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  • richardmitnick 4:50 pm on April 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA Team Set to Fly Balloon Mission Seeking Evidence of Cosmological Inflation", , , Cosmic Bacground Radiation, NASA Goddard   

    From Goddard: “NASA Team Set to Fly Balloon Mission Seeking Evidence of Cosmological Inflation” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    This post is dedicated to D.O. the family rocket scientist. I hope that he sees it.

    April 26, 2016
    Lori Keesey
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Now that scientists have confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, a NASA team is set to search for a predicted signature of primordial gravitational waves that would prove the infant universe expanded far faster than the speed of light and began growing exponentially almost instantaneously after the Big Bang.

    1
    NASA scientist Al Kogut will search for evidence of cosmological inflation with a balloon-borne observatory called PIPER. Credits: NASA/W. Hrybyk

    Later this year, NASA scientist Al Kogut and his team at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will fly a breakthrough balloon payload — the Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer, or PIPER — to find evidence of this accelerated expansion, called cosmological inflation.

    According to the theory, inflation would have generated gravitational waves, which are tiny perturbations in the fabric of space-time. These waves would have left an imprint in the polarization of the cosmic background radiation, the remnant light from the universe’s creation that bathes the sky in all directions.

    Scientific results from two NASA observatories that studied the background radiation revealed tantalizing clues that inflation did, in fact, occur. They found miniscule temperature differences in the afterglow radiation that pointed to density differences that eventually gave rise to the stars and galaxies seen today.

    Cosmic Background Radiation per Planck
    Cosmic Background Radiation per Planck

    The observations also showed that the density differences were remarkably uniform in all directions and that the geometry of the universe was flat — physical characteristics attributable to inflation.

    Although other theories also explain these dynamics, they do not explain the existence of primordial gravitational waves created when the universe inflated to astronomical dimensions. Despite repeated attempts, so far no one has discovered these waves or their telltale polarization signature — what cosmologists refer to as B-mode.

    Profound Consequences

    2
    This schematic shows the PIPER balloon payload and the layout of its instruments. Principal Investigator Al Kogut and his team plan a test run of the observatory in June, following up with the first of several science flights in September. Credits: NASA

    Should PIPER find the signature proving that the universe inflated from an infinitesimally small point to macroscopic scales within a nano-nano-nano-second of the Big Bang, the discovery would have profound consequences for cosmology and high-energy physics.

    While classical physics — such as Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity — works perfectly for describing gravity on the macroscopic scale (where apples fall to the ground and Earth orbits the sun), it falls apart for calculating outcomes at subatomic, or quantum, scales. In addition to establishing inflation as a physical reality, PIPER’s discovery would give physicists the link between gravity and quantum mechanics.

    “If we find it, it will be direct observational proof that gravity obeys quantum mechanics,” Kogut said. “No one has yet worked out a consistent theory of quantum gravity; so observational evidence that gravity does obey quantum mechanics would be a huge development.”

    Flight Date Nears

    In June, the team plans to conduct a trial run with an engineering test unit with a scientific balloon flight from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. A follow up mission is scheduled for September with an overnight scientific balloon flight from NASA’s launch site in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, to obtain a view of the Northern Hemisphere. To study the remnant light from the Southern Hemisphere, the team plans to fly PIPER from Alice Springs, Australia; however, a launch has not yet been scheduled.

    PIPER ultimately may fly multiple times from the U.S. and Australia, soaring 120,000 feet above Earth where the atmosphere thins into the vacuum of space.

    State-of-the-Art Observatory

    PIPER is a state-of-the-art, highly sensitive observatory. About the size and weight of van, the observatory is equipped with twin telescopes, Goddard-developed superconducting detectors tuned to far-infrared wavelength bands, and a variable-delay polarization module to cleanly reveal polarized light.

    Because the polarization signal is at least 100 times fainter than the temperature signal detected by previous NASA missions, and even colder than the background radiation itself, PIPER must operate under super-cold temperatures to prevent instrument-generated heat from overwhelming the faint signal. As a result, the telescope, including the detectors and polarization modulator, will be placed inside a bucket dewar filled with liquid helium to maintain a frosty -457 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Difficult Measurement

    Despite its unparalleled sensitivity, PIPER’s mission is a difficult one.

    3
    Previous NASA missions identified E-mode polarization in the cosmic microwave background, the remnant light from the universe’s creation. The E-mode signal stems from a later period, when ultraviolet starlight began stripping electrons from hydrogen atoms, ionizing them. PIPER is seeking evidence of primordial gravitational waves and their telltale polarization signal — B-mode.
    Credits: NASA

    Previous NASA missions identified the E-mode signal, which exhibits a circular or radial arrangement across the sky. Its detection pointed to the time when light from the first stars ionized hydrogen atoms and liberated electrons from protons. The highly sought B-mode, on the other hand, prefers a twisty pattern.

    Gravitational Wave Background from BICEP 2
    BICEP 2’s errant Gravitational Wave Background [mostly from dust]shown here just to establish the sought after “twisty pattern”.

    Making detection challenging is the fact that different astrophysical phenomena will produce both.

    Astronomers have discovered this the hard way. In 2014, astronomers with the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) experiment in the South Pole announced that they had detected the B-mode polarization.

    BICEP 2
    BICEP 2

    However, their euphoria was short-lived. A thorough analysis of data collected by the South Pole’s Keck Array and ESA’s Planck observatory revealed that the signal came instead from dust in the Milky Way.

    Keck Array
    Keck Array

    ESA/Planck
    ESA/Planck

    “BICEP2 didn’t have enough information,” explained Harvey Moseley, a Goddard cosmologist who has collaborated with Kogut in the development of technologies needed to probe the very early universe.

    Although BICEP2 had observed a 400-square-degree patch of sky near the Milky Way’s south pole — a region free of much of the dust that fills the star-studded disk — the telescope looked at only one frequency range. It tuned its instrument to 150 GHz, which is favorable for studies of the background radiation. To be truly cosmological in nature, however, the measurement should have been crosschecked at multiple frequencies.

    In contrast, PIPER will observe the whole sky at four different frequencies — 200, 270, 350, and 600 GHz — to discriminate between dust and primordial inflation, Kogut said. This assures that the team will be able to remove the dust signal.

    Furthermore, PIPER will fly from a high-altitude scientific balloon to avoid emissions from Earth’s atmosphere. If the gravitational waves exist, PIPER will detect their signature to a factor of three fainter than the lowest value predicted by inflationary models, Kogut said. In addition, the telescope will carry out its task 100 times faster than any ground-based observatory.

    Good News, Either Way

    Even if PIPER fails to detect the signature, the scientific community still would herald the mission a success. “It will be a big deal if they find the signal, but it also will be a big deal if PIPER can’t see it,” Moseley said. “It means that we need to come up with a different model of what happened in the early universe.”

    For more information about PIPER, visit: http://sciences.gsfc.nasa.gov/665/research/

    NASA’s scientific balloons offer low-cost, near-space access for scientific instruments in the 4,000-pound or more weight class for conducting scientific investigations in fields such as astrophysics, heliophysics and atmospheric research.

    NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia, manages the agency’s scientific balloon flight program, with 10 to 15 flights each year from launch sites worldwide. Orbital ATK, which operates the NASA Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF), in Palestine, Texas, provides mission planning, engineering services and field operations for NASA’s scientific balloon program. The CSBF team has launched more than 1,700 scientific balloons in the over 35 years of operation.

    For more information on the balloon program, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons

    For more Goddard technology news, visit: https://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov/newsletter/Current.pdf

    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
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  • richardmitnick 4:12 pm on April 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Goddard   

    From Goddard: “Microscopic “Timers” Reveal Likely Source of Galactic Space Radiation” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 21, 2016
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-6284
    karen.c.fox@nasa.gov

    Most of the cosmic rays that we detect at Earth originated relatively recently in nearby clusters of massive stars, according to new results from NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft.

    NASA ACE
    NASA ACE

    ACE allowed the research team to determine the source of these cosmic rays by making the first observations of a very rare type of cosmic ray that acts like a tiny timer, limiting the distance the source can be from Earth.

    Nebula in the constellation Carina, contains the central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603. NASA ESA Hubble
    Nebula in the constellation Carina, contains the central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603. NASA/ESA Hubble.

    “Before the ACE observations, we didn’t know if this radiation was created a long time ago and far, far away, or relatively recently and nearby,” said Eric Christian of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Christian is co-author of a paper on this research published April 21 in Science.

    Cosmic rays are high-speed atomic nuclei with a wide range of energy — the most powerful race at almost the speed of light. Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field shield us from less-energetic cosmic rays, which are the most common. However, cosmic rays will present a hazard to unprotected astronauts traveling beyond Earth’s magnetic field because they can act like microscopic bullets, damaging structures and breaking apart molecules in living cells. NASA is currently researching ways to reduce or mitigate the effects of cosmic radiation to protect astronauts traveling to Mars.

    Cosmic rays are produced by a variety of violent events in space. Most cosmic rays originating within our solar system have relatively low energy and come from explosive events on the Sun, like flares and coronal mass ejections. The highest-energy cosmic rays are extremely rare and are thought to be powered by massive black holes gorging on matter at the center of other galaxies. The cosmic rays that are the subject of this study come from outside our solar system but within our Galaxy and are called galactic cosmic rays. They are thought to be generated by shock waves from exploding stars called supernovae.

    Supernova remnant Crab nebula. NASA/ESA Hubble
    Supernova remnant Crab nebula. NASA/ESA Hubble

    The galactic cosmic rays detected by ACE that allowed the team to estimate the age of the cosmic rays, and the distance to their source, contain a radioactive form of iron called Iron-60 (60Fe). It is created inside massive stars when they explode and then blasted into space by the shock waves from the supernova. Some 60Fe in the debris from the destroyed star is accelerated to cosmic-ray speed when another nearby massive star in the cluster explodes and its shock wave collides with the remnants of the earlier stellar explosion.

    60Fe galactic cosmic rays zip through space at half the speed of light or more, about 90,000 miles per second. This seems very fast, but the 60Fe cosmic rays won’t travel far on a galactic scale for two reasons. First, they can’t travel in straight lines because they are electrically charged and respond to magnetic forces. Therefore they are forced to take convoluted paths along the tangled magnetic fields in our Galaxy. Second, 60Fe is radioactive and over a period of about 2.6 million years, half of it will self-destruct, decaying into other elements (Cobalt-60 and then Nickel-60). If the 60Fe cosmic rays were created hundreds of millions of years or more ago, or very far away, eventually there would be too little left for the ACE spacecraft to detect.

    “Our detection of radioactive cosmic-ray iron nuclei is a smoking gun indicating that there has likely been more than one supernova in the last few million years in our neighborhood of the Galaxy,” said Robert Binns of Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, lead author of the paper.

    “In 17 years of observing, ACE detected about 300,000 galactic cosmic rays of ordinary iron, but just 15 of the radioactive Iron-60,” said Christian. “The fact that we see any Iron-60 at all means these cosmic ray nuclei must have been created fairly recently (within the last few million years) and that the source must be relatively nearby, within about 3,000 light years, or approximately the width of the local spiral arm in our Galaxy.” A light year is the distance light travels in a year, almost six trillion miles. A few thousand light years is relatively nearby because the vast swarm of hundreds of billions of stars that make up our Galaxy is about 100,000 light years wide.

    There are more than 20 clusters of massive stars within a few thousand light years, including Upper Scorpius (83 stars), Upper Centaurus Lupus (134 stars), and Lower Centaurus Crux (97 stars). These are very likely major contributors to the 60Fe that ACE detected, owing to their size and proximity, according to the research team.

    ACE was launched on August 25, 1997 to a point 900,000 miles away between Earth and the Sun where it has acted as a sentinel, detecting space radiation from solar storms, the Galaxy, and beyond. This research was funded by NASA’s ACE program.

    Additional co-authors on this paper were: Martin Israel and Kelly Lave at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri; Alan Cummings, Rick Leske, Richard Mewaldt and Ed Stone at Caltech in Pasadena, California; Georgia de Nolfo and Tycho von Rosenvinge at Goddard; and Mark Wiedenbeck at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    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
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  • richardmitnick 9:15 pm on April 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard,   

    From Goddard: “NASA’s New Horizons Fills Gap in Space Environment Observations” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 4, 2016
    Sarah Frazier
    sarah.a.frazier@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    When NASA’s New Horizons sped past Pluto on July 14, 2015, it took the best-ever pictures of the rocky world’s surface, giving us new insight into its geology, composition and atmosphere. These stunning images are the most famous result of New Horizons, but the spacecraft also sent back over three years’ worth of measurements of the solar wind – the constant flow of solar particles that the sun flings out into space – from a region that has been visited by only a few spacecraft.

    This unprecedented set of observations give us a peek into an almost entirely unexplored part of our space environment – filling a crucial gap between what other missions see closer to the sun and what the Voyager spacecraft see further out. A new study to appear in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement lays out New Horizons’ observations of the solar wind ions that it encountered on its journey.

    1
    Space environment data collected by New Horizons over a billion miles of its journey to Pluto will play a key role in testing and improving models of the space environment throughout the solar system. This visualization is one example of such a model: It shows the simulated space environment out to Pluto a few months before New Horizons’ closest approach. Drawn over the model is the path of New Horizons up to 2015, as well as the current direction of the two Voyager spacecraft – which are currently at three or four times New Horizons’ distance from the sun. The solar wind that New Horizons encountered will reach the Voyager spacecraft about a year later.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, the Space Weather Research Center (SWRC) and the Community-Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC), Enlil and Dusan Odstrcil (GMU)

    Not only does the New Horizons data provide new glimpses of the space environment of the outer solar system, but this information helps round out our growing picture of the sun’s influence on space, from near-Earth effects to the boundary where the solar wind meets interstellar space. The new data shows particles in the solar wind that have picked up an initial burst of energy, an acceleration boost that kicks them up just past their original speed. These particles may be the seeds of extremely energetic particles called anomalous cosmic rays. When these super-fast, energetic rays travel closer to Earth, they can pose a radiation hazard to astronauts. Further away, at lower energies, the rays are thought to play a role at shaping the boundary where the solar wind hits interstellar space – the region of our solar system that Voyager 2 is currently navigating and observing.

    Studying the Solar Wind

    2
    Space environment data collected by New Horizons over a billion miles of its journey to Pluto will play a key role in testing and improving models of the space environment throughout the solar system. This visualization is one example of such a model: It shows the simulated space environment out to Pluto a few months before New Horizons’ closest approach.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, the Space Weather Research Center (SWRC) and the Community-Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC), Enlil and Dusan Odstrcil (GMU)

    View full video on YouTube,

    Though space is about a thousand times emptier than even the best laboratory vacuums on Earth, it’s not completely devoid of matter – the sun’s constant outflow of solar wind fills space with a thin and tenuous wash of particles, fields, and ionized gas known as plasma. This solar wind, along with other solar events like giant explosions called coronal mass ejections, influences the very nature of space and can interact with the magnetic systems of Earth and other worlds. Such effects also change the radiation environment through which our spacecraft – and, one day, our astronauts headed to Mars – travel.

    New Horizons measured this space environment for over a billion miles of its journey, from just beyond the orbit of Uranus to its encounter with Pluto.

    “The instrument was only scheduled to power on for annual checkouts after the Jupiter flyby in 2007,” said Heather Elliott, a space scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, and lead author on the study. “We came up with a plan to keep the particle instruments on during the cruise phase while the rest of the spacecraft was hibernating and started observing in 2012.”

    This plan yielded three years of near-continuous observations of the space environment in a region of space where only a handful of spacecraft have ever flown, much less captured detailed measurements.

    “This region is billions of cubic miles, and we have a handful of spacecraft that have passed through every decade or so,” said Eric Christian, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who studies what’s called the heliosphere – the region of our solar system dominated by the solar wind – but was not involved with this study. “We learn more from every one.”

    Since the sun is the source of the solar wind, events on the sun are the primary force that shapes the space environment. Shocks in the solar wind – which can create space weather, such as auroras, on worlds with magnetic fields – are created either by fast, dense clouds of material called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, or by the collision of two different-speed solar wind streams. These individual features are discernible in the inner solar system – but New Horizons didn’t see the same level of detail.

    The New Horizons data show that the space environment in the outer solar system has less detailed structure than space closer to Earth, since smaller structures tend to be worn down or clump together as they travel outwards, creating fewer – but bigger – features.

    “At this distance, the scale size of discernible structures increases, since smaller structures are worn down or merge together,” said Elliott. “It’s hard to predict if the interaction between smaller structures will create a bigger structure, or if they will flatten out completely.”

    Subtler signs of the sun’s influence are also harder to spot in the outer solar system. Characteristics of the solar wind – including speed, density, and temperature – are shaped by the region of the sun it flows from. As the sun and its different wind-producing regions rotate, patterns form. New Horizons didn’t see patterns as defined as they are when closer to the sun, but nevertheless it did spot some structure.

    “Speed and density average together as the solar wind moves out,” said Elliott. “But the wind is still being heated by compression as it travels, so you can see evidence of the sun’s rotation pattern in the temperature even in the outer solar system.”

    Finding the Origins of Space Radiation Hazards

    The New Horizons observations also show what may be the starting seeds of the extremely energetic particles that make up anomalous cosmic rays. Anomalous cosmic rays are observed near Earth and can contribute to radiation hazard for astronauts, so scientists want to better understand what causes them.

    The seeds for these energetic, super-fast particles may also help shape the boundary where the solar wind meets interstellar space. Anomalous cosmic rays have been observed by the two Voyager spacecraft out near these boundaries, but only in their final stages, leaving questions as to the exact location and mechanism of their origins.
    measurement of seed particles for anomalous cosmic rays in the solar wind.

    3
    This figure shows solar wind observations measured by New Horizons from Jan. 1 to Aug. 25, 2015. This measurement of seed particles for anomalous cosmic rays in the solar wind is completely new in this region of space and is key for interpreting Voyager data further out in the interstellar boundary region. Points closer to the top of the graph correspond to higher-energy particles, and red and yellow colors show a larger number of particles hitting the detector. The particle instruments were shut down during certain spacecraft operations and trajectory maneuvers, resulting in brief data gaps. Credits: NASA/New Horizons/SwRI

    “The Voyagers can’t measure these seed particles, only the outcome,” said Christian. “So with New Horizons going into that region, this blank patch in the observations is being filled in with data.”

    Filling in such a blank patch will help scientists better understand the way such particles move and affect the space environment around them, helping to interpret what Voyager is seeing on its journey.

    Comparing New Horizons to Observations and Models

    Since New Horizons is one of the very few spacecraft that has explored the space environment in the outer solar system, lack of corroborating data meant that a key part of Elliott’s work was simply calibrating the data. Her work was supported by the Heliophysics Research and Analysis program.

    She calibrated the observations with pointing information from New Horizons, the results of extensive tests on the laboratory version of the instrument, and comparison with data from the inner solar system. NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer, or ACE, and NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, for example, observe the space environment near Earth’s orbit, allowing scientists to capture a snapshot of solar events as they head towards the edges of the solar system. But because the space environment in the outer solar system is relatively unexplored, it wasn’t clear how those events would develop. The only previous information on space in this region was from Voyager 2, which traveled through roughly the same region of space as New Horizons, although about a quarter of a century earlier.

    “There are similar characteristics between what was seen by New Horizons and Voyager 2, but the number of events is different,” said Elliott. “Solar activity was much more intense when Voyager 2 traveled through this region.”

    Now, with two data sets from this region, scientists have even more information about this distant area of space. Not only does this help us characterize the space environment better, but it will be key for scientists testing models of how the solar wind propagates throughout the solar system. In the absence of a constant sentinel measuring the particles and magnetic fields in space near Pluto, we rely on simulations – not unlike terrestrial weather simulations – to model space weather throughout the solar system. Before New Horizons passed Pluto, such models were used to simulate the structure of the solar wind in the outer solar system. With a calibrated data set in hand, scientists can compare the reality to the simulations and improve future models.

    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 9:20 pm on February 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard, ,   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA’s IBEX Observations Pin Down Interstellar Magnetic Field” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Feb. 26, 2016
    Sarah Frazier
    sarah.a.frazier@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Immediately after its 2008 launch, NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, spotted a curiosity in a thin slice of space: More particles streamed in through a long, skinny swath in the sky than anywhere else.

    NASA IBEX
    IBEX

    The origin of the so-called IBEX ribbon was unknown – but its very existence opened doors to observing what lies outside our solar system, the way drops of rain on a window tell you more about the weather outside.

    Now, a new study uses IBEX data and simulations of the interstellar boundary – which lies at the very edge of the giant magnetic bubble surrounding our solar system called the heliosphere – to better describe space in our galactic neighborhood. The paper, published Feb. 8, 2016, in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, precisely determines the strength and direction of the magnetic field outside the heliosphere. Such information gives us a peek into the magnetic forces that dominate the galaxy beyond, teaching us more about our home in space.

    Inner heliosheath
    (Artist concept) Far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the solar wind and the interstellar medium interact to create a region known as the inner heliosheath, bounded on the inside by the termination shock, and on the outside by the heliopause. Credits: NASA/IBEX/Adler Planetarium

    The new paper is based on one particular theory of the origin of the IBEX ribbon, in which the particles streaming in from the ribbon are actually solar material reflected back at us after a long journey to the edges of the sun’s magnetic boundaries. A giant bubble, known as the heliosphere, exists around the sun and is filled with what’s called solar wind, the sun’s constant outflow of ionized gas, known as plasma. When these particles reach the edges of the heliosphere, their motion becomes more complicated.

    “The theory says that some solar wind protons are sent flying back towards the sun as neutral atoms after a complex series of charge exchanges, creating the IBEX ribbon,” said Eric Zirnstein, a space scientist at the Southwest Research Institute [SwRI] in San Antonio, Texas, and lead author on the study. “Simulations and IBEX observations pinpoint this process – which takes anywhere from three to six years on average – as the most likely origin of the IBEX ribbon.”

    Outside the heliosphere lies the interstellar medium, with plasma that has different speed, density, and temperature than solar wind plasma, as well as neutral gases. These materials interact at the heliosphere’s edge to create a region known as the inner heliosheath, bounded on the inside by the termination shock – which is more than twice as far from us as the orbit of Pluto – and on the outside by the heliopause, the boundary between the solar wind and the comparatively dense interstellar medium.

    Some solar wind protons that flow out from the sun to this boundary region will gain an electron, making them neutral and allowing them to cross the heliopause. Once in the interstellar medium, they can lose that electron again, making them gyrate around the interstellar magnetic field. If those particles pick up another electron at the right place and time, they can be fired back into the heliosphere, travel all the way back toward Earth, and collide with IBEX’s detector. The particles carry information about all that interaction with the interstellar magnetic field, and as they hit the detector they can give us unprecedented insight into the characteristics of that region of space.

    “Only Voyager 1 has ever made direct observations of the interstellar magnetic field, and those are close to the heliopause, where it’s distorted,” said Zirnstein.

    NASA Voyager 1
    Voyager 1

    “But this analysis provides a nice determination of its strength and direction farther out.”

    The directions of different ribbon particles shooting back toward Earth are determined by the characteristics of the interstellar magnetic field. For instance, simulations show that the most energetic particles come from a different region of space than the least energetic particles, which gives clues as to how the interstellar magnetic field interacts with the heliosphere.

    For the recent study, such observations were used to seed simulations of the ribbon’s origin. Not only do these simulations correctly predict the locations of neutral ribbon particles at different energies, but the deduced interstellar magnetic field agrees with Voyager 1 measurements, the deflection of interstellar neutral gases, and observations of distant polarized starlight.

    However, some early simulations of the interstellar magnetic field don’t quite line up. Those pre-IBEX estimates were based largely on two data points – the distances at which Voyagers 1 and 2 crossed the termination shock.

    “Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock at 94 astronomical units, or AU, from the sun, and Voyager 2 at 84 AU,” said Zirnstein. One AU is equal to about 93 million miles, the average distance between Earth and the sun. “That difference of almost 930 million miles was mostly explained by a strong, very tilted interstellar magnetic field pushing on the heliosphere.”

    But that difference may be accounted for by considering a stronger influence from the solar cycle, which can lead to changes in the strength of the solar wind and thus change the distance to the termination shock in the directions of Voyager 1 and 2. The two Voyager spacecraft made their measurements almost three years apart, giving plenty of time for the variable solar wind to change the distance of the termination shock.

    “Scientists in the field are developing more sophisticated models of the time-dependent solar wind,” said Zirnstein.

    The simulations generally jibe well with the Voyager data.

    Ibex ribbon
    The IBEX ribbon is a relatively narrow strip of particles flying in towards the sun from outside the heliosphere. A new study corroborates the idea that particles from outside the heliosphere that form the IBEX ribbon actually originate at the sun – and reveals information about the distant interstellar magnetic field. Credits: SwRI

    “The new findings can be used to better understand how our space environment interacts with the interstellar environment beyond the heliopause,” said Eric Christian, IBEX program scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not involved in this study. “In turn, understanding that interaction could help explain the mystery of what causes the IBEX ribbon once and for all.”

    The Southwest Research Institute leads IBEX with teams of national and international partners. NASA Goddard manages the Explorers Program for the agency’s Heliophysics Division within the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    Related Link

    IBEX mission website
    Article: The Astrophysical Journal LettersLocal Interstellar Magnetic Field Determined From the Interstellar Boundary Explorer Ribbon

    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 image

     
  • richardmitnick 9:29 pm on February 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Goddard   

    From Goddard: “Advanced NASA-Developed Instrument Flies on Japan’s Hitomi” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Feb. 23, 2016
    Lori Keesey
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Now that Japan’s Hitomi spacecraft is safely in orbit, a team of NASA scientists is now ready to begin gathering data about the high-energy universe with an advanced instrument that carries never-before-flown technologies.

    JAXA Hitomi ASTRO-H instruments
    Hitomi Instrumentation

    JAXA Hitomi telescope
    JAXA/Hitomi

    The mission, formerly known as Astro-H, launched February 17 from the Tanegashima Space Center aboard an H-IIA rocket. Hitomi is expected to significantly extend the studies initiated by JAXA’s Suzaku mission that officially ended in September 2015.

    JAXA Suzaku satellite
    JAXA/Suzaku

    NASA’s more capable Soft X-ray Spectrometer (SXS), developed by a team of scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is one of the mission’s four scientific instruments.

    NASA  Soft X-ray Spectrometer on JAXA Hitomi
    An instrument scientist inspects the Soft X-ray Spectrometer before its final closing. The SXS is one of four payloads flying on the Japanese-led Hitomi mission launching in February. Credits: NASA

    With its unprecedented capabilities, SXS will enable a wide variety of breakthrough investigations — namely, studying the motion of matter approaching the event horizons of black holes, measuring the abundances of elements in the universe, and determining the evolution of galaxies and galaxy clusters throughout cosmic time. Hitomi carries three other powerful instruments: the Soft X-Ray Imager, the Hard X-Ray Imager, and the Soft Gamma Detector. [See above graphic]

    While similar in many respects to the X-ray Spectrometer that flew on Suzaku, which stopped operating shortly after launch due to a spacecraft design flaw, Hitomi’s SXS offers a number of significant improvements in the area of detector performance, cooling technologies, and collecting area. These advancements were made possible by NASA’s prior investment in these technologies, said NASA scientist Richard Kelley, who was named Goddard’s Innovator of the Year in 2008 based upon his work advancing SXS-related technologies, including the novel X-ray detection technique called microcalorimetry.

    In microcalorimetry, X-ray photons striking the detector’s absorbers are converted to heat, the magnitude of which is directly proportional to the X-ray’s energy. Analysis of the distribution of the X-ray photon’s energies, or spectrum, reveals much about the physical properties of the source emitting the radiation.

    Due to the inherently small size of an individual microcalorimeter detector, an array of detectors is constructed to collect as many X-ray photons as possible. To precisely determine the incoming X-ray photons, the detector package is cooled by a miniature refrigerator and the assembly is placed inside a dewar filled with liquid helium cooled to about one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero. The instrument is then placed at the focus of a large X-ray telescope to further augment the number of X-ray photons detected.

    Below are more details on the specific NASA contributions to the SXS instrument.

    SXS Microcalorimeter Array

    Chief among the instrument’s improvements over its Suzaku predecessor is the SXS’s 36-pixel microcalorimeter array. Using improved absorbers, which help convert the individual X-rays into heat, it offers better energy resolution and operates at an even lower temperature, Kelley said.

    Onboard Refrigerator

    Just as important as SXS’s 36 microcalorimeters, however, is its cooling technology. When NASA selected Kelley and his team to build the Hitomi instrument, the agency baselined a two-stage adiabatic demagnetization refrigerator (ADR), a mechanical cooling system that operates much like a household refrigerator, but using liquid helium as its coolant.

    However, in the wake of the premature loss of the XRS due to the unforeseen coolant boil-off that occurred on Suzaku, on Hitomi, NASA wanted to make sure the dewar remained at a super-cold temperature even if it ran out of coolant, Kelley said. Consequently, the team added a third stage to the cooling system.

    In addition to being more efficient, the three-stage ADR runs longer before needing a recharge. Better yet, however, the never-before-flown three-stage ADR will cool the dewar with or without the system’s liquid helium coolant.

    “On Suzaku, once the coolant was gone, so was the instrument,” Kelley said. “NASA wanted to push beyond that and provide more capability. In other words, redundancy was the driving requirement for flying the three-stage ADR.”

    X-ray Filters and Mirror Segments

    In addition to the improvements incorporated in the detector array and associated cooling approach, enhancements were made in two other components of the instrument.

    Kelley noted that the SXS is equipped with stronger filters needed to block longer-wavelength radiation from reaching the detector. The filters are situated in front of an aperture that allows X-rays to enter the dewar and is intricately built into the dewar. Should ice build up on the filters, mission operators can defrost them, much like how drivers can eliminate frost and ice on vehicle rear windows.

    The instrument’s mirror assembly also benefited from past research and development. The mirrors are so good, in fact, that Kelley’s team produced two: one for the SXS and another for Hitomi’s Soft X-ray Imager, provided by JAXA.

    Consisting of 1,624 curved mirror segments, all nested inside a canister, the assembly is lightweight and relatively inexpensive. The Goddard team made the mirror segments from commercial aluminum and then coated each with a special epoxy and a thin gold film to assure that each was smooth enough to efficiently reflect X-rays onto the microcalorimeter array. In addition, refinements made to the individual mirror segments’ shape (or “figure”) resulted in a mirror with considerably better focusing properties, which, in turn, contributed to the instrument’s overall detection capability.

    “Our technological innovation is a higher-spectral resolution instrument, with greater collecting area — all built with a relatively small team working very closely with a team of scientists and engineers in Japan,” Kelley said.

    For more Goddard technology news, go to https://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov/newsletter/Current.pdf

    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
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  • richardmitnick 9:56 am on January 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Hurricane Alex, NASA Goddard, NOAA   

    From Goddard: “NASA Provides in-Depth Analysis of Unusual Tropical Storm Alex” Incredible Imagery 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    Jan. 15, 2016
    Rob Gutro/Steve Lang/Hal Pierce
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Alex (was 90L/Atlantic Low #1 – Atlantic Ocean)

    NASA has provided forecasters with a variety of data on the out-of-season tropical cyclone Alex. The AIRS instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite provided valuable temperature data, the RapidScat instrument identified the strongest winds, the GPM core satellite provided rainfall rates and cloud heights, and NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite provided a visible image of the storm.

    Alex is a Rare Storm

    Alex officially became a hurricane on Jan. 14, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time (AST) with maximum sustained winds estimated at 85 mph by the National Hurricane Center (NHC), making it the earliest hurricane to form in the Atlantic since 1938, when the first storm of the season became a hurricane on January 4. As with Alex, that storm too originated from an extra-tropical low pressure center.

    The last hurricane to occur in January was Hurricane Alice in 1955, but Alice had already become a hurricane in the year before at the end of December and survived into January. NHC declared Alex to be a subtropical storm on Wednesday afternoon, January 13 when it was about 785 miles south- southwest of the Azores.

    Alex began from an area of low pressure that formed about a week ago along an old frontal boundary that was draped across Cuba. This low gradually moved out into the central Atlantic heading generally westward and began to produce thunderstorm activity as it started to curve northward toward the Azores. Often times, when extra-tropical storms acquire enhanced convection the instability is due to being over warm waters, but in Alex’s case it appears that the instability was due mainly to cold air aloft. At any rate, the heat release from these thunderstorms, which is known as latent heating, is what allowed Alex to eventually transform into a hurricane.

    AIRS Measures Cloud Top Temperatures

    The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder or AIRS instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite measured temperatures in Hurricane Alex’s cloud tops on Jan. 14 at 1429 UTC (9:29 a.m. EST). AIRS provides valuable temperature data for tropical cyclones such as cloud top and sea surface temperatures.

    Temp 1
    The AIRS instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite saw cloud top temperatures colder than -72.6F (-58.1C) (in purple) in thunderstorms around Alex’s eye on Jan. 14 at 1429 UTC (9:29 a.m. EST).
    Credits: NASA JPL/Ed Olsen

    NASA Aqua satellite
    AQUA

    AIRS saw strongest storms with cloud top temperatures colder than minus 72.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 58.1 degrees Celsius) around the eye. NASA research has shown that storms with cloud tops that cold are powerful enough to generate heavy rain.

    RapidScat Locates Strongest Winds

    On Jan. 15 at 6 a.m. EST, RapidScat saw Hurricane Alex’s strongest winds affecting some islands in the Azores. Strongest winds were (red) north and northwest of the center at 30 meters per second (67.1 mph/ 108 kph). Maximum sustained winds are not always equally distributed in low pressure areas and the RapidScat instrument helps forecasters find the strongest quadrants of a storm. Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 460 miles (740 km) from the center.

    NASA JPL Caltech Rapidscat
    Rapidscat

    Temp 2
    On Jan. 15 at 6 a.m. EST, RapidScat saw Hurricane Alex’s strongest winds affecting some islands in the Azores. Strongest winds were (red) north and northwest of the center at 30 meters per second (67.1 mph/ 108 kph). Credits: NASA JPL, Doug Tyler

    RapidScat is a NASA instrument that flies aboard the International Space Station.

    GPM Satellite Measures Hurricane Alex’s Rainfall

    The Global Precipitation Measurement or GPM core observatory satellite flew directly above hurricane Alex on January 15, 2016 at 1151 UTC (6:51 a.m. EST) collecting data in a rainfall analysis. Alex was moving into the Azores as a category one hurricane with maximum sustained winds estimated at 70 knots (80.5 mph). GPM’s Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) found that rainfall intensity had decreased significantly since Alex was declared a hurricane on January 14, 2016.

    NASA GPM satellite
    GPM

    Temp 3
    Most of the rainfall measured by GPM on Jan.15 was measured at less than 20 mm (.8 inches) per hour. GPM found that maximum storm top heights northwest of Alex’s cloudy eye were found to reach altitudes of 9.9 km (6.1 miles).
    Credits: NASA/JAXA/SSAI/Hal Pierce

    Most of the rainfall measured by GPM’s DPR was measured at less than 20 mm (.8 inches) per hour. Also GPM’s radar (DPR Ku band) found that storm top heights were fairly low. The maximum storm top heights northwest of Alex’s cloudy eye were found to reach altitudes of 9.9 km (6.1 miles).


    Watch/download mp4 video here .
    Most of the rainfall measured by GPM on Jan.15 was measured at less than 20 mm (.8 inches) per hour. GPM found that maximum storm top heights northwest of Alex’s cloudy eye were found to reach altitudes of 9.9 km (6.1 miles).
    Credits: NASA/JAXA/SSAI/Hal Pierce

    Alex’s Strength, Location and a Landfall

    At 7 a.m. EST (1200 UTC) on Friday, January 15, 2016, Alex was still a hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph (120 kph). It was located near 28.0 north latitude and 26.9 west longitude, just 50 miles (80 km) south-southeast of Terceira Island in the Central Azores, and about 105 miles (170 km) east-southeast of Faial Island in the Central Azores. Alex was moving to the north at 24 mph (39 kph) and had a minimum central pressure of 986 millibars.

    The National Hurricane Center stated that satellite and surface data indicate that Alex made landfall on the island of Terceira around 915 AM AST (1315 UTC) as a tropical storm with an intensity of 70 mph (110 kph).

    At 10 a.m. EST (1500 UTC), the center of Tropical Storm Alex was located near latitude 39.3 North and longitude 27.0 West. Alex was moving toward the north near 28 mph (44 kph) and a turn toward the north-northwest and northwest is expected over the next day or so. The estimated minimum central pressure is 986 millibars. Maximum sustained winds dropped to near 70 mph (110 kph) making Alex a tropical storm. Little change in strength is forecast during the next 48 hours. The National Hurricane Center said that “Alex is expected to lose tropical characteristics later today (Jan. 15).”

    NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP Pictures Alex

    The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured a visible light image of Hurricane Alex at 14:20 UTC (9:20 a.m. EST) on Jan. 15 while it was moving through the Azores.

    NASA Goddard Suomi NPP satellite
    NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite

    The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured a visible light image of Hurricane Alex at 14:20 UTC (9:20 a.m. EST) on Jan. 15 while it was moving through the Azores.

    Temp 4
    NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite provided this visible look at Hurricane Alex at 14:20 UTC (9:20 a.m. EST) on Jan. 15 while it was moving over the Azores.Credits: NASA/NOAA/Jeff Schmaltz

    The image showed that the eye had become cloud-filled and bands of thunderstorms continued to circle the center of the storm, mostly in the western, northern and eastern quadrants. VIIRS collects visible and infrared imagery and global observations of land, atmosphere, cryosphere and oceans.

    Alex’s Future

    Alex continues to accelerate and a gradual turn to the northwest is expected. On Jan. 15 Forecaster Pasch of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center said that the post-tropical cyclone is forecast to merge with or become absorbed by another extra-tropical low within two days.

    For updates on System 90L, visit the NHC website: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov and Meteo France: http://www.meteofrance.com/accueil.

    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
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  • richardmitnick 10:17 am on December 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From Goddard: “International Instrument Delivered for NASA’s 2016 Asteroid Sample Return Mission” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    Dec. 17, 2015
    Nancy Neal Jones
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-0039
    Nancy.N.Jones@nasa.gov

    1
    The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), contributed by the Canadian Space Agency, will create 3-D maps of asteroid Bennu to help the mission team select a sample collection site. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth for study. Credits: NASA/Goddard/Debbie McCallum /NASA

    A sophisticated laser-based mapping instrument has arrived at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver for integration onto NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft.

    The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), contributed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), will create 3-D maps of asteroid Bennu to help the mission team select a sample collection site.

    “The OSIRIS-REx Project has worked very closely with our partner CSA and their contractor MDA to get this critical instrument delivered to the spacecraft contractor’s facility,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We are very pleased with the performance of the instrument and look forward to its contribution to our mission.”

    OLA is an advanced LIDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) system that will scan the entire surface of the asteroid to create a highly accurate, 3-D shape model of Bennu. This will provide mission scientists with fundamental data on the asteroid’s shape, topography (distribution of boulders, rocks and other surface features), surface processes and evolution. An accurate shape model will also be an important tool for navigators as they maneuver the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft around the 500-meter-wide (0.3-mile-wide) asteroid. In exchange for providing the OLA instrument, CSA will receive a portion of the returned asteroid sample for study by Canadian scientists.

    “OLA will measure the shape and topography of Bennu to a much higher fidelity and with much greater efficiency than any planetary science mission has achieved,” said Michael Daly, OLA instrument lead at York University, Toronto. “This information is essential to understanding the evolution and current state of the asteroid. It also provides invaluable information in aid of retrieving a sample of Bennu for return to Earth.”

    After launch in September 2016, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth for study. Scientists expect that Bennu may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth. OSIRIS-REx’s investigation will also inform future efforts to develop a mission to mitigate an asteroid impact on Earth, should one be required.

    “The data received from OLA will be key to determining a safe sample site on Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “This instrument is a valuable addition to the spacecraft, and I appreciate our Canadian partners’ hard work and contribution to the OSIRIS-REx mission.”

    The laser altimeter was built for CSA by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) and its partner, Optech. OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to ship from Lockheed Martin’s facility to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida in May 2016, where it will undergo final preparations for launch.

    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. 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
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  • richardmitnick 1:45 pm on December 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard,   

    From Goddard: “NASA to Launch FORTIS to Study Extra-Galactic Dust” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    Dec. 16, 2015
    Sarah Frazier
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    1
    The FORTIS team prepares for a test on Dec. 8, 2015. FORTIS will study far-ultraviolet light from star-forming galaxy NGC 1365 to understand how material is flowing in and out of the galaxy. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University/Stephan McCandliss

    2
    FORTIS will focus on galaxy NGC 1365, otherwise known as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy. By examining specific wavelengths of absorption and emission, scientists will use FORTIS’ data to quantify the amounts of materials flowing in and out of the galaxy.
    Credits: ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/ R. Gendler, J-E. Ovaldsen, C. Thöne, and C. Feron

    This month, the NASA-funded FORTIS sounding rocket—short for Far-ultraviolet Off Rowland-circle Telescope for Imaging and Spectroscopy—will launch from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico to investigate the properties of galaxy NGC 1365, also known as the Great Barred Spiral Galaxy.

    FORTIS will use an instrument called a spectrograph to split the light from the target galaxy into its composite wavelengths, creating a kind of image called a spectrum. How much of each wavelength is present can hold clues to the atoms present in the space through which the light is traveling. In this case, scientists will study the wavelengths of light emitted and absorbed by different types of hydrogen to quantify how much material is flowing in and out of the galaxy.

    “Star-forming galaxies like NGC 1365 are swallowing mass from the intergalactic medium, and that material becomes stars,” said Stephan McCandliss, principal investigator for FORTIS from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “When these new stars ignite, they heat the surrounding gas and dust, making it emit light in these particular wavelengths.”

    FORTIS will fly on a Black Brant IX suborbital sounding rocket to an altitude of about 173 miles, taking data for six minutes. In the first 30 seconds, FORTIS will use its auto-targeting system to pick out the 40 brightest regions of NGC 1365 to study. It will then focus in on these promising regions—using a micro-shutter array originally developed for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope—and take spectra of these regions focusing on far ultraviolet wavelengths of light.

    These types of observations can only be taken from space, because Earth’s atmosphere absorbs far ultraviolet light. Sounding rockets provide a low-cost way to access space, collecting valuable data from outside Earth’s atmosphere for a fraction of the cost of a full-fledged satellite mission.

    The FORTIS launch is supported through NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding rocket program.

    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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  • richardmitnick 2:56 pm on December 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A satellite's last days, , NASA Goddard   

    From Goddard: “Plunging into the Ionosphere: Satellite’s Last Days Improve Orbital Decay Predictions” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    Dec. 14, 2015
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    karen.c.fox@nasa.gov
    301-286-6284

    Susan Hendrix
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    susan.m.hendrix@nasa.gov
    301-286-7745

    Scientists are learning more about how the upper atmosphere and ionosphere affect space satellites as well as communications and navigation here on Earth, thanks to new data from a U.S. Air Force satellite that recently completed a more than seven-year mission.

    The Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System (C/NOFS) satellite burned up in Earth’s atmosphere during a planned reentry on Nov. 28, leaving behind a treasure trove of data about a part of the space environment that’s difficult to study. The unique set of sustained observations from C/NOFS will greatly improve models currently used to predict satellite trajectories, orbital drag and uncontrolled re-entry.

    Scientists from the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and the University of Texas (UT) at Dallas are presenting the results at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

    1
    The U.S. Air Force Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on Nov. 28, 2015, after a more than seven-year mission. Observations during its last year will help scientists better predict orbital decay. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Launched on April 16, 2008, C/NOFS studied a region high above in our atmosphere called the ionosphere, a layer of electrically charged particles created by ultra-violet radiation from the sun. This layer lies some 40 to 600 miles above the Earth’s surface, where it interacts and co-mingles with the neutral particles of the tenuous upper atmosphere. The upper atmosphere and ionosphere change constantly in response to forces from above and below, including explosions on the sun, intense upper atmosphere winds, and dynamic electric field changes. In addition to interfering with satellite orbits, such changes can produce turbulence in the ionosphere that cause what’s known as scintillations, which interfere with radio wave navigation and communication systems, especially at low latitudes near the equator.

    2
    The ionosphere lies some 40 to 600 miles above Earth’s surface, where it interacts and co-mingles with the neutral particles of the tenuous upper atmosphere. The upper atmosphere and ionosphere change constantly in response to forces from above and below, including explosions on the sun, intense upper atmosphere winds and dynamic electric field changes.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    During most of its lifetime, C/NOFS never came closer than about 250 miles above the ground. However, as solar activity increased, C/NOFS began to orbit at lower and lower altitudes—ultimately descending to less than 160 miles above Earth.

    During its last 13 months of operations, as its orbit decayed and it spiraled into lower altitudes and eventual re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, C/NOFS satellite captured a unique set of comprehensive observations as it traveled through the very space environment that can directly cause premature orbital decay. Such regions have rarely been studied directly for extended periods of time, because orbits in this denser region of the atmosphere are not sustainable long-term without on board propulsion.

    “One thing we learned clearly from C/NOFS is just how hard it is to predict the precise time and location of re-entry,” said Cassandra Fesen, principal investigator for C/NOFS at the Air Force Research Laboratory at the Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    The C/NOFS data at these lower altitudes show that the upper atmosphere and ionosphere react strongly to even small changes in near-Earth space, said Rod Heelis, principal investigator at the UT-Dallas for NASA’s Coupled Ion-Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) instrument suite on board the satellite.

    “The neutral atmosphere responds very dramatically to quite small energy inputs,” said Heelis. “Even though the energy is put in at high latitudes – closer to the poles – the reaction at lower latitudes, near the equator, is significant.”

    Heelis also described research on a previously-hard-to-view sweet spot in the atmosphere, where the charged particles of the ionosphere and the neutral particles of the atmosphere directly affect each other. The CINDI observations show that the neutral wind creates piles of neutral gas pushed up against ionospheric density variations – similar to how blowing snow piles up in drifts against a building wall. This results in density striations in the atmosphere that were never previously observed. Such density variations are necessary data to include when modeling interference with radio waves or excess drag on a travelling spacecraft.

    Rob Pfaff, project scientist for CINDI at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and principal investigator for another C/NOFS instrument, the Vector Electric Field Investigation, is studying observations that speak to one of the original goals of the C/NOFS program: Why does the low latitude ionosphere at night become so turbulent that it can wreak havoc on communications and navigation radio signals?

    Developing the capability to predict such space weather disturbances has been a long-standing goal of the Air Force Research Laboratory. The C/NOFS low altitude observations were critical to form a complete picture of these disturbances, as the satellite ventured to the possible root of the largest ionospheric upheavals — those that emanate from the bottom ledge of the ionosphere at night. The observations revealed the presence of strong shears in the horizontal ionosphere motions at the base of the ionosphere, places where charged particles flow by each other in opposite directions. C/NOFS observed shears and undulations along this boundary. Such shears and undulations — spotted throughout the nighttime, equatorial ionosphere — are believed to be the source of large-scale instabilities that ultimately drive the detrimental scintillations.

    3
    The U.S. Air Force Communication/Navigation Outage Forecasting System observed how changes in Earth’s ionosphere cause what’s known as scintillations, which interfere with radio wave navigation and communication systems, especially at low latitudes near the equator.
    Credits: U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory

    For more information about C/NOFS, visit:

    http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=2008-017A

    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 8:29 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA Plans Twin Sounding Rocket Launches over Norway this Winter” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

    Nov. 24, 2015
    Sarah Frazier
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    1
    An aurora is seen over Greenland on April 2, 2011. Two NASA sounding rockets will launch into a particular type of aurora called a cusp aurora this winter to study different processes related to the particle acceleration that causes cusp auroras. The cusp is a region near the North Pole where Earth’s magnetic field is directly connected to the solar wind, allowing daytime auroras to form.
    Credits: NASA/University of Maryland, College Park/Robert Michell

    2
    Part of CAPER, short for Cusp Alfven and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket, is suspended from the rail that will carry the rocket out to the launch pad. CAPER’s launch window will open Nov. 27, 2015, and scientists will have to wait for good weather conditions and a daytime cusp aurora before they can send their payload flying through the aurora borealis. CAPER will study the electromagnetic waves that both create the cusp aurora and send electrons flying out into space. Credits: NASA/Nate Empson

    3
    Team members work on the RENU 2 sounding rocket weeks before its launch window opens Nov. 27, 2015. Scientists will have to wait for favorable weather conditions and the presence of a daytime aurora before they can launch. RENU 2, short for Rocket Experiment for Neutral Upwelling, will study the relationship between the flowing electrons that create the cusp aurora and dense columns of neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere. Credits: NASA/University of New Hampshire/Bruce Fritz

    This winter, two sounding rockets will launch through the aurora borealis over Norway to study how particles move in a region near the North Pole where Earth’s magnetic field is directly connected to the solar wind. After the launch window opens on Nov. 27, 2015, the CAPER and RENU 2 rockets will have to wait for low winds and a daytime aurora before they can send their instrument payloads soaring through the Northern Lights.

    Both instrument packages are studying phenomena related to the cusp aurora, a particular subset of the Northern Lights in which energetic particles are accelerated downward into the atmosphere directly from the solar wind – that is, the constant outward flow of solar material from the sun. Though cusp auroras are not particularly rare, they are often difficult to spot because they only happen during the day, when sunlight usually drowns out what would otherwise be a spectacular light show. However, because the magnetic North Pole is offset from the geographic North Pole, it’s often possible to see cusp auroras in Northern Europe near the winter solstice.

    “The magnetic pole is tilted towards North America, putting this magnetic opening—the cusp—at a higher latitude on the European side,” said Jim LaBelle, principal investigator on the CAPER sounding rocket at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “Combine that extra-high latitude with the winter solstice—when nights are longest, especially as you go farther north—and you can sometimes see this daytime aurora with the naked eye.”

    The two sounding rocket teams will also employ data from ground-based radars to detect the cusp aurora even in the case of clouds.

    CAPER

    CAPER, short for Cusp Alfven and Plasma Electrodynamics Rocket, will be first in the queue to launch. CAPER is investigating the electromagnetic, or EM, waves that can accelerate electrons down into Earth’s atmosphere or up out to space. The electrons that are accelerated downward collide with particles in the atmosphere, releasing light and creating the cusp aurora—so spotting aurora activity at the cusp alerts the scientists that the EM wave motions they’re interested in must also be present.

    CAPER, flying on a four-stage Oriole IV sounding rocket, carries three instruments—one to measure low-frequency EM waves, one to measure high-frequency EM waves, and one to measure the number of particles at different energy levels. LaBelle’s team will compare these observations to get a better idea of how the EM waves accelerate the particles.

    “The difficulty is measuring the high-frequency waves and their associated particles,” said LaBelle. “They’re moving at up to a million cycles per second, so the instruments have to be able to detect changes in the waves and collect enough particles to match up.”

    RENU 2

    The other sounding rocket to launch, a four-stage Black Brant XII-A, is the second iteration of the Rocket Experiment for Neutral Upwelling, or RENU 2, which will study the relationship between the inflow of electrons that creates the cusp aurora, electric currents flowing along magnetic field lines, and dense columns of heated neutral atoms in the upper atmosphere.

    Though scientists have long known that the density of neutral atoms within the atmosphere can change throughout the day because of heating by sunlight, the original understanding was that the heating—and the extra-dense layers of neutral particles—was driven horizontally. However, some satellites have hit speed bumps as they have orbited through Earth’s magnetic cusp—their acceleration briefly slowed, which indicates a small vertical slice of higher-density neutral atoms that are harder to travel through.

    “When solar wind electrons collide with atmospheric electrons, they transfer some of their energy, heating the atmospheric electrons,” said Marc Lessard, principal investigator for RENU 2 at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. “The higher heat means the electron populations expand upward along the magnetic field lines.”

    This upward flow of negatively-charged particles creates a vertical electric field, which in turn pulls up the positively-charged and neutral particles, increasing the atmospheric density in columns rather than horizontal layers. To study the phenomenon, RENU 2 will carry several instruments, including instruments to measure the electric and magnetic fields, neutral and charged particle flows, and temperatures.

    Though CAPER and RENU 2 will collect data for only a few minutes each, suborbital sounding rockets are a valuable way to study space and the upper atmosphere at relatively low cost.

    The CAPER and RENU 2 launches are supported through NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program at the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA’s Heliophysics Division manages the sounding rocket program.

    Related Link

    NASA heliophysics sounding rocket program

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