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  • richardmitnick 12:16 pm on September 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From The New York Times: “NASA Missions Approved to Go On” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    SEPT. 8, 2014
    KENNETH CHANG

    Every two years, NASA reviews its long-running scientific missions — currently, the rovers trundling across Mars, the Cassini spacecraft exploring Saturn, and four others — to determine whether they are justifying their cost.

    NASA Curiosity
    NASA/Curiosity Mars Rover

    NASA Opportunity Rover
    NASA Opportunity Mars Rover

    NASA Cassini Spacecraft
    NASA/ Cassini-Huygens

    Last week, NASA presented the findings of the most recent review, conducted by a panel of outside experts, to the planetary science subcommittee of the NASA Advisory Council, which provides guidance to the agency’s management.

    All seven will continue, assuming NASA can find the money to pay for them.

    In particular, Cassini is to continue orbiting Saturn for three more years, making detailed measurements of the ringed planet’s gravitational and magnetic fields. The Curiosity rover is to continue searching for organic molecules in the Martian rocks — though the panel sharply criticized the rover’s mission team, saying its extension proposal “lacked scientific focus and detail” and placed too much emphasis on driving across the terrain rather than stopping to study the rocks.

    two
    Two of Saturn’s moons, Titan and Rhea, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech, via Space Science Institute, via Associated Press

    Still, “all extended missions were rated higher than ‘good,’ some after adjustments to scope, as it was recognized that they continue to add important new data and observations for our understanding of solar system bodies and processes,” the review panel concluded.

    Supporters of NASA’s planetary program seemed happy. “I think fundamentally we were excited that every mission was given the go-ahead to go on,” said Casey Dreier, the director of advocacy at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes space exploration. “I think that was the biggest takeaway.”

    This year, the financial calculus for the review appeared more complex than usual, because Curiosity ended its two-year primary mission in June. Its costs now come out of the budget set aside for extended missions, and that led to speculation that agency officials might turn off Cassini to fit within fiscal constraints.

    The Obama administration has proposed deep cuts to the planetary science portion of NASA the last few years, and Congress has partly restored the cuts each year.

    The extensions, which would cost $200 million a year, or about 15 percent of NASA’s planetary science budget, still hinge on whether enough money is available. Congress has yet to pass a budget for fiscal year 2015, which begins next month.

    “If we do not end up with sufficient funds, NASA will revisit the senior review findings and make the necessary programmatic decisions across our portfolio,” said William P. Knopf, the lead program executive for mission operations in the planetary science division.

    A subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will hold a hearing about the planetary science program Wednesday.

    Cassini, which has been in orbit around Saturn for a decade, was the only mission to receive an “excellent” rating from the panel. It was also the only mission to receive a three-year extension, long enough to conduct all of the planned science.

    “And best of all, we know now we will live out the full promise of one extraordinary mission,” Carolyn C. Porco, the head of Cassini’s imaging team, wrote on Twitter. “Happy tears in the eyes.”

    In 2017, fuel for the maneuvering thrusters will run out, and the spacecraft will be sent on a dive into Saturn.

    In giving a “very good/good” grade to the extension proposal for the $2.5 billion Curiosity mission, the panel was especially displeased that John P. Grotzinger, the project scientist, did not present the extension proposal in person, leaving it to a deputy.

    “This left the panel with the impression that the team felt they were too big to fail and that simply having someone show up would suffice,” the panel wrote. Dr. Grotzinger said in an interview that he had been scheduled to give a talk about Mars on the day the panel met, and, after consulting with NASA officials, decided not to cancel the talk. “I like to honor my existing professional commitments, especially when they involve outreach,” he said.

    He said the team was making the requested revisions. “The review panel was asking us to do more drilling and less driving, and we’re going to do that,” Dr. Grotzinger said.

    Curiosity, by coincidence, has just arrived at the destination to begin its main scientific investigation, the base of a three-mile-high mountain in the middle of Gale Crater. By examining the layers of rock as it drives up the mountain, planetary scientists hope to extract the climate history of early Mars when it was warmer and wetter.

    The Curiosity team will hold a news conference on Thursday to present its latest findings.

    Ranking above Curiosity was the older Opportunity rover, which received an “excellent/very good” rating, allowing it to continue driving to a large deposit of clays. Clay minerals form in aqueous environments that are not acidic, promising sites that could have once been hospitable to life.

    The Opportunity rover just had its memory erased and reformatted last Thursday, eliminating the 0.7 percent that had gone bad over the past decade. The rover has had several computer glitches in recent months.

    The other missions under review were the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Express orbiter. (Mars Express is a European Space Agency spacecraft, but NASA helps operate two of the of the instruments.)

    recon
    NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

    mars
    NASA/Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

    express
    ESA/Mars Express orbiter

    The next two years will be busy for NASA’s robotic probes. A new spacecraft, Maven, will arrive at Mars this month to look for clues why Mars long ago dried out and turned cold.

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA/ Mars MAVEN

    Next July, the New Horizons spacecraft will zip past Pluto for the first close-up look at it; in 2016, another spacecraft, Juno, will arrive at Jupiter to study its interior.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons

    After 2017, however, the pipeline slows. An ambitious mission to study Europa, a moon of Jupiter with an ocean beneath its outer layer of ice and signs of plate tectonics, is not expected to launch until the 2020s.

    But Mr. Dreier, of the Planetary Society, said he was optimistic. “We’ve stemmed the bleeding and we’re making a strong case for why planetary is important,” he said. “It’s one of the few parts of NASA that really does explore.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 5:14 pm on August 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),   

    From SPACE.com: “NASA’s Robot Army of ‘Swarmies’ Could Explore Other Planets” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    August 25, 2014
    Kelly Dickerson

    They may look like remote-controlled toy trucks, but a troop of new NASA robots could one day race across distant planets as a sort of space exploration vanguard.

    swarmies

    The autonomous robots, which engineers have dubbed “swarmies,” are much smaller than other NASA robots like the Mars rover Curiosity. Each comes equipped with a webcam, Wi-Fi antenna, and GPS system for navigation. The self-driving swarmie robots could be used to search alien surfaces one day. Credit: NASA/Dmitri Gerondidakis

    The swarmies function in a way similar to an ant colony. When one ant stumbles across a food source, it sends out a signal to the rest of the colony, and then the ants work together to cart the food back to the nest. Engineers from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida developed software that directs the swarmies to fan out in different directions and search for a specific, predetermined material, like ice-water on Mars. Once one of the rovers finds something interesting, it can use radio communication to call its robotic brethren over to help collect samples.

    “For a while people were interested in putting as much smarts and capability as they could on their one robot,” Kurt Leucht, one of the engineers working on the project, said in a statement. “Now people are realizing you can have much smaller, much simpler robots that can work together and achieve a task. One of them can roll over and die and it’s not the end of the mission because the others can still accomplish the task.”

    Working out a way to send humans on lunar or Martian exploration missions is complicated and expensive and those kinds of missions are likely still a long way off. Sending robots is an easier alternative, and NASA is working on a whole new generation of autonomous robotic explorers. NASA engineers have already dreamed up slithering snake-like robots that could explore Mars and deep-diving robots that could explore the oceans of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    rr
    The RASSOR robot is programmed for digging and mining and will be incorporated into the swarmie test drives. Credit: NASA

    The swarmie tests are still in the preliminary stages, and NASA engineers are only driving the swarmies around the parking lots surrounding Kennedy’s Launch Control Center. Right now the robots are only programmed to hunt for barcoded slips of paper. Over the next few months, swarmie tests will also include RASSOR — a mining robot specially designed to dig into alien surfaces and search for interesting or valuable materials. The test will determine how well the swarming software translates to control other robotic vehicles.

    Swarmies might also find a use on Earth, NASA officials said. The robots could aid in rescue missions following natural disasters or building collapses, crashes and other wreckage sites. The robots would also make perfect pipeline inspectors.

    “This would give you something smaller and cheaper that could always be running up and down the length of the pipeline so you would always know the health of your pipelines,” Cheryle Mako, a NASA engineer who is leading the project, said in a statement. “If we had small swarming robots that had a couple sensors and knew what they were looking for, you could send them out to a leak site and find which area was at greatest risk.”

    See the full article here.

    NASA

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  • richardmitnick 2:29 pm on August 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “Ozone-Depleting Compound Persists, NASA Research Shows “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 20, 2014
    Steve Cole
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0918
    stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

    Kathryn Hansen
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-1046
    kathryn.h.hansen@nasa.gov

    NASA research shows Earth’s atmosphere contains an unexpectedly large amount of an ozone-depleting compound from an unknown source decades after the compound was banned worldwide.

    ball
    Satellites observed the largest ozone hole over Antarctica in 2006. Purple and blue represent areas of low ozone concentrations in the atmosphere; yellow and red are areas of higher concentrations. Image Credit: NASA

    Carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), which was once used in applications such as dry cleaning and as a fire-extinguishing agent, was regulated in 1987 under the Montreal Protocol along with other chlorofluorocarbons that destroy ozone and contribute to the ozone hole over Antarctica. Parties to the Montreal Protocol reported zero new CCl4 emissions between 2007-2012.

    However, the new research shows worldwide emissions of CCl4 average 39 kilotons per year, approximately 30 percent of peak emissions prior to the international treaty going into effect.

    “We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said Qing Liang, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.”

    As of 2008, CCl4 accounted for about 11 percent of chlorine available for ozone depletion, which is not enough to alter the decreasing trend of ozone-depleting substances. Still, scientists and regulators want to know the source of the unexplained emissions.

    For almost a decade, scientists have debated why the observed levels of CCl4 in the atmosphere have declined slower than expectations, which are based on what is known about how the compound is destroyed by solar radiation and other natural processes.

    “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang said.

    With zero CCl4 emissions reported between 2007-2012, atmospheric concentrations of the compound should have declined at an expected rate of 4 percent per year. Observations from the ground showed atmospheric concentrations were only declining by 1 percent per year.

    To investigate the discrepancy, Liang and colleagues used NASA’s 3-D GEOS Chemistry Climate Model and data from global networks of ground-based observations. The CCl4 measurements used in the study were made by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Earth System Research Laboratory and NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    Model simulations of global atmospheric chemistry and the losses of CCl4 due to interactions with soil and the oceans pointed to an unidentified ongoing current source of CCl4. The results produced the first quantitative estimate of average global CCl4 emissions from 2000-2012.

    In addition to unexplained sources of CCl4, the model results showed the chemical stays in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than previously thought. The research was published online in the Aug. 18 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

    “People believe the emissions of ozone-depleting substances have stopped because of the Montreal Protocol,” said Paul Newman, chief scientist for atmospheres at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and a co-author of the study. “Unfortunately, there is still a major source of CCl4 out in the world.”

    NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    See the full article, with video, here.

    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 Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

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  • richardmitnick 8:34 pm on August 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “How the Sun Caused an Aurora This Week “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 20, 2014
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    On the evening of Aug. 20, 2014, the International Space Station was flying past North America when it flew over the dazzling, green blue lights of an aurora. On board, astronaut Reid Wiseman captured this image of the aurora, seen from above.

    aurora

    This auroral display was due to a giant cloud of gas from the sun – a coronal mass ejection or CME – that collided with Earth’s magnetic fields [magnetosphere] on Aug. 19, 2014, at 1:57 a.m. EDT. This event set off, as it often does, what’s called a geomagnetic storm.

    gs
    Artists’s rendition Goddard

    This is a kind of space weather event where the magnetic fields surrounding Earth compress and release. This oscillation is much like a spring moving back and forth, but unlike a spring, moving magnetic fields cause an unstable environment, setting charged particles moving and initiating electric currents.

    The geomagnetic storm passed within 24 hours or so but, while it was ongoing, the solar particles and magnetic fields caused the release of particles already trapped near Earth. These, in turn, triggered reactions in the upper atmosphere in which oxygen and nitrogen molecules released photons of light.

    The result: an aurora, and a special sight for the astronauts on board the space station.

    map
    This model shows where the aurora was visible at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Aug. 19, 2014, as the International Space Station flew over it. The model is an Ovation Prime model and it is available from the Community Coordinated Modeling Center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
    Image Credit: NASA/CCMC

    storm
    A coronal mass ejection, or CME, burst from the sun on Aug. 15, 2014. When it arrived at Earth, it sparked aurora over North America. This looping animated GIF of the CME was captured by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The bright planet seen moving toward the left is Mercury.
    Image Credit: ESA&NASA/SOHO

    See the full article here.

    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 Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 4:08 pm on August 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “Stardust Team Reports Discovery of First Potential Interstellar Space Particles” 

    NASA

    NASA

    August 14, 2014

    J.D. Harrington
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241
    j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

    William Jeffs
    Johnson Space Center, Houston
    281-483-5111
    william.p.jeffs@nasa.gov

    Seven rare, microscopic interstellar dust particles that date to the beginnings of the solar system are among the samples collected by scientists who have been studying the payload from NASA’s Stardust spacecraft since its return to Earth in 2006. If confirmed, these particles would be the first samples of contemporary interstellar dust.

    stardust
    NASA Stardust

    A team of scientists has been combing through the spacecraft’s aerogel and aluminum foil dust collectors since Stardust returned in 2006.The seven particles probably came from outside our solar system, perhaps created in a supernova explosion millions of years ago and altered by exposure to the extreme space environment.

    The research report appears in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. Twelve other papers about the particles will appear next week in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

    “These are the most challenging objects we will ever have in the lab for study, and it is a triumph that we have made as much progress in their analysis as we have,” said Michael Zolensky, curator of the Stardust laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and coauthor of the Science paper.

    Stardust was launched in 1999 and returned to Earth on Jan. 15, 2006, at the Utah Test and Training Range, 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The Stardust Sample Return Canister was transported to a curatorial facility at Johnson where the Stardust collectors remain preserved and protected for scientific study.

    Inside the canister, a tennis racket-like sample collector tray captured the particles in silica aerogel as the spacecraft flew within 149 miles of a comet in January 2004. An opposite side of the tray holds interstellar dust particles captured by the spacecraft during its seven-year, three-billion-mile journey.

    Scientists caution that additional tests must be done before they can say definitively that these are pieces of debris from interstellar space. But if they are, the particles could help explain the origin and evolution of interstellar dust.

    The particles are much more diverse in terms of chemical composition and structure than scientists expected. The smaller particles differ greatly from the larger ones and appear to have varying histories. Many of the larger particles have been described as having a fluffy structure, similar to a snowflake.

    Two particles, each only about two microns (thousandths of a millimeter) in diameter, were isolated after their tracks were discovered by a group of citizen scientists. These volunteers, who call themselves “Dusters,” scanned more than a million images as part of a University of California, Berkeley, citizen-science project, which proved critical to finding these needles in a haystack.

    A third track, following the direction of the wind during flight, was left by a particle that apparently was moving so fast — more than 10 miles per second (15 kilometers per second) — that it vaporized. Volunteers identified tracks left by another 29 particles that were determined to have been kicked out of the spacecraft into the collectors.

    Four of the particles reported in Science were found in aluminum foils between tiles on the collector tray. Although the foils were not originally planned as dust collection surfaces, an international team led by physicist Rhonda Stroud of the Naval Research Laboratory searched the foils and identified four pits lined with material composed of elements that fit the profile of interstellar dust particles.

    Three of these four particles, just a few tenths of a micron across, contained sulfur compounds, which some astronomers have argued do not occur in interstellar dust. A preliminary examination team plans to continue analysis of the remaining 95 percent of the foils to possibly find enough particles to understand the variety and origins of interstellar dust.

    Supernovas, red giants and other evolved stars produce interstellar dust and generate heavy elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen necessary for life. Two particles, dubbed Orion and Hylabrook, will undergo further tests to determine their oxygen isotope quantities, which could provide even stronger evidence for their extrasolar origin.

    Scientists at Johnson have scanned half the panels at various depths and turned these scans into movies, which were then posted online, where the Dusters could access the footage to search for particle tracks.

    Once several Dusters tag a likely track, Andrew Westphal, lead author of the Science article, and his team verify the identifications. In the one million frames scanned so far, each a half-millimeter square, Dusters have found 69 tracks, while Westphal has found two. Thirty-one of these were extracted along with surrounding aerogel by scientists at Johnson and shipped to UC Berkeley to be analyzed.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory., Pasadena, California, manages the Stardust mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operated the spacecraft.

    See the full article here.

    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 Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 2:04 pm on August 14, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),   

    From SPACE.com: “After Moon Flyby, Vintage NASA Spacecraft to Study the Sun” True Citizen Science 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    August 14, 2014
    Elizabeth Howell

    As a vintage spacecraft soars out of Earth’s vicinity, the private team working with it plans to use the probe for solar science for as long as they can stay in touch with the satellite.

    The minds behind the so-called ISEE-3 Reboot Project have been controlling the 36-year-old International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3) for the past few weeks. At first they planned to park it close to Earth, but they abandoned that plan after finding out that the probe was out of the pressurant needed to move the craft.

    isee

    At least some of the 13 science instruments are still working, however. So the old spacecraft will do one of the things it was originally tasked to do: study solar weather. Its measurements will be compared with those taken by the network of satellites that are closer to Earth’s vicinity like NASA’s Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO).

    stereo
    NASA STEREO

    “By comparing the measurements between these spacecraft, we can get some idea of the scale sizes of the turbulence of the solar wind and the structure within the solar wind,” said Christopher Scott, a United Kingdom-based project scientist with STEREO, in a Google+ Hangout on ISEE-3 Sunday (Aug. 10).

    He added this would be important information for space weather forecasts, which allow scientists to predict how severe a storm could be when it reaches Earth. Strong solar storms have the potential to damage satellites in orbit or even cause ill effects to power systems on the ground.

    ISEE-3 passed within about 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) of the moon on Sunday before continuing on its orbit around the sun. Officials on the broadcast predict they will be able to hear from the probe for about the next couple of months.

    Before going into lunar space, ISEE-3 passed through a part of Earth’s magnetic field, specifically the magnetopause (the outer limit of the magnetosphere) and the bow shock (the area between the magnetopause and more neutral space.) The University of Iowa is now examining data collected during the fly-through, said co-leader Dennis Wingo.

    magnetopause
    Artistic rendition of the Earth’s magnetopause. The magnetopause is where the pressure from the solar wind and the planet’s magnetic field are equal. The position of the Sun would be far to the left in this image

    “To me, it’s absolutely thrilling that we’re getting all this space weather,” Wingo said during the broadcast. Officials also noted that learning about space weather in our solar system could help researchers learn more about space weather in other solar systems.

    The founders behind the ISEE-3 project raised roughly $160,000 through crowdfunding in order to open communication with and attempt to move the spacecraft.

    During the Sunday broadcast, co-leader of the project Keith Cowing said that most donations were only in the $10 to $50 range, and mostly from contributors who are not self-described space people.

    “I tweeted a joke about disco once and I suddenly got donations from people saying, ‘Hey, I heard your comment about disco,'” Cowing said.

    ISEE-3 was launched in the 1970s to examine solar activity, and was repurposed for flying by two comets, among other tasks. NASA put the spacecraft into hibernation in 1998, where it remained until the group made contact with it again this year under a Space Act Agreement.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 5:50 pm on August 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “NASA Carbon Counter Reaches Final Orbit, Returns Data” 

    JPL

    August 11, 2014
    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-0474
    alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov

    Steve Cole
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0918
    stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

    Just over a month after launch, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) — NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide — has maneuvered into its final operating orbit and produced its first science data, confirming the health of its science instrument.

    NASA OCO satellite
    NASA OCO

    Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world. It is a critical natural component of Earth’s carbon cycle. OCO-2 will produce the most detailed picture to date of sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their natural “sinks” — places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.

    Following launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 2, OCO-2 underwent a series of steps to configure the observatory for in-flight operations. Mission controllers established two-way communications with the observatory, stabilized its orientation in space and deployed its solar arrays to provide electrical power. The OCO-2 team then performed a checkout of OCO-2’s systems to ensure they were functioning properly.

    Through the month of July, a series of propulsive burns was executed to maneuver the observatory into its final 438-mile (705-kilometer), near-polar orbit at the head of the international Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train,” of Earth-observing satellites. It arrived there on Aug. 3. Operations are now being conducted with the observatory in an orbit that crosses the equator at 1:36 p.m. local time.

    The A-Train, the first multi-satellite, formation-flying “super observatory” to record the health of Earth’s atmosphere and surface environment, collects an unprecedented quantity of nearly simultaneous climate and weather measurements. OCO-2 is now followed by the Japanese GCOM-W1 satellite, and then by NASA’s Aqua, CALIPSO, CloudSat and Aura spacecraft, respectively — all of which fly over the same point on Earth within 16 minutes of each other.

    With OCO-2 in its final orbit, mission controllers began cooling the observatory’s three-spectrometer instrument to its operating temperatures. The spectrometer’s optical components must be cooled to near 21 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 6 degrees Celsius) to bring them into focus and limit the amount of heat they radiate. The instrument’s detectors must be even cooler, near minus 243 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 153 degrees Celsius), to maximize their sensitivity.

    With the instrument’s optical system and detectors near their stable operating temperatures, the OCO-2 team collected “first light” test data on Aug. 6 as the observatory flew over central Papua New Guinea. The data were transmitted from OCO-2 to a ground station in Alaska, then to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for initial decoding, and then to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for further processing. The test provided the OCO-2 team with its first opportunity to see whether the instrument had reached orbit with the same performance it had demonstrated before launch.

    As OCO-2 flies over Earth’s sunlit hemisphere, each spectrometer collects a “frame” three times each second, for a total of about 9,000 frames from each orbit. Each frame is divided into eight spectra, or chemical signatures, that record the amount of molecular oxygen or carbon dioxide over adjacent ground footprints. Each footprint is about 1.3 miles (2.25 kilometers) long and a few hundred yards (meters) wide. When displayed as an image, the eight spectra appear like bar codes — bright bands of light broken by sharp dark lines. The dark lines indicate absorption by molecular oxygen or carbon dioxide.

    “The initial data from OCO-2 appear exactly as expected — the spectral lines are well resolved, sharp and deep,” said OCO-2 chief architect and calibration lead Randy Pollock of JPL. “We still have a lot of work to do to go from having a working instrument to having a well-calibrated and scientifically useful instrument, but this was an important milestone on this journey.”

    Over the next several weeks, the OCO-2 team will conduct a series of calibration activities to characterize fully the performance of the instrument and observatory. In parallel, OCO-2 will routinely record and return up to 1 million science observations each day. These data will be used initially to test the ground processing system and verify its products. The team will begin delivering calibrated OCO-2 spectra data to NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center for distribution to the global science community and other interested parties before the end of the year. The team will also deliver estimates of carbon dioxide to that same center for distribution in early 2015.

    OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, built the spacecraft bus and provides mission operations under JPL’s leadership. The science instrument was built by JPL, based on the instrument design co-developed for the original OCO mission by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. NASA’s Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was responsible for launch management.

    NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    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 6:39 am on August 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From The New York Times: “A Celestial Traveler Closes on Mars” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    AUG. 4, 2014
    MARC KAUFMAN

    One day early last year, the Australian comet hunter Robert H. McNaught spotted something unusual from his post at the Siding Spring Observatory in the foothills of the Warrumbungle Mountains.

    As a member of a team sponsored by NASA that searches the skies for potentially dangerous asteroids and comets, he generally focuses on objects that orbit the sun on the same plane as the planets. But coming up from below that plane was a comet that had apparently originated in the Oort cloud, a vast, primordial region that surrounds the solar system.

    The comet was well beyond Jupiter when Mr. McNaught sighted it, but he and other so-called comet modelers were nonetheless able to predict its 125,000-mile-per-hour path into the inner solar system. To their surprise and consternation, it appeared to be heading straight for Mars, and some of their most precious equipment.

    Comet trajectories are notoriously changeable, and more recent projections suggest the comet, named Siding Spring, is highly unlikely to strike the planet or to do much damage to the two NASA rovers on its surface or the five research satellites orbiting it.

    ss
    Comet Siding Spring, as captured before and after filtering by the Hubble Space Telescope, is expected to pass closest to Mars on Oct. 19. Credit NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li of Planetary Science Institute

    Comet map
    Comet Siding Spring will sweep past Mars in October, then follow other recent comets around the sun and back into deep space.

    Still, on Oct. 19, the comet is expected to pass within 82,000 miles of Mars, a stone’s throw in astronomical terms — one-third the distance between Earth and the moon, and much closer to Mars than any comet has come to Earth in recorded history.

    The dust, water vapor and other gases spewed by a comet can spread for tens of thousands of miles, so the upper reaches of the Martian atmosphere are expected to be showered by Siding Spring — perhaps briefly, perhaps more extensively. Shock waves may rock the atmosphere.

    The dust particles may be tiny, but when traveling at 125,000 m.p.h. (35 miles per second) they would pierce the skin of any satellite orbiting the planet. “Essentially, they would be like bullets out there,” said Richard Zurek, the chief scientist of the Mars program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    He added that although the danger to satellites and rovers appeared to be limited, there was a small possibility that the comet could break up as it approaches Mars — a fate similar to that of Comet ISON as it neared the sun last year. As a precaution, the five satellites’ orbits have been tweaked so they will be on the far side of the planet when the greatest threat from dust arrives.

    But for the most part, the initial worries have given way to excitement about the scientific opportunities presented by the very close encounter.

    The satellites and rovers — along with ground and space observatories such as the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes — will offer a front-row seat to the event, which may provide important images and science for days.

    “This is an entirely unprecedented situation,” said James Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division and of its Mars program.

    ‘We have an opportunity to see what happens when a comet comes so close to a planet,” he continued. “We can follow the planet as it responds to the dust and water and shock, and hope to learn more about how it processes it all. Comets have played a huge role in transforming planets, and now we’ll see the process as it’s happening.”

    A ‘Dirty Snowball’

    Comet Siding Spring is especially interesting because of its formation in the Oort cloud during the early days of the solar system, making it a “long period” comet with an orbit of millions of years. What’s more, it is believed to be what comet specialists call a virgin — one that has never reached the inner solar system.

    As a result, its icy nucleus (the “dirty snowball” at the core of a comet) has never been thawed and reshaped, like those of comets that pass by more regularly.

    “We’ve studied the nuclei of comets before but never a long-period comet from the Oort cloud,” Dr. Zurek said. “The comet may well be bringing us primordial material unchanged since the creation of the solar system.”

    As luck would have it, Siding Spring will pass Mars just a month after the arrival of NASA’s newest orbiter, Maven, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution.

    NASA MAVEN
    NASA/MAVEN

    That satellite has instruments designed to study the Martian atmosphere, and in particular how water vapor and other material escape into space. Siding Spring may well produce atmospheric dynamics that the Maven team expected to study in a far more static state.

    “If particles from the comet hit the atmosphere, we’ll absolutely be able to measure what happens,” said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator for the satellite mission. Initially worried that the comet could damage Maven just as its mission began, he now sees the flyby as exploration science at its best.

    “We’ll follow how different chemical processes play out and will be looking to see if the arrival of those fast-moving dust particles, with all their energy, heats up the atmosphere,” he said. “We know there were lots of comet and asteroid impacts and near misses on early Mars, and now we’re in a position to learn about some possible consequences.”

    The implications for Mars science are substantial. The Curiosity rover has confirmed and substantially expanded earlier findings that Mars was warmer and much wetter a long time ago. But the question of how and when the planet lost those potentially life-supporting conditions remains largely unresolved.

    NASA Curiosity

    Because all the cameras orbiting above Mars are designed to focus on the planet, they are not expected to produce the best images of the flyby. That role is likely to be played by the Hubble and by observatories on Earth. Some believe that Curiosity might be lucky and snap an image of the comet passing above.

    One especially powerful orbiting camera, however, has a chance of capturing what is considered the most important and interesting part of the comet — its nucleus, the “dirty snowball.” Little changed for billions of years, the ball of dust and ice warms as it enters the inner solar system and emits a vast surrounding cloud of material called the coma, followed by the long tail. The camera, named HiRise for High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, produces finely detailed images that have revolutionized our understanding of the Martian surface; now its operators will try to do the same for the comet’s primordial nucleus.

    NASA HiRise Camera

    It will be tricky. Observations by NASA’s Swift satellite suggest that the fast-moving nucleus is small, a half-mile to several miles across. “The geometry is definitely challenging,” said Alfred McEwen, the principal investigator for HiRise. “We’ll be orbiting Mars rapidly, and the comet will be whizzing by. And HiRise is designed to look down at Mars, not out at a comet.”

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/SWIFT

    But especially if the nucleus is large, he said, HiRise might be able to capture at least a handful of pixels that would illustrate the primordial core of Siding Spring — the first images of a long-period nucleus.

    Dr. McEwen said the team also planned to photograph jets of water vapor and dust that often shoot out of the nucleus.

    A Journey From the Oort Cloud

    As described by NASA, Comet Siding Spring spent billions of years in the Oort cloud, named for the 20th-century Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, who first predicted its existence.

    Most comets that form in the Oort cloud stay in place, orbiting the sun once every million to 30 million years. Sometimes, however, gravitational forces from nearby stars, or giant planets that many scientists believe wander in space, push a comet out of orbit and send it toward the sun. For Comet Siding Spring, that voyage has taken a million years.

    Astronomers will also be using Earth and space observatories to identify the comet’s chemical makeup. Of particular interest is what carbon-based organic compounds might be detected. These compounds, the building blocks of life, are known to reside in comets and asteroids. NASA’s Stardust mission to the comet Wild 2 collected samples in 2006. In labs, scientists found not only organics in the stardust, but small yet detectable amounts of evolved amino acids.

    Daniel P. Glavin, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, was part of the team that found the amino acids in Wild 2, and now he is on the Curiosity science team. He called the Siding Spring flyby a useful reminder of how organics, with their potential to connect and form life, could be delivered from afar.

    “We don’t know how life begins, but we do know that organics are necessary,” Dr. Glavin said. “And how do organics appear? Maybe they’re formed on the surface of a planet like Earth, or maybe they get delivered by comets like Siding Spring.”

    One of the main goals of the Curiosity mission is to search for organic compounds that might help show whether Mars was once habitable.

    Siding Spring is not expected to get close enough to send organic compounds to the surface, but Dr. Green, NASA’s Mars program director, does not want to take any chances. Although Curiosity will be in a defensive position for the flyby, he has plans for the small scoop that the rover uses to deliver crushed rock samples to the instruments inside.

    “What I told the Curiosity team is that the chances are very slight that organics or comet dust would fall on the rover,” he said. “But we should have the scoop out to catch some just in case.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:05 pm on August 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From Astrobiology: “Mars 2020 Rover’s PIXL to Focus X-Rays on Tiny Targets” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Aug 2, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    One of seven instruments selected for a Mars rover that NASA is developing for launch in 2020 would be able to identify chemical elements in target spots as small as a grain of table salt.

    ins
    An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The instruments will conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet as never before. Image Credit: NASA

    PIXL, for Planetary Instrument for X-Ray Lithochemistry, would be mounted at the end of the rover’s robotic arm so that it can be placed next to a rock or soil target. It is designed to provide finer-scale identification of elemental composition than ever before possible on Mars.

    The instrument’s capabilities would help NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission accomplish its goals, which include seeking evidence for past life on Mars.

    “If you are looking for signs of ancient life, you want to look at a small scale and get detailed information about chemical elements present,” said PIXL Principal Investigator Abigail Allwood of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

    PIXL will be fast. Its intended use is to spend a few seconds to 2 minutes with the instrument’s X-ray focused on each spot to be analyzed, then move the beam to another spot, working in a linear or grid pattern to produce a detailed map of the elements in the rock or soil target. The mapped area would be up to about the size of a postage stamp.

    The element-identification method is X-ray fluorescence. It reads the X-rays distinctively emitted by various types of atoms when they are excited by X-rays coming from the instrument.

    PIXL’s design also incorporates a high-resolution camera so that the map of elemental composition can be analyzed in conjunction with visible characteristics of the target area.

    head
    This diagram depicts the sensor head of the Planetary Instrument for X-RAY Lithochemistry, or PIXL, which has been selected as one of seven investigations for the payload of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission. PIXL is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine-scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    This diagram depicts the sensor head of the Planetary Instrument for X-RAY Lithochemistry, or PIXL, which has been selected as one of seven investigations for the payload of NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission. PIXL is an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer that will also contain an imager with high resolution to determine the fine-scale elemental composition of Martian surface materials. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    “We can correlate fine-scale textures and features with very detailed information about the chemistry,” Allwood said. “Understanding these relationships is crucial for investigation goals such as searching for microbial biosignatures.”

    NASA announced selection of PIXL and six other investigations for the Mars 2020 rover’s payload on July 31, 2014.

    The Mars 2020 mission will be based on the design of the highly successful Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago and currently is operating on Mars. The new rover will carry more sophisticated, upgraded hardware and new instruments to conduct geological assessments of the rover’s landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and directly search for signs of ancient Martian life.

    cur
    Curiosity

    Scientists will use the Mars 2020 rover to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth by a future mission. The Mars 2020 mission is responsive to the science objectives recommended by the National Research Council’s 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

    The Mars 2020 rover also will help advance our knowledge of how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet. An ability to live off the Martian land would transform future exploration of the planet. Designers of future human expeditions can use this mission to understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate technology to process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen. These experiments will help engineers learn how to use Martian resources to produce oxygen for human respiration and potentially for use as an oxidizer for rocket fuel.

    See the full article here.

    Astrobiology Magazine is a NASA-sponsored online popular science magazine. Our stories profile the latest and most exciting news across the wide and interdisciplinary field of astrobiology — the study of life in the universe. In addition to original content, Astrobiology Magazine also runs content from non-NASA sources in order to provide our readers with a broad knowledge of developments in astrobiology, and from institutions both nationally and internationally. Publication of press-releases or other out-sourced content does not signify endorsement or affiliation of any kind.

    Established in the year 2000, Astrobiology Magazine now has a vast archive of stories covering a broad array of topics.

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  • richardmitnick 4:11 pm on July 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Van Allen Radiation   

    From Science Daily; “NASA’s Van Allen Probes show how to accelerate electrons” 

    Science Daily Icon

    July 15, 2014

    One of the great, unanswered questions for space weather scientists is just what creates two gigantic donuts of radiation surrounding Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts. Recent data from the Van Allen Probes — two nearly identical spacecraft that launched in 2012 — address this question.

    NASA Van Allen Probes
    Van Allen Probes

    The inner Van Allen radiation belt is fairly stable, but the outer one changes shape, size and composition in ways that scientists don’t yet perfectly understand. Some of the particles within this belt zoom along at close to light speed, but just what accelerates these particles up to such velocities? Recent data from the Van Allen Probes suggests that it is a two-fold process: One mechanism gives the particles an initial boost and then a kind of electromagnetic wave called Whistlers does the final job to kick them up to such intense speeds.

    vab

    “It is important to understand how this process happens,” said Forrest Mozer, a space scientist at the University of California in Berkeley and the first author of the paper on these results that appeared online in Physical Review Letters on July 15, 2014, in conjunction with the July 18 print edition. “Not only do we think a similar process happens on the sun and around other planets, but these fast particles can damage the electronics in spacecraft and affect astronauts in space.”

    Over the last few decades, numerous theories about where these extremely energetic particles come from have been developed. They have largely fallen into two different possibilities. The first theory is that the particles drift in from much further out, some 400,000 miles or more, gathering energy along the way. The second theory is that some mechanism speeds up particles already inhabiting that area of space. After two years in space, the Van Allen Probes data has largely pointed to the latter.

    Additionally, it has been shown that once particles attain reasonably large energies of 100 keV, they are moving at speeds in synch with giant electromagnetic waves that can speed the particles up even more — the same way a well-timed push on a swing can keep it moving higher and higher.

    “This paper incorporates the Whistler waves theory previously embraced,” said Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “But it provides a new explanation for how the particles get their initial push of energy.”

    This first mechanism is based on something called time domain structures, which Mozer and his colleagues have identified previously in the belts. They are very short duration pulses of electric field that run parallel to the magnetic fields that thread through the radiation belts. These magnetic field lines guide the movement of all the charged particles in the belts: The particles move along and gyrate around the lines as if they were tracing out the shape of a spring. During this early phase, the electric pulses push the particles faster forward in the direction parallel to the magnetic fields. This mechanism can increase the energies somewhat — though not as high as traditionally thought to be needed for the Whistler waves to have any effect. However, Mozer and his team showed, through both data from the Van Allen Probes and from simulations, that Whistlers can indeed affect particles at these lower energies.

    Together the one-two punch is a mechanism that can effectively accelerate particles up to the intense speeds, which have for so long mysteriously appeared in the Van Allen belts.

    “The Van Allen Probes have been able to monitor this acceleration process better than any other spacecraft because it was designed and placed in a special orbit for that purpose,” said Mozer. “The mission has provided the first really strong confirmation of what’s happening. This is the first time we can truly explain how the electrons are accelerated up to nearly the speed of light.”

    Such knowledge helps with the job of understanding the belts well enough to protect nearby spacecraft and astronauts.

    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 mission in NASA’s Living With a Star program, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    Story Source:
    The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

     
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