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  • richardmitnick 9:31 am on July 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Goddard, Vitamin B3   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA Researchers Find “Frozen” Recipe for Extraterrestrial Vitamin” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    July 23, 2015
    Bill Steigerwald
    ​NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    1
    This is an artist’s concept of a protoplanetry disk surrounding a forming star that is ejecting jets of material (yellow beams). Such disks contain countless tiny dust grains, many of which become incorporated into asteroids, comets, and planets. Credits: NASA Goddard

    Vitamin B3 could have been made on icy dust grains in space, and later delivered to Earth by meteorites and comets, according to new laboratory experiments by a team of NASA-funded researchers. Vitamin B3, also known as niacin or nicotinic acid, is used to build NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), which is essential to metabolism and probably ancient in origin. The result supports a theory that the origin of life may have been assisted by a supply of biologically important molecules produced in space and brought to Earth by comet and meteor impacts.

    The new work builds on earlier research by the team in which they analyzed carbon-rich meteorites and discovered that vitamin B3 was present at concentrations ranging from about 30 to 600 parts-per-billion. In that work, the team performed preliminary laboratory experiments that showed vitamin B3 could be made from a simpler building-block organic molecule called pyridine in carbon dioxide ice under conditions that simulated the environment in space.

    The new experiments made the simulation more realistic by adding water ice to the mixture and using amounts closer to what is expected for interstellar ices and comets. The team found that even with the addition of water, the vitamin could be made under a wide variety of scenarios where the water ice abundance varied by up to ten times.

    “We found that the types of organic compounds in our laboratory-produced ices match very well to what is found in meteorites,” said Karen Smith of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This result suggests that these important organic compounds in meteorites may have originated from simple molecular ices in space. This type of chemistry may also be relevant for comets, which contain large amounts of water and carbon dioxide ices. These experiments show that vitamin B3 and other complex organic compounds could be made in space and it is plausible that meteorite and comet impacts could have added an extraterrestrial component to the supply of vitamin B3 on ancient Earth.”

    Smith, who is lead author of a paper on this research published online June 17, 2015 in Chemical Communications, performed the work with her team at NASA Goddard, including her postdoctoral research advisor, Perry Gerakines of NASA Goddard. “This work is part of a broad research program in the field of Astrobiology at NASA Goddard,” Gerakines said. “We are working to understand the origins of biologically important molecules and how they came to exist throughout the Solar System and on Earth. The experiments performed in our laboratory demonstrate an important possible connection between the complex organic molecules formed in cold interstellar space and those we find in meteorites.”

    Exploding stars (supernovae) and the winds from red giant stars near the end of their lives produce vast clouds of gas and dust. Solar systems are born when shock waves from stellar winds and other nearby supernovae compress and concentrate a cloud of ejected stellar material until dense clumps of that cloud begin to collapse under their own gravity, forming a new generation of stars and planets.

    These clouds contain countless dust grains. Just as frost forms on car windows during cold, humid nights, carbon dioxide, water, and other gases form a layer of frost on the surface of these grains. Radiation in space powers chemical reactions in this frost layer to produce complex organic molecules, possibly including vitamin B3. The icy grains become incorporated into comets and asteroids, some of which impact young planets like ancient Earth, delivering the organic molecules contained within them.

    2
    This is an artist’s concept of a nebula containing gas, dust, and asteroids that will later form stars and planets. Credits: NASA Goddard

    The researchers tested this theory by simulating the space environment in the Cosmic Ice Laboratory at NASA Goddard. An aluminum plate cooled to around minus 423 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 253 Celsius) was used to represent the frigid surface of an interstellar dust grain. The plate was chilled in a vacuum chamber to replicate space conditions, and gases containing water, carbon dioxide, and pyridine were released into the chamber, where they froze onto the plate. The plate was then bombarded with protons at about 1 million volts from a particle accelerator to simulate space radiation.

    3
    A picture of the aluminum plate with a chemical deposit on it. Credits: Karen Smith/NASA Goddard

    The team performed an initial analysis of the contents of the frozen layer by shining infrared light on it to identify absorption patterns – certain molecules absorb infrared light at specific colors, or frequencies. The plate was then heated to room temperature so the ice residue could be analyzed in greater detail at Goddard’s Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory. The team found that this experiment produced a variety of complex organic molecules, including vitamin B3.

    Observations from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission, now in orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, might add more support to the theory that comets brought organic matter to Earth.

    ESA Rosetta spacecraft
    ESA/Rosetta

    “Rosetta could help validate these experiments if it finds some of the same complex organic molecules in the gases released by the comet or in the comet’s nucleus,” said Smith.

    This work was supported by a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship administered by Oak Ridge Associated Universities through a contract with NASA, the NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) via the Goddard Center for Astrobiology (GCA), and the NASA Cosmochemistry Program. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, administers the NAI.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 2:40 pm on July 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Goddard: “NASA Releases Hubble Memorable Moments Video: Brute Force” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    July 23, 2015
    Katrina Jackson
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    In celebration of the 25 years since the Hubble Space Telescope’s April 1990 launch, NASA is releasing the second in a series of videos showcasing moments in Hubble’s history that were memorable for Goddard’s engineers and flight operators.

    “Hubble Memorable Moments: Brute Force,” which was produced by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, describes repairing the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph on Hubble Servicing Mission 4 in May, 2009.

    1
    Hubble team members at the Goddard Space Flight Center pose with Astronaut Mike Massimino and the handrail mock-up used during the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph repair on Hubble Servicing Mission 4. From left to right: Bill Nilsson, Ken Dickinson, Jeff Roddin, Mike Massimino, Bill Mitchell, James Cooper Credits: NASA

    The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, or STIS, was installed on Hubble during Servicing Mission 2 in 1997. A versatile instrument taking measurements in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared wavelengths, STIS has discovered supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, and made one of the first spectroscopic measurements of the atmosphere of an exoplanet – a planet orbiting another star.

    STIS was originally designed to operate for five years, but it lasted 7.5 until a power supply failed in August, 2004. At the time, STIS was being used for about 30 percent of the Hubble observing program. Because STIS was such an incredibly useful instrument, it became a high-priority task for repair on Hubble’s final servicing mission.

    Most Hubble servicing mission tasks involve replacing an instrument by swapping out large boxes, not repairing an instrument, which involves much more detailed and nimble work. Gaining access to STIS’ electronics cards would involve removing 107 small screws, so Goddard engineers custom-designed a fastener capture plate for the task while the astronauts trained tirelessly at the Johnson Space Center for the months leading up to the mission.

    The Hubble team was well prepared for this incredibly complex task. Sometimes, however, it’s the simplest items that present a huge obstacle, and the highly trained team must scramble to quickly devise an unusual solution.

    Watch the video to see how this spacewalk on May 17, 2009 played out.

    “Hubble Memorable Moments: Brute Force” can be downloaded at:

    http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?11822

    For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope and its 25th anniversary festivities, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/hubble or http://hubble25th.org

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 1:21 pm on July 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA Goddard, NASA SLS,   

    From NASA Goddard: “Lunar IceCube Wins Coveted Slot on Exploration Mission-1″ 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    July 21, 2015
    Lori Keesey
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Lunar Icecube
    Morehead State University and Goddard are partnering to create the Lunar IceCube mission shown in this artist’s rendition.
    Credits: Morehead State University

    Age of Deep-Space Exploration with CubeSats Heralded

    Lunar IceCube has won a coveted slot as one of 12 diminutive secondary payloads to deploy during the first planned flight in 2018 of NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) and the second for its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — an event that scientists say will signal a paradigm shift in interplanetary science.

    Morehead State University in Kentucky is leading the six-unit (6-U) CubeSat mission, with significant involvement from scientists and engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Massachusetts-based Busek Company. It will be among the “first batch” of small, fully operational satellites to deploy and gather scientific information in deep space, said Pam Clark, the mission’s science principal investigator at Goddard. Although CubeSats are evolving rapidly, scientists so far have confined their use to investigations in low-Earth orbit.

    Under the university-led partnership, Morehead State’s Space Science Center will build the 6-U satellite bus and provide communications and tracking support via its 21-meter ground station antenna. Busek will provide the state-of-the-art electric propulsion system and Goddard will construct IceCube’s only miniaturized instrument, the Broadband InfraRed Compact High Resolution Explorer Spectrometer (BIRCHES). The instrument will prospect for water in ice, liquid, and vapor forms from a highly inclined elliptical lunar orbit. Goddard also will model a low-thrust trajectory taking the pint-size satellite to lunar orbit with very little propellant.

    2
    Morehead State University professor Ben Malphrus, who is leading the Lunar IceCube mission, stands in front of the university’s 21-meter ground station antenna that will be handling the mission’s communications needs. Credits: Randy Evans/Dataseam

    “Goddard scientists and engineers have deep experience in areas that are critical to interplanetary exploration,” said mission Morehead State University Principal Investigator Benjamin Malphrus, explaining why the university teamed with Goddard. “The significant expertise at Goddard, combined with Morehead State’s experience in smallsats and Busek’s in innovative electric-propulsion systems, create a strong team.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 9:07 am on July 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard: “Second Instrument Delivered for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    July 8, 2015
    Nancy Neal Jones
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-0039
    Nancy.N.Jones@nasa.gov

    1
    The OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) will measure visible and near infrared light from the asteroid Bennu. The instrument’s observations could be used to identify water and organic materials. This image shows OVIRS at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where it was built, prior to shipping to Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver.
    Credits: NASA Goddard/Bill Hrybyk

    The OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS) measures visible and near infrared light from Bennu, which can be used to identify water and organic materials. Goddard built the instrument.

    OVIRS, a point spectrometer, will split the light from the asteroid Bennu into its component wavelengths, similar to a prism that splits sunlight into a rainbow, but over a much broader range of wavelengths. Different chemicals have unique spectral signatures by absorbing sunlight and can be identified in the reflected spectrum. The spectra provided by the instrument will help guide sample site selection.

    NASA Osiris -REx
    OSIRIS-REx

    “Through the team’s efforts, OVIRS has become a remarkably capable instrument which we expect to return exciting science from the asteroid, Bennu,” said Dennis Reuter, OVIRS instrument lead from Goddard.

    After thorough testing with the spacecraft on the ground, the instrument will be powered on for check-out shortly after launch, with first science data collected during the Earth gravity assist in September 2017.

    OSIRIS-REx is the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth for study. The mission is scheduled for launch in September 2016. It will reach its asteroid target in 2018 and return a sample to Earth in 2023.

    The spacecraft will travel to a near-Earth asteroid, called Bennu and bring at least a 2.1-ounce sample back to Earth for study. The mission will help scientists investigate the composition of the very early solar system and the source of organic materials and water that made their way to Earth, and improve understanding of asteroids that could impact our planet.

    “The delivery of OVIRS to the spacecraft means the mission now has the capability to measure the minerals and chemicals at the sample site on Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I greatly appreciate the hard work and innovation the OVIRS team demonstrated during the creation of this instrument.”

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information on OSIRIS-REx visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

    and

    http://www.asteroidmission.org

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 10:54 am on June 2, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA: “Engineers Conduct “Heart Surgery” on the Webb Telescope” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    May 29, 2015

    Laura Betz
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    In this new NASA video, engineers from Airbus Defense and Space (DS), Ottobrunn, Germany, dressed in white protective suits and special white gloves, recently completed a delicate surgical procedure to exchange two key components from the “heart” of an instrument on the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    NASA Webb Telescope
    Webb

    Airbus DS is associated with the European Space Agency, one of NASA’s two partners on the Webb. The other is the Canadian Space Agency.

    Webb has four main instruments that will detect light from distant stars and galaxies, and planets orbiting other stars. The operation required the team to open one of those four instruments, the Near Infrared Spectrograph or NIRspec, which is a highly sensitive instrument. This was the last chance to provide upgrades before it flies on the Webb telescope in 2018.

    Once in space, NIRSpec will be capable of measuring the spectrum of up to one hundred objects simultaneously. With this tool, scientists will be capable of observing large samples of galaxies and stars at unprecedented depths across large swaths of the Universe and far back in time.

    To make this remarkable achievement possible, Goddard scientists and engineers had to invent a new device. This so-called Micro Shutter Array (MSA) controls whether light from an astronomical object in the telescope field of view enters the NIRSpec. The MSA consists of just under a quarter of a million individually controlled microshutters. Each shutter is approximately as wide as a human hair.

    “We exchanged two very crucial subsystems, NIRSpec’s Focal Plane Array and the Micro Shutter. We were working deep in the heart of the instrument,” said Maurice te Plate, European Space Agency’s Webb system integration and test manager working at NASA Goddard. “We used laser trackers and special camera systems to make sure that everything was accurately aligned. We’ve had very good support from NASA and we’ve had a great team from Airbus DS Germany that was super professional and dedicated.”

    Each morning after dressing in special garments that do not generate dust, the team began work with the lights in the big clean room switched off. They turned their specialized flashlights on and begin pouring over this vital piece looking for fibers. Any presence of fibers could weave through the micro shutters and prevent them from properly closing.

    “To prepare for this operation we planned for a year,” said Ralf Ehrenwinkler Airbus DS NIRSpec Post Delivery Support Manager. “We performed everything in a different environment so it’s an added challenge. We needed to copy the same clean room environment as the instrument was integrated in Germany, so we needed to establish special clothes and requirements. There was a lot of coordination. The recorded data showed that the required cleanliness levels were well achieved.”

    Once NIRSpec received its last chance updates, it joined the three other Webb science instruments that were mounted on the ISIM.

    NIRSpec weighs about 430 pounds (195 kg), about as much as an upright piano. It is one of four instruments that will fly aboard the Webb telescope. The other instruments include the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and the Fine Guidance Sensor/ Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS/NIRISS).

    NIRSpec was provided by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus Defense and Space in Germany.

    The James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built.

    For more information about the ISIM, visit: http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/isim.html

    For more information about the Webb telescope, visit: http://www.jwst.nasa.gov or http://www.nasa.gov/webb

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 8:13 pm on April 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard   

    From NASA Visualization Explorer: “Visualizing Carbon Monoxide” 

    NASA

    NASA

    NASA Viz

    April 14, 2015
    Story by Ellen T. Gray | Visualizations by Jesse Allen

    1
    A NASA satellite maps an invisible pollutant and its sources.

    Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that emerges from wildfires, vehicle tailpipes and other human sources. Once in the atmosphere it is one of the ingredients for ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant that contributes to smog—sometimes thousands of miles from where the carbon monoxide originated. An instrument aboard NASA’s Terra satellite called Measurements of Pollutants in the Troposphere, or MOPITT, was the first dedicated to tracking sources of carbon monoxide from space and monitoring levels across the globe.

    NASA Terra satellite
    Terra

    And the news is good. Satellite measurements of carbon monoxide since 2000 show that emissions have declined at a rate of one percent per year. Watch the video to see monthly changes in global carbon monoxide levels from 2000 to 2013.

    2
    Carbon monoxide levels peak during spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This map shows the average emissions for April 2004.

    3
    Map of average carbon monoxide emissions for April 2008.

    4
    Map of average carbon monoxide emissions for April 2013.

    Credit for this item to:
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

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

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

     
  • richardmitnick 10:47 am on April 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA Study Finds Small Solar Eruptions Can Have Profound Effects On Unprotected Planets” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 9, 2015
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    1
    A relatively small puff of solar material can be seen escaping the sun on the upper left of this movie from ESA and NASA’s SOHO on Dec. 19, 2006. This slow ejection was nevertheless powerful enough to cause Venus to lose dramatic amounts of oxygen from its atmosphere four days later.
    Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/JHelioviewer

    While no one yet knows what’s needed to build a habitable planet, it’s clear that the interplay between the sun and Earth is crucial for making our planet livable – a balance between a sun that provides energy and a planet that can protect itself from the harshest solar emissions. Our sun steadily emits light, energy and a constant flow of particles called the solar wind that bathes the planets as it travels out into space. Larger eruptions of solar material, called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, occur too, which can disrupt the atmosphere around a planet. On Earth, some of the impact of these CMEs is deflected by a natural magnetic bubble called the magnetosphere.

    But some planets, such as Venus, don’t have protective magnetospheres and this can be bad news. On Dec. 19, 2006, the sun ejected a small, slow-moving puff of solar material. Four days later, this sluggish CME was nevertheless powerful enough to rip away dramatic amounts of oxygen out of Venus’ atmosphere and send it out into space, where it was lost forever.

    Learning just why a small CME had such a strong impact may have profound consequences for understanding what makes a planet hospitable for life. These results appear in the Journal of Geophysical Research on April 9, 2015.

    “What if Earth didn’t have that protective magnetosphere?” said Glyn Collinson, first author on the paper at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Is a magnetosphere a prerequisite for a planet to support life? The jury is still out on that, but we examine such questions by looking at planets without magnetospheres, like Venus.”

    Collinson’s work began with data from the European Space Agency, or ESA’s, Venus Express, which arrived at Venus in 2006 and carried out an eight-year mission.

    ESA Venus Express
    Venus Express

    Studying data from its first year, Collinson noted that on Dec. 23, 2006, Venus’ atmosphere leaked oxygen at one of the highest densities ever seen. At the same time the particles were escaping, the data also showed something unusual was happening in the constant solar wind passing by the planet.

    To learn more, Collinson worked with Lan Jian, a space scientist at NASA Goddard who specializes in identifying events in the solar wind. Using data from Venus Express, Jian pieced together what had hit the planet. It looked like a CME, so she then looked at observations from the joint ESA and NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.

    NASA SOHO
    SOHO

    They identifed a weak CME on Dec. 19 that was a likely candidate for the one they spotted four days later near Venus. By measuring the time it took to reach Venus, they established that it was moving at about 200 miles per second – which is extremely slow by CME standards, about the same speed as the solar wind itself.

    Scientists divide CMEs into two broad categories: those fast enough to drive a shock wave in front of them as they barrel away from the sun, and those that move more slowly, like a fog rolling in. Fast CMEs have been observed at other planets and are known to affect atmospheric escape, but no one has previously observed what a slow one could do.

    “The sun coughed out a CME that was fairly unimpressive,” said Collinson. “But the planet reacted as if it had been hit by something massive. It turns out it’s like the difference between putting a lobster in boiling water, versus putting it in cold water and heating it up slowly. Either way it doesn’t go well for the lobster.”

    Similarly, the effects of the small CME built up over time, ripping off part of Venus’s atmosphere and pulling it out into space. This observation doesn’t prove that every small CME would have such an effect, but makes it clear that such a thing is possible. That, in turn, suggests that without a magnetosphere a planet’s atmosphere is intensely vulnerable to space weather events from the sun.

    Venus is a particularly inhospitable planet: It is 10 times hotter than Earth with an atmosphere so thick that the longest any spacecraft has survived on its surface before being crushed is a little over two hours. Perhaps such vulnerabilities to the sun’s storms contributed to this environment. Regardless, understanding exactly what effect the lack of a magnetosphere has on a planet like Venus can help us understand more about the habitability of other planets we spot outside our solar system.

    The researchers examined their data further to see if they could determine what mechanism was driving off the atmosphere. The incoming CME had clearly pushed in the front nose – the bow shock – of the atmosphere around Venus. The scientists also observed waves within the bow shock that were 100 times more powerful than what’s normally present.

    “It’s kind of like what you’d see in front of a rock in a storm as a wave passes by,” said Collinson. “The space in front of Venus became very turbid.”

    The team developed three possibilities for the mechanism that drove the oxygen into space. First, even a slow CME increases the pressure of the solar wind, which may have disrupted the normal flow of the atmosphere around the planet from front to back, instead forcing it out into space. A second possibility is that the magnetic fields traveling with the CME changed the magnetic fields that are normally induced around Venus by the solar wind to a configuration that can cause atmospheric outflow. Or, third, the waves inside Venus’ bowshock may have carried off particles as they moved.

    Collinson says he will continue to look through the collected eight years of Venus Express data for more information, but he points out that seeing a CME near another planet is a lucky finding. Near Earth, we have several spacecraft that can observe a CME leaving the sun and its effects closer to Earth, but it’s difficult to track such things near other planets.

    This was a rare sighting of a CME that provides a crucial insight into a planet so foreign to our own – and in turn into Earth. The more we learn about other worlds, the more we learn about the very history of our own home planet, and what made it so habitable for life to begin with.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 1:38 pm on April 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard   

    From NASA Goddard: “Our Sun Came Late to the Milky Way’s Star-Birth Party” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 9, 2015
    Donna Weaver
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4493

    1
    Artist’s view of night sky from a hypothetical planet within a young Milky Way-like galaxy 10 billion years ago, the sky are ablaze with star birth. Pink clouds of gas harbor newborn stars, and bluish-white, young star clusters litter the landscape.
    Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Z. Levay (STScI)

    In one of the most comprehensive multi-observatory galaxy surveys yet, astronomers find that galaxies like our Milky Way underwent a stellar “baby boom,” churning out stars at a prodigious rate, about 30 times faster than today.

    Our sun, however, is a late “boomer.” The Milky Way’s star-birthing frenzy peaked 10 billion years ago, but our sun was late for the party, not forming until roughly 5 billion years ago. By that time the star formation rate in our galaxy had plunged to a trickle.

    Missing the party, however, may not have been so bad. The sun’s late appearance may actually have fostered the growth of our solar system’s planets. Elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were more abundant later in the star-forming boom as more massive stars ended their lives early and enriched the galaxy with material that served as the building blocks of planets and even life on Earth.

    Astronomers don’t have baby pictures of our Milky Way’s formative years to trace the history of stellar growth so they studied galaxies similar in mass to our Milky Way, found in deep surveys of the universe. The farther into the universe astronomers look, the further back in time they are seeing, because starlight from long ago is just arriving at Earth now. From those surveys, stretching back in time more than 10 billion years, researchers assembled an album of images containing nearly 2,000 snapshots of Milky Way-like galaxies.

    The new census provides the most complete picture yet of how galaxies like the Milky Way grew over the past 10 billion years into today’s majestic spiral galaxies. The multi-wavelength study spans ultraviolet to far-infrared light, combining observations from NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, and ground-based telescopes, including the Magellan Baade Telescope at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    ESA Herschel
    ESA/Herschel

    Las Campanas Baade Magellan telescope
    Las Campanas Baade Magellan telescope interior
    Las Campanas Baade Telescope

    “This study allows us to see what the Milky Way may have looked like in the past,” said Casey Papovich of Texas A&M University in College Station, lead author on the paper that describes the study’s results. “It shows that these galaxies underwent a big change in the mass of its stars over the past 10 billion years, bulking up by a factor of 10, which confirms theories about their growth. And most of that stellar-mass growth happened within the first 5 billion years of their birth.”

    2
    These six Hubble snapshots show how galaxies similar in mass to our Milky Way evolved over time. Milky Way-like galaxies grow larger in size and in stellar mass over billions of years.
    Image Credit: NASA/ESA/C. Papovich (Texas A&M)/H. Ferguson (STScI)/S. Fabe

    The new analysis reinforces earlier research which showed that Milky Way-like galaxies began as small clumps of stars. The galaxies swallowed large amounts of gas that ignited a firestorm of star birth.

    The study reveals a strong correlation between the galaxies’ star formation and growth in stellar mass. So, when the galaxies slow down making stars, their growth decreases as well. “I think the evidence suggests that we can account for the majority of the buildup of a Milky Way-like galaxy through its star formation,” Papovich said. “When we calculate the star-formation rate of a Milky Way-like galaxy in the past and add up all the stars it would have produced, it is pretty consistent with the mass growth we expected. To me, that means we’re able to understand the growth of the ‘average’ galaxy with the mass of a Milky Way galaxy.”

    The astronomers selected the Milky Way-like progenitors by sifting through more than 24,000 galaxies in the entire catalogs of the Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS), taken with Hubble, and the FourStar Galaxy Evolution Survey (ZFOURGE), made with the Magellan telescope.

    They used the ZFOURGE, CANDELS, and Spitzer near-infrared data to study the galaxy stellar masses. The Hubble images from the CANDELS survey also provided structural information about galaxy sizes and how they evolved. Far-infrared light observations from Spitzer and Herschel helped the astronomers trace the star-formation rate.

    The team’s results will appear in the April 9 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

    For images and more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/hubble or http://hubblesite.org/news/2015/11

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 3:01 pm on March 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA Goddard, ,   

    From NASA Goddard: “Sun Emits Significant Solar Flare” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    March 11, 2015
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    1
    NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of a mid-level solar flare on March 11, 2015, seen as a bright flash of light on the left side of the sun. Earth is shown for scale.
    Image Credit: NASA/SDO

    NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
    SDO

    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 12:22 p.m. EDT on March 11, 2015. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.

    To see how this event may affect Earth, please visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center at http://spaceweather.gov, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings.

    This flare is classified as an X2.2-class flare. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.

    Updates will be provided as needed.

    What is a solar flare?

    For answers to this and other space weather questions, please visit the Spaceweather Frequently Asked Questions page.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 6:08 am on February 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard: “Stunning Video of the Sun” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    To mark the fifth anniversary of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA released some amazing footage its collected.

    NASA SDO
    NASA SDO schematic
    SDO

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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

     
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