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  • richardmitnick 9:18 am on July 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Ames, NASA Supercomputer Help Further Discovery of the Origin of Stars, Pleiades supercomputer   

    From NASA Ames: “3-D Simulations and NASA Supercomputer Help Further Discovery of the Origin of Stars” 

    NASA Ames Icon

    July 6, 2016

    Author: Jill Dunbar, Ames Research Center
    Media contact: Kimberly Williams, Ames Research Center
    kimberly.k.williams@nasa.gov

    1
    This simulation captures a mix of radiation, magnetic fields, gravity and other physical phenomena. It was produced with UC Berkeley’s code and run on the Pleiades supercomputer at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Credits: NASA Ames/David Ellsworth/Tim Sandstrom

    What processes are involved in the formation of individual stars and stellar clusters in our own galaxy and other galaxies? Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are using NASA’s most powerful supercomputer, Pleiades, to create unique star-formation simulations to answer this fundamental scientific question.

    NASA SGI Advanced Supercomputing Center Pleiades Supercomputer
    NASA SGI Advanced Supercomputing Center Pleiades Supercomputer

    Like something from a video game, the simulations zoom through the entire evolution of young star clusters. A giant cloud of interstellar gas and dust collapses under the forces of gravity. Inside the cloud, turbulent clumps of gas form and then collapse. The collapsed clumps form star clusters, and then the magnetized, swirling cores further evolve to form individual or small groups of stars.

    These complex simulations as seen here — which capture a mix of radiation, magnetic fields, gravity and other physical phenomena — were produced with UC Berkeley’s code and run on the Pleiades supercomputer, located at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Currently ranked as the seventh most powerful system in the U.S., the Pleiades supercomputer was critical for obtaining the high-resolution results that match closely with observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and other observing telescopes. Scientists demonstrated the accuracy of the code by performing many independent tests of different elements of physics modeled against real known data.

    The science team is enhancing the code to produce new simulations that will allow them to zoom in on the formation of stellar disks — pancake-shaped disks of gas and dust surrounding protostars that are believed to be the first stage of planet formation.

    Reaching this goal will require even more computing power. The NAS facility is continuously growing its supercomputing capability to support even higher resolution star-formation simulations — plus hundreds of other NASA mission projects in aeronautics, Earth and space science and exploration of planets and the universe.

    For more information about NAS and to view simulation video, visit: http://www.nas.nasa.gov/publications/articles/feature_origin_of_stars_Kl…

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Ames Research Center, one of 10 NASA field Centers, is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. For over 60 years, Ames has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development. With 2500 employees and an annual budget of $900 million, Ames provides NASA with advancements in:
    Entry systems: Safely delivering spacecraft to Earth & other celestial bodies
    Supercomputing: Enabling NASA’s advanced modeling and simulation
    NextGen air transportation: Transforming the way we fly
    Airborne science: Examining our own world & beyond from the sky
    Low-cost missions: Enabling high value science to low Earth orbit & the moon
    Biology & astrobiology: Understanding life on Earth — and in space
    Exoplanets: Finding worlds beyond our own
    Autonomy & robotics: Complementing humans in space
    Lunar science: Rediscovering our moon
    Human factors: Advancing human-technology interaction for NASA missions
    Wind tunnels: Testing on the ground before you take to the sky

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 3:55 pm on May 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Ames, NASA Nodes mission   

    From NASA Ames: “NASA Small Satellites to Demonstrate Swarm Communications and Autonomy” 

    NASA Ames Icon

    Dec. 7, 2015 [But pertinent, read on]
    Author: Julianna Fishman
    Small Spacecraft Technology Program

    Media contact: Kimberly Williams
    kimberly.k.williams@nasa.gov
    Ames Research Center

    Last Updated: April 19, 2016
    Editor: Kimberly Williams

    1

    NASA’s two Nodes small satellites hitched a ride to the International Space Station on the fourth Orbital ATK cargo mission, which launched on Dec. 6. The satellites are slated for deployment into low-Earth orbit in May 2016.

    The Nodes mission, which consists of two CubeSats weighing just 4.5 pounds each and measuring 4 inches by 4 inches by 6.5 inches, will test new network capabilities for operating swarms of spacecraft in the future.

    “The purpose of the Nodes demonstration is to test out the potential for using multiple, small, low-cost satellites to perform complex science missions,” said Andrew Petro, program executive for the Small Spacecraft Technology Program (SSTP) in the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    A first for small satellites, Nodes will demonstrate the ability to receive and distribute commands in space from the ground in addition to periodically exchanging scientific data from their onboard radiation instruments. The satellites will be able to configure their data network autonomously by determining which spacecraft is best suited to communicate with the ground each day of the mission.

    “The technologies demonstrated during this mission are important, as they will show that a network of satellites can be controlled without communicating to each satellite directly,” said Roger Hunter, program manager for SSTP at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. “Nodes will demonstrate inter-satellite communications and autonomous command and control; this will help enable future constellation command and control capabilities.”

    Upon deployment from the station, the Energetic Particle Integrating Space Environment Monitor (EPISEM) radiation sensor aboard each Nodes satellite will collect data on the charged particle environment at an altitude of about 250 miles above Earth. The EPISEM instruments were provided under contract by Montana State University. The Nodes satellites will demonstrate their networking capabilities through communication of this data with each other and the ground.

    As part of a partnership with Ames, Santa Clara University in California will conduct ground operations for the nominal two-week mission. Acting as a ground station, the university will provide an online mission dashboard with current mission status, including operational status of satellite subsystems, ground segment communications status and satellite location tracking. The dashboard is currently available for viewing, but will not be active until after the Nodes deploy from the ISS in mid-May.

    The mission is scheduled to last for two weeks, though the CubeSats will remain in orbit for several more months before their orbit decays, they re-enter and burn up in the atmosphere.

    Nodes continues the legacy of the Phonesat series of small satellites by using commercially developed Android smartphone technology augmented with additional custom software that enables the satellites to perform spacecraft functions.

    The launch of the Nodes small satellites follows last month’s launch of the eight small satellites of the Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN) mission, which was lost in the failure of the U.S. Air Force-led Operationally Responsive Space Office’s ORS-4 mission. However, the Nodes spacecraft were developed at Ames by the same team that developed the EDSN spacecraft and many of the same capabilities planned for EDSN will be demonstrated in the Nodes mission, with additional software enhancements.

    “The Nodes mission concept was an opportunity to leverage the excellent work done on EDSN, and extend the systems at a low-cost and effort,” stated David Korsmeyer, director of engineering at Ames. “This is the value of the nanosat model of mission — quickly adapt to new opportunities and leverage systems for incremental missions.”

    Networked swarms of small satellites will open new horizons in astronomy, Earth observation and solar physics. Their range of applications includes multi-satellite science missions, the formation of synthetic aperture radars for Earth sensing systems, as well as large aperture observatories for next-generation telescopes. They can also serve to collect science measurements distributed over space and time to study the Earth, the Earth’s magnetosphere, gravity field, and Earth-Sun interactions.

    The Nodes project is sponsored by the SSTP, a program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and received additional funding from the Ames Research Center.

    For more information on NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/smallsats

    Nodes Fact Sheet

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Ames Research Center, one of 10 NASA field Centers, is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. For over 60 years, Ames has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development. With 2500 employees and an annual budget of $900 million, Ames provides NASA with advancements in:
    Entry systems: Safely delivering spacecraft to Earth & other celestial bodies
    Supercomputing: Enabling NASA’s advanced modeling and simulation
    NextGen air transportation: Transforming the way we fly
    Airborne science: Examining our own world & beyond from the sky
    Low-cost missions: Enabling high value science to low Earth orbit & the moon
    Biology & astrobiology: Understanding life on Earth — and in space
    Exoplanets: Finding worlds beyond our own
    Autonomy & robotics: Complementing humans in space
    Lunar science: Rediscovering our moon
    Human factors: Advancing human-technology interaction for NASA missions
    Wind tunnels: Testing on the ground before you take to the sky

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 11:19 am on September 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA Ames,   

    From Nautilus: “This Used To Be the Future” 

    Nautilus

    Nautilus

    September 10, 2015
    Rachel B. Sussman

    A look inside NASA’s Ames Research Center.

    NASA Ames Research Center
    NASA Ames

    NASA Ames is filled with the exotic technologies of a future that didn’t quite come to pass. Ancient computers still operate equipment in the machine shop. A decommissioned nuclear missile sits in a parking lot, and the twin of the International Space Station sits out in the open air, under a tarp.

    Originally dedicated as the Sunnyvale Naval Air Station in 1933, the site was to serve as a home base for the Navy dirigible, the U.S.S. Macon, which crashed in 1935. The Aeronautical Laboratory was founded in 1939, and in 1958 became a part of the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. In its earliest days, Ames broke new ground in aerodynamics and high-speed flight. Today it is still an active participant in various NASA missions, including leading the Kepler space telescope mission, and partnering on the Mars Curiosity Rover.

    I came to Ames as part of a creatively motivated examination of the felt experience of deep time and deep space, in conjunction with the LACMA Art + Tech Lab. How does one make art—let alone make sense—out of our human experience of the cosmos?

    As I visited Ames, along with SpaceX, JPL, and CERN, I began to reconsider our contemporary relationship to space. Without fail, someone would always lament that we have never regained the promise and excitement of the early space era, epitomized by the moon landing. The Ames campus itself embodies that sentiment in its architecture; some structures are perfectly preserved and others are in varying degrees of disrepair.

    As I took in the campus, I couldn’t help but think: This used to be the future.

    2
    Pre-fabricated surplus storage sheds, of a type that are common to Naval installations. The sheds contain the detritus from decades of research and experimentation, including machines, electronics and even old vehicles. As one employee put it, “If it’s in the surplus sheds, it’s junk.” It was unclear what these particular sheds held, or the last time their bay doors had been opened. Rachel B. Sussman

    Temp 1
    Titan 1 #61-4492 (apparently) arriving at NASA Ames Research Center Building N242 in 1969. Photo courtesy of Arthur LeBrun

    On my first visit to NASA Ames, my contact took me to see the Titan, sitting in a parking lot next to an old McDonald’s that had been converted into a moon research office. When we reached the nosecone he pointed out an unplugged cable, and asked me to guess what it might have connected to. I was stymied.

    The Titan is an intercontinental ballistic missile. The cable was for a nuclear warhead.

    I was struck how, up until this moment, I had not consciously contemplated the military aspects of space exploration. Later, when giving a lecture about my process at LACMA, someone asked me if my work is moral. My encounter with the Titan made clear to me that the answer is yes.

    3
    A 1999 image of Hangar 1 taken in Moffett Field, Calif. Credit: NASA Ames Research Center

    Hangar One was built in the 1930s to house “rigid airships,” à la Hindenburg. It stands 200 feet tall, and covers a footprint of eight acres.

    In the best thinking of the times,
 it was constructed with lead, PCBs, and asbestos, contaminating both the surrounding ground as well
 as San Francisco Bay. The toxins have all since been removed
from the structure, leaving only 
its steel skeleton.

    Hangar One will soon get a second life: It has recently been leased 
by Planetary Ventures, a Google subsidiary.

    4
    Microbial mats, NASA Ames Research Greenhouse #0415-1408 Rachel B. Sussman

    A row of research greenhouses, established in 1999, sits atop the roof of the astrobiology building. This one is filled with trays 
of cultivated microbial mats of cyanobacteria collected from a field site in Mexico, and maintained in corrosive brines.

    One of the most ancient organisms on Earth, cyanobacteria could be similar to simple life on other planets. They could also indicate which organic compounds are associated with the presence of life.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:21 am on July 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Ames   

    From NASA: “New NASA Research Shows Giant Asteroids Battered Early Earth” 

    NASA

    July 30, 2014
    Rachel Hoover
    Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. 

    650-604-4789
    rachel.hoover@nasa.gov

    New research shows that more than four billion years ago the surface of Earth was heavily reprocessed – or melted, mixed, and buried – as a result of giant asteroid impacts. A new terrestrial bombardment model, calibrated using existing lunar and terrestrial data, sheds light on the role asteroid collisions played in the evolution of the uppermost layers of the early Earth during the geologic eon called the “Hadean” (approximately 4 to 4.5 billion years ago).

    earth
    An artistic conception of the early Earth, showing a surface pummeled by large impact, resulting in extrusion of deep seated magma onto the surface. At the same time, distal portion of the surface could have retained liquid water.
    Image Credit:
    Simone Marchi

    An international team of researchers from academic and government institutions, including NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, published their findings in a paper, Widespread Mixing and Burial of Earth’s Hadean Crust by Asteroid Impacts in the July 31, 2014 issue of Nature.

    “A large asteroid impact could have buried a substantial amount of Earth’s crust with impact-generated melt,” said Yvonne Pendleton, SSERVI Director at Ames. “This new model helps explain how repeated asteroid impacts may have buried Earth’s earliest and oldest rocks.”

    Terrestrial planet formation models indicate Earth went through a sequence of major growth phases: initially accretion of planetesimals – planetary embryos – over many tens of millions of years, then a giant impact by a large proto-planet that led to the formation of our moon, followed by the late bombardment when giant asteroids several tens to hundreds of miles in size periodically hit ancient Earth, dwarfing the one that killed the dinosaurs (estimated to be six miles in size) only 65 million years ago.

    Researchers estimate accretion during the late bombardment contributed less than one percent of Earth’s present-day mass, but the giant asteroid impacts still had a profound effect on the geological evolution of early Earth. Prior to four billion years ago Earth was resurfaced over and over by voluminous impact-generated melt. Furthermore, large collisions as late as about four billion years ago may have repeatedly boiled away existing oceans into steamy atmospheres. Despite the heavy bombardment, the findings are compatible with the claim of liquid water on Earth’s surface as early as about 4.3 billion years ago based on geochemical data.

    The new research reveals that asteroidal collisions not only severely altered the geology of the Hadean eon Earth, but likely also played a major role in the subsequent evolution of life on Earth as well.

    “Prior to approximately four billion years ago, no large region of Earth’s surface could have survived untouched by impacts and their effects,” said Simone Marchi, SSERVI senior researcher at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the paper’s lead author. “The new picture of the Hadean Earth emerging from this work has important implications for its habitability.”

    four
    Spatial distribution and sizes of craters formed on the early Earth. Each circle indicates the final estimated crater size. Color-coding indicates the time of impact. Image Credit: Simone Marchi et al. 2014

    Large impacts had particularly severe effects on existing ecosystems. Researchers found that on average, Hadean Earth more than four billion years ago could have been hit by one to four impactors that were more than 600 miles wide and capable of global sterilization, and by three to seven impactors more than 300 miles wide and capable of global ocean vaporization.

    “During that time, the lag between major collisions was long enough to allow intervals of more clement conditions, at least on a local scale,” said Marchi. “Any life emerging during the Hadean eon likely needed to be resistant to high temperatures, and could have survived such a violent period in Earth’s history by thriving in niches deep underground or in the ocean’s crust.”

    The research was an international effort led by Marchi and William Bottke from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder; Linda Elkins-Tanton from Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington; Michael Bierhaus and Kai Wünnemann from the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany; Alessandro Morbidelli from Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur in Nice, France, and David Kring from the Universities Space Research Association and Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

    The research was supported in part by SSERVI, a virtual institute that, with international partnerships, brings science and exploration researchers together in a collaborative virtual setting. SSERVI is funded by the Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    For more information about SSERVI and selected member teams, visit: http://sservi.nasa.gov

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble,
    Chandra, Spitzer ]and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.


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  • richardmitnick 8:18 am on July 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Ames,   

    From SETI Institute: “SETI Institute To Support Scientific Research At NASA Ames” 


    SETI Institute

    July 30 2014
    David C. Black
    President and CEO
    SETI Institute
    dblack@SETI.org
    1-650-960-4550

    Edna DeVore
    Director of Education and Public Outreach
    SETI Institute
    edevore@seti.org
    1-650-960-4538

    The SETI Institute has been chosen as a key partner to support scientific and technical mission and project services at NASA Ames Research Center. On July 24, NASA awarded the Fully Integrated Mission Support Services (FILMSS) contract to Wyle Incorporated as the prime contractor. Wyle, with headquarters in Houston, Texas, provides a wide range of science, engineering and technical services to government agencies, including NASA. The SETI Institute is part of the contract awarded to Wyle to provide support to NASA’s Ames Research Center. These services were previously managed by Lockheed Martin.

    NASA Ames Research Center

    “We are delighted to be a key partner on FILMSS at NASA Ames,” said David Black, the SETI Institute’s president. “Today, Institute scientists and educators are key contributors to the success of NASA Ames’ research projects and space missions such as Kepler and SOFIA. The Institute has a 30-year history of working closely with NASA Ames in these areas as well as associated education projects. The FILMSS contract expands those opportunities.”

    NASA Ames research Center is located at Moffett Field, CA in the heart of the Silicon Valley.

    For further information about the Wyle Laboratories, Inc. team and FILMSS, go to: https://join.wylehou.com/FILMSS

    See the full article here.

    SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
    Privacy PolicyQuestions and Comments


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  • richardmitnick 12:30 pm on April 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Ames, ,   

    From NASA: “New Study Outlines ‘Water World’ Theory of Life’s Origins” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    See the full article here.

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

    Caltech Logo
    jpl


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  • richardmitnick 5:49 pm on January 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Ames   

    From NASA/Kepler: “NASA’s Kepler Provides Insights on Enigmatic Planets” 

    NASA Kepler Logo

    NASA Kepler Telescope

    January 06, 2014

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

    Michele Johnson 650-604-4789
    Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    michele.johnson@nasa.gov

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

    More than three-quarters of the planet candidates discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft have sizes ranging from that of Earth to that of Neptune, which is nearly four times as big as Earth. Such planets dominate the galactic census but are not represented in our own solar system. Astronomers don’t know how they form or if they are made of rock, water or gas.

    The Kepler team today reports on four years of ground-based follow-up observations targeting Kepler’s exoplanet systems at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington. These observations confirm the numerous Kepler discoveries are indeed planets and yield mass measurements of these enigmatic worlds that vary between Earth and Neptune in size.

    Included in the findings are five new rocky planets ranging in size from 10 to 80 percent larger than Earth. Two of the new rocky worlds, dubbed Kepler-99b and Kepler-406b, are both 40 percent larger in size than Earth and have a density similar to lead. The planets orbit their host stars in less than five and three days respectively, making these worlds too hot for life as we know it.

    A major component of these follow-up observations was Doppler measurements of the planets’ host stars. The team measured the reflex wobble of the host star, caused by the gravitational tug on the star exerted by the orbiting planet. That measured wobble reveals the mass of the planet: the higher the mass of the planet, the greater the gravitational tug on the star and hence the greater the wobble.

    “This marvelous avalanche of information about the mini-Neptune planets is telling us about their core-envelope structure, not unlike a peach with its pit and fruit,” said Geoff Marcy, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, who led the summary analysis of the high-precision Doppler study. “We now face daunting questions about how these enigmas formed and why our solar system is devoid of the most populous residents in the galaxy.”

    Using one of the world’s largest ground-based telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, scientists confirmed 41 of the exoplanets discovered by Kepler and determined the masses of 16. With the mass and diameter in hand, scientists could immediately determine the density of the planets, characterizing them as rocky or gaseous, or mixtures of the two.

    The density measurements dictate the possible chemical composition of these strange, but ubiquitous planets. The density measurements suggest that the planets smaller than Neptune — or mini-Neptunes — have a rocky core but the proportions of hydrogen, helium and hydrogen-rich molecules in the envelope surrounding that core vary dramatically, with some having no envelope at all.

    The ground-based observation research validates 38 new planets, six of which are non-transiting planets only seen in the Doppler data. The paper detailing the research is published in the Astrophysical Journal today.

    A complementary technique used to determine mass, and in turn density of a planet, is by measuring the transit timing variations (TTV). Much like the gravitational force of a planet on its star, neighboring planets can tug on one another, causing one planet to accelerate and another planet to decelerate along its orbit.

    Ji-Wei Xie of the University of Toronto used TTV to validate 15 pairs of Kepler planets ranging from Earth-sized to a little larger than Neptune. Xie measured masses of the 30 planets, thereby adding to the compendium of planetary characteristics for this new class of planets. The result also was published in the Astrophysical Journal in Dec. 2013.

    “Kepler’s primary objective is to determine the prevalence of planets of varying sizes and orbits. Of particular interest to the search for life is the prevalence of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “But the question in the back of our minds is: are all planets the size of Earth rocky? Might some be scaled-down versions of icy Neptunes or steamy water worlds? What fraction are recognizable as kin of our rocky, terrestrial globe?”

    The dynamical mass measurements produced by Doppler and TTV analyses will help to answer these questions. The results hint that a large fraction of planets smaller than 1.5 times the radius of Earth may be comprised of the silicates, iron, nickel and magnesium that are found in the terrestrial planets here in the solar system.

    Armed with this type of information, scientists will be able to turn the fraction of stars harboring Earth-sizes planets into the fraction of stars harboring bona-fide rocky planets. And that’s a step closer to finding a habitable environment beyond the solar system.

    See the full article here.

    The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone→ and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.
    The operations phase of the Kepler mission is managed for NASA by the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, managed the mission through development, launch and the start of science operations. Dr. William Borucki of NASA Ames is the mission’s Science Principal Investigator. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, CO, developed the Kepler flight system.

    In October 2009, oversight of the Kepler project was transferred from the Discovery Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, to the Exoplanet Exploration Program at JPL

    NASA

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  • richardmitnick 9:06 pm on August 16, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Ames, ,   

    Dennis Overbye Makes Page 3 on a Friday – Kepler is Hobbled 

    New York Times

    This is copyright protected, so just some hints.

    NASA Planet-Hunting Star Idled by Broken Parts

    Friday, August 16, 2013
    Dennis Overbye

    NASA said Thursday that its celebrated planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft, which broke down in May when a reaction wheel that controls its pointing failed, could not be fixed and would never again search for planets around other stars.

    kepler
    Kepler

    The disappointing news brings to an end, for now, one phase of the most romantic of space dreams, the search for other Earths among the exoplanets of the Milky Way. NASA has already asked astronomers for ideas on how to use the hobbled spacecraft, whose telescope is in perfect shape.

    At last count, Kepler had discovered 3,548 possible planets, and 135 of them — some smaller than the Earth — have been validated by other observations, including earthbound telescopes. But hundreds or thousands more are in the pipeline, said William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Laboratory in Mountain View, Calif., Kepler’s originator and principal investigator.

    The closest Kepler has come to finding another Earth was in April, when the team discovered a pair of planets about half again as big as the Earth orbiting a yellow star, now known as Kepler 62, that is 1,200 light years away. Both planets reside in the “Goldilocks” zone where temperatures should be lukewarm and suitable for liquid water and thus life as we imagine it.”

    62
    Kepler-62f (foreground) and Kepler-62e (right) are habitable zone exoplanets orbiting the star Kepler-62 (center). (Artists’ conception.) Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech

    See the full article here.

    NASA

    NASA Ames Research Center

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  • richardmitnick 4:28 pm on July 30, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA Ames   

    From NASA AMES: “How Did Earth’s Primitive Chemistry Get Kick Started?” 

    NASA Ames Icon

    July 30, 2013
    Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    jccook@jpl.nasa.gov

    “How did life on Earth get started? Three new papers co-authored by Mike Russell, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., strengthen the case that Earth’s first life began at alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of oceans. Scientists are interested in understanding early life on Earth because if we ever hope to find life on other worlds — especially icy worlds with subsurface oceans such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus — we need to know what chemical signatures to look for.

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

    Two papers published recently in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B provide more detail on the chemical and precursor metabolic reactions that have to take place to pave the pathway for life. Russell and his co-authors describe how the interactions between the earliest oceans and alkaline hydrothermal fluids likely produced acetate (comparable to vinegar). The acetate is a product of methane and hydrogen from the alkaline hydrothermal vents and carbon dioxide dissolved in the surrounding ocean. Once this early chemical pathway was forged, acetate could become the basis of other biological molecules. They also describe how two kinds of “nano-engines” that create organic carbon and polymers — energy currency of the first cells — could have been assembled from inorganic minerals.

    A paper published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta analyzes the structural similarity between the most ancient enzymes of life and minerals precipitated at these alkaline vents, an indication that the first life didn’t have to invent its first catalysts and engines.”

    See the full article here.

    Ames Research Center, one of 10 NASA field Centers, is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. For over 60 years, Ames has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development. With 2500 employees and an annual budget of $900 million, Ames provides NASA with advancements in:
    Entry systems: Safely delivering spacecraft to Earth & other celestial bodies
    Supercomputing: Enabling NASA’s advanced modeling and simulation
    NextGen air transportation: Transforming the way we fly
    Airborne science: Examining our own world & beyond from the sky
    Low-cost missions: Enabling high value science to low Earth orbit & the moon
    Biology & astrobiology: Understanding life on Earth — and in space
    Exoplanets: Finding worlds beyond our own
    Autonomy & robotics: Complementing humans in space
    Lunar science: Rediscovering our moon
    Human factors: Advancing human-technology interaction for NASA missions
    Wind tunnels: Testing on the ground before you take to the sky

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on May 15, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Ames,   

    From NASA Ames / Spitzer: “NASA Develops Key to Cosmic Carbon’s Molecular Evolution” 



    Spitzer

    05.14.2013
    Ruth Dasso Marlaire
    Public Affairs Office
    Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    650-604-4789

    “Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., now have the capability to systematically investigate the molecular evolution of cosmic carbon. For the first time, these scientists are able to automatically interpret previously unknown infrared emissions from space that come from surprisingly complex organic molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are abundant and important across the universe.

    image
    For the first time, scientists are able to automatically interpret previously unknown infrared emissions from space that come from surprisingly complex organic molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are abundant and important across the universe. They use spectra of infrared radiation to identify unknown substances in space. These spectra are as good as fingerprints for identification purposes. Analyzing the PAH bands represents a powerful new astronomical tool to trace the evolution of cosmic carbon and, at the same time, probe conditions across the universe. Image credit: NASA Ames

    Between 2003 and 2005, thanks to its unprecedented sensitivity, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, managed and operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., created maps of the tell-tale PAH signature across large regions of space, from hot regions of harsh ultraviolet (UV) radiation close to stars, to cold, dark clouds where stars and planets form. By exclusively using their unique collection of authentic PAH spectra, coupled with algorithm-driven, blind-computational analyses, scientists at Ames were able to interpret the cosmic infrared maps with complex organic molecules. They found that PAHs changed significantly in size, electrical charge and structure, to adjust to the different environment at each spot in the map. Carbon is one of the most abundant atoms in space and scientists believe that the spectral changes across these maps trace the molecular evolution of carbon across the universe.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory located on the campus of the California Institute of Technology and part of NASA’s Infrared Processing and Analysis Center.
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