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  • richardmitnick 2:07 pm on July 12, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Binary asteroid 2017 YE5, , Goldstone Solar System Radar, , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From JPL Caltech: “Observatories Team Up to Reveal Rare Double Asteroid” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    July 12, 2018

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-1821
    Calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

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

    1
    Artist’s concept of what binary asteroid 2017 YE5 might look like. The two objects showed striking differences in radar reflectivity, which could indicate that they have different surface properties.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    2
    Observatories Team Up to Reveal Rare Double Asteroid
    Artist’s illustration of the trajectory of asteroid 2017 YE5 through the solar system. At its closest approach to Earth, the asteroid came to within 16 times the distance between Earth and the moon.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    3
    Observatories Team Up to Reveal Rare Double Asteroid
    This optical composite image shows asteroid 2017 YE5, taken on June 30, 2018, by the Cadi Ayyad University Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey, one of the first surveys to identify 2017 YE5 in December 2017. Credit: Cadi Ayyad University Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey

    New observations by three of the world’s largest radio telescopes have revealed that an asteroid discovered last year is actually two objects, each about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in size, orbiting each other.


    Three of the world’s largest radio telescopes team up to show a rare double asteroid. 2017 YE5 is only the fourth binary near-Earth asteroid ever observed in which the two bodies are roughly the same size, and not touching. This video shows radar images of the pair gathered by Goldstone Solar System Radar, Arecibo Observatory and Green Bank Observatory.

    NASA DSCC Goldstone Antenna California in the Mojave Desert, USA

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

    Green Bank Radio Telescope, West Virginia, USA

    Near-Earth asteroid 2017 YE5 was discovered with observations provided by the Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey on Dec. 21, 2017, but no details about the asteroid’s physical properties were known until the end of June. This is only the fourth “equal mass” binary near-Earth asteroid ever detected, consisting of two objects nearly identical in size, orbiting each other. The new observations provide the most detailed images ever obtained of this type of binary asteroid.

    On June 21, the asteroid 2017 YE5 made its closest approach to Earth for at least the next 170 years, coming to within 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) of Earth, or about 16 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. On June 21 and 22, observations by NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar (GSSR) in California showed the first signs that 2017 YE5 could be a binary system. The observations revealed two distinct lobes, but the asteroid’s orientation was such that scientists could not see if the two bodies were separate or joined. Eventually, the two objects rotated to expose a distinct gap between them.

    Scientists at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico had already planned to observe 2017 YE5, and they were alerted by their colleagues at Goldstone of the asteroid’s unique properties. On June 24, the scientists teamed up with researchers at the Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in West Virginia and used the two observatories together in a bi-static radar configuration (in which Arecibo transmits the radar signal and Green Bank receives the return signal). Together, they were able to confirm that 2017 YE5 consists of two separated objects. By June 26, both Goldstone and Arecibo had independently confirmed the asteroid’s binary nature.

    The new observations obtained between June 21 and 26 indicate that the two objects revolve around each other once every 20 to 24 hours. This was confirmed with visible-light observations of brightness variations by Brian Warner at the Center for Solar System Studies in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

    Radar imaging shows that the two objects are larger than their combined optical brightness originally suggested, indicating that the two rocks do not reflect as much sunlight as a typical rocky asteroid. 2017 YE5 is likely as dark as charcoal. The Goldstone images taken on June 21 also show a striking difference in the radar reflectivity of the two objects, a phenomenon not seen previously among more than 50 other binary asteroid systems studied by radar since 2000. (However, the majority of those binary asteroids consist of one large object and a much smaller satellite.) The reflectivity differences also appear in the Arecibo images and hint that the two objects may have different densities, compositions near their surfaces, or different surface roughnesses.

    Scientists estimate that among near-Earth asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) in size, about 15 percent are binaries with one larger object and a much smaller satellite. Equal-mass binaries like 2017 YE5 are much rarer. Contact binaries, in which two similarly sized objects are in contact, are thought to make up another 15 percent of near-Earth asteroids larger than 650 feet (200 meters) in size.

    The discovery of the binary nature of 2017 YE5 provides scientists with an important opportunity to improve understanding of different types of binaries and to study the formation mechanisms between binaries and contact binaries, which may be related. Analysis of the combined radar and optical observations may allow scientists to estimate the densities of the 2017 YE5 objects, which will improve understanding of their composition and internal structure, and of how they formed.

    Study contributors

    The Goldstone observations were led by Marina Brozovi?, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    Anne Virkki, Flaviane Venditti and Sean Marshall of the Arecibo Observatory and the University of Central Florida led the observations using the Arecibo Observatory.

    Patrick Taylor of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute, led the bi-static radar observations with GBO, home of the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope.

    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.

    In addition to the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids, the PDCO also partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based astronomers, and space science institutes across the country, often with grants, interagency transfers and other contracts from NASA. They also collaborate with international space agencies and institutions that are working to track and better understand these smaller objects of the Solar System. In addition, NASA values the work of numerous highly skilled amateur astronomers, whose accurate observational data helps improve asteroid orbits after discovery.

    More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at these sites:

    https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov

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

    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 12:01 pm on July 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam Germany, LRI-laser ranging interferometer, , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From JPL-Caltech: “First Laser Light for GRACE Follow-On” Really Cool Applied Research 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-0474
    Alan.Buis@jpl.nasa.gov

    Esprit Smith
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-4269
    Esprit.Smith@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    Artist’s rendering of the twin spacecraft of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, scheduled to launch in May [update required]. GRACE-FO will track the evolution of Earth’s water cycle by monitoring changes in the distribution of mass on Earth.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    2
    As NASA/German Research Centre for Geosciences GRACE-FO orbits (ground track at bottom; north is to the right) the distance between the two spacecraft changes very slightly (top) as the mass below changes (middle, shown as changes in ground elevation). Credit: B. Knispel/G.Heinzel/AEI/GFZ/NASA/JPL-Caltech/SRTM

    The laser ranging interferometer (LRI) instrument has been successfully switched on aboard the recently launched twin U.S./German Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) satellites. The LRI, which is being flown as a technology demonstration, has made its first measurements in parallel with GRACE-FO’s main microwave ranging instrument, and initial comparisons of the data from the two types of instruments show that they agree as expected.

    “The LRI is a breakthrough for precision distance measurements in space,” said LRI Instrument Manager Kirk McKenzie of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which manages NASA’s contribution to the instrument. “It’s the first inter-spacecraft laser interferometer and the culmination of about a decade of NASA- and German-funded research and development.”

    The GRACE-FO mission, launched on May 22, continues the work of the original GRACE mission of monitoring phenomena such as the melting of ice sheets and changes in groundwater levels by tracking the changing pull of gravity on the GRACE-FO satellites. The microwave ranging interferometer records these changes in gravity by measuring how they change the distance between the twin spacecraft. By accurately measuring these minute changes as the two spacecraft orbit the planet, scientists are able to calculate month-to-month variations in Earth’s gravity field. The LRI is an enabling technology for future GRACE-FO-like missions with potential to significantly improve the accuracy of those missions. The instrument is jointly managed by JPL and the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Hanover, Germany.

    Seeing the light

    The LRI’s “first light” operation took place over two days. On June 13, the two GRACE-FO satellites began sweeping their lasers in spiral patterns in search of each other. Gerhard Heinzel, leader of the space interferometry research group at the Albert Einstein Institute and manager of the German contribution to the LRI, explained the challenge: “There are coin-sized holes on each satellite through which the laser has to be precisely pointed towards the holes in the other satellite over a distance of more than 200 kilometers [137 miles], while both spacecraft race around Earth at 27,000 kilometers an hour [16,000 miles per hour]. It is truly mind-boggling.” (Here is a fuller explanation of how the LRI operates.)

    In the data that were downlinked the next day, it was clear that each spacecraft had seen several flashes of light during the spiral scans, indicating both LRI instruments received light from the opposite spacecraft and were working as expected. The settings needed to establish a continuous laser link were calculated and uploaded to the satellites, and the LRI delivered its first intersatellite range data at a later downlink that day.

    “The plan for establishing the laser link worked exactly as designed. In fact, the laser link locked in on the first attempt,” said Christopher Woodruff, the LRI mission operations lead at JPL.

    In the coming weeks and months, the GRACE-FO research team will work on fine-tuning the operation of this novel instrument and completing their understanding of the data it delivers.

    The fine print

    GRACE-FO is a partnership between NASA and German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany. JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Additional contributors to the laser ranging interferometer include SpaceTech in Immenstaad, Germany; Tesat-Spacecom in Backnang, Germany; Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado; iXblue in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France; the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics in Adlershof and Institute of Space Systems in Bremen; Hensoldt Optronics in Oberkochen; Apcon AeroSpace and Defence in Neubiberg/Munich; Diamond USA, Inc., and Diamond SA in Losone, Switzerland; and Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen.

    For more information on the LRI, see:

    http://www.aei.mpg.de/2277280/first-light-for-grace-follow-on-laser-interferometer

    For more information about GRACE-FO, see:

    https://www.nasa.gov/gracefo

    https://gracefo.jpl.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, 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 10:20 am on June 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Asks: Will We Know Life When We See It?, NASA JPL - Caltech, ,   

    From JPL-Caltech and U Washington: “NASA Asks: Will We Know Life When We See It?” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    June 25, 2018
    NASA:

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-393-1821
    Calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov 2018-147

    U Washington
    Peter Kelley

    From JPL-Caltech

    1
    This image is an artist’s conception of what life could look like on the surface of a distant planet. Credit: NASA

    2
    Life can leave “fingerprints” of its presence in the atmosphere and on the surface of a planet. These potential signs of life, or biosignatures, can be detected with telescopes. Credit: NASA/Aaron Gronstal

    3
    Abiotic processes can fool us into thinking a barren planet is alive. Rather than measuring a single characteristic of a planet, we should consider a suite of traits to build the case for life. Credit: NASA/Aaron Gronstal

    4
    NASA Asks: Will We Know Life When We See It?
    Since the data we collect from planets will be limited, scientists will quantify how likely a planet has life based on all the available evidence. Follow-up observations are required for confirmation. Credit: NASA/Aaron Gronstal

    In the last decade, we have discovered thousands of planets outside our solar system and have learned that rocky, temperate worlds are numerous in our galaxy. The next step will involve asking even bigger questions. Could some of these planets host life? And if so, will we be able to recognize life elsewhere if we see it?

    A group of leading researchers in astronomy, biology and geology has come together under NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science, or NExSS, to take stock of our knowledge in the search for life on distant planets and to lay the groundwork for moving the related sciences forward.

    “We’re moving from theorizing about life elsewhere in our galaxy to a robust science that will eventually give us the answer we seek to that profound question: Are we alone?” said Martin Still, an exoplanet scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

    In a set of five review papers published last week in the scientific journal Astrobiology, NExSS scientists took an inventory of the most promising signs of life, called biosignatures. The paper authors include four scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. They considered how to interpret the presence of biosignatures, should we detect them on distant worlds. A primary concern is ensuring the science is strong enough to distinguish a living world from a barren planet masquerading as one.

    The assessment comes as a new generation of space and ground-based telescopes are in development. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will characterize the atmospheres of some of the first small, rocky planets. There are plans for other observatories — such as the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope, both in Chile — to carry sophisticated instruments capable of detecting the first biosignatures on faraway worlds.

    Through their work with NExSS, scientists aim to identify the instruments needed to detect potential life for future NASA flagship missions. The detection of atmospheric signatures of a few potentially habitable planets may possibly come before 2030, although determining whether the planets are truly habitable or have life will require more in-depth study.

    Since we won’t be able to visit distant planets and collect samples anytime soon, the light that a telescope observes will be all we have in the search for life outside our solar system. Telescopes can examine the light reflecting off a distant world to show us the kinds of gases in the atmosphere and their “seasonal” variations, as well as colors like green that could indicate life.

    These kinds of biosignatures can all be seen on our fertile Earth from space, but the new worlds we examine will differ significantly. For example, many of the promising planets we have found are around cooler stars, which emit light in the infrared spectrum, unlike our sun’s high emissions of visible-light.

    “What does a living planet look like?” said Mary Parenteau, an astrobiologist and microbiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and a co-author. “We have to be open to the possibility that life may arise in many contexts in a galaxy with so many diverse worlds — perhaps with purple-colored life instead of the familiar green-dominated life forms on Earth, for example. That’s why we are considering a broad range of biosignatures.”

    The scientists assert that oxygen — the gas produced by photosynthetic organisms on Earth — remains the most promising biosignature of life elsewhere, but it is not foolproof. Abiotic processes on a planet could also generate oxygen. Conversely, a planet lacking detectable levels of oxygen could still be alive – which was exactly the case of Earth before the global accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere.

    “On early Earth, we wouldn’t be able to see oxygen, despite abundant life,” said Victoria Meadows, an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle and lead author of one of the papers. “Oxygen teaches us that seeing, or not seeing, a single biosignature is insufficient evidence for or against life — overall context matters.”

    Rather than measuring a single characteristic, the NExSS scientists argue that we should be looking at a suite of traits. A planet must show itself capable of supporting life through its features, and those of its parent star.

    The NExSS scientists will create a framework that can quantify how likely it is that a planet has life, based on all the available evidence. With the observation of many planets, scientists may begin to more broadly classify the “living worlds” that show common characteristics of life, versus the “non-living worlds.”

    “We won’t have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to finding life elsewhere,” said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and a co-author. “What we will have is a high level of confidence that a planet appears alive for reasons that can only be explained by the presence of life.”

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    June 25, 2018

    For more information, contact
    Victoria Meadows at vsm@astro.washington.edu or
    Catling at dcatling@uw.edu.

    Researchers with the University of Washington-led Virtual Planetary Laboratory are central to a group of papers published by NASA researchers in the journal Astrobiology outlining the history — and suggesting the future — of the search for life on exoplanets, or those orbiting stars other than the sun.

    The research effort is coordinated by NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet Systems Science, or NExSS, a worldwide network dedicated to finding new ways to study the age-old question: “Are we alone?”

    A theme through the research and the discussions behind it is the need to consider planets in an integrated way, involving multiple disciplines and perspectives.

    “For life to be detectable on a distant world it needs to strongly modify its planet in a way that we can detect,” said UW astronomy professor Victoria Meadows, lead author of one of the papers and principle investigator of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, or VPL for short. “But for us to correctly recognize life’s impact, we also need to understand the planet and star — that environmental context is key.”

    Work done by NExSS researchers will help identify the measurements and instruments needed to search for life using future NASA flagship missions. The detection of atmospheric signatures of a few potentially habitable planets may possibly come before 2030, although whether the planets are truly habitable or have life will require more in-depth study.

    The papers result from two years of effort by some of the world’s leading researchers in astrobiology, planetary science, Earth science, heliophysics, astrophysics, chemistry and biology, including several from the UW and the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, or VPL. The coordinated work was born of online meetings and an in-person workshop held in Seattle in July of 2016.

    The pace of exoplanet discoveries has been rapid, with over 3,700 detected since 1992. NASA formed the international NExSS network to focus a variety of disciplines on understanding how we can characterize and eventually search for signs of life, called biosignatures, on exoplanets.

    The NExSS network has furthered the field of exoplanet biosignatures and “fostered communication between researchers searching for signs of life on solar system bodies with those searching for signs of life on exoplanets,” said Niki Parenteau, an astrobiologist and microbiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, and a VPL team member. “This has allowed for sharing of ‘lessons learned’ by both communities.”

    The first of the papers [links for all papers are below] reviews types of signatures astrobiologists have proposed as ways to identify life on an exoplanet. Scientists plan to look for two major types of signals: One is in the form of gases that life produces, such as oxygen made by plants or photosynthetic microbes. The other could come from the light reflected by life itself, such as the color of leaves or pigments.

    Such signatures can be seen on Earth from orbit, and astronomers are studying designs of telescope concepts that may be able to detect them on planets around nearby stars. Meadows is a co-author, and lead author is Edward Schwieterman, a VPL team member who earned his doctorate in astronomy and astrobiology from the UW and is now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Riverside.

    Meadows is lead author of the second review paper, which discusses recent research on “false positives” and “false negatives” for biosignatures, or ways nature could “trick” scientists into thinking a planet without life was alive, or vice versa.

    In this paper, Meadows and co-authors review ways that a planet could make oxygen abiotically, or without the presence of life, and how planets with life may not have the signature of oxygen that is abundant on modern-day Earth.

    The paper’s purpose, Meadows said, was to discuss these changes in our understanding of biosignatures and suggest “a more comprehensive” treatment. She said: “There are lots of things in the universe that could potentially put two oxygen atoms together, not just photosynthesis — let’s try to figure out what they are. Under what conditions are they are more likely to happen, and how can we avoid getting fooled?”

    Schwieterman is a co-author on this paper, as well as UW doctoral students Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, Russell Deitrick and Andrew Lincowski.

    With such advance thinking, scientists are now better prepared to distinguish false positives from planets that truly do host life.

    Two more papers show how scientists try to formalize the lessons we have learned from Earth, and expand them to the wide diversity of worlds we have yet to discover.

    David Catling, UW professor of Earth and space sciences, is lead author on a paper that proposes a framework for assessing exoplanet biosignatures, considering such variables as the chemicals in the planet’s atmosphere, the presence of oceans and continents and the world’s overall climate. Doctoral student Joshua Krissansen-Totton is a co-author.

    By combining all this information in systematic ways, scientists can analyze whether data from a planet can be better explained statistically by the presence of life, or its absence.

    “If future data from an exoplanet perhaps suggest life, what approach can distinguish whether the existence of life is a near-certainty or whether the planet is really as dead as a doornail?” said Catling. “Basically, NASA asked us to work out how to assign a probability to the presence of exoplanet life, such as a 10, 50 or 90 percent chance. Our paper presents a general method to do this.”

    The data that astronomers collect on exoplanets will be sparse. They will not have samples from these distant worlds, and in many cases will study the planet as a single point of light. By analyzing these fingerprints of atmospheric gases and surfaces embedded in that light, they will discern as much as possible about the properties of that exoplanet.

    “Because life, planet, and parent star change with time together, a biosignature is no longer a single target but a suite of system traits,” said Nancy Kiang, a biometeorologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a VPL team member. She said more biologists and geologists will be needed to interpret observations “where life processes will be adapted to the particular environmental context.”

    The final article discusses the ground-based and space-based telescopes that astronomers will use to search for life beyond the solar system. This includes a variety of observatories, from those in operation today to ones that will be built decades in the future.

    Taken together, this cluster of papers explains how the exoplanet community will evolve from their current assessments of the sizes and orbits of these faraway worlds, to thorough analysis of their chemical composition and eventually whether they harbor life.

    “I’m excited to see how this research progresses over the coming decades,” said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, and a VPL team member. He is also a co-author on four of the five papers.

    “NExSS has created a diverse network of scientists. That network will allow the community to more rigorously assess planets for biosignatures than would have otherwise been possible.”

    NExSS is an interdisciplinary, cross-divisional NASA research coordination network.

    Science papers in journal Astrobiology:

    Exoplanet Biosignatures: At the Dawn of a New Era of Planetary Observations
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: Understanding Oxygen as a Biosignature in the Context of Its Environment
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: A Review of Remotely Detectable Signs of Life
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: A Framework for Their Assessment
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: Observational Prospects
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: Future Directions

    See the full NASA article here .
    See the full U Washington 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 8:41 am on May 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, Pale Blue Dot, Wall-E and Eva CubeSats   

    From JPL-Caltech via EarthSky: “Wall-E and Eva set record, snag pic” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    1

    From EarthSky

    May 17, 2018
    Deborah Byrd

    The 1st-ever interplanetary CubeSats – nicknamed Wall-E and Eva – are now on their way to Mars. They set a new CubeSat distance record on May 8. Then Wall-E turned back and grabbed an image of the Earth and moon.

    1
    This is the 1st distant image of the Earth and moon ever captured by a CubeSat. MarCO-B – nicknamed Wall-E by spacecraft engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory – acquired this image on May 9, 2018. Image via NASA JPL-Caltech.

    The Voyager 1 spacecraft took a classic portrait of Earth – the famous Pale Blue Dot image – from several billion miles away in 1990.

    4
    Pale Blue Dot. https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00452

    2
    Pale Blue Dot. SETI

    NASA/Voyager 1

    On May 9, 2018, two tiny, boxy spacecraft known as CubeSats – nicknamed Wall-E and Eva by spaceflight engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California – took their own version of a pale blue dot image, capturing Earth and its moon in one shot.

    This is the Mars Cube One or MarCO mission, launched on May 5 along with NASA’s InSight lander. InSight will touch down on Mars this November and study the planet’s deep interior for the first time.

    NASAMars Insight Lander

    The two little spacecraft are the first CubeSats ever to travel to interplanetary space. Most never go beyond Earth orbit; they generally stay below 497 miles (800 km) above the planet. Originally developed to teach university students about satellites, these modular mini-satellites are now a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

    On May 8, Wall-E and Eva set a new distance record (for CubeSats) when they reached 621,371 miles (~1 million km) from Earth. Then Wall-E – aka Mars Cube One B or MarCO-B – used a fisheye camera to snap its first photo on May 9. That photo – which you see above – is part of the process used by the engineering team to confirm the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna has unfolded properly.

    Andy Klesh, the MarCO project’s chief engineer at JPL, said:

    “Consider it our homage to Voyager.”

    3
    Awesome shot of Insight Mars launch – with the MarCos on board – on May 5, 2018. Despite fog at the launch site, photographer Alex Ustick in California was one of many who caught Insight climbing to space. Notice Jupiter!

    NASA explained Wall-E and Eva’s role in the Insight mission:

    “The MarCO CubeSats will follow along behind InSight during its cruise to Mars. Should they make it all the way to Mars, they will radio back data about InSight while it enters the atmosphere and descends to the planet’s surface. The high-gain antennas are key to that effort; the MarCO team have early confirmation that the antennas have successfully deployed, but will continue to test them in the weeks ahead.

    InSight won’t rely on the MarCO mission for data relay. That job will fall to NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. But the MarCOs could be a pathfinder so that future missions can “bring their own relay” to Mars. They could also demonstrate a number of experimental technologies, including their antennas, radios and propulsion systems, which will allow CubeSats to collect science in the future.”

    Later this month, NASA said, the MarCOs will attempt the first trajectory correction maneuvers ever performed by CubeSats. NASA explained:

    “This maneuver lets them steer towards Mars, blazing a trail for CubeSats to come.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    stem

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

    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 12:17 pm on May 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA, ULA Launch Mission to Study How Mars Was Made” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    May 5, 2018

    D.C. Agle / Andrew Good
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-5011
    agle@jpl.nasa.gov / andrew.c.good@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

    1

    The NASA InSight spacecraft launches onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas-V rocket, Saturday, May 5, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander designed to study the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

    2
    This image shows the trail of NASA’s Mars InSight lander over the Los Angeles area after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018. This is a stack of exposures taken from Mt. Wilson. Credit: D. Ellison

    NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission is on a 300-million-mile (483-million-kilometer) trip to Mars to study for the first time what lies deep beneath the surface of the Red Planet. InSight launched at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT) Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

    NASA Mars Insight Lander

    “The United States continues to lead the way to Mars with this next exciting mission to study the Red Planet’s core and geological processes,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I want to congratulate all the teams from NASA and our international partners who made this accomplishment possible. As we continue to gain momentum in our work to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, missions like InSight are going to prove invaluable.”

    First reports indicate the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket that carried InSight into space was seen as far south as Carlsbad, California, and as far east as Oracle, Arizona. One person recorded video of the launch from a private aircraft flying along the California coast.

    Riding the Centaur second stage of the rocket, the spacecraft reached orbit 13 minutes and 16 seconds after launch. Sixty-one minutes later, the Centaur ignited a second time, sending InSight on a trajectory toward the Red Planet. InSight separated from the Centaur about 9 minutes later — 93 minutes after launch — and contacted the spacecraft via NASA’s Deep Space Network at 5:41 a.m. PDT (8:41 a.m. EDT).

    “The Kennedy Space Center and ULA teams gave us a great ride today and started InSight on our six-and-a-half-month journey to Mars,” said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’ve received positive indication the InSight spacecraft is in good health and we are all excited to be going to Mars once again to do groundbreaking science.”

    With its successful launch, NASA’s InSight team now is focusing on the six-month voyage. During the cruise phase of the mission, engineers will check out the spacecraft’s subsystems and science instruments, making sure its solar arrays and antenna are oriented properly, tracking its trajectory and performing maneuvers to keep it on course.

    InSight is scheduled to land on the Red Planet around 3 p.m. EST (noon PST) Nov. 26, where it will conduct science operations until Nov. 24, 2020, which equates to one year and 40 days on Mars, or nearly two Earth years.

    “Scientists have been dreaming about doing seismology on Mars for years. In my case, I had that dream 40 years ago as a graduate student, and now that shared dream has been lofted through the clouds and into reality,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at JPL.

    The InSight lander will probe and collect data on marsquakes, heat flow from the planet’s interior and the way the planet wobbles, to help scientists understand what makes Mars tick and the processes that shaped the four rocky planets of our inner solar system.

    “InSight will not only teach us about Mars, it will enhance our understanding of formation of other rocky worlds like Earth and the Moon, and thousands of planets around other stars,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington. “InSight connects science and technology with a diverse team of JPL-led international and commercial partners.”

    Previous missions to Mars investigated the surface history of the Red Planet by examining features like canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil, but no one has attempted to investigate the planet’s earliest evolution, which can only be found by looking far below the surface.

    “InSight will help us unlock the mysteries of Mars in a new way, by not just studying the surface of the planet, but by looking deep inside to help us learn about the earliest building blocks of the planet,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins.

    JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The InSight spacecraft, including cruise stage and lander, was built and tested by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch service acquisition, integration, analysis, and launch management. United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, is NASA’s launch service provider.

    A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Göttingen, Germany. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument.

    For more information about InSight, and to follow along on its flight to Mars, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/insight

    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 4:24 pm on April 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA JPL - Caltech, Our planet’s ever-changing water cycle and ice sheets and crust, Twin GRACE-FO satellites   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Twin Spacecraft to Weigh in on Earth’s Changing Water” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    April 30, 2018

    Steve Cole
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0918
    stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-0474
    alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov

    A pair of new spacecraft that will observe our planet’s ever-changing water cycle, ice sheets, and crust is in final preparations for a California launch no earlier than Saturday, May 19. The Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) mission, a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ), will take over where the first GRACE mission left off when it completed its 15-year mission in 2017.

    NASA/DLR Grace

    1
    Illustration of the new NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE-FO) spacecraft, which will track changes in the distribution of Earth’s mass, providing insights into climate, Earth system processes and the impacts of some human activities. GRACE-FO is a partnership between NASA and the German Research Centre for Geosciences. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    GRACE-FO will continue monitoring monthly changes in the distribution of mass within and among Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and ice sheets, as well as within the solid Earth itself. These data will provide unique insights into Earth’s changing climate, Earth system processes and even the impacts of some human activities, and will have far-reaching benefits to society, such as improving water resource management.

    “Water is critical to every aspect of life on Earth – for health, for agriculture, for maintaining our way of living,” said Michael Watkins, GRACE-FO science lead and director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “You can’t manage it well until you can measure it. GRACE-FO provides a unique way to measure water in many of its phases, allowing us to manage water resources more effectively.”

    Like GRACE, GRACE-FO will use an innovative technique to observe something that can’t be seen directly from space. It uses the weight of water to measure its movement – even water hidden far below Earth’s surface. GRACE-FO will do this by very precisely measuring the changes in the shape of Earth’s gravity field caused by the movement of massive amounts of water, ice, and solid Earth.

    “When water is underground, it’s impossible to directly observe from space. There’s no picture you can take or radar you can bounce off the surface to measure changes in that deep water,” said Watkins. “But it has mass, and GRACE-FO is almost the only way we have of observing it on large scales. Similarly, tracking changes in the total mass of the polar ice sheets is also very difficult, but GRACE-FO essentially puts a ‘scale’ under them to track their changes over time.”

    3
    At the Harris facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, one of the twin GRACE-FO satellites is integrated with the multi-satellite dispenser structure that will be used to deploy the satellites during launch. Credits: Airbus.

    A Legacy of Discoveries

    GRACE-FO will extend the GRACE data record an additional five years and expand its legacy of scientific achievements. GRACE chronicled the ongoing loss of mass from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and mountain glaciers. That wealth of data shed light on the key processes, short-term variability, and long-term trends that impact sea level rise, helping to improve sea level projections. The estimates of total water storage on land derived from GRACE data, from groundwater changes in deep aquifers to changes in soil moisture and surface water, are giving water managers new tools to measure the impact of droughts and monitor and forecast floods.

    GRACE data also have been used to infer changes in deep ocean currents, a driving force in Earth’s climate. Its atmospheric temperature profile data, derived from measurements of how signals from the constellation of GPS satellites were bent as they traveled through the atmosphere and received by antennas on the GRACE satellites, have contributed to U.S. and European weather forecast products. GRACE data have even been used to measure changes within the solid Earth itself, including the response of Earth’s crust to the retreat of glaciers since the last Ice Age, and the impact of large earthquakes.

    According to Frank Webb, GRACE-FO project scientist at JPL, the new mission will provide invaluable observations of long-term climate-related mass changes.

    “The only way to know for sure whether observed multi-year trends represent long-term changes in mass balance is to extend the length of the observations,” Webb said.

    An Orbiting Cat and Mouse

    Like its predecessors, the two identical GRACE-FO satellites will function as a single instrument. The satellites orbit Earth about 137 miles (220 kilometers) apart, at an initial altitude of about 305 miles (490 kilometers). Each satellite continually sends microwave signals to the other to accurately measure changes in the distance between them. As they fly over a massive Earth feature, such as a mountain range or underground aquifer, the gravitational pull of that feature tugs on the satellites, changing the distance separating them. By tracking changes in their separation distance with incredible accuracy – to less than the thickness of a human hair – the satellites are able to map these regional gravity changes.

    A global positioning system receiver is used to track each spacecraft’s position relative to Earth’s surface, and onboard accelerometers record non-gravitational forces on the spacecraft, such as atmospheric drag and solar radiation. These data are combined to produce monthly maps of the regional changes in global gravity and corresponding near-surface mass variations, which primarily reflect changes in the distribution of water mass in Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land and ice sheets.

    In addition, GRACE-FO will test an experimental Laser Ranging Interferometer, an instrument that could increase the precision of measurements between the two spacecraft, by a factor of 10 or more, for future missions similar to GRACE. The interferometer, developed by a German/American instrument team, will be the first in-space demonstration of laser interferometry between satellites.

    “The Laser Ranging Interferometer is an excellent example of a great partnership,” said Frank Flechtner, GFZ’s GRACE-FO project manager. “I’m looking forward to analyzing these innovative inter-satellite ranging data and their impact on gravity field modeling.”

    GRACE-FO will be launched into orbit with five Iridium NEXT communications satellites on a commercially procured SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This unique “rideshare” launch will first deploy GRACE-FO, then the Falcon 9 second stage will continue to a higher orbit to deploy the Iridium satellites.

    GRACE-FO continues a successful partnership between NASA and Germany’s GFZ, with participation by the German Aerospace Center (DLR). JPL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information on GRACE-FO, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/gracefo

    See the full article here .

    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 2:24 pm on April 25, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: HOSTS survey, NASA JPL - Caltech, Stellar Dust Survey Paves Way for Exoplanet Missions, U Arizona Large Binocular Telescope   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Stellar Dust Survey Paves Way for Exoplanet Missions” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    April 25, 2018

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-1821
    Calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Doug Carroll
    University of Arizona, Tucson
    520-621-9017
    dougcarroll@email.arizona.edu

    1
    This artist’s concept illustrates what the night sky might look like from a hypothetical alien planet in a star system with an asteroid belt 25 times as massive as the one in our own solar system.

    NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope found evidence for such a belt around the nearby star called HD 69830, when its infrared eyes spotted dust, presumably from asteroids banging together. The telescope did not find any evidence for a planet in the system, but astronomers speculate one or more may be present.

    The movie [?’ begins at dusk on the imaginary world, when HD 69830, like our Sun, has begun to set over the horizon. Time is sped up to show the onset of night and the appearance of a brilliant band of light. This light comes from dust in a massive asteroid belt, which scatters sunlight.

    In our solar system, anybody observing the skies on a moonless night far from city lights can see the sunlight that is scattered by dust in our asteroid belt. Called zodiacal light and sometimes the “false dawn,” this light appears as a dim band stretching up from the horizon when the Sun is about to rise or set. The light is faint enough that the disk of our Milky Way galaxy remains the most prominent feature in the sky. (The Milky Way disk is shown perpendicular to the zodiacal light in both pictures.)

    In contrast, the zodiacal light in the HD 69830 system would be 1,000 times brighter than our own, outshining even the Milky Way.

    U Arizona Large Binocular Telescope, Mount Graham, Arizona, USA, Altitude 3,221 m (10,568 ft) The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, or LBTI, is a ground-based instrument connecting two 8-meter class telescopes on Mount Graham in Arizona to form the largest single-mount telescope in the world. The interferometer is designed to detect and study stars and planets outside our solar system Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Veils of dust wrapped around distant stars could make it difficult for scientists to find potentially habitable planets in those star systems. The Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Systems, or HOSTS, survey was tasked with learning more about the effect of dust on the search for new worlds. The goal is to help guide the design of future planet-hunting missions. In a new paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, HOSTS scientists report on the survey’s initial findings.

    Using the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer, or LBTI, on Mount Graham in Arizona, the HOSTS survey determines the brightness of warm dust floating in the orbital planes of other stars (called exozodiacal dust). In particular, HOSTS has studied dust in nearby stars’ habitable zones, where liquid water could exist on the surface of a planet. The LBTI is five to 10 times more sensitive than the previous telescope capable of detecting exozodiacal dust, the Keck Interferometer Nuller.

    Among the findings detailed in the new paper, the HOSTS scientists report that a majority of Sun-like stars in their survey do not possess high levels of dust — good news for future efforts to study potentially-habitable planets around those stars. A final report on the full HOSTS survey results is expected early next year.

    More information about the new findings from HOSTS and the search for Earthlike planets beyond our solar system is available in this news release from the University of Arizona.

    The LBTI is funded by NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program office and managed by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL is a division of Caltech, also in Pasadena. Six JPL scientists co-authored the new research paper. The LBTI is an international collaboration among institutions in the U.S., Italy and Germany, and it is managed and headquartered at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

    NASA is taking a multifaceted approach to finding and studying planets outside our solar system. On April 18, NASA launched its newest planet-hunting observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which is expected to find thousands of new exoplanets, mostly around stars smaller than our Sun.

    NASA/TESS

    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 11:56 am on April 22, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: NASA JPL - Caltech, , NASA's NEOWISE Asteroid-Hunter Spacecraft -- Four Years of Data   

    From NASA/WISE via JPL/Caltech: “NASA’s NEOWISE Asteroid-Hunter Spacecraft — Four Years of Data” 

    NASA Wise Banner

    NASA/WISE Telescope

    NASA/WISE

    April 20, 2018

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

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

    1
    This movie shows the progression of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) investigation for the mission’s first four years following its restart in December 2013. Green dots represent near-Earth objects. Gray dots represent all other asteroids which are mainly in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Yellow squares represent comets. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/PSI

    NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) mission has released its fourth year of survey data. Since the mission was restarted in December 2013, after a period of hibernation, the asteroid- and comet-hunter has completely scanned the skies nearly eight times and has observed and characterized 29,375 objects in four years of operations. This total includes 788 near-Earth objects and 136 comets since the mission restart.

    Near-Earth objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of the planets in our solar system into orbits that allow them to enter Earth’s neighborhood. Ten of the objects discovered by NEOWISE in the past year have been classified as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs). Near-Earth objects are classified as PHAs, based on their size and how closely they can approach Earth’s orbit.

    “NEOWISE continues to expand our catalog and knowledge of these elusive and important objects,” said Amy Mainzer, NEOWISE principal investigator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “In total, NEOWISE has now characterized sizes and reflectivities of over 1,300 near-Earth objects since the spacecraft was launched, offering an invaluable resource for understanding the physical properties of this population, and studying what they are made of and where they have come from.”

    The NEOWISE team has released an animation depicting detections made by the telescope over its four years of surveying the solar system.

    More than 2.5 million infrared images of the sky were collected in the fourth year of operations by NEOWISE. These data are combined with the year one through three NEOWISE data into a single publicly available archive. That archive contains approximately 10.3 million sets of images and a database of more than 76 billion source detections extracted from those images.

    Originally called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft launched in December 2009. It was placed in hibernation in 2011 after its primary astrophysics mission was completed. In September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission: to assist NASA’s efforts to identify and characterize the population of near-Earth objects. NEOWISE also is characterizing more distant populations of asteroids and comets to provide information about their sizes and compositions.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates the NEOWISE mission for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Science data processing takes place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    To review the latest data release from NEOWISE, please visit:

    http://wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/

    For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/neowise

    http://neowise.ipac.caltech.edu/

    More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at:

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

    To learn more about NASA’s efforts for Planetary Defense see:

    https://www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense/overview

    See the full article here .

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    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission’s principal investigator, Edward L. (Ned) Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected in 2002 under NASA’s Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp, Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing will take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    The mission’s education and public outreach office is based at the University of California, Berkeley.

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  • richardmitnick 12:34 pm on April 20, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , MarCO - Mars Cube One, NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From JPL-Caltech: NASA Engineers Dream Big with Small Spacecraft 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    April 19, 2018

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

    The MarCO and InSight projects are managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

    MarCOs Cruise in Deep Space
    1
    An artist’s rendering of the twin Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft as they fly through deep space. The MarCOs will be the first CubeSats — a kind of modular, mini-satellite — attempting to fly to another planet. They’re designed to fly along behind NASA’s InSight lander on its cruise to Mars. If they make the journey, they will test a relay of data about InSight’s entry, descent and landing back to Earth. Though InSight’s mission will not depend on the success of the MarCOs, they will be a test of how CubeSats can be used in deep space.

    MarCO Being Tested in Sunlight
    2
    Engineer Joel Steinkraus uses sunlight to test the solar arrays on one of the Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The MarCOs will be the first CubeSats — a kind of modular, mini-satellite — flown into deep space. They’re designed to fly along behind NASA’s InSight lander on its cruise to Mars. If they make the journey to Mars, they will test a relay of data about InSight’s entry, descent and landing back to Earth. Though InSight’s mission will not depend on the success of the MarCOs, they will be a test of how CubeSats can be used in deep space.

    Preparing MarCO
    3
    Joel Steinkraus, MarCO lead mechanical engineer from JPL, makes an adjustment on the CubeSat prior to integration in a deployment box as seen inside the cleanroom lab at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Monday, March 12, 2018.

    MarCO and Dispenser
    4
    One of the MarCO CubeSats inside a cleanroom at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, before being placed into its deployment box. The deployment box will eject the briefcase-sized CubeSat into space after launch. It and its twin will accompany the InSight Mars lander when it lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in May.

    Many of NASA’s most iconic spacecraft towered over the engineers who built them: think Voyagers 1 and 2, Cassini or Galileo — all large machines that could measure up to a school bus.

    NASA/Voyager 1

    NASA/Voyager 2

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    But in the past two decades, mini-satellites called CubeSats have made space accessible to a new generation. These briefcase-sized boxes are more focused in their abilities and have a fraction of the mass — and cost — of some past titans of space.


    NASA’s Mars Cube One, or MarCO, is heading to deep space to test a first-of-its-kind technology demonstration: near-real-time communication between Earth and Mars using CubeSats.

    In May, engineers will be watching closely as NASA launches its first pair of CubeSats designed for deep space. The twin spacecraft are called Mars Cube One, or MarCO, and were built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    Both MarCO spacecraft will be hitching a ride on the same rocket launching InSight, NASA’s next robotic lander headed for Mars.

    NASA Mars Insight Lander

    The MarCOs are intended to follow InSight on its cruise through space; if they survive the journey, each is equipped with a folding high-gain antenna to relay data about InSight as it enters the Martian atmosphere and lands.

    The MarCOs won’t produce any science of their own, and aren’t required for InSight to send its data back home (the lander will rely on NASA’s Mars orbiters for that, in addition to communicating directly with antennas on Earth). But the twins will be a crucial first test of CubeSat technology beyond Earth orbit, demonstrating how they could be used to further explore the solar system.

    “These are our scouts,” said Andy Klesh of JPL, MarCO’s chief engineer. “CubeSats haven’t had to survive the intense radiation of a trip to deep space before, or use propulsion to point their way towards Mars. We hope to blaze that trail.”

    The official names of these two scouts are “MarCO-A” and “MarCO-B.” But to the team that built them, they’re “Wall-E” and “Eva” — nicknames based on Pixar characters. Both MarCOs use a compressed gas commonly found in fire extinguishers to push themselves through space, the same way Wall-E did in his 2008 film.

    Survival is far from guaranteed. As the saying goes: space is hard. The first challenge will be switching on. The MarCO batteries were last checked in March by Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems of Irvine, California, which inserted each CubeSat into a special dispenser that will propel it into space. Those batteries will be used to deploy each CubeSat’s solar arrays, with the hope that enough power will be left over to turn on their radios. If power is too low, the MarCO team may hear silence until each spacecraft is more fully charged.

    If both MarCOs make the journey, they’ll test a method of communications relay that could act as a “black box” for future Mars landings, helping engineers understand the difficult process of getting spacecraft to safely touch down on the Red Planet. Mars landings are notoriously hard to stick.

    The MarCOs could also prove that CubeSats are ready to go beyond Earth. CubeSats were first developed to teach university students about satellites. Today, they’re a major commercial technology, providing data on everything from shipping routes to environmental changes.

    NASA scientists are eager to explore the solar system using CubeSats. JPL even has its own CubeSat clean room, where several flight projects have been built, including the MarCOs. For young engineers, the thrill is building something that could potentially reach Mars in just a matter of years rather than a decade.

    5
    JPL’s Integrated CubeSat Development Laboratory is 1,250 square feet of pristine tabletops and freshly scrubbed air dedicated to the manufacture and testing of CubeSat spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    “We’re a small team, so everyone gets experience working on multiple parts of the spacecraft,” Klesh said. “You learn everything about building, testing and flying along the way. We’re inventing every day at this point.”

    The MarCOs were built by JPL, which manages InSight and MarCO for NASA. They were funded by both JPL and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. A number of commercial suppliers provided unique technologies for the MarCOs. A full list, along with more information about the spacecraft, can be found here.

    See the full article here .

    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 11:45 am on March 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Kepler Beyond Planets: Finding Exploding Stars, NASA JPL - Caltech, , ,   

    From JPL-Caltech- “Kepler Beyond Planets: Finding Exploding Stars” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    March 26, 2018
    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-1821
    calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

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

    Written by Elizabeth Landau
    NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program

    1
    A new study describes the most extreme known example of a “fast-evolving luminous transient” (FELT) supernova.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Astronomer Ed Shaya was in his office looking at data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope in 2012 when he noticed something unusual: The light from a galaxy had quickly brightened by 10 percent. The sudden bump in light got Shaya instantly excited, but also nervous. The effect could be explained by the massive explosion of a star — a supernova! — or, more troublingly, a computer error.

    “I just remember on that day, not knowing whether I should believe it or not,” he remembers. Rather than celebrate, he thought, “Did I make a mistake? Am I doing this all wrong?”


    This animation shows a kind of stellar explosion called a Fast-Evolving Luminous Transient. In this case, a giant star “burps” out a shell of gas and dust about a year before exploding. Most of the energy from the supernova turns into light when it hits this previously ejected material, resulting in a short, but brilliant burst of radiation. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Stellar explosions forge and distribute materials that make up the world in which we live, and also hold clues to how fast the universe is expanding. By understanding supernovae, scientists can unlock mysteries that are key to what we are made of and the fate of our universe. But to get the full picture, scientists must observe supernovae from a variety of perspectives, especially in the first moments of the explosion. That’s really difficult — there’s no telling when or where a supernova might happen next.

    A small group of astronomers, including Shaya, realized Kepler could offer a new technique for supernova-hunting. Launched in 2009, Kepler is best known for having discovered thousands of exoplanets. But as a telescope that stares at single patches of space for long periods of time, it can capture a vast trove of other cosmic treasures –especially the kind that change rapidly or pop in and out of view, like supernovae.

    “Kepler opened up a new way of looking at the sky,” said Jessie Dotson, Kepler’s project scientist, based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “It was designed to do one thing really well, which was to find planets around other stars. In order to do that, it had to deliver high-precision, continuous data, which has been valuable for other areas of astronomy.”

    Originally, Shaya and colleagues were looking for active galactic nuclei in their Kepler data. An active galactic nucleus is an extremely bright area at the center of a galaxy where a voracious black hole is surrounded by a disk of hot gas. They had thought about searching for supernovae, but since supernovae are such rare events, they didn’t mention it in their proposal. “It was too iffy,” Shaya said.

    Unsure if the supernova signal he found was real, Shaya and his University of Maryland colleague Robert Olling spent months developing software to better calibrate Kepler data, taking into account variations in temperature and pointing of the instrument. Still, the supernova signal persisted. In fact, they found five more supernovae in their Kepler sample of more than 400 galaxies. When Olling showed one of the signals to Armin Rest, who is now an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltlimore, Rest’s jaw dropped. “I started to drool,” he said. The door had opened to a new way of tracking and understanding stellar explosions.

    Today, these astronomers are part of the Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey, a collaboration between seven scientists in the United States, Australia and Chile looking for supernovae and active galactic nuclei to explore the physics of our universe. To date, they have found more than 20 supernovae using data from the Kepler spacecraft, including an exotic type reported by Rest in a new study in Nature Astronomy. Many more are currently being recorded by Kepler’s ongoing observations.

    “We have some of the best-understood supernovae,” said Brad Tucker, astronomer at the Mt. Stromlo Observatory at the Australian National University, who is part of the Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey.


    This animation shows the explosion of a white dwarf, an extremely dense remnant of a star that can no longer burn nuclear fuel at its core. In this “type Ia” supernova, white dwarf’s gravity steals material away from a nearby stellar companion. When the white dwarf reaches an estimated 1.4 times the current mass of the Sun, it can no longer sustain its own weight, and blows up. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Why do we care about supernovae?

    A longstanding mystery in astrophysics is how and why stars explode in different ways. One kind of supernova happens when a dense, dead star called a white dwarf explodes. A second kind happens when a single gigantic star nears the end of its life, and its core can no longer withstand the gravitational forces acting on it. The details of these general categories are still being worked out.

    The first kind, called “type Ia” (pronounced as “one a”) is special because the intrinsic brightness of each of these supernovae is almost the same. Astronomers have used this standard property to measure the expansion of the universe and found the more distant supernovae were less bright than expected. This indicated they were farther away than scientists had thought, as the light had become stretched out over expanding space. This proved that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate and earned those researchers the Nobel Prize in 2011. The leading theory is that a mysterious force called “dark energy” is pushing everything in the universe apart from everything else, faster and faster.

    But as astronomers find more and more examples of type Ia explosions, including with Kepler, they realize not all are created equal. While some of these supernovae happen when a white dwarf robs its companion of too much matter, others are the result of two white dwarfs merging. In fact, the white dwarf mergers may be more common. More supernova research with Kepler will help astronomers on a quest to find out if different type Ia mechanisms result in some supernovae being brighter than others — which would throw a wrench into how they are used to measure the universe’s expansion.

    “To get a better idea of constraining dark energy, we have to understand better how these type Ia supernovae are formed,” Rest said.


    This animation shows the merger of two white dwarfs. A white dwarf is an extremely dense remnant of a star that can no longer burn nuclear fuel at its core. This is another way that a “type Ia” supernova occurs. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Another kind of supernova, the “core collapse” variety, happens when a massive star ends its life in an explosion. This includes “Type II” supernovae. These supernovae have a characteristic shockwave called the “shock breakout,” which was captured for the first time in optical light by Kepler. The Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey team, led by team member Peter Garnavich, an astrophysics professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, spotted this shock breakout in 2011 Kepler data from a supernova called KSN 2011d, an explosion from a star roughly 500 times the size of our Sun. Surprisingly, the team did not find a shock breakout in a smaller type II supernova called KSN 2011a, whose star was 300 times the size of the Sun — but instead found the supernova nestled in a layer of dust, suggesting that there is diversity in type II stellar explosions, too.

    Kepler data have revealed other mysteries about supernovae. The new study led by Rest in Nature Astronomy describes a supernova from data captured by Kepler’s extended mission, called K2, that reaches its peak brightness in just a little over two days, about 10 times less than others take. It is the most extreme known example of a “fast-evolving luminous transient” (FELT) supernova. FELTs are about as bright as the type Ia variety, but rise in less than 10 days and fade in about 30. It is possible that the star spewed out a dense shell of gas about a year before the explosion, and when the supernova happened, ejected material hit the shell. The energy released in that collision would explain the quick brightening.

    Why Kepler?

    Telescopes on Earth offer a lot of information about exploding stars, but only over short periods of time — and only when the Sun goes down and the sky is clear – so it’s hard to document the “before” and “after” effects of these explosions. Kepler, on the other hand, offers astronomers the rare opportunity to monitor single patches of sky continuously for months, like a car’s dashboard camera that is always recording. In fact, the primary Kepler mission, which ran from 2009 to 2013, delivered four years of observations of the same field of view, snapping a picture about every 30 minutes. In the extended K2 mission, the telescope is holding its gaze steady for up to about three months.


    This animation shows a gigantic star exploding in a “core collapse” supernova. As molecules fuse inside the star, eventually the star can’t support its own weight anymore. Gravity makes the star collapse on itself. Core collapse supernovae are called type Ib, Ic, or II depending on the chemical elements present. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    With ground-based telescopes, astronomers can tell the supernova’s color and how it changes with time, which lets them figure out what chemicals are present in the explosion. The supernova’s composition helps determine the type of star that exploded. Kepler, on the other hand, reveals how and why the star explodes, and the details of how the explosion progresses. Using the two datasets together, astronomers can get fuller pictures of supernovae behavior than ever before.

    Kepler mission planners revived the telescope in 2013, after the malfunction of the second of its four reaction wheels — devices that help control the orientation of the spacecraft. In the configuration called K2, it needs to rotate every three months or so — marking observing “campaigns.” Members of the Kepler Extra-Galactic Survey made the case that in the K2 mission, Kepler could still monitor supernovae and other exotic, distant astrophysical objects, in addition to exoplanets.

    The possibilities were so exciting that the Kepler team devised two K2 observing campaigns especially useful for coordinating supernovae studies with ground-based telescopes. Campaign 16, which began on Dec. 7, 2017, and ended Feb. 25, 2018,included 9,000 galaxies. There are about 14,000 in Campaign 17, which is just beginning now. In both campaigns, Kepler faces in the direction of Earth so that observers on the ground can see the same patch of sky as the spacecraft. The campaigns have excited a community of researchers who can advantage of this rare coordination between Kepler and telescopes on the ground.

    3
    Infographic

    A recent possible sighting got astronomers riled up on Super Bowl Sunday this year, even if they weren’t into the game. On that “super” day, the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASASSN) reported a supernova in the same nearby galaxy Kepler was monitoring. This is just one of many candidate events that scientists are excited to follow up on and perhaps use to better understand the secrets of the universe.

    A few more supernovae may come from NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, (TESS) which is expected to launch on April 16. In the meantime, scientists will have a lot of work ahead of them once they receive the full dataset from K2’s supernova-focused campaigns.

    “It will be a treasure trove of supernova information for years to come,” Tucker said.

    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 operates 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 mission, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/kepler

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    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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