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  • richardmitnick 12:28 pm on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Galaxy SPT0615-JD, , NASA JPL - Caltech, , NASA's Great Observatories Team Up to Find Magnified and Stretched Image of Distant Galaxy   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA’s Great Observatories Team Up to Find Magnified and Stretched Image of Distant Galaxy” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    January 11, 2018
    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6278
    guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

    Laurie Cantillo
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1077
    laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

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

    1
    This Hubble Space Telescope image shows the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Credits: NASA , ESA, and B. Salmon (STScI)

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    An intensive survey deep into the universe by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes has yielded the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack: the farthest galaxy yet seen in an image that has been stretched and amplified by a phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

    Gravitational Lensing NASA/ESA

    The embryonic galaxy named SPT0615-JD existed when the universe was just 500 million years old. Though a few other primitive galaxies have been seen at this early epoch, they have essentially all looked like red dots, given their small size and tremendous distances. However, in this case, the gravitational field of a massive foreground galaxy cluster not only amplified the light from the background galaxy but also smeared the image of it into an arc (about 2 arcseconds long).

    “No other candidate galaxy has been found at such a great distance that also gives you the spatial information that this arc image does. By analyzing the effects of gravitational lensing on the image of this galaxy, we can determine its actual size and shape,” said the study’s lead author, Brett Salmon of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. He is presenting his research at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington.

    First predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, the warping of space by the gravity of a massive foreground object can brighten and distort the images of far more distant background objects. Astronomers use this “zoom lens” effect to go hunting for amplified images of distant galaxies that otherwise would not be visible with today’s telescopes.

    SPT0615-JD was identified in Hubble’s Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey (RELICS) and companion S-RELICS Spitzer program. “RELICS was designed to discover distant galaxies like these that are magnified brightly enough for detailed study,” said Dan Coe, principal investigator of RELICS. RELICS observed 41 massive galaxy clusters for the first time in infrared with Hubble to search for such distant lensed galaxies. One of these clusters was SPT-CL J0615-5746, which Salmon analyzed to make this discovery. Upon finding the lens-arc, Salmon thought, “Oh, wow! I think we’re on to something!”

    By combining the Hubble and Spitzer data, Salmon calculated the lookback time to the galaxy of 13.3 billion years. Preliminary analysis suggests the diminutive galaxy weighs in at no more than 3 billion solar masses (roughly 1/100th the mass of our fully grown Milky Way galaxy). It is less than 2,500 light-years across, half the size of the Small Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. The object is considered prototypical of young galaxies that emerged during the epoch shortly after the big bang.

    The galaxy is right at the limits of Hubble’s detection capabilities, but just the beginning for the upcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope’s powerful capabilities, said Salmon. “This galaxy is an exciting target for science with the Webb telescope as it offers the unique opportunity for resolving stellar populations in the very early universe.” Spectroscopy with Webb will allow for astronomers to study in detail the firestorm of starbirth activity taking place at this early epoch, and resolve its substructure.

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

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

    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 [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.

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  • richardmitnick 12:13 pm on January 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, NASA Space Telescopes Provide a 3-D Journey Through the Orion Nebula   

    From JPL: “NASA Space Telescopes Provide a 3-D Journey Through the Orion Nebula” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    January 11, 2018

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-6425
    Elizabeth.R.Landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Ann Jenkins
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4488
    jenkins@stsci.edu

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

    Written by Ann Jenkins

    1
    This image showcases both the visible and infrared visualizations of the Orion Nebula. Credits: NASA, ESA, F. Summers, G. Bacon, Z. Levay, J. DePasquale, L. Frattare, M. Robberto and M. Gennaro (STScI), and R. Hurt (Caltech/IPAC)

    Astronomers and visualization specialists from NASA’s Universe of Learning program have combined visible and infrared vision of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to create an unprecedented, three-dimensional, fly-through view of the picturesque Orion Nebula, a nearby star-forming region.


    This visualization explores the Orion Nebula using both visible and infrared light. The sequence begins with a wide-field view of the sky showing the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy, then zooms down to the scale of the Orion Nebula. The visible light observation (from the Hubble Space Telescope) and the infrared light observation (from the Spitzer Space Telescope) are compared first in two-dimensional images, and then in three-dimensional models.

    Viewers experience this nearby stellar nursery “up close and personal” as the new digital visualization ferries them among newborn stars, glowing clouds heated by intense radiation, and tadpole-shaped gaseous envelopes surrounding protoplanetary disks.

    Using actual scientific imagery and other data, combined with Hollywood techniques, a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the Caltech/Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) in Pasadena, California, has created the best and most detailed multi-wavelength visualization yet of this photogenic nebula. The fly-through enables people to experience and learn about the universe in an exciting new way.

    The three-minute movie, which shows the Orion Nebula in both visible and infrared light, was released to the public today. It is available to planetariums and other centers of informal learning worldwide to help audiences explore fundamental questions in science such as, “How did we get here?”

    “Being able to fly through the nebula’s tapestry in three dimensions gives people a much better sense of what the universe is really like,” explained the Space Telescope Science Institute’s visualization scientist Frank Summers, who led the team that developed the movie. “By adding depth and structure to the amazing images, this fly-through helps elucidate the universe for the public, both educating and inspiring.”

    “Looking at the universe in infrared light gives striking context for the more familiar visible-light views. This movie provides a uniquely immersive chance to see how new features appear as we shift to wavelengths of light normally invisible to our eyes,” said Robert Hurt, lead visualization scientist at IPAC.

    One of the sky’s brightest nebulas, the Orion Nebula, is visible to the naked eye. It appears as the middle “star” in the sword of the constellation Orion, the Hunter, and is located about 1,350 light-years away. At only 2 million years old, the nebula is an ideal laboratory for studying young stars and stars that are still forming. It offers a glimpse of what might have happened when the Sun was born 4.6 billion years ago.

    The three-dimensional video provides a look at the fantastic topography of the nebula. A torrent of ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from the massive, central stars of the Trapezium star cluster has carved out a cavernous bowl-like cavity in the wall of a giant cloud of cold molecular hydrogen laced with dust.

    Astronomers and visualizers worked together to make a three-dimensional model of the depths of this cavernous region, like plotting mountains and valleys on the ocean floor. Colorful Hubble and Spitzer images were then overlaid on the terrain.

    The scientific visualization takes the viewer on a breathtaking flight through the nebula, following the contours of the gas and dust. By toggling between the Hubble and Spitzer views, the movie shows strikingly different details of the Orion Nebula.

    Hubble sees objects that glow in visible light, which are typically in the thousands of degrees. Spitzer is sensitive to cooler objects with temperatures of just hundreds of degrees. Spitzer’s infrared vision pierces through obscuring dust to see stars embedded deep into the nebula, as well as fainter and less massive stars, which are brighter in infrared than in visible light. The new visualization helps people experience how the two telescopes provide a more complex and complete picture of the nebula.

    The visualization is one of a new generation of products and experiences being developed by NASA’s Universe of Learning program. The effort combines a direct connection to the science and scientists of NASA’s astrophysics missions with attention to audience needs to enable youth, families and lifelong learners to explore fundamental questions in science, experience how science is done, and discover the universe for themselves.

    The three-dimensional interpretation is guided by scientific knowledge and scientific intuition. Starting with the two-dimensional Hubble and Spitzer images, Summers and Hurt worked with experts to analyze the structure inside the nebula. They first created a visible-light surface, and then an underlying structure of the infrared features.

    To give the nebula its ethereal feel, Summers wrote a special rendering code for efficiently combining the tens of millions of semi-transparent elements of the gas. The customized code allows Summers to run this and other visualizations on desktop workstations, rather than on a supercomputing cluster.

    The other components of the nebula were isolated into image layers and modeled separately. These elements included stars, protoplanetary disks, bow shocks, and the thin gas in front of the nebula called “the veil.” After rendering, these layers and the gaseous nebula are brought back together to create the visualization.

    The three-dimensional structures serve as scientifically reasonable approximations for imagining the nebula. “The main thing is to give the viewer an experiential understanding, so that they have a way to interpret the images from telescopes,” explained Summers. “It’s a really wonderful thing when they can build a mental model in their head to transform the two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional scene.”

    This movie demonstrates the power of multi-wavelength astronomy. It helps audiences understand how science is done — how and why astronomers use multiple regions of the electromagnetic spectrum to explore and learn about our universe. It is also whetting astronomers’ appetites for what they will see with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which will show much finer details of the deeper, infrared features.

    More visualizations and connections between the science of nebulas and learners can be explored through other products produced by NASA’s Universe of Learning, such as ViewSpace. ViewSpace is a video exhibit currently at almost 200 museums and planetariums across the United States. Visitors can go beyond video to explore the images produced by space telescopes with interactive tools now available for museums and planetariums.

    NASA’s Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and Sonoma State University.

    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 [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.

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  • richardmitnick 9:40 am on January 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA JPL - Caltech, NASA-led Study Solves a Methane Puzzle   

    From JPL-Caltech: “NASA-led Study Solves a Methane Puzzle” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    January 2, 2018

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

    Written by Carol Rasmussen
    NASA’s Earth Science News Team

    1
    A reduction in global burned area in the 2000s had an unexpectedly large impact on methane emissions. Find the full animation here. Credit: NASA/GSFC/SVS.

    A new NASA-led study has solved a puzzle involving the recent rise in atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas, with a new calculation of emissions from global fires. The new study resolves what looked like irreconcilable differences in explanations for the increase.

    Methane emissions have been rising sharply since 2006. Different research teams have produced viable estimates for two known sources of the increase: emissions from the oil and gas industry, and microbial production in wet tropical environments like marshes and rice paddies. But when these estimates were added to estimates of other sources, the sum was considerably more than the observed increase. In fact, each new estimate was large enough to explain the whole increase by itself.

    Scientist John Worden of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and colleagues focused on fires because they’re also changing globally. The area burned each year decreased about 12 percent between the early 2000s and the more recent period of 2007 to 2014, according to a new study using observations by NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer satellite instrument. The logical assumption would be that methane emissions from fires have decreased by about the same percentage. Using satellite measurements of methane and carbon monoxide, Worden’s team found the real decrease in methane emissions was almost twice as much as that assumption would suggest.

    When the research team subtracted this large decrease from the sum of all emissions, the methane budget balanced correctly, with room for both fossil fuel and wetland increases. The research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

    _________________________________________________________

    Fast Facts:

    › Atmospheric methane concentrations are given by their weight in teragrams.

    › One teragram equals 110,000 tons — the weight of about 17,000 elephants.

    › Methane emissions are increasing by about 25 teragrams a year, with total emissions currently around 550 teragrams a year.

    _________________________________________________________

    Most methane molecules in the atmosphere don’t have identifying features that reveal their origin. Tracking down their sources is a detective job involving multiple lines of evidence: measurements of other gases, chemical analyses, isotopic signatures, observations of land use, and more. “A fun thing about this study was combining all this different evidence to piece this puzzle together,” Worden said.

    Carbon isotopes in the methane molecules are one clue. Of the three methane sources examined in the new study, emissions from fires contain the largest percentage of heavy carbon isotopes, microbial emissions have the smallest, and fossil fuel emissions are in between. Another clue is ethane, which (like methane) is a component of natural gas. An increase in atmospheric ethane indicates increasing fossil fuel sources. Fires emit carbon monoxide as well as methane, and measurements of that gas are a final clue.

    Worden’s team used carbon monoxide and methane data from the Measurements of Pollutants in the Troposphere instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite and the Tropospheric Emission Spectrometer instrument on NASA’s Aura to quantify fire emissions of methane. The results show these emissions have been decreasing much more rapidly than expected.

    Combining isotopic evidence from ground surface measurements with the newly calculated fire emissions, the team showed that about 17 teragrams per year of the increase is due to fossil fuels, another 12 is from wetlands or rice farming, while fires are decreasing by about 4 teragrams per year. The three numbers combine to 25 teragrams a year — the same as the observed increase.

    Worden’s coauthors are at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado; and the Netherlands Institute for Space Research and University of Utrecht, both in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

    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 [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.

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  • richardmitnick 6:19 pm on December 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ASTERIA, , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From JPL-Caltech: “JPL Deploys a CubeSat for Astronomy” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    December 7, 2017
    Andrew Good
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-393-2433
    andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    JPL Deploys a CubeSat for Astronomy
    A JPL CubeSat named ASTERIA was deployed from the International Space Station on November 21. It will test the use of CubeSats for astronomy research. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    2
    Electrical Test Engineer Esha Murty (left) and Integration and Test Lead Cody Colley (right) prepare the ASTERIA spacecraft for mass properties measurements in April 2017 prior to spacecraft delivery. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Tiny satellites called CubeSats have attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Besides allowing researchers to test new technologies, their relative simplicity also offers hands-on training to early-career engineers.

    A CubeSat recently deployed from the International Space Station is a key example of their potential, experimenting with CubeSats applied to astronomy.

    For the next few months, a technology demonstration called ASTERIA (Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics) will test whether a CubeSat can perform precise measurements of change in a star’s light. This fluctuation is useful for a number of commercial and astrophysics applications, including the discovery and study of planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets.

    ASTERIA was developed under the Phaeton Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Phaeton was developed to provide early-career hires, under the guidance of experienced mentors, with the challenges of a flight project. ASTERIA is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; MIT’s Sara Seager is principal investigator on the project.

    A New Space Telescope Model

    ASTERIA relies on precision photometry, a field that measures the flux, or intensity, of an object’s light. To be useful to any scientist, a space telescope has to correct for internal sources of error while making these measurements.

    Engineers have learned to correct for “noise” in much larger space telescopes. If they were able to do the same for CubeSats, it could open an entirely new class of astronomy tools.

    “CubeSats offer a relatively inexpensive means to test new technologies,” said Amanda Donner of JPL, mission assurance manager for ASTERIA. “The modular design of CubeSats also makes them customizable, giving even a small group of researchers and students access to space.”

    She said it’s even possible for constellations of these CubeSats to work in concert, covering more of the cosmos at one time.

    A Steady Astronomy Camera

    Its small size requires ASTERIA to have unique engineering characteristics.

    A steady astronomy camera will keep the telescope locked on a specific star for up to 20 minutes continuously as the spacecraft orbits Earth.
    An active thermal control system will stabilize temperatures within the tiny telescope while in Earth’s shadow. This helps to minimize “noise” caused by shifting temperatures – essential when the measurement is trying to detect slight variations in the target star’s light.

    Both technologies proved challenging to miniaturize.

    “One of the biggest engineering challenges has been fitting the pointing and thermal control electronics into such a small package,” said JPL’s Matthew Smith, ASTERIA’s lead systems engineer and mission manager. “Typically, those components alone are larger than our entire spacecraft. Now that we’ve miniaturized the technology for ASTERIA, it can be applied to other CubeSats or small instruments.”

    Though it’s only a technology demonstration, ASTERIA might point the way to future CubeSats useful to astronomy.

    That’s impressive, especially considering it was effectively a training project: many team members only graduated from college within the last five years, Donner said.

    “We designed, built, tested and delivered ASTERIA, and now we’re flying it,” she said. “JPL takes the training approach of learning-by-doing seriously.”

    For more information about ASTERIA, visit:

    https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cubesat/missions/asteria.php

    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 [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.

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  • richardmitnick 1:44 pm on December 3, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech,   

    From JPL-Caltech: ” NASA Builds its Next Mars Rover Mission” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    November 28, 2017

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

    1

    2

    This artist’s concept depicts NASA’s Mars 2020 rover exploring Mars [2 images]. The mission will not only seek out and study an area likely to have been habitable in the distant past, but it will take the next, bold step in robotic exploration of the Red Planet by seeking signs of past microbial life itself. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    In just a few years, NASA’s next Mars rover mission will be flying to the Red Planet.

    3
    Rover
    Designing A Mars Rover To Launch In 2020
    The Mars 2020 rover is based on the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover configuration. It is car-sized, about 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide, and 7 feet tall (about 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall). But at 2,314 pounds (1,050 kilograms), it weighs less than a compact car.

    In some sense, the rover parts are similar to what any living creature would need to keep it “alive” and able to explore.

    The Mars 2020 Rover Has The Following Parts:
    body: a structure that protects the rover’s “vital organs”
    brains: computers to process information
    temperature controls: internal heaters, a layer of insulation, and more
    “neck and head”: a mast for the cameras to give the rover a human-scale view
    eyes and ears : cameras and instruments that give the rover information about its environment
    arm and “hand”: a way to extend its reach and collect rock samples for study
    wheels and legs: parts for mobility
    electrical power: batteries and power
    communications: antennas for “speaking” and “listening”

    At a glance, it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Curiosity Mars rover. But there’s no doubt it’s a souped-up science machine: It has seven new instruments, redesigned wheels and more autonomy. A drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they’ll be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission.

    This new hardware is being developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages the mission for the agency. It includes the Mars 2020 mission’s cruise stage, which will fly the rover through space, and the descent stage, a rocket-powered “sky crane” that will lower it to the planet’s surface. Both of these stages have recently moved into JPL’s Spacecraft Assembly Facility.

    NASA Mars 2020 rover schematic

    Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012. Roughly 85 percent of the new rover’s mass is based on this “heritage hardware.”

    “The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed — or even already exists — is a major advantage for this mission,” said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “It saves us money, time and most of all, reduces risk.”

    Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals. Mars 2020’s instruments will seek signs of ancient life by studying terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

    To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments. It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale: An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the “glow” from excited rings of carbon atoms. A ground-penetrating radar will be the first instrument to look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, depending on the material.

    The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including color cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporize rocks and soil to analyze their chemistry.

    “Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology,” said George Tahu, NASA’s Mars 2020 program executive. “These will gather science data in ways that weren’t possible before.”

    The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt: The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth.

    “Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020’s project scientist. “What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe.”

    JPL is also developing a crucial new landing technology called terrain-relative navigation. As the descent stage approaches the Martian surface, it will use computer vision to compare the landscape with pre-loaded terrain maps. This technology will guide the descent stage to safe landing sites, correcting its course along the way.

    A related technology called the range trigger will use location and velocity to determine when to fire the spacecraft’s parachute. That change will narrow the landing ellipse by more than 50 percent.

    “Terrain-relative navigation enables us to go to sites that were ruled too risky for Curiosity to explore,” said Al Chen of JPL, the Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead. “The range trigger lets us land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles — potentially as much as a year — off a rover’s journey.”

    This approach to minimizing landing errors will be critical in guiding any future mission dedicated to retrieving the Mars 2020 samples, Chen said.

    Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three. Those three remaining sites represent fundamentally different environments that could have harbored primitive life: an ancient lakebed called Jezero Crater; Northeast Syrtis, where warm waters may have chemically interacted with subsurface rocks; and a possible hot springs at Columbia Hills.

    All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbor signs of past microbial life. A final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

    “In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said. “It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us.”

    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 [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.

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  • richardmitnick 8:22 pm on December 1, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    December 1, 2017
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    NASA/Voyager 1


    The Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980. They are located on the back side of the spacecraft. NASA.

    If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after 37 years without use.

    Voyager 1, NASA’s farthest and fastest spacecraft, is the only human-made object in interstellar space, the environment between the stars. The spacecraft, which has been flying for 40 years, relies on small devices called thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth. These thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or “puffs,” lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. Now, the Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

    “With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

    Since 2014, engineers have noticed that the thrusters Voyager 1 has been using to orient the spacecraft, called “attitude control thrusters,” have been degrading. Over time, the thrusters require more puffs to give off the same amount of energy. At 13 billion miles from Earth, there’s no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up.

    The Voyager team assembled a group of propulsion experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to study the problem. Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber analyzed options and predicted how the spacecraft would respond in different scenarios. They agreed on an unusual solution: Try giving the job of orientation to a set of thrusters that had been asleep for 37 years.

    “The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

    In the early days of the mission, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and important moons of each. To accurately fly by and point the spacecraft’s instruments at a smorgasbord of targets, engineers used “trajectory correction maneuver,” or TCM, thrusters that are identical in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are located on the back side of the spacecraft. But because Voyager 1’s last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn’t needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. Back then, the TCM thrusters were used in a more continuous firing mode; they had never been used in the brief bursts necessary to orient the spacecraft.

    All of Voyager’s thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The same kind of thruster, called the MR-103, flew on other NASA spacecraft as well, such as Cassini and Dawn.

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft

    On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

    “The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all,” said Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer.

    The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power — a limited resource for the aging mission. When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

    The thruster test went so well, the team will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1. The attitude control thrusters currently used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1’s, however.

    NASA/Voyager 2

    Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years.

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

    https://www.nasa.gov/voyager

    https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov

    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 [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.

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  • richardmitnick 8:00 pm on November 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Exoplanet 55 Cancri e Likely to have Atmosphere, Lava or Not, NASA JPL - Caltech,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Lava or Not, Exoplanet 55 Cancri e Likely to have Atmosphere” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    November 16, 2017
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    The super-Earth exoplanet 55 Cancri e, depicted with its star in this artist’s concept, likely has an atmosphere thicker than Earth’s but with ingredients that could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere. Spitzer.

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth 55 Cancri e was thought to have lava flows on its surface. The planet is so close to its star, the same side of the planet always faces the star, such that the planet has permanent day and night sides. Based on a 2016 study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists speculated that lava would flow freely in lakes on the starlit side and become hardened on the face of perpetual darkness. The lava on the dayside would reflect radiation from the star, contributing to the overall observed temperature of the planet.

    Now, a deeper analysis of the same Spitzer data finds this planet likely has an atmosphere whose ingredients could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere, but thicker. Lava lakes directly exposed to space without an atmosphere would create local hot spots of high temperatures, so they are not the best explanation for the Spitzer observations, scientists said.

    “If there is lava on this planet, it would need to cover the entire surface,” said Renyu Hu, astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of a study published in The Astronomical Journal. “But the lava would be hidden from our view by the thick atmosphere.”

    Using an improved model of how energy would flow throughout the planet and radiate back into space, researchers find that the night side of the planet is not as cool as previously thought. The “cold” side is still quite toasty by Earthly standards, with an average of 2,400 to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,300 to 1,400 Celsius), and the hot side averages 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit (2,300 Celsius). The difference between the hot and cold sides would need to be more extreme if there were no atmosphere.

    “Scientists have been debating whether this planet has an atmosphere like Earth and Venus, or just a rocky core and no atmosphere, like Mercury. The case for an atmosphere is now stronger than ever,” Hu said.

    Researchers say the atmosphere of this mysterious planet could contain nitrogen, water and even oxygen — molecules found in our atmosphere, too — but with much higher temperatures throughout. The density of the planet is also similar to Earth, suggesting that it, too, is rocky. The intense heat from the host star would be far too great to support life, however, and could not maintain liquid water.

    Hu developed a method of studying exoplanet atmospheres and surfaces, and had previously only applied it to sizzling, giant gaseous planets called hot Jupiters. Isabel Angelo, first author of the study and a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, worked on the study as part of her internship at JPL and adapted Hu’s model to 55 Cancri e.

    In a seminar, she heard about 55 Cancri e as a potentially carbon-rich planet, so high in temperature and pressure that its interior could contain a large amount of diamond.

    “It’s an exoplanet whose nature is pretty contested, which I thought was exciting,” Angelo said.

    Spitzer observed 55 Cancri e between June 15 and July 15, 2013, using a camera specially designed for viewing infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. Infrared light is an indicator of heat energy. By comparing changes in brightness Spitzer observed to the energy flow models, researchers realized an atmosphere with volatile materials could best explain the temperatures.

    There are many open questions about 55 Cancri e, especially: Why has the atmosphere not been stripped away from the planet, given the perilous radiation environment of the star?

    › Full image and caption

    Twice as big as Earth, the super-Earth 55 Cancri e was thought to have lava flows on its surface. The planet is so close to its star, the same side of the planet always faces the star, such that the planet has permanent day and night sides. Based on a 2016 study using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, scientists speculated that lava would flow freely in lakes on the starlit side and become hardened on the face of perpetual darkness. The lava on the dayside would reflect radiation from the star, contributing to the overall observed temperature of the planet.

    Now, a deeper analysis of the same Spitzer data finds this planet likely has an atmosphere whose ingredients could be similar to those of Earth’s atmosphere, but thicker. Lava lakes directly exposed to space without an atmosphere would create local hot spots of high temperatures, so they are not the best explanation for the Spitzer observations, scientists said.

    “If there is lava on this planet, it would need to cover the entire surface,” said Renyu Hu, astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of a study published in The Astronomical Journal. “But the lava would be hidden from our view by the thick atmosphere.”

    Using an improved model of how energy would flow throughout the planet and radiate back into space, researchers find that the night side of the planet is not as cool as previously thought. The “cold” side is still quite toasty by Earthly standards, with an average of 2,400 to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,300 to 1,400 Celsius), and the hot side averages 4,200 degrees Fahrenheit (2,300 Celsius). The difference between the hot and cold sides would need to be more extreme if there were no atmosphere.

    “Scientists have been debating whether this planet has an atmosphere like Earth and Venus, or just a rocky core and no atmosphere, like Mercury. The case for an atmosphere is now stronger than ever,” Hu said.

    Researchers say the atmosphere of this mysterious planet could contain nitrogen, water and even oxygen — molecules found in our atmosphere, too — but with much higher temperatures throughout. The density of the planet is also similar to Earth, suggesting that it, too, is rocky. The intense heat from the host star would be far too great to support life, however, and could not maintain liquid water.

    Hu developed a method of studying exoplanet atmospheres and surfaces, and had previously only applied it to sizzling, giant gaseous planets called hot Jupiters. Isabel Angelo, first author of the study and a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, worked on the study as part of her internship at JPL and adapted Hu’s model to 55 Cancri e.

    In a seminar, she heard about 55 Cancri e as a potentially carbon-rich planet, so high in temperature and pressure that its interior could contain a large amount of diamond.

    “It’s an exoplanet whose nature is pretty contested, which I thought was exciting,” Angelo said.

    Spitzer observed 55 Cancri e between June 15 and July 15, 2013, using a camera specially designed for viewing infrared light, which is invisible to human eyes. Infrared light is an indicator of heat energy. By comparing changes in brightness Spitzer observed to the energy flow models, researchers realized an atmosphere with volatile materials could best explain the temperatures.

    There are many open questions about 55 Cancri e, especially: Why has the atmosphere not been stripped away from the planet, given the perilous radiation environment of the star?

    “Understanding this planet will help us address larger questions about the evolution of rocky planets,” Hu said.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://spitzer.caltech.edu

    https://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    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 [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.

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  • richardmitnick 10:27 am on November 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , Habitable Worlds, Life in the Ocean, NASA JPL - Caltech, , , Our Living Planet Shapes the Search for Life Beyond Earth, Water in Space   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Our Living Planet Shapes the Search for Life Beyond Earth” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    November 15, 2017
    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-0474
    alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    Elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Written by Carol Rasmussen
    NASA’s Earth Science News Team

    1
    Left, an image of Earth from the DSCOVR-EPIC camera. Right, the same image degraded to a resolution of 3 x 3 pixels, similar to what researchers will see in future exoplanet observations. Credit: NOAA/NASA, Stephen Kane

    As a young scientist, Tony del Genio of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City met Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.

    “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a one-time opportunity,'” del Genio said. “I’ll never meet anyone else who found a planet.”

    That prediction was spectacularly wrong. In 1992, two scientists discovered the first planet around another star, or exoplanet, and since then more people have found planets than throughout all of Earth’s preceding history. As of this month, scientists have confirmed more than 3,500 exoplanets in more than 2,700 star systems. Del Genio has met many of these new planet finders.

    Del Genio is now co-lead of a NASA interdisciplinary initiative [NEXSS] to search for life on other worlds. This new position as the lead of this project may seem odd to those who know him professionally. Why? He has dedicated decades to studying Earth, not searching for life elsewhere.

    We know of only one living planet: our own. But we know it very well. As we move to the next stage in the search for alien life, the effort will require the expertise of planetary scientists, heliophysicists and astrophysicists. However, the knowledge and tools NASA has developed to study life on Earth will also be one of the greatest assets to the quest.

    Habitable Worlds

    There are two main questions in the search for life: With so many places to look, how can we focus in on the places most likely to harbor life? What are the unmistakable signs of life — even if it comes in a form we don’t fully understand?

    “Before we go looking for life, we’re trying to figure out what kinds of planets could have a climate that’s conducive to life,” del Genio said. “We’re using the same climate models that we use to project 21st century climate change on Earth to do simulations of specific exoplanets that have been discovered, and hypothetical ones.”

    Del Genio recognizes that life may well exist in forms and places so bizarre that it might be substantially different from Earth. But in this early phase of the search, “We have to go with the kind of life we know,” he said.

    Further, we should make sure we use the detailed knowledge of Earth. In particular, we should make sure of our discoveries on life in various environments on Earth, our knowledge of how our planet and its life have affected each other over Earth history, and our satellite observations of Earth’s climate.

    Above all else, that means liquid water. Every cell we know of — even bacteria around deep-sea vents that exist without sunlight — requires water.

    Life in the Ocean

    Research scientist Morgan Cable of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is looking within the solar system for locations that have the potential to support liquid water. Some of the icy moons around Saturn and Jupiter have oceans below the ice crust. These oceans were formed by tidal heating, that is, warming of the ice caused by friction between the surface ice and the core as a result of the gravitational interaction between the planet and the moon.

    “We thought Enceladus was just boring and cold until the Cassini mission discovered a liquid water subsurface ocean,” said Cable. The water is spraying into space, and the Cassini mission found hints in the chemical composition of the spray that the ocean chemistry is affected by interactions between heated water and rocks at the seafloor. The Galileo and Voyager missions provided evidence that Europa also has a liquid water ocean under an icy crust. Observations revealed a jumbled terrain that could be the result of ice melting and reforming.

    As missions to these moons are being developed, scientists are using Earth as a testbed. Just as prototypes for NASA’s Mars rovers made their trial runs on Earth’s deserts, researchers are testing both hypotheses and technology on our oceans and extreme environments.

    Cable gave the example of satellite observations of Arctic and Antarctic ice fields, which are informing the planning for a Europa mission. The Earth observations help researchers find ways to date the origin of jumbled ice. “When we visit Europa, we want to go to very young places, where material from that ocean is being expressed on the surface,” she said. “Anywhere like that, the chances of finding evidence of life goes up — if they’re there.”

    Water in Space

    For any star, it’s possible to calculate the range of distances where orbiting planets could have liquid water on the surface. This is called the star’s habitable zone.

    Astronomers have already located some habitable-zone planets, and research scientist Andrew Rushby, of NASA Ames Research Center, in Moffett Field, California, is studying ways to refine the search. Location alone isn’t enough. “An alien would spot three planets in our solar system in the habitable zone [Earth, Mars and Venus],” Rushby said, “but we know that 67 percent of those planets are not very habitable.” He recently developed a simplified model of Earth’s carbon cycle and combined it with other tools to study which planets in the habitable zone would be the best targets to look at for life, considering probable tectonic activity and water cycles. He found that larger rocky planets are more likely than smaller ones to have surface temperatures where liquid water could exist, given the same amount of light from the star.

    Renyu Hu, of JPL, refined the search for habitable planets in a different way, looking for the signature of a rocky planet. Basic physics tells us that smaller planets must be rocky and larger ones gaseous, but for planets ranging from Earth-sized to about twice that radius, astronomers can’t tell a large rocky planet from a small gaseous planet. Hu pioneered a method to detect surface minerals on bare-rock exoplanets and defined the atmospheric chemical signature of volcanic activity, which wouldn’t occur on a gas planet.

    Vital Signs

    When scientists are evaluating a possible habitable planet, “life has to be the hypothesis of last resort,” Cable said. “You must eliminate all other explanations.” Identifying possible false positives for the signal of life is an ongoing area of research in the exoplanet community. For example, the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere comes from living things, but oxygen can also be produced by inorganic chemical reactions.

    Shawn Domagal-Goldman, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, looks for unmistakable, chemical signs of life, or biosignatures. One biosignature may be finding two or more molecules in an atmosphere that shouldn’t be there at the same time. He uses this analogy: If you walked into a college dorm room and found three students and a pizza, you could conclude that the pizza had recently arrived, because college students quickly consume pizza. Oxygen “consumes” methane by breaking it down in various chemical reactions. Without inputs of methane from life on Earth’s surface, our atmosphere would become totally depleted of methane within a few decades.

    Earth as Exoplanet

    When humans start collecting direct images of exoplanets, even the closest one will appear as a handful of pixels in the detector – something like the famous “blue dot” image of Earth from Saturn. What can we learn about planetary life from a single dot?

    Stephen Kane of the University of California, Riverside, has come up with a way to answer that question using NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging camera on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR).

    NASA/DSCOVR

    These high-resolution images — 2,000 x 2,000 pixels – document Earth’s global weather patterns and other climate-related phenomena. “I’m taking these glorious pictures and collapsing them down to a single pixel or handful of pixels,” Kane explained. He runs the light through a noise filter that attempts to simulate the interference expected from an exoplanet mission.

    DSCOVR takes a picture every half hour, and it’s been in orbit for two years. Its more than 30,000 images are by far the longest continuous record of Earth from space in existence. By observing how the brightness of Earth changes when mostly land is in view compared with mostly water, Kane has been able to reverse-engineer Earth’s rotation rate — something that has yet to be measured directly for exoplanets.

    When Will We Find Life?

    Every scientist involved in the search for life is convinced it’s out there. Their opinions differ on when we’ll find it.

    “I think that in 20 years we will have found one candidate that might be it,” says del Genio. Considering his experience with Tombaugh, he added, “But my track record for predicting the future is not so good.”

    Rushby, on the other hand, says, “It’s been 20 years away for the last 50 years. I do think it’s on the scale of decades. If I were a betting man, which I’m not, I’d go for Europa or Enceladus.”

    How soon we find a living exoplanet really depends on whether there’s one relatively nearby, with the right orbit and size, and with biosignatures that we are able to recognize, Hu said. In other words, “There’s always a factor of luck.”

    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 [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.

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    • stewarthoughblog 11:20 pm on November 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      “Every scientist involved in the search for life is convinced it’s out there.” This is wishful, faith-based speculation motivated by continued funding prospects. The aphorism of human behavior that we are compelled to trivialize what we do not understand applies. A consensus-driven likelihood of life on other planets does not fair well against the lack of understanding of how life began on Earth but more importantly the true scientific revelations of intractable naturalistic inadequacies and failings to properly specify and empirically verify all required conditions and steps in earth’s origin of life. Speculation about science fiction alternatives cannot be taken seriously.

      Like

    • richardmitnick 7:41 am on November 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for your comment.

      Like

  • richardmitnick 3:16 pm on November 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA JPL - Caltech, Observing low-frequency gravitational waves would be akin to being able to hear bass singers not just sopranos. To explore this uncharted area of gravitational wave science researchers look not to hum, The new Nature Astronomy study concerns supermassive black hole binaries   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Listening for Gravitational Waves Using Pulsars” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    November 13, 2017
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    (818) 354-6425
    Elizabeth.Landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    This computer simulation shows the collision of two black holes, which produces gravitational waves. Credit: Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project.

    One of the most spectacular achievements in physics so far this century has been the observation of gravitational waves, ripples in space-time that result from masses accelerating in space. So far, there have been five detections of gravitational waves, thanks to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and, more recently, the European Virgo gravitational-wave detector.


    VIRGO Gravitational Wave interferometer, near Pisa, Italy

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation


    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    1
    Skymap showing how adding Virgo to LIGO helps in reducing the size of the source-likely region in the sky. (Credit: Giuseppe Greco (Virgo Urbino group)

    Using these facilities, scientists have been able to pin down the extremely subtle signals from relatively small black holes and, as of October, neutron stars.

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    14

    A UC Santa Cruz special report

    Tim Stephens

    Astronomer Ryan Foley says “observing the explosion of two colliding neutron stars” [see https://sciencesprings.wordpress.com/2017/10/17/from-ucsc-first-observations-of-merging-neutron-stars-mark-a-new-era-in-astronomy ]–the first visible event ever linked to gravitational waves–is probably the biggest discovery he’ll make in his lifetime. That’s saying a lot for a young assistant professor who presumably has a long career still ahead of him.

    2
    The first optical image of a gravitational wave source was taken by a team led by Ryan Foley of UC Santa Cruz using the Swope Telescope at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. This image of Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a, indicated by arrow) shows the light emitted from the cataclysmic merger of two neutron stars. (Image credit: 1M2H Team/UC Santa Cruz & Carnegie Observatories/Ryan Foley)

    Carnegie Institution Swope telescope at Las Campanas, Chile, 100 kilometres (62 mi) northeast of the city of La Serena. near the north end of a 7 km (4.3 mi) long mountain ridge. Cerro Las Campanas, near the southern end and over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high, at Las Campanas, Chile

    A neutron star forms when a massive star runs out of fuel and explodes as a supernova, throwing off its outer layers and leaving behind a collapsed core composed almost entirely of neutrons. Neutrons are the uncharged particles in the nucleus of an atom, where they are bound together with positively charged protons. In a neutron star, they are packed together just as densely as in the nucleus of an atom, resulting in an object with one to three times the mass of our sun but only about 12 miles wide.

    “Basically, a neutron star is a gigantic atom with the mass of the sun and the size of a city like San Francisco or Manhattan,” said Foley, an assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

    These objects are so dense, a cup of neutron star material would weigh as much as Mount Everest, and a teaspoon would weigh a billion tons. It’s as dense as matter can get without collapsing into a black hole.

    THE MERGER

    Like other stars, neutron stars sometimes occur in pairs, orbiting each other and gradually spiraling inward. Eventually, they come together in a catastrophic merger that distorts space and time (creating gravitational waves) and emits a brilliant flare of electromagnetic radiation, including visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light, x-rays, gamma rays, and radio waves. Merging black holes also create gravitational waves, but there’s nothing to be seen because no light can escape from a black hole.

    Foley’s team was the first to observe the light from a neutron star merger that took place on August 17, 2017, and was detected by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

    But there are merging objects far larger whose gravitational wave signals have not yet been detected: supermassive black holes, more than 100 million times more massive than our Sun. Most large galaxies have a central supermassive black hole. When galaxies collide, their central black holes tend to spiral toward each other, releasing gravitational waves in their cosmic dance. Much as a large animal like a lion produces a deeper roar than a tiny mouse’s squeak, merging supermassive black holes create lower-frequency gravitational waves than the relatively small black holes LIGO and similar ground-based experiments can detect.

    “Observing low-frequency gravitational waves would be akin to being able to hear bass singers, not just sopranos,” said Joseph Lazio, chief scientist for NASA’s Deep Space Network, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author of a new study in Nature Astronomy.

    To explore this uncharted area of gravitational wave science, researchers look not to human-made machines, but to a natural experiment in the sky called a pulsar timing array. Pulsars are dense remnants of dead stars that regularly emit beams of radio waves, which is why some call them “cosmic lighthouses.” Because their rapid pulse of radio emission is so predictable, a large array of well-understood pulsars can be used to measure extremely subtle abnormalities, such as gravitational waves. The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav), a Physics Frontier Center of the National Science Foundation, is one of the leading groups of researchers using pulsars to search for gravitational waves.

    The new Nature Astronomy study concerns supermassive black hole binaries — systems of two of these cosmic monsters. For the first time, researchers surveyed the local universe for galaxies likely to host these binaries, then predicted which black hole pairs are the likeliest to merge and be detected while doing so. The study also estimates how long it will take to detect one of these mergers.

    “By expanding our pulsar timing array over the next 10 years or so, there is a high likelihood of detecting gravitational waves from at least one supermassive black hole binary,” said Chiara Mingarelli, lead study author, who worked on this research as a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at Caltech and JPL, and is now at the Flatiron Institute in New York.

    Mingarelli and colleagues used data from the 2 Micron All-Sky Survey (2MASS), which surveyed the sky from 1997 to 2001, and galaxy merger rates from the Illustris simulation project, an endeavor to make large-scale cosmological simulations. In their sample of about 5,000 galaxies, scientists found that about 90 would have supermassive black holes most likely to merge with another black hole.

    While LIGO and similar experiments detect objects in the final seconds before they merge, pulsar timing arrays are sensitive to gravitational wave signals from supermassive black holes that are spiraling toward each other and will not combine for millions of years. That’s because galaxies merge hundreds of millions of years before the central black holes they host combine to make one giant supermassive black hole.

    Researchers also found that while bigger galaxies have bigger black holes and produce stronger gravitational waves when they combine, these mergers also happen fast, shortening the time period for detection. For example, black holes merging in the large galaxy M87 would have a 4-million-year window of detection. By contrast, in the smaller Sombrero Galaxy, black holes mergers typically take about 160 million years, offering more opportunities for pulsar timing arrays to detect gravitational waves from them.

    Black hole mergers generate gravitational waves because, as they orbit each other, their gravity distorts the fabric of space-time, sending ripples outward in all directions at the speed of light. These distortions actually shift the position of Earth and the pulsars ever so slightly, resulting in a characteristic and detectable signal from the array of celestial lighthouses.

    “A difference between when the pulsar signals should arrive, and when they do arrive, can signal a gravitational wave,”Mingarelli said. “And since the pulsars we study are about 3,000 light-years away, they act as a galactic-scale gravitational-wave detector.”

    Because all supermassive black holes are so distant, gravitational waves, which travel at the speed of light, take a long time to arrive at Earth. This study looked at supermassive black holes within about 700 million light-years, meaning waves from a merger between any two of them would take up to that long to be detected here by scientists. By comparison, about 650 million years ago, algae flourished and spread rapidly in Earth’s oceans — an event important to the evolution of more complex life.

    Many open questions remain about how galaxies merge and what will happen when the Milky Way approaches Andromeda, the nearby galaxy that will collide with ours in about 4 billion years.

    “Detecting gravitational waves from billion-solar-mass black hole mergers will help unlock some of the most persistent puzzles in galaxy formation,” said Leonidas Moustakas, a JPL research scientist who wrote an accompanying “News and Views” article in the journal.

    2MASS was funded by NASA’s Office of Space Science, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Naval Observatory and the University of Massachusetts. JPL managed the program for NASA’s Office of Space Science, Washington. Data was processed at IPAC at Caltech in Pasadena, California.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 1:40 pm on November 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new NASA study adds evidence that a geothermal heat source called a mantle plume lies deep below Antarctica's Marie Byrd Land explaining some of the melting that creates lakes and rivers under the i, , Hot News from the Antarctic Underground, NASA JPL - Caltech   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Hot News from the Antarctic Underground” 

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    JPL-Caltech

    November 7, 2017
    Alan Buis
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-0474
    Alan.Buis@jpl.nasa.gov

    Written by Carol Rasmussen
    NASA’s Earth Science News Team

    1
    Illustration of flowing water under the Antarctic ice sheet. Blue dots indicate lakes, lines show rivers. Marie Byrd Land is part of the bulging “elbow” leading to the Antarctic Peninsula, left center. Credit: NSF/Zina Deretsky

    Study Bolsters Theory of Heat Source Under West Antarctica

    A new NASA study adds evidence that a geothermal heat source called a mantle plume lies deep below Antarctica’s Marie Byrd Land, explaining some of the melting that creates lakes and rivers under the ice sheet. Although the heat source isn’t a new or increasing threat to the West Antarctic ice sheet, it may help explain why the ice sheet collapsed rapidly in an earlier era of rapid climate change, and why it is so unstable today.

    The stability of an ice sheet is closely related to how much water lubricates it from below, allowing glaciers to slide more easily. Understanding the sources and future of the meltwater under West Antarctica is important for estimating the rate at which ice may be lost to the ocean in the future.

    Antarctica’s bedrock is laced with rivers and lakes, the largest of which is the size of Lake Erie. Many lakes fill and drain rapidly, forcing the ice surface thousands of feet above them to rise and fall by as much as 20 feet (6 meters). The motion allows scientists to estimate where and how much water must exist at the base.

    Some 30 years ago, a scientist at the University of Colorado Denver suggested that heat from a mantle plume under Marie Byrd Land might explain regional volcanic activity and a topographic dome feature. Very recent seismic imaging has supported this concept. When Hélène Seroussi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, first heard the idea, however, “I thought it was crazy,” she said. “I didn’t see how we could have that amount of heat and still have ice on top of it.”

    With few direct measurements existing from under the ice, Seroussi and Erik Ivins of JPL concluded the best way to study the mantle plume idea was by numerical modeling. They used the Ice Sheet System Model (ISSM), a numerical depiction of the physics of ice sheets developed by scientists at JPL and the University of California, Irvine. Seroussi enhanced the ISSM to capture natural sources of heating and heat transport from freezing, melting and liquid water; friction; and other processes.

    To assure the model was realistic, the scientists drew on observations of changes in the altitude of the ice sheet surface made by NASA’s IceSat satellite and airborne Operation IceBridge campaign. “These place a powerful constraint on allowable melt rates — the very thing we wanted to predict,” Ivins said. Since the location and size of the possible mantle plume were unknown, they tested a full range of what was physically possible for multiple parameters, producing dozens of different simulations.

    They found that the flux of energy from the mantle plume must be no more than 150 milliwatts per square meter. For comparison, in U.S. regions with no volcanic activity, the heat flux from Earth’s mantle is 40 to 60 milliwatts. Under Yellowstone National Park — a well-known geothermal hot spot — the heat from below is about 200 milliwatts per square meter averaged over the entire park, though individual geothermal features such as geysers are much hotter.

    Seroussi and Ivins’ simulations using a heat flow higher than 150 milliwatts per square meter showed too much melting to be compatible with the space-based data, except in one location: an area inland of the Ross Sea known for intense flows of water. This region required a heat flow of at least 150-180 milliwatts per square meter to agree with the observations. However, seismic imaging has shown that mantle heat in this region may reach the ice sheet through a rift, that is, a fracture in Earth’s crust such as appears in Africa’s Great Rift Valley.

    Mantle plumes are thought to be narrow streams of hot rock rising through Earth’s mantle and spreading out like a mushroom cap under the crust. The buoyancy of the material, some of it molten, causes the crust to bulge upward. The theory of mantle plumes was proposed in the 1970s to explain geothermal activity that occurs far from the boundary of a tectonic plate, such as Hawaii and Yellowstone.

    The Marie Byrd Land mantle plume formed 50 to 110 million years ago, long before the West Antarctic ice sheet came into existence. At the end of the last ice age around 11,000 years ago, the ice sheet went through a period of rapid, sustained ice loss when changes in global weather patterns and rising sea levels pushed warm water closer to the ice sheet — just as is happening today. Seroussi and Ivins suggest the mantle plume could facilitate this kind of rapid loss.

    Science paper:
    Influence of a West Antarctic mantle plume on ice sheet basal conditions. Journal of Geophysical Research.

    See the full article here .

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    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.

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