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  • richardmitnick 2:25 pm on December 18, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard, Rings of Saturn   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “NASA Research Reveals Saturn is Losing Its Rings at ‘Worst-Case-Scenario’ Rate” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Dec. 17, 2018
    Bill Steigerwald
    william.a.steigerwald@nasa.gov

    Nancy Jones
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland

    New NASA research confirms that Saturn is losing its iconic rings at the maximum rate estimated from Voyager 1 & 2 observations made decades ago. The rings are being pulled into Saturn by gravity as a dusty rain of ice particles under the influence of Saturn’s magnetic field.


    This video explores how Saturn is losing its rings at a rapid rate in geologic timescales and what that reveals about the planet’s history.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/David Ladd

    “We estimate that this ‘ring rain’ drains an amount of water products that could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool from Saturn’s rings in half an hour,” said James O’Donoghue of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “From this alone, the entire ring system will be gone in 300 million years, but add to this the Cassini-spacecraft measured ring-material detected falling into Saturn’s equator, and the rings have less than 100 million years to live. This is relatively short, compared to Saturn’s age of over 4 billion years.” O’Donoghue is lead author of a study on Saturn’s ring rain appearing in Icarus December 17.

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    This image was made as the Cassini spacecraft scanned across Saturn and its rings on April 25, 2016, capturing three sets of red, green and blue images to cover this entire scene showing the planet and the main rings. The images were obtained using Cassini’s wide-angle camera at a distance of approximately 1.9 million miles (3 million kilometers) from Saturn and at an elevation of about 30 degrees above the ring plane. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute.

    Scientists have long wondered if Saturn was formed with the rings or if the planet acquired them later in life. The new research favors the latter scenario, indicating that they are unlikely to be older than 100 million years, as it would take that long for the C-ring to become what it is today assuming it was once as dense as the B-ring. “We are lucky to be around to see Saturn’s ring system, which appears to be in the middle of its lifetime. However, if rings are temporary, perhaps we just missed out on seeing giant ring systems of Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune, which have only thin ringlets today!” O’Donoghue added.

    Various theories have been proposed for the ring’s origin. If the planet got them later in life, the rings could have formed when small, icy moons in orbit around Saturn collided, perhaps because their orbits were perturbed by a gravitational tug from a passing asteroid or comet.

    4
    An artist’s impression of how Saturn may look in the next hundred million years. The innermost rings disappear as they rain onto the planet first, very slowly followed by the outer rings. Credits: NASA/Cassini/James O’Donoghue

    The first hints that ring rain existed came from Voyager observations of seemingly unrelated phenomena: peculiar variations in Saturn’s electrically charged upper atmosphere (ionosphere), density variations in Saturn’s rings, and a trio of narrow dark bands encircling the planet at northern mid-latitudes. These dark bands appeared in images of Saturn’s hazy upper atmosphere (stratosphere) made by NASA’s Voyager 2 mission in 1981.

    In 1986, Jack Connerney of NASA Goddard published a paper in Geophysical Research Letters that linked those narrow dark bands to the shape of Saturn’s enormous magnetic field, proposing that electrically charged ice particles from Saturn’s rings were flowing down invisible magnetic field lines, dumping water in Saturn’s upper atmosphere where these lines emerged from the planet. The influx of water from the rings, appearing at specific latitudes, washed away the stratospheric haze, making it appear dark in reflected light, producing the narrow dark bands captured in the Voyager images.

    Saturn’s rings are mostly chunks of water ice ranging in size from microscopic dust grains to boulders several yards (meters) across. Ring particles are caught in a balancing act between the pull of Saturn’s gravity, which wants to draw them back into the planet, and their orbital velocity, which wants to fling them outward into space. Tiny particles can get electrically charged by ultraviolet light from the Sun or by plasma clouds emanating from micrometeoroid bombardment of the rings. When this happens, the particles can feel the pull of Saturn’s magnetic field, which curves inward toward the planet at Saturn’s rings. In some parts of the rings, once charged, the balance of forces on these tiny particles changes dramatically, and Saturn’s gravity pulls them in along the magnetic field lines into the upper atmosphere.

    Once there, the icy ring particles vaporize and the water can react chemically with Saturn’s ionosphere. One outcome from these reactions is an increase in the lifespan of electrically charged particles called H3+ ions, which are made up of three protons and two electrons. When energized by sunlight, the H3+ ions glow in infrared light, which was observed by O’Donoghue’s team using special instruments attached to the Keck telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.


    Keck Observatory, Maunakea, Hawaii, USA.4,207 m (13,802 ft), above sea level,

    Their observations revealed glowing bands in Saturn’s northern and southern hemispheres where the magnetic field lines that intersect the ring plane enter the planet. They analyzed the light to determine the amount of rain from the ring and its effects on Saturn’s ionosphere. They found that the amount of rain matches remarkably well with the astonishingly high values derived more than three decades earlier by Connerney and colleagues, with one region in the south receiving most of it.

    The team also discovered a glowing band at a higher latitude in the southern hemisphere. This is where Saturn’s magnetic field intersects the orbit of Enceladus, a geologically active moon that is shooting geysers of water ice into space, indicating that some of those particles are raining onto Saturn as well. “That wasn’t a complete surprise,” said Connerney. “We identified Enceladus and the E-ring as a copious source of water as well, based on another narrow dark band in that old Voyager image.” The geysers, first observed by Cassini instruments in 2005, are thought to be coming from an ocean of liquid water beneath the frozen surface of the tiny moon. Its geologic activity and water ocean make Enceladus one of the most promising places to search for extraterrestrial life.

    3
    Saturn’s moon Enceladus drifts before the rings and the tiny moon Pandora in this view that NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured on Nov. 1, 2009. The entire scene is backlit by the Sun, providing striking illumination for the icy particles that make up both the rings and the jets emanating from the south pole of Enceladus, which is about 314 miles (505 km) across. Pandora, which is about (52 miles, 84 kilometers) wide, was on the opposite side of the rings from Cassini and Enceladus when the image was taken. This view looks toward the night side on Pandora as well, which is lit by dim golden light reflected from Saturn.
    Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

    The team would like to see how the ring rain changes with the seasons on Saturn. As the planet progresses in its 29.4-year orbit, the rings are exposed to the Sun to varying degrees. Since ultraviolet light from the Sun charges the ice grains and makes them respond to Saturn’s magnetic field, varying exposure to sunlight should change the quantity of ring rain.

    The research was funded by NASA and the NASA Postdoctoral Program at NASA Goddard, administered by the Universities Space Research Association. The W.M. Keck Observatory is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, and NASA, and the data in the form of its files are available from the Keck archive. The authors wish to recognize the significant cultural role and reverence that the summit of Mauna Kea has within the indigenous Hawaiian community; they are fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct observations from this mountain.

    See the full article here.


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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

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  • richardmitnick 9:07 am on November 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard, New Tricks: Fresh Results from NASA’s Galileo Spacecraft 20 Years On   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Manu Garcia: “Fresh Results from NASA’s Galileo Spacecraft 20 Years On” 


    From Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 30, 2018
    Mara Johnson-Groh
    mara.johnson-groh@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    Far across the solar system, from where Earth appears merely as a pale blue dot, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft spent eight years orbiting Jupiter. During that time, the hearty spacecraft — slightly larger than a full-grown giraffe — sent back spates of discoveries on the gas giant’s moons, including the observation of a magnetic environment around Ganymede that was distinct from Jupiter’s own magnetic field. The mission ended in 2003, but newly resurrected data from Galileo’s first flyby of Ganymede is yielding new insights about the moon’s environment — which is unlike any other in the solar system.

    “We are now coming back over 20 years later to take a new look at some of the data that was never published and finish the story,” said Glyn Collinson, lead author of a recent paper about Ganymede’s magnetosphere at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We found there’s a whole piece no one knew about.”

    The new results showed a stormy scene: particles blasted off the moon’s icy surface as a result of incoming plasma rain, and strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to an explosive magnetic event occurring between the two bodies’ magnetic environments. Scientists think these observations could be key to unlocking the secrets of the moon, such as why Ganymede’s auroras are so bright.

    In 1996, shortly after arriving at Jupiter, Galileo made a surprising discovery: Ganymede had its own magnetic field.

    3
    Proposed magnetic field on Ganymede

    While most planets in our solar system, including Earth, have magnetic environments — known as magnetospheres — no one expected a moon to have one.

    2
    This image of Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons and the largest moon in our solar system, was taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Credits: NASA

    Between 1996 and 2000, Galileo made six targeted flybys of Ganymede, with multiple instruments collecting data on the moon’s magnetosphere. These included the spacecraft’s Plasma Subsystem, or PLS, which measured the density, temperature and direction of the plasma — excited, electrically charged gas — flowing through the environment around Galileo. New results, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reveal interesting details about the magnetosphere’s unique structure.

    We know that Earth’s magnetosphere — in addition to helping make compasses work and causing auroras — is key to in sustaining life on our planet, because it helps protect our planet from radiation coming from space. Some scientists think Earth’s magnetosphere was also essential for the initial development of life, as this harmful radiation can erode our atmosphere. Studying magnetospheres throughout the solar system not only helps scientists learn about the physical processes affecting this magnetic environment around Earth, it helps us understand the atmospheres around other potentially habitable worlds, both in our own solar system and beyond.

    3
    This infographic describes Ganymede’s magnetosphere. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

    Ganymede’s magnetosphere offers the chance to explore a unique magnetic environment located within the much larger magnetosphere of Jupiter. Nestled there, it’s protected from the solar wind, making its shape different from other magnetospheres in the solar system. Typically, magnetospheres are shaped by the pressure of supersonic solar wind particles flowing past them. But at Ganymede, the relatively slower-moving plasma around Jupiter sculpts the moon’s magnetosphere into a long horn-like shape that stretches ahead of the moon in the direction of its orbit.

    Flying past Ganymede, Galileo was continually pummeled by high-energy particles — a battering the moon is also familiar with. Plasma particles accelerated by the Jovian magnetosphere, continually rain down on Ganymede’s poles, where the magnetic field channels them toward the surface. The new analysis of Galileo PLS data showed plasma being blasted off the moon’s icy surface due to the incoming plasma rain.

    “There are these particles flying out from the polar regions, and they can tell us something about Ganymede’s atmosphere, which is very thin,” said Bill Paterson, a co-author of the study at NASA Goddard, who served on the Galileo PLS team during the mission. “It can also tell us about how Ganymede’s auroras form.”


    This visualization shows a simplified model of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, designed to illustrate the scale, and basic features of the structure and impacts of the magnetic axis (cyan arrow) offset from the planetary rotation axis (blue arrow). The semi-transparent gray mesh in the distance represents the boundary of the magnetosphere.
    Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/JPL NAIF

    Ganymede has auroras, or northern and southern lights, just like Earth does. However, unlike our planet, the particles causing Ganymede’s auroras come from the plasma surrounding Jupiter, not the solar wind. When analyzing the data, the scientists noticed that during its first Ganymede flyby, Galileo fortuitously crossed right over Ganymede’s auroral regions, as evidenced by the ions it observed raining down onto the surface of the moon’s polar cap. By comparing the location where the falling ions were observed with data from Hubble, the scientists were able to pin down the precise location of the auroral zone, which will help them solve mysteries, such as what causes the auroras.

    As it cruised around Jupiter, Galileo also happened to fly right through an explosive event caused by the tangling and snapping of magnetic field lines. This event, called magnetic reconnection, occurs in magnetospheres across our solar system. For the first time, Galileo observed strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to a magnetic reconnection event occurring between the two magnetospheres. It’s thought that this plasma pump is responsible for making Ganymede’s auroras unusually bright.

    Future study of the PLS data from that encounter may yet provide new insights related to subsurface oceans previously determined to exist within the moon using data from both Galileo and the Hubble Space Telescope.

    The research was funded by NASA’s Solar System Workings program and the Galileo mission managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    See the full article here.


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 1:09 pm on October 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars with radio astronomy at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory Cambridge University-Denied the Nobel., NASA Goddard, ,   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “‘Pulsar in a Box’ Reveals Surprising Picture of a Neutron Star’s Surroundings” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Oct. 10, 2018
    Francis Reddy
    francis.j.reddy@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    An international team of scientists studying what amounts to a computer-simulated “pulsar in a box” are gaining a more detailed understanding of the complex, high-energy environment around spinning neutron stars, also called pulsars.

    1
    ‘Pulsar in a Box’ Reveals Surprises in Neutron Star’s Surroundings | NASA


    Explore a new “pulsar in a box” computer simulation that tracks the fate of electrons (blue) and their antimatter kin, positrons (red), as they interact with powerful magnetic and electric fields around a neutron star. Lighter tracks indicate higher particle energies. Each particle seen in this visualization actually represents trillions of electrons or positrons. Better knowledge of the particle environment around neutron stars will help astronomers understand how they produce precisely timed radio and gamma-ray pulses.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    The model traces the paths of charged particles in magnetic and electric fields near the neutron star, revealing behaviors that may help explain how pulsars emit gamma-ray and radio pulses with ultraprecise timing.

    “Efforts to understand how pulsars do what they do began as soon as they were discovered in 1967, and we’re still working on it,” said Gabriele Brambilla, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the University of Milan who led a study of the recent simulation.

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discovered pulsars with radio astronomy. Jocelyn Bell at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cambridge University, taken for the Daily Herald newspaper in 1968. Denied the Nobel.

    Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell 2009

    “Even with the computational power available today, tracking the physics of particles in the extreme environment of a pulsar is a considerable challenge.”

    A pulsar is the crushed core of a massive star that ran out of fuel, collapsed under its own weight and exploded as a supernova. Gravity forces more mass than the Sun’s into a ball no wider than Manhattan Island in New York City while also revving up its rotation and strengthening its magnetic field. Pulsars can spin thousands of times a second and wield the strongest magnetic fields known.

    These characteristics also make pulsars powerful dynamos, with superstrong electric fields that can rip particles out of the surface and accelerate them into space.

    NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has detected gamma rays from 216 pulsars.

    NASA/Fermi LAT


    NASA/Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope

    Observations show that the high-energy emission occurs farther away from the neutron star than the radio pulses. But exactly where and how these signals are produced remains poorly known.

    Various physical processes ensure that most of the particles around a pulsar are either electrons or their antimatter counterparts, positrons.

    “Just a few hundred yards above a pulsar’s magnetic pole, electrons pulled from the surface may have energies comparable to those reached by the most powerful particle accelerators on Earth,” said Goddard’s Alice Harding. “In 2009, Fermi discovered powerful gamma-ray flares from the Crab Nebula pulsar that indicate the presence of electrons with energies a thousand times greater.”

    X-ray picture of Crab pulsar, taken by Chandra


    Supernova remnant Crab nebula. NASA/ESA Hubble

    Speedy electrons emit gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light, through a process called curvature radiation. A gamma-ray photon can, in turn, interact with the pulsar’s magnetic field in a way that transforms it into a pair of particles, an electron and a positron.

    To trace the behavior and energies of these particles, Brambilla, Harding and their colleagues used a comparatively new type of pulsar model called a “particle in cell” (PIC) simulation. Goddard’s Constantinos Kalapotharakos led the development of the project’s computer code. In the last five years, the PIC method has been applied to similar astrophysical settings by teams at Princeton University in New Jersey and Columbia University in New York.

    “The PIC technique lets us explore the pulsar from first principles. We start with a spinning, magnetized pulsar, inject electrons and positrons at the surface, and track how they interact with the fields and where they go,” Kalapotharakos said. “The process is computationally intensive because the particle motions affect the electric and magnetic fields and the fields affect the particles, and everything is moving near the speed of light.”

    The simulation shows that most of the electrons tend to race outward from the magnetic poles. The positrons, on the other hand, mostly flow out at lower latitudes, forming a relatively thin structure called the current sheet. In fact, the highest-energy positrons here — less than 0.1 percent of the total — are capable of producing gamma rays similar to those Fermi detects, confirming the results of earlier studies.

    Some of these particles likely become boosted to tremendous energies at points within the current sheet where the magnetic field undergoes reconnection, a process that converts stored magnetic energy into heat and particle acceleration.

    One population of medium-energy electrons showed truly odd behavior, scattering every which way — even back toward the pulsar.

    The particles move with the magnetic field, which sweeps back and extends outward as the pulsar spins. Their rotational speed rises with increasing distance, but this can only go on so long because matter can’t travel at the speed of light.

    The distance where the plasma’s rotational velocity would reach light speed is a feature astronomers call the light cylinder, and it marks a region of abrupt change. As the electrons approach it, they suddenly slow down and many scatter wildly. Others can slip past the light cylinder and out into space.

    The simulation ran on the Discover supercomputer at NASA’s Center for Climate Simulation at Goddard and the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.

    NASA Discover SGI Supercomputer- NASA’s Center for Climate Simulation Primary Computing Platform

    NASA SGI Intel Advanced Supercomputing Center Pleiades Supercomputer

    The model actually tracks “macroparticles,” each of which represents many trillions of electrons or positrons. A paper describing the findings was published May 9 in The Astrophysical Journal

    “So far, we lack a comprehensive theory to explain all the observations we have from neutron stars. That tells us we don’t yet completely understand the origin, acceleration and other properties of the plasma environment around the pulsar,” Brambilla said. “As PIC simulations grow in complexity, we can expect a clearer picture.”

    NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

    For more about NASA’s Fermi mission, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/fermi.

    See the full article here.

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 8:37 am on October 4, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center via Manu Garcia of IAC: “New Simulation Sheds Light on Spiraling Supermassive Black Holes” 


    From Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Oct. 2, 2018
    Jeanette Kazmierczak
    jeanette.a.kazmierczak@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    1
    This animation rotates 360 degrees around a frozen version of the simulation in the plane of the disk. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    A new model is bringing scientists a step closer to understanding the kinds of light signals produced when two supermassive black holes, which are millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun, spiral toward a collision. For the first time, a new computer simulation that fully incorporates the physical effects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity shows that gas in such systems will glow predominantly in ultraviolet and X-ray light.

    Just about every galaxy the size of our own Milky Way or larger contains a monster black hole at its center. Observations show galaxy mergers occur frequently in the universe, but so far no one has seen a merger of these giant black holes.

    “We know galaxies with central supermassive black holes combine all the time in the universe, yet we only see a small fraction of galaxies with two of them near their centers,” said Scott Noble, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The pairs we do see aren’t emitting strong gravitational-wave signals because they’re too far away from each other. Our goal is to identify — with light alone — even closer pairs from which gravitational-wave signals may be detected in the future.”

    A paper describing the team’s analysis of the new simulation was published Tuesday, Oct. 2, in The Astrophysical Journal.


    Gas glows brightly in this computer simulation of supermassive black holes only 40 orbits from merging. Models like this may eventually help scientists pinpoint real examples of these powerful binary systems. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Scientists have detected merging stellar-mass black holes — which range from around three to several dozen solar masses — using the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

    Gravitational waves are space-time ripples traveling at the speed of light. They are created when massive orbiting objects like black holes and neutron stars spiral together and merge.

    Black holes heading toward a merger. Precise laser interferometry can detect the ripples in space-time generated when two black holes collide. LIGO-Caltech-MIT-Sonoma State Aurore Simonn

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Supermassive mergers will be much more difficult to find than their stellar-mass cousins. One reason ground-based observatories can’t detect gravitational waves from these events is because Earth itself is too noisy, shaking from seismic vibrations and gravitational changes from atmospheric disturbances. The detectors must be in space, like the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) led by ESA (the European Space Agency) and planned for launch in the 2030s.


    ESA/NASA eLISA space based, the future of gravitational wave research

    Observatories monitoring sets of rapidly spinning, superdense stars called pulsars may detect gravitational waves from monster mergers. Like lighthouses, pulsars emit regularly timed beams of light that flash in and out of view as they rotate. Gravitational waves could cause slight changes in the timing of those flashes, but so far studies haven’t yielded any detections.

    But supermassive binaries nearing collision may have one thing stellar-mass binaries lack — a gas-rich environment. Scientists suspect the supernova explosion that creates a stellar black hole also blows away most of the surrounding gas. The black hole consumes what little remains so quickly there isn’t much left to glow when the merger happens.

    Supermassive binaries, on the other hand, result from galaxy mergers. Each supersized black hole brings along an entourage of gas and dust clouds, stars and planets. Scientists think a galaxy collision propels much of this material toward the central black holes, which consume it on a time scale similar to that needed for the binary to merge. As the black holes near, magnetic and gravitational forces heat the remaining gas, producing light astronomers should be able to see.

    “It’s very important to proceed on two tracks,” said co-author Manuela Campanelli, director of the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, who initiated this project nine years ago. “Modeling these events requires sophisticated computational tools that include all the physical effects produced by two supermassive black holes orbiting each other at a fraction of the speed of light. Knowing what light signals to expect from these events will help modern observations identify them. Modeling and observations will then feed into each other, helping us better understand what is happening at the hearts of most galaxies.”

    The new simulation shows three orbits of a pair of supermassive black holes only 40 orbits from merging. The models reveal the light emitted at this stage of the process may be dominated by UV light with some high-energy X-rays, similar to what’s seen in any galaxy with a well-fed supermassive black hole.

    Three regions of light-emitting gas glow as the black holes merge, all connected by streams of hot gas: a large ring encircling the entire system, called the circumbinary disk, and two smaller ones around each black hole, called mini disks. All these objects emit predominantly UV light. When gas flows into a mini disk at a high rate, the disk’s UV light interacts with each black hole’s corona, a region of high-energy subatomic particles above and below the disk. This interaction produces X-rays. When the accretion rate is lower, UV light dims relative to the X-rays.

    Based on the simulation, the researchers expect X-rays emitted by a near-merger will be brighter and more variable than X-rays seen from single supermassive black holes. The pace of the changes links to both the orbital speed of gas located at the inner edge of the circumbinary disk as well as that of the merging black holes.


    This 360-degree video places the viewer in the middle of two circling supermassive black holes around 18.6 million miles (30 million kilometers) apart with an orbital period of 46 minutes. The simulation shows how the black holes distort the starry background and capture light, producing black hole silhouettes. A distinctive feature called a photon ring outlines the black holes. The entire system would have around 1 million times the Sun’s mass. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; background, ESA/Gaia/DPAC

    “The way both black holes deflect light gives rise to complex lensing effects, as seen in the movie when one black hole passes in front of the other,” said Stéphane d’Ascoli, a doctoral student at École Normale Supérieure in Paris and lead author of the paper. “Some exotic features came as a surprise, such as the eyebrow-shaped shadows one black hole occasionally creates near the horizon of the other.”

    The simulation ran on the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    U Illinois Urbana-Champaign Blue Waters Cray Linux XE/XK hybrid machine supercomputer

    Modeling three orbits of the system took 46 days on 9,600 computing cores. Campanelli said the collaboration was recently awarded additional time on Blue Waters to continue developing their models.

    The original simulation estimated gas temperatures. The team plans to refine their code to model how changing parameters of the system, like temperature, distance, total mass and accretion rate, will affect the emitted light. They’re interested in seeing what happens to gas traveling between the two black holes as well as modeling longer time spans.

    “We need to find signals in the light from supermassive black hole binaries distinctive enough that astronomers can find these rare systems among the throng of bright single supermassive black holes,” said co-author Julian Krolik, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “If we can do that, we might be able to discover merging supermassive black holes before they’re seen by a space-based gravitational-wave observatory.”

    See the full article here.


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 1:02 pm on August 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard, , NASA’s Planet-Hunting TESS Catches a Comet Before Starting Science   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “NASA’s Planet-Hunting TESS Catches a Comet Before Starting Science” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO JLT in L.A., a fan of JPL who really ought to be thinking about Goddard as he plans his future. Goddard would mean either John’s Hopkins for the Applied Physics Lab or of course M.I.T.

    Aug. 6, 2018
    Claire Saravia
    claire.g.desaravia@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    NASA/MIT TESS

    Before NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) started science operations on July 25, 2018, the planet hunter sent back a stunning sequence of serendipitous images showing the motion of a comet. Taken over the course of 17 hours on July 25, these TESS images helped demonstrate the satellite’s ability to collect a prolonged set of stable periodic images covering a broad region of the sky — all critical factors in finding transiting planets orbiting nearby stars.

    Over the course of these tests, TESS took images of C/2018 N1, a comet discovered by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite on June 29. The comet, located about 29 million miles (48 million kilometers) from Earth in the southern constellation Piscis Austrinus, is seen to move across the frame from right to left as it orbits the Sun. The comet’s tail, which consists of gases carried away from the comet by an outflow from the Sun called the solar wind, extends to the top of the frame and gradually pivots as the comet glides across the field of view.


    This video is compiled from a series of images taken on July 25 by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. The angular extent of the widest field of view is six degrees. Visible in the images are the comet C/2018 N1, asteroids, variable stars, asteroids and reflected light from Mars. TESS is expected to find thousands of planets around other nearby stars.
    Credits: Massachusetts Institute of Technology/NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    In addition to the comet, the images reveal a treasure trove of other astronomical activity. The stars appear to shift between white and black as a result of image processing. The shift also highlights variable stars — which change brightness either as a result of pulsation, rapid rotation, or by eclipsing binary neighbors. Asteroids in our solar system appear as small white dots moving across the field of view. Towards the end of the video, one can see a faint broad arc of light moving across the middle section of the frame from left to right. This is stray light from Mars, which is located outside the frame. The images were taken when Mars was at its brightest near opposition, or its closest distance, to Earth.

    These images were taken during a short period near the end of the mission’s commissioning phase, prior to the start of science operations. The movie presents just a small fraction of TESS’s active field of view. The team continues to fine-tune the spacecraft’s performance as it searches for distant worlds.

    TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

    Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab Campus

    See the full article here.


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 8:10 pm on July 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard, , NASA's NuSTAR Mission Proves Superstar Eta Carinae Shoots Cosmic Rays   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “NASA’s NuSTAR Mission Proves Superstar Eta Carinae Shoots Cosmic Rays” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    July 3, 2018
    Francis Reddy
    francis.j.reddy@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    A new study using data from NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope suggests that Eta Carinae, the most luminous and massive stellar system within 10,000 light-years, is accelerating particles to high energies — some of which may reach Earth as cosmic rays.

    NASA NuSTAR X-ray telescope

    Eta Carinae Image Credit: N. Smith, J. A. Morse (U. Colorado) et al., NASA

    “We know the blast waves of exploded stars can accelerate cosmic ray particles to speeds comparable to that of light, an incredible energy boost,” said Kenji Hamaguchi, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of the study. “Similar processes must occur in other extreme environments. Our analysis indicates Eta Carinae is one of them.”

    Astronomers know that cosmic rays with energies greater than 1 billion electron volts (eV) come to us from beyond our solar system. But because these particles — electrons, protons and atomic nuclei — all carry an electrical charge, they veer off course whenever they encounter magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and masks their origins.


    Zoom into Eta Carinae, where the outflows of two massive stars collide and shoot accelerated particles — cosmic rays — into space.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Eta Carinae, located about 7,500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, is famous for a 19th century outburst that briefly made it the second-brightest star in the sky. This event also ejected a massive hourglass-shaped nebula, but the cause of the eruption remains poorly understood.

    The system contains a pair of massive stars whose eccentric orbits bring them unusually close every 5.5 years. The stars contain 90 and 30 times the mass of our Sun and pass 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) apart at their closest approach — about the average distance separating Mars and the Sun.

    “Both of Eta Carinae’s stars drive powerful outflows called stellar winds,” said team member Michael Corcoran, also at Goddard. “Where these winds clash changes during the orbital cycle, which produces a periodic signal in low-energy X-rays we’ve been tracking for more than two decades.”

    NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope also observes a change in gamma rays — light packing far more energy than X-rays — from a source in the direction of Eta Carinae. But Fermi’s vision isn’t as sharp as X-ray telescopes, so astronomers couldn’t confirm the connection.

    1
    Eta Carinae shines in X-rays in this image from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    The colors indicate different energies. Red spans 300 to 1,000 electron volts (eV), green ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 eV and blue covers 3,000 to 10,000 eV. For comparison, the energy of visible light is about 2 to 3 eV. NuSTAR observations (green contours) reveal a source of X-rays with energies some three times higher than Chandra detects. X-rays seen from the central point source arise from the binary’s stellar wind collision. The NuSTAR detection shows that shock waves in the wind collision zone accelerate charged particles like electrons and protons to near the speed of light. Some of these may reach Earth, where they will be detected as cosmic ray particles. X-rays scattered by debris ejected in Eta Carinae’s famous 1840 eruption may produce the broader red emission. Credits: NASA/CXC and NASA/JPL-Caltech

    To bridge the gap between low-energy X-ray monitoring and Fermi observations, Hamaguchi and his colleagues turned to NuSTAR. Launched in 2012, NuSTAR can focus X-rays of much greater energy than any previous telescope. Using both newly taken and archival data, the team examined NuSTAR observations acquired between March 2014 and June 2016, along with lower-energy X-ray observations from the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite over the same period.

    ESA/XMM Newton

    Eta Carinae’s low-energy, or soft, X-rays come from gas at the interface of the colliding stellar winds, where temperatures exceed 70 million degrees Fahrenheit (40 million degrees Celsius). But NuSTAR detects a source emitting X-rays above 30,000 eV, some three times higher than can be explained by shock waves in the colliding winds. For comparison, the energy of visible light ranges from about 2 to 3 eV.

    The team’s analysis, presented in a paper published on Monday, July 2, in Nature Astronomy, shows that these “hard” X-rays vary with the binary orbital period and show a similar pattern of energy output as the gamma rays observed by Fermi.

    The researchers say that the best explanation for both the hard X-ray and the gamma-ray emission is electrons accelerated in violent shock waves along the boundary of the colliding stellar winds. The X-rays detected by NuSTAR and the gamma rays detected by Fermi arise from starlight given a huge energy boost by interactions with these electrons.

    Some of the superfast electrons, as well as other accelerated particles, must escape the system and perhaps some eventually wander to Earth, where they may be detected as cosmic rays.

    “We’ve known for some time that the region around Eta Carinae is the source of energetic emission in high-energy X-rays and gamma rays”, said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a professor of astronomy at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “But until NuSTAR was able to pinpoint the radiation, show it comes from the binary and study its properties in detail, the origin was mysterious.”

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by Caltech and managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NuSTAR was developed in partnership with the Danish Technical University and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR’s mission operations center is at UC Berkeley, and the official data archive is at NASA’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. ASI provides the mission’s ground station and a mirror archive. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information on NuSTAR, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/nustar

    http://www.nustar.caltech.edu

    See the full article here.


    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 12:37 pm on May 24, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Blazar 3C 279, Gamma-ray emission regions, , NASA Goddard, USA based VLBA   

    From NASA Goddard and NASA/Fermi via phys.org: “Multiple gamma-ray emission regions detected in the blazar 3C 279” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA Fermi Banner

    NASA/Fermi Telescope
    NASA Fermi

    phys.org

    May 23, 2018
    Tomasz Nowakowski

    1
    An example composite image of 3C 279 convolved with a beam size of 0.1 mas (circle in the bottom left corner). The contours represent the total intensity while the color scale is for polarized intensity image of 3C 279. The line segments (length of the segments is proportional to fractional polarization) marks the EVPA direction. Credit: Rani et al., 2018.

    Using very long baseline interferometry (VLBI), astronomers have investigated the magnetic field topology of the blazar 3C 279, uncovering the presence of multiple gamma-ray emission regions in this source. The discovery was presented May 11 in a paper published in The Astrophysical Journal.

    Blazars, classified as members of a larger group of active galaxies that host active galactic nuclei (AGN), are the most numerous extragalactic gamma-ray sources. Their characteristic features are relativistic jets pointed almost exactly toward the Earth. In general, blazars are perceived by astronomers as high-energy engines serving as natural laboratories to study particle acceleration, relativistic plasma processes, magnetic field dynamics and black hole physics.

    NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an essential instrument for blazar studies. The spacecraft is equipped with in the Large Area Telescope (LAT), which allows it to detect photons with energy from about 20 million to about 300 billion electronvolts. So far, Fermi has discovered more than 1,600 blazars.

    NASA/Fermi LAT

    A team of astronomers led by Bindu Rani of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has analyzed the data provided by LAT and by the U.S.-based Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) to investigate the blazar 3C 279.

    NRAO VLBA

    The studied object, located in the constellation Virgo. It is one of the brightest and most variable sources in the gamma-ray sky monitored by Fermi. The data allowed Rani’s team to uncover more insight into the nature of gamma-ray emission from this blazar.

    “Using high-frequency radio interferometry (VLBI) polarization imaging, we could probe the magnetic field topology of the compact high-energy emission regions in blazars. A case study for the blazar 3C 279 reveals the presence of multiple gamma-ray emission regions,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

    Six gamma-ray flares were observed in 3C 279 between November 2013 and August 2014. The researchers also investigated the morphological changes in the blazar’s jet.

    The team found that ejection of a new component (designated NC2) during the first three gamma-ray flares suggests the VLBI core as the possible site of the high-energy emission. Furthermore, a delay between the last three flares and the ejection of a new component (NC3) indicates that high-energy emission in this case is located upstream of the 43 GHz core (closer to the blazar’s black hole).

    The astronomers concluded that their results are indicative of multiple sites of high-energy dissipation in 3C 279. Moreover, according to the authors of the paper, their study proves that VLBI is the most promising technique to probe the high-energy dissipation regions. However, they added that still more observations are needed to fully understand these features and mechanisms behind them.

    “The Fermi mission will continue observing the GeV sky at least for next couple of years. The TeV missions are on their way to probe the most energetic part of the electromagnetic spectrum. High-energy polarization observations (AMEGO, IXPE, etc.) will be of extreme importance in understanding the high-energy dissipation mechanisms,” the researchers concluded.

    See the full article here.


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.
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    Stem Education Coalition

    The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope , formerly referred to as the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST), is a space observatory being used to perform gamma-ray astronomy observations from low Earth orbit. Its main instrument is the Large Area Telescope (LAT), with which astronomers mostly intend to perform an all-sky survey studying astrophysical and cosmological phenomena such as active galactic nuclei, pulsars, other high-energy sources and dark matter. Another instrument aboard Fermi, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM; formerly GLAST Burst Monitor), is being used to study gamma-ray bursts. The mission is a joint venture of NASA, the United States Department of Energy, and government agencies in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.

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

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


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 12:22 pm on May 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astronomers Have Found a Record-Breaking Pair of Stars Orbiting With a Dizzying Speed, , , , , NASA Goddard, ,   

    From Goddard via Science Alert: “Astronomers Have Found a Record-Breaking Pair of Stars Orbiting With a Dizzying Speed” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Science Alert

    11 MAY 2018
    MICHELLE STARR

    1
    Artist’s impression of a rotating neutron star. (Pitris/iStock)

    Astronomers have discovered a record-breaking star system. It’s called IGR J17062-6143, and it’s a very compact binary, where one of the stars is a rapidly spinning, superdense neutron star called an X-ray pulsar.

    The two stars take just 38 minutes to orbit each other. That’s the fastest orbital period of any X-ray pulsar binary ever observed.

    IGR J17062-6143 (or J17062 for short) was only discovered in 2006; it’s very low mass, and very faint, and around 7.3 kiloparsecs, or 23,809 light-years, away.

    It’s been studied fairly extensively, but finding out more about it required some pretty up-to-date technology – NASA’s Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER), an X-ray detection instrument installed on the International Space Station in June 2017.

    NASA NICER on the ISS

    NASA/NICER

    Previous research had revealed an accretion disc associated with the binary, and that one of the stars was a pulsar, but a 20-minute 2008 observation using NASA’s Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer could only set a lower limit for the binary’s orbital period.

    NASA/ROSSI

    Neutron stars are also extremely hot, and shine extremely brightly. However, because they’re so small, they’re difficult for us to see – except in X-ray. They can also spin incredibly fast, which creates an electric field that accelerates electrons away from the poles, creating relativistic radiation jets. If this beam passes between us and the pulsar, we can see it flash, or “pulse”, like a cosmic lighthouse.

    In the case of binary X-ray pulsars, these jets are fed by the matter stolen from the donor star. This material falls to the surface of the pulsar, where it travels along its strong magnetic field lines to the poles.

    It was by observing these X-ray jets that the 2008 observation led to the discovery – the J17062 pulsar was rotating 163 times per second, nearly 9,800 revolutions per minute.

    NICER has been able to observe the system for a lot longer – over 7 hours of observing time taken over 5.3 days in August 2017. This has allowed researchers to obtain a lot more detailed information.

    As well as the 38-minute orbital period, researchers were able to ascertain that the two stars are separated by a distance of just 300,000 kilometres (186,000 miles) – less than the distance that separates Earth and the Moon.

    These two factors, and analysis of the spectra produced by the binary, has led the research team on the new paper to the conclusion that the pulsar’s companion star is a very low-mass, low-hydrogen white dwarf, only around 1.5 percent the mass of the Sun. “It’s not possible for a hydrogen-rich star, like our Sun, to be the pulsar’s companion,” said lead researcher Tod Strohmayer, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard.

    “You can’t fit a star like that into an orbit so small.”

    The pulsar, by comparison, is around 1.4 times the mass of the Sun, but much, much smaller. Neutron stars – of which pulsars are a subset – are the collapsed cores of stars below around three times the mass of the Sun, in the final stage of their life cycle. They’re usually only around 10-20 kilometres in diameter.

    Because they’re so massive, though, neutron stars have a pretty strong gravitational pull – hence the accretion disc, as the J17062 pulsar pulls material from the white dwarf, the binary’s ‘donor star’. That high mass imbalance also means that the central point of the orbit – circular, as the team discovered – is much closer to the pulsar, just 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) from it. It’s so close that the white dwarf almost seems to be orbiting a stationary star; but, although faint, it does exert a gravitational pull on the pulsar.

    “The distance between us and the pulsar is not constant,” Strohmayer said. “It’s varying by this orbital motion. When the pulsar is closer, the X-ray emission takes a little less time to reach us than when it’s further away.” “This time delay is small, only about 8 milliseconds for J17062’s orbit, but it’s well within the capabilities of a sensitive pulsar machine like NICER.”

    The team’s research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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

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


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 8:23 am on May 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard, , NASA Spacecraft Discovers New Magnetic Process in Turbulent Space   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “NASA Spacecraft Discovers New Magnetic Process in Turbulent Space” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    May 9, 2018

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

    1
    In a turbulent magnetic environment, magnetic field lines become scrambled. As the field lines cross, intense electric currents (shown here as bright regions) form and eventually trigger magnetic reconnection (indicated by a flash), which is an explosive event that releases magnetic energy accumulated in the current layers and ejects high-speed bi-directional jets of electrons. Credit: NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab/Lisa Poje; Simulations by: University of Chicago/Colby Haggerty; University of Delaware/Tulasi Parashar

    Though close to home, the space immediately around Earth is full of hidden secrets and invisible processes. In a new discovery reported in the journal Nature, scientists working with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft — MMS — have uncovered a new type of magnetic event in our near-Earth environment by using an innovative technique to squeeze extra information out of the data.

    Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important processes in the space — filled with charged particles known as plasma — around Earth. This fundamental process dissipates magnetic energy and propels charged particles, both of which contribute to a dynamic space weather system that scientists want to better understand, and even someday predict, as we do terrestrial weather. Reconnection occurs when crossed magnetic field lines snap, explosively flinging away nearby particles at high speeds. The new discovery found reconnection where it has never been seen before — in turbulent plasma.


    In a new discovery reported in the journal Nature, scientists working with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft — MMS — uncovered a new type of magnetic event in our near-Earth environment. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng

    NASA MMS prior to launch Credit: NASA/ Ben Smegelsky

    NASA MMS satellites in space. Credit: NASA

    “In the plasma universe, there are two important phenomena: magnetic reconnection and turbulence,” said Tai Phan, a senior fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author on the paper. “This discovery bridges these two processes.”

    Magnetic reconnection has been observed innumerable times in the magnetosphere — the magnetic environment around Earth — but usually under calm conditions. The new event occurred in a region called the magnetosheath, just outside the outer boundary of the magnetosphere, where the solar wind is extremely turbulent. Previously, scientists didn’t know if reconnection even could occur there, as the plasma is highly chaotic in that region. MMS found it does, but on scales much smaller than previous spacecraft could probe.


    In a turbulent magnetic environment, magnetic field lines become scrambled. As the field lines cross, intense electric currents (shown here as bright regions) form and eventually trigger magnetic reconnection (indicated by a flash), which is an explosive event that releases magnetic energy accumulated in the current layers and ejects high-speed bi-directional jets of electrons. NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission witnessed this process in action as it flew through the electron jets the turbulent boundary just at the edge of Earth’s magnetic environment. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Conceptual Image Lab/Lisa Poje; Simulations by: Colby Haggerty (University of Chicago), Tulasi Parashar (University of Delaware)

    MMS uses four identical spacecraft flying in a pyramid formation to study magnetic reconnection around Earth in three dimensions. Because the spacecraft fly incredibly close together — at an average separation of just four-and-a-half miles, they hold the record for closest separation of any multi-spacecraft formation — they are able to observe phenomena no one has seen before. Furthermore, MMS’s instruments are designed to capture data at speeds a hundred times faster than previous missions.

    Even though the instruments aboard MMS are incredibly fast, they are still too slow to capture turbulent reconnection in action, which requires observing narrow layers of fast moving particles hurled by the recoiling field lines. Compared to standard reconnection, in which broad jets of ions stream out from the site of reconnection, turbulent reconnection ejects narrow jets of electrons only a couple miles wide.

    “The smoking gun evidence is to measure oppositely directed electron jets at the same time, and the four MMS spacecraft were lucky to corner the reconnection site and detect both jets”, said Jonathan Eastwood, a lecturer at Imperial College, London, and a co-author of the paper.

    Crucially, MMS scientists were able to leverage the design of one instrument, the Fast Plasma Investigation, to create a technique to interpolate the data — essentially allowing them to read between the lines and gather extra data points — in order to resolve the jets.

    “The key event of the paper happens in only 45 milliseconds. This would be one data point with the basic data,” said Amy Rager, a graduate student at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the scientist who developed the technique. “But instead we can get six to seven data points in that region with this method, allowing us to understand what is happening.”


    Earth is surrounded by a protective magnetic environment — the magnetosphere — shown here in blue, which deflects a supersonic stream of charged particles from the Sun, known as the solar wind. As the particles flow around Earth’s magnetosphere, it forms a highly turbulent boundary layer called the magnetosheath, shown in yellow. Scientists, like those involved with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, are studying this turbulent region to help us learn more about our dynamic space environment.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith; NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab/Josh Masters

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

    As the particles flow around Earth’s magnetosphere, it forms a highly turbulent boundary layer called the magnetosheath, shown in yellow [in video]. Scientists, like those involved with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, are studying this turbulent region to help us learn more about our dynamic space environment.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith; NASA Goddard’s Conceptual Image Lab/Josh Masters

    With the new method, the MMS scientists are hopeful they can comb back through existing datasets to find more of these events, and potentially other unexpected discoveries as well.

    Magnetic reconnection occurs throughout the universe, so that when we learn about it around our planet — where it’s easiest for Earthlings to examine it — we can apply that information to other processes farther away. The finding of reconnection in turbulence has implications, for example, for studies on the Sun. It may help scientists understand the role magnetic reconnection plays in heating the inexplicably hot solar corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere — and accelerating the supersonic solar wind. NASA’s upcoming Parker Solar Probe mission launches directly to the Sun in the summer of 2018 to investigate exactly those questions — and that research is all the better armed the more we understand about magnetic reconnection near home.

    Related Links

    Learn more about the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission
    Learn more about NASA’s research on the Sun-Earth environment

    See the full article here.

    See also here.

    See also 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

     
  • richardmitnick 9:38 am on May 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Goddard   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: “Old Data, New Tricks: Fresh Results from NASA’s Galileo Spacecraft 20 Years On” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 30, 2018
    Mara Johnson-Groh
    mara.johnson-groh@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    6
    Banner image: NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has caught Jupiter’s moon Ganymede playing a game of “peek-a-boo.” In this crisp Hubble image, Ganymede is shown just before it ducks behind the giant planet. This color image was made from three images taken on April 9, 2007, with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 in red, green, and blue filters. The image shows Jupiter and Ganymede in close to natural colors. Credit: NASA, ESA and E. Karkoschka (University of Arizona)

    1
    This image of Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons and the largest moon in our solar system, was taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft. Credits: NASA

    Far across the solar system, from where Earth appears merely as a pale blue dot, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft spent eight years orbiting Jupiter.

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    During that time, the hearty spacecraft — slightly larger than a full-grown giraffe — sent back spates of discoveries on the gas giant’s moons, including the observation of a magnetic environment around Ganymede that was distinct from Jupiter’s own magnetic field. The mission ended in 2003, but newly resurrected data from Galileo’s first flyby of Ganymede is yielding new insights about the moon’s environment — which is unlike any other in the solar system.

    “We are now coming back over 20 years later to take a new look at some of the data that was never published and finish the story,” said Glyn Collinson, lead author of a recent paper about Ganymede’s magnetosphere at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We found there’s a whole piece no one knew about.”

    The new results showed a stormy scene: particles blasted off the moon’s icy surface as a result of incoming plasma rain, and strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to an explosive magnetic event occurring between the two bodies’ magnetic environments. Scientists think these observations could be key to unlocking the secrets of the moon, such as why Ganymede’s auroras are so bright.

    In 1996, shortly after arriving at Jupiter, Galileo made a surprising discovery: Ganymede had its own magnetic field.

    2
    Magnetosphere of Ganymede based on model of Xianzhe Jia (JGR, 113, 6212, 2008), with location of auroral emissions (in blue).

    While most planets in our solar system, including Earth, have magnetic environments — known as magnetospheres — no one expected a moon to have one.

    Between 1996 and 2000, Galileo made six targeted flybys of Ganymede, with multiple instruments collecting data on the moon’s magnetosphere. These included the spacecraft’s Plasma Subsystem, or PLS, which measured the density, temperature and direction of the plasma — excited, electrically charged gas — flowing through the environment around Galileo. New results, recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, reveal interesting details about the magnetosphere’s unique structure.

    We know that Earth’s magnetosphere — in addition to helping make compasses work and causing auroras — is key to in sustaining life on our planet, because it helps protect our planet from radiation coming from space.

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

    Some scientists think Earth’s magnetosphere was also essential for the initial development of life, as this harmful radiation can erode our atmosphere. Studying magnetospheres throughout the solar system not only helps scientists learn about the physical processes affecting this magnetic environment around Earth, it helps us understand the atmospheres around other potentially habitable worlds, both in our own solar system and beyond.

    3
    This infographic describes Ganymede’s magnetosphere.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

    Ganymede’s magnetosphere offers the chance to explore a unique magnetic environment located within the much larger magnetosphere of Jupiter. Nestled there, it’s protected from the solar wind, making its shape different from other magnetospheres in the solar system. Typically, magnetospheres are shaped by the pressure of supersonic solar wind particles flowing past them. But at Ganymede, the relatively slower-moving plasma around Jupiter sculpts the moon’s magnetosphere into a long horn-like shape that stretches ahead of the moon in the direction of its orbit.

    Flying past Ganymede, Galileo was continually pummeled by high-energy particles — a battering the moon is also familiar with. Plasma particles accelerated by the Jovian magnetosphere, continually rain down on Ganymede’s poles, where the magnetic field channels them toward the surface. The new analysis of Galileo PLS data showed plasma being blasted off the moon’s icy surface due to the incoming plasma rain.

    “There are these particles flying out from the polar regions, and they can tell us something about Ganymede’s atmosphere, which is very thin,” said Bill Paterson, a co-author of the study at NASA Goddard, who served on the Galileo PLS team during the mission. “It can also tell us about how Ganymede’s auroras form.”


    This visualization shows a simplified model of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, designed to illustrate the scale, and basic features of the structure and impacts of the magnetic axis (cyan arrow) offset from the planetary rotation axis (blue arrow). The semi-transparent gray mesh in the distance represents the boundary of the magnetosphere.
    Credits: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/JPL NAIF

    4
    In this illustration, the moon Ganymede orbits the giant planet Jupiter. Ganymede is depicted with auroras, which were observed by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
    Credits: NASA/ESA

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    Ganymede has auroras, or northern and southern lights, just like Earth does. However, unlike our planet, the particles causing Ganymede’s auroras come from the plasma surrounding Jupiter, not the solar wind. When analyzing the data, the scientists noticed that during its first Ganymede flyby, Galileo fortuitously crossed right over Ganymede’s auroral regions, as evidenced by the ions it observed raining down onto the surface of the moon’s polar cap. By comparing the location where the falling ions were observed with data from Hubble, the scientists were able to pin down the precise location of the auroral zone, which will help them solve mysteries, such as what causes the auroras.

    As it cruised around Jupiter, Galileo also happened to fly right through an explosive event caused by the tangling and snapping of magnetic field lines. This event, called magnetic reconnection, occurs in magnetospheres across our solar system. For the first time, Galileo observed strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to a magnetic reconnection event occurring between the two magnetospheres. It’s thought that this plasma pump is responsible for making Ganymede’s auroras unusually bright.

    Future study of the PLS data from that encounter may yet provide new insights related to subsurface oceans previously determined to exist within the moon using data from both Galileo and the Hubble Space Telescope.

    The research was funded by NASA’s Solar System Workings program and the Galileo mission managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    Related Links

    Learn more about NASA’s Galileo mission
    “NASA’s Hubble Observations Suggest Underground Ocean on Jupiter’s Largest Moon” (March 12, 2015)

    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

     
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