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  • richardmitnick 12:01 pm on January 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Citizen Scientists Find New World with NASA Telescope, , NASA JPL - Caltech, The newfound planet K2-288Bb   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Citizen Scientists Find New World with NASA Telescope” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    January 7, 2019

    Alison Hawkes
    Ames Research Center, California’s Silicon Valley
    650-604-4789
    alison.hawkes@nasa.gov

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    By Francis Reddy
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    1
    The newfound planet K2-288Bb, illustrated here, is slightly smaller than Neptune. Located about 226 light-years away, it orbits the fainter member of a pair of cool M-type stars every 31.3 days. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy

    Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, citizen scientists have discovered a planet roughly twice the size of Earth located within its star’s habitable zone, the range of orbital distances where liquid water may exist on the planet’s surface.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The new world, known as K2-288Bb, could be rocky or could be a gas-rich planet similar to Neptune. Its size is rare among exoplanets – planets beyond our solar system.

    “It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon,” said Adina Feinstein, a University of Chicago graduate student who discussed the discovery on Monday, Jan. 7, at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. She is also the lead author of a paper describing the new planet accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.

    Located 226 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, the planet lies in a stellar system known as K2-288, which contains a pair of dim, cool M-type stars separated by about 5.1 billion miles (8.2 billion kilometers) – roughly six times the distance between Saturn and the Sun. The brighter star is about half as massive and large as the Sun, while its companion is about one-third the Sun’s mass and size. The new planet, K2-288Bb, orbits the smaller, dimmer star every 31.3 days.

    In 2017, Feinstein and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Asheville, worked as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. They searched Kepler data for evidence of transits, the regular dimming of a star when an orbiting planet moves across the star’s face.

    Examining data from the fourth observing campaign of Kepler’s K2 mission, the team noticed two likely planetary transits in the system. But scientists require a third transit before claiming the discovery of a candidate planet, and there wasn’t a third signal in the observations they reviewed.

    As it turned out, though, the team wasn’t actually analyzing all of the data.

    In Kepler’s K2 mode, which ran from 2014 to 2018, the spacecraft repositioned itself to point at a new patch of sky at the start of each three-month observing campaign. Astronomers were initially concerned that this repositioning would cause systematic errors in measurements.

    “Re-orienting Kepler relative to the Sun caused miniscule changes in the shape of the telescope and the temperature of the electronics, which inevitably affected Kepler’s sensitive measurements in the first days of each campaign,” said co-author Geert Barentsen, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and the director of the guest observer office for the Kepler and K2 missions.

    To deal with this, early versions of the software that was used to prepare the data for planet-finding analysis simply ignored the first few days of observations – and that’s where the third transit was hiding.

    As scientists learned how to correct for these systematic errors, this trimming step was eliminated – but the early K2 data Barstow studied had been clipped.

    “We eventually re-ran all data from the early campaigns through the modified software and then re-ran the planet search to get a list of candidates, but these candidates were never fully visually inspected,” explained Schlieder, a co-author of the paper. “Inspecting, or vetting, transits with the human eye is crucial because noise and other astrophysical events can mimic transits.”

    Instead, the re-processed data were posted directly to Exoplanet Explorers, a project where the public searches Kepler’s K2 observations to locate new transiting planets. In May 2017, volunteers noticed the third transit and began an excited discussion about what was then thought to be an Earth-sized candidate in the system, which caught the attention of Feinstein and her colleagues.

    “That’s how we missed it – and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it,” Feinstein said.

    The team began follow-up observations using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory and NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (the latter two in Hawaii), and also examined data from ESA’s (the European Space Agency’s) Gaia mission.

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

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

    NASA Infrared Telescope facility Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA, 4,207 m (13,802 ft) above sea level

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    Estimated to be about 1.9 times Earth’s size, K2-288Bb is half the size of Neptune. This places the planet within a recently discovered category called the Fulton gap, or radius gap. Among planets that orbit close to their stars, there’s a curious dearth of worlds between about 1.5 and two times Earth’s size. This is likely the result of intense starlight breaking up atmospheric molecules and eroding away the atmospheres of some planets over time, leaving behind two populations. Since K2-288Bb’s radius places it in this gap, it may provide a case study of planetary evolution within this size range.

    On Oct. 30, 2018, Kepler ran out of fuel and ended its mission after nine years, during which it discovered 2,600 confirmed planets around other stars – the bulk of those now known – along with thousands of additional candidates astronomers are working to confirm. And while NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is the newest space-based planet hunter, this new finding shows that more discoveries await scientists in Kepler data.

    NASA/MIT TESS

    Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operated the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

    For more information about the Kepler and K2 missions, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/kepler

    See the full article here .


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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

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  • richardmitnick 9:55 am on December 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Holiday Asteroid Imaged with NASA Radar, , NASA JPL - Caltech, near-Earth asteroid 2003 SD220   

    From JPL-Caltech via Manu Garcia: “Holiday Asteroid Imaged with NASA Radar” 


    From Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

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

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    December 21, 2018

    News Media Contact
    DC Agle
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-9011
    agle@jpl.nasa.gov

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

    JoAnna Wendel
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1003
    joanna.r.wendel@nasa.gov

    Charles Blue
    National Radio Astronomy Observatory
    434-296-0314
    cblue@nrao.edu

    Ricardo Correa
    Arecibo Observatory
    787-878-2612 – ext. 615
    rcorrea@naic.edu

    1
    These three radar images of near-Earth asteroid 2003 SD220 were obtained on Dec. 15-17, by coordinating observations with NASA’s 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) 330-foot (100-meter) Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR/NSF/GBO

    The December 2018 close approach by the large, near-Earth asteroid 2003 SD220 has provided astronomers an outstanding opportunity to obtain detailed radar images of the surface and shape of the object and to improve the understanding of its orbit.

    The asteroid will fly safely past Earth on Saturday, Dec. 22, at a distance of about 1.8 million miles (2.9 million kilometers). This will be the asteroid’s closest approach in more than 400 years and the closest until 2070, when the asteroid will safely approach Earth slightly closer.

    The radar images reveal an asteroid with a length of at least one mile (1.6 kilometers) and a shape similar to that of the exposed portion of a hippopotamus wading in a river. They were obtained Dec. 15-17 by coordinating the observations with NASA’s 230-foot (70-meter) antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California, the National Science Foundation’s 330-foot (100-meter) Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Arecibo Observatory’s 1,000-foot (305-meter) antenna in Puerto Rico.

    NASA DSCC Goldstone Antenna California in the Mojave Desert, USA

    Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, USA


    NAIC Arecibo Observatory operated by University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and UMET, Altitude 497 m (1,631 ft).

    The Green Bank Telescope was the receiver for the powerful microwave signals transmitted by either Goldstone or the NASA-funded Arecibo planetary radar in what is known as a “bistatic radar configuration.” Using one telescope to transmit and another to receive can yield considerably more detail than would one telescope, and it is an invaluable technique to obtain radar images of closely approaching, slowly rotating asteroids like this one.

    “The radar images achieve an unprecedented level of detail and are comparable to those obtained from a spacecraft flyby,” said Lance Benner of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the scientist leading the observations from Goldstone. “The most conspicuous surface feature is a prominent ridge that appears to wrap partway around the asteroid near one end. The ridge extends about 330 feet [100 meters] above the surrounding terrain. Numerous small bright spots are visible in the data and may be reflections from boulders. The images also show a cluster of dark, circular features near the right edge that may be craters.”

    The images confirm what was seen in earlier “light curve” measurements of sunlight reflected from the asteroid and from earlier radar images by Arecibo: 2003 SD220 has an extremely slow rotation period of roughly 12 days. It also has what seems to be a complex rotation somewhat analogous to a poorly thrown football. Known as “non-principal axis” rotation, it is uncommon among near-Earth asteroids, most of which spin about their shortest axis.

    With resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.7 meters) per pixel, the detail of these images is 20 times finer than that obtained during the asteroid’s previous close approach to Earth three years ago, which was at a greater distance. The new radar data will provide important constraints on the density distribution of the asteroid’s interior – information that is available on very few near-Earth asteroids.

    “This year, with our knowledge about 2003 SD220’s slow rotation, we were able to plan out a great sequence of radar images using the largest single-dish radio telescopes in the nation,” said Patrick Taylor, senior scientist with Universities Space Research Association (USRA) at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston.

    “The new details we’ve uncovered, all the way down to 2003 SD220’s geology, will let us reconstruct its shape and rotation state, as was done with Bennu, target of the OSIRIS-REx mission,” said Edgard Rivera-Valentín, USRA scientist at LPI. “Detailed shape reconstruction lets us better understand how these small bodies formed and evolved over time.”

    Patrick Taylor led the bistatic radar observations with Green Bank Observatory, home of the Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. Rivera-Valentín will be leading the shape reconstruction of 2003 SD220 and led the Arecibo Observatory observations.

    Asteroid 2003 SD220 was discovered on Sept. 29, 2003, by astronomers at the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth-Object Search (LONEOS) in Flagstaff, Arizona – an early Near-Earth Object (NEO) survey project supported by NASA that is no longer in operation. It is classified as being a “potentially hazardous asteroid” because of its size and close approaches to Earth’s orbit. However, these radar measurements further refine the understanding of 2003 SD220’s orbit, confirming that it does not pose a future impact threat to Earth.

    The Arecibo, Goldstone and USRA planetary radar projects are funded through NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program within the Planetary Defense Coordination Office(PDCO), which manages the Agency’s Planetary Defense Program. The Arecibo Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by the University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises and Universidad Metropolitana. GBO is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under a cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

    JPL hosts the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) for NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program.

    More information about CNEOS, asteroids and near-Earth objects can be found at:

    https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov

    https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch

    For more information about NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense

    More information about the National Science Foundation’s Arecibo Observatory can be found at:

    http://www.naic.edu/ao/

    For asteroid and comet news and updates, follow AsteroidWatch on Twitter:

    twitter.com/AsteroidWatch

    You can find more information about CNEOS, asteroids and near-Earth objects:
    https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov
    https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch

    For more information about the Office for the Coordination of Planetary Defense of NASA, visit:
    https://www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense

    You can find more information about the Arecibo Observatory of the National Science Foundation at:
    http://www.naic.edu/ao/

    For news and updates asteroids and comets, follow AsteroidWatch on Twitter:
    twitter.com/AsteroidWatch

    See the full article by Manu here .
    See the full JPL article here .


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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 12:27 pm on December 21, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: NASA JPL - Caltech, The Cold Atom Lab (CAL), The Coolest Experiment in the Universe   

    From JPL-Caltech: “The Coolest Experiment in the Universe” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    December 20, 2018

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    The International Space Station, shown here in 2018, is home to many scientific experiments, including NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory. Credit: NASA

    2
    The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) consists of two standardized containers that will be installed on the International Space Station. The larger container holds CAL’s physics package, or the compartment where CAL will produce clouds of ultracold atoms. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    CAL Boards Cygnus
    3
    The Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), packaged in a protective layer, is loaded onto a Northrop Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) Cygnus spacecraft for its trip to the International Space Station. The facility launched in May 2018 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

    CAL Astronaut Installation
    5
    Astronaut Ricky Arnold assists with the installation of NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) on the International Space Station

    4
    The Coolest Experiment in the Universe
    Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) physicist David Aveline works in the CAL test bed, which is a replica of the CAL facility that stays on Earth. Scientists use the test bed to run tests and understand what is happening inside CAL while it is operating on the International Space Station.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    What’s the coldest place you can think of? Temperatures on a winter day in Antarctica dip as low as -120ºF (-85ºC). On the dark side of the Moon, they hit -280ºF (-173ºC). But inside NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory on the International Space Station, scientists are creating something even colder.

    The Cold Atom Lab (CAL) is the first facility in orbit to produce clouds of “ultracold” atoms, which can reach a fraction of a degree above absolute zero: -459ºF (-273ºC), the absolute coldest temperature that matter can reach. Nothing in nature is known to hit the temperatures achieved in laboratories like CAL, which means the orbiting facility is regularly the coldest known spot in the universe.

    NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory on the International Space Station is regularly the coldest known spot in the universe. But why are scientists producing clouds of atoms a fraction of a degree above absolute zero? And why do they need to do it in space? Quantum physics, of course.

    Seven months after its May 21, 2018, launch to the space station from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, CAL is producing ultracold atoms daily. Five teams of scientists will carry out experiments on CAL during its first year, and three experiments are already underway.

    Why cool atoms to such an extreme low? Room-temperature atoms typically zip around like hyperactive hummingbirds, but ultracold atoms move much slower than even a snail. Specifics vary, but ultracold atoms can be more than 200,000 times slower than room-temperature atoms. This opens up new ways to study atoms as well as new ways to use them for investigations of other physical phenomena. CAL’s primary science objective is to conduct fundamental physics research – to try to understand the workings of nature at the most fundamental levels.

    “With CAL we’re starting to get a really thorough understanding of how the atoms behave in microgravity, how to manipulate them, how the system is different than the ones we use on Earth,” said Rob Thompson, a cold atom physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the mission scientist for CAL. “This is all knowledge that is going to build a foundation for what I hope is a long future of cold atom science in space.”

    Laboratories on Earth can produce ultracold atoms, but on the ground, gravity pulls on the chilled atom clouds and they fall quickly, giving scientists only fractions of a second to observe them. Magnetic fields can be used to “trap” the atoms and hold them still, but that restricts their natural movement. In microgravity, the cold atom clouds float for much longer, giving scientists an extended view of their behavior.

    The process to create the cold atom clouds starts with lasers that begin to lower the temperature by slowing the atoms down. Radio waves cut away the warmest members of the group, further lowering the average temperature. Finally, the atoms are released from a magnetic trap and allowed to expand. This causes a drop in pressure that, in turn, naturally causes another drop in the cloud’s temperature (the same phenomenon that causes a can of compressed air to feel cold after use). In space, the cloud has longer to expand and thus reach even lower temperatures than what can be achieved on Earth – down to about one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero, perhaps even lower.

    Ultracold atom facilities on Earth typically occupy an entire room, and in most, the hardware is left exposed so that scientists can adjust the apparatus if need be. Building a cold atom laboratory for space posed several design challenges, some of which change the fundamental nature of these facilities. First, there was the matter of size: CAL flew to the station in two pieces – a metal box a little larger than a minifridge and a second one about the size of a carry-on suitcase. Second, CAL was designed to be operated remotely from Earth, so it was built as a fully enclosed facility.

    CAL also features a number of technologies that have never been flown in space before, such as specialized vacuum cells that contain the atoms, which have to be sealed so tightly that almost no stray atoms can leak in. The lab needed to be able to withstand the shaking of launch and extreme forces experienced during the flight to the space station. It took the teams several years to develop unique hardware that could meet the precise needs for cooling atoms in space.

    “Several parts of the system required redesigning, and some parts broke in ways we’d never seen before,” said Robert Shotwell, chief engineer for JPL’s Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology Directorate and CAL project manager. “The facility had to be completely torn apart and reassembled three times.”

    All the hard work and problem solving since the mission’s inception in 2012 turned the CAL team’s vision into reality this past May. CAL team members talked via live video with astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel aboard the International Space Station for the installation of the Cold Atom Laboratory, the second ultracold atom facility ever operated in space, the first to reach Earth orbit and the first to remain in space for more than a few minutes. Along the way, CAL has also met the minimum requirements NASA set to deem the mission a success and is providing a unique tool for probing nature’s mysteries.

    Designed and built at JPL, CAL is sponsored by the International Space Station Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and the Space Life and Physical Sciences Research and Applications (SLPSRA) Division of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

    See the full article here .


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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 9:37 am on December 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, , , ,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA’s Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    Dec. 10, 2018

    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726 / 301-286-6284
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

    Karen Fox
    Headquarters, Washington
    301-286-6284
    karen.c.fox@nasa.gov

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    This illustration shows the position of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, outside of the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto.

    For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

    NASA/Voyager 2

    Members of NASA’s Voyager team will discuss the findings at a news conference at 11 a.m. EST (8 a.m. PST) today at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in Washington. The news conference will stream live on the agency’s website.

    Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    Voyager 2 now is slightly more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but information – moving at the speed of light – takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

    2
    Artist’s concept of Voyager 2 with 9 facts listed around it. Image Credit: NASA

    The most compelling evidence of Voyager 2’s exit from the heliosphere came from its onboard Plasma Science Experiment (PLS), an instrument that stopped working on Voyager 1 in 1980, long before that probe crossed the heliopause. Until recently, the space surrounding Voyager 2 was filled predominantly with plasma flowing out from our Sun. This outflow, called the solar wind, creates a bubble – the heliosphere – that envelopes the planets in our solar system. The PLS uses the electrical current of the plasma to detect the speed, density, temperature, pressure and flux of the solar wind. The PLS aboard Voyager 2 observed a steep decline in the speed of the solar wind particles on Nov. 5. Since that date, the plasma instrument has observed no solar wind flow in the environment around Voyager 2, which makes mission scientists confident the probe has left the heliosphere.

    3
    Animated gif showing the plasma data. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    “Working on Voyager makes me feel like an explorer, because everything we’re seeing is new,” said John Richardson, principal investigator for the PLS instrument and a principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Even though Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause in 2012, it did so at a different place and a different time, and without the PLS data. So we’re still seeing things that no one has seen before.”

    In addition to the plasma data, Voyager’s science team members have seen evidence from three other onboard instruments – the cosmic ray subsystem, the low energy charged particle instrument and the magnetometer – that is consistent with the conclusion that Voyager 2 has crossed the heliopause. Voyager’s team members are eager to continue to study the data from these other onboard instruments to get a clearer picture of the environment through which Voyager 2 is traveling.

    “There is still a lot to learn about the region of interstellar space immediately beyond the heliopause,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

    Together, the two Voyagers provide a detailed glimpse of how our heliosphere interacts with the constant interstellar wind flowing from beyond. Their observations complement data from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX), a mission that is remotely sensing that boundary. NASA also is preparing an additional mission – the upcoming Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), due to launch in 2024 – to capitalize on the Voyagers’ observations.

    “Voyager has a very special place for us in our heliophysics fleet,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “Our studies start at the Sun and extend out to everything the solar wind touches. To have the Voyagers sending back information about the edge of the Sun’s influence gives us an unprecedented glimpse of truly uncharted territory.”

    While the probes have left the heliosphere, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have not yet left the solar system, and won’t be leaving anytime soon. The boundary of the solar system is considered to be beyond the outer edge of the Oort Cloud, a collection of small objects that are still under the influence of the Sun’s gravity.

    Oort Cloud NASA

    The width of the Oort Cloud is not known precisely, but it is estimated to begin at about 1,000 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun and to extend to about 100,000 AU. One AU is the distance from the Sun to Earth. It will take about 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the inner edge of the Oort Cloud and possibly 30,000 years to fly beyond it.

    The Voyager probes are powered using heat from the decay of radioactive material, contained in a device called a radioisotope thermal generator (RTG). The power output of the RTGs diminishes by about four watts per year, which means that various parts of the Voyagers, including the cameras on both spacecraft, have been turned off over time to manage power.

    “I think we’re all happy and relieved that the Voyager probes have both operated long enough to make it past this milestone,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for. Now we’re looking forward to what we’ll be able to learn from having both probes outside the heliopause.”

    Voyager 2 launched in 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1, and both have traveled well beyond their original destinations. The spacecraft were built to last five years and conduct close-up studies of Jupiter and Saturn. However, as the mission continued, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, proved possible. As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became a four-planet mission. Their five-year lifespans have stretched to 41 years, making Voyager 2 NASA’s longest running mission.

    The Voyager story has impacted not only generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth’s culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages.

    NASA Voyager Golden Record

    Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.

    Voyager’s mission controllers communicate with the probes using NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), a global system for communicating with interplanetary spacecraft. The DSN consists of three clusters of antennas in Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia.

    NASA Deep Space Network dish, Goldstone, CA, USA

    NASA Canberra, AU, Deep Space Network

    NASA Deep Space Network Madrid Spain

    The Voyager Interstellar Mission is a part of NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL built and operates the twin Voyager spacecraft. NASA’s DSN, managed by JPL, is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science agency, operates both the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, part of the DSN, and the Parkes Observatory, which NASA has been using to downlink data from Voyager 2 since Nov. 8.

    For more information about the Voyager mission, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/voyager

    More information about NASA’s Heliophysics missions is available online at:

    https://www.nasa.gov/sunearth

    See the full article here .


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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

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  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on November 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, Supernova Remnant G54   

    From JPL-Caltech via Manu Garcia: “Supernova Remnant G54” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    11.16.18

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Rebecca McDonald
    Director of Communications, SETI Institute.
    650-960-4526
    rmcdonald@seti.org

    1
    This image supernova remnant G54.1 + + 0.3 includes radio, infrared and X-ray saturated yellow dot in the center of the image indicates a strong X-ray source in the center of the supernova remnant. This is an incredibly dense object called a neutron star, which may be formed when a star runs out of fuel to keep it inflated and unsupported material collapses into the core of the star. G54.1 + + 0.3 contains a special type of neutron star called pulsar, which emits X-ray emission and radio particularly bright. The blue and green emissions show the presence of dust, including silica. Red tones correspond to data Karl G. Jansky radio Very Large Array; green 70 m corresponds to infrared light wavelength Herschel Space Observatory ESA; blue corresponds to infrared light 24m wavelength photometer instrument Multiband Image (MIPS) in the Spitzer Space Telescope NASA; yellow corresponds to x-ray data from Chandra X-Ray Observatory.
    Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / CXC / ESA / NRAO / J. Rho (SETI Institute).

    NRAO/Karl V Jansky Expanded Very Large Array, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA, at an elevation of 6970 ft (2124 m)

    ESA/Herschel spacecraft active from 2009 to 2013

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    We are all literally made of stardust. Many of the chemicals that make up our planet and our bodies were formed directly by the stars. Now, a new study using observations from the Spitzer Space Telescope NASA reports first that the silica, one of the most common minerals found on Earth, formed when massive stars explode.

    Look around now and is very likely to see silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2) somehow. An important component of many types of rocks on Earth, silica is used in industrial mixtures of sand and gravel for sidewalks, roads and buildings. A form of silica, quartz, is an important component of the sand found on beaches along the coasts of the United States. Silica is a key ingredient in the glass, including window glass, and fiberglass. Most of the silicon used in electronic devices comes silica.

    In total, the silica is about 60 percent of the earth’s crust. Its widespread presence on Earth is not a surprise as silica dust found throughout the universe and in meteorites that predate our solar system. A known source of cosmic dust are the AGB stars, or stars with about the mass of the Sun are running out of fuel and swell to several times its original size to form a red giant. (AGB Stars are a type of red giant star). But silica is not a major component of stardust AGB, and observations made clear whether these stars could be the leading producer of silica dust observed throughout the universe.

    The new study reports the detection of silica in two supernova remnants, called Cassiopeia A and G54.1 + + 0.3. A supernova is a much more massive than the Sun runs out of fuel burning in its nucleus, causing it to collapse on itself star. The rapid fall of matter creates an intense explosion that can fuse atoms to create “heavy” elements such as sulfur, calcium and silicon.

    Chemical Fingerprints.

    2
    Cas A supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. Credit or: NASA / CXC / SAO

    To identify the Cassiopeia silica and G54.1 + + 0.3, the computer data file used IRS Spitzer instrument and a technique called spectroscopy, it takes light to reveal the individual wavelengths that compose it. (You can see this effect when sunlight passes through a glass prism and produces a rainbow: the different colors are the individual wavelengths of light that are normally mixed and invisible to the naked eye).

    Each of the chemical elements and molecules emit wavelengths of light very specific, meaning that each has a distinct “fingerprint” spectral spectrographs that high precision can be identified. To find the spectral fingerprint of a given molecule, researchers often rely on models (often performed with computers) that recreate the physical properties of the molecule. Run a simulation with these models reveals the spectral fingerprint of the molecule.

    But physical factors can subtly influence the wavelengths emitted by molecules. Such was the case of Cassiopeia A. Although spectroscopy data showed Cassiopeia wavelengths near to what would be expected of silica, researchers were unable to match the data with any element or particular molecule.

    Jeonghee Rho, an astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and lead author of the new article, thought that perhaps the shape of grains of silica could be the source of the discrepancy, because the existing models of silica assumed that grains were perfectly spherical.

    He began building models including some grains with non-spherical shapes. It was only when he completed a model that assumed that all grains were not spherical but rather shaped soccer ball pattern “really clearly produced the same spectral characteristic we see in the Spitzer data,” Rho said.

    Rho and her coauthors found in the document the same feature in a second supernova remnant G54.1 + + 0.3. The elongated grains can tell scientists about the exact processes that formed the silica.

    3
    Herschel Space Telescope. Credit: ESA.

    The authors also combined observations of the two supernova remnants Spitzer with observations Herschel Space Observatory of the European Space Agency to measure the amount of silica produced by each explosion. Herschel detects different wavelengths of infrared light that Spitzer. Researchers analyzed entire range of wavelengths provided by two observatories and identified the wavelength at which the powder has its maximum brightness. Such information can be used to measure the temperature of the powder, and both brightness and temperature are necessary to measure mass. The new work implies that the silica produced by supernovae over time was significant enough to contribute to the dust in the whole universe, including dust that eventually joined to form our planet home.

    The study was published on 24 October 2018 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, and confirms that every time we look out a window, walked down the sidewalk or steps on a pebble beach, interact with a material made by stars in explosion that burned thousands of millions of years ago. “A dust twin of Cas A: cool dust and 21 microns silicate dust in the supernova remnant feature G54.1 + + 0.3” .

    The Office of NASA’s Herschel Project is located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA in Pasadena, California. Herschel Science Center NASA, part of IPAC supports the astronomical community of the United States. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. The spacecraft operations are based on Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. The data is stored in the Infrared Science Archive located in IPAC at Caltech.

    See the full article here .

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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

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  • richardmitnick 2:53 pm on October 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Rocky? Habitable? Sizing up a Galaxy of Planets” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    Oct. 25, 2018

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Alison Hawkes
    Ames Research Center, California’s Silicon Valley
    650-604-0281
    alison.hawkes@nasa.gov

    Written by Pat Brennan​

    1
    Artist’s concept of how rocky, potentially habitable worlds elsewhere in our galaxy might appear. Data gathered by telescopes in space and on the ground suggest that small, rocky planets are common. (Placing them so close together in a line is for illustrative purposes only.) Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC-Caltech)

    The planets so far discovered across the Milky Way are a motley, teeming multitude: hot Jupiters, gas giants, small, rocky worlds and mysterious planets larger than Earth and smaller than Neptune. As we prepare to add many thousands more to the thousands found already, the search goes on for evidence of life – and for a world something like our own.

    And as our space telescopes and other instruments grow ever more sensitive, we’re beginning to zero in.

    The discoveries so far inspire excitement and curiosity among scientists and the public. We’ve found rocky planets in Earth’s size range, at the right distance from their parent stars to harbor liquid water. While these characteristics don’t guarantee a habitable world – we can’t quite tell yet if these planets really do possess atmospheres or oceans – they can help point us in the right direction.

    Future space telescopes will be able to analyze the light from some of these planets, searching for water or a mixture of gases that resembles our own atmosphere. We will gain a better understanding of temperatures on the surface. As we continue checking off items on the habitability list, we’ll draw closer and closer to finding a world bearing recognizable signs of life.

    Among the most critical factors in the shaping and development of a habitable planet is the nature of its parent star. The star’s mass, size and age determine the distance and extent of its “habitable zone” – the region around a star where the temperature potentially allows for liquid water to pool on a planet’s surface.

    Star-mapping the Galaxy

    The European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, launched in 2013, is becoming one of history’s greatest star mappers.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    It relies on a suite of high-precision instruments to measure star brightness, distance, and composition. The ambitious goal is to create a three-dimensional map of our Milky Way galaxy. The chart so far includes the positions of about 1.7 billion stars, with distances for about 1.3 billion.

    That has prompted a reassessment of star sizes to learn whether some might be larger, smaller, dimmer or brighter than scientists had thought.

    It turns out that many of the stars were found to be brighter – and larger – than previous surveys estimated. For the team managing the explosion of planet finds from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, beginning in 2009, that also means a revision of sizes for the planets in orbit around them.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    If a star is brighter than we thought, it’s often larger than we thought as well. The planet in orbit around it, measured proportionally by the transit method, must also be larger.

    That means some of the planets thought to be of a size and temperature similar to Earth’s are really bigger – and usually, hotter.

    “Gaia has improved distances and has improved assessments of how bright a star is, and how big a planet is,” said Eric Mamajek, the deputy program chief scientist for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program. “The whole issue has always been, how well do we understand the star? This is just another chapter of that ongoing story.”

    The latest scientific data from the Gaia space probe also is prompting a reassessment of the most promising “habitable zone” planets found by observatories around the world, as well as space-based instruments like NASA’s Kepler.

    Habitable planets Current Potential Planetary Habitability Laboratory U Puerto Rico Arecibo

    As scientists iron out both observations and definitions of what we consider a potentially habitable world, better data is bringing us closer to finding such a planet and – maybe just as important – finding our own planet’s place among them.

    Of the 3,700 exoplanets – planets around other stars – confirmed by scientists so far, about 2,600 were found by the Kepler space telescope. Kepler hunts for the tiny eclipse, or dip in starlight, as a planet crosses the face of its star.

    The most recent analysis of Kepler’s discoveries shows that 20 to 50 percent of the stars in the sky are likely to have small, potentially rocky planets in their habitable zones. Our initial estimate of near Earth-sized, habitable-zone planets from the Kepler spacecraft as of June 19, 2017, was 30. Preliminary analysis of newer data, on both those exoplanets and their host stars, shows that the number is likely smaller – possibly between 2 and 12.

    Much more data are needed, including a better understanding of how a planet’s size relates to its composition.

    “We’re still trying to figure out how big a planet can be and still be rocky,” said Jessie Dotson, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. She is also the project scientist for Kepler’s current, extended mission, known as K2.

    At first glance, the latest analysis might seem disappointing: fewer rocky, potentially habitable worlds among the thousands of exoplanets found so far. But that doesn’t change one of the most astonishing conclusions after more than 20 years of observation: Planets in the habitable zone are common.

    More and better data on these far distant planets means a more accurate demographic portrait of a universe of planets – and a more nuanced understanding of their composition, possible atmospheres and life-bearing potential.

    That should put us on more solid ground for the coming torrent of exoplanet discoveries from TESS (the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), and future telescopes as well. It brings us one step closer in our search for a promising planet among a galaxy of stars.

    “This is the exciting part of science,” Dotson said. “So often, we’re really portrayed as, ‘Now we know this story.’ But I have a theory: Scientists love it when we don’t know something. It’s the hunt that’s so exciting.”

    See the full article here .


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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

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  • richardmitnick 10:02 am on October 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA JPL - Caltech, The Galilean satellites   

    From JPL-Caltech via Manu Garcia: “The Galilean satellites” 


    From Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

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

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    May 8, 1998

    1

    In this “family portrait,” the four Galilean Satellites are shown to scale. These four largest moons of Jupiter shown in increasing distance from Jupiter are (left to right) Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

    These global views show the side of volcanically active Io which always faces away from Jupiter, icy Europa, the Jupiter-facing side of Ganymede, and heavily cratered Callisto. The appearances of these neighboring satellites are amazingly different even though they are relatively close to Jupiter (350,000 kilometers for Io; 1, 800,000 kilometers for Callisto). These images were acquired on several orbits at very low “phase” angles (the sun, spacecraft, moon angle) so that the sun is illuminating the Jovian moons from completely behind the spacecraft, in the same way a full moon is viewed from Earth. The colors have been enhanced to bring out subtle color variations of surface features. North is to the top of all the images which were taken by the Solid State Imaging (SSI) system on NASA’s Galileo spacecraft.

    Io, which is slightly larger than Earth’s moon, is the most colorful of the Galilean satellites. Its surface is covered by deposits from actively erupting volcanoes, hundreds of lava flows, and volcanic vents which are visible as small dark spots. Several of these volcanoes are very hot; at least one reached a temperature of 2000 degrees Celsius (3600 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer of 1997. Prometheus, a volcano located slightly right of center on Io’s image, was active during the Voyager flybys in 1979 and is still active as Galileo images were obtained.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    NASA/Voyager 2

    This global view was obtained in September 1996 when Galileo was 485,000 kilometers from Io; the finest details that can be discerned are about 10 km across. The bright, yellowish and white materials located at equatorial latitudes are believed to be composed of sulfur and sulfur dioxide. The polar caps are darker and covered by a redder material.

    Europa has a very different surface from its rocky neighbor, Io. Galileo images hint at the possibility of liquid water beneath the icy crust of this moon. The bright white and bluish parts of Europa’s surface are composed almost completely of water ice. In contrast, the brownish mottled regions on the right side of the image may be covered by salts (such as hydrated magnesium-sulfate) and an unknown red component. The yellowish mottled terrain on the left side of the image is caused by some other, unknown contaminant. This global view was obtained in June 1997 when Galileo was 1.25 million kilometers from Europa; the finest details that can be discerned are 25 kilometers across.

    Ganymede, larger than the planet Mercury, is the largest Jovian satellite. Its distinctive surface is characterized by patches of dark and light terrain. Bright frost is visible at the north and south poles. The very bright icy impact crater, Tros, is near the center of the image in a region known as Phrygia Sulcus. The dark area to the northwest of Tros is Perrine Regio; the dark terrain to the south and southeast is Nicholson Regio. Ganymede’s surface is characterized by a high degree of crustal deformation. Much of the surface is covered by water ice, with a higher amount of rocky material in the darker areas. This global view was taken in September 1997 when Galileo was 1.68 million kilometers from Ganymede; the finest details that can be discerned are about 67 kilometers across.

    Callisto’s dark surface is pocked by numerous bright impact craters. The large Valhalla multi-ring structure (visible near the center of the image) has a diameter of about 4,000 kilometers, making it one of the largest impact features in the Solar System. Although many crater rims exhibit bright icy “bedrock” material, a dark layer composed of hydrated minerals and organic components (tholins) is seen inside many craters and in other low lying areas. Evidence of tectonic and volcanic activity, seen on the other Galilean satellites, appears to be absent on Callisto. This global view was obtained in November 1997 when Galileo was 684,500 kilometers from Callisto; the finest details that can be discerned are about 27 kilometers across.

    This image and other images and data received from Galileo are posted on the World Wide Web, on the Galileo mission home page at URL http://galileo.jpl.nasa.gov. Background information and educational context for the images can be found at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/galileo/sepo.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

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  • richardmitnick 11:30 am on October 23, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, , Newborn Stars Blow Bubbles in the Cat's Paw Nebula   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Newborn Stars Blow Bubbles in the Cat’s Paw Nebula” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    October 23, 2018

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    The Cat’s Paw Nebula, imaged here by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope using the MIPS and IRAC instruments, is a star-forming region that lies inside the Milky Way Galaxy. New stars may heat up the surrounding gas, which can expand to form “bubbles.” Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    This image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Cat’s Paw Nebula, so named for the large, round features that create the impression of a feline footprint. The nebula is a star-forming region in the Milky Way galaxy, located in the constellation Scorpius. Estimates of its distance from Earth range from about 4,200 to about 5,500 light-years.

    Framed by green clouds, the bright red bubbles are the dominant feature in the image, which was created using data from two of Spitzer’s instruments. After gas and dust inside the nebula collapse to form stars, the stars may in turn heat up the pressurized gas surrounding them, causing it to expand into space and create bubbles.

    The green areas show places where radiation from hot stars collided with large molecules called “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” causing them to fluoresce.

    In some cases, the bubbles may eventually “burst,” creating the U-shaped features that are particularly visible in the image below, which was created using data from just one of Spitzer’s instruments.

    2
    The Cat’s Paw Nebula, imaged here by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope using the IRAC instrument, is a star-forming region inside the Milky Way Galaxy. The dark filament running through the middle of the nebula is a particularly dense region of gas and dust. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Spitzer is an infrared telescope, and infrared light is useful to astronomers because it can penetrate thick clouds of gas and dust better than optical light (the kind visible to the human eye). The black filaments running horizontally through the nebula are regions of gas and dust so dense, not even infrared light can pass through them. These dense regions may soon be sites where another generation of stars will form.

    The Cat’s Paw star-forming region is estimated to be between 24 and 27 parsecs (80 and 90 light years) across. It extends beyond the left side of these images and intersects with a similar-sized star-forming region, NGC 6357. That region is also known as the Lobster Nebula – an unlikely companion for a cat.

    The top image was compiled using data from the Infrared Array Camera (IRAC) and the Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS) aboard Spitzer. MIPS collects an additional “color” of light in the infrared range, which reveals the red-colored features, created by dust that has been warmed by the hot gas and the light from nearby stars. The second image is based on data from IRAC alone, so this dust is not visible.

    The images were pulled from data collected for the Galactic Legacy Mid-Plane Survey Extraordinaire project (GLIMPSE). Using data from Spitzer, GLIMPSE created the most accurate map ever of the large central bar of the galaxy and showed that the galaxy is riddled with gas bubbles like those seen here.

    More information about Spitzer is available at the following sites:

    http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/
    https://irsa.ipac.caltech.edu/data/SPITZER/GLIMPSE/overview.html

    See the full article here .


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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

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  • richardmitnick 12:13 pm on October 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, NASA Voyager 2 Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA Voyager 2 Could Be Nearing Interstellar Space” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    October 5, 2018

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Jia-Rui Cook
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-0724
    jia-rui.c.cook@jpl.nasa.gov

    Karen Fox
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    301-286-6284
    karen.c.fox@nasa.gov

    1

    This graphic shows the position of the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes, relative to the heliosphere, a protective bubble created by the Sun that extends well past the orbit of Pluto. Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause, or the edge of the heliosphere, in 2012. Voyager 2 is still in the heliosheath, or the outermost part of the heliosphere.

    The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena. California. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit https://www.nasa.gov/voyager and https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov.

    NASA/Voyager 2

    NASA’s Voyager 2 probe, currently on a journey toward interstellar space, has detected an increase in cosmic rays that originate outside our solar system. Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 is a little less than 11 billion miles (about 17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth, or more than 118 times the distance from Earth to the Sun.

    Since 2007 the probe has been traveling through the outermost layer of the heliosphere — the vast bubble around the Sun and the planets dominated by solar material and magnetic fields. Voyager scientists have been watching for the spacecraft to reach the outer boundary of the heliosphere, known as the heliopause. Once Voyager 2 exits the heliosphere, it will become the second human-made object, after Voyager 1, to enter interstellar space.

    Since late August, the Cosmic Ray Subsystem instrument on Voyager 2 has measured about a 5 percent increase in the rate of cosmic rays hitting the spacecraft compared to early August. The probe’s Low-Energy Charged Particle instrument has detected a similar increase in higher-energy cosmic rays.

    Cosmic rays are fast-moving particles that originate outside the solar system. Some of these cosmic rays are blocked by the heliosphere, so mission planners expect that Voyager 2 will measure an increase in the rate of cosmic rays as it approaches and crosses the boundary of the heliosphere.

    In May 2012, Voyager 1 experienced an increase in the rate of cosmic rays similar to what Voyager 2 is now detecting. That was about three months before Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space.

    However, Voyager team members note that the increase in cosmic rays is not a definitive sign that the probe is about to cross the heliopause. Voyager 2 is in a different location in the heliosheath — the outer region of the heliosphere — than Voyager 1 had been, and possible differences in these locations means Voyager 2 may experience a different exit timeline than Voyager 1.

    The fact that Voyager 2 may be approaching the heliopause six years after Voyager 1 is also relevant, because the heliopause moves inward and outward during the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle. Solar activity refers to emissions from the Sun, including solar flares and eruptions of material called coronal mass ejections. During the 11-year solar cycle, the Sun reaches both a maximum and a minimum level of activity.

    “We’re seeing a change in the environment around Voyager 2, there’s no doubt about that,” said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone, based at Caltech in Pasadena. “We’re going to learn a lot in the coming months, but we still don’t know when we’ll reach the heliopause. We’re not there yet — that’s one thing I can say with confidence.”

    The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of Caltech. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, managed by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    See the full article here .


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

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

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

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  • richardmitnick 11:44 am on September 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Astrobiology Grand Tour, , , , Community of microbial mats living on top. They are some of the Earth’s earliest ecosystems., , First oxygen-producing bacteria-cyanobacteria, , Karijini National Park, Living stromatolites of Shark Bay, , NASA JPL - Caltech, , , Pilbara in Western Australia, Pilbara is also where the oldest mineral on Earth –a zircon dated at 4.4 billion years old — was discovered four years ago in the Jack Hills region, State of Western Australia, Stromatolites literally mean “layered rocks”, The most important contribution of stromatolites – terraforming the Earth, These ancient life forms left behind geological footprints reminding us they were here first, Time-Traveling in the Australian Outback in Search of Early Earth   

    From Many Worlds: “Time-Traveling in the Australian Outback in Search of Early Earth” 

    NASA NExSS bloc

    NASA NExSS

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    From Many Worlds

    2018-09-28
    Nicholas Siegler, Chief Technologist for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the help of doctoral student Markus Gogouvitis, at the University of New South Wales, Australia and Georg-August-University in Gottingen, Germany.

    1
    These living stromatolites at Shark Bay, Australia are descendants of similar microbial/sedimentary forms once common around the world. They are among the oldest known repositories of life. Most stromatolites died off long ago, but remain at Shark Bay because of the high salinity of the water. (Tourism, Western Australia)

    This past July I joined a group of geologists, geochemists, microbiologists, and fellow astronomers on a tour of some of the best-preserved evidence for early life.

    Entitled the Astrobiology Grand Tour, it was a trip led by Dr. Martin Van Kranendonk, a structural geologist from the University of New South Wales, who had spent more than 25 years surveying Australia’s Pilbara region. Along with his graduate students he had organized a ten-day excursion deep into the outback of Western Australia to visit some of astrobiology’s most renowned sites.

    The trip would entail long, hot days of hiking through unmaintained trails on loose surface rocks covered by barb-like bushes called spinifex. As I was to find out, nature was not going to give up its secrets easily. And there were no special privileges allocated to astrophysicists from New Jersey [? no mention of anyone from New Jersey].

    2
    The route of our journey back in time. (Google Earth/Markus Gogouvitis /Martin Van Kranendonk)

    The state of Western Australia, almost four times the size of the American state of Texas but with less than a tenth of the population (2.6 million), is the site of many of astrobiology’s most heralded sites. For more than three billion years, it has been one of the most stable geologic regions in the world.

    It has been ideal for geological preservation due to its arid conditions, lack of tectonic movement, and remoteness. The rock records have in many places survived and are now able to tell their stories (to those who know how to listen).

    3
    The classic red rocks of the Pilbara in Western Australia, with the needle sharp spinifex bushes in the foreground. (Nick Siegler, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    Our trip began with what felt like a pilgrimage. We left Western Australia’s largest city Perth and headed north for Shark bay. It felt a bit like a pilgrimage because the next morning we visited one of modern astrobiology’s highlights – the living stromatolites of Shark Bay.

    Stromatolites literally mean “layered rocks”. It’s not the rocks that are alive but rather the community of microbial mats living on top. They are some of the Earth’s earliest ecosystems.

    We gazed over these living microbial communities aloft on their rock perches and marveled at their exceptional longevity — the species has persisted for over three billion years. Their ancestors had survived global mass extinctions, planet-covering ice glaciers, volcanic activity, and all sorts of predators. Once these life forms took hold they were not going to let go.

    4
    The stromatolites forming today in the shallow waters of Shark Bay, Australia are built by colonies of microbes that capture ocean sediments. (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

    The photosynthetic bacteria that built ancient stromatolites played a central role of our trip for three reasons:

    Their geological footprints allowed scientists to date the evolution of early life and at times gain insight into the environments in which they grew.
    They eventually harbored the first oxygen-producing bacteria and played a central role in creating our oxygen-rich atmosphere.
    By locating ever-increasingly older microbial fossils we observed a lower limit to the age of the first life forms.. Given photosynthesis is not a simple process, the first life forms must have been simpler. Speculating, perhaps a few hundred million years earlier so that the first life form on Earth may have originated at four billion years ago.

    When viewed under a microscope, you can see the mats are made of millions of single cell bacteria and archaea, among the simplest life forms we know. Within these relatively thin regions are multiple layers of specialized microbial communities that live interdependently.

    Bacteria in the top layer evolved to harvest sunlight to live and grow via photosynthesis. Their waste products include oxygen as well as important nutrients for many different bacterial species within underlying layers. And this underlying layer’s waste product would do the same for the layer beneath it, perfectly recycling each other’s waste. The oldest forms of life that we know of had learned to co-exist together in a chemically interdependent environment.

    5
    Broken piece of a living stromatolite, which was was remarkably spongy and smelled slightly salty, indicative of the hypersaline bay that has contributed to their survival by making bacteria and other organisms undesirable. What was actually most remarkable of the visit to Hamelin pool was how quiet it was. There were no seagulls and other birds because of the hypersaline environment. They had gone elsewhere for their meals. (Nick Siegler, NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    We saw ripped up portions of the mats that washed upon the shore at Hamelin pool in Shark Bay. A whole ecosystem held in one’s hand. Thousands of millions of years ago ancient relatives of these microbes thrived in shallow waters all around our planet, and left behind fossilized remains. But due to the evolution of grazing organisms these microbial structures are nowadays constrained to very specific environments. In the case of Shark Bay, the very high salt contents of this inlet have warded off most predators providing the microbes with a safe haven to live.

    Ironically, the rocks, which help identify these ancient life forms, at the time were just a nuisance for the living microbes.

    Small fine grains of sedimentary rock carried along in the daily tides would occasionally get stuck in the sticky mucus the microbes would secrete. In addition, the photosynthetic bacteria found at Shark Bay may have been inadvertently making their own rock by depleting the carbon dioxide in the surrounding water as part of photosynthesis and precipitating carbonate, adding to the grains of sediment trapped within the sticky top layer.

    Over time, the grains from both the sedimentary and precipitated rocks would cover the surface and block the sunlight for which these organisms had evolved to depend on. As an evolutionary tour de force, the photosynthetic microbes learned to migrate upward, leaving the newly formed rock layers behind.

    These secondary rock fossils today showcase visually observable crinkly, frequently conical shapes, in stark contrast to abiotic sedimentary rocks. These ancient life forms left behind geological footprints reminding us they were here first.

    Now to the most important contribution of stromatolites – terraforming the Earth.

    Living in shallow water, the top most layer of the Shark Bay microbial mats are known to host cyanobacteria, photosynthetic bacteria that produce oxygen as a byproduct. Scientists don’t know what the first bacteria produced as they harnessed the energy of the Sun. But they do know that they eventually started producing oxygen.

    In the evolution of life that eventually led to all plants and animals, this was one of the great events. More than 2.5 billion years ago, ancient bacteria began diligently producing oxygen in the oceans. Earth’s atmosphere began to irreversibly shift from its original, oxygen-free existence, to an oxic one, initiating the formation of our ozone layer and paving the way for the evolution of more complex life. Our planet has been terraformed by micro-organisms!

    It was in the Karijini National Park where we went back in time (2.4 billion years) and observed an extraordinary piece of evidence for the early production of oxygen in Earth’s oceans, a time before oxygen made a strong presence in our atmosphere.

    6
    Banded iron formation at Karajini National Park. (Nick Siegler, NASA-JPL/Caltech)

    We saw a massive gorge with steep vertical walls carved out by flowing water. As oxygen production by early bacteria increased below the water surface it would react with dissolved iron ions (early oceans were iron-rich) causing iron oxides to precipitate and settle to the bottom.

    For reasons not entirely understood — perhaps related to seasonal or temperature effects– the amount of new oxygen temporarily decreased and iron ion remained soluble in the oceans and other types of sediments accumulated, carbonates, slate, and shale. And then, just as before, the oxygen reappeared creating a new layer of precipitated iron.

    The result was a banded sedimentary rock, a litmus test to a changing world, where oxygen would be the reactive ingredient leading to larger and more complex life forms. As the oxygen production no longer cycled, the oxygen went on to saturate the ocean and then accumulated in the Earth’s atmosphere eventually to the levels we have today.

    7
    Banded iron formation at Karajini. (Nick Siegler, NASA-JPL/Caltech)

    After a day of looking down at rocks and spinifex it was both a relief and a joy to look up at the glorious Western Australian night sky. Far away from the light pollution of modern cities, each night would greet us with an awe-inspiring starlit sky. It never got old to remember we are part of a vast network of stars suspended in an infinite space.

    The nights would start with the appearance of Venus well before sundown followed shortly by the innermost planet Mercury and then Jupiter and Saturn. It didn’t take long after sunset to see the renowned Southern Cross. Mars joined the evening as well, perfectly appearing on the arc called the ecliptic.

    But nothing stirred the group more than the emergence of the swath of stars of the Milky Way, the disk of our home galaxy where its spiral arms all lie. The nights would be so clear that one could actually see the dark clouds of gas and dust that block large portions of the galaxy’s stars from shining through. We partook in the well-known tradition connecting individual points of light to form exotic creatures like scorpions and centaurs. But we also we followed the inverted approach of the Aborigines and connected the dark patches. Only then did we see the emu of the Milky Way. I would never have thought of connecting the darkness.

    The night sky appeared even more special knowing that each of its stellar members likely host planetary systems like our own. How many of them host life? Maybe even civilizations? The numbers are in their favor.

    At the half-way point of our trip we hiked to an ancient granite region in the red rocks of the Pilbara which contain the world’s largest concentration of Pleistocene rock art also known as petroglyphs. These etchings are believed to be 6,000 to 20, 000 years old.

    The artists used no pigments, but rather rocks to pound/chisel shapes into the desert varnish, a thin dark film (possibly of microbial origin) that typically covers exposed rock surfaces in hyper arid regions. We came across many stylized male and female figures with highlighted genitalia as well as animals such as emus and kangaroos. Little is known about the people who created these art works. They left no clues to their origin or fate.

    8
    Rock art by aboriginal people done 6,000 to 20,000 years ago. The shapes were etched into an existing varnish on the rock. (Nick Siegler, NASA-JPL/Caltech)

    Pilbara is also where the oldest mineral on Earth –a zircon dated at 4.4 billion years old — was discovered four years ago in the Jack Hills region. Because of the geological history of the region, it is a frequent (if hardscrabble) site where many geologists and geochemists specializing in ancient Earth do their work.

    In the last several days of the tour we encountered ever-increasing older evidence of stromatolites extending out to circa 3.5 billion years, about 75% of the history of the Earth. I expected the quality of the stromatolites to degrade as we went back in time and it looked like I was right until I saw a remarkably large rock in a locality called the Strelley Pool Formation. The rock measuring approximately 1.5 meters in all three directions gave a rare view of ancient stromatolites from all sides and an unequivocal interpretation of past life.

    The shapes of the embedded rocks formed by the microbial mats from the top view clearly show the elliptical areas where the bacteria inched upwards to acquire sunlight. Regions between the conical stromatolites were filled in by carbonate sediments in ancient shallow waters. These were later chemically altered to silica-rich rocks through alteration and etching of minerals by fluids. Silicified rocks are very weather-resistant, making them a great medium to preserve fossils for billions of years.

    The side views of the stromatolite-laden rock revealed the expected conical layered shapes we saw in younger rocks (and in the living stromatolites of Shark Bay). Everything we had learned about stromatolite structures was clearly visible in this circa 3.43 billion year old example. It is astounding to realize that complex phototrophic (light-eating) organisms, even if not yet oxygen producing, were around during the deposition of the Strelley Pool Formation.

    9
    Detail of Strelley Pool stromatolite fossil. (Nick Siegler, NASA-JPL/Caltech)

    It is not unreasonable to speculate that the earliest life forms are even older by perhaps a few more hundred million years or so. There is evidence for even more ancient stromatolites in Greenland (3.7 billion years old) and isotope carbon evidence, with considerable controversy, in Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt in northern Quebec, Canada (4.28 billion years old). Hence, life on Earth may have emerged within 500 million years from its formation. That is astonishingly rapid.

    Was Earth an exception or the rule? What does that say for possible life on exoplanets?

    Our tour came to an end on July 11. We had traveled over 1,600 miles through Australia’s outback, from Western Australia’s biggest city Perth, all the way up to Port Hedland at the north coast. We were privileged to see the country in ways that very few people get a chance to, and to be steeped in the multidisciplinary sciences of astrobiology while seeing some of its iconic ground.

    I had seen some of the earliest evidence for life and the pivotal effect it had on our environment. For those 10 days I learned what it was like to be a time traveler.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    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.

     
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