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  • richardmitnick 10:32 am on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From Huff Post: “NASA Is Building a Sustainable ‘Highway’ for Unprecedented Deep Space Exploration” 

    Huffington Post
    The Huffington Post

    11/20/2014
    Dan Dumbacher

    In early December, NASA will take an important step into the future with the first flight test of the Orion spacecraft — the first vehicle in history capable of taking humans to multiple destinations in deep space. And while this launch is an un-crewed test, it will be the first peek at how NASA has revamped itself since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

    NASA Orion Spacecraft
    NASA/Orion

    While the space shuttle achieved many ground-breaking accomplishments, it was limited to flights in low-Earth orbit (approx. 250 miles high). Its major goal, over the program’s last 10 years, was to launch and assemble the International Space Station, where the risks and challenges of long duration human space flight can be addressed and retired. With the ISS construction complete, NASA is in the process of handing over supply and crew transportation missions to private industry, so NASA can focus on what’s next – deep space exploration. And this first flight test of Orion is a significant milestone on the path to get us there.

    The flight itself will be challenging. Orion will fly 3,600 miles above Earth on a 4.5-hour mission to test many of the systems necessary for future human missions into deep space. After two orbits, Orion will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at almost 20,000 miles per hour, reaching temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before its parachute system deploys to slow the spacecraft for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

    While this launch is an important step to taking humans farther than we’ve ever gone before, it is important to note that it also reflects the fact that, after 30 years of space shuttle missions dominating its human spaceflight activities, NASA has reevaluated everything – from its rockets and launch facilities to how it designs and manages its programs. NASA has now infused innovation and flexibility into everything it does.

    With the Orion spacecraft, NASA wanted to develop a vehicle that could fly for decades with the flexibility to visit different destinations and safely return astronauts to Earth as the nation’s exploration goals evolve. As capable as the Apollo capsule was, the longest round trip mission to the Moon took 12 days. Orion is designed as a long-duration spacecraft that will allow us to undertake human missions to Mars – a two year round trip. In addition, NASA built enough capability into Orion so there is no need for redesign, or to start up a new program, as new destinations are identified.

    Innovation and flexibility are also evident with the ground infrastructure. At Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, NASA has eliminated the ground systems and launch pads that were built specifically for the space shuttle. They have developed a “clean pad” approach that can be used by a variety of launch vehicles. The new streamlined infrastructure will be much more cost-efficient, reducing the time for on-the-pad processing from 30 days, the space shuttle’s timeline, to just five to six days.

    The key to launching Orion on deep space exploration missions is NASA’s new “super rocket.” Known as the Space Launch System (SLS), it will be the most powerful rocket in history. The enormous power of the SLS will provide the capability to go farther into our solar system than humans have ever gone before. It will enable launches to other planets in less than half the time of any existing rocket. And, like Orion and the new ground systems at KSC, it is designed to be flexible and evolvable to meet a wide variety of crew and cargo mission requirements.

    The SLS is an absolute game-changer for ambitious robotic missions to the outer planets and large unprecedented astronomical observatories. Those missions will build on the discoveries of Curiosity on Mars, the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, and multiple robotic missions in the years ahead.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Webb Telescope
    NASA/Webb

    Through the development of the SLS and Orion, NASA has learned many lessons on how to streamline the design to make it more affordable than past systems. For the early missions, SLS will use heritage space shuttle hardware for the liquid engines and solid rocket boosters. Also, instead of initially building the “full-up” SLS, NASA has designed it to evolve by planning upgraded upper stages and boosters that future missions will require in the 2020′s and 2030′s. These innovations have allowed SLS to stay on a relatively flat budget throughout its design phase.

    Even the way NASA manages its programs has been revamped. The Agency’s management structure for systems engineering and integration has been streamlined to increase communication and enhance decision-making. Strong communication has led to increased precision, and the potential cost avoidance is close to $100 million per year. Evidence of these savings can be seen in the successful completions of Preliminary Design Reviews for Orion, SLS and KSC ground systems.

    As a nation, the U.S. has not sent crews beyond low Earth orbit since the last Apollo crew walked on the Moon in 1972. With Orion and SLS, America will have the fundamental capabilities to support missions taking the next steps into deep space, and with innovation and flexibility at the foundation of these programs, NASA is literally building a “Highway” for deep space exploration that will be sustainable for decades to come.

    See the full article here.

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    • jasper2489 11:19 am on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply

      Reblogged this on On The First Page and commented:
      This is exciting. I hope this project actually does what NASA says it will. It means we may be finally taking space exploration more seriously.

      Like

  • richardmitnick 10:14 pm on November 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From JPL: “Second Time Through, Mars Rover Examines Chosen Rocks” 

    JPL

    November 18, 2014
    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6278
    guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

    NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has completed a reconnaissance “walkabout” of the first outcrop it reached at the base of the mission’s destination mountain and has begun a second pass examining selected rocks in the outcrop in more detail.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    r
    This small ridge, about 3 feet (1 meter) long, appears to resist wind erosion more than the flatter plates around it. Such differences are among the rock characteristics that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is examining at selected targets at the base of Mount Sharp.

    The ridge pictured here, called “Pink Cliffs,” is within the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop forming part of the basal layer of the mountain. This view is a mosaic of exposures acquired by Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) shortly before a two-week walkabout up the outcrop, scouting to select which targets to examine in greater detail during a second pass.

    Pink Cliffs is one of the targets chosen for closer inspection. This image combines several frames taken with the Mastcam on Oct. 7, 2014, the 771st Martian day, or sol of Curiosity’s work on Mars. The color has been approximately white-balanced to resemble how the scene would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth.

    Exposed layers on the lower portion of Mount Sharp are expected to hold evidence about dramatic changes in the environmental evolution of Mars. That was a major reason NASA chose this area of Mars for this mission. The lowermost of these slices of time ascending the mountain includes a pale outcrop called “Pahrump Hills.” It bears layers of diverse textures that the mission has been studying since Curiosity acquired a drilled sample from the outcrop in September.

    In its first pass up this outcrop, Curiosity drove about 360 feet (110 meters), and scouted sites ranging about 30 feet (9 meters) in elevation. It evaluated potential study targets from a distance with mast-mounted cameras and a laser-firing spectrometer.

    “We see a diversity of textures in this outcrop — some parts finely layered and fine-grained, others more blocky with erosion-resistant ledges,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “Overlaid on that structure are compositional variations. Some of those variations were detected with our spectrometer. Others show themselves as apparent differences in cementation or as mineral veins. There’s a lot to study here.”

    During a second pass up the outrcrop, the mission is using a close-up camera and spectrometer on the rover’s arm to examine selected targets in more detail. The second-pass findings will feed into decisions about whether to drill into some target rocks during a third pass, to collect sample material for onboard laboratory analysis.

    “The variations we’ve seen so far tell us that the environment was changing over time, both as the sediments were laid down and also after they hardened into bedrock,” Vasavada said. “We have selected targets that we think give us the best chance of answering questions about how the sediments were deposited — in standing water? flowing water? sand blowing in the wind? — and about the composition during deposition and later changes.”

    The first target in the second pass is called “Pelona,” a fine-grained, finely layered rock close to the September drilling target at the base of Pahrump Hills outcrop. The second is a more erosion-resistant ledge called “Pink Cliffs.”

    Before examining Pelona, researchers used Curiosity’s wheels as a tool to expose a cross section of a nearby windblown ripple of dust and sand. One motive for this experiment was to learn why some ripples that Curiosity drove into earlier this year were more difficult to cross than anticipated.

    While using the rover to investigate targets in Pahrump Hills, the rover team is also developing a work-around for possible loss of use of a device used for focusing the telescope on Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument, the laser-firing spectrometer.

    Diagnostic data from ChemCam suggest weakening of the instrument’s smaller laser. This is a continuous wave laser used for focusing the telescope before the more powerful laser is fired. The main laser induces a spark on the target it hits; light from the spark is received though the telescope and analyzed with spectrometers to identify chemical elements in the target. If the smaller laser has become too weak to continue using, the ChemCam team plans to test an alternative method: firing a few shots from the main laser while focusing the telescope, before performing the analysis. This would take advantage of more than 2,000 autofocus sequences ChemCam has completed on Mars, providing calibration points for the new procedure.

    Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012, but before beginning the drive toward Mount Sharp, the rover spent much of the mission’s first year productively studying an area much closer to the landing site, but in the opposite direction. The mission accomplished its science goals in that Yellowknife Bay area. Analysis of drilled rocks there disclosed an ancient lakebed environment that, more than three billion years ago, offered ingredients and a chemical energy gradient favorable for microbes, if any existed there.

    Curiosity spent its second year driving more than 5 miles (8 kilometers) from Yellowknife Bay to the base of Mount Sharp, with pauses at a few science waypoints.

    NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, built the rover and manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information about Curiosity, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/msl

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

    You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

    http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity

    http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

    See the full article here.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    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.

    Caltech Logo
    jpl

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  • richardmitnick 2:50 pm on November 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),   

    NASA November 13 2014: “NASA X-ray Telescopes Find Black Hole May Be a Neutrino Factory” 

    NASA

    NASA

    November 13, 2014
    Janet Anderson
    NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
    256-544-6162
    janet.l.anderson@nasa.gov

    Megan Watzke
    Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.
    617-496-7998
    mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu

    The giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way may be producing mysterious particles called neutrinos. If confirmed, this would be the first time that scientists have traced neutrinos back to a black hole.

    The evidence for this came from three NASA satellites that observe in X-ray light: the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Swift gamma-ray mission, and the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR).

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    NASA SWIFT Telescope
    NASA/Swift

    NASA NuSTAR
    NASA/NuSTAR

    Neutrinos are tiny particles that carry no charge and interact very weakly with electrons and protons. Unlike light or charged particles, neutrinos can emerge from deep within their cosmic sources and travel across the universe without being absorbed by intervening matter or, in the case of charged particles, deflected by magnetic fields.

    The Earth is constantly bombarded with neutrinos from the sun. However, neutrinos from beyond the solar system can be millions or billions of times more energetic. Scientists have long been searching for the origin of ultra-high energy and very high-energy neutrinos.

    “Figuring out where high-energy neutrinos come from is one of the biggest problems in astrophysics today,” said Yang Bai of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who co-authored a study about these results published in Physical Review D. “We now have the first evidence that an astronomical source – the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole – may be producing these very energetic neutrinos.”

    Because neutrinos pass through material very easily, it is extremely difficult to build detectors that reveal exactly where the neutrino came from. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located under the South Pole, has detected 36 high-energy neutrinos since the facility became operational in 2010.

    ICECUBE neutrino detector
    IceCube

    By pairing IceCube’s capabilities with the data from the three X-ray telescopes, scientists were able to look for violent events in space that corresponded with the arrival of a high-energy neutrino here on Earth.

    “We checked to see what happened after Chandra witnessed the biggest outburst ever detected from Sagittarius A*, the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole,” said co-author Andrea Peterson, also of the University of Wisconsin. “And less than three hours later, there was a neutrino detection at IceCube.”

    sa
    sa2
    Two images of Sagittarius A* from NASA/Chandra

    In addition, several neutrino detections appeared within a few days of flares from the supermassive black hole that were observed with Swift and NuSTAR.

    “It would be a very big deal if we find out that Sagittarius A* produces neutrinos,” said co-author Amy Barger of the University of Wisconsin. “It’s a very promising lead for scientists to follow.”

    Scientists think that the highest energy neutrinos were created in the most powerful events in the Universe like galaxy mergers, material falling onto supermassive black holes, and the winds around dense rotating stars called pulsars.

    The team of researchers is still trying to develop a case for how Sagittarius A* might produce neutrinos. One idea is that it could happen when particles around the black hole are accelerated by a shock wave, like a sonic boom, that produces charged particles that decay to neutrinos.

    This latest result may also contribute to the understanding of another major puzzle in astrophysics: the source of high-energy cosmic rays. Since the charged particles that make up cosmic rays are deflected by magnetic fields in our Galaxy, scientists have been unable to pinpoint their origin. The charged particles accelerated by a shock wave near Sgr A* may be a significant source of very energetic cosmic rays.

    The paper describing these results is available online. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

    See the full article here.

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    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 8:03 pm on November 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “NASA 360 – The Future of Human Space Exploration “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    Th future of space exploration

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    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 4:05 pm on November 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), University of Wisconsin-Madison   

    From Wisconsin: “UW team’s plants return to Earth after growing in space” 

    uw

    University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Nov. 6, 2014
    David Tenenbaum

    Researchers at Simon Gilroy’s lab in the Department of Botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this afternoon greeted a truck carrying small containers holding more than 1,000 frozen plants that germinated and grew aboard the International Space Station.

    two

    On Tuesday, when Gilroy’s team inspected the plants at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, they saw exactly what they wanted: Petri dishes holding seedlings that sprouted and grew in weightlessness.

    After their arrival in Madison, the plants went directly into a deep freeze. After being thawed in a few months, they will donate their RNA to an instrument that will measure the activity of all of their approximately 30,000 genes.

    aw
    Astronaut Reid Wiseman injected a fixative solution onto the seedlings. Photo: NASA

    Half of the plants will become subjects in Gilroy’s longstanding exploration of the genetic control of the proteins that enable plants to grow in zero gravity. “Gravity is a fantastically pervasive force that affects all biology,” says Gilroy. “One astronaut observed that plants get lazy in a weightless environment; they grow long and thin, and don’t lay down strong material, just like people lose bone mass in space because it isn’t needed for supporting weight.”

    The other half of the experiment represents a departure for Gilroy, and for NASA, the agency supporting this area of space research. After these plants undergo a similar genetic analysis at UW-Madison’s Biotechnology Center, the data will get an initial check-over from Gilroy’s group. And then a treasure trove of digital data on plant genetic activity in microgravity will be made available to any researcher interested in mining it.

    “Access to space is very rare,” Gilroy says. “Traditionally, a research group will put an experiment in space, get the results and publish. But NASA is trying a new mode, called geneLAB, where the research group will put organisms in space, then, as soon as possible, release the raw data to anyone who wants to analyze it. They hope it will speed up major advances on these tiny samples that we can afford to place in space. I see this as open-source science.”

    Through the process called transcription, genes produce RNA that becomes the template for proteins, and in both sets of experiments, the RNA data will show which genes become more or less active in microgravity, when compared to an identical set of plants grown on Earth.

    plants
    Samples of Arabidopsis plants identical to those that grew in space.

    While Gilroy plans to focus on structural proteins, the geneLAB experiment compares four variants of Arabidopsis called ecotypes. “This data should provide a broad field of investigation — far more than one lab can handle,” Gilroy says. “We are going to end up with an enormous amount of transcription data. We will do some initial work to check the major genes which go up or down, but there’s tremendous potential for further analysis by other labs around the world.”

    But while the geneLab approach sounds promising, Gilroy concedes that it carries no guarantees. “This may be a path forward in crowd-sourcing science. At the least, as a single lab we could never analyze this data as fully as many labs around the world all working with it.”

    The “Biological Research in Canister” containers that held these experiments on board the space station were designed, tested and operated according to NASA’s rigorous approach, Gilroy says. “Each project represents an enormous investment, and you really want everything to go perfectly. You become one of the most careful scientists in the world. You test everything, make duplicates, and are always considering what may go wrong so you can do another test.”

    wg
    Won-Gyu Choi settles four canisters of plants grown aboard the International Space Station into a -80 degree Celsius freezer in Birge Hall. Photo: David Tenenbaum

    NASA is an unfamiliar world to most botanists, but Gilroy seems to be enjoying every step of the way, and has even learned the organization’s peculiar parlance. “At first, talking in acronyms is very strange,” he says, “and you can’t understand anything when NASA people start going into NASA-speak. But once you get into it, you catch yourself doing the exact same thing.”

    In the microgravity experiments, Gilroy is exploring the genetic basis of a phenomenon known to gardeners and horticulturalists for many years. Plants that grow up without mechanical stresses — due to wind, rain or other disturbances — “are much more susceptible to pests, are not as robust,” Gilroy says, “but if you go into a greenhouse and shake the plants, they grow up more compact, strong, and resistant to stress. They are even more resistant to plant diseases.”

    It turns out that the same signaling system used to detect mechanical stresses like gravity is also used to defend against pathogens. That may explain why plants in space appear more susceptible to disease.

    That overlap raises the stakes for understanding the impact of gravity on plants beyond the notion of building stronger crops that can stand up in the field. Understanding the signals could help in the never ending battle against plant disease.

    Likewise, NASA has its own practical interest in the research: Plants will supply food and oxygen for long-distance space travel, and keeping them healthy will be a matter of life and death. “If you are growing plants as part of a human life support system,” Gilroy says, “you’d rather not have them suddenly die.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 2:56 pm on November 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Cosmic Infrared Background, , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “NASA Rocket Experiment Finds the Universe Brighter Than We Thought” 

    NASA

    NASA

    November 6, 2014

    Felicia Chou
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

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

    A NASA sounding rocket experiment has detected a surprising surplus of infrared light in the dark space between galaxies, a diffuse cosmic glow as bright as all known galaxies combined. The glow is thought to be from orphaned stars flung out of galaxies.

    cmb
    This is a time-lapse photograph of the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launch, taken from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in 2013. The image is from the last of four launches.
    Image Credit: T. Arai/University of Tokyo

    The findings redefine what scientists think of as galaxies. Galaxies may not have a set boundary of stars, but instead stretch out to great distances, forming a vast, interconnected sea of stars.

    Observations from the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, are helping settle a debate on whether this background infrared light in the universe, previously detected by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, comes from these streams of stripped stars too distant to be seen individually, or alternatively from the first galaxies to form in the universe.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA Spitzer schematic
    NASA/Spitzer

    “We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions,” said Michael Zemcov, lead author of a new paper describing the results from the rocket project and an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread.”

    Using suborbital sounding rockets, which are smaller than those that carry satellites to space and are ideal for short experiments, CIBER captured wide-field pictures of the cosmic infrared background at two infrared wavelengths shorter than those seen by Spitzer. Because our atmosphere itself glows brightly at these particular wavelengths of light, the measurements can only be done from space.

    Cosmic Infrared Background
    Cosmic Infrared Background

    “It is wonderfully exciting for such a small NASA rocket to make such a huge discovery,” said Mike Garcia, program scientist from NASA Headquarters. “Sounding rockets are an important element in our balanced toolbox of missions from small to large.”

    During the CIBER flights, the cameras launch into space, then snap pictures for about seven minutes before transmitting the data back to Earth. Scientists masked out bright stars and galaxies from the pictures and carefully ruled out any light coming from more local sources, such as our own Milky Way galaxy. What’s left is a map showing fluctuations in the remaining infrared background light, with splotches that are much bigger than individual galaxies. The brightness of these fluctuations allows scientists to measure the total amount of background light.

    To the surprise of the CIBER team, the maps revealed a dramatic excess of light beyond what comes from the galaxies. The data showed that this infrared background light has a blue spectrum, which means it increases in brightness at shorter wavelengths. This is evidence the light comes from a previously undetected population of stars between galaxies. Light from the first galaxies would give a spectrum of colors that is redder than what was seen.

    “The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies,” said James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project from Caltech and JPL. “The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves.”

    Future experiments can test whether stray stars are indeed the source of the infrared cosmic glow. If the stars were tossed out from their parent galaxies, they should still be located in the same vicinity. The CIBER team is working on better measurements using more infrared colors to learn how stripping of stars happened over cosmic history.

    Results from two of four CIBER flights, both of which launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2010 and 2012, appear Friday, Nov. 7 in the journal Science.

    Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The work was supported by NASA, with initial support provided by JPL’s Director’s Research and Development Fund. Japanese participation in CIBER was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Korean participation in CIBER was supported by the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute.”

    For more information on NASA’s sounding rocket experiments, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sounding-rockets/

    For more information about CIBER, visit:

    http://ciber.caltech.edu/rocket.html

    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 4:18 pm on November 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “MAVEN Continues Mars Exploration Begun 50 Years Ago by Mariner 4″ 

    NASA

    NASA

    November 4, 2014

    By Bob Granath
    NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida

    When the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft arrived at the Red Planet on Sept. 21, it marked the continuation of exploration of one of Earth’s nearest celestial neighbors that began 50 years ago. In 1964, the Mariner 4 probe became the first to successfully fly by Mars, opening the way for future human exploration.

    NASA MAVEN
    NASA/MAVEN

    NASA Mariner 4
    NASA/Mariner 4

    MAVEN was launched from the Kennedy Space Center atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 18, 2013. Following a roughly 10-month trip of over 442 million miles, the spacecraft was inserted into an elliptical orbit on Sept. 21.

    MAVEN will study the Martian upper atmosphere while orbiting the planet. Mission goals include determining how the Martian atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time. Spacecraft previously visiting Mars returned data indicating that liquid water once flowed on the Mars surface. However, water now cannot exist extensively on the Martian surface due to the low atmospheric pressure and surface temperatures. MAVEN will observe the upper atmosphere, and drivers of variability from the Sun, in order to estimate the loss of the Martian atmosphere and water over time.

    The primary mission includes five “deep-dip” campaigns in which MAVEN’s lowest orbital altitude will be from 93 miles to about 77 miles. These measurements will provide information at the point where the upper and lower atmospheres meet, giving scientists a full profile of the upper tier.

    “NASA has a long history of scientific discovery at Mars and the safe arrival of MAVEN opens another chapter,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “MAVEN will complement NASA’s other Martian robotic explorers — and those of our partners around the globe — to answer some fundamental questions about Mars and life beyond Earth.”

    The exploration of Mars began a half-century ago with the Nov. 28, 1964, launch of Mariner 4, the first successful mission to the Red Planet. It was one of the great early successes for NASA, returning the first photographs of another planet from deep space.

    Approximately 40 minutes prior to closest approach on July 15, 1965, at a range of 6,118 miles, the television camera began taking the first of 21 photographs.

    A report by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory-California Institute of Technology team that managed the flight stated that the surface was pock-marked much like the moon.

    “There were more than 70 clearly distinguishable craters ranging in diameter from 4 to 120 km (2.5 to 74.5 miles),” the report said. “It seems likely that smaller craters exist; there also may be still larger craters, since Mariner 4 photographed, in all, about one percent of the Martian surface.”

    A little more than an hour after the encounter, Mariner 4 dipped behind Mars, as viewed from Earth, in order to refract its radio signals through the Martian atmosphere. Data indicated that the atmospheric pressure on the surface was quite low.

    The probe detected daytime surface temperatures of about minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit. A very weak radiation belt, about 0.1 percent that of the Earth’s, was also discovered by Mariner 4.

    In addition to unlocking key information about how to safely deliver future missions to the Martian surface, the spacecraft far outlasted its planned eight-month mission. Mariner 4 remained in solar orbit, continuing long-term studies of the solar wind and making coordinated measurements with the Mariner 5 mission to Venus. Contact was finally lost on Dec. 21, 1967.

    NASA Mariner 5
    NASA/Mariner 5

    Since Mariner 4, the lure of the Red Planet remains, with numerous spacecraft being launched to further explore Mars by the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, Japan, Great Britain, the European Space Agency, India and the People’s Republic of China. MAVEN makes the 16th successful American probe dispatched to Mars.

    On Nov. 13, 1971, Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to be placed in orbit around another planet. After enduring months of dust storms, Mariner 9 sent back clear pictures of the Martian surface.

    NASA Mariner 9
    NASA/Mariner 9

    Vikings 1 and 2 were the first spacecraft to soft land on Mars and to successfully perform a mission returning data and photographs of the landscape. Viking 1 once held the record for the longest Mars surface mission of 2,307 days or 2,245 sols (Martian days). The record was broken by the Opportunity Rover on May 19, 2010. The term “sol” refers to the duration of a solar day on Mars, equal to 24 hours and 39 minutes on Earth.

    NASA Viking 1
    NASA/Viking 1

    NASA’s Mars Pathfinder landed a base station with a roving probe on Mars on July 4, 1997. The 23-pound wheeled robotic Mars rover, named Sojourner, made measurements of the elements found in the rocks and the Martian soil.

    NASA Mars Pathfinder
    NASA/Mars Pathfinder

    Among the most successful robotic explorers have been the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, known as Spirit and Opportunity. The rovers were designed to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.

    NASA Mars Spirit
    NASA/Mars Spirit

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover
    NASA/Mars Opportunity

    Mission planners initially hoped the two rovers would operate for 90 sols. After that time, both Spirit and Opportunity still had plenty of life, and multiple mission extensions kept Spirit functioning until March 22, 2010. Opportunity continues to operate, having traveled almost 25 miles across the Martian surface.

    Launched by NASA to Mars on Nov. 26, 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landed the Curiosity rover on Aug. 6, 2012. The compact car-sized rover is about twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity and carries over ten times the mass of scientific instruments.

    MSL carried out a more accurate landing than previous spacecraft to Mars, aiming for a small target landing ellipse of only 4.3 by 12.4 miles, in the 96-mile-diameter Gale Crater. Curiosity now is investigating Mars’ habitability, studying its climate and geology and collecting data in advance of a human expedition to the Red Planet.

    The MSL Curiosity rover measured radiation on the way to Mars and is sending back data that will help in planning how to protect astronauts who travel to Mars.

    Since Mariner 4’s arrival in 1965, a fleet of robotic spacecraft and rovers has landed on and orbited Mars. Collectively, they have dramatically increased the knowledge-base about the Red Planet, helping pave the way for future human explorers.

    For many years, science fiction writers told fanciful stories about encounters with Martians. However, the first detailed study of the engineering challenges of an actual trip to the Red Planet was published by Wernher von Braun in his 1952 book, The Mars Project.

    Von Braun began writing the manuscript in 1947 while working for the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, Texas. At the time, he was helping launch rockets to the edge of space at the nearby White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico.

    In his book, von Braun suggested that a mission to Mars would require a fleet of spacecraft, noting that when Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492, it was with three ships.

    “So it is with interplanetary exploration,” he wrote, “it must be done on a grand scale.”

    American television audiences gained their first view of the possibility of human space travel in a series of episodes of Walt Disney’s popular show, Disneyland. Between 1955 and 1957, Disney presented what he called “science factual” episodes, including one entitled “Mars and Beyond.”

    “Together, von Braun (the engineer) and Disney (the artist) used the new medium of television to illustrate how high man might fly on the strength of technology and the spirit of human imagination,” wrote Mike Wright, the Marshall Space Flight Center’s historian, in an article on the Disney and von Braun’s collaboration.

    NASA’s Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket are designed to achieve that goal to expand human presence in deep space and enable exploration of new destinations in the solar system.

    NASA Space Launch System
    NASa/Space Launch System

    NASA Orion Spacecraft
    NASA/Orion

    Orion is intended to meet the evolving needs of our nation’s space program for decades to come. It will take crews of up to four astronauts farther than they’ve ever gone before, enabling missions to asteroids and, eventually, to Mars.

    Scheduled for December, the upcoming Exploration Flight Test 1, or EFT-1, will be the first test flight for Orion.

    NASA’s SLS, a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will help provide that new capability for human exploration, will boost Orion off the planet in the first integrated flight test, Exploration Mission 1. SLS is designed to be flexible, launching spacecraft for both human and cargo missions.

    One of the first steps to develop the “grand scale” technology needed for such an expedition will come from NASA’s initiative to use advanced solar electric propulsion to robotically capture an asteroid and redirect it to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system. Astronauts then would launch aboard an Orion spacecraft atop an SLS rocket to collect samples of and explore the relocated asteroid.

    NASA Administrator Charles Bolden believes that the latest spacecraft to arrive at Mars, along with those that preceded it, are the stepping stones needed to reach the ultimate goal of human exploration.

    “As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet,” Bolden said. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

    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 7:08 pm on November 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “Living off the Land in the Final Frontier “ 

    NASA

    NASA

    October 31, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    Safely sending human explorers to and from Mars will be the challenge of a generation. We don’t yet know what clues astronauts will uncover in the Martian soil or atmosphere that reveal new knowledge about our solar system, but one thing is certain, Mars contains critical resources that can sustain human presence. Harvesting those resources will be key to pioneering the Red Planet.

    To enable missions deeper into space than ever before, NASA is investing in technologies for In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU)—the ability to find and use natural resources beyond Earth. This includes refining and storing consumables like breathable air, drinkable water, and even using them to grow food. With ISRU, future astronauts may even be able to create rocket fuel and 3D printed parts and structures by using locally sourced minerals. In the short-term, ISRU is one of the key capabilities NASA needs to help astronauts rely less on supplies from Earth and become more self-reliant on expeditions far from home.

    rover
    An artist concept image of where seven carefully-selected instruments will be located on NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. The MOXIE payload is identified in the lower center location of the image.
    Image Credit: NASA

    moxie
    MOXIE

    It will take humans more than six months to reach Mars with current propulsion systems. Because of the orbit of the planets around the sun, astronauts either will have to leave Mars within 30 days or stay on the planet for more than 500 days. The ability to leverage Mars resources could greatly reduce the cost of both mission types. NASA will soon test ISRU experiments that could help overcome this challenge.

    In August, NASA announced the suite of instruments destined for Mars aboard the agency’s Mars 2020 Rover. One of these instruments, the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), will convert carbon dioxide collected from the Martian atmosphere into oxygen. The MOXIE system, once demonstrated on Mars, could be scaled for future human missions as a way to replenish their life support. They could even use the oxygen to fuel an ascent vehicle to leave the Martian surface and begin the voyage home.

    The ability to produce oxygen on Mars decreases the amount of cargo we will need to launch in advance of human missions or send with crews, which could significantly decrease the costs of those missions as well.

    resolve
    In this concept image, a resource prospector carrying a RESOLVE payload roves on the lunar surface.
    Image Credit: NASA

    Learning to live off the land beyond Earth is not limited to Mars, though. NASA is developing a plan to launch the Resource Prospector with the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) experiment. Resource Prospector will land on the south pole of the moon and carry RESOLVE on a rover to find, characterize and map ice and other substances in almost permanently shadowed areas. The concept includes multiple science instruments that will help identify volatiles in the lunar soil (or “regolith”), such as hydrogen and water ice. An on-board oven will separate the natural resources from soil samples. In the future, water and oxygen extracted from lunar soil through methods tested by RESOLVE could be used for life support. Two recent NASA spacecraft around the moon found that its craters are rich in methane and hydrogen as well—useful gases for propellant. The RESOLVE experiment also will identify important minerals, such as iron, that could become important resources for lunar-based manufacturing in the future.

    text
    In this concept image, an astronaut takes samples of an asteroid that has been robotically captured and placed into a lunar orbit.
    Image Credit: NASA

    Asteroids rich in resources also could prove to be useful as waypoints for deep space journeys. NASA’s upcoming Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) will move a near-Earth asteroid into orbit around the moon, which astronauts will explore in the 2020s. In addition to testing new technologies needed for human missions to Mars, ARM could open new opportunities for asteroid utilization, like mining resources that could be turned into propellant, consumables or radiation shielding in the not-too-distant future. NASA has initiated concept studies to examine how to harvest these resources from asteroids, in a weightless environment.

    In our lifetimes, ISRU is poised to make exciting breakthroughs on any target of human exploration. With raw materials astronauts could build infrastructure like launch pads and radiation shielding that will further reduce dependence on Earth supplies and protect the crew. Perhaps the most profound moment, though, will come with the first breath of fresh air made on another planet. For the latest on NASA’s ISRU development, follow: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration and http://isru.nasa.gov.

    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 7:59 pm on November 1, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From NASA: “NASA Reveals Mysteries of ‘Interstellar’ Space” 

    NASA

    NASA

    October 31, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    The new Paramount film “Interstellar” imagines a future where astronauts must find a new planet suitable for human life after climate change destroys the Earth’s ability to sustain us. Multiple NASA missions are helping avoid this dystopian future by providing critical data necessary to protect Earth. Yet the cosmos beckons us to explore farther from home, expanding human presence deeper into the solar system and beyond. For thousands of years we’ve wondered if we could find another home among the stars. We’re right on the cusp of answering that question.

    mw
    This enormous mosaic of the Milky Way galaxy from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows dozens of dense clouds, called nebulae. Many nebulae seen here are places where new stars are forming, creating bubble like structures that can be dozens to hundreds of light-years in size.
    Image Credit: NASA

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA/WISE

    If you step outside on a very dark night you may be lucky enough to see many of the 2,000 stars visible to the human eye. They’re but a fraction of the billions of stars in our galaxy and the innumerable galaxies surrounding us. Multiple NASA missions are helping us extend humanity’s senses and capture starlight to help us better understand our place in the universe.

    Largely visible light telescopes like Hubble show us the ancient light permeating the cosmos, leading to groundbreaking discoveries like the accelerating expansion of the universe. Through infrared missions like Spitzer, SOFIA and WISE, we’ve peered deeply through cosmic dust, into stellar nurseries where gases form new stars. With missions like Chandra, Fermi and NuSTAR, we’ve detected the death throes of massive stars, which can release enormous energy through supernovas and form the exotic phenomenon of black holes.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    NASA SOFIA
    NASA/SOFIA

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    NASA Fermi Telescope
    NASA/Fermi

    NASA NuSTAR
    NASA/NuSTAR

    Yet it was only in the last few years that we could fully grasp how many other planets there might be beyond our solar system. Some 64 million miles (104 kilometers) from Earth, the Kepler Space Telescope stared at a small window of the sky for four years. As planets passed in front of a star in Kepler’s line of view, the spacecraft measured the change in brightness. Kepler was designed to determine the likelihood that other planets orbit stars. Because of the mission, we now know it’s possible every star has at least one planet. Solar systems surround us in our galaxy and are strewn throughout the myriad galaxies we see. Though we have not yet found a planet exactly like Earth, the implications of the Kepler findings are staggering—there may very well be many worlds much like our own for future generations to explore.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    NASA also is developing its next exoplanet mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will search 200,000 nearby stars for the presence of Earth-size planets.

    NASA TESS
    NASA/TESS

    As of now, the distance between stars is too great for spacecraft to traverse using existing propulsion. Only one spacecraft is poised to leave the solar system in the near future. Voyager 1, launched in 1977, made the historic entry into interstellar space in August of 2012, reaching the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. It won’t encounter another star for at least 40,000 years.

    NASA Voyager 2
    NASA/Voyager

    The near-term future of exploration should be cause for much excitement, though, as humans and robotic spacecraft pioneer the path Voyager traveled, deeper into our solar system, where extra-terrestrial life may exist, and where humans could one day thrive.

    Life as we know it requires water and heat. On our watery planet, we find life teeming at even the most extreme temperatures. Scientists are eager to know if evidence of microbial life exists on other planets and moons within our reach. On Jupiter’s moon Europa, for example, there is a temperate ocean caught between a volcanic core and icy surface. Just as life exists in the dark, hot reaches of Earth’s ocean, so too could it exist on Europa, waiting to be discovered. NASA is studying a future mission to the watery moon next decade.

    xdf.
    Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope contains about 5,500 galaxies. Some span back 13.2 billion years in time — nearly to the Big Bang, and are the most distant galaxies ever seen.
    Image Credit: NASA

    Many scientists question if Earth formed with the water it has now. Comets and asteroid impacts early in the planet’s history may have brought the water and help transform our atmosphere. Upcoming missions to capture samples of asteroids, like OSIRIS-REx, could reveal the building blocks of life embedded in the rock, which could lead to new insights about the origins of life.

    NASA Osiris-REx
    NASA/OSIRIS-REx

    Perhaps the most enticing target to search for evidence of life, however, is Mars. A fleet of spacecraft on the surface and orbiting Mars have revealed the Red Planet once had conditions suitable for life. While the planet’s flowing water and atmosphere have significantly diminished, evidence of past life could still be discovered by future exploration. It could even be a home for future human pioneers.

    Martian natural resources like water ice embedded in rock could be extracted to create breathable air, drinkable water, and even components for spacecraft propellant. An ability to live off the land will greatly enable multiple human missions to Mars and forever change the history of humankind.

    This Journey to Mars begins aboard the International Space Station where astronauts 250 miles above Earth are learning how to live in space for long durations—key knowledge needed for round trips to Mars, which could take 500 days or more. A new generation of U.S. commercial spacecraft and rockets are supplying the space station and will soon launch astronauts once again from U.S. soil. As these 21st century spaceflight innovations open low-Earth Orbit in new ways, NASA is building the capabilities to send humans farther from Earth than even before. In December, we’ll conduct the first flight test of the Orion Spacecraft, which will carry astronauts next decade on missions beyond the moon to an asteroid and Mars, launched on the giant Space Launch System rocket.

    NASA Orion Spacecraft
    NASA/Orion

    Many other missions in the near future will expand the frontier of exploration in our solar system. In 2015, New Horizons will fly by Pluto and see the icy world up close for the first time. In 2016, NASA will launch the InSight mission to Mars and asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx. In 2018, Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will see light from the universe’s first stars. In about 2019, we’ll launch a robotic spacecraft to capture and redirect an asteroid. In 2020, we’ll send a new rover to Mars, to follow in the footsteps of Curiosity, search for ancient Martian life, and pave the way for future human explorers. In 2021, SLS and Orion will launch humans on the first crewed mission of the combined system. In the mid-2020s, astronauts will explore an asteroid redirected to an orbit around the moon, and return home with samples that could hold clues to the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. In doing so, those astronauts will travel farther into the solar system than anyone has ever been.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/ New Horizons

    NASA Insight
    NASA/InSight

    NASA Webb Telescope
    NASA/Webb
    It’s an exciting time as NASA reaches new heights to reveal the unknown and benefit humankind. Be a part of the journey and connect with us at http://www.nasa.gov/connect.

    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 4:34 am on October 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)   

    From astrobio.net: “Planetary Atmospheres a Key to Assessing Possibilities for Life” 

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Astrobiology Magazine

    Oct 30, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    A planetary atmosphere is a delicate thing. On Earth, we are familiar with the ozone hole — a tear in our upper atmosphere caused by human-created chemicals that thin away the ozone. Threats to an atmosphere, however, can also come from natural causes.

    ear
    Earth’s atmosphere likely changed from a helium-heavy one to the nitrogen and oxygen mix we see today. Credit: NASA

    If a big enough asteroid smacks into a planet, it can strip the atmosphere away. Radiation from a star can also make an atmosphere balloon, causing its lighter elements to escape into space.

    Understanding how permanent an atmosphere is, where it came from, and most importantly what it is made of are key to understanding if a planet outside our solar system is habitable for life. Our instruments aren’t yet sophisticated enough to look at atmospheres surrounding Earth-sized planets, but astronomers are starting to gather data on larger worlds to do comparative studies.

    One such example was recently accepted in the journal Astrophysical Journal and is available now in a preprint version on Arxiv. The astronomers created models of planetary formation and then simulated atmospheric stripping, the process where a young star’s radiation can push lighter elements out into space.

    Next, the team compared their findings to data gathered from NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope. The researchers predict that the atmospheric mass of the planets Kepler found is, in some cases, far greater than the thin veneer of air covering Earth.

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    Co-author Christoph Mordasini, who studies planet and star formation at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, cautioned there is likely an observational bias with the Kepler data.

    “Kepler systems are so compact, with the planets closer to their star than in our solar system,” said Mordasini.

    Astronomers are still trying to understand why.

    “Maybe some of these objects formed early in their system’s history, in the presence of lots of gas and dust,” he said. “This would have made their atmospheres relatively massive compared to Earth. Our planet probably only formed when the gas was already gone, so it could not form a similar atmosphere.”

    Blowing gas away

    Planetary systems come to be in a cloud of gas and dust, the theory goes. If enough mass gathers in a part of the cloud, that section collapses and creates a star surrounded by a thin disk. When the star ignites, its radiative force will gradually clear the area around it of any debris.

    Over just a few million years, the hydrogen and helium in the disk surrounding the star partially spirals onto the star, while the rest gets pushed farther and farther out into space. Proto-Earth likely had a hydrogen-rich atmosphere at this stage, but over time (with processes such as vulcanism, comet impacts, and biological activity) its atmosphere gradually changed to the nitrogen and oxygen composition we see today.

    Kepler’s data has showed other differences from our own solar system. In our own solar system, there is a vast size difference between Earth and the next-biggest planet, Neptune, which has a radius almost four times that of Earth’s. This means there’s a big dividing line when it comes to size between terrestrial planets and gas giants in our solar system.

    venus
    This global view of the surface of Venus is centered at 180 degrees east longitude. Magellan synthetic aperture radar mosaics from the first cycle of Magellan mapping are mapped onto a computer-simulated globe to create this image. Data gaps are filled with Pioneer Venus Orbiter data, or a constant mid-range value. Simulated color is used to enhance small-scale structure. The simulated hues are based on color images recorded by the Soviet Venera 13 and 14 spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL

    In Kepler surveys (as well as surveys from other planet-hunting telescopes), scientists have found more of a gradient. There are other planetary systems out there with planets in between Earth’s and Neptune’s sizes, which are sometimes called “super-Earths” or “mini-Neptunes.” Whether planets of this size are habitable is up for debate.

    “The gap between the Earth’s and Uranus’ or Neptune’s size, and also in their composition, doesn’t exist in extrasolar planets. So, what we see in the Solar System is not the rule,” Mordasini said.

    The planets that Kepler has picked up, however, tend to be massive and closer to their star, and are therefore easier to detect. They pass more frequently across the face of their parent star, making them more easily spotted from Earth.

    The size implies that they managed to grab their disk’s primordial hydrogen and helium atmosphere before it got blown away. Hydrogen and helium are light elements, so a star’s radiation would puff up the hydrogen and helium atmosphere far more than what we see on Earth, with its heavier elements.

    What does this mean? The team predicts that in some cases, when astronomers measure the radius of a planet, that measurement also includes a bulky atmosphere. In other words, the planet underneath could be a lot smaller than what Kepler’s measurements could indicate.

    This process assumes that the planet has an iron core and silica mantle, just like the Earth, but orbits its parent star about 10 times closer than we do ours. If the atmosphere is more massive — even 1 percent of the planet’s mass is many thousands of times more massive than Earth’s — it creates more pressure on the surface.

    “It depends, but you can imagine this pressure is comparable to the deepest parts of the Earth’s ocean. Additionally, these atmospheres can be isolating and insulating for heat, so it’s also very hot on the surface,” Mordasini said.

    High temperatures on Earth are known to destroy amino acids, the building blocks of carbon-based life.

    Delicate atmosphere

    The atmosphere may be more massive, but it is also delicate. It wouldn’t take too much of a push to send hydrogen, the lightest element, away from the planet and into space.

    k69
    A habitable zone planet, Kepler-69c, in an artist’s impression. The world is probably an inhospitable “super-Venus,” but then again, it might be habitable, depending on the character of its atmosphere. Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

    Young stars like the Sun in its youth are especially active in x-rays and ultraviolet radiation. When these forms of light hit a planetary atmosphere, they tend to heat it up. Since heating expands gases, the atmosphere grows. An atmosphere that flows beyond certain heights can get so high that part of it gets “unbounded” from the planet’s gravity and escapes into space.

    In our own solar system, for example, Mars likely lost its hydrogen to space over time while a heavier kind of hydrogen (called deuterium) remained behind. A new NASA orbiting spacecraft called Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) has just arrived at the Red Planet to study more about atmospheric escape today and researchers will to try to extrapolate that knowledge to space.

    NASA MAVEN
    NASA/MAVEN

    By contrast, the planet Venus is an example of having an exceptionally persistent atmosphere. The mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere is so thick today that the planet is completely shrouded in clouds. Underneath the atmosphere is a hellish environment, one in which the spacecraft that have made it there have only survived a few minutes in the 864 º Fahrenheit (462 º Celsius) heat on the surface. It is widely presumed that atmospheres like that of Venus would be too hot for carbon-based life.

    Why Venus, Mars and Earth are so different in their atmospheric composition and history is among the questions puzzling astronomers today. Understanding atmospheric escape on each of these worlds will be helpful, scientists say.

    “How strong atmospheric escape is depends on fundamental properties such as mass or planetary orbit,” Mordasini said. “We found out for giant planets like Jupiter, the operation is typically not as strong.”

    Future work of the team includes considering atmospheres that are not made of hydrogen or helium, which could bring researchers a step closer to understanding how different types of elements work on planets. Eventually, this could feed into models predicting habitability.

    See the full article here.

    NASA

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