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  • richardmitnick 9:32 am on March 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Bernhard Kliem of the University of Potsdam in Germany and his colleagues scrutinized a CME recorded on May 13 2013 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, But it was unclear how coronal mass ejections or CMEs get started, , , Magnetic reconnection, Over about half an hour the blobs shot upward and merged into a large flux rope which briefly arced over the solar surface before erupting into space., , Solar plasma eruptions are the sum of many parts a new look at a 2013 coronal mass ejection shows, , Solar scientists have long wondered what drives big bursts of plasma called coronal mass ejections. New analysis of an old eruption suggests the driving force might be merging magnetic blobs, That quick growth supports the idea that CMEs grow through magnetic reconnection, That speedy setup might make it more difficult to predict when CMEs are about to occur, The team led by Tingyu Gou and Rui Liu of the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, They found that before it erupted a vertical sheet of plasma split into blobs marking breaking and merging magnetic field lines   

    From Science News: “Merging magnetic blobs fuel the sun’s huge plasma eruptions” 

    From Science News

    March 7, 2019
    Lisa Grossman

    Before coronal mass ejections, plasma shoots up, breaks apart and then comes together again.

    1
    BURSTING WITH PLASMA Solar scientists have long wondered what drives big bursts of plasma called coronal mass ejections. New analysis of an old eruption suggests the driving force might be merging magnetic blobs.

    Solar plasma eruptions are the sum of many parts, a new look at a 2013 coronal mass ejection shows.

    These bright, energetic bursts happen when loops of magnetism in the sun’s wispy atmosphere, or corona, suddenly snap and send plasma and charged particles hurtling through space (SN Online: 8/16/17).

    But it was unclear how coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, get started. One theory suggests that a twisted tube of magnetic field lines called a flux rope hangs out on the solar surface for hours or days before a sudden perturbation sends it expanding off the solar surface.

    Another idea is that the sun’s magnetic field lines are forced so close together that the lines break and recombine with each other. The energy of that magnetic reconnection forms a short-lived flux rope that quickly erupts.

    “We do not know which comes first,” the flux rope or the reconnection, says solar physicist Bernhard Kliem of the University of Potsdam in Germany.

    Kliem and his colleagues scrutinized a CME recorded on May 13, 2013, by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

    NASA/SDO

    They found that before it erupted, a vertical sheet of plasma split into blobs, marking breaking and merging magnetic field lines. Over about half an hour, the blobs shot upward and merged into a large flux rope, which briefly arced over the solar surface before erupting into space. That quick growth supports the idea that CMEs grow through magnetic reconnection, the team, led by Tingyu Gou and Rui Liu of the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, reports March 6 in Science Advances.

    “This was actually surprising, that this reconnection was rather fast,” Kliem says. That speedy setup might make it more difficult to predict when CMEs are about to occur. That’s too bad because, when aimed at Earth, these bursts cause auroras and can knock out power grids and damage satellites.


    A STAR’S CME IS BORN The sun’s coronal mass ejections seem to result from many small plasma blobs combining. In this video, enhanced data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a vertical sheet of plasma suddenly break into blobs at about 17 seconds. Shortly after, the blobs rearrange themselves into a loop, and the loop bursts off the sun’s surface. At 30 seconds, more distant observations from the SOHO telescope show the CME’s progress. (A second, unrelated CME erupts off the right side of the sun near the video’s end.)

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:55 am on March 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Discovering Bonus Science With NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft", As they flew through the solar wind the spacecraft were instead arranged in what scientists call a “string of pearls.”, , , “We would like to make a lot of these mini-campaigns in the future if this one is successful which it’s already shaping up to be” said Bob Ergun, , , Flying perpendicular to the wind the spacecraft followed one after another each offset at distances of 25 to 100 kilometers (about 15.5 to 62 miles) from their neighbor, Magnetic reconnection, MMS is equipped with some of the most precise instruments ever flown in space but in order to use them to study the solar wind some adjustments first need to be made, , Normally MMS flies in a pyramid-shaped formation called a tetrahedron which allows all four spacecraft to be equally separated, Studying the solar wind is nothing like studying magnetic reconnection but can be done with the same instruments that measure magnetic and electric fields., The data MMS gathered in this campaign will be some of the most accurate measurements of turbulence in the solar wind ever made., The research will also complement the work being done by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, This allows scientists to see how much the solar wind varies over different distances.   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “Discovering Bonus Science With NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Spacecraft” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    3
    Illustration of MMS spacecraft. Credit: NASA

    March 7, 2019

    Mara Johnson-Groh
    mara.johnson-groh@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    NASA/MMS prior to launch


    NASA MMS satellites in space. Credit: NASA

    The four Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft are flying out of their element. The spacecraft have just completed a short detour from their routine science — looking at processes within Earth’s magnetic environment — and instead ventured outside it, studying something they were not originally designed for.

    For three weeks, MMS studied the solar wind — the stream of supersonic charged particles flung around the solar system by the Sun — to better understand what’s known as turbulence in plasmas, the heated, electrified gases that make up 99 percent of ordinary matter in the universe. Turbulence is the chaotic motion of a fluid. It shows up in daily life everywhere from eddies in a river to smoke from a chimney, but it is incredibly hard to study because it’s so unpredictable and it remains one of the least well understood disciplines in all of physics. The mini-campaign will provide scientists with an up close and in-situ view to push the frontiers of the field.

    But to take these groundbreaking measurements, MMS had to operate in an entirely new way — and MMS scientists and engineers designed a clever way to allow the spacecraft to study the solar wind with unprecedented accuracy, testing the limits and versatilities of MMS’ capabilities.

    Opening New Doors

    The Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, MMS, was launched in 2015 to study magnetic reconnection — the explosive snapping and forging of magnetic field lines, which flings high-energy particles around Earth.

    NASA Magnetic reconnection, Credit: M. Aschwanden et al. (LMSAL), TRACE, NASA

    NASA TRACE spacecraft (1998-2010)

    MMS was built with state-of-the-art instruments that take measurements with nearly 100 times better resolution than previous instruments. After two years of studying magnetic reconnection in Earth’s magnetic environment — the magnetosphere — on the dayside, MMS elongated its orbit to begin looking at reconnection behind Earth, away from the Sun, where it’s thought to spark the auroras.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    Since MMS has completed its original mission goals, it’s now taking time in its extended mission to tackle some new science objectives. Understanding turbulence, which is one of NASA’s prime science objectives, is the first mini-campaign MMS plans to undertake.

    “We would like to make a lot of these mini-campaigns in the future if this one is successful, which it’s already shaping up to be,” said Bob Ergun, researcher at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, Colorado, who heads the new campaign. “MMS is a very, very powerful observatory with incredibly sensitive instruments on it and we’re trying to maximize their use to study these other priority sciences.”

    Thinking Outside of the Magnetosphere

    Studying the solar wind is best done from in the solar wind, but most of the time, the four MMS spacecraft orbit within or on the edge of Earth’s magnetosphere — where the magnetic field creates a buffer that protects the spacecraft from the solar wind.

    Occasionally, however, routine orbital adjustments, used to maintain MMS’ elongated orbit, take it well outside. This year, a boost to the spacecraft orbit is taking MMS entirely out of Earth’s magnetic environment and past the bow shock — a region where the supersonic solar wind slams into Earth’s magnetosphere.

    ESA Earth’s Bow shock

    At such a distance, MMS passes through the solar wind itself, which allows a window of time to study the region’s turbulence.

    Studying the solar wind is nothing like studying magnetic reconnection, but can be done with the same instruments that measure magnetic and electric fields. MMS is equipped with some of the most precise instruments ever flown in space, but in order to use them to study the solar wind, some adjustments first need to be made.

    2
    This infographic compares the four MMS spacecraft’s normal orientation and formation to the orientation and formation for the mission’s first mini-campaign to study turbulence in the solar wind. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

    Normally MMS flies in a pyramid-shaped formation called a tetrahedron, which allows all four spacecraft to be equally separated. As they flew through the solar wind, the spacecraft were instead arranged in what scientists call a “string of pearls.” Flying perpendicular to the wind, the spacecraft followed one after another, each offset at distances of 25 to 100 kilometers (about 15.5 to 62 miles) from their neighbor. This allows scientists to see how much the solar wind varies over different distances.

    However, as the spacecraft travel through the supersonic solar wind they create a wake behind them, just like a boat. This wake is not a natural feature in the solar wind, so the MMS scientists want to avoid having their instruments, which spin at the end of long booms, dragged through it. To make precise measurements unencumbered by the wake, the spacecraft were each tilted up 15 degrees. The tilt lifts the spinning booms up from travelling behind the spacecraft through the wake.

    This angle allows scientists to get better data, but it comes with a cost. As a result of the tilt, the solar array doesn’t get as much light, meaning the spacecraft’s power is reduced by a few watts each. The tilt also puts thermal stress on the spacecraft, since the top of each gets hotter than the bottom. For a short campaign however, these effects won’t permanently affect the spacecraft.

    Old Spacecraft, New Tricks

    The data MMS gathered in this campaign will be some of the most accurate measurements of turbulence in the solar wind ever made. The research will also complement the work being done by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which flies through the Sun’s atmosphere studying the origins of the solar wind. While Parker Solar Probe measures the initial turbulence in the solar wind, MMS measured the aftermath when it reaches Earth.

    “Almost all of the astrophysical plasmas we look at around the Sun, stars, black holes, accretion disks, jets, are all extremely turbulent, so by understanding it around Earth we understand it elsewhere,” Ergun said.

    Ultimately this mini-campaign will also serve as a test case for what MMS is capable of doing in the future. Learning the nuances of MMS’ formations and tilt angles will allow the scientists to better understand MMS’s range of abilities, which may open the door up for other types of scientific campaigns as well.

    Related Links

    Learn more about NASA’s MMS Mission
    NASA’s MMS Breaks Guinness World Record

    See the full article here.


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

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


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on March 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Magnetic reconnection,   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Mechanics of coronal mass ejections revealed” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    07 March 2019
    Lauren Fuge

    1
    A coronal mass ejection captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in September, 2017. NASA/SDO.

    NASA/SDO

    An international team of astronomers has untangled new insight into the birth of coronal mass ejections, the most massive and destructive explosions from the sun.

    In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, a team led by Tingyu Gou from the University of Science and Technology of China was able to clearly observe the onset and evolution of a major solar eruption for the first time.

    From a distance the sun seems benevolent and life-giving, but on closer inspection it is seething with powerful fury. Its outer layer – the corona – is a hot and wildly energetic place that constantly sends out streams of charged particles in great gusts of solar wind.

    It also emits localised flashes known as flares, as well as enormous explosions of billions of tons of magnetised plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

    These eruptions could potentially have a big effect on Earth. CMEs can damage satellite electronics, kill astronauts on space walks, and cause magnetic storms that can disrupt electricity grids.

    Studying CMEs is key to improving the capability to forecast them, and yet, for decades, their origin and evolution have remained elusive.

    “The underlying physics is a disruption of the coronal magnetic field,” explains Bernhard Kliem, co-author on the paper, from the University of Potsdam in Germany.

    Such a disruption allows an expanding bubble of plasma – a CME – to build up, driving it and the magnetic field upwards. The “bubble” can tear off and erupt, often accompanied by solar flares.

    The magnetic field lines then fall back and combine with neighbouring lines to form a less-stressed field, creating the beautiful loops seen in many UV and X-ray images of the sun.

    “This breaking and re-closing process is called magnetic reconnection, and it is of great interest in plasma physics, astrophysics, and space physics,” says Kliem.

    NASA Magnetic reconnection, Credit: M. Aschwanden et al. (LMSAL), TRACE, NASA

    NASA TRACE spacecraft (1998-2010)

    But the reason why the coronal magnetic field is disturbed at all is a matter of continuing debate.

    “To many, an instability of the magnetic field is the primary reason,” says Kliem. “This requires the magnetic field to form a twisted flux tube, known as magnetic flux rope, where the energy to be released in the eruption can be stored.”

    The theory holds that turbulence causes the magnetic flux ropes to become tangled and unstable, and if they suddenly rearrange themselves in the process of magnetic reconnection, they can release the trapped energy and trigger a CME.

    Others in the field think that it’s the other way around – magnetic reconnection is the trigger that forms the flux rope in the first place.

    It’s a tricky question to tease out because flux ropes and reconnection are so intertwined. Recent studies [Nature] even suggest that there’s another layer of complexity: smaller magnetic loops called mini flux ropes, or plasmoids, which continuously form in a fractal-like fashion and may have a cascading influence on bigger events like a CME.

    To get a better handle on this complex process, the team observed the evolution of a CME that erupted on May 13, 2013. By combining multi-wavelength data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) with modern analysis techniques, they were able to determine the correct sequence of events: that a magnetic reconnection in the solar corona formed the flux rope, which then became unstable and erupted.

    Specifically, they found that the CME bubble continuously evolved from mini flux ropes, bridging the gap between micro- and macro-scale dynamics and thus illuminating a complete evolutionary path of CMEs.

    The next step, Kliem says, is to understand another important phenomenon in the eruption process: a thin, elongated structure known as a “current sheet”, in which the mini flux ropes were formed.

    “We need to study when and where the coronal magnetic field forms such current sheets that can build up a flux rope, which then, in turn, can erupt to drive a solar eruption,” he concludes.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 2:09 pm on December 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Magnetic reconnection, Magnetospheric Multiscale Satellite (MMS) mission launched in 2015, , , Princeton Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) at PPPL   

    From PPPL: “Experiments at PPPL show remarkable agreement with satellite sightings” 


    From PPPL

    December 7, 2018
    John Greenwald

    1
    Members of the MRX team with the device in the background. From left, Masaaki Yamada, Jongsoo Yoo, Jonathan Jara-Almonte, Will Fox, and Hantao Ji.
    (Photo by Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications)

    1
    Illustration of the MMS spacecraft in orbit in Earth’s magnetic field. NASA

    As on Earth, so in space. A four-satellite mission that is studying magnetic reconnection — the breaking apart and explosive reconnection of the magnetic field lines in plasma that occurs throughout the universe — has found key aspects of the process in space to be strikingly similar to those found in experiments at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). The similarities show how the studies complement each other: The laboratory captures important global features of reconnection and the spacecraft documents local key properties as they occur.

    NASA Magnetic reconnection, Credit: M. Aschwanden et al. (LMSAL), TRACE, NASA

    The observations made by the Magnetospheric Multiscale Satellite (MMS) mission, which NASA launched in 2015 to study reconnection in the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, correspond quite well with past and present laboratory findings of the Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) at PPPL. Previous MRX research uncovered the process by which rapid reconnection occurs and identified the amount of magnetic energy that is converted to particle energy during the process, which gives rise to northern lights, solar flares and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt cell phone service, black out power grids and damage orbiting satellites.

    Guidelines for MMS measurements

    The previous MRX findings served as guidelines for measurements taken by the MMS mission, which seeks to understand the region in which the reconnection of field lines in plasma — the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions — takes place. The latest PPPL experiments extend the findings to new areas of agreement. “Despite huge differences in the size of the reconnection layers in the MRX and in space, remarkably similar characteristics are observed in both,” said Masaaki Yamada, principal investigator on the MRX, and lead author of the recent paper reporting the results in the December 6 edition of Nature Communications .

    The past laboratory research examined “symmetric” reconnection, in which the density of the plasmas on each side of the reconnection regions are roughly the same. The new paper looks at reconnection in the magnetopause — the outer region of the magnetosphere — and in the MRX that is “asymmetric,” meaning that the plasma on one side of the region is at least 10 times denser than on the other. The MMS mission has focused its initial research on the asymmetric aspect of reconnection, since the plasma in the solar wind — the charged particles flowing from the sun — is vastly denser than the plasma in the magnetosphere.

    In the new paper, researchers examine what is called the “two-fluid” physics of reconnection that describes each behavior of ions and electrons differently during the process. Such physics dominates magnetic reconnection in both MRX and magnetospheric plasma systems, allowing for an unprecedented level of cross-examination between laboratory measurements and space observations.

    Key findings

    Following are key findings of the two-fluid, asymmetric research on MRX that is shown to be in striking agreement with measurements of electron and ion behavior by the space satellites and the conversion of magnetic energy to particle energy. Computer simulations aided these findings:

    • Electrons. The experiments demonstrated that electron current flows perpendicular, and not parallel as once thought, to the magnetic field. This flow is key to the conversion of magnetic energy in electrons that occurs in a narrow boundary layer called the “electron diffusion region” where rapid reconnection takes place. The finding is consistent with the recent MMS space measurements and new in the laboratory for asymmetric reconnection.

    • Ions. The ion current also flows perpendicular to the magnetic field as in the electron case, and likewise is key to the conversion of ion magnetic energy to particle energy. For ions, this conversion occurs in the wider “ion diffusion region” between converging plasmas and is a similarly recent finding about asymmetric reconnection in laboratory plasmas.

    The MRX experiments further studied different aspects of conversion in the symmetric and asymmetric cases. In symmetric reconnection, 50 percent of magnetic energy was previously found to be converted to ions and electrons, with one-third of the conversion affecting the electrons and two-thirds accelerating the ions. The total conversion rate remains roughly the same in the asymmetric case, as does the ratio of energy conversion for ions and electrons.

    PPPL researchers contributing to this study were Jongsoo Yoo, Will Fox, Jonathan Jara-Almote and Hantao Ji. Also contributing were physicists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Southwest Research Institute, and the universities of New Hampshire and Bergen in Bergen, Norway. Computer simulations were conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Support for this work comes from DOE’s Office of Science, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .


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    PPPL campus

    Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University. PPPL, on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. Results of PPPL research have ranged from a portable nuclear materials detector for anti-terrorist use to universally employed computer codes for analyzing and predicting the outcome of fusion experiments. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:27 pm on October 24, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Biermann battery effect, , Magnetic reconnection, , ,   

    From COSMOS Magazine: “Supercomputer finds clues to violent magnetic events” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS Magazine

    24 October 2018
    Phil Dooley

    1
    An aurora over Iceland, the product of sudden magnetic reconnection. Credit Natthawat/Getty Images

    Researchers are a step closer to understanding the violent magnetic events that cause the storms on the sun’s surface and fling clouds of hot gas out into space, thanks to colossal computer simulations at Princeton University in the US.

    The disruptions in the magnetic field, known as magnetic reconnections, are common in the universe – the same process causes the aurora in high latitude skies – but existing models are unable to explain how they happen so quickly.

    A team led by Jackson Matteucci decided to investigate by building a full three-dimensional simulation of the ejected hot gas, something that required enormous computing power. The results are published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

    The researchers modelled more than 200 million particles using Titan, the biggest supercomputer [no longer true, the writer should have known that] in the US.

    ORNL Cray Titan XK7 Supercomputer, once the fastest in the world.

    They discovered that a three-dimensional interaction called the Biermann battery effect was at the heart of the sudden reconnection process.

    Discovered in the fifties by German astrophysicist Ludwig Biermann, the Biermann battery effect shows how magnetic fields can be generated in charged gases, known as plasma.

    In such plasmas, if a region develops in which there is a temperature gradient at right angles to a density gradient, a magnetic field is created that encircles it.

    Astrophysicists propose that this effect might take place in interstellar plasma clouds, such as nebulae, and generate the cosmic magnetic fields that we see throughout the universe.

    In contrast with the huge scale of cosmic plasma clouds, magnetic reconnection happens at a scale of microns when two magnetic fields collide, says Matteucci.

    He likens the process to collisions between two sizable handfuls of rubber bands. In stable circumstances the magnetic field lines are loops, like the bands. But sometimes turbulence in the plasma pushes these band analogues together so forcefully that they sever and reconnect to different ones, thus forming loops at different orientations.

    Some of the new loops are stretched taut and snap back, providing the energy that ejects material so violently, and causes magnetic storms or glowing auroras.

    The Princeton simulation showed that as the fields collide there is a sudden spike in the temperature in a very localised region, which sets off the Biermann battery effect, suddenly creating a new magnetic field in the midst of the collision. It’s this newly-appearing field that severs the lines and allows them to reconfigure.

    Although Matteucci’s simulations are for tiny plasma clouds generated by lasers hitting foil, he says they could help us understand large-scale processes in the atmosphere.

    “If you do a back of the envelope calculation, you find it could play an important role in reconnection in the magnetosphere, where the solar wind collides with the Earth’s magnetic field,” he says.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 7:21 pm on October 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Magnetic reconnection, , MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, Nuno Loureiro, Physicist explores the behavior of the universe’s most abundant form of matter, Physics of plasmas, Plasma is a sort of fourth phase of matter, The solar wind is the best plasma turbulence laboratory we have, Turbulence-a major stumbling block so far to practical fusion power   

    From MIT News-“Nuno Loureiro: Probing the world of plasmas” 

    MIT News
    MIT Widget

    From MIT News

    October 15, 2018
    David L. Chandler

    1
    A major motivation for moving to MIT from his research position, Nuno Loureiro says, was working with students. Image: Jared Charney

    Physicist explores the behavior of the universe’s most abundant form of matter.

    Growing up in the small city of Viseu in central Portugal, Nuno Loureiro knew he wanted to be a scientist, even in the early years of primary school when “everyone else wanted to be a policeman or a fireman,” he recalls. He can’t quite place the origin of that interest in science: He was 17 the first time he met a scientist, he says with an amused look.

    By the time Loureiro finished high school, his interest in science had crystallized, and “I realized that physics was what I liked best,” he says. During his undergraduate studies at the IST Lisbon, he began to focus on fusion, which “seemed like a very appealing field,” where major developments were likely during his lifetime, he says.

    Fusion, and specifically the physics of plasmas, has remained his primary research focus ever since, through graduate school, postdoc stints, and now in his research and teaching at MIT. He explains that plasma research “lives in two different worlds.” On the one hand, it involves astrophysics, dealing with the processes that happen in and around stars; on the other, it’s part of the quest to generate electricity that’s clean and virtually inexhaustible, through fusion reactors.

    Plasma is a sort of fourth phase of matter, similar to a gas but with the atoms stripped apart into a kind of soup of electrons and ions. It forms about 99 percent of the visible matter in the universe, including stars and the wispy tendrils of material spread between them. Among the trickiest challenges to understanding the behavior of plasmas is their turbulence, which can dissipate away energy from a reactor, and which proceeds in very complex and hard-to-predict ways — a major stumbling block so far to practical fusion power.

    While everyone is familiar with turbulence in fluids, from breaking waves to cream stirred into coffee, plasma turbulence can be quite different, Loureiro explains, because plasmas are riddled with magnetic and electric fields that push and pull them in dynamic ways. “A very noteworthy example is the solar wind,” he says, referring to the ongoing but highly variable stream of particles ejected by the sun and sweeping past Earth, sometimes producing auroras and affecting the electronics of communications satellites. Predicting the dynamics of such flows is a major goal of plasma research.

    “The solar wind is the best plasma turbulence laboratory we have,” Loureiro says. “It’s increasingly well-diagnosed, because we have these satellites up there. So we can use it to benchmark our theoretical understanding.”

    Loureiro began concentrating on plasma physics in graduate school at Imperial College London and continued this work as a postdoc at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and later the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, the U.K.’s national fusion lab. Then, after a few years as a principal researcher at the University of Portugal, he joined the MIT faculty at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center in 2016 and earned tenure in 2017. A major motivation for moving to MIT from his research position, he says, was working with students. “I like to teach,” he says. Another was the “peerless intellectual caliber of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at MIT.”

    Loureiro, who holds a joint appointment in MIT’s Department of Physics, is an expert on a fundamental plasma process called magnetic reconnection. One example of this process occurs in the sun’s corona, a glowing irregular ring that surrounds the disk of the sun and becomes visible from Earth during solar eclipses. The corona is populated by vast loops of magnetic fields, which buoyantly rise from the solar interior and protrude through the solar surface. Sometimes these magnetic fields become unstable and explosively reconfigure, unleashing a burst of energy as a solar flare. “That’s magnetic reconnection in action,” he says.

    Over the last couple of years at MIT, Loureiro published a series of papers with physicist Stanislav Boldyrev at the University of Wisconsin, in which they proposed a new analytical model to reconcile critical disparities between models of plasma turbulence and models of magnetic reconnection. It’s too early to say if the new model is correct, he says, but “our work prompted a reanalysis of solar wind data and also new numerical simulations. The results from these look very encouraging.”

    Their new model, if proven, shows that magnetic reconnection must play a crucial role in the dynamics of plasma turbulence over a significant range of spatial scales – an insight that Loureiro and Boldyrev claim would have profound implications.

    Loureiro says that a deep, detailed understanding of turbulence and reconnection in plasmas is essential for solving a variety of thorny problems in physics, including the way the sun’s corona gets heated, the properties of accretion disks around black holes, nuclear fusion, and more. And so he plugs away, to continue trying to unravel the complexities of plasma behavior. “These problems present beautiful intellectual challenges,” he muses. “That, in itself, makes the challenge worthwhile. But let’s also keep in mind that the practical implications of understanding plasma behavior are enormous.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 8:54 am on May 2, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Magnetic reconnection,   

    From Chalmers University of Technology: “Flares in the universe can now be studied on earth” 

    Chalmers University of Technology

    02 May 2018

    Tünde Fülöp
    Professor, Department of Physics, Chalmers University of Technology
    +46 72 986 74 40
    tunde.fulop@chalmers.se

    Longqing Yi
    Postdoctoral researcher,Department of Physics,Chalmers University of Technology
    +46 31 772 68 82
    longqing@chalmers.se

    1
    Solar flares are caused by magnetic reconnection in space and can interfere with our communications satellites, affecting power grids, air traffic and telephony. Now, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have found a new way to imitate and study these spectacular space plasma phenomena in a laboratory environment. Image: NASA/SDO/AIA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA/SDO

    3
    Longqing Yi
    4
    Tünde Fülöp

    Solar flares, cosmic radiation, and the northern lights are well-known phenomena. But exactly how their enormous energy arises is not as well understood. Now, physicists at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have discovered a new way to study these spectacular space plasma phenomena in a laboratory environment. The results have been published in the renowned journal Nature Communications.

    “Scientists have been trying to bring these space phenomena down to earth for a decade. With our new method we can enter a new era, and investigate what was previously impossible to study. It will tell us more about how these events occur,” says Longqing Yi, researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers.

    The research concerns so-called ‘magnetic reconnection’ – the process which gives rise to these phenomena. Magnetic reconnection causes sudden conversion of energy stored in the magnetic field into heat and kinetic energy. This happens when two plasmas with anti-parallel magnetic fields are pushed together, and the magnetic field lines converge and reconnect. This interaction leads to violently accelerated plasma particles that can sometimes be seen with the naked eye – for example, during the northern lights.

    Magnetic reconnection in space can also influence us on earth. The creation of solar flares can interfere with communications satellites, and thus affect power grids, air traffic and telephony.

    In order to imitate and study these spectacular space plasma phenomena in the laboratory, you need a high-power laser, to create magnetic fields around a million times stronger than those found on the surface of the sun. In the new scientific article, Longqing Yi, along with Professor Tünde Fülöp from the Department of Physics, proposed an experiment in which magnetic reconnection can be studied in a new, more precise way. Through the use of ‘grazing incidence’ of ultra-short laser pulses, the effect can be achieved without overheating the plasma. The process can thus be studied very cleanly, without the laser directly affecting the internal energy of the plasma. The proposed experiment would therefore allow us to seek answers to some of the most fundamental questions in astrophysics.

    “We hope that this can inspire many research groups to use our results. This is a great opportunity to look for knowledge that could be useful in a number of areas. For example, we need to better understand solar flares, which can interfere with important communication systems. We also need to be able to control the instabilities caused by magnetic reconnection in fusion devices,” says Tünde Fülöp.

    The study on which the new results are based was financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation, through the framework of the project ‘Plasma-based Compact Ion Sources’, and the ERC project ‘Running away and radiating’.

    4
    Schematic of the proposed setup and relativistic jets generation. a A moderately high-intensity laser pulse (a0 = 5) propagates along the x-direction, and is splitted in half by a micro-sized plasma slab. The laser drives two energetic electron beams on both sides of the plasma surfaces, which generate 100 MG level opposing azimuthal magnetic fields in the middle. Ultrafast magnetic reconnection is observed as the electron beams approach the coronal region (the area within the blue box, where the plasma density decreases exponentially) at the end of the slab. The two insets below show the transverse magnetic fields (black arrows) and longitudinal electric current density (color) at the cross-section marked by the red rectangle (separated by 10λ0) at simulation times t = 24T0 and t = 34T0, respectively. b–e Generation and evolution of the relativistic jet resulting from MR at times 32T0, 35T0, 38T0, and 41T0, respectively. The rainbow color bar shows the transverse momentum P z of the jets formed by the background plasma electrons in b–e, and the blue-red color bar shows the energy of the electron bunch driven by the laser pulse in b, c.

    5
    Gyrotropy quantification at different times. Square root of quantified pressure tensor agyrotropy Q−−√ in the coronal plasma at simulation time t = 32T0(a), 33T0(b), and 34T0(c). The insets show the value of Q−−√ at the cross-section with longitudinal coordinate x = 26λ0, which is marked by the red rectangles in a–c.

    6
    Evolution of magnetic fields and magnetic tension force during the reconnection. a–c Static magnetic fields (frequency below 0.8ω0) and d–f z-component of magnetic tension force at simulation time t = 32T0 (a, d), 33T0 (b, e), and 34T0 (c, f). In a–c the transverse (B y , B z ) and longitudinal (B x ) components of magnetic field are presented by the black arrows and color, respectively. The bold white arrows in b show the inflow (horizontal) and outflow (vertical) electric currents that result from Hall reconnection. The black-dashed lines in d–f mark the cross-section where the corresponding magnetic fields (a–c) are shown.

    7
    Magnetic energy dissipation and the energization of non-thermal electrons. a Field dissipation (E x j x ) and electron density at t = 33T0 in the corona, the insets represent the top and side views of E x j x in the reconnection site (marked by the red box). b Time dependence of total energy increase in electrostatic fields, electrons in the corona, and protons (ΔE+), energy reduction of electromagnetic fields and other electrons (ΔE−), as well as the total energy reduction that includes magnetic field dissipation (ΔE− + ΔEm), inset shows the evolution of static magnetic energy Em and total kinetic energy of electron jets. c Coronal electron spectra from 30T0 to 36T0. d The temporal evolution of the kinetic energy (Ek) and the work done by each electric field component (W x , W y , and W z ) for one representative electron. The inset plane shows the phase-space trajectory (γ − 1 plotted vs. y) of the total 100 tracked electrons, where the blue-dashed line marks the boundary of plasma slab and the trajectory in red represents the case shown in d.

    Text:
    Mia Halleröd Palmgren,
    mia.hallerodpalmgren@chalmers.se

    Translation:
    Joshua Worth, joshua.worth@chalmers.se

    See the full article here .

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    Chalmers University of Technology (Swedish: Chalmers tekniska högskola, often shortened to Chalmers) is a Swedish university located in Gothenburg that focuses on research and education in technology, natural science, architecture, maritime and other management areas

    The University was founded in 1829 following a donation by William Chalmers, a director of the Swedish East India Company. He donated part of his fortune for the establishment of an “industrial school”. Chalmers was run as a private institution until 1937, when the institute became a state-owned university. In 1994, the school was incorporated as an aktiebolag under the control of the Swedish Government, the faculty and the Student Union. Chalmers is one of only three universities in Sweden which are named after a person, the other two being Karolinska Institutet and Linnaeus University.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:13 pm on March 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , FLARE- Facility for Laboratory Reconnection Experiment, Magnetic reconnection, Plasma — the fourth state of matter, ,   

    From PPPL: “First plasma for new machine to study process that occurs throughout the universe” 


    PPPL

    March 16, 2018
    John Greenwald

    PPPL FLARE – Facility for Laboratory Reconnection Experiment

    The first plasma, a milestone event signaling the beginning of research capabilities, was captured on camera on Sunday, March 5, at 8:13 p.m. at Jadwin Hall at Princeton University, and marked completion of the four-year construction of the device, the Facility for Laboratory Reconnection Experiment (FLARE).
    Photo by Larry Bernard, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

    A millisecond burst of light on a computer monitor signaled production of the first plasma in a powerful new device for advancing research into magnetic reconnection — a critical but little understood process that occurs throughout the universe.

    The first plasma, a milestone event signaling the beginning of research capabilities, was captured on camera on Sunday, March 5, at 8:13 p.m. at Jadwin Hall at Princeton University, and marked completion of the four-year construction of the device, the Facility for Laboratory Reconnection Experiment (FLARE).

    Magnetic reconnection, the breaking apart and explosive recombination of the magnetic field lines in hot plasma — the fourth state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei that makes up 99 percent of the visible universe — has impact throughout the cosmos. Reconnection gives rise to Northern Lights, solar eruptions and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt electrical networks and signal transmissions such as cellphone service. In laboratories where scientists are trying to create a “star on earth,” the process can degrade and even disrupt fusion experiments.

    Constructing FLARE, designed as a user facility for multiple institutions, was a team of physicists, engineers, designers, technicians and supporting staff for PPPL and Princeton, where the device was assembled. Support for construction of the project, whose future is being developed, came from the National Science Foundation with contributions from Princeton, the University of Maryland and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with collaborators from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Los Angeles, and the Institute of Plasma Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    See the full article here .

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    PPPL campus

    Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University. PPPL, on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. Results of PPPL research have ranged from a portable nuclear materials detector for anti-terrorist use to universally employed computer codes for analyzing and predicting the outcome of fusion experiments. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:05 pm on January 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Magnetic reconnection, Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, , or MMS   

    From Goddard: “NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission Locates Elusive Electron Act” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Jan. 3, 2018
    Mara Johnson-Groh
    mara.johnson-groh@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    The space high above Earth may seem empty, but it’s a carnival packed with magnetic field lines and high-energy particles. This region is known as the magnetosphere and, every day, charged particles put on a show as they dart and dive through it.

    Magnetosphere of Earth, original bitmap from NASA. SVG rendering by Aaron Kaase

    Like tiny tightrope walkers, the high-energy electrons follow the magnetic field lines. Sometimes, such as during an event called magnetic reconnection where the lines explosively collide, the particles are shot off their trajectories, as if they were fired from a cannon.

    Since these acts can’t be seen by the naked eye, NASA uses specially designed instruments to capture the show. The Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, or MMS, is one such looking glass through which scientists can observe the invisible magnetic forces and pirouetting particles that can impact our technology on Earth. New research uses MMS data to improve understanding of how electrons move through this complex region — information that will help untangle how such particle acrobatics affect Earth.

    NASA/MMS

    NASA MMS satellites in space


    This visualization shows the motion of one electron in the magnetic reconnection region. As the spacecraft approaches the reconnection region, it detects first high-energy particles, then low-energy particles. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Tom Bridgman

    Scientists with MMS have been watching the complex shows electrons put on around Earth and have noticed that electrons at the edge of the magnetosphere often move in rocking motions as they are accelerated. Finding these regions where electrons are accelerated is key to understanding one of the mysteries of the magnetosphere: How does the magnetic energy seething through the area get converted to kinetic energy — that is, the energy of particle motion. Such information is important to protect technology on Earth, since particles that have been accelerated to high energies can at their worst cause power grid outages and GPS communications dropouts.

    New research, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, found a novel way to help locate regions where electrons are accelerated. Until now, scientists looked at low-energy electrons to find these accelerations zones, but a group of scientists lead by Matthew Argall of the University of New Hampshire in Durham has shown it’s possible, and in fact easier, to identify these regions by watching high-energy electrons.

    This research is only possible with the unique design of MMS, which uses four spacecraft flying in a tight tetrahedral formation to give high temporal and spatial resolution measurements of the magnetic reconnection region.

    “We’re able to probe very small scales and this helps us to really pinpoint how energy is being converted through magnetic reconnection,” Argall said.

    The results will make it easier for scientists to identify and study these regions, helping them explore the microphysics of magnetic reconnection and better understand electrons’ effects on Earth.

    See the full article here.

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

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


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 3:01 pm on December 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Airapetian and Goddard colleague William Danchi argue the solar flares were an essential part of the process that led to us, As a way to potentially improve the chances of finding habitable conditions on those exoplanets that are observed a new approach has been proposed by a group of NASA scientists, , , , , , , Magnetic reconnection, , The novel technique takes advantage of the frequent stellar storms emanating from cool young dwarf stars, This new research suggests that some stellar storms could have just the opposite effect — making the planet more habitable., When high-energy particles from a stellar storm reach an exoplanet they break the nitrogen oxygen and water molecules that may be in the atmosphere into their individual components   

    From Many Worlds: “A New Way to Find Signals of Habitable Exoplanets?” 

    NASA NExSS bloc

    NASA NExSS

    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    2017-12-04
    Marc Kaufman

    1
    Scientists propose a new and more indirect way of determining whether an exoplanet has a good, bad or unknowable chance of being habitable. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk)

    The search for biosignatures in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets is extremely difficult and time-consuming work. The telescopes that can potentially take the measurements required are few and more will come only slowly. And for the current and next generation of observatories, staring at a single exoplanet long enough to get a measurement of the compounds in its atmosphere will be a time-consuming and expensive process — and thus a relatively infrequent one.

    As a way to potentially improve the chances of finding habitable conditions on those exoplanets that are observed, a new approach has been proposed by a group of NASA scientists.

    The novel technique takes advantage of the frequent stellar storms emanating from cool, young dwarf stars. These storms throw huge clouds of stellar material and radiation into space – traveling near the speed of light — and the high energy particles then interact with exoplanet atmospheres and produce chemical biosignatures that can be detected.

    The study, titled “Atmospheric Beacons of Life from Exoplanets Around G and K Stars“, recently appeared in Nature Scientific Reports.

    “We’re in search of molecules formed from fundamental prerequisites to life — specifically molecular nitrogen, which is 78 percent of our atmosphere,” said Airapetian, who is a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and at American University in Washington, D.C. “These are basic molecules that are biologically friendly and have strong infrared emitting power, increasing our chance of detecting them.”

    1
    The thin gauzy rim of the planet in foreground is an illustration of its atmosphere. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

    So this technique, called a search for “Beacons of Life,” would not detect signs of life per se, but would detect secondary or tertiary signals that would, in effect, tell observers to “look here.”

    The scientific logic is as follows:

    When high-energy particles from a stellar storm reach an exoplanet, they break the nitrogen, oxygen and water molecules that may be in the atmosphere into their individual components.

    Water molecules become hydroxyl — one atom each of oxygen and hydrogen, bound together. This sparks a cascade of chemical reactions that ultimately produce what the scientists call the atmospheric beacons of hydroxyl, more molecular oxygen, and nitric oxide.

    For researchers, these chemical reactions are very useful guides. When starlight strikes the atmosphere, spring-like bonds within the beacon molecules absorb the energy and vibrate, sending that energy back into space as heat, or infrared radiation. Scientists know which gases emit radiation at particular wavelengths of light. So by looking at all the radiation coming from the that planet’s atmosphere, it’s possible to get a sense of what chemicals are present and roughly in what amounts..

    Forming a detectable amount of these beacons requires a large quantity of molecular oxygen and nitrogen. As a result, if detected these compounds would suggest the planet has an atmosphere filled with biologically friendly chemistry as well as Earth-like atmospheric pressure. The odds of the planet being a habitable world remain small, but those odds do grow.

    “These conditions are not life, but are fundamental prerequisites for life and are comparable to our Earth’s atmosphere,” Airapetian wrote in an email.

    Stellar storms and related coronal mass ejections are thought to burst into space when magnetic reconnections in various regions of the star. For stars like our sun, the storms become less frequent within a relatively short period, astronomically speaking. Smaller and less luminous red dwarf stars, which are the most common in the universe, continue to send out intense stellar flares for a much longer time.

    3
    Vladimir Airapetian is a senior researcher at NASA Goddard and a member of NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) initiative.

    The effect of stellar weather on planets orbiting young stars, including our own four billion years ago, has been a focus of Airapetian’s work for some time.

    For instance, Airapetian and Goddard colleague William Danchi published a paper in the journal Nature last year proposing that solar flares warmed the early Earth to make it habitable. They concluded that the high-energy particles also provided the vast amounts of energy needed to combine evenly scattered simple molecules into the kind of complex molecules that could keep the planet warm and form some of the chemical building blocks of life.

    In other words, they argue, the solar flares were an essential part of the process that led to us.

    What Airapetian is proposing now is to look at the chemical results of stellar flares hitting exoplanet atmospheres to see if they might be an essential part of a life-producing process as well, or of a process that creates a potentially habitable planet.

    Airapetian said that he is again working with Danchi, a Goddard astrophysicist, and the team from heliophysics to propose a NASA mission that would use some of their solar and stellar flare findings. The mission being conceived, the Exo Life Beacon Space Telescope (ELBST), would measure infrared emissions of an exoplanet atmosphere using direct imaging observations, along with technology to block the infrared emissions of the host star.

    For this latest paper, Airapetian and colleagues used a computer simulation to study the interaction between the atmosphere and high-energy space weather around a cool, active star. They found that ozone drops to a minimum and that the decline reflects the production of atmospheric beacons.

    They then used a model to calculate just how much nitric oxide and hydroxyl would form and how much ozone would be destroyed in an Earth-like atmosphere around an active star. Earth scientists have used this model for decades to study how ozone — which forms naturally when sunlight strikes oxygenin the upper atmosphere — responds to solar storms. But the ozone reactions found a new application in this study; Earth is, after all, the best case study in the search for habitable planets and life.

    Will this new approach to searching for habitable planets out?

    “This is an exciting new proposed way to look for life,” said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a Goddard astrobiologist not connected with the study. “But as with all signs of life, the exoplanet community needs to think hard about context. What are the ways non-biological processes could mimic this signature?”

    4
    A 2012 coronal mass ejection from the sun. Earth is placed into the image to give a sense of the size of the solar flare, but our planet is of course nowhere near the sun. (NASA, Goddard Media Studios)

    Today, Earth enjoys a layer of protection from the high-energy particles of solar storms due to its strong magnetic field. However, some particularly strong solar events can still interact with the magnetosphere and potentially wreak havoc on certain technology on Earth.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies solar storms on a scale of one to five (one being the weakest; five being the most severe). For instance, a storm forecast to be a G3 event means it could have the strength to cause fluctuations in some power grids, intermittent radio blackouts in higher latitudes and possible GPS issues.

    This is what can happen to a planet with a strong magnetic field and a sun that is no longer prone to sending out frequent solar flares. Imagine what stellar storms can do when the star is younger and more prone to powerful flaring, and the planet less protected.

    Exoplanet scientists often talk of the possibility that a particular planet was “sterilized” by the high-energy storms, and so could never be habitable. But this new research suggests that some stellar storms could have just the opposite effect — making the planet more habitable.

    See the full article here.

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    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    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.

     
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