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  • richardmitnick 5:18 pm on February 14, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA Flights Detect Millions of Arctic Methane Hotspots", , , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “NASA Flights Detect Millions of Arctic Methane Hotspots” 

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    February 13, 2020
    Jane Lee
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-0307

    Written by Esprit Smith, NASA’s Earth Science News Team

    1
    The image shows a thermokarst lake in Alaska. Thermokarst lakes form in the Arctic when permafrost thaws. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    ___________________________________________
    Knowing where emissions are happening and what’s causing them brings us a step closer to being able to forecast the region’s impact on global climate.
    ___________________________________________

    The Arctic is one of the fastest warming places on the planet. As temperatures rise, the perpetually frozen layer of soil, called permafrost, begins to thaw, releasing methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These methane emissions can accelerate future warming – but to understand to what extent, we need to know how much methane may be emitted, when and what environmental factors may influence its release.

    That’s a tricky feat. The Arctic spans thousands of miles, many of them inaccessible to humans. This inaccessibility has limited most ground-based observations to places with existing infrastructure – a mere fraction of the vast and varied Arctic terrain. Moreover, satellite observations are not detailed enough for scientists to identify key patterns and smaller-scale environmental influences on methane concentrations.

    In a new study, scientists with NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), found a way to bridge that gap. In 2017, they used planes equipped with the Airborne Visible Infrared Imaging Spectrometer – Next Generation (AVIRIS – NG), a highly specialized instrument, to fly over some 20,000 square miles (30,000 square kilometers) of the Arctic landscape in the hope of detecting methane hotspots. The instrument did not disappoint.

    “We consider hotspots to be areas showing an excess of 3,000 parts per million of methane between the airborne sensor and the ground,” said lead author Clayton Elder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “And we detected 2 million of these hotspots over the land that we covered.”

    The paper, titled “Airborne Mapping Reveals Emergent Power Law of Arctic Methane Emissions,” was published Feb. 10 in Geophysical Research Letters.

    Within the dataset, the team also discovered a pattern: On average, the methane hotspots were mostly concentrated within about 44 yards (40 meters) of standing bodies of water, like lakes and streams. After the 44-yard mark, the presence of hotspots gradually became sparser, and at about 330 yards (300 meters) from the water source, they dropped off almost completely.

    The scientists working on this study don’t have a complete answer as to why 44 yards is the “magic number” for the whole survey region yet, but additional studies they’ve conducted on the ground provide some insight.

    “After two years of ground field studies that began in 2018 at an Alaskan lake site with a methane hotspot, we found abrupt thawing of the permafrost right underneath the hotspot,” said Elder. “It’s that additional contribution of permafrost carbon – carbon that’s been frozen for thousands of years – that’s essentially contributing food for the microbes to chew up and turn into methane as the permafrost continues to thaw.”

    Scientists are just scratching the surface of what is possible with the new data, but their first observations are valuable. Being able to identify the likely causes of the distribution of methane hotspots, for example, will help them to more accurately calculate this greenhouse gas’s emissions across areas where we don’t have observations. This new knowledge will improve how Arctic land models represent methane dynamics and therefore our ability to forecast the region’s impact on global climate and global climate change impacts on the Arctic.

    Elder says the study is also a technological breakthrough.

    “AVIRIS-NG has been used in previous methane surveys, but those surveys focused on human-caused emissions in populated areas and areas with major infrastructure known to produce emissions,” he said. “Our study marks the first time the instrument has been used to find hotspots where the locations of possible permafrost-related emissions are far less understood.”

    More information on ABoVE can be found here:

    https://above.nasa.gov/

    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 [1], 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.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:36 pm on February 13, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA Prepares for Moon and Mars With New Addition to Its Deep Space Network", NASA JPL - Caltech, New Deep Space Station-23 at Goldstone   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “NASA Prepares for Moon and Mars With New Addition to Its Deep Space Network” 

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    February 11, 2020
    Andrew Good
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-2433
    andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

    Kathryn Hambleton
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1100
    kathryn.hambleton@nasa.gov

    1
    On Feb. 11, 2020, NASA, JPL, military and local officials broke ground in Goldstone, California, for a new antenna in the agency’s Deep Space Network, which communicates with all its deep space missions.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    2
    This artist’s concept shows what Deep Space Station-23, a new antenna dish capable of supporting both radio wave and laser communications, will look like when completed at the Deep Space Network’s Goldstone, California, complex.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    3
    Antenna dishes at NASA’s Deep Space Network complex in Goldstone, California, photographed on Feb. 11, 2020.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    ________________________________________

    Robotic spacecraft will be able to communicate with the dish using radio waves and lasers.
    ________________________________________

    Surrounded by California desert, NASA officials broke ground Tuesday, Feb. 11, on a new antenna for communicating with the agency’s farthest-flung robotic spacecraft. Part of the Deep Space Network (DSN), the 112-foot-wide (34-meter-wide) antenna dish being built represents a future in which more missions will require advanced technology, such as lasers capable of transmitting vast amounts of data from astronauts on the Martian surface. As part of its Artemis program NASA will send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024, applying lessons learned there to send astronauts to Mars.

    Using massive antenna dishes, the agency talks to more than 30 deep space missions on any given day, including many international missions. As more missions have launched and with more in the works, NASA is looking to strengthen the network. When completed in 2½ years, the new dish will be christened Deep Space Station-23 (DSS-23), bringing the DSN’s number of operational antennas to 13.

    “Since the 1960s, when the world first watched live pictures of humans in space and on the Moon, to revealing imagery and scientific data from the surface of Mars and vast, distant galaxies, the Deep Space Network has connected humankind with our solar system and beyond,” said Badri Younes, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for Space Communications and Navigation, or SCaN, which oversees NASA’s networks. “This new antenna, the fifth of six currently planned, is another example of NASA’s determination to enable science and space exploration through the use of the latest technology.”

    Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the world’s largest and busiest deep space network is clustered in three locations – Goldstone, California; Madrid, Spain; and Canberra , Australia – that are positioned approximately 120 degrees apart around the globe to enable continual contact with spacecraft as the Earth rotates. (This live tool lets viewers see which DSN dishes are sending up commands or receiving data at any given time.)

    NASA DSCC Goldstone Antenna California in the Mojave Desert, USA

    The Cebreros station (Deep Space Antenna 2), is located 77 kms west of Madrid, Spain. It hosts a 35-metre antenna. It provides routine support to deep-space missions including Mars Express, Gaia, and Rosetta

    NASA Deep Space Network Madrid Spain

    NASA Canberra, AU, Deep Space Network

    The first addition to Goldstone since 2003, the new dish is being built at the complex’s Apollo site, so named because its DSS-16 antenna supported NASA’s human missions to the Moon. Similar antennas have been built in recent years in Canberra, while two are under construction in Madrid.

    “The DSN is Earth’s one phone line to our two Voyager spacecraft – both in interstellar space – all our Mars missions and the New Horizons spacecraft that is now far past Pluto,” said JPL Deputy Director Larry James. “The more we explore, the more antennas we need to talk to all our missions.”

    NASA/Voyager 1

    NASA/Voyager 2

    ESA Mars Express

    NASA/Mars InSight Lander

    NASA Mars Reconnaisence Orbiter

    NASA/Mars Spirit Rover

    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover

    NASA Mars Global Surveyor

    NASA Mars MAVEN

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    While DSS-23 will function as a radio antenna, it will also be equipped with mirrors and a special receiver for lasers beamed from distant spacecraft. This technology is critical for sending astronauts to places like Mars. Humans there will need to communicate with Earth more than NASA’s robotic explorers do, and a Mars base, with its life support systems and equipment, would buzz with data that needs to be monitored.

    “Lasers can increase your data rate from Mars by about 10 times what you get from radio,” said Suzanne Dodd, director of the Interplanetary Network, the organization that manages the DSN. “Our hope is that providing a platform for optical communications will encourage other space explorers to experiment with lasers on future missions.”

    While clouds can disrupt lasers, Goldstone’s clear desert skies make it an ideal location to serve as a laser receiver about 60% of the time. A demonstration of DSS-23’s capabilities is around the corner: When NASA launches an orbiter called Psyche to a metallic asteroid in a few years, it will carry an experimental laser communications terminal developed by JPL.

    NASA Psyche spacecraft depiction

    Called the Deep Space Optical Communications project, this equipment will send data and images to an observatory at Southern California’s Palomar Mountain. But Psyche will also be able to communicate with the new Goldstone antenna, paving the way for higher data rates in deep space.

    For more information:

    https://deepspace.jpl.nasa.gov/

    https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/heo/scan/index.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 [1], 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.

     
  • richardmitnick 5:19 pm on January 27, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Tarantula Nebula Spins Web of Mystery in Spitzer Image", , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From NASA JPL Caltech: “Tarantula Nebula Spins Web of Mystery in Spitzer Image” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    January 27, 2020

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

    1
    This image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in two wavelengths of infrared light. The red regions indicate the presence of particularly hot gas, while the blue regions are interstellar dust that is similar in composition to ash from coal or wood-burning fires on Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope no longer in service

    The Tarantula Nebula, seen in this image by the Spitzer Space Telescope, was one of the first targets studied by the infrared observatory after its launch in 2003, and the telescope has revisited it many times since. Now that Spitzer is set to be retired on Jan. 30, 2020, scientists have generated a new view of the nebula from Spitzer data.

    This high-resolution image combines data from multiple Spitzer observations, most recently in February and September 2019.

    “I think we chose the Tarantula Nebula as one of our first targets because we knew it would demonstrate the breadth of Spitzer’s capabilities,” said Michael Werner, who has been Spitzer’s project scientist since the mission’s inception and is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “That region has a lot of interesting dust structures and a lot of star formation happening, and those are both areas where infrared observatories can see a lot of things that you can’t see in other wavelengths.”

    2
    Figure 1 This annotated image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in infrared light. The supernova 1987A and the starburst region R136 are noted. The magenta-colored regions are primarily interstellar dust that is similar in composition to ash from coal or wood fires on Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    This anotated image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Tarantula Nebula in three wavelengths of infrared light, each represented by a different color. The magenta-colored regions are dust composed of molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are also found in ash from coal, wood and oil fires on Earth. PAHs emit in multiple wavelengths. The PAHs emit in multiple wavelengths, so the magenta color is a combination of red (corresponding to an infrared wavelength of 8 micrometers) and blue (3.6 micrometers). The green color in this image shows the presence of particularly hot gas emitting infrared light at a wavelength of 4.5 micrometers. The stars in the image are mostly a combination of green and blue. White hues indicate regions that radiate in all three wavelengths.

    Figure 1 shows the location of Supernova 1987A and the starburst region R136 where massive stars form at a significantly higher rate than anywhere else in the galaxy.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    Infrared light is invisible to the human eye, but some wavelengths of infrared can pass through clouds of gas and dust where visible light cannot. So scientists use infrared observations to view newborn stars and still-forming “protostars,” swaddled in the clouds of gas and dust from which they formed.

    Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud – a dwarf galaxy gravitationally bound to our Milky Way galaxy – the Tarantula Nebula is a hotbed of star formation.

    Large Magellanic Cloud by by German astrophotographer Eckhard Slawik

    In the case of the Large Magellanic Cloud, such studies have helped scientists learn about rates of star formation in galaxies other than the Milky Way.

    The nebula also hosts R136, a “starburst” region, where massive stars form in extremely close proximity and at a rate far higher than in the rest of the galaxy. Within R136, in an area less than 1 light-year across (about 6 trillion miles, or 9 trillion kilometers), there are more than 40 massive stars, each containing at least 50 times the mass of our Sun. By contrast, there are no stars at all within 1 light-year of our Sun. Similar starburst regions have been found in other galaxies, containing dozens of massive stars – a higher number of massive stars than what is typically found in the rest of their host galaxies. How these starburst regions arise remains a mystery.

    On the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula, you can also find one of astronomy’s most-studied stars that has exploded in a supernova. Dubbed 1987A because it was the first supernova spotted in 1987, the exploded star burned with the power of 100 million Suns for months. The shockwave from that event continues to move outward into space, encountering material ejected from the star during its dramatic death.

    When the shockwave collides with dust, the dust heats up and begins to radiate in infrared light. In 2006, Spitzer observations saw that light and determined that the dust is largely composed of silicates, a key ingredient in the formation of rocky planets in our solar system. In 2019, scientists used Spitzer to study 1987A to monitor the changing brightness of the expanding shockwave and debris to learn more about how these explosions change their surrounding environment.
    _________________________________________________________________________-
    07.14.06
    Spitzer Spots Building Blocks of Life in Supernova Remnant

    3

    In 1987 a massive star exploded in a neighboring galaxy, an event called a supernova.

    This is an artist’s impression of the SN 1987A remnant. The image is based on real data and reveals the cold, inner regions of the remnant, in red, where tremendous amounts of dust were detected and imaged by ALMA. This inner region is contrasted with the outer shell, lacy white and blue circles, where the blast wave from the supernova is colliding with the envelope of gas ejected from the star prior to its powerful detonation. Image credit: ALMA / ESO / NAOJ / NRAO / Alexandra Angelich, NRAO / AUI / NSF.

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

    It was the closest supernova to Earth since the invention of the telescope centuries ago. Now, a team using the Spitzer Space Telescope and the 8-meter Gemini South infrared telescope in Chile have probed the supernova remnant and found the building blocks of rocky planets and all living creatures.

    Gemini/South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 7200 feet

    “Supernova 1987A is changing right before our eyes,” said Dr. Eli Dwek, a cosmic dust expert at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. For several years Dwek has been following this supernova, named 1987A for the year it was discovered in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring dwarf galaxy. “What we are seeing now is a milestone in the evolution of a supernova.”

    Using infrared telescopes, Dwek and his colleagues detected silicate dust created by the star from before it exploded. This dust survived the intense radiation from the explosion. Nearly 20 years onward, the supernova shock wave blasting through the debris that was shed by the star prior to its fiery death is now sweeping up this dust, making the material “visible” to infrared detectors.

    Dust — chemical particles and crystals finer than beach sand — is both a frustration and a fascination for astronomers. Dust can obscure observations of distant stars. Yet dust is the stuff from which all solid bodies are formed. This is why dust research, as bland as it sounds, is one of the most important topics in astronomy and astrobiology.

    Dust is made in stars and hurled into space by stellar winds and supernovae, and it is found everywhere in the universe. But little is known about its origin and the processes that affect it. How much dust is made in a star? How much survives the star explosion and subsequent journey through interstellar space? And how do wispy dust clouds form planets and ultimately life?

    These are the questions that scientists such as Eli Dwek and his colleague Dr. Patrice Bouchet of the Observatoire de Paris want to answer. With 1987A, they have a perfect laboratory to watch the process unfold.

    This is new territory for astronomers, said Bouchet, whose research team made infrared observations of SN 1987A with the Gemini South telescope in Chile. Bouchet’s team is witnessing processes never before seen. This is the first time scientists have direct evidence of dust from a large star surviving a supernova; the first time they detect cold dust intermingled in hot, X-ray-emitting gas of millions of degrees; and the first time they are witnessing sputtering, the process in which dust is eroded by collisions with hot gas.

    They frankly don’t know what to expect, and they have already stumbled upon a few surprises.

    Infrared telescopes are crucial for this kind of observation. The dust is over a hundred degrees below the freezing point of water and too cold to emit visible light. Infrared is a less-energetic form of radiation than visible light. So while optical telescopes like Hubble can see gas, infrared instruments, similar to night-vision goggles, are needed to see the cold, dark dust.

    Through high-resolution infrared imaging with the 8-meter Gemini South telescope, the science team determined that the dust is in the region of the equatorial ring of gas around SN 1987A. This ring of gas and dust, about a light year across, is expanding only very slowly. This suggests that the ring was shed by the star about 600,000 years before it exploded, and that the dust in the ring was formed in the stellar wind and not in the following supernova explosion.

    The blast wave from the star’s explosion has now caught up with the ring. The collision has shocked the gas and raised the gas temperature to 10 million degrees, which heats the dust, causing it to glow at infrared wavelengths.

    “This much was expected,” said Bouchet. “The collision between the ejecta of Supernova 1987A and the equatorial ring was predicted to occur sometime in the interval of 1995 to 2007, and it is now underway.”

    With the location of the dust determined, the scientists used the fine eye of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to determine the composition of the dust. To their great surprise, the dust was pure silicate particles.

    Another key finding is that the team has detected far less dust than expected. A star as massive as the one that blew apart in SN 1987A likely produced more silicate dust in the years before the supernova. The under-abundance of dust detected by Spitzer and Gemini South could mean that supernova blast waves destroy more dust than thought possible. If confirmed, this will have broad implications for determining dust origins throughout the universe.

    Yet this is a work in progress. “Overall, we are witnessing the interaction of the supernova blast wave with its surrounding medium, creating an environment that is rapidly evolving at all wavelengths,” said Bouchet.

    For that reason scientists are planning a series of new infrared, optical, and X-ray observations of SN 1987A with Spitzer, Hubble and Chandra, NASA’s three Great Observatories, now that the supernova has once again become very interesting. Who knows what will be revealed once the dust settles?

    _________________________________________________________________________-

    More From Spitzer

    To see more amazing images from Spitzer, check out the NASA Selfies App, which has a bundle of new Spitzer images. Available for iOS and Android, the app lets you create a snapshot of yourself in a virtual spacesuit, posing in front of gorgeous cosmic locations, including the Tarantula Nebula. Its simple interface lets you snap a photo of yourself, pick your background and share on social media while also providing you some of the science behind the images.

    For an even more immersive Spitzer experience, check out the new Spitzer Final Voyage VR experience, which places you in a 360-degree starscape that replicates Spitzer’s current location orbiting the Sun, about 160 million miles (260 million kilometers) behind Earth. The narrated video shows you how the infrared telescope operates and what the universe looks like in infrared light. The VR experience is viewable on the Spitzer YouTube channel using mobile-based VR headsets, and in the Exoplanets Excursion VR app via Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets.

    More information about Spitzer is available at the following site:

    https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/spitzer/main

    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 12:36 pm on January 25, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "For Hottest Planet a Major Meltdown Study Shows", , , , , Exoplanet KELT-9b, NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “For Hottest Planet, a Major Meltdown, Study Shows” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    January 24, 2020

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

    Written by Pat Brennan

    1
    Artist’s impression of exoplanet KELT-9b orbiting its host star, KELT-9
    5 June 2017
    NASA/JPL-Caltech
    NASA

    In the scorching atmosphere of exoplanet KELT-9b, even molecules are torn to shreds.

    Massive gas giants called “hot Jupiters” – planets that orbit too close to their stars to sustain life – are some of the strangest worlds found beyond our solar system. New observations show that the hottest of them all is stranger still, prone to planetwide meltdowns so severe they tear apart the molecules that make up its atmosphere.

    Called KELT-9b, the planet is an ultra-hot Jupiter, one of several varieties of exoplanets – planets around other stars – found in our galaxy. It weighs in at nearly three times the mass of our own Jupiter and orbits a star some 670 light-years away. With a surface temperature of 7,800 degrees Fahrenheit (4,300 degrees Celsius) – hotter than some stars – this planet is the hottest found so far.

    Now, a team of astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer space telescope has found evidence that the heat is too much even for molecules to remain intact.

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    Molecules of hydrogen gas are likely ripped apart on the dayside of KELT-9b, unable to re-form until their disjointed atoms flow around to the planet’s nightside.

    Though still extremely hot, the nightside’s slight cooling is enough to allow hydrogen gas molecules to reform – that is, until they flow back to the dayside, where they’re torn apart all over again.

    “This kind of planet is so extreme in temperature, it is a bit separate from a lot of other exoplanets,” said Megan Mansfield, a graduate student at the University of Chicago and lead author of a new paper revealing these findings. “There are some other hot Jupiters and ultra-hot Jupiters that are not quite as hot but still warm enough that this effect should be taking place.”

    The findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters [also see this paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters], showcase the rising sophistication of the technology and analysis needed to probe these very distant worlds. Science is just beginning to peer into the atmospheres of exoplanets, examining the molecular meltdowns of the hottest and brightest.

    KELT-9b will stay firmly categorized among the uninhabitable worlds. Astronomers became aware of its extremely hostile environment in 2017, when it was first detected using the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope (KELT) system – a combined effort involving observations from two robotic telescopes, one in southern Arizona and one in South Africa.

    KELT South robotic telescope, Southerland, South Africa, jointly operated by Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Lehigh universities

    KELT Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope at WINER Observatory in Arizona, USA c J.Peppe, operated by Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Lehigh universities

    In The Astrophysical Journal Letters study, the science team used the Spitzer space telescope to parse temperature profiles from this infernal giant. Spitzer, which makes observations in infrared light, can measure subtle variations in heat. Repeated over many hours, these observations allow Spitzer to capture changes in the atmosphere as the planet presents itself in phases while orbiting the star. Different halves of the planet roll into view as it orbits around its star.

    That allowed the team to catch a glimpse of the difference between KELT-9b’s dayside and its “night.” In this case, the planet orbits its star so tightly that a “year” – once around the star – takes only 1 1/2 days. That means the planet is tidally locked, presenting one face to its star for all time (as our Moon presents only one face to Earth). On the far side of KELT-9b, nighttime lasts forever.

    But gases and heat flow from one side to the other. A big question for researchers trying to understand exoplanet atmospheres is how radiation and flow balance each other out.

    Computer models are major tools in such investigations, showing how these atmospheres are likely to behave in different temperatures. The best fit for the data from KELT-9b was a model that included hydrogen molecules being torn apart and reassembled, a process known as dissociation and recombination.

    “If you don’t account for hydrogen dissociation, you get really fast winds of [37 miles or] 60 kilometers per second,” Mansfield said. “That’s probably not likely.”

    KELT-9b turns out not to have huge temperature differences between its day- and nightsides, suggesting heat flow from one to the other. And the “hot spot” on the dayside, which is supposed to be directly under this planet’s star, was shifted away from its expected position. Scientists don’t know why – yet another mystery to be solved on this strange, hot planet.

    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 3:11 pm on January 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI on the Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope located in San Diego County California USA   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “NESSI Emerges as New Tool for Exoplanet Atmospheres” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    January 23, 2020
    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    626-808-2469
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Written by Elizabeth Landau

    Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope, Altitude 1,713 m (5,620 ft), located in San Diego County, California, United States

    The infrared instrument at Palomar Observatory’s Hale Telescope holds the promise of deepening our understanding of planets beyond our Sun.

    The darkness surrounding the Hale Telescope breaks with a sliver of blue sky as the dome begins to open, screeching with metallic, sci-fi-like sounds atop San Diego County’s Palomar Mountain. The historic observatory smells of the oil pumped in to support the bearings that make this giant telescope float ever so slightly as it moves to track the stars.

    Since February 2018, scientists have been testing an instrument at the Hale Telescope called the New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument, or NESSI.

    New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI on the Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope,located in San Diego County, California, United States

    A collaboration between NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, NESSI was built to examine the atmospheres of planets that orbit stars beyond our Sun, or exoplanets, providing new insights into what these worlds are like.

    So far, NESSI has checked out two “hot Jupiters,” massive gas giants orbiting close to their stars and too scorching to sustain life. One, called HD 189773b, has such extreme temperatures and winds that it may rain glass sideways there. The other, WASP-33b, has a “sunscreen” layer of atmosphere, with molecules that absorb ultraviolet and visible light.

    Recently, NESSI observed these planets crossing their host stars, proving the instrument would be able to help confirm possible planets previously observed by other telescopes. Now it is ready for more detailed studies of distant cousins of our solar system. And while the instrument is designed to look at planets much larger than Earth, NESSI’s methods could be used to search for Earth-size planets someday as well once future technologies become available.

    “NESSI is a powerful tool to help us meet the family,” said Mark Swain, an astrophysicist and the JPL lead for NESSI. “Twenty-five years ago, to our best knowledge, we thought we were alone. Now we know that – at least in terms of planets – we’re not, and that this family is extensive and very diverse.”

    Why NESSI

    NESSI views the galaxy in infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. It stares at individual stars to observe the dimming of light as a planet passes in front of its host star – an event called a transit. From the transit, astronomers can learn how big the planet is relative to its host star. When the planet passes directly behind the star and re-emerges, it’s called an eclipse. NESSI can look for signatures of molecules from the planet’s atmosphere detectable in starlight before and after the eclipse.

    Inside NESSI, devices that focus infrared light spread it into a rainbow, or spectrum, filtering it for particular wavelengths that relate to the atmospheric chemistry of distant planets.

    “We can pick out the parts of the spectrum where the molecules are, because that’s really what we’re looking for in the infrared in these exoplanets – molecular signatures of things like carbon dioxide and water and methane to tell us that there’s something interesting going on in that particular planet,” said Michelle Creech-Eakman, principal investigator for NESSI at New Mexico Tech.

    NESSI is equipped to follow up on discoveries from other observatories such as NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

    NASA/MIT TESS replaced Kepler in search for exoplanets

    TESS scans the entire sky in visible light for planets around bright, nearby stars, but the planet candidates it discovers must be confirmed through other methods. That is to make sure these signals TESS detects actually come from planet transits, not other sources.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    NESSI can also help bridge the science between TESS and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2021.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    The largest, most complex space observatory ever to fly, Webb will study individual planets to learn about their atmospheres and whether they contain molecules associated with habitability. But since Webb’s time will be precious, scientists want to point it only at the most interesting and accessible targets. For example, if NESSI sees no molecular signatures around a planet, that implies clouds are blocking its atmosphere, making it unlikely to be a good target for Webb.

    “This helps us see if a planet is clear or cloudy or hazy,” said Rob Zellem, an astrophysicist and the JPL commissioning lead on NESSI. “And if it’s clear, we’ll see the molecules. And if then we see the molecules, they’ll say, ‘Hey, it’s a great target to look at with James Webb or Hubble or anything else.'”

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    A Window to the Galaxy

    NESSI began as a concept in 2008 when Swain visited Creech-Eakman’s astrobiology class at New Mexico Tech. Over coffee, Swain told his colleague about exoplanet observations he had done with a ground-based telescope that didn’t turn out well. Creech-Eakman realized a different instrument combined with the right telescope could accomplish Swain’s goals. On a napkin, the two sketched an idea for what would become NESSI.

    They designed the instrument for the Magdalena Ridge Observatory in Magdalena, New Mexico.

    3
    2.4-meter Telescope at Magdalena Ridge, Magdalena, New Mexico, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro County, New Mexico, USA, Altitude 3,230 m (10,600 ft)

    But once the researchers began using it in April 2014, the instrument didn’t work as expected.

    Swain suggested moving NESSI to Palomar’s 200-inch Hale Telescope, which is much larger and more powerful – and also more accessible for the team. Owned and operated by Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA, Palomar has designated observing nights for researchers from JPL.

    Relocating NESSI – a 5-foot-tall (1.5-meter-tall) blue, cylindrical device with wires coming out of it – wasn’t just a matter of placing it on a truck and driving southwest. The electrical and optical systems needed to be reworked for its new host and then tested again. NESSI also needed a way to communicate with a different telescope, so University of Arizona doctoral student Kyle Pearson developed software to operate the instrument at Palomar. By early 2018, NESSI was ready to climb the mountain.

    A crane lifted NESSI more than 100 feet (30 meters) to the top of the Hale Telescope on Feb. 1, 2018. Technicians installed the instrument in a “cage” at the Hale’s prime focus, which enables all of the light from the 530-ton telescope to be funneled into NESSI’s detectors.

    The team celebrated NESSI’s glimpse of its first star on Feb. 2, 2018, but between limited telescope time and fickle weather, more than a year of testing and troubleshooting would pass (never mind the time the decades-old lift got stuck as Zellem and Swain ascended to the telescope cage).

    “We track down the problems and we fix them. That’s the name of the game,” Creech-Eakman said.

    As the team continued making adjustments in 2019, Swain tapped a local high school student to design a baffle – a cylindrical device to help direct more light to NESSI’s sensors. This piece was then 3D-printed in JPL’s machine shop.

    When NESSI finally detected transiting planets on Sept. 11, 2019, the team didn’t pause to pop open champagne. Researchers are now working out the measurements of HD 189773b’s atmosphere. The team has also compiled a list of exoplanets they want to go after next.

    “It’s really rewarding, finally, to see all of our hard work is paying off and that we’re getting NESSI to work,” Zellem said. “It’s been a long journey, and it’s really gratifying to see this happen, especially in real time.”

    See the full article here .


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    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 2:25 pm on January 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, NESSI observed its first exoplanet signatures on Sept. 11 2019 proving its readiness for further studies., New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “Up All Night: NESSI Comes to Life at Palomar Observatory” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    January 23, 2020

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

    Elizabeth Landau
    Headquarters, Washington
    818-359-3241
    elandau@jpl.nasa.gov


    Caltech Palomar 200 inch Hale Telescope, located in San Diego County, California, US, at 1,712 m (5,617 ft)

    On Feb. 2, 2018, a handful of researchers began testing an instrument called the New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument, or NESSI, at the historic 200-inch Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory in Southern California. NESSI is designed to look at the atmospheres of exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

    New Mexico Exoplanet Spectroscopic Survey Instrument or NESSI

    Here’s what that first night of testing was like:

    4:00 p.m. The NESSI team united for an early dinner at the dormitory called “the monastery” before driving to the telescope. Principal investigator Michelle Creech-Eakman, who grew up under the clear skies of North Dakota, has spent hundreds of nights at Palomar, so she’s familiar with the overnight-astronomy lifestyle. Working there as a Caltech postdoctoral researcher, she once accidentally scared a herd of cows in her quests to tame the mysteries of stars and planets.

    5:20 p.m. Sunset. The telescope dome, with proportions similar to Rome’s Pantheon, opened, synchronized with the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which Rob Zellem, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, jokingly played on his phone. Afterward, he climbed up to the outdoor catwalk to admire the fiery sky for a few minutes.

    5:36 p.m. The team convened in the observing room, adjacent to the dome, taking images called “sky flats” to calibrate NESSI using the light of the sky itself. This is so the team can understand how each pixel of NESSI’s detector responds to incoming light. If astronomers spot inconsistencies from pixel to pixel, they can adjust for them and subtract out “noise” when making real observations.

    Around 5:49 p.m. NESSI’s detectors were exposed to the sky at Palomar for the first time. To the untrained eye it looked like black-and-white static with lines through it on an old TV.

    Around 6:10 p.m. NESSI saw its first star, Alpha Perseus. A round of applause resounded in the observation room. Zellem’s excitement was palpable. “It’s one thing to see it in a lab; it’s another to see a real star,” he said.

    But the team was just getting started. NESSI’s many components needed to be calibrated and examined – so many that Creech-Eakman didn’t expect to get actual data from a star tonight. Zellem opened a bag of turkey jerky for the long night ahead.

    NESSI at first delivered a strange pattern of pixels on Zellem’s computer screen. The researchers examined a star called Eta Aurigae to compare its appearance to Alpha Perseus in NESSI’s field of view and tried to figure out whether the changes in brightness were due to NESSI’s detector or to the thin clouds rolling in.

    8:50 p.m. The team got an error message when they tried to get a stellar spectrum, the array of lines corresponding to different wavelengths of light a star produces. When they took the image again, it worked – but not as expected. With clouds coming in and out of view, getting a clear image would prove difficult.

    The troubleshooting continued through the next hour. “I think we’re missing something fundamental,” Creech-Eakman said.

    Just before 11 p.m. Creech-Eakman and Zellem decided on a new target: a star called Capella. It’s here they realized that the star needed to be in a different part of NESSI’s field of view. With a 10-second exposure, they were at last able to see part of a spectrum. And as they adjusted the positioning of the star with respect to NESSI, the full spectrum came into view. The team exploded in applause.

    Around 2 a.m. Because of clouds, they stopped and ceded the rest of the time to another group of astronomers. By then, the NESSI team had noted a variety of unexpected behavior from the instrument that they would need to investigate in the light of day.

    As with all new technologies, NESSI presented its researchers with challenges that had no immediate solutions, and there’s no manual to follow or help line to call. But the evening was a tremendous success in taking stock of NESSI’s components and functions. After an additional year-and-a-half of tweaking, testing and observing, NESSI observed its first exoplanet signatures on Sept. 11, 2019, proving its readiness for further studies.

    Between the picturesque mountaintop setting and the engineering marvel of the “Big Eye” Hale Telescope itself, Creech-Eakman doesn’t mind making more trips to Palomar Observatory. It’s been a special place for her since her Caltech days, when she worked there on someone else’s experiment.

    “My father had a small telescope that he had built, and I got to use that when I was little. He had made the mirrors himself – all of it,” she said. “To bring my own instrument to a place like this is – I really don’t have words.”

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    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 11:35 am on January 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, , ,   

    From Science Node: “How does a planet form?” 

    Science Node bloc
    From Science Node

    15 Jan, 2020
    Jan Zverina

    New simulations of terrestrial planet formation raise questions about the ingredients of life.

    1
    Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA JPL


    Most of us are taught in grade school how planets come to be: dust particles clump together and over millions of years continue to collide until one is formed. This lengthy and complicated process was recently modeled using a novel approach with the help of the Comet [below] supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

    SDSC Triton HP supercomputer

    SDSC Gordon-Simons supercomputer

    SDSC Dell Comet supercomputer

    2
    Accumulations of dust, like this disk around a young star, may eventually become planets. A new study models this complicated process. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    The modeling enabled scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to implement a new software package, which in turn allowed them to create a simulation of planet formation that provides a new baseline for future studies of this mysterious field.

    “Specifically, we modeled the formation of terrestrial planets such as Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars,” said Kevin Walsh, SwRI researcher and lead author of the paper published in the Icarus Journal.

    “The problem of planet formation is to start with a huge amount of very small dust that interacts on super-short timescales (seconds or less), and the Comet-enabled simulations finish with the final big collisions between planets that continue for 100 million years or more.”

    What’s out there? And who?

    As Earthlings, these models give us insight into the key physics and timescales involved in our own solar system, according to the researchers. They also allow us to better understand how common planets such as ours could be in other solar systems. This may also mean that environments similar to Earth may exist.

    “One big consideration is these models traced the material in the solar system that we know is rich with water, and seeing what important mechanisms can bring those to Earth and where they would have done so.”

    3
    Two large rocky bodies collide. New simulation models give insight into key physics and timescales involved in the formation of our own solar system. Courtesy Gemini Observatory/AURA.

    Studying the formation and evolution of the solar system—events that happened over four billion years ago–helps shed light on the distribution of different material throughout the solar system, explained Walsh.

    “While some of these tracers of solar system history are slight differences in the molecular makeup of different rocks, other differences can be vast and include the distribution of water-rich asteroids. Knowing the history and compositions of these smaller bodies could one day help as more distant and ambitious space travel may require harvesting some of their materials for fuel.”

    How did Comet (the supercomputer) help?

    The number, sizes, and times of the physics of planet formation makes it impossible to model in a single code or simulation. As the researchers learned more about the formation process, they realized that where one starts these final models (i.e. how many asteroids or proto-planets and their locations in a solar system) is very important, and that past models to produce those initial conditions were most likely flawed.

    4
    Simulation of formation of terrestrial planets. Top row shows how eccentric each particle’s orbit is at the four times of 1, 2, 10 and 20 million years (where “eccentric” relates to the orbit’s elongation, where 0 is circular and 1 is a straight line). Black circles are particles that have grown to reach the mass of the Earth’s Moon. Bottom row shows the radius of each particle as a function of its distance from the Sun at the same four times. The black particles are again those that are as massive as the Moon, and the coloring of the particles relates to the mass (and radius). These glimpses show how the smaller particles are quickly gobbled up by the growing planets and that the planets stir and re-shape the orbits of the smaller bodies shown by their increases in eccentricity. Courtesy Kevin Walsh, Southwest Research Institute.

    “In this work we finally deployed a new piece of software that can model a much larger swath of this problem and start with the solar system full of 50 to 100-kilometer asteroids and build them all the way to planets and consider the complications of the gas disk around the sun and the effects of collisions blasting apart some of the material,” said Walsh.

    “We needed a supercomputer such as Comet to be able to crunch the huge amount of calculations required to complete the models and the power of this supercomputer allows us to dream up even bigger problems to attack in the future.”

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Science Node is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, Science Node is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

    You can read Science Node via our homepage, RSS, or email. For the complete iSGTW experience, sign up for an account or log in with OpenID and manage your email subscription from your account preferences. If you do not wish to access the website’s features, you can just subscribe to the weekly email.”

     
  • richardmitnick 7:48 am on January 10, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Ice Giant Spacecraft of Our Dreams", , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech via Eos: “The Ice Giant Spacecraft of Our Dreams” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    via

    From AGU
    Eos news bloc

    Eos

    7 January 2020
    Kimberly M. S. Cartier

    1
    The hypothetical dream spacecraft flies over Uranus and past its rings and moons, too. Credit: JoAnna Wendel

    If you could design your dream mission to Uranus or Neptune, what would it look like?

    Would you explore the funky terrain on Uranus’s moon Miranda? Or Neptune’s oddly clumpy rings? What about each planet’s strange interactions with the solar wind?

    2
    The dream spacecraft’s innovative technologies would enable a comprehensive exploration of an entire ice giant system. Credit: JoAnna Wendel.

    Why pick just one, when you could do it all?

    Planetary scientists recently designed a hypothetical mission to one of the ice giant planets in our solar system. They explored what that dream spacecraft to Uranus could look like if it incorporated the newest innovations and cutting-edge technologies.

    “We wanted to think of technologies that we really thought, ‘Well, they’re pushing the envelope,’” said Mark Hofstadter, a senior scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “It’s not crazy to think they’d be available to fly 10 years from now.” Hofstadter is an author of the internal JPL study, which he discussed at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2019 on 11 December.

    Some of the innovations are natural iterations of existing technology, Hofstadter said, like using smaller and lighter hardware and computer chips. Using the most up-to-date systems can shave off weight and save room on board the spacecraft. “A rocket can launch a certain amount of mass,” he said, “so every kilogram less of spacecraft structure that you need, that’s an extra kilogram you could put to science instruments.”

    Nuclear-Powered Ion Engine

    The dream spacecraft combines two space-proven technologies into one brand-new engine, called radioisotope electric propulsion (REP).

    A spacecraft works much like any other vehicle. A battery provides the energy to run the onboard systems and start the engine. The power moves fuel through the engine, where it undergoes a chemical change and provides thrust to move the vehicle forward.

    3
    Credit: JoAnna Wendel

    In the dream spacecraft, the battery gets its energy from the radioactive decay of plutonium, which is the preferred energy source for traveling the outer solar system where sunlight is scarce. Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Cassini, and New Horizons all used a radioisotope power source but used hydrazine fuel in a chemical engine that quickly flung them to the far reaches of the solar system.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    NASA/Voyager 2

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    The dream spacecraft’s ion engine uses xenon gas as fuel: The xenon is ionized, a nuclear-powered electric field accelerates the xenon ions, and the xenon exits the craft as exhaust. The Deep Space 1 and Dawn missions used this type of engine but were powered by large solar panels that work best in the inner solar system where those missions operated.

    Xenon gas is very stable. A craft can carry a large amount in a compressed canister, which lengthens the fuel lifetime of the mission. REP “lets us explore all areas of an ice giant system: the rings, the satellites, and even the magnetosphere all around it,” Hofstadter said. “We can go wherever we want. We can spend as much time as we want there….It gives us this beautiful flexibility.”

    A Self-Driving Spacecraft

    With REP, the dream spacecraft could fly past rings, moons, and the planet itself about 10 times slower than a craft with a traditional chemical combustion engine. Moving at a slow speed, the craft could take stable, long-exposure, high-resolution images. But to really make the most of the ion engine, the craft needs onboard automatous navigation.

    “We don’t know precisely where the moon or a satellite of Uranus is, or the spacecraft [relative to the moon],” Hofstadter said. Most of Uranus’s satellites have been seen only from afar, and details about their size and exact orbits remain unclear. “And so because of that uncertainty, you always want to keep a healthy distance between your spacecraft and the thing you’re looking at just so you don’t crash into it.”

    “But if you trust the spacecraft to use its own camera to see where the satellite is and adjust its orbit so that it can get close but still miss the satellite,” he said, “you can get much closer than you can when you’re preparing flybys from Earth” at the mercy of a more than 5-hour communications delay.

    That level of onboard autonomous navigation hasn’t been attempted before on a spacecraft. NASA’s Curiosity rover has some limited ability to plot a path between destinations, and the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) will be able to detect hazards and abort its sample retrieval attempt.

    The dream spacecraft would be more like a self-driving car. It would know that it needs to do a flyby of Ophelia, for example. It would then plot its own low-altitude path over the surface that visits points of interest like chaos terrain. It would also navigate around unexpected hazards like jagged cliffs. If the craft misses something interesting, well, there’s always enough fuel for another pass.

    A Trio of Landers

    With extra room on board from sleeker electronics, plus low-and-slow flybys from the REP and autonomous navigation, the dream spacecraft could carry landers to Uranus’s moons and easily drop them onto the surface.

    4
    Credit: JoAnna Wendel

    “We designed a mission to carry three small landers that we could drop on any of the satellites,” Hofstadter said. The size, shape, and capabilities of the landers could be anything from simple cameras to a full suite of instruments to measure gravity, composition, or even seismicity.

    The dream spacecraft could survey all 27 of Uranus’s satellites, from its largest, Titania, to its smallest, Cupid, only 18 kilometers across. The mission team could then decide the best way to deploy the landers.

    “We don’t have to decide in advance which satellites we put them on,” he said. “We can wait until we get there. We might decide to put all the landers on one satellite to make a little seismic network to look for moonquakes and study the interior. Or maybe when we get there we’ll decide we’d rather put a lander on three different satellites.”

    “Ice”-ing on a Cake

    The scientists who compiled the internal study acknowledged that it’s probably unrealistic to incorporate all of these innovative technologies into one mission. Doing so would involve a lot of risk and a lot of cost, Hofstadter said. Moreover, existing space-tested technology that has flown on Cassini, New Horizons, and Juno can certainly deliver exciting ice giant science, he said. These innovations could augment such a spacecraft.

    At the moment, there is no NASA mission under consideration to explore either Uranus or Neptune. In 2017, Hofstadter and his team spoke with urgency about the need for a mission to one of the ice giant planets and now hope that these technologies of the future might inspire a mission proposal.

    “It’s almost like icing on the cake,” he said. “We were saying, If you adopted new technologies, what new things could you hope to do that would enhance the scientific return of this mission?”

    See the full article here .


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    Eos is the leading source for trustworthy news and perspectives about the Earth and space sciences and their impact. Its namesake is Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, who represents the light shed on understanding our planet and its environment in space by the Earth and space sciences.

    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 8:54 pm on January 7, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "SOFIA Reveals How the Swan Nebula Hatched", , NASA JPL - Caltech, ,   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech and SOFIA: “SOFIA Reveals How the Swan Nebula Hatched” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    and

    NASA/DLR SOFIA
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    NASA SOFIA
    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    January 7, 2020

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

    Written by Kassandra Bell
    USRA SOFIA Science Center

    1
    In this composite image of the Omega, or Swan, Nebula, SOFIA detected the blue areas near the center and the green areas. The white star field was detected by Spitzer. SOFIA’s view reveals evidence that parts of the nebula formed separately to create the swan-like shape seen today.Credit: NASA/SOFIA/Lim, De Buizer, & Radomski et al.; ESA/Herschel; NASA/JPL-Caltech

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    ESA/Herschel spacecraft active from 2009 to 2013

    One of the brightest and most massive star-forming regions in our galaxy, the Omega, or Swan, Nebula, came to resemble the shape resembling a swan’s neck we see today only relatively recently. New observations reveal that its regions formed separately over multiple eras of star birth. The new image from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, is helping scientists chronicle the history and evolution of this well-studied nebula.

    “The present-day nebula holds the secrets that reveal its past; we just need to be able to uncover them,” said Wanggi Lim, a Universities Space Research Association scientist at the SOFIA Science Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “SOFIA lets us do this, so we can understand why the nebula looks the way it does today.”

    Uncovering the nebula’s secrets is no simple task. It’s located more than 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. Its center is filled with more than 100 of the galaxy’s most massive young stars. These stars may be many times the size of our Sun, but the youngest generations are forming deep in cocoons of dust and gas, where they are very difficult to see, even with space telescopes. Because the central region glows very brightly, the detectors on space telescopes were saturated at the wavelengths SOFIA studied, similar to an overexposed photo.

    SOFIA’s infrared camera called FORCAST, the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, however, can pierce through these cocoons.

    NASA/DLR SOFIA Forcast

    The new view reveals nine protostars, areas where the nebula’s clouds are collapsing and creating the first step in the birth of stars, that had not been seen before. Additionally, the team calculated the ages of the nebula’s different regions. They found that portions of the swan-like shape were not all created at the same time, but took shape over multiple eras of star formation.

    The central region is the oldest, most evolved and likely formed first. Next, the northern area formed, while the southern region is the youngest. Even though the northern area is older than the southern region, the radiation and stellar winds from previous generations of stars has disturbed the material there, preventing it from collapsing to form the next generation.

    “This is the most detailed view of the nebula we have ever had at these wavelengths,” said Jim De Buizer, a senior scientist also at the SOFIA Science Center. “It’s the first time we can see some of its youngest, massive stars and start to truly understand how it evolved into the iconic nebula we see today.”

    Massive stars, like those in the Swan Nebula, release so much energy that they can change the evolution of entire galaxies. But less than 1% of all stars are this enormous, so astronomers know very little about them. Previous observations of this nebula with space telescopes studied different wavelengths of infrared light, which did not reveal the details SOFIA detected.

    SOFIA’s image shows gas in blue as it’s heated by massive stars located near the center, and dust in green that is warmed both by existing massive stars and nearby newborn stars. The newly-detected protostars are located primarily in the southern areas. The red areas near the edge represent cold dust that was detected by the Herschel Space Telescope, while the white star field was detected by the Spitzer Space Telescope.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope will be decommissioned on Jan. 30, 2020, after operating for more than 16 years. SOFIA continues exploring the infrared universe, building on Spitzer’s legacy. SOFIA studies wavelengths of mid- and far-infrared light with high resolution that are not accessible to other telescopes, helping scientists understand star and planet formation, the role magnetic fields play in shaping our universe, and the chemical evolution of galaxies.

    SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 106-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, California.

    JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Space operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    Herschel is a European Space Agency mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. While the observatory stopped making science observations in April 2013, after running out of liquid coolant as expected, scientists continue to analyze its data. NASA’s Herschel Project Office is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. JPL contributed mission-enabling technology for two of Herschel’s three science instruments. The NASA Herschel Science Center, part of IPAC, supports the U.S. astronomical community. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    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 10:22 am on January 5, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Aquatic Rover Goes for a Drive Under the Ice", An underwater rover called BRUIE is being tested in Antarctica to look for life under the ice., , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “Aquatic Rover Goes for a Drive Under the Ice” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    November 18, 2019

    Arielle Samuelson
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-0307
    arielle.a.samuelson@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    An underwater rover called BRUIE is being tested in Antarctica to look for life under the ice. Developed by engineers at NASA-JPL, the robotic submersible could one day explore ice-covered oceans on moons like Europa and Enceladus. BRUIE is pictured here in an arctic lake near Barrow, Alaska in 2015.

    2
    BRUIE will spend the next month testing its endurance in the icy waters near Casey Station, Antarctica. The rover uses its buoyancy to anchor itself to the ice and roll along it upside down on two wheels.

    A little robotic explorer will be rolling into Antarctica this month to perform a gymnastic feat – driving upside down under sea ice.

    BRUIE, or the Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration, is being developed for underwater exploration in extraterrestrial, icy waters by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It will spend the next month testing its endurance at Australia’s Casey research station in Antarctica, in preparation for a mission that could one day search for life in ocean worlds beyond Earth.

    There are moons throughout the solar system believed to be covered in deep oceans hidden beneath thick, frozen surfaces. Scientists like Kevin Hand, JPL lead scientist on the BRUIE project, believe that these lunar oceans, such as those on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, may be the best places to look for life in our solar system. But first, they’ll need a tough aquatic explorer capable of navigating solo through an alien ocean locked under ice sheets that could be 6 to 12 miles (10 to 19 kilometers) thick.

    “The ice shells covering these distant oceans serve as a window into the oceans below, and the chemistry of the ice could help feed life within those oceans. Here on Earth, the ice covering our polar oceans serves a similar role, and our team is particularly interested in what is happening where the water meets the ice,” said Hand.

    The Antarctic waters are the closest Earth analog to the seas of an icy moon, which makes them an ideal testing ground for BRUIE technology. Three feet (1 meter) long and equipped with two wheels to roll along beneath the ice, the buoyant rover can take images and collect data on the important region where water and ice meet, what scientists call the “ice-water interface.”

    “We’ve found that life often lives at interfaces, both the sea bottom and the ice-water interface at the top. Most submersibles have a challenging time investigating this area, as ocean currents might cause them to crash, or they would waste too much power maintaining position,” said lead engineer Andy Klesh. “BRUIE, however, uses buoyancy to remain anchored against the ice and is impervious to most currents. In addition, it can safely power down, turning on only when it needs to take a measurement, so that it can spend months observing the under-ice environment.”

    During several Antarctic field tests, the rover will remain tethered to the surface as Hand, Klesh, mechanical engineer Dan Berisford and University of Western Australia engineer Dan Arthur test its suite of instruments, including its two live, high-definition cameras.

    “BRUIE will carry several science instruments to measure parameters related to life, such as dissolved oxygen, water salinity, pressure and temperature,” said Berisford, who will attach the science instruments if early tests go well. But life on other worlds like Enceladus and Europa may be difficult to measure. “Once we get there,” he added, “we only really know how to detect life similar to that on Earth. So it’s possible that very different microbes might be difficult to recognize.”

    While the team has previously tested BRUIE in Alaska and the Arctic, this is the rover’s first trial in Antarctica. Supported by the Australian Antarctic Program, the crew will travel to lakes and the seashore near Casey station, where they will drill holes in the ice in order to submerge BRUIE. The rover could even make some friends – curious penguins and seals sometimes investigate when the science teams drill through the ice.

    The team will continue to work on BRUIE until it can survive under the ice for months at a time, remotely navigate without a tether and explore the ocean at greater depths. NASA is already at work constructing the Europa Clipper orbiter, which is scheduled to launch in 2025 to study Jupiter’s moon Europa, laying the groundwork for a future mission that could search for life beneath the ice.

    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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