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  • richardmitnick 4:09 pm on December 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA: “NASA Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars” 

    NASA

    NASA

    December 16, 2014

    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6278
    guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

    Nancy Neal Jones
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

    Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.

    3
    NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity drilled into this rock target, “Cumberland,” during the 279th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (May 19, 2013) and collected a powdered sample of material from the rock’s interior.
    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars. These Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites.

    8
    This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars’ atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars.
    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAM-GSFC/Univ. of Michigan

    Organic molecules, which contain carbon and usually hydrogen, are chemical building blocks of life, although they can exist without the presence of life. Curiosity’s findings from analyzing samples of atmosphere and rock powder do not reveal whether Mars has ever harbored living microbes, but the findings do shed light on a chemically active modern Mars and on favorable conditions for life on ancient Mars.

    “We will keep working on the puzzles these findings present,” said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). “Can we learn more about the active chemistry causing such fluctuations in the amount of methane in the atmosphere? Can we choose rock targets where identifiable organics have been preserved?”

    Researchers worked many months to determine whether any of the organic material detected in the Cumberland sample was truly Martian. Curiosity’s SAM lab detected in several samples some organic carbon compounds that were, in fact, transported from Earth inside the rover. However, extensive testing and analysis yielded confidence in the detection of Martian organics.

    Identifying which specific Martian organics are in the rock is complicated by the presence of perchlorate minerals in Martian rocks and soils. When heated inside SAM, the perchlorates alter the structures of the organic compounds, so the identities of the Martian organics in the rock remain uncertain.

    “This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise,” said Curiosity participating scientist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials. The challenge now is to find other rocks on Mount Sharp that might have different and more extensive inventories of organic compounds.”

    Researchers also reported that Curiosity’s taste of Martian water, bound into lakebed minerals in the Cumberland rock more than three billion years ago, indicates the planet lost much of its water before that lakebed formed and continued to lose large amounts after.

    SAM analyzed hydrogen isotopes from water molecules that had been locked inside a rock sample for billions of years and were freed when SAM heated it, yielding information about the history of Martian water. The ratio of a heavier hydrogen isotope, deuterium, to the most common hydrogen isotope can provide a signature for comparison across different stages of a planet’s history.

    “It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars,” said Paul Mahaffy, SAM principal investigator of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of a report published online this week by the journal Science.

    The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen has changed because the lighter hydrogen escapes from the upper atmosphere of Mars much more readily than heavier deuterium. In order to go back in time and see how the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in Martian water changed over time, researchers can look at the ratio in water in the current atmosphere and water trapped in rocks at different times in the planet’s history.

    Martian meteorites found on Earth also provide some information, but this record has gaps. No known Martian meteorites are even close to the same age as the rock studied on Mars, which formed about 3.9 billion to 4.6 billion years ago, according to Curiosity’s measurements.

    The ratio that Curiosity found in the Cumberland sample is about one-half the ratio in water vapor in today’s Martian atmosphere, suggesting much of the planet’s water loss occurred since that rock formed. However, the measured ratio is about three times higher than the ratio in the original water supply of Mars, based on assumption that supply had a ratio similar to that measured in Earth’s oceans. This suggests much of Mars’ original water was lost before the rock formed.

    Curiosity is one element of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and JPL manages Curiosity rover science investigations for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The SAM investigation is led by Paul Mahaffy of Goddard. Two of SAM instruments key in these discoveries are the Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer, developed at Goddard, and the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, developed at JPL.

    The results of the Curiosity rover investigation into methane detection and the Martian organics in an ancient rock were discussed at a news briefing Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco. The methane results are described in a paper published online this week in the journal Science by NASA scientist Chris Webster of JPL, and co-authors.

    A report on organics detection in the Cumberland rock by NASA scientist Caroline Freissenet, of Goddard, and co-authors, is pending publication.

    For copies of the new Science papers about Mars methane and water, visit:

    http://go.nasa.gov/1cbk35X

    For more information about Curiosity, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/msl

    and

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

    Learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars/

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:51 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA/Goddard: “NASA’s MAVEN Mission Identifies Links in Chain Leading to Atmospheric Loss” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    December 15, 2014

    Nancy Neal-Jones
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    Elizabeth Zubritsky
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-614-5438
    elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov

    Early discoveries by NASA’s newest Mars orbiter are starting to reveal key features about the loss of the planet’s atmosphere to space over time.

    The findings are among the first returns from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which entered its science phase on Nov. 16. The observations reveal a new process by which the solar wind can penetrate deep into a planetary atmosphere. They include the first comprehensive measurements of the composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere and electrically charged ionosphere. The results also offer an unprecedented view of ions as they gain the energy that will lead to their to escape from the atmosphere.

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA/MAVEN

    “We are beginning to see the links in a chain that begins with solar-driven processes acting on gas in the upper atmosphere and leads to atmospheric loss,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Over the course of the full mission, we’ll be able to fill in this picture and really understand the processes by which the atmosphere changed over time.”

    On each orbit around Mars, MAVEN dips into the ionosphere – the layer of ions and electrons extending from about 75 to 300 miles above the surface. This layer serves as a kind of shield around the planet, deflecting the solar wind, an intense stream of hot, high-energy particles from the sun.

    Scientists have long thought that measurements of the solar wind could be made only before these particles hit the invisible boundary of the ionosphere. MAVEN’s Solar Wind Ion Analyzer, however, has discovered a stream of solar-wind particles that are not deflected but penetrate deep into Mars’ upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

    Interactions in the upper atmosphere appear to transform this stream of ions into a neutral form that can penetrate to surprisingly low altitudes. Deep in the ionosphere, the stream emerges, almost Houdini-like, in ion form again. The reappearance of these ions, which retain characteristics of the pristine solar wind, provides a new way to track the properties of the solar wind and may make it easier to link drivers of atmospheric loss directly to activity in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

    MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer is exploring the nature of the reservoir from which gases are escaping by conducting the first comprehensive analysis of the composition of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. These studies will help researchers make connections between the lower atmosphere, which controls climate, and the upper atmosphere, where the loss is occurring.

    The instrument has measured the abundances of many gases in ion and neutral forms, revealing well-defined structure in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, in contrast to the lower atmosphere, where gases are well-mixed. The variations in these abundances over time will provide new insights into the physics and chemistry of this region and have already provided evidence of significant upper-atmospheric “weather” that has not been measured in detail before.

    New insight into how gases leave the atmosphere is being provided by the spacecraft’s Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) instrument. Within hours after being turned on at Mars, STATIC detected the “polar plume” of ions escaping from Mars. This measurement is important in determining the rate of atmospheric loss.

    As the satellite dips down into the atmosphere, STATIC identifies the cold ionosphere at closest approach and subsequently measures the heating of this charged gas to escape velocities as MAVEN rises in altitude. The energized ions ultimately break free of the planet’s gravity as they move along a plume that extends behind Mars.

    The MAVEN spacecraft and its instruments have the full technical capability proposed in 2007 and are on track to carry out the primary science mission. The MAVEN team delivered the spacecraft to Mars on schedule, launching on the very day in 2013 projected by the team 5 years earlier. MAVEN was also delivered well under the confirmed budget established by NASA in 2010.

    The team’s success can be attributed to a focused science mission that matched the available funding and diligent management of resources. There were also minimal changes in requirements on the hardware or science capabilities that could have driven costs. It also reflects good coordination between the principal investigator; the project management at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; the Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; and the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

    The entire project team contributed to MAVEN’s success to date, including the management team, the spacecraft and science-instrument institutions, and the launch-services provider.

    “The MAVEN spacecraft and its instruments are fully operational and well on their way to carrying out the primary science mission,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The management team’s outstanding work enabled the project to be delivered on schedule and under budget.”

    MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the mission.

    For more information about NASA’s MAVEN mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/maven

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 9:29 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Goddard, NASA Van Allen Probes   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA’s Van Allen Probes Discover a Surprise Circling Earth” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    February 28, 2013
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Since their discovery over 50 years ago, the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts have been considered to consist of two distinct zones of trapped, highly energetic charged particles. Observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes reveal an isolated third ring in the outer radiation belt.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA Van Allen Probes
    NASA/Van Allen Probes

    After most NASA science spacecraft launches, researchers wait patiently for months as instruments on board are turned on one at a time, slowly ramped up to full power, and tested to make sure they work at full capacity. It’s a rite of passage for any new satellite in space, and such a schedule was in place for the Van Allen Probes when they launched on Aug. 30, 2012, to study two giant belts of radiation that surround Earth.

    But a group of scientists on the mission made a case for changing the plan. They asked that the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT) be turned on early – just three days after launch — in order that its observations would overlap with another mission called SAMPEX (Solar, Anomalous, and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer), that was soon going to de-orbit and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

    NASA Van Allen Probe Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT)
    NASA/REPT

    NASA SAMPEX
    NASA/SAMPEX

    It was a lucky decision. Shortly before REPT turned on, solar activity on the sun had sent energy toward Earth that caused the radiation belts to swell. The REPT instrument worked well from the moment it was turned on Sep. 1. It made observations of these new particles trapped in the belts, recording their high energies, and the belts’ increased size.

    Then something happened no one had ever seen before: the particles settled into a new configuration, showing an extra, third belt extending out into space. Within mere days of launch, the Van Allen Probes showed scientists something that would require rewriting textbooks.

    “By the fifth day REPT was on, we could plot out our observations and watch the formation of a third radiation belt,” says Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and a coauthor of a paper on these results. “We started wondering if there was something wrong with our instruments. We checked everything, but there was nothing wrong with them. The third belt persisted beautifully, day after day, week after week, for four weeks.”

    The scientists published their results in a paper in the journal Science on Feb. 28, 2013. Incorporating this new configuration into their models of the radiation belts offers scientists new clues to what causes the changing shapes of the belts – a region that can sometimes swell dramatically in response to incoming energy from the sun, impacting satellites and spacecraft or pose potential threats to manned space flight.

    v
    Two giant swaths of radiation, known as the Van Allen Belts, surrounding Earth were discovered in 1958. In 2012, observations from the Van Allen Probes showed that a third belt can sometimes appear. The radiation is shown here in yellow, with green representing the spaces between the belts.
    Image Credit: NASA/Van Allen Probes/Goddard Space Flight Center

    The radiation belts, or Van Allen belts, were discovered with the very first launches of satellites in 1958 by James Van Allen. Subsequent missions have observed parts of the belts – including SAMPEX, which observed the belts from below – but what causes such dynamic variation in the belts has remained something of a mystery. Indeed, seemingly similar storms from the sun have at times caused completely different effects in the belts, or have sometimes led to no change at all.

    The Van Allen Probes consist of two identical spacecraft with a mission to map out this region with exquisite detail, cataloguing a wide range of energies and particles, and tracking the zoo of magnetic waves that pulse through the area, sometimes kicking particles up to such frenzied speeds that they escape the belts altogether.

    “We’ve had a long run of data from missions like SAMPEX,” says Daniel Baker, who is the principal investigator for REPT at the University of Colorado in Boulder and first author on the Science paper. “But we’ve never been in the very throat of the accelerator operating a few hundred miles above our head, speeding these particles up to incredible velocities.”

    In its first six months in orbit, the instruments on the Van Allen Probes have worked exceptionally well and scientists are excited about a flood of observations coming in with unprecedented clarity. This is the first time scientists have been able to gather such a complete set of data about the belts, with the added bonus of watching from two separate spacecraft that can better show how events sweep across the area.

    Spotting something new in space such as the third radiation belt has more implications than the simple knowledge that a third belt is possible. In a region of space that remains so mysterious, any observations that link certain causes to certain effects adds another piece of information to the puzzle.

    Baker likes to compare the radiation belts to the particle storage rings in a particle physics accelerator. In accelerators, magnetic fields are used to hold the particles orbiting in a circle, while energy waves are used to buffet the particles up to ever faster speeds. In such accelerators, everything must be carefully tuned to the size and shape of that ring, and the characteristics of those particles. The Van Allen Belts depend on similar fine-tuning. Given that scientists see the rings only in certain places and at certain times, they can narrow down just which particles and waves must be causing that geometry. Every new set of observations helps narrow the field even further.

    “We can offer these new observations to the theorists who model what’s going on in the belts,” says Kanekal. “Nature presents us with this event – it’s there, it’s a fact, you can’t argue with it — and now we have to explain why it’s the case. Why did the third belt persist for four weeks? Why does it change? All of this information teaches us more about space.”

    f
    On Aug. 31, 2012, a giant prominence on the sun erupted, sending out particles and a shock wave that traveled near Earth. This event may have been one of the causes of a third radiation belt that appeared around Earth a few days later, a phenomenon that was observed for the very first time by the newly-launched Van Allen Probes. This image of the prominence before it erupted was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
    Image Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    Scientists already have theories about just what kind of waves sweep out particles in the “slot” region between the first two belts. Now they must devise models to find which waves have the right characteristics to sweep out particles in the new slot region as well. Another tantalizing observation to explore lies in tracking the causes of the slot region back even further: on Aug. 31, 2012, a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun’s atmosphere erupted out into space. Baker says that this might have caused the shock wave that led to the formation of the third ring a few days later. In addition, the new belt was virtually annihilated four weeks after it appeared by another powerful interplanetary shock wave from the sun. Being able to watch such an event in action provides even more material for theories about the Van Allen belts.

    Despite the 55 years since the radiation belts were first discovered, there is much left to investigate and explain, and within just a few days of launch the Van Allen Probes showed that the belts are still capable of surprises.

    “I consider ourselves very fortunate,” says Baker. “By turning on our instruments when we did, taking great pride in our engineers and having confidence that the instruments would work immediately and having the cooperation of the sun to drive the system the way it did – it was an extraordinary opportunity. It validates the importance of this mission and how important it is to revisit the Van Allen Belts with new eyes.”

    The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) built and operates the twin Van Allen Probes. The Van Allen Probes comprise the second mission in NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) program to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The program is managed by NASA Goddard.

    See the full article, with video, here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 5:29 pm on November 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard   

    From NASA/Goddard: “NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot an Impenetrable Barrier in Space” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    November 26, 2014

    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Two donuts of seething radiation that surround Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts, have been found to contain a nearly impenetrable barrier that prevents the fastest, most energetic electrons from reaching Earth.

    NASA Van Allen Probes
    A NASA Van Allen probe

    vab
    A cloud of cold, charged gas around Earth, called the plasmasphere and seen here in purple, interacts with the particles in Earth’s radiation belts — shown in grey— to create an impenetrable barrier that blocks the fastest electrons from moving in closer to our planet.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard

    The Van Allen belts are a collection of charged particles, gathered in place by Earth’s magnetic field. They can wax and wane in response to incoming energy from the sun, sometimes swelling up enough to expose satellites in low-Earth orbit to damaging radiation. The discovery of the drain that acts as a barrier within the belts was made using NASA’s Van Allen Probes, launched in August 2012 to study the region. A paper on these results appeared in the Nov. 27, 2014, issue of Nature magazine.

    “This barrier for the ultra-fast electrons is a remarkable feature of the belts,” said Dan Baker, a space scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and first author of the paper. “We’re able to study it for the first time, because we never had such accurate measurements of these high-energy electrons before.”

    Understanding what gives the radiation belts their shape and what can affect the way they swell or shrink helps scientists predict the onset of those changes. Such predictions can help scientists protect satellites in the area from the radiation.

    The Van Allen belts were the first discovery of the space age, measured with the launch of a US satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958. In the decades since, scientists have learned that the size of the two belts can change – or merge, or even separate into three belts occasionally. But generally the inner belt stretches from 400 to 6,000 miles above Earth’s surface and the outer belt stretches from 8,400 to 36,000 miles above Earth’s surface.

    NASA Explorer 1
    NASA/Explorer 1

    A slot of fairly empty space typically separates the belts. But, what keeps them separate? Why is there a region in between the belts with no electrons?

    Enter the newly discovered barrier. The Van Allen Probes data show that the inner edge of the outer belt is, in fact, highly pronounced. For the fastest, highest-energy electrons, this edge is a sharp boundary that, under normal circumstances, the electrons simply cannot penetrate.

    “When you look at really energetic electrons, they can only come to within a certain distance from Earth,” said Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and a co-author on the Nature paper. “This is completely new. We certainly didn’t expect that.”

    The team looked at possible causes. They determined that human-generated transmissions were not the cause of the barrier. They also looked at physical causes. Could the very shape of the magnetic field surrounding Earth cause the boundary? Scientists studied but eliminated that possibility. What about the presence of other space particles? This appears to be a more likely cause.

    1
    This [animation] shows how particles move through Earth’s radiation belts, the large donuts around Earth. The sphere in the middle shows a cloud of colder material called the plasmasphere. New research shows that the plasmasphere helps keep fast electrons from the radiation belts away from Earth.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Scientific Visualization Studio

    p
    Plasmasphere

    The radiation belts are not the only particle structures surrounding Earth. A giant cloud of relatively cool, charged particles called the plasmasphere fills the outermost region of Earth’s atmosphere, beginning at about 600 miles up and extending partially into the outer Van Allen belt. The particles at the outer boundary of the plasmasphere cause particles in the outer radiation belt to scatter, removing them from the belt.

    This scattering effect is fairly weak and might not be enough to keep the electrons at the boundary in place, except for a quirk of geometry: The radiation belt electrons move incredibly quickly, but not toward Earth. Instead, they move in giant loops around Earth. The Van Allen Probes data show that in the direction toward Earth, the most energetic electrons have very little motion at all – just a gentle, slow drift that occurs over the course of months. This is a movement so slow and weak that it can be rebuffed by the scattering caused by the plasmasphere.

    This also helps explain why – under extreme conditions, when an especially strong solar wind or a giant solar eruption such as a coronal mass ejection sends clouds of material into near-Earth space – the electrons from the outer belt can be pushed into the usually-empty slot region between the belts.

    “The scattering due to the plasmapause is strong enough to create a wall at the inner edge of the outer Van Allen Belt,” said Baker. “But a strong solar wind event causes the plasmasphere boundary to move inward.”

    A massive inflow of matter from the sun can erode the outer plasmasphere, moving its boundaries inward and allowing electrons from the radiation belts the room to move further inward too.

    The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, built and operates the Van Allen Probes for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission is the second in NASA’s Living With a Star program, managed by Goddard.

    For more information about the Van Allen Probe, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/vanallenprobes

    See the full article here.

    This post is dedicated to A.A., whose posts are filled with great NASA data and graphics.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 1:26 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA-led Study Sees Titan Glowing at Dusk and Dawn” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    October 22, 2014
    Nancy Neal-Jones 301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
    Elizabeth Zubritsky 301-614-5438
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov

    New maps of Saturn’s moon Titan reveal large patches of trace gases shining brightly near the north and south poles. These regions are curiously shifted off the poles, to the east or west, so that dawn is breaking over the southern region while dusk is falling over the northern one.

    two
    High in the atmosphere of Titan, large patches of two trace gases glow near the north pole, on the dusk side of the moon, and near the south pole, on the dawn side. Brighter colors indicate stronger signals from the two gases, HNC (left) and HC3N (right); red hues indicate less pronounced signals.
    Image Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

    The pair of patches was spotted by a NASA-led international team of researchers investigating the chemical make-up of Titan’s atmosphere.

    “This is an unexpected and potentially groundbreaking discovery,” said Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of the study. “These kinds of east-to-west variations have never been seen before in Titan’s atmospheric gases. Explaining their origin presents us with a fascinating new problem.”

    The mapping comes from observations made by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a network of high-precision antennas in Chile. At the wavelengths used by these antennas, the gas-rich areas in Titan’s atmosphere glowed brightly. And because of ALMA’s sensitivity, the researchers were able to obtain spatial maps of chemicals in Titan’s atmosphere from a “snapshot” observation that lasted less than three minutes.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA Array

    Titan’s atmosphere has long been of interest because it acts as a chemical factory, using energy from the sun and Saturn’s magnetic field to produce a wide range of organic, or carbon-based, molecules. Studying this complex chemistry may provide insights into the properties of Earth’s very early atmosphere, which may have shared many chemical characteristics with present-day Titan.

    In this study, the researchers focused on two organic molecules, hydrogen isocyanide (HNC) and cyanoacetylene (HC3N), that are formed in Titan’s atmosphere. At lower altitudes, the two molecules appear concentrated above Titan’s north and south poles. These findings are consistent with observations made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has found a cloud cap and high concentrations of some gases over whichever pole is experiencing winter on Titan.

    NASA Cassini Spacecraft
    NASA/Cassini

    The surprise came when the researchers compared the gas concentrations at different levels in the atmosphere. At the highest altitudes, the gas pockets appeared to be shifted away from the poles. These off-pole locations are unexpected because the fast-moving winds in Titan’s middle atmosphere move in an east–west direction, forming zones similar to Jupiter’s bands, though much less pronounced. Within each zone, the atmospheric gases should, for the most part, be thoroughly mixed.

    The researchers do not have an obvious explanation for these findings yet.

    “It seems incredible that chemical mechanisms could be operating on rapid enough timescales to cause enhanced ‘pocket’’ in the observed molecules,” said Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper, published online today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We would expect the molecules to be quickly mixed around the globe by Titan’s winds.”

    At the moment, the scientists are considering a number of potential explanations, including thermal effects, previously unknown patterns of atmospheric circulation, or the influence of Saturn’s powerful magnetic field, which extends far enough to engulf Titan.

    Further observations are expected to improve the understanding of the atmosphere and ongoing processes on Titan and other objects throughout the solar system.

    NASA’s Astrobiology Program supported this work through a grant to the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, a part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Additional funding came from NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy programs. ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory, in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada and the National Science Council of Taiwan, and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

    See the full article here.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

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  • richardmitnick 1:46 pm on August 28, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard, Solar Storms   

    From NASA/Goddard: “Researchers Use NASA and Other Data to Look Into the Heart of a Solar Storm” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    August 28, 2014

    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    A space weather storm from the sun engulfed our planet on Jan. 21, 2005. The event got its start on Jan. 20, when a cloud of solar material, a coronal mass ejection or CME, burst off the sun and headed toward Earth. When it arrived at our planet, the ring current and radiation belts surrounding Earth swelled with extra particles, while the aurora persisted for six hours. Both of these are usually signs of a very large storm – indeed, this was one of the largest outpouring of solar protons ever monitored from the sun. But the storm barely affected the magnetic fields around Earth – disturbances in these fields can affect power grids on the ground, a potential space weather effect keenly watched for by a society so dependent on electricity.

    fila
    A filament of cold dense solar material moved toward the front of a Jan. 20, 2005, coronal mass ejection, which led to an unusually large amount of solar material funneling into near-Earth space during a Jan. 21 solar storm.
    CreditJanet Kozyra

    twelve
    Twelve spacecraft in Earth’s magnetosphere – in addition to other missions — helped scientists better observe and understand an unusual January 2005 solar storm. The four Cluster spacecraft were in the solar wind, directly upstream of Earth. Picture not to scale.
    Image Credit: ESA

    Janet Kozyra, a space scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, thought this intriguing combination of a simultaneously weak and strong solar storm deserved further scrutiny. In an effort to better understand — and some day forecast — such storms and their potential effects on human technology, an unusual event like this can help researchers understand just what aspects of a CME lead to what effects near Earth.

    “There were features appearing that we generally only see during extreme space weather events, when by other measures the storm was moderate,” said Kozyra. “We wanted to look at it holistically, much like terrestrial weather researchers do with extreme weather. We took every single piece of data that we could find on the solar storm and put it together to see what was going on.”

    With observations collected from ground-based networks and 20 different satellites, Kozyra and a group of colleagues, each an expert in different aspects of the data or models, found that the CME contained a rare piece of dense solar filament material. This filament coupled with an unusually fast speed led to the large amount of solar material observed. A fortuitous magnetic geometry, however, softened the blow, leading to reduced magnetic effects. These results were published in the Aug. 14, 2014, issue of Journal of Geophysical Research, Space Physics.

    The researchers gathered data from spacecraft orbiting in Earth’s ionosphere, which extends up to 600 miles above the planet’s surface, and satellites above that, orbiting through the heart of Earth’s magnetic environment, the magnetosphere. The massive amount of data was then incorporated into a variety of models developed at the University of Michigan’s Center for Space Environment Modeling, which are housed at the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a facility dedicated to providing comprehensive access to space weather models.

    With the models in hand, the team could put together the story of this particular solar storm. It began with the CME on Jan. 20, 2005. The European Space Agency and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, captured images of the CME.

    NASA SOHO
    NASA SOHO

    At their simplest, CMEs look like a magnetic bubble with material around the outside. In this case, there was an additional line of colder, denser solar material – an electrically charged gas called plasma – inside called a solar filament. Solar filaments are ribbons of dense plasma supported in the sun’s outer atmosphere – the corona — by strong magnetic fields. Filament material is 100 times denser and 100 times cooler than the surrounding atmosphere. When the supporting magnetic fields erupt, the filaments are caught up in the explosive release that forms the CME. Despite observations that the majority of eruptions like this involve solar filaments, the filaments are rarely identified in disturbances that reach Earth. Why this might be, is a mystery – but it means that the presence of the solar filament in this particular event is a rare sighting.

    Subsequent observations of the CME showed it to be particularly fast, with a velocity that peaked at around 1800 miles per second before slowing to 600 miles per second as it approached Earth. Just how many CMEs have filaments or how the geometry of such filaments change as they move toward Earth is not precisely known. In this case, however, it seems that the dense filament sped forward, past the leading edge of the CME, so as it slammed into the magnetosphere, it delivered an extra big dose of energetic particles into near-Earth space.

    What happened next was observed by a flotilla of Earth-orbiting scientific satellites, including NASA’s IMAGE, FAST and TIMED missions, the joint European Space Agency, or ESA, and NASA’s Cluster, the NASA and ESA’s Geotail, the Chinese and ESA’s Double Star-1; other spacecraft 1 million miles closer to the sun including SOHO and NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer, Wind various other spacecraft; as well as the National Science Foundation-supported ground-based SuperDARN radar network. At the time Cluster was in the solar wind directly upstream of Earth. Meanwhile, Double Star-1 was passing from the outer region of the planet’s magnetic field and entering the magnetosphere. This enabled it to observe the entry of the solar filament material as it crossed into near-Earth space.

    “Within one hour of the impact, a cold, dense plasma sheet formed out of the filament material,” said Kozyra. “High density material continued to move through the magnetosphere for the entire six hours of the filament’s passage.”

    Despite the intense amount of plasma carried by the CME, it still lacked a key component of a super storm. The magnetic fields embedded in this CME generally pointed toward Earth’s north pole, just as Earth’s own magnetic fields do. This configuration causes far fewer disruptions to our planet’s system than when the CME’s fields point southward. When pointing south, the CME’s fields clash with Earth’s, peeling them back and setting off magnetic perturbations that cascade through the magnetosphere.

    The magnetic field orientation is what kept this solar storm to low levels. On the other hand, the extra solar material from the filament catalyzed long-term aurora over the poles and enhanced the particle filled radiation belts around Earth, characteristic of a larger storm.

    “This event, with its unusual combination of space weather effects really demonstrates why it’s important to look at the entire system, not just individual elements,” said Kozyra. “Only by using all of this data, by watching the event from the beginning to the end, can we begin to understand all the different facets of an extreme storm like this.”

    Understanding what created the facets of this particular 2005 storm adds to a much larger body of knowledge about how different kinds of CMEs can affect us here at Earth. By knowing what factors lead to the total strength of a storm, we can better learn to predict what the sun is sending our way.

    flash
    A coronal mass ejection on Jan. 20, 2005, produced an extreme amount of solar particles, seen as white static in this imagery from ESA/NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. Closer to Earth, it created a solar storm with an unusual combination of strong and weak effects.
    Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO

    This work was supported by NASA’s Heliophysics Division, in combination with the National Science Foundation’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences.

    See the full article here.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

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  • richardmitnick 4:19 pm on August 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , NASA Goddard, ,   

    From NASA/Goddard: “NASA’s 3-D Study of Comets Reveals Chemical Factory at Work” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    NASA Goddard Space flight Center

    August 11, 2014
    Elizabeth Zubritsky
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-614-5438
    elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov

    Nancy Neal-Jones
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    A NASA-led team of scientists has created detailed 3-D maps of the atmospheres surrounding comets, identifying several gases and mapping their spread at the highest resolution ever achieved.

    “We achieved truly first-of-a-kind mapping of important molecules that help us understand the nature of comets,” said Martin Cordiner, a researcher working in the Goddard Center for Astrobiology at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Cordiner led the international team of researchers.

    Almost unheard of for comet studies, the 3-D perspective provides deeper insight into which materials are shed from the nucleus of the comet and which are produced within the atmosphere, or coma. This helped the team nail down the sources of two key organic, or carbon-containing, molecules.

    The observations were conducted in 2013 on comets Lemmon and ISON using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA, a network of high-precision antennas in Chile. These comets are the first to be studied with ALMA.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA

    The ALMA observations combine a high-resolution 2-D image of a comet’s gases with a detailed spectrum at each point. From these spectra, researchers can identify the molecules present at every point and determine their velocities (speed plus direction) along the line-of-sight; this information provides the third dimension – the depth of the coma.

    “So, not only does ALMA let us identify individual molecular species in the coma, it also gives us the ability to map their locations with great sensitivity,” said Anthony Remijan, a scientist with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, one of the organizations that operates ALMA, and a co-author of the study.

    The researchers reported results for three molecular species, focusing primarily on two whose sources have been difficult to discern (except in comet Halley). The 3-D maps indicated whether each molecule was flowing outward evenly in all directions or coming off in jets or in clumps.

    In each comet, the team found that two species – formaldehyde and HNC (made of one hydrogen, one nitrogen and one carbon) – were produced in the coma. For formaldehyde, this confirmed what researchers already suspected, but the new maps contained enough detail to resolve clumps of the material moving into different regions of the coma day-by-day and even hour-by-hour.

    For HNC, the maps settled a long-standing question about the material’s source. Initially, HNC was thought to be pristine interstellar material coming from the nucleus of a comet, whereas later work suggested other possible sources. The new study provided the first proof that HNC is produced during the breakdown of large molecules or organic dust in the coma.

    “Understanding organic dust is important, because such materials are more resistant to destruction during atmospheric entry, and some could have been delivered intact to early Earth, thereby fueling the emergence of life,” said Michael Mumma, Director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, and a co-author on the study. “These observations open a new window on this poorly known component of cometary organics.”

    The observations, published today by the Astrophysical Journal Letters, also were significant because modest comets like Lemmon and ISON contain relatively low concentrations of crucial molecules, making them difficult to probe in depth with Earth-based telescopes. The few comprehensive studies of this kind so far have been conducted on bright, blockbuster comets, such as Hale-Bopp. The present results extend them to comets of only moderate brightness.

    This research was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through the Goddard Center for Astrobiology and by NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy programs. ALMA is an international astronomy facility. Its construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by the European Southern Observatory, on behalf of North America by the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

    See the full article here.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

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  • richardmitnick 7:41 am on April 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA: “Bright Points in Sun’s Atmosphere Mark Patterns Deep In Its Interior” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    April 17, 2014
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    New research that uses data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, to track bright points in the solar atmosphere and magnetic signatures on the sun’s surface offers a way to probe the star’s depths faster than ever before. The technique opens the door for near real-time mapping of the sun’s roiling interior – movement that affects a wide range of events on the sun from its 22-year sunspot cycle to its frequent bursts of X-ray light called solar flares.

    sun
    Brightpoints in the sun’s atmosphere, left, correspond to magnetic parcels on the sun’s surface, seen in the processed data on the right. Green spots show smaller parcels, red and yellow much bigger ones. Images based on data from NASA’s SDO captured at 8 p.m. EDT on May 15, 2010. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

    “There are all sorts of things lurking below the surface,” said Scott McIntosh, first author of a paper on these results in the April 1, 2014, issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. “And we’ve found a marker for this deep rooted activity. This is kind of a gateway to the interior, and we don’t need months of data to get there.”

    One of the most common ways to probe the sun’s interior is through a technique called helioseismology in which scientists track the time it takes for waves – not unlike seismic waves on Earth — to travel from one side of the sun to the other. From helioseismology solar scientists have some sense of what’s happening inside the sun, which they believe to be made up of granules and super-granules of moving solar material. The material is constantly overturning like boiling water in a pot, but on a much grander scale: A granule is approximately the distance from Los Angeles to New York City; a super-granule is about twice the diameter of Earth.

    sdo
    SDO contains three instruments; Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI), Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), and Extreme Ultraviolet Variablity Experiment(EVE) — for observations leading to a more complete understanding of the solar dynamics that drive variability in the Earth’s environment.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA EVE Extreme Ultraviolet Variablity Experiment
    EVE

    NASA Helio Magnetic Imager
    Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI)

    Instead of tracking seismic waves, the new research probes the solar interior using the Helioseismic Magnetic Imager on NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which can map the dynamic magnetic fields that thread through and around the sun. Since 2010, McIntosh has tracked the size of different magnetically-balanced areas on the sun, that is, areas where there are an even number of magnetic fields pointing down in toward the sun as pointing out. Think of it like looking down at a city from above with a technology that observed people, but not walls, and recording areas that have an even number of men and women. Even without seeing the buildings, you’d naturally get a sense for the size of rooms, houses, buildings, and whole city blocks – the structures in which people naturally group.

    The team found that the magnetic parcels they mapped corresponded to the size of granules and supergranules, but they also spotted areas much larger than those previously noted — about the diameter of Jupiter. It’s as if when searching for those pairs of men and women, one suddenly realized that the city itself and the sprawling suburbs was another scale worth paying attention to. The scientists believe these areas correlate to even larger cells of flowing material inside the sun.

    The researchers also looked at these regions in SDO imagery of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument. They noticed that ubiquitous spots of extreme ultraviolet and X-ray light, known as brightpoints, prefer to hover around the vertices of these large areas, dubbed g-nodes.

    NASA Atmospheric Imaging Assembly Instrument
    Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument

    “Imagine a bunch of helium balloons with weights on them,” said Robert Leamon, co-author on the paper at Montana State University in Bozeman and NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The weights get carried along by the motions at the bottom. We can track the motion of the helium balloons floating up high and that tells us what’s happening down below.”

    By opening up a way to peer inside the sun quickly, these techniques could provide a straightforward way to map the sun’s interior and perhaps even improve our ability to forecast changes in magnetic fields that can lead to solar eruptions.

    SDO is the first mission in NASA’s Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. For more information about SDO and its mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sdo

    See the full article here.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 9:06 pm on August 16, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA Goddard,   

    Dennis Overbye Makes Page 3 on a Friday – Kepler is Hobbled 

    New York Times

    This is copyright protected, so just some hints.

    NASA Planet-Hunting Star Idled by Broken Parts

    Friday, August 16, 2013
    Dennis Overbye

    NASA said Thursday that its celebrated planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, which broke down in May when a reaction wheel that controls its pointing failed, could not be fixed and would never again search for planets around other stars.

    kepler
    Kepler

    The disappointing news brings to an end, for now, one phase of the most romantic of space dreams, the search for other Earths among the exoplanets of the Milky Way. NASA has already asked astronomers for ideas on how to use the hobbled spacecraft, whose telescope is in perfect shape.

    At last count, Kepler had discovered 3,548 possible planets, and 135 of them — some smaller than the Earth — have been validated by other observations, including earthbound telescopes. But hundreds or thousands more are in the pipeline, said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory in Mountain View, Calif., Kepler’s originator and principal investigator.

    The closest Kepler has come to finding another Earth was in April, when the team discovered a pair of planets about half again as big as the Earth orbiting a yellow star, now known as Kepler 62, that is 1,200 light years away. Both planets reside in the “Goldilocks” zone where temperatures should be lukewarm and suitable for liquid water and thus life as we imagine it.”

    62
    Kepler-62f (foreground) and Kepler-62e (right) are habitable zone exoplanets orbiting the star Kepler-62 (center). (Artists’ conception.) Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

    See the full article here.

    NASA

    NASA Ames Research Center

    NASA Goddard Banner


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  • richardmitnick 7:20 pm on August 6, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA’s MMS stacked for shock tests” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    “Spacecraft must go through a series of rigorous tests before they are launched into space. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission is undergoing those tests now in preparation for a late 2014 launch. The testing schedule is all the more complicated as the mission consists of four identical observatories. This picture from July 26, 2013, shows two of the four observatories stacked up for testing to make sure they can withstand the harsh shock of a rocket launch.

    mm
    Two of the four Magnetospheric Multiscale mission observatories are stacked for shock testing to make sure they can withstand the rigors of launch.
    Image Credit: NASA
    MMS Observatory #1 (bottom) and #2 (top) are shown here in their “mini-stack” configuration for shock testing. The gold ring seen between them is one of three that will be used when all four spacecraft are stacked in the fairing for launch. Once in orbit, the separation systems will fire, releasing them into the pyramid formation necessary for the mission.

    mms
    The Magnetospheric Multiscale mission will use four identical spacecraft, variably spaced in Earth orbit, to make three-dimensional measurements of magnetospheric boundary regions and examine the process of magnetic reconnection. Credit: Southwest Research Institute

    The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is a Solar Terrestrial Probes mission comprising four identically instrumented spacecraft that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the microphysics of three fundamental plasma processes: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence. These processes occur in all astrophysical plasma systems but can be studied in situ only in our solar system and most efficiently only in Earth’s magnetosphere, where they control the dynamics of the geospace environment and play an important role in the processes known as ‘space weather.'”

    Articles are here and here.

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA


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