradually declining ever since. Astronomers think that most of this star formation took place in massive clusters of stars, known as “super star clusters,” like Westerlund 1. These are young clusters of stars that contain more than 10,000 times the mass of the Sun. Westerlund 1 is between about 3 million and 5 million years old.
      This new image shows the new deep Chandra data along with previously released data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. The X-rays detected by Chandra show young stars (mostly represented as white and pink) as well as diffuse heated gas throughout the cluster (colored pink, green, and blue, in order of increasing temperatures for the gas). Many of the stars picked up by Hubble appear as yellow and blue dots.
      Only a few super star clusters still exist in our galaxy, but they offer important clues about this earlier era when most of our galaxy’s stars formed. Westerlund 1 is the biggest of these remaining super star clusters in the Milky Way and contains a mass between 50,000 and 100,000 Suns. It is also the closest super star cluster to Earth at about 13,000 light-years.
      These qualities make Westerlund 1 an excellent target for studying the impact of a super star cluster’s environment on the formation process of stars and planets as well as the evolution of stars over a broad range of masses.
      This new deep Chandra dataset of Westerlund 1 has more than tripled the number of X-ray sources known in the cluster. Before the EWOCS project, Chandra had detected 1,721 sources in Westerlund 1. The EWOCS data found almost 6,000 X-ray sources, including fainter stars with lower masses than the Sun. This gives astronomers a new population to study.
      One revelation is that 1,075 stars detected by Chandra are squeezed into the middle of Westerlund 1 within four light-years of the cluster’s center. For a sense of how crowded this is, four light-years is about the distance between the Sun and the next closest star to Earth.
      The diffuse emission seen in the EWOCS data represents the first detection of a halo of hot gas surrounding the center of Westerlund 1, which astronomers think will be crucial in assessing the cluster’s formation and evolution, and giving a more precise estimate of its mass.
      A paper published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, led by Mario Guarcello from the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics in Palermo, discusses the survey and the first results. Follow-up papers will discuss more about the results, including detailed studies of the brightest X-ray sources. This future work will analyze other EWOCS observations, involving NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and NICER (Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer).
      NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Chandra program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science from Cambridge Massachusetts and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.
      Read more from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.
      For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:
      Visual Description:
      This is an image of the Westerlund 1 star cluster and the surrounding region, as detected in X-ray and optical light. The black canvas of space is peppered with colored dots of light of various sizes, mostly in shades of red, green, blue, and white.
      At the center of the image is a semi-transparent, red and yellow cloud of gas encircling a grouping of tightly packed gold stars. The shape and distribution of stars in the cluster call to mind effervescent soda bubbles dancing above the ice cubes of a recently poured beverage.
      News Media Contact
      Megan Watzke
      Chandra X-ray Center
      Cambridge, Mass.
      Jonathan Deal
      Marshall Space Flight Center
      Huntsville, Ala.
      View the full article
    • By NASA
      A team from Iowa accepts the Artemis grand prize award during NASA’s Lunabotics competition on Friday, May 17, 2024, at the Center for Space Education near the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Derrol NailPhoto credit: NASA/Derrol Nail Members of the Artemis Generation kicked up some simulated lunar dust as part of NASA’s 2024 Lunabotics Challenge, held at The Astronauts Memorial Foundation’s Center for Space Education at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. When the dust settled, two teams emerged from Artemis Arena as the grand prize winners of this year’s competition. 
      Teams from Iowa State University and the University of Alabama shared the Artemis grand prize award for scoring the most cumulative points during the annual competition. Judges scored competing teams on project management plans, presentations and demonstrations, systems engineering papers, robotic berm building, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) engagement.  
      This is the first time in Lunabotics’ 15-year history that the competition ended in a tie for the top prize, and most likely the last time.  
      “Both teams earned their win, but a tie was never on the table,” said Rich Johanboeke, project manager at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “These students work hard and sacrifice much throughout the year to be a part of this challenge and to come to Kennedy, so our team will look into creating a tie-breaking event for future events.” 
      Alabama’s team lead, Ben Gulledge, is pictured with the team’s winning rover during NASA’s Lunabotics competition on Friday, May 17, 2024, at the Center for Space Education near the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.Photo credit: NASA/Derrol Nail While previous Lunabotics competitions focused on lunar mining, this year’s competition reflected the current needs of NASA’s Artemis missions. Teams designed, built, and operated autonomous robotic rovers capable of building a berm structure from lunar regolith. Among other uses, berms on the Moon could provide protection against blast and material ejected during lunar landings and launches, shade cryogenic propellant tank farms, or shield a nuclear power plant from space radiation. 
      Of the 58 college teams across the country that applied to the challenge, 42 were invited to demonstrate their robotic rovers during the qualifying round held in the Exolith Lab at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. From there, 10 finalist teams made the short trip to Kennedy for the two-day final round, where their robots attempted to construct berms from simulated lunar regolith inside Artemis Arena.  
      “During the competition we had over 150 berm construction runs in the arena,” said Robert Mueller, senior technologist for Advanced Products Development in NASA’s Exploration Research and Technology Programs Directorate, as well as lead judge and co-founder of the original Lunabotics robotic mining challenge. “So, teams went into the arena 150 times and created berms – that’s pretty impressive. And 28 teams, which is 65% of the teams that attended, achieved berm construction points, which is the highest we have ever had. That speaks to the quality of this competition.”  
      Teams competing in this year’s Lunabotics applied the NASA Systems Engineering Process to create their prototype robots and spent upwards of nine months focused on making their designs realities.  
      “We really put a lot of work in this year,” said Vivian Molina Sunda, team and electrical lead for University of Illinois at Chicago. “Our team of 10 put in about 3,400 hours, so it’s really exciting to get to Kennedy Space Center and know we made the top 10.”  
      The University of Illinois team received two awards for its efforts – the Mission Control “Failure is Not an Option” Award for Team Persistence and the Innovation Technology Award for best design based on creative construction, innovative technology, and overall architecture. 
      Lunabotics teams prepare robots to compete inside the Artemis Arena during NASA’s Lunabotics competition on Friday, May 17, 2024, at the Center for Space Education near the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.Photo credit: NASA/Derrol Nail For the hundreds of Artemis Generation members who took part in this year’s competition, Lunabotics was an opportunity to connect to NASA’s mission, work, and people, while also using classroom skills and theories in ways that will benefit them in future STEM careers.  
      “We go into engineering because we want to do stuff, we want to make things,” said Ben Gulledge, team and mechanical lead for the University of Alabama’s Artemis grand prize co-winning team. “This competition gives you the opportunity to take all your classroom theory and put it into practice and learn where your gaps in knowledge are. So, you learn to be a better designer and learn where you can improve in the future.” 
      Coordinated by NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, the Lunabotics competition is one of NASA’s Artemis Student Challenges, designed to engage and retain students in STEM fields. These challenges are designed to provide students with opportunities to research and design in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math, while fostering innovative ideas and solutions to challenges likely to be faced during the agency’s Artemis missions.  
      To view the complete list of NASA’s 2024 Lunabotics Challenge winners, or for more information visit:  
      Winners List 
      Artemis Grand Prize 
      Iowa State University, The University of Alabama 
      Robotic Construction Award  
      First Place – Iowa State University  
      Second Place – The University of Alabama  
      Third Place – University of Utah  
      Systems Engineering Paper Award 
      First Place – College of DuPage 
      Second Place – The University of Alabama 
      Third Place – Purdue University-Main Campus 
      Leaps and Bounds Award 
      New York University 
      Nova Award for Stellar Systems Engineering by a First Year Team 
      Ohio State University 
      STEM Engagement Award 
      First Place – University of North Florida 
      Second Place – Auburn University 
      Third Place – Iowa State University 
      Honorable Mention – Harrisburg University of Science and Technology 
      Presentation and Demonstration 
      First Place – University of North Carolina at Charlotte 
      Second Place – Purdue University-Main Campus 
      Third Place – University of Utah 
      First Steps Award – Best Presentation by a First Year Team  
      Harrisburg University of Science and Technology 
      Innovation Technology Award 
      University of Illinois at Chicago  
      The Mission Control “Failure is Not an Option” Award for Team Persistence 
      University of Illinois at Chicago 
      View the full article
    • By European Space Agency
      ESA is inviting companies with an interest in merchandising to submit a tender to become the space agency’s official ESA-branded merchandise supplier.
      View the full article
    • By European Space Agency
      ESA space telescopes have observed the brightest gamma-ray burst ever seen. Data from this rare event could become instrumental in understanding the details of the colossal explosions that create gamma-ray bursts (GRBs).
      View the full article
    • By European Space Agency
      We’ve just made it easier to use the ESA brand to create merchandise or materials for events. If you are interested in producing and selling merchandising that shows the ESA logo, the ESA flags patch or ESA’s mission patches, there is now a simple way to request the use of ESA emblems.
      View the full article
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