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Hurricane Ivan
Cameras on the International Space Station see Hurricane Ivan as the orbiting complex flies over the powerful storm. (3min 05sec file)
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Friday's Genesis update
On Friday, Sept. 10, officials hold a news conference from Utah to update reporters on the recovery operations to salvage the Genesis sample return mission. (44min 47sec file)
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Genesis recovered
Workers recover the Genesis solar wind samples from the impact crater and take the equipment into a facility for examination. (2min 08sec file)
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Tour of KSC hurricane damage
Martin Wilson, manager of the Thermal Protection System Facility, gives a tour of the highly damaged building at Kennedy Space Center in the wake of Hurricane Frances. (2min 31sec file)
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Inside the VAB
Go inside Kennedy Space Center's hurricane-battered Vehicle Assembly Building and also see the damage to the 52-story tall facility's roof. (2min 51sec file)
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Post-impact news briefing
Officials hold a post-landing news conference in Utah a couple hours after Genesis returned to Earth on Sept. 8. (40min 52sec file)
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Capsule first spotted
Powerful tracking cameras spot the Genesis capsule for the first time a couple hundred thousand feet above Earth, prompting applause in the control centers. But just moments later, that joy turned to heartbreak. (1min 02sec file)
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Genesis crash lands
The Genesis sample return capsule tumbles through the sky and impacts the desert floor in Utah after its speed-slowing chute and parafoil failed to deploy for a mid-air recovery by a helicopter. (2min 29sec file)
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This slow-motion video shows the Genesis capsule slamming into the ground. (1min 06sec file)
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Aerial views of crater
Aerial views show the Genesis capsule half buried in the Utah desert floor after its landing system suffered a failure. (1min 53sec file)
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Recovery helicopters
The primary and backup recovery helicopters take off with escort from a Blackhawk in preparation for the mid-air retrieval of Genesis. (1min 01sec file)
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The original plan
Animation shows how the Genesis spacecraft was supposed to return. Expert narration provided by JPL entry, descent and landing expert Rob Manning. (5min 29sec file)
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Tuesday's hurricane news briefing
The Kennedy Space Center director and 45th Space Wing commander from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station hold a news conference Tuesday to describe damage from Hurricane Frances. (46min 15sec file)
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Footage of KSC damage
This movie takes you on a tour of hurricane damage to Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle Assembly Building, shuttle tile manufacturing facility and press site. (3min 11sec file)
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Galactic contortionists captured in amazing image
Posted: September 15, 2004

A stunning image released by the Gemini Observatory captures the graceful interactions of a galactic ballet, on a stage some 300 million light years away, that might better be described as a contortionist's dance.

Stephan's Quintet as imaged by the Gemini Observatory using the Multi-Object Spectrograph on Gemini North.  The interacting members of the cluster are almost 300 million light years away.  The galaxy NGC 7320 (top-center) is thought by most astronomers to be in the foreground (about 8-times closer) and is distinguished in this image by multiple red blobs indicating hydrogen clouds where stars are forming. Credit: Gemini Observatory Image/Travis Rector, University of Alaska Anchorage
Download a larger image version here

The galaxies, members of a famous troupe called Stephan's Quintet, are literally tearing each other apart. Their shapes are warped by gravitational interactions occurring over millions of years. Sweeping arches of gas and dust trace the interactions and possible ghost-like passage of the galaxies through one another. The ongoing dance deformed their structures while spawning a prolific fireworks display of star formation fueled by clouds of hydrogen gas that were shocked into clumps to form stellar nurseries.

This unprecedented image of the cluster provides a unique combination of sensitivity, high resolution and field of view. "It doesn't take long to reach an incredible depth when you have an 8-meter mirror collecting light under excellent conditions," said Travis Rector of the University of Alaska, Anchorage who helped obtain the data with the Gemini North Telescope on Mauna Kea. "We were able to capture these galaxies at many different wavelengths or colors. This allowed us to bring out some remarkable details in the final color image that have never been seen before in one view."

One striking element of the image is a collection of vibrant red clumps that mark star-forming regions within a galaxy called NGC 7320. Although its relation to the other galaxies in the cluster has been the subject of some controversy, most astronomers now think that the galaxy leads a relatively tranquil existence in the foreground, safely isolated from the violent quarrels of the more distant cluster.

Spectroscopic data show that NGC 7320 has an apparent velocity away from us of about 800 kilometers per second. In contrast, the rest of the group is being carried away from us by the expansion of the universe at over 6,000 kilometers per second. Using current models for the expanding universe, this would put the bulk of the cluster almost 8 times farther away from us than NGC 7320.

The vivid red patches scattered across the spiral arms of NGC 7320 in the new Gemini image provide a dramatic illustration of how these differing apparent velocities can impact our view. NGC 7320 and the other cluster galaxies have regions of intense star formation indicated by glowing clouds of hydrogen gas called HII regions. These areas appear distinctly red because a selective filter was used which only passes a special color of red light, called hydrogen alpha, that is produced in the HII regions. In the higher-velocity members of the cluster, prominent HII clumps dominate around the two closely interacting central galaxies but they do not appear red in the image. In these galaxies, the HII glow was Doppler-shifted beyond the range of the selective filter, and was therefore not detected.

The interacting members of Stephan's Quintet appear destined to continue their dance for millions more years. Eventually, this dance will probably cause some of the galaxies in the cluster to completely lose their current identity, combining into even fewer objects than we see today.

Stephan's Quintet was discovered in 1877 by the French astronomer Edouard Stephan using the Foucault 80-centimeter reflector at the Marseilles Observatory. The cluster is listed in the Hickson Compact Group Catalog as number 92. It has been studied extensively at all wavelengths including imaging by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration that has built two identical 8-meter telescopes. The Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope is located on Mauna Kea, Hawai`i (Gemini North) and the Gemini South telescope is located on Cerro Pachon in central Chile (Gemini South), and hence provide full coverage of both hemispheres of the sky. Both telescopes incorporate new technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors under active control to collect and focus both optical and infrared radiation from space.

The Gemini Observatory provides the astronomical communities in each partner country with state-of- the-art astronomical facilities that allocate observing time in proportion to each country's contribution. In addition to financial support, each country also contributes significant scientific and technical resources. The national research agencies that form the Gemini partnership include: the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC), the Canadian National Research Council (NRC), the Chilean Comision Nacional de Investigacion Cientifica y Tecnologica (CONICYT), the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Argentinean Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cientificas y Tecnicas (CONICET) and the Brazilian Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cientifico e Tecnologico (CNPq). The Observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the NSF. The NSF also serves as the executive agency for the international partnership.