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  • richardmitnick 8:13 pm on April 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Visualization Explorer: “Visualizing Carbon Monoxide” 

    NASA

    NASA

    NASA Viz

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

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

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

    NASA Terra satellite
    Terra

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

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

    3
    Map of average carbon monoxide emissions for April 2008.

    4
    Map of average carbon monoxide emissions for April 2013.

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

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

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

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

     
  • richardmitnick 10:47 am on April 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Goddard: “NASA Study Finds Small Solar Eruptions Can Have Profound Effects On Unprotected Planets” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ESA Venus Express
    Venus Express

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

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

    NASA SOHO
    SOHO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 1:38 pm on April 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Goddard: “Our Sun Came Late to the Milky Way’s Star-Birth Party” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    Goddard Space Flight Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    ESA Herschel
    ESA/Herschel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 3:01 pm on March 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Goddard: “Sun Emits Significant Solar Flare” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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

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

    NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory
    SDO

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

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

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

    Updates will be provided as needed.

    What is a solar flare?

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

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 6:08 am on February 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Goddard: “Stunning Video of the Sun” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

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

    NASA SDO
    NASA SDO schematic
    SDO

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 4:09 pm on December 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA: “NASA Rover Finds Active, Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars” 

    NASA

    NASA

    December 16, 2014

    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6278
    guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

    Nancy Neal Jones
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

    NASA Mars Curiosity Rover
    Curiosity

    “This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

    Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.

    3
    NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity drilled into this rock target, “Cumberland,” during the 279th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (May 19, 2013) and collected a powdered sample of material from the rock’s interior.
    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

    Curiosity also detected different Martian organic chemicals in powder drilled from a rock dubbed Cumberland, the first definitive detection of organics in surface materials of Mars. These Martian organics could either have formed on Mars or been delivered to Mars by meteorites.

    8
    This image illustrates possible ways methane might be added to Mars’ atmosphere (sources) and removed from the atmosphere (sinks). NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has detected fluctuations in methane concentration in the atmosphere, implying both types of activity occur on modern Mars.
    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SAM-GSFC/Univ. of Michigan

    Organic molecules, which contain carbon and usually hydrogen, are chemical building blocks of life, although they can exist without the presence of life. Curiosity’s findings from analyzing samples of atmosphere and rock powder do not reveal whether Mars has ever harbored living microbes, but the findings do shed light on a chemically active modern Mars and on favorable conditions for life on ancient Mars.

    “We will keep working on the puzzles these findings present,” said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena (Caltech). “Can we learn more about the active chemistry causing such fluctuations in the amount of methane in the atmosphere? Can we choose rock targets where identifiable organics have been preserved?”

    Researchers worked many months to determine whether any of the organic material detected in the Cumberland sample was truly Martian. Curiosity’s SAM lab detected in several samples some organic carbon compounds that were, in fact, transported from Earth inside the rover. However, extensive testing and analysis yielded confidence in the detection of Martian organics.

    Identifying which specific Martian organics are in the rock is complicated by the presence of perchlorate minerals in Martian rocks and soils. When heated inside SAM, the perchlorates alter the structures of the organic compounds, so the identities of the Martian organics in the rock remain uncertain.

    “This first confirmation of organic carbon in a rock on Mars holds much promise,” said Curiosity participating scientist Roger Summons of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Organics are important because they can tell us about the chemical pathways by which they were formed and preserved. In turn, this is informative about Earth-Mars differences and whether or not particular environments represented by Gale Crater sedimentary rocks were more or less favorable for accumulation of organic materials. The challenge now is to find other rocks on Mount Sharp that might have different and more extensive inventories of organic compounds.”

    Researchers also reported that Curiosity’s taste of Martian water, bound into lakebed minerals in the Cumberland rock more than three billion years ago, indicates the planet lost much of its water before that lakebed formed and continued to lose large amounts after.

    SAM analyzed hydrogen isotopes from water molecules that had been locked inside a rock sample for billions of years and were freed when SAM heated it, yielding information about the history of Martian water. The ratio of a heavier hydrogen isotope, deuterium, to the most common hydrogen isotope can provide a signature for comparison across different stages of a planet’s history.

    “It’s really interesting that our measurements from Curiosity of gases extracted from ancient rocks can tell us about loss of water from Mars,” said Paul Mahaffy, SAM principal investigator of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of a report published online this week by the journal Science.

    The ratio of deuterium to hydrogen has changed because the lighter hydrogen escapes from the upper atmosphere of Mars much more readily than heavier deuterium. In order to go back in time and see how the deuterium-to-hydrogen ratio in Martian water changed over time, researchers can look at the ratio in water in the current atmosphere and water trapped in rocks at different times in the planet’s history.

    Martian meteorites found on Earth also provide some information, but this record has gaps. No known Martian meteorites are even close to the same age as the rock studied on Mars, which formed about 3.9 billion to 4.6 billion years ago, according to Curiosity’s measurements.

    The ratio that Curiosity found in the Cumberland sample is about one-half the ratio in water vapor in today’s Martian atmosphere, suggesting much of the planet’s water loss occurred since that rock formed. However, the measured ratio is about three times higher than the ratio in the original water supply of Mars, based on assumption that supply had a ratio similar to that measured in Earth’s oceans. This suggests much of Mars’ original water was lost before the rock formed.

    Curiosity is one element of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to Mars in the 2030s. Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and JPL manages Curiosity rover science investigations for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The SAM investigation is led by Paul Mahaffy of Goddard. Two of SAM instruments key in these discoveries are the Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer, developed at Goddard, and the Tunable Laser Spectrometer, developed at JPL.

    The results of the Curiosity rover investigation into methane detection and the Martian organics in an ancient rock were discussed at a news briefing Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union’s convention in San Francisco. The methane results are described in a paper published online this week in the journal Science by NASA scientist Chris Webster of JPL, and co-authors.

    A report on organics detection in the Cumberland rock by NASA scientist Caroline Freissenet, of Goddard, and co-authors, is pending publication.

    For copies of the new Science papers about Mars methane and water, visit:

    http://go.nasa.gov/1cbk35X

    For more information about Curiosity, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/msl

    and

    http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

    Learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars/

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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

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

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

     
  • richardmitnick 3:51 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA/Goddard: “NASA’s MAVEN Mission Identifies Links in Chain Leading to Atmospheric Loss” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    December 15, 2014

    Nancy Neal-Jones
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    Elizabeth Zubritsky
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-614-5438
    elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov

    Early discoveries by NASA’s newest Mars orbiter are starting to reveal key features about the loss of the planet’s atmosphere to space over time.

    The findings are among the first returns from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which entered its science phase on Nov. 16. The observations reveal a new process by which the solar wind can penetrate deep into a planetary atmosphere. They include the first comprehensive measurements of the composition of Mars’ upper atmosphere and electrically charged ionosphere. The results also offer an unprecedented view of ions as they gain the energy that will lead to their to escape from the atmosphere.

    NASA Mars MAVEN
    NASA/MAVEN

    “We are beginning to see the links in a chain that begins with solar-driven processes acting on gas in the upper atmosphere and leads to atmospheric loss,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “Over the course of the full mission, we’ll be able to fill in this picture and really understand the processes by which the atmosphere changed over time.”

    On each orbit around Mars, MAVEN dips into the ionosphere – the layer of ions and electrons extending from about 75 to 300 miles above the surface. This layer serves as a kind of shield around the planet, deflecting the solar wind, an intense stream of hot, high-energy particles from the sun.

    Scientists have long thought that measurements of the solar wind could be made only before these particles hit the invisible boundary of the ionosphere. MAVEN’s Solar Wind Ion Analyzer, however, has discovered a stream of solar-wind particles that are not deflected but penetrate deep into Mars’ upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

    Interactions in the upper atmosphere appear to transform this stream of ions into a neutral form that can penetrate to surprisingly low altitudes. Deep in the ionosphere, the stream emerges, almost Houdini-like, in ion form again. The reappearance of these ions, which retain characteristics of the pristine solar wind, provides a new way to track the properties of the solar wind and may make it easier to link drivers of atmospheric loss directly to activity in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

    MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer is exploring the nature of the reservoir from which gases are escaping by conducting the first comprehensive analysis of the composition of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. These studies will help researchers make connections between the lower atmosphere, which controls climate, and the upper atmosphere, where the loss is occurring.

    The instrument has measured the abundances of many gases in ion and neutral forms, revealing well-defined structure in the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, in contrast to the lower atmosphere, where gases are well-mixed. The variations in these abundances over time will provide new insights into the physics and chemistry of this region and have already provided evidence of significant upper-atmospheric “weather” that has not been measured in detail before.

    New insight into how gases leave the atmosphere is being provided by the spacecraft’s Suprathermal and Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) instrument. Within hours after being turned on at Mars, STATIC detected the “polar plume” of ions escaping from Mars. This measurement is important in determining the rate of atmospheric loss.

    As the satellite dips down into the atmosphere, STATIC identifies the cold ionosphere at closest approach and subsequently measures the heating of this charged gas to escape velocities as MAVEN rises in altitude. The energized ions ultimately break free of the planet’s gravity as they move along a plume that extends behind Mars.

    The MAVEN spacecraft and its instruments have the full technical capability proposed in 2007 and are on track to carry out the primary science mission. The MAVEN team delivered the spacecraft to Mars on schedule, launching on the very day in 2013 projected by the team 5 years earlier. MAVEN was also delivered well under the confirmed budget established by NASA in 2010.

    The team’s success can be attributed to a focused science mission that matched the available funding and diligent management of resources. There were also minimal changes in requirements on the hardware or science capabilities that could have driven costs. It also reflects good coordination between the principal investigator; the project management at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; the Mars Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; and the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters.

    The entire project team contributed to MAVEN’s success to date, including the management team, the spacecraft and science-instrument institutions, and the launch-services provider.

    “The MAVEN spacecraft and its instruments are fully operational and well on their way to carrying out the primary science mission,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The management team’s outstanding work enabled the project to be delivered on schedule and under budget.”

    MAVEN’s principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the mission.

    For more information about NASA’s MAVEN mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/maven

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus
    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 9:29 am on December 11, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Goddard, NASA Van Allen Probes   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA’s Van Allen Probes Discover a Surprise Circling Earth” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    February 28, 2013
    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Since their discovery over 50 years ago, the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts have been considered to consist of two distinct zones of trapped, highly energetic charged particles. Observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes reveal an isolated third ring in the outer radiation belt.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    NASA Van Allen Probes
    NASA/Van Allen Probes

    After most NASA science spacecraft launches, researchers wait patiently for months as instruments on board are turned on one at a time, slowly ramped up to full power, and tested to make sure they work at full capacity. It’s a rite of passage for any new satellite in space, and such a schedule was in place for the Van Allen Probes when they launched on Aug. 30, 2012, to study two giant belts of radiation that surround Earth.

    But a group of scientists on the mission made a case for changing the plan. They asked that the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT) be turned on early – just three days after launch — in order that its observations would overlap with another mission called SAMPEX (Solar, Anomalous, and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer), that was soon going to de-orbit and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

    NASA Van Allen Probe Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope (REPT)
    NASA/REPT

    NASA SAMPEX
    NASA/SAMPEX

    It was a lucky decision. Shortly before REPT turned on, solar activity on the sun had sent energy toward Earth that caused the radiation belts to swell. The REPT instrument worked well from the moment it was turned on Sep. 1. It made observations of these new particles trapped in the belts, recording their high energies, and the belts’ increased size.

    Then something happened no one had ever seen before: the particles settled into a new configuration, showing an extra, third belt extending out into space. Within mere days of launch, the Van Allen Probes showed scientists something that would require rewriting textbooks.

    “By the fifth day REPT was on, we could plot out our observations and watch the formation of a third radiation belt,” says Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and a coauthor of a paper on these results. “We started wondering if there was something wrong with our instruments. We checked everything, but there was nothing wrong with them. The third belt persisted beautifully, day after day, week after week, for four weeks.”

    The scientists published their results in a paper in the journal Science on Feb. 28, 2013. Incorporating this new configuration into their models of the radiation belts offers scientists new clues to what causes the changing shapes of the belts – a region that can sometimes swell dramatically in response to incoming energy from the sun, impacting satellites and spacecraft or pose potential threats to manned space flight.

    v
    Two giant swaths of radiation, known as the Van Allen Belts, surrounding Earth were discovered in 1958. In 2012, observations from the Van Allen Probes showed that a third belt can sometimes appear. The radiation is shown here in yellow, with green representing the spaces between the belts.
    Image Credit: NASA/Van Allen Probes/Goddard Space Flight Center

    The radiation belts, or Van Allen belts, were discovered with the very first launches of satellites in 1958 by James Van Allen. Subsequent missions have observed parts of the belts – including SAMPEX, which observed the belts from below – but what causes such dynamic variation in the belts has remained something of a mystery. Indeed, seemingly similar storms from the sun have at times caused completely different effects in the belts, or have sometimes led to no change at all.

    The Van Allen Probes consist of two identical spacecraft with a mission to map out this region with exquisite detail, cataloguing a wide range of energies and particles, and tracking the zoo of magnetic waves that pulse through the area, sometimes kicking particles up to such frenzied speeds that they escape the belts altogether.

    “We’ve had a long run of data from missions like SAMPEX,” says Daniel Baker, who is the principal investigator for REPT at the University of Colorado in Boulder and first author on the Science paper. “But we’ve never been in the very throat of the accelerator operating a few hundred miles above our head, speeding these particles up to incredible velocities.”

    In its first six months in orbit, the instruments on the Van Allen Probes have worked exceptionally well and scientists are excited about a flood of observations coming in with unprecedented clarity. This is the first time scientists have been able to gather such a complete set of data about the belts, with the added bonus of watching from two separate spacecraft that can better show how events sweep across the area.

    Spotting something new in space such as the third radiation belt has more implications than the simple knowledge that a third belt is possible. In a region of space that remains so mysterious, any observations that link certain causes to certain effects adds another piece of information to the puzzle.

    Baker likes to compare the radiation belts to the particle storage rings in a particle physics accelerator. In accelerators, magnetic fields are used to hold the particles orbiting in a circle, while energy waves are used to buffet the particles up to ever faster speeds. In such accelerators, everything must be carefully tuned to the size and shape of that ring, and the characteristics of those particles. The Van Allen Belts depend on similar fine-tuning. Given that scientists see the rings only in certain places and at certain times, they can narrow down just which particles and waves must be causing that geometry. Every new set of observations helps narrow the field even further.

    “We can offer these new observations to the theorists who model what’s going on in the belts,” says Kanekal. “Nature presents us with this event – it’s there, it’s a fact, you can’t argue with it — and now we have to explain why it’s the case. Why did the third belt persist for four weeks? Why does it change? All of this information teaches us more about space.”

    f
    On Aug. 31, 2012, a giant prominence on the sun erupted, sending out particles and a shock wave that traveled near Earth. This event may have been one of the causes of a third radiation belt that appeared around Earth a few days later, a phenomenon that was observed for the very first time by the newly-launched Van Allen Probes. This image of the prominence before it erupted was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
    Image Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/Goddard Space Flight Center

    Scientists already have theories about just what kind of waves sweep out particles in the “slot” region between the first two belts. Now they must devise models to find which waves have the right characteristics to sweep out particles in the new slot region as well. Another tantalizing observation to explore lies in tracking the causes of the slot region back even further: on Aug. 31, 2012, a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun’s atmosphere erupted out into space. Baker says that this might have caused the shock wave that led to the formation of the third ring a few days later. In addition, the new belt was virtually annihilated four weeks after it appeared by another powerful interplanetary shock wave from the sun. Being able to watch such an event in action provides even more material for theories about the Van Allen belts.

    Despite the 55 years since the radiation belts were first discovered, there is much left to investigate and explain, and within just a few days of launch the Van Allen Probes showed that the belts are still capable of surprises.

    “I consider ourselves very fortunate,” says Baker. “By turning on our instruments when we did, taking great pride in our engineers and having confidence that the instruments would work immediately and having the cooperation of the sun to drive the system the way it did – it was an extraordinary opportunity. It validates the importance of this mission and how important it is to revisit the Van Allen Belts with new eyes.”

    The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) built and operates the twin Van Allen Probes. The Van Allen Probes comprise the second mission in NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) program to explore aspects of the connected sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The program is managed by NASA Goddard.

    See the full article, with video, 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 5:29 pm on November 26, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard   

    From NASA/Goddard: “NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot an Impenetrable Barrier in Space” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    November 26, 2014

    Karen C. Fox
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Two donuts of seething radiation that surround Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts, have been found to contain a nearly impenetrable barrier that prevents the fastest, most energetic electrons from reaching Earth.

    NASA Van Allen Probes
    A NASA Van Allen probe

    vab
    A cloud of cold, charged gas around Earth, called the plasmasphere and seen here in purple, interacts with the particles in Earth’s radiation belts — shown in grey— to create an impenetrable barrier that blocks the fastest electrons from moving in closer to our planet.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard

    The Van Allen belts are a collection of charged particles, gathered in place by Earth’s magnetic field. They can wax and wane in response to incoming energy from the sun, sometimes swelling up enough to expose satellites in low-Earth orbit to damaging radiation. The discovery of the drain that acts as a barrier within the belts was made using NASA’s Van Allen Probes, launched in August 2012 to study the region. A paper on these results appeared in the Nov. 27, 2014, issue of Nature magazine.

    “This barrier for the ultra-fast electrons is a remarkable feature of the belts,” said Dan Baker, a space scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder and first author of the paper. “We’re able to study it for the first time, because we never had such accurate measurements of these high-energy electrons before.”

    Understanding what gives the radiation belts their shape and what can affect the way they swell or shrink helps scientists predict the onset of those changes. Such predictions can help scientists protect satellites in the area from the radiation.

    The Van Allen belts were the first discovery of the space age, measured with the launch of a US satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958. In the decades since, scientists have learned that the size of the two belts can change – or merge, or even separate into three belts occasionally. But generally the inner belt stretches from 400 to 6,000 miles above Earth’s surface and the outer belt stretches from 8,400 to 36,000 miles above Earth’s surface.

    NASA Explorer 1
    NASA/Explorer 1

    A slot of fairly empty space typically separates the belts. But, what keeps them separate? Why is there a region in between the belts with no electrons?

    Enter the newly discovered barrier. The Van Allen Probes data show that the inner edge of the outer belt is, in fact, highly pronounced. For the fastest, highest-energy electrons, this edge is a sharp boundary that, under normal circumstances, the electrons simply cannot penetrate.

    “When you look at really energetic electrons, they can only come to within a certain distance from Earth,” said Shri Kanekal, the deputy mission scientist for the Van Allen Probes at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and a co-author on the Nature paper. “This is completely new. We certainly didn’t expect that.”

    The team looked at possible causes. They determined that human-generated transmissions were not the cause of the barrier. They also looked at physical causes. Could the very shape of the magnetic field surrounding Earth cause the boundary? Scientists studied but eliminated that possibility. What about the presence of other space particles? This appears to be a more likely cause.

    1
    This [animation] shows how particles move through Earth’s radiation belts, the large donuts around Earth. The sphere in the middle shows a cloud of colder material called the plasmasphere. New research shows that the plasmasphere helps keep fast electrons from the radiation belts away from Earth.
    Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Scientific Visualization Studio

    p
    Plasmasphere

    The radiation belts are not the only particle structures surrounding Earth. A giant cloud of relatively cool, charged particles called the plasmasphere fills the outermost region of Earth’s atmosphere, beginning at about 600 miles up and extending partially into the outer Van Allen belt. The particles at the outer boundary of the plasmasphere cause particles in the outer radiation belt to scatter, removing them from the belt.

    This scattering effect is fairly weak and might not be enough to keep the electrons at the boundary in place, except for a quirk of geometry: The radiation belt electrons move incredibly quickly, but not toward Earth. Instead, they move in giant loops around Earth. The Van Allen Probes data show that in the direction toward Earth, the most energetic electrons have very little motion at all – just a gentle, slow drift that occurs over the course of months. This is a movement so slow and weak that it can be rebuffed by the scattering caused by the plasmasphere.

    This also helps explain why – under extreme conditions, when an especially strong solar wind or a giant solar eruption such as a coronal mass ejection sends clouds of material into near-Earth space – the electrons from the outer belt can be pushed into the usually-empty slot region between the belts.

    “The scattering due to the plasmapause is strong enough to create a wall at the inner edge of the outer Van Allen Belt,” said Baker. “But a strong solar wind event causes the plasmasphere boundary to move inward.”

    A massive inflow of matter from the sun can erode the outer plasmasphere, moving its boundaries inward and allowing electrons from the radiation belts the room to move further inward too.

    The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, built and operates the Van Allen Probes for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The mission is the second in NASA’s Living With a Star program, managed by Goddard.

    For more information about the Van Allen Probe, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/vanallenprobes

    See the full article here.

    This post is dedicated to A.A., whose posts are filled with great NASA data and graphics.

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 1:26 pm on October 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Goddard,   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA-led Study Sees Titan Glowing at Dusk and Dawn” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    October 22, 2014
    Nancy Neal-Jones 301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov
    Elizabeth Zubritsky 301-614-5438
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    elizabeth.a.zubritsky@nasa.gov

    New maps of Saturn’s moon Titan reveal large patches of trace gases shining brightly near the north and south poles. These regions are curiously shifted off the poles, to the east or west, so that dawn is breaking over the southern region while dusk is falling over the northern one.

    two
    High in the atmosphere of Titan, large patches of two trace gases glow near the north pole, on the dusk side of the moon, and near the south pole, on the dawn side. Brighter colors indicate stronger signals from the two gases, HNC (left) and HC3N (right); red hues indicate less pronounced signals.
    Image Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF

    The pair of patches was spotted by a NASA-led international team of researchers investigating the chemical make-up of Titan’s atmosphere.

    “This is an unexpected and potentially groundbreaking discovery,” said Martin Cordiner, an astrochemist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the lead author of the study. “These kinds of east-to-west variations have never been seen before in Titan’s atmospheric gases. Explaining their origin presents us with a fascinating new problem.”

    The mapping comes from observations made by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), a network of high-precision antennas in Chile. At the wavelengths used by these antennas, the gas-rich areas in Titan’s atmosphere glowed brightly. And because of ALMA’s sensitivity, the researchers were able to obtain spatial maps of chemicals in Titan’s atmosphere from a “snapshot” observation that lasted less than three minutes.

    ALMA Array
    ALMA Array

    Titan’s atmosphere has long been of interest because it acts as a chemical factory, using energy from the sun and Saturn’s magnetic field to produce a wide range of organic, or carbon-based, molecules. Studying this complex chemistry may provide insights into the properties of Earth’s very early atmosphere, which may have shared many chemical characteristics with present-day Titan.

    In this study, the researchers focused on two organic molecules, hydrogen isocyanide (HNC) and cyanoacetylene (HC3N), that are formed in Titan’s atmosphere. At lower altitudes, the two molecules appear concentrated above Titan’s north and south poles. These findings are consistent with observations made by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has found a cloud cap and high concentrations of some gases over whichever pole is experiencing winter on Titan.

    NASA Cassini Spacecraft
    NASA/Cassini

    The surprise came when the researchers compared the gas concentrations at different levels in the atmosphere. At the highest altitudes, the gas pockets appeared to be shifted away from the poles. These off-pole locations are unexpected because the fast-moving winds in Titan’s middle atmosphere move in an east–west direction, forming zones similar to Jupiter’s bands, though much less pronounced. Within each zone, the atmospheric gases should, for the most part, be thoroughly mixed.

    The researchers do not have an obvious explanation for these findings yet.

    “It seems incredible that chemical mechanisms could be operating on rapid enough timescales to cause enhanced ‘pocket’’ in the observed molecules,” said Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper, published online today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. “We would expect the molecules to be quickly mixed around the globe by Titan’s winds.”

    At the moment, the scientists are considering a number of potential explanations, including thermal effects, previously unknown patterns of atmospheric circulation, or the influence of Saturn’s powerful magnetic field, which extends far enough to engulf Titan.

    Further observations are expected to improve the understanding of the atmosphere and ongoing processes on Titan and other objects throughout the solar system.

    NASA’s Astrobiology Program supported this work through a grant to the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, a part of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Additional funding came from NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres and Planetary Astronomy programs. ALMA, an international astronomy facility, is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory, in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada and the National Science Council of Taiwan, and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica in Taiwan.

    See the full article here.

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

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

    NASA

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