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  • richardmitnick 12:30 pm on April 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “New Study Outlines ‘Water World’ Theory of Life’s Origins” 

    April 15, 2014
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    Life took root more than four billion years ago on our nascent Earth, a wetter and harsher place than now, bathed in sizzling ultraviolet rays. What started out as simple cells ultimately transformed into slime molds, frogs, elephants, humans and the rest of our planet’s living kingdoms. How did it all begin?

    A new study from researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the Icy Worlds team at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., describes how electrical energy naturally produced at the sea floor might have given rise to life. While the scientists had already proposed this hypothesis — called “submarine alkaline hydrothermal emergence of life” — the new report assembles decades of field, laboratory and theoretical research into a grand, unified picture.

    According to the findings, which also can be thought of as the “water world” theory, life may have begun inside warm, gentle springs on the sea floor, at a time long ago when Earth’s oceans churned across the entire planet. This idea of hydrothermal vents as possible places for life’s origins was first proposed in 1980 by other researchers, who found them on the sea floor near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Called “black smokers,” those vents bubble with scalding hot, acidic fluids. In contrast, the vents in the new study — first hypothesized by scientist Michael Russell of JPL in 1989 — are gentler, cooler and percolate with alkaline fluids. One such towering complex of these alkaline vents was found serendipitously in the North Atlantic Ocean in 2000, and dubbed the Lost City.

    two
    Michael Russell and Laurie Barge of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are pictured in their Icy Worlds laboratory, where they mimic the conditions of Earth billions of years ago, attempting to answer the question of how life first arose.
    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    chimney
    This image from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean shows a collection of limestone towers known as the “Lost City.” Alkaline hydrothermal vents of this type are suggested to be the birthplace of the first living organisms on the ancient Earth.
    Image Credit: D. Kelley and M. Elend/University of Washington

    “Life takes advantage of unbalanced states on the planet, which may have been the case billions of years ago at the alkaline hydrothermal vents,” said Russell. “Life is the process that resolves these disequilibria.” Russell is lead author of the new study, published in the April issue of the journal Astrobiology.

    Other theories of life’s origins describe ponds, or “soups,” of chemicals, pockmarking Earth’s battered, rocky surface. In some of those chemical soup models, lightning or ultraviolet light is thought to have fueled life in the ponds.

    The water world theory from Russell and his team says that the warm, alkaline hydrothermal vents maintained an unbalanced state with respect to the surrounding ancient, acidic ocean — one that could have provided so-called free energy to drive the emergence of life. In fact, the vents could have created two chemical imbalances. The first was a proton gradient, where protons — which are hydrogen ions — were concentrated more on the outside of the vent’s chimneys, also called mineral membranes. The proton gradient could have been tapped for energy — something our own bodies do all the time in cellular structures called mitochondria.

    lab
    Underwater Chimney Created in Lab
    A close-up of chimney structures created in the Icy Worlds lab at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Chimney structures like these can be found on the sea floor, surrounding warm, alkaline hydrothermal vents. Researchers are recreating the chimneys in the lab to test the “water world” theory of life’s origins, which says the warm, underwater vents helped kick-start life on Earth billions of years ago. The vents were thought to have been out of balance with respect to the ancient oceans, leading to proton gradients and electron transfer processes — two essential energy sources that all life forms use on Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    The second imbalance could have involved an electrical gradient between the hydrothermal fluids and the ocean. Billions of years ago, when Earth was young, its oceans were rich with carbon dioxide. When the carbon dioxide from the ocean and fuels from the vent — hydrogen and methane — met across the chimney wall, electrons may have been transferred. These reactions could have produced more complex carbon-containing, or organic compounds — essential ingredients of life as we know it. Like proton gradients, electron transfer processes occur regularly in mitochondria.

    “Within these vents, we have a geological system that already does one aspect of what life does,” said Laurie Barge, second author of the study at JPL. “Life lives off proton gradients and the transfer of electrons.”

    As is the case with all advanced life forms, enzymes are the key to making chemical reactions happen. In our ancient oceans, minerals may have acted like enzymes, interacting with chemicals swimming around and driving reactions. In the water world theory, two different types of mineral “engines” might have lined the walls of the chimney structures.

    “These mineral engines may be compared to what’s in modern cars,” said Russell.

    “They make life ‘go’ like the car engines by consuming fuel and expelling exhaust. DNA and RNA, on the other hand, are more like the car’s computers because they guide processes rather than make them happen.”

    One of the tiny engines is thought to have used a mineral known as green rust, allowing it to take advantage of the proton gradient to produce a phosphate-containing molecule that stores energy. The other engine is thought to have depended on a rare metal called molybdenum. This metal also is at work in our bodies, in a variety of enzymes. It assists with the transfer of two electrons at a time rather than the usual one, which is useful in driving certain key chemical reactions.

    “We call molybdenum the Douglas Adams element,” said Russell, explaining that the atomic number of molybdenum is 42, which also happens to be the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” in Adams’ popular book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Russell joked, “Forty-two may in fact be one answer to the ultimate question of life!”

    The team’s origins of life theory applies not just to Earth but also to other wet, rocky worlds.

    “Michael Russell’s theory originated 25 years ago and, in that time, JPL space missions have found strong evidence for liquid water oceans and rocky sea floors on Europa and Enceladus,” said Barge. “We have learned much about the history of water on Mars, and soon we may find Earth-like planets around faraway stars. By testing this origin-of-life hypothesis in the lab at JPL, we may explain how life might have arisen on these other places in our solar system or beyond, and also get an idea of how to look for it.”

    For now, the ultimate question of whether the alkaline hydrothermal vents are the hatcheries of life remains unanswered. Russell says the necessary experiments are jaw-droppingly difficult to design and carry out, but decades later, these are problems he and his team are still happy to tackle.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 10:11 am on February 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA JPL, NASA Voyager   

    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “Largest Solar System Moon Detailed in Geologic Map” 

    February 12, 2014
    Jia-Rui Cook 818-354-0850
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
    Calif. jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

    More than 400 years after its discovery by astronomer Galileo Galilei, the largest moon in the solar system – Jupiter’s moon Ganymede – has finally claimed a spot on the map.

    Ganymede
    To present the best information in a single view of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, a global image mosaic was assembled, incorporating the best available imagery from NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft and NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. USGS Astrogeology Science Center/Wheaton/NASA/JPL-Caltech

    A group of scientists led by Geoffrey Collins of Wheaton College has produced the first global geologic map of Ganymede, Jupiter’s seventh moon. The map combines the best images obtained during flybys conducted by NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft (1979) and Galileo orbiter (1995 to 2003) and is now published by the U. S. Geological Survey as a global map. It technically illustrates the varied geologic character of Ganymede’s surface and is the first global, geologic map of this icy, outer-planet moon. The geologic map of Ganymede is available for download at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=pia17902 ).

    NASA Galileo
    Galileo

    NASA Voyager
    Voyager

    “This map illustrates the incredible variety of geological features on Ganymede and helps to make order from the apparent chaos of its complex surface,” said Robert Pappalardo of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This map is helping planetary scientists to decipher the evolution of this icy world and will aid in upcoming spacecraft observations.”

    The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission is slated to be orbiting Ganymede around 2032. NASA is contributing a U.S.-led instrument and hardware for two European-led instruments for the mission.

    Since its discovery in January 1610, Ganymede has been the focus of repeated observation, first by Earth-based telescopes, and later by the flyby missions and spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. These studies depict a complex, icy world whose surface is characterized by the striking contrast between its two major terrain types: the dark, very old, highly cratered regions, and the lighter, somewhat younger (but still very old) regions marked with an extensive array of grooves and ridges.

    According to the scientists who have constructed this map, three major geologic periods have been identified for Ganymede that involve the dominance of impact cratering, then tectonic upheaval, followed by a decline in geologic activity. The map, which illustrates surface features, such as furrows, grooves and impact craters, allows scientists to decipher distinct geologic time periods for an object in the outer solar system for the first time.

    “The highly detailed, colorful map confirmed a number of outstanding scientific hypotheses regarding Ganymede’s geologic history, and also disproved others,” said Baerbel Lucchitta, scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz., who has been involved with geologic mapping of Ganymede since 1980. “For example, the more detailed Galileo images showed that cryovolcanism, or the creation of volcanoes that erupt water and ice, is very rare on Ganymede.”

    The Ganymede global geologic map will enable researchers to compare the geologic characters of other icy satellite moons, because almost any type of feature that is found on other icy satellites has a similar feature somewhere on Ganymede.

    “The surface of Ganymede is more than half as large as all the land area on Earth, so there is a wide diversity of locations to choose from,” Collins said. “Ganymede also shows features that are ancient alongside much more recently formed features, adding historical diversity in addition to geographic diversity.”

    Amateur astronomers can observe Ganymede (with binoculars) in the evening sky this month, as Jupiter is in opposition and easily visible.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 9:03 pm on February 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “NASA Telescopes Help Solve Ancient Supernova Mystery” 2011 

    1097

    A mystery that began nearly 2,000 years ago, when Chinese astronomers witnessed what would turn out to be an exploding star in the sky, has been solved. New infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, reveal how the first supernova ever recorded occurred and how its shattered remains ultimately spread out to great distances.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    NASA Wise Telescope
    WISE

    The findings show that the stellar explosion took place in a hollowed-out cavity, allowing material expelled by the star to travel much faster and farther than it would have otherwise.

    “This supernova remnant got really big, really fast,” said Brian J. Williams, an astronomer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Williams is lead author of a new study detailing the findings online in the Astrophysical Journal. “It’s two to three times bigger than we would expect for a supernova that was witnessed exploding nearly 2,000 years ago. Now, we’ve been able to finally pinpoint the cause.”

    In 185 A.D., Chinese astronomers noted a “guest star” that mysteriously appeared in the sky and stayed for about 8 months. By the 1960s, scientists had determined that the mysterious object was the first documented supernova. Later, they pinpointed RCW 86 [SN185] as a supernova remnant located about 8,000 light-years away. But a puzzle persisted. The star’s spherical remains are larger than expected. If they could be seen in the sky today in infrared light, they’d take up more space than our full moon.

    The solution arrived through new infrared observations made with Spitzer and WISE, and previous data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory.

    ESA XMM Newton
    XMM-Newton

    The findings reveal that the event is a “Type Ia” supernova, created by the relatively peaceful death of a star like our sun, which then shrank into a dense star called a white dwarf. The white dwarf is thought to have later blown up in a supernova after siphoning matter, or fuel, from a nearby star.

    “A white dwarf is like a smoking cinder from a burnt-out fire,” Williams said. “If you pour gasoline on it, it will explode.”

    The observations also show for the first time that a white dwarf can create a cavity around it before blowing up in a Type Ia event. A cavity would explain why the remains of RCW 86 are so big. When the explosion occurred, the ejected material would have traveled unimpeded by gas and dust and spread out quickly.

    Spitzer and WISE allowed the team to measure the temperature of the dust making up the RCW 86 remnant at about minus 325 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 200 degrees Celsius. They then calculated how much gas must be present within the remnant to heat the dust to those temperatures. The results point to a low-density environment for much of the life of the remnant, essentially a cavity.

    Scientists initially suspected that RCW 86 was the result of a core-collapse supernova [Type II], the most powerful type of stellar blast. They had seen hints of a cavity around the remnant, and, at that time, such cavities were only associated with core-collapse supernovae. In those events, massive stars blow material away from them before they blow up, carving out holes around them.

    But other evidence argued against a core-collapse supernova. X-ray data from Chandra and XMM-Newton indicated that the object consisted of high amounts of iron, a telltale sign of a Type Ia blast. Together with the infrared observations, a picture of a Type Ia explosion into a cavity emerged.

    “Modern astronomers unveiled one secret of a two-millennia-old cosmic mystery only to reveal another,” said Bill Danchi, Spitzer and WISE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now, with multiple observatories extending our senses in space, we can fully appreciate the remarkable physics behind this star’s death throes, yet still be as in awe of the cosmos as the ancient astronomers.”

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    JPL manages, and operated, WISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The spacecraft was put into hibernation mode after it scanned the entire sky twice, completing its main objectives. Edward Wright is the principal investigator and is at UCLA. The mission was selected competitively under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 12:14 pm on January 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “NASA and ESA Space Telescopes Help Solve Mystery of Burned-Out Galaxies” 

    January 29, 2014
    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    list
    This graphic shows the evolutionary sequence in the growth of massive elliptical galaxies over 13 billion years, as gleaned from space-based and ground-based telescopic observations. The growth of this class of galaxies is quickly driven by rapid star formation and mergers with other galaxies. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Toft (Niels Bohr Institute), and A. Feild (STScI)

    Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, and Europe’s Herschel Space Observatory, have pieced together the evolutionary sequence of compact elliptical galaxies that erupted and burned out early in the history of the universe.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    Hubble

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    ESA Herschel
    Herschel

    Enabled by Hubble’s infrared imaging capabilities, astronomers have assembled for the first time a representative spectroscopic sampling of ultra-compact, burned-out elliptical galaxies — galaxies whose star formation was finished when the universe was only 3 billion years old, less than a quarter of its current estimated age of 13.8 billion years.

    The research, supported by several ground-based telescopes, solves a 10-year-old mystery about the growth of the most massive elliptical galaxies we see today. It provides a clear picture of the formation of the most massive galaxies in the universe, from their initial burst of star formation through their development of dense stellar cores, to their ultimate reality as giant ellipticals.

    “We at last show how these compact galaxies can form, how it happened, and when it happened. This basically is the missing piece in the understanding of how the most massive galaxies formed, and how they evolved into the giant ellipticals of today,” said Sune Toft of the Dark Cosmology Center at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, who is the leader of this study.

    “This had been a great mystery for many years because just 3 billion years after the big bang we see that half of the most massive galaxies have already completed their star formation.”

    Through the research, astronomers have determined the compact ellipticals voraciously consumed the gas available for star formation, to the point they could not create new stars, and then merged with smaller galaxies to form giant ellipticals. The stars in the burned-out galaxies were packed 10 to 100 times more densely than in equally massive elliptical galaxies seen in the nearby universe today, and that surprised astronomers, according to Toft.

    To develop the evolutionary sequence for ultra-compact, burned-out galaxies, Toft’s team assembled, for the first time, representative samples of two galaxy populations using the rich dataset in Hubble’s COSMOS (Cosmic Evolution Survey) program.

    One group of galaxies is the compact ellipticals. The other group contains galaxies that are highly obscured with dust and undergoing rapid star formation at rates thousands of times faster than observed in the Milky Way. Starbursts in these dusty galaxies likely were ignited when two gas-rich galaxies collided. These galaxies are so dusty that they are almost invisible at optical wavelengths, but they shine bright at submillimeter wavelengths, where they were first identified nearly two decades ago by the Submillimeter Common-User Bolometer Array (SCUBA) camera on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.

    jcm
    James Clark Maxwell telescope

    Toft’s team started by constructing the first representative sample of compact elliptical galaxies with accurate sizes and spectroscopic redshifts, or distances, measured with Hubble’s Cosmic Assembly Near-Infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS) and 3D-HST (3D- Hubble Space Telescope) programs. 3D-HST is a near-infrared spectroscopic survey to study the physical processes that shape galaxies in the distant universe. The astronomers combined these data with observations from the Subaru telescope in Hawaii, and Spitzer. This allowed for accurate stellar age estimates, from which they concluded compact elliptical galaxies formed in intense starbursts inside the galaxies that preceded them by as long as two billion years.

    subaru
    NAOJ Subaru

    Next, the team made the first representative sample of the most distant submillimeter galaxies using COSMOS data from the Hubble, Spitzer and Herschel space telescopes, and ground-based telescopes such as Subaru, the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, and the Submillimeter Array, all located in Hawaii. This multi-spectral information, stretching from optical light through submillimeter wavelengths, yielded a full suite of information about the sizes, stellar masses, star-formation rates, dust content, and precise distances of the dust-enshrouded galaxies that were present early in the universe.

    When Toft’s team compared the samples of the two galaxy populations, it discovered an evolutionary link between the compact elliptical galaxies and the submillimeter galaxies. The observations show that the violent starbursts in the dusty galaxies had the same characteristics that would have been predicted for progenitors to the compact elliptical galaxies. Toft’s team also calculated the intense starburst activity inside the submillimeter galaxies lasted only about 40 million years before the interstellar gas supply was exhausted.

    The results appear in the Jan. 29 online issue of The Astrophysical Journal. For related and high resolution imagery, visit: http://hubblesite.org/news/2014/10 .

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 6:18 pm on January 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “Rosetta: To Chase a Comet” 

    January 17, 2014
    DC Agle/Jia-Rui Cook 818-393-9011/818-354-0850
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    agle@jpl.nasa.gov / jccook@jpl.nasa.gov
    Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
    Headquarters, Washington
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    Markus Bauer 31-71-565-6799
    European Space Agency, Noordwijk, The Netherland
    markus.bauer@esa.int

    Comets are among the most beautiful and least understood nomads of the night sky. To date, half a dozen of these most heavenly of heavenly bodies have been visited by spacecraft in an attempt to unlock their secrets. All these missions have had one thing in common: the high-speed flyby. Like two ships passing in the night (or one ship and one icy dirtball), they screamed past each other at hyper velocity — providing valuable insight, but fleeting glimpses, into the life of a comet. That is, until Rosetta.

    NASA is participating in the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, whose goal is to observe one such space-bound icy dirt ball from up close — for months on end. The spacecraft, festooned with 25 instruments between its lander and orbiter (including three from NASA) will monitor comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko as it makes its nosedive into, and then climb out of, the inner solar system. Over 16 months, during which old 67P is expected to transform from a small, frozen world into a roiling mass of ice and dust, complete with surface eruptions, mini-earthquakes, basketball-sized, fluffy ice particles and spewing jets of carbon dioxide and cyanide.

    “We are going to be in the cometary catbird seat on this one,” said Claudia Alexander, project scientist for U.S. Rosetta from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “To have an extended presence in the neighborhood of a comet as it goes through so many changes should change our perspective on what it is to be a comet.

    rosetta
    Rosetta

    “Since work began on Rosetta back in 1993, scientists and engineers from all over Europe and the United States have been combining their talents to build an orbiter and a lander for this unique expedition. NASA’s contribution includes three of the orbiter’s instruments (an ultraviolet spectrometer called Alice; the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter; and the Ion and Electron Sensor. NASA is also providing part of the electronics package for an instrument called the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer, which is part of the Swiss-built Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis instrument. NASA is also providing U.S. science investigators for selected non-U.S. instruments and is involved to a greater or lesser degree in seven of the mission’s 25 instruments. NASA’s Deep Space Network provides support for ESA’s Ground Station Network for spacecraft tracking and navigation.

    “All the instruments aboard Rosetta and the Philae lander are designed to work synergistically,” said Sam Gulkis of JPL, the principal investigator for the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter. “They will all work together to create the most complete picture of a comet to date, telling us how the comet works, what it is made of, and what it can tell us about the origins of the solar system.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 11:58 am on January 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “Powerful Planet Finder Turns Its Eye to the Sky” 

    January 07, 2014
    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    After nearly a decade of development, construction and testing, the world’s most advanced instrument for directly imaging and analyzing planets around other stars is pointing skyward and collecting light from distant worlds.

    image

    The instrument, called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), was designed, built, and optimized for imaging giant planets next to bright stars, in addition to studying dusty disks around young stars. It is the most advanced instrument of its kind to be deployed on one of the world’s biggest telescopes – the 26-foot (8-meter) Gemini South telescope in Chile.

    gpi

    Imaging a planet next to a star is a tricky task. The planet is much fainter than its star, and also appears very close. These challenges make the act of separating the planet’s light from the glare of the star difficult. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., contributed to the project by designing and building an ultra-precise infrared sensor to measure small distortions in starlight that might mask a planet.

    “Our tasks were two-fold,” said Kent Wallace, JPL’s subsystem technical lead for the project. “First, keep the star centered on the instrument so that its glare is blocked as much as possible. Second, ensure the instrument itself is stable during the very long exposures required to image faint companions.”

    GPI detects infrared, or heat, radiation from young Jupiter-like planets in wide orbits around other stars. Those are equivalent to the giant planets in our own solar system not long after their formation. Every planet GPI sees can be studied in detail, revealing components of their atmospheres.

    Although GPI was designed to look at distant planets, it can also observe objects in our solar system. Test images of Jupiter’s moon Europa, for example, can allow scientists to map changes in the satellite’s surface composition. The images were released today at the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 8:34 pm on December 24, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “NASA’s Deep Space Network Celebrates 50 Years” 

    December 24, 2013
    David Israel
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4797
    david.israel@jpl.nasa.gov

    2013-378

    The Deep Space Network first existed as just a few small antennas as part of the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility. That facility, originally operated by the U.S. Army in the 1950s, morphed into the Deep Space Network on Dec. 24, 1963, and quickly became the de facto network for missions into deep space.

    dsn
    This aerial photo shows the NASA Deeps Space Network complex outside of Canberra, Australia in 1997. The Canberra complex officially opened in 1965. Because of celestial mechanics and trajectories, the best spacecraft tracking requires stations located in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    During its first year of operation, the network communicated with three spacecraft – Mariner 2, IMP-A and Atlas Centaur 2. Today, it communicates with 33 via three antenna complexes in Goldstone, Calif.; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia, maintaining round-the-clock coverage of the solar system.

    During the past 50 years, antennas of the Deep Space Network have communicated with most of the missions that have gone to the moon and far into deep space. The highlights include relaying the moment when astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon in a “giant leap for mankind”; transmitting data from numerous encounters with the outer planets of our solar system; communicating images taken by rovers exploring Mars; and relaying the data confirming that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft had entered interstellar space.

    Space agencies in Europe, Japan and Russia have also relied on the Deep Space Network when planning and communicating with their own missions over the decades. The Deep Space Network has been used recently by India’s first interplanetary probe, the Mars Orbiter Mission.

    JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Deep Space Network for NASA.

    big
    Making a Giant Even Bigger
    In anticipation of the upcoming flyby of Neptune by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, NASA’s Deep Space Network upgraded the giant antenna at the Goldstone complex known as DSS-14. This antenna was expanded from 210 feet (64 meters) across to 230 feet (70 meters) across in order to pick up Voyager’s faraway signal with more accuracy. This image was taken on Dec. 12, 1987. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 8:16 pm on November 21, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA JPL at Caltech: “Infant Galaxies Merge Near ‘Cosmic Dawn’” 

    November 21, 2013
    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    Astronomers using the combined power of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile and NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes have discovered a far-flung trio of primitive galaxies nestled inside an enormous blob of primordial gas nearly 13 billion light-years from Earth. It’s possible the trio will eventually merge into a single galaxy similar to our own Milky Way.

    three

    “This exceedingly rare triple system, seen when the universe was only 800 million years old, provides important insights into the earliest stages of galaxy formation during a period known as ‘cosmic dawn,’ when the universe was first bathed in starlight,” said Richard Ellis of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, a member of the research team.

    Researchers first detected this object, which appeared to be a giant bubble of hot, ionized gas, in 2009. Dubbed Himiko (after a legendary queen of ancient Japan), it is nearly 10 times larger than typical galaxies of that era and comparable in size to our own Milky Way. Subsequent infrared observations with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope provided more clues about the object’s mass, suggesting Himiko might represent a single galaxy, which would make it uncharacteristically massive for that period of the early universe.

    “The new observations revealed that, rather than a single galaxy, Himiko harbors three distinct, bright sources, whose intense star formation is heating and ionizing this giant cloud of gas,” said Masami Ouchi, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo who led the international team of astronomers from Japan and the United States.

    New data from ALMA, Hubble and Spitzer also led astronomers to speculate that Himiko could be made up almost entirely of primordial gas, a mixture of the light elements hydrogen and helium, which were created in the Big Bang event that gave birth to our universe. If correct, this would be a landmark discovery signaling the detection of a primordial galaxy seen during its formation.

    The results are accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 3:05 pm on November 14, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL at Caltech: “Nature Pulls a Fast One on Astronomers” 

    November 14, 2013

    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    What might look like a colossal jet shooting away from a galaxy turns out to be an illusion. New data from the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) reveal that two galaxies, one lying behind the other, have been masquerading as one.

    image
    The edge-on spiral galaxy UGC 10288 appeared to be a single object in previous observations. However, new detailed radio data from the NRAO’s Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) revealed that the large perpendicular extension of UGC 10288′s halo (blue) is really a distant background galaxy with radio jets. Image credit: VLA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SDSS/NOAO/University of Manitoba

    In a new image highlighting the chance alignment, radio data from the VLA are blue and infrared observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) are yellow and orange, respectively. Visible data are also shown, with starlight in purplish blue and heated gas in rose.

    The closer galaxy, called UGC 10288, is located 100 million light-years away. It is spiral in shape, but from our viewpoint on Earth, we are seeing its thin edge. The farther galaxy, seen in blue, is nearly 7 billion light-years away. Two giant jets shoot away from this galaxy, one of which is seen above the plane of the closer galaxy’s disk.

    Earlier radio images of the two galaxies appeared as one fuzzy blob, and fooled astronomers into thinking they were looking at one galaxy. Thanks to the VLA pulling the curtain back on the disguised duo, the scientists have a unique opportunity to learn otherwise-unobtainable facts about the nearer galaxy.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 5:41 am on October 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA JPL   

    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “Carbon Worlds May be Waterless, Finds NASA Study” 

    October 25, 2013
    Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    Planets rich in carbon, including so-called diamond planets, may lack oceans, according to NASA-funded theoretical research.

    Our sun is a carbon-poor star, and as result, our planet Earth is made up largely of silicates, not carbon. Stars with much more carbon than the sun, on the other hand, are predicted to make planets chock full of carbon, and perhaps even layers of diamond.

    two
    This artist’s concept illustrates the fate of two different planets: the one on the left is similar to Earth, made up largely of silicate-based rocks with oceans coating its surface. The one on the right is rich in carbon — and dry. Chances are low that life as we know it, which requires liquid water, would thrive under such barren conditions. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    By modeling the ingredients in these carbon-based planetary systems, the scientists determined they lack icy water reservoirs thought to supply planets with oceans.

    “The building blocks that went into making our oceans are the icy asteroids and comets,” said Torrence Johnson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, who presented the results Oct. 7 at the American Astronomical Society Division of Planetary Sciences meeting in Denver. Johnson, a team member of several NASA planetary missions, including Galileo, Voyager and Cassini, has spent decades studying the planets in our own solar system.

    “If we keep track of these building blocks, we find that planets around carbon-rich stars come up dry,” he said.

    Johnson and his colleagues say the extra carbon in developing star systems would snag the oxygen, preventing it from forming water.

    “It’s ironic that if carbon, the main element of life, becomes too abundant, it will steal away the oxygen that would have made water, the solvent essential to life as we know it,” said Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., a collaborator on the research.

    One of the big questions in the study of planets beyond our solar system, called exoplanets, is whether or not they are habitable. Researchers identify such planets by first looking for those that are situated within the “habitable zone” around their parent stars, which is where temperatures are warm enough for water to pool on the surface. NASA’s Kepler mission has found several planets within this zone, and researchers continue to scrutinize the Kepler data for candidates as small as Earth.

    See the full article here.

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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