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  • richardmitnick 7:36 pm on January 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From ESA: “A New View of An Icon” 2012, but well worth it. 

    European Space Agency

    17 January 2012
    No Writer Credit

    Stunning new Herschel and XMM-Newton image of the Eagle Nebula

    ESA Herschel

    ESA XMM Newton
    XMM Newton

    The Eagle Nebula as never seen before.

    In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope’s ‘Pillars of Creation’ image of the Eagle Nebula became one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. Now, two of ESA’s orbiting observatories have shed new light on this enigmatic star-forming region.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    Pillars of Creation
    The most famous astronomical image of the 20th century

    The Eagle Nebula is 6500 light-years away in the constellation of Serpens. It contains a young hot star cluster, NGC6611, visible with modest back-garden telescopes, that is sculpting and illuminating the surrounding gas and dust, resulting in a huge hollowed-out cavity and pillars, each several light-years long.

    The Hubble image hinted at new stars being born within the pillars, deeply inside small clumps known as evaporating gaseous globules or EGGs. Owing to obscuring dust, Hubble’s visible light picture was unable to see inside and prove that young stars were indeed forming.

    The ESA Herschel Space Observatory’s new image shows the pillars and the wide field of gas and dust around them. Captured in far-infrared wavelengths, the image allows astronomers to see inside the pillars and structures in the region.

    XMM-Newton: hot stars in X-rays

    Individual images that make up the final stunning new view

    In parallel, a new multi-energy X-ray image from ESA’s XMM-Newton telescope shows those hot young stars responsible for carving the pillars.

    Combining the new space data with near-infrared images from the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile, and visible-light data from its Max Planck Gesellschaft 2.2m diameter telescope at La Silla, Chile, we see this iconic region of the sky in a uniquely beautiful and revealing way.

    ESO VLT Interferometer

    ESO 2.2 meter telescope
    MPG 2.2m diameter telescope at LaSilla

    In visible wavelengths, the nebula shines mainly due to reflected starlight and hot gas filling the giant cavity, covering the surfaces of the pillars and other dusty structures.

    In far-infrared, Herschel detects this cold dust and the pillars reappear, this time glowing in their own light.
    Intricate tendrils of dust and gas are seen to shine, giving astronomers clues about how it interacts with strong ultraviolet light from the hot stars seen by XMM-Newton.
    In 2001, Very Large Telescope near-infrared images had shown only a small minority of the EGGs were likely to contain stars being born. However, Herschel’s image makes it possible to search for young stars over a much wider region and thus come to a much fuller understanding of the creative and destructive forces inside the Eagle Nebula.

    Pillars of Creation in near-infrared

    Herschel far-infrared view

    Earlier mid-infrared images from ESA’s Infrared Space Observatory and NASA’s Spitzer, and the new XMM-Newton data, have led astronomers to suspect that one of the massive, hot stars in NGC6611 may have exploded in a supernova 6000 years ago, emitting a shockwave that destroyed the pillars.

    ESA Infrared Space Observatory

    NASA Spitzer Telescope

    However, because of the distance of the Eagle Nebula, we won’t see this happen for several hundred years yet.

    ISO mid-infrared view of Pillars of Creation

    Powerful ground-based telescopes continue to provide astonishing views of our Universe, but images in far-infrared, mid-infrared and X-ray wavelengths are impossible to obtain owing to the absorbing effects of Earth’s atmosphere.

    Space-based observatories such as ESA’s Herschel and XMM-Newton help to peel back that veil and see the full beauty of the Universe across the electromagnetic spectrum.

    With regions like the Eagle Nebula, combining all of these observations helps astronomers to understand the complex yet amazing lifecycle of stars

    See the full article here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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    • richardmitnick 8:06 pm on January 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      A lesson for other bloggers. This was presented by a secondary source with the implication that it was new. But a little digging at ESA (five minutes) showed that it was from 2012. So much for secondary sources.

      Make sure that you have the right information before you post.


  • richardmitnick 2:57 pm on January 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From phys.org: “NASA team hacks Opportunity to treat Mars Rover’s amnesia” 


    Dec 1, 2014
    Amina Khan

    NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity has been working well into its golden years – after nearly 11 years roaming the Red Planet, it has survived more than 40 times past its warranty. But now, this trusty veteran explorer is experiencing some worrisome memory loss.

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover

    The long-lived rover has been having some senior moments, according to John Callas, project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover mission (as Opportunity and its defunct twin Spirit are formally known). The episodes of amnesia stem from faulty flash memory – the kind of memory in your digital camera that allows your pictures to stay saved even after your device is turned off.

    But flash memory doesn’t last forever – and the seventh, final bank in the flash memory appears to be malfunctioning.

    “Flash memory has a limited lifetime,” Callas said. “It only allows so many read-write cycles before it starts to wear out some of the cells. And after 11 years of operation on Mars, we now suspect we’re seeing a wear-out of some of those cells.”

    This leads to a pair of problems. Since the rover can’t use the seventh memory bank, it uses its random-access memory – or RAM, the kind of memory your computer uses when it’s on for temporary data storage. The problem is, as soon as the rover (or your computer) is switched off, the information stored in RAM is lost. So if the rover turns off before sending all of its at-risk data back to its handlers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, then those data are lost forever.

    That’s an annoying, but manageable, issue, Callas said. The second snag is that the flash memory issue also causes the rover to reboot – and when it reboots, it stops the long-term activities the team had planned for the rover and simply waits for further instructions on the ground. On weekends and over the holiday season, when people are out of the office, these unexpected hang-ups can put the team days behind schedule, Callas said.

    “It’s like you’re taking a family trip and your car stalls, and every time your car stalls you have to call triple-A – but now it’s stalling every 20 miles,” Callas said. “You’re not going to make much progress.”

    The researchers do have a clever little fix, Callas added. They plan on modifying the software so that the rover thinks it only has six banks’ worth of flash memory – which should make it skip faulty bank No. 7, since that’s at the very end. (They’re lucky the faulty segment wasn’t right in the middle of the flash memory module, Callas added – that would make a fix much more complicated.)

    “You have a piece of lettuce you want to put on your sandwich and the edge of the lettuce is a little bit brown, and you just cut it off and you put the rest in your sandwich and you go,” Callas said by way of analogy. “Maybe you have a little less lettuce, but it doesn’t have any brown on it.”

    Opportunity, which along with its twin Spirit arrived at the Red Planet in early 2004, set out to find signs of past water on Earth’s dry, dusty next-door neighbor. It did that and more, even finding evidence of past habitable environments in its later years that complemented the findings from its descendant, NASA’s 2012 rover Curiosity.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover

    Opportunity was never meant to last this long, and it’s picked up a number of scars along the way. It’s been described as arthritic, with a gimpy elbow and a somewhat disabled front wheel, but that hasn’t kept the robot from logging roughly 26 miles on the Red Planet.

    It’s unclear how long Opportunity will last, said Callas, who compared the aging rover to an elderly parent (one in good health, who still plays tennis every day).

    “With each passing day we get one day closer to that end … but until that time, we’re going to keep going, keep exploring,” Callas said.

    See the full article here.

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 4:38 am on December 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From DNews: “Mars Orbiter Spies Alien Ice ‘Spiders'” 

    Discovery News
    Discovery News

    Dec 29, 2014
    Ian O’Neill

    The Martian surface is covered with a diverse array of landscapes and features, but this is one of the weirdest.

    Imaged by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) that orbits the planet 150 miles overhead, strange spider-like formations cover this south polar region of Mars. And these are truly alien features that are found nowhere on Earth.


    NASA Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter
    NASA/Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter

    So what are they? Is Mars infested with arachnids? Or is it some sort of giant mold? Sadly, it’s neither, it’s actually a fascinating season-driven phenomena that HiRISE scientists call “araneiform” terrain.

    Araneiform means, perhaps unsurprisingly, “spider-like” and the term applies to other features that have a “spider”, “caterpillar” or “starburst”-like shape, according to planetary scientist Candice Hansen who described the same south pole region in an earlier HiRISE image release.

    The Martian climate is so cold that even carbon dioxide will freeze from the atmosphere and accumulate as ice on the surface during winter. During spring, the carbon dioxide will sublimate back into the atmosphere as it is heated by a strengthening sun.

    Carbon dioxide ice on Mars does not melt into a liquid state; it bypasses the liquid phase and sublimates straight from a solid into a vapor. This seasonal process therefore creates its own type of erosion on the Martian landscape.

    “This particular example shows eroded channels filled with bright ice, in contrast to the muted red of the underlying ground,” writes Hansen. “In the summer the ice will disappear into the atmosphere, and we will see just the channels of ghostly spiders carved in the surface.”

    Earth’s atmospheric temperature does not drop as low as Mars’, so carbon dioxide ice (or “dry ice”) does not form naturally. Therefore, there is no terrestrial analog of these alien spider channels — it is purely a Mars phenomenon.

    “This is truly Martian terrain — this type of erosion does not take place anywhere naturally on earth because our climate is too warm,” adds Hansen.

    Planetary scientists are therefore very interested in understanding these kinds of erosional processes; they provide us with a very privileged view into the changing seasons on the Red Planet and how very different erosional processes on an alien world continue to shape the dynamic Martian terrain.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:58 pm on December 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “NASA Announces Mars 2020 Rover Payload to Explore the Red Planet as Never Before” 



    July 31, 2014
    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington

    The next rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 will carry seven carefully-selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet.

    NASA announced the selected Mars 2020 rover instruments Thursday at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide. Proposals received were twice the usual number submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past. This is an indicator of the extraordinary interest by the science community in the exploration of the Mars. The selected proposals have a total value of approximately $130 million for development of the instruments.

    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

    Planning for NASA’s 2020 Mars rover envisions a basic structure that capitalizes on the design and engineering work done for the NASA rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, but with new science instruments selected through competition for accomplishing different science objectives. Mars 2020 is a mission concept that NASA announced in late 2012 to re-use the basic engineering of Mars Science Laboratory to send a different rover to Mars, with new objectives and instruments, launching in 2020. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages NASA’s Mars Exploration Program for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover


    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.

    “Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond. Mars exploration will be this generation’s legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans’ journey to the Red Planet.”

    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, with these new advanced scientific instruments, including those from our international partners, holds the promise to unlock more mysteries of Mars’ past as revealed in the geological record,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission will further our search for life in the universe and also offer opportunities to advance new capabilities in exploration technology.”

    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 as an oxidizer for rocket fuel.

    “The 2020 rover will help answer questions about the Martian environment that astronauts will face and test technologies they need before landing on, exploring and returning from the Red Planet,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Mars has resources needed to help sustain life, which can reduce the amount of supplies that human missions will need to carry. Better understanding the Martian dust and weather will be valuable data for planning human Mars missions. Testing ways to extract these resources and understand the environment will help make the pioneering of Mars feasible.”

    The selected payload proposals are:

    Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom. The instrument also will determine mineralogy of the Martian surface and assist with rover operations. The principal investigator is James Bell, Arizona State University in Tempe.

    SuperCam, an instrument that can provide imaging, chemical composition analysis, and mineralogy. The instrument will also be able to detect the presence of organic compounds in rocks and regolith from a distance. The principal investigator is Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico. This instrument also has a significant contribution from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales,Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Plane’tologie (CNES/IRAP) France.

    Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL), 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. PIXL will provide capabilities that permit more detailed detection and analysis of chemical elements than ever before. The principal investigator is Abigail Allwood, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

    Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC), a spectrometer that will provide fine-scale imaging and uses an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds. SHERLOC will be the first UV Raman spectrometer to fly to the surface of Mars and will provide complementary measurements with other instruments in the payload. The principal investigator is Luther Beegle, JPL.

    The Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE), an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. The principal investigator is Michael Hecht, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA), a set of sensors that will provide measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity and dust size and shape. The principal investigator is Jose’ Antonio Rodriguez-Manfredi, Centro de Astrobiologia, Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial, Spain.

    The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX), a ground-penetrating radar that will provide centimeter-scale resolution of the geologic structure of the subsurface. The principal investigator is Svein-Erik Hamran, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), Norway.

    “We are excited that NASA’s Space Technology Program is partnered with Human Exploration and the Mars 2020 Rover Team to demonstrate our abilities to harvest the Mars atmosphere and convert its abundant carbon dioxide to pure oxygen,” said James Reuther, deputy associate administrator for programs for the Space Technology Mission Directorate. “This technology demonstration will pave the way for more affordable human missions to Mars where oxygen is needed for life support and rocket propulsion.”

    Instruments developed from the selected proposals will be placed on a rover similar to Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012. Using a proven landing system and rover chassis design to deliver these new experiments to Mars will ensure mission costs and risks are minimized as much as possible, while still delivering a highly capable rover.

    Curiosity recently completed a Martian year on the surface — 687 Earth days — having accomplished the mission’s main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

    The Mars 2020 rover is part the agency’s Mars Exploration Program, which includes the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft currently orbiting the planet, and the MAVEN orbiter, which is set to arrive at the Red Planet in September and will study the Martian upper atmosphere.

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover

    NASA Mars Odessy Orbiter

    NASA Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter
    Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter


    In 2016, a Mars lander mission called InSight will launch to take the first look into the deep interior of Mars. The agency also is participating in the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing “Electra” telecommunication radios to ESA’s 2016 orbiter and a critical element of the astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

    NASA Insight

    ESA Mars 2016 Orbiter
    ESA 2016 Mars Orbiter

    ESA ExoMars 2015
    ESA ExoMars

    NASA’s Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. In parallel, NASA is developing the human spaceflight capabilities needed for future round-trip missions to Mars.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will build and manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

    For more information about NASA’s Mars programs, visit:


    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 [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 4:05 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From CfA: “Magnetic Fields on Solar-Type Stars” 

    Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
    Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

    Friday, December 12, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    The Sun rotates slowly, about once every 24 days at its equator although the hot gas at every latitude rotates at a slightly different rate. Rotation helps to drive the mechanisms that power stellar magnetic fields, and in slowly rotating solar-type stars also helps to explain the solar activity cycle. In the case of solar-type stars that rotate much faster than does the modern-day Sun, the dynamo appears to be generated by fundamentally different mechanisms that, along with many details of solar magnetic field generation, are not well understood. Astronomers trying to understand dynamos across a range of solar-type stars (and how they evolve) have been observing a variety of active stars, both slow and fast rotators, to probe how various physical parameters of stars enhance or inhibit dynamo processes.

    Vivid orange streamers of super-hot, electrically charged gas (plasma) arc from the surface of the Sun reveal the structure of the solar magnetic field rising vertically from a sunspot. Astronomers are now studying the magnetic fields on solar-type stars using techniques of polarimetry.
    Hinode, JAXA/NASA

    Most techniques used to observe stellar magnetism rely on indirect proxies of the field, for example on characteristics of the radiation emitted by atoms. Surveys using these proxies have found clear dependencies between rotation and the stellar dynamo and the star’s magnetic cycles, among other things. Recent advances in instrumentation that can sense the polarization of the light extend these methods and have made it possible to directly measure solar-strength magnetic fields on other stars.

    CfA astronomer Jose-Dias do Nascimento is a member of a team of astronomers that has just completed the most extensive polarization survey of stars to date. They detected magnetic fields on sixty-seven stars, twenty-one of them classified as solar-type, about four times as many solar-type stars as had been previously classified. The scientists found that the average field increases with the stellar rotation rate and decreases with stellar age, and that its strength correlates with emission from the stars’ hot outer layers, their chromospheres. Not only does this paper represent the most extensive survey to date of its kind, it demonstrates the power of the polarization technique. It signals that it is possible to greatly expand the study of magnetic fields in solar-type stars, which efforts will continue to improve our understanding of the surface fields in the Sun.

    See the full article here.

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    About CfA

    The Center for Astrophysics combines the resources and research facilities of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under a single director to pursue studies of those basic physical processes that determine the nature and evolution of the universe. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, founded in 1890. The Harvard College Observatory (HCO), founded in 1839, is a research institution of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, and provides facilities and substantial other support for teaching activities of the Department of Astronomy. The long relationship between the two organizations, which began when the SAO moved its headquarters to Cambridge in 1955, was formalized by the establishment of a joint center in 1973. The CfA’s history of accomplishments in astronomy and astrophysics is reflected in a wide range of awards and prizes received by individual CfA scientists.

    Today, some 300 Smithsonian and Harvard scientists cooperate in broad programs of astrophysical research supported by Federal appropriations and University funds as well as contracts and grants from government agencies. These scientific investigations, touching on almost all major topics in astronomy, are organized into the following divisions, scientific departments and service groups.

  • richardmitnick 1:56 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From AAAS: “NASA gets 2% boost to science budget” 



    10 December 2014
    Eric Hand

    For an agency regularly called “adrift” without a mission, NASA will at least float through next year with a boatload of money for its science programs.

    Yesterday Congress reached agreement on a spending deal for fiscal year 2015 that boosts the budget of the agency’s science mission by nearly 2% to $5.24 billion. The big winner within the division is planetary sciences, which received $160 million more than the president’s 2015 request in March. Legislators also maintained support for an infrared telescope mounted on a Boeing 747, a project that the White House had proposed grounding. NASA’s overall budget also rose by 2%, to $18 billion. That’s an increase of $364 million over 2014 levels, and half a billion dollars beyond the agency’s request.

    Planetary scientists are thrilled not only that their discipline was supported but also that no other space science areas were taxed to pay for their increase. “They added nearly $300 million to the entire science mission directorate. No one paid the price for restoration of the cuts to planetary science. That’s a big deal,” says Casey Dreier, advocacy director for the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California. Congress is expected to pass the spending deal later this week, and Obama is expected to sign it into law.

    The $1.44 billion planetary science division is directed to spend “not less than $100 million” on a mission to Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter with plate tectonics and a subsurface ocean that has intrigued astrobiologists. The mission has been a perennial battleground between Congress and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. OMB has viewed a Europa mission as too expensive for NASA when it is considering embarking on a Mars Sample Return mission. But legislators in districts with NASA-supported research centers like the idea, and Congress keeps giving the agency money to get started on the Europa mission. “There was astonishing support for Europa,” Dreier says. “Hopefully this is going to send that signal to the White House and OMB to ask for this new start.”

    NASA would get $100 million to pursue a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa under the new spending agreement.

    NASA’s earth science division got exactly what Obama asked for, at $1.77 billion. “We’re pleased to see that in an era of flat budgets, science is holding its own,” says Chris McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C.

    In an effort to keep the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) focused on its expensive, flagship weather satellites, the Senate, in its version of the spending bill, had given NASA control of two smaller missions, Jason-3, an ocean altimetry satellite, and the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a space weather satellite. But in the final reckoning, primary ownership of these missions would remain with NOAA.

    NOAA Jason 3


    The astrophysics division was funded at $1.33 billion, $70 million above the president’s request. The additional money will be used to continue flying the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a modified 747 jet with a telescope in its rear. That’s less than the NASA spent last year to operate SOFIA, but enough to allow the mission to keep going. In its 2015 request, the White House tried to cancel the expensive, long-suffering mission. The division also got $645 million that the agency says is needed to continue developing its flagship mission, the James Webb Space Telescope.


    NASA James Webb Telescope

    On the human spaceflight side, which accounts for about half of the agency’s budget, Congress continued to support both public and private approaches to getting humans into space. It gave $2.9 billion to continue developing the internal, “NASA-owned” successors to the space shuttle: the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion capsule that sits on top. But in giving $805 million to the commercial crew program, Congress also continued to support private efforts to develop human-rated rockets by companies such as SpaceX.

    NASA Space Launch System

    NASA Orion Spacecraft

    To see all of our stories on the 2015 budget, click here.

    See the full article here.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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  • richardmitnick 9:51 am on December 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NYT: “Curiosity Rover’s Quest for Clues on Mars” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    DEC. 8, 2014

    More than 3.5 billion years ago, a meteor slammed into Mars near its equator, carving a 96-mile depression now known as Gale Crater.

    Curiosity Cradled by Gale Crater
    NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in the Martian crater known as Gale Crater, which is approximately the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. A green dot [?]shows where the rover landed, well within its targeted landing ellipse, outlined in blue.
    This oblique view of Gale, and Mount Sharp in the center, is derived from a combination of elevation and imaging data from three Mars orbiters. The view is looking toward the southeast. Mount Sharp rises about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) above the floor of Gale Crater.
    The image combines elevation data from the High Resolution Stereo Camera on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, image data from the Context Camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and color information from Viking Orbiter imagery. There is no vertical exaggeration in the image.
    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS
    Date 13 August 2012
    Source http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/676519main_pia16058-full_full.jpg
    Author NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS
    That was unremarkable. Back then, Mars, Earth and other bodies in the inner solar system were regularly pummeled by space rocks, leaving crater scars large and small.
    What was remarkable was what happened after the impact.

    Some scientists think Gale Crater was once fully buried with sediment and that winds excavated most of it, leaving an 18,000-foot mountain in the middle. (The colors represent different elevations.) Credit European Space Agency

    Even though planetary scientists disagree on exactly what that was, they can clearly see the result: a mountain rising more than three miles from the floor of Gale.
    More remarkable still, the mountain is layer upon layer of sedimentary rock.
    The layered rock drew the attention of the scientists who chose Gale as the destination for NASA’s Curiosity rover, a mobile laboratory the size of a Mini Cooper.
    Now, more than two years after arriving on Mars, Curiosity is climbing the mountain.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover

    ESA Mars Express Orbiter
    ESA/Mars Express

    NASA Viking

    In sedimentary rock, each layer encases the geological conditions of the time it formed, each a page from the book of Mars’ history. As Curiosity traverses the layers, scientists working on the $2.5 billion mission hope to read the story of how young Mars, apparently once much warmer and wetter, turned dry and cold in what John P. Grotzinger, the project scientist, calls “the great desiccation event.”

    Dr. Grotzinger remembers the first time he heard about Gale. “I looked at it, and immediately I’m like, ‘This is a fantastic site,’ ” he said. “What’s that mountain in the middle?”

    Aeolis Mons

    Officially, the name is Aeolis Mons, but mission scientists call it Mount Sharp in homage to Robert P. Sharp, a prominent geologist and Mars expert at the California Institute of Technology who died in 2004.

    On Earth, mountains rise out of volcanic eruptions or are pushed upward by plate tectonics, the collision of pieces of the planet’s crust.

    Mars lacks plate tectonics, and volcanoes do not spew out of sedimentary rock. So how did this 18,000-foot mountain form?

    In the late 1990s, NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft was sending back images of the Martian surface far sharper than those from earlier missions, like Mariner and Viking.

    NASA Mars Global Surveyor
    NASA/Mars Global Surveyor

    Kenneth S. Edgett and Michael C. Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego company that built Global Surveyor’s camera, saw fine layered deposits at many places on Mars, including Gale. In 2000, they offered the hypothesis that they were sedimentary, cemented into rock.

    Indeed, Dr. Edgett said, it appeared that Gale Crater had been fully buried with sediment and that later winds excavated most of it, leaving the mountain in the middle.

    Imagine carving out of an expanse as large as 1.5 Delawares — a mound as tall, from base to peak, as Mount McKinley in Alaska, the tallest mountain in North America at 20,237 feet.

    Dr. Edgett asserts that that is plausible on Mars. He points to other Martian craters of similar size that remain partly buried. “There are places where this did happen, so it’s not ridiculous to think this is what happened at Gale,” he said.

    Still, in 2007 Gale had been discarded from the list of potential landing sites for Curiosity, because observations from orbit did not show strong evidence for water-bearing minerals in the rocks. NASA’s Mars mantra for the past two decades has been “Follow the water,” because water is an essential ingredient for life.

    Dr. Grotzinger asked Ralph E. Milliken, then a postdoc in his research group at Caltech, to take a closer look at Gale. With data from an instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that can identify minerals in the rocks below, Dr. Milliken showed the presence of clays at the base of Mount Sharp as well as other minerals that most likely formed in the presence of water.

    “The fact we have this mountain, and it’s not all the same stuff — the mineralogy is changing from one layer to the next — that gives us the hope that maybe those minerals are recording the interaction of the water and the atmosphere and the rocks,” said Dr. Milliken, now a geologist at Brown.

    Were water conditions there becoming more acidic? Was there oxygen in the water? “That’s something we can assess with the rover on the ground,” Dr. Milliken said.

    Since its landing on Mars in August 2012, Curiosity took a detour to explore a section named http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellowknife_Bay,_Mars
    and discovered geological signs that Gale was once habitable, perhaps a freshwater lake.

    Geologic feature of Yellowknife Bay informally known as Shaler. The outcrop displays prominent cross-bedding, a feature indicative of water flows

    After that, the rover drove to Mount Sharp, with only brief stops for science. To date, the rover, operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has driven more than six miles, taken more than 104,000 pictures and fired more than 188,000 shots from a laser instrument that vaporizes rock and dirt to identify what they are made of.

    In September, Curiosity drilled its first hole in an outcrop of Mount Sharp and identified the iron mineral hematite in a rock. That was the first confirmation on the ground for a Gale mineral that had been first identified from orbit.

    When Curiosity reaches rocks containing clays, which form in waters with a neutral pH, that will be the most promising place to look for organic molecules, the carbon compounds that could serve as the building blocks of life, particularly if the rover can maneuver into a spot shielded from radiation. (It does not have instruments that directly test for life, past or present.)

    The orbiter also detected magnesium sulfate salts, which Dr. Milliken described as possibly similar to Epsom salts.

    A 1999 Hubble telescope image showing Mars at a distance of 54 million miles from Earth. Credit NASA

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    That layer appears to be roughly as old as sulfates that NASA’s older Opportunity rover discovered on the other side of Mars. If Mount Sharp sulfates turn out to be the same, that could reflect global changes in the Martian climate. Or they could be different, suggesting broad regional variations in Martian conditions.

    NASA Mars Opportunity Rover

    “We’re finally beginning the scientific exploration of Mount Sharp,” Dr. Milliken said. “That was the goal.”

    Along the way, Curiosity may also turn up clues to the origins of Mount Sharp. While Dr. Edgett thinks Gale Crater filled to the brim before winds excavated the mountain, others, like Edwin S. Kite, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton who is moving to the University of Chicago as a professor, think the mountain formed as a mound, with winds blowing layers of sand together that then were cemented by transient water. “Can you build up a pile like that without necessarily filling up the whole bowl with water?” Dr. Kite said. “Perhaps just a little bit of snow melt as the pile grows up.”

    He said the layers of Mount Sharp dip outward at the edges, as in an accumulating mound; they are not flat, as would be expected if they were lake sediments subsequently eroded by wind.

    Dr. Grotzinger thinks that both could have happened: that Gale Crater partly filled, then emptied to form the lower half of Mount Sharp, and a different process formed the upper portion. A sharp divide between the upper and lower parts of the mountain is suggestive.

    On Monday, during a NASA telephone news conference, Dr. Grotzinger and other members of the science team described new data suggesting long-lived lakes in the crater. The deposits at Yellowknife Bay could have been part of an ancient lake filled by streams flowing from the crater rim. As Curiosity drove toward Mount Sharp, it appeared to be traveling down a stack of accumulated deltas — angled layers where river sediment emptied into a standing body of water — and yet it was heading uphill. That pattern could have occurred if the water level were rising over time, and Mount Sharp was not there yet.

    That does not mean Gale was continually filled with water, but it suggests repeated wet episodes. “We don’t imagine that this environment was a single lake that stood for millions of years,” Dr. Grotzinger said, “but rather a system of alluvial fans, deltas and lakes and dry deserts that alternated probably for millions if not tens of millions of years as a connected system.”

    Ashwin Vasavada, the deputy project scientist, said that to explain the episodes of a lake-filled Gale crater, “the climate system must have been loaded with water.”

    But answers will remain elusive. “We’re not going to solve this one with the rover,” Dr. Edgett said. “We’re not going to solve this one with our orbiter data. We’re going to be scratching our heads a hundred years from now. Unless we could send some people there.”

    As successful as the NASA Mars rovers have been, their work is limited and slow. Curiosity’s top speed is not quite a tenth of a mile per hour. What might be obvious at a glance to a human geologist, who can quickly crack open a rock to peer at the minerals inside, could take days or weeks of examination by Curiosity.

    “I’d like to think it would take only a few months,” Dr. Edgett said of solving Mount Sharp’s mysteries, “with a few people on the ground.”

    See the full article, with interactive features, here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:45 am on December 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NYT: 28 Months on Mars 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    December 9, 2014
    By Mike Bostock, Shan Carter, Jonathan Corum and Jeremy White
    Sources: NASA; Jet Propulsion Laboratory; NASA’s Navigation and Ancillary Information Facility; Joe Knapp; U.S.G.S. Astrogeology Science Center. Images by NASA and J.P.L. Panoramas, animation and mountain rendering by The New York Times

    NASA’s Curiosity rover has explored Gale Crater for 833 Martian days, or Sols. And it has found evidence, written in red rocks and sand, of lakes and streams on a warmer, wetter, habitable Mars.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover

    Traces of a Crater Lake
    Gale Crater as it might have appeared several billion years ago. Snow on the crater’s rim fed rivers and deltas flowing into the lake. The moving water carried sediment and carved patterns in the sand of the lakebed, leaving traces in the rocks that Curiosity is now driving over. The water was not too salty or too acidic, and could have supported microbial life.

    Precision Landing
    Sol 0·Aug. 6, 2012
    The Curiosity rover touches down after an intricate, seven-minute landing sequence. The first images returned from the martian surface show the rover’s shadow stretching toward the bright slopes of Mount Sharp.

    Rolling Out
    Sol 16·Aug. 22, 2012
    After spending two weeks testing its instruments, Curiosity makes its first drive and leaves its rocket-scorched landing site.

    A Scoop of Rocknest
    Sol 61·Oct. 7, 2012
    Curiosity’s arm scoops its first sample of Martian soil, leaving a dark mark in a dune named Rocknest.

    Self Portrait at Rocknest
    Sol 84·Oct. 31, 2012
    The rover spends six weeks at the Rocknest dune, studying the composition of the crater’s wind blown sand.

    Six Months in Yellowknife Bay
    Sols 124–299·Dec. 11, 2012–June 9, 2013
    Curiosity spent most of its first Earth year on Mars in a broad, shallow basin called Yellowknife Bay. The rover drilled holes and took samples of low-lying mudstone, which formed from ancient lake and stream sediment.

    Drilling at John Klein
    Sol 168·Jan. 25, 2013
    The rover examines a patch of mudstone on the floor of Yellowknife Bay for a suitable spot to drill. Curiosity was the first rover to drill a hole in another planet and extract a sample. A suite of chemistry experiments in the rover analyze the rock, which formed billions of years ago from lake sediments.

    Drilling at Cumberland
    Sol 279·May 19, 2013
    Curiosity’s extended arm drills a second hole in Yellowknife Bay, extracting samples from a flat mudstone site named Cumberland.

    The Long Drive to Mount Sharp
    Sol 324·July 4, 2013
    Curiosity begins driving toward its destination at the base of Mount Sharp, after almost a full Earth year studying the terrain near the landing site.

    Sol 392·Sept. 12, 2013
    The rover’s first waypoint on its long drive to Mount Sharp is an outcrop called Darwin, an exposed patch of the bedrock underlying Gale Crater. Curiosity briefly studies the rock for evidence of past flowing water.

    Upgrade at Cooperstown
    Sol 442·Nov. 3, 2013
    Curiosity pauses at its second waypoint, a scarp named Cooperstown. The rover spends a week downloading, installing and unexpectedly troubleshooting a software update from Earth.

    Crossing Dingo Gap
    Sol 538·Feb. 9, 2014
    Curiosity looks back after driving over an elegant crescent-shaped dune spanning a narrow valley pass.

    Layered Sandstone at the Kimberley
    Sol 580·March 25, 2014
    Curiosity examines the Kimberley, a large outcrop of layered sandstone slabs tilted toward Mount Sharp. The outcrop supports the idea that layers of lake and stream sediment accumulated in Gale Crater over millions of years.

    Self Portrait at Windjana
    Sol 613·April 27, 2014
    Curiosity takes a self portrait near the end of its two-month exploration of the Kimberley outcrop. The rover is looking down at Windjana, a sandstone slab it drilled into eight days later.

    On Damaged Wheels
    Sol 679·July 4, 2014
    The rover’s aluminum wheels have been heavily torn by driving five miles across the rough terrain of Gale Crater. To limit further damage, the rover has tried choosing paths over softer ground and sometimes driving in reverse.

    Retreat From Hidden Valley
    Sol 711·Aug. 6, 2014
    Curiosity ends its second Earth year on Mars with its wheels deep in soft sand. Mission planners had hoped to drive across the rippled sand of Hidden Valley to protect the rover’s battered wheels, but decide to back out and stick to harder ground.

    Pahrump Hills
    Sol 752·Sept. 17, 2014
    Curiosity reaches the Pahrump Hills, a pale outcrop of rock that is part of the base of Mount Sharp. The dark rippled areas are windblown drifts of sand and dust covering the flat bright rocks of the Pahrump Hills outcrop.

    Drilling Into the Mountain
    Sol 759·Sept. 24, 2014
    Curiosity drills a hole in the Pahrump Hills outcrop. This is the rover’s first chance to sample rock from the base of Mount Sharp. Previous drill sites were rocks from the plain surrounding the mountain.

    Salt Crystals in Mojave
    Sol 809·Nov. 15, 2014
    Curiosity cleans red dust from a patch of Martian rock named Mojave, part of the Pahrump Hills outcrop. Scattered through the rock are rice-shaped crystals of salt, which likely formed when an ancient lake or stream dried out. The crystals hint at a cycle of dry and wet conditions in the distant past of Gale Crater.

    This Week
    Sol 831·Dec. 7, 2014
    In its 11th week at Pahrump Hills, Curiosity is making a second loop around the pale stones of the outcrop, brushing dust from the most interesting rocks and looking for a suitable place to drill.

    The Path Ahead
    Curiosity has driven six miles since leaving its landing site. Soon the rover will begin climbing Mount Sharp, picking its way through buttes striped with layers that record the geological history of Gale Crater and the changing Martian environment.

    See the full article, with animations, here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:56 pm on December 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finds Clues to How Water Helped Shape Martian Landscape” 


    December 8, 2014
    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Dwayne Brown
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Observations by NASA’s Curiosity Rover indicate Mars’ Mount Sharp was built by sediments deposited in a large lake bed over tens of millions of years.


    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover

    This interpretation of Curiosity’s finds in Gale Crater suggests ancient Mars maintained a climate that could have produced long-lasting lakes at many locations on the Red Planet.

    “If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A more radical explanation is that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did that.”

    Why this layered mountain sits in a crater has been a challenging question for researchers. Mount Sharp stands about 3 miles (5 kilometers) tall, its lower flanks exposing hundreds of rock layers. The rock layers – alternating between lake, river and wind deposits — bear witness to the repeated filling and evaporation of a Martian lake much larger and longer-lasting than any previously examined close-up.

    “We are making headway in solving the mystery of Mount Sharp,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Where there’s now a mountain, there may have once been a series of lakes.”

    Curiosity currently is investigating the lowest sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, a section of rock 500 feet (150 meters) high, dubbed the Murray formation. Rivers carried sand and silt to the lake, depositing the sediments at the mouth of the river to form deltas similar to those found at river mouths on Earth. This cycle occurred over and over again.

    “The great thing about a lake that occurs repeatedly, over and over, is that each time it comes back it is another experiment to tell you how the environment works,” Grotzinger said. “As Curiosity climbs higher on Mount Sharp, we will have a series of experiments to show patterns in how the atmosphere and the water and the sediments interact. We may see how the chemistry changed in the lakes over time. This is a hypothesis supported by what we have observed so far, providing a framework for testing in the coming year.”

    After the crater filled to a height of at least a few hundred yards, or meters, and the sediments hardened into rock, the accumulated layers of sediment were sculpted over time into a mountainous shape by wind erosion that carved away the material between the crater perimeter and what is now the edge of the mountain.

    On the 5-mile (8-kilometer) journey from Curiosity’s 2012 landing site to its current work site at the base of Mount Sharp, the rover uncovered clues about the changing shape of the crater floor during the era of lakes.

    “We found sedimentary rocks suggestive of small, ancient deltas stacked on top of one another,” said Curiosity science team member Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College in London. “Curiosity crossed a boundary from an environment dominated by rivers to an environment dominated by lakes.”

    Despite earlier evidence from several Mars missions that pointed to wet environments on ancient Mars, modeling of the ancient climate has yet to identify the conditions that could have produced long periods warm enough for stable water on the surface.

    NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project uses Curiosity to assess ancient, potentially habitable environments and the significant changes the Martian environment has experienced over millions of years. This project is one element of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to the planet in the 2030s.

    “Knowledge we’re gaining about Mars’ environmental evolution by deciphering how Mount Sharp formed will also help guide plans for future missions to seek signs of Martian life,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

    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.

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  • richardmitnick 5:19 am on December 5, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “Japan Launches Asteroid Mission” 



    Dec. 4, 2014

    On Dec. 3, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched its Hayabusa2 mission to rendezvous with an asteroid, land a small probe plus three mini rovers on its surface, and then return samples to Earth. NASA and JAXA are cooperating on the science of the mission and NASA will receive a portion of the Hayabusa2 sample in exchange for providing Deep Space Network communications and navigation support for the mission.

    JAXA Hayabasu spacecraft
    JAXA Hayabasu schematic

    Hayabusa2 builds on lessons learned from JAXA’s initial Hayabusa mission, which collected samples from a small asteroid named Itokawa and returned them to Earth in June 2010. Hayabusa2’s target is a 750 meter-wide asteroid named 1999 JU3, because of the year when it was discovered by the NASA-sponsored Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research project, Lexington, Massachusetts. This is a C-type asteroid which are thought to contain more organic material than other asteroids. Scientists hope to better understand how the solar system evolved by studying samples from these asteroids.

    1999 JU3

    “We think of C-type asteroids as being less altered than others,” says Lucy McFadden, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Bringing that material back and being able to look at it in the lab — I think it’s going to be very exciting.”
    Auroras Underfoot (signup)

    On Nov. 17, NASA and JAXA signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation on the Hayabusa2 mission and NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission to mutually maximize their missions’ results. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in 2016. It will be the first U.S. asteroid sample return mission. OSIRIS-REx will rendezvous with the 500-meter-sized asteroid Bennu in 2019 for detailed reconnaissance and a return of samples to Earth in 2023.

    NASA Osiris-REx


    Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx will further strengthen the two space agencies’ relationship in asteroid exploration.

    The missions will also help NASA choose its target for the first-ever mission to capture and redirect an asteroid. NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) in the 2020s will help NASA test new technologies needed for future human missions for the Journey to Mars.

    Comets and asteroids contain material that formed in a disk surrounding our infant sun. The hundreds of thousands of known asteroids are leftovers from material that didn’t coalesce into a planet or moon in the inner solar system. The thousands of known comets likely formed in the outer solar system, far from the sun’s heat, where water exists as ice.

    Larger objects like dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres also formed in the outer solar system, where water ice is stable. Pluto and Ceres will soon be explored by NASA missions New Horizons and Dawn, respectively. Asteroids and comets are of unique interest to scientists, though, because they could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons

    NASA Dawn Spacescraft

    These missions have greatly increased scientific knowledge on Earth about our solar system and the history of our planet. Many scientists suspect we could find organic material in asteroids and comets, like amino acids—critical building blocks for life, which could help answer questions about the origins of life on Earth. These questions drive us to continue exploring the intriguing asteroids and comets of our solar system.

    Multiple missions that are operating in space or in development by NASA and international partners could bring us much closer to answering that question in our lifetimes and also help identify Near-Earth Objects that might pose a risk of Earth impact, and further help inform developing options for planetary defense.

    Follow the latest missions and discoveries at: http://www.nasa.gov/asteroid-and-comet-watch/

    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.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Chandra Telescope

    NASA Spitzer Telescope

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