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  • richardmitnick 1:43 pm on February 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “A New Way to View Titan: ‘Despeckle’ It” 

    JPL

    February 11, 2015
    Preston Dyches
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-7013
    preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

    During 10 years of discovery, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has pulled back the smoggy veil that obscures the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

    NASA Cassini Spacecraft

    Cassini’s radar instrument has mapped almost half of the giant moon’s surface; revealed vast, desert-like expanses of sand dunes; and plumbed the depths of expansive hydrocarbon seas. What could make that scientific bounty even more amazing? Well, what if the radar images could look even better?

    Thanks to a recently developed technique for handling noise in Cassini’s radar images, these views now have a whole new look. The technique, referred to by its developers as “despeckling,” produces images of Titan’s surface that are much clearer and easier to look at than the views to which scientists and the public have grown accustomed.

    Typically, Cassini’s radar images have a characteristic grainy appearance. This “speckle noise” can make it difficult for scientists to interpret small-scale features or identify changes in images of the same area taken at different times. Despeckling uses an algorithm to modify the noise, resulting in clearer views that can be easier for researchers to interpret.

    Antoine Lucas got the idea to apply this new technique while working with members of Cassini’s radar team when he was a postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    “Noise in the images gave me headaches,” said Lucas, who now works at the astrophysics division of France’s nuclear center (CEA). Knowing that mathematical models for handling the noise might be helpful, Lucas searched through research published by that community, which is somewhat disconnected from people working directly with scientific data. He found that a team near Paris was working on a “de-noising” algorithm, and he began working with them to adapt their model to the Cassini radar data. The collaboration resulted in some new and innovative analysis techniques.

    “My headaches were gone, and more importantly, we were able to go further in our understanding of Titan’s surface using the new technique,” Lucas said.

    As helpful as the tool has been, for now, it is being used selectively.

    “This is an amazing technique, and Antoine has done a great job of showing that we can trust it not to put features into the images that aren’t really there,” said Randy Kirk, a Cassini radar team member from the U.S. Geologic Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona. Kirk said the radar team is going to have to prioritize which images are the most important to applying the technique. “It takes a lot of computation, and at the moment quite a bit of ‘fine-tuning’ to get the best results with each new image, so for now we’ll likely be despeckling only the most important — or most puzzling — images,” Kirk said.

    Despeckling Cassini’s radar images has a variety of scientific benefits. Lucas and colleagues have shown that they can produce 3-D maps, called digital elevation maps, of Titan’s surface with greatly improved quality. With clearer views of river channels, lake shorelines and windswept dunes, researchers are also able to perform more precise analyses of processes shaping Titan’s surface. And Lucas suspects that the speckle noise itself, when analyzed separately, may hold information about properties of the surface and subsurface.

    “This new technique provides a fresh look at the data, which helps us better understand the original images,” said Stephen Wall, deputy team lead of Cassini’s radar team, which is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “With this innovative new tool, we will look for details that help us to distinguish among the different processes that shape Titan’s surface,” he said.

    Details about the new technique were published recently in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

    The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The VIMS team is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The radar instrument was built by JPL and the Italian Space Agency, working with team members from the US and several European countries.

    More information about Cassini:

    http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

    http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

    Despeckling Ligea Mare

    1
    Presented here are side-by-side comparisons of a traditional Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) view and one made using a new technique for handling electronic noise that results in clearer views of Titan’s surface. The technique, called despeckling, produces images that can be easier for researchers to interpret.

    The view is a mosaic of SAR swaths over Ligeia Mare, one of the large hydrocarbons seas on Titan. In particular, despeckling improves the visibility of channels flowing down to the sea.

    Perspective on Kraken Mare Shores

    2
    This Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) image is presented as a perspective view and shows a landscape near the eastern shoreline of Kraken Mare, a hydrocarbon sea in Titan’s north polar region. This image was processed using a technique for handling noise that results in clearer views that can be easier for researchers to interpret. The technique, called despeckling, also is useful for producing altimetry data and 3-D views called digital elevation maps.

    Scientists have used a technique called radargrammetry to determine the altitude of surface features in this view at a resolution of approximately half a mile, or 1 kilometer. The altimetry reveals that the area is smooth overall, with a maximum amplitude of 0.75 mile (1.2 kilometers) in height. The topography also shows that all observed channels flow downhill.

    The presence of what scientists call “knickpoints” — locations on a river where a sharp change in slope occurs — might indicate stratification in the bedrock, erosion mechanisms at work or a particular way the surface responds to runoff events, such as floods following large storms. One such knickpoint is visible just above the lower left corner, where an area of bright slopes is seen.

    The image was obtained during a flyby of Titan on April 10, 2007. A more traditional radar image of this area on Titan is seen in PIA19046.

    Titan Despeckled Montage

    3
    This montage of Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images of the surface of Titan shows four examples of how a newly developed technique for handling noise results in clearer, easier to interpret views. The top row of images was produced in the manner used since the mission arrived in the Saturn system a decade ago; the row at bottom was produced using the new technique.

    The three leftmost image pairs show bays and spits of land in Ligea Mare, one of Titan’s large hydrocarbon seas. The rightmost pair shows a valley network along Jingpo Lacus, one of Titan’s larger northern lakes.

    North is toward the left in these images. Each thumbnail represents an area 70 miles (112 kilometers) wide.

    Leilah Fluctus Despeckled

    4
    Presented here are side-by-side comparisons of a traditional Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) view, at left, and one made using a new technique for handling electronic noise that results in clearer views of Titan’s surface, at right. The technique, called despeckling, produces images that can be easier for researchers to interpret.

    The terrain seen here is in the flow region named Leilah Fluctus (55 degrees north, 80 degrees west). With the speckle noise suppressed, the overall pattern of bright and dark in the scene becomes more apparent. In particular, cone-shaped features near lower right stand out, which could be alluvial analogues on Titan — features produced by the action of rivers or floods.

    North is toward right in this image, which shows an area about 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide.

    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 3:37 pm on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “Citizen Scientists Lead Astronomers to Mystery Objects in Space” 

    JPL

    January 27, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    Volunteers using the web-based Milky Way Project brought star-forming features nicknamed “yellowballs” to the attention of researchers, who later showed that they are a phase of massive star formation. The yellow balls — which are several hundred to thousands times the size of our solar system — are pictured here in the center of this image taken by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Infrared light has been assigned different colors; yellow occurs where green and red overlap. The yellow balls represent an intermediary stage of massive star formation that takes place before massive stars carve out cavities in the surrounding gas and dust (seen as green-rimmed bubbles with red interiors in this image).

    Infrared light of 3.6 microns is blue; 8-micron light is green; and 24-micron light is red.

    2
    This series of images show three evolutionary phases of massive star formation, as pictured in infrared images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The stars start out in thick cocoon of dust (left), evolve into hotter features dubbed “yellowballs” (center); and finally, blow out cavities in the surrounding dust and gas, resulting in green-rimmed bubbles with red centers (right). The process shown here takes roughly a million years. Even the oldest phase shown here is fairly young, as massive stars live a few million years. Eventually, the stars will migrate away from their birth clouds.

    In this image, infrared light of 3.6 microns is blue; 8-micron light is green; and 24-micron light is red.

    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 the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    Spitzer

    Milkyway@home
    MilkyWay@home

    Milkyway@Home uses the BOINC platform to harness volunteered computing resources, creating a highly accurate three dimensional model of the Milky Way galaxy using data gathered by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). This project enables research in both astroinformatics and computer science.

    SDSS Telescope
    SDSS Telescope

    BOINC

    In computer science, the project is investigating different optimization methods which are resilient to the fault-prone, heterogeneous and asynchronous nature of Internet computing; such as evolutionary and genetic algorithms, as well as asynchronous newton methods. While in astroinformatics, Milkyway@Home is generating highly accurate three dimensional models of the Sagittarius stream, which provides knowledge about how the Milky Way galaxy was formed and how tidal tails are created when galaxies merge.

    Milkyway@Home is a joint effort between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute‘s departments of Computer Science and Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy. Feel free to contact us via our forums, or email astro@cs.lists.rpi.edu.

    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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    • academix2015 4:22 pm on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Web based Milky Way project would open up new opportunities for amateur astronomers. Thank you.

      Like

    • academix2015 4:22 pm on January 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Reblogged this on Academic Avenue and commented:
      How about studying the intricacies of the astronomical processes and phenomena in the Milky Way?

      Like

  • richardmitnick 3:24 pm on January 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA JPL, NASA SMAP, Soil Moisture   

    From JPL: “SMAP Will Track a Tiny Cog That Keeps Cycles Spinning” 

    JPL

    January 26, 2015
    Carol Rasmussen
    NASA Earth Science News Team

    1
    Water evaporating from forest soil in the morning sun. Soil moisture links together the cycles of water, solar energy, and carbon in plants. Image credit: USDA

    When you open the back of a fine watch, you see layer upon layer of spinning wheels linked by interlocking cogs, screws and wires. Some of the cogs are so tiny they’re barely visible. Size doesn’t matter — what’s important is that the cogs fit together well so the wheels keep turning smoothly.

    For centuries, scientists have thought of the Earth system as a series of cycles or interlocking wheels like the ones in a watch. It’s a way to make sense of the movements of water and other essentials back and forth between the air and the land, ocean and soil or rock beneath them. In today’s changing climate, some cycles are spinning faster or beginning to wobble. There’s an urgent need to understand what is happening to the cogs that keep these cycles turning.

    The minuscule fraction of Earth’s water lodged just beneath the land surface is a tiny cog that links the water cycle to two other fundamental Earth cycles: energy and carbon. “That linkage is what makes these three gears turn with a certain harmony,” said Dara Entekhabi of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. Entekhabi is science team leader for NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive mission, scheduled to launch Jan. 29. Developed and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, SMAP will provide the most accurate information ever about this small but critical cog.

    NASA SMAP
    SMAP

    You may have learned about the water cycle in school: Water falls from the sky to the land when it rains or snows, and rises from the land back to the sky when it heats up and evaporates. Your teacher may not have mentioned that water vapor isn’t the only thing that rises. The heat energy that turned liquid water into vapor also rises, cooling Earth’s surface. In fact, evaporating soil moisture is the main way that land sheds the solar energy it receives every day and thus is a major player in the energy cycle. “It’s the first process to kick in when the surface heats up, and it continues as long as there is moisture in the soil that can evaporate,” Entekhabi said. Evaporation gets rid of nearly half of the solar energy that reaches land, keeping our planet’s temperature comfortable.

    If there’s any moisture at all in soil, there’s probably a plant growing there. That’s why most evaporation from soil starts with a plant absorbing water through its roots. Plants need water for photosynthesis, their food-creating process. During photosynthesis they “sweat” — or transpire — water onto their leaves, where it evaporates.

    Besides using water and energy, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. Over land, this is virtually the only natural way for carbon to be removed from the atmosphere. Soil moisture keeps this vital carbon highway open by enabling plants to continue growing. “If a plant has access to water, it happily carries on with photosynthesis,” Entekhabi said. “If not, the plant shuts down, and eventually it wilts and dies.”

    After SMAP launches, the new data it will provide are expected to help scientists answer some long-standing questions about what is likely to happen to these important Earth cycles in a changing climate. Entekhabi hopes to take advantage of the synergy available between SMAP and NASA’s new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which measures global carbon dioxide. “We have talked a lot with the OCO-2 scientists about how we can use simultaneous measurements to solve the puzzle of how plants respond to soil moisture and how the carbon cycle and the water cycle are linked,” he said. “If we get that linkage right, we will reduce the uncertainty in future climate projections and know more about how terrestrial plants are going to act in the future.”

    NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2
    OCO-2

    For more about SMAP, see:

    http://smap.jpl.nasa.gov/

    http://www.nasa.gov/smap/

    SMAP will be the last of five NASA Earth science launches within 12 months. NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

    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 12:08 pm on January 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “Machines Teach Astronomers About Stars” 

    JPL

    January 8, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    Astronomers have turned to a method called “machine learning” to help them understand the properties of large numbers of stars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Astronomers are enlisting the help of machines to sort through thousands of stars in our galaxy and learn their sizes, compositions and other basic traits.

    The research is part of the growing field of machine learning, in which computers learn from large data sets, finding patterns that humans might not otherwise see. Machine learning is in everything from media-streaming services that predict what you want to watch, to the post office, where computers automatically read handwritten addresses and direct mail to the correct zip codes.

    Now astronomers are turning to machines to help them identify basic properties of stars based on sky survey images. Normally, these kinds of details require a spectrum, which is a detailed sifting of the starlight into different wavelengths. But with machine learning, computer algorithms can quickly flip through available stacks of images, identifying patterns that reveal a star’s properties. The technique has the potential to gather information on billions of stars in a relatively short time and with less expense.

    “It’s like video-streaming services not only predicting what you would like to watch in the future, but also your current age, based on your viewing preferences,” said Adam Miller of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, lead author of a new report on the findings appearing in the Astrophysical Journal. “We are predicting fundamental properties of the stars.”

    Miller presented the results today at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle.

    Machine learning has been applied to the cosmos before; what makes this latest effort unique is that it is the first to predict specific traits of stars, such as size and metal content, using images of those stars taken over time. These traits are essential to learning about when a star was born, and how it has changed since that time.

    “With more information about the different kinds of stars in our Milky Way galaxy, we can better map the galaxy’s structure and history,” said Miller.

    Every night, telescopes around the world obtain thousands of images of the sky. The flood of new data is only expected to rise with upcoming wide-field surveys like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), a National Science Foundation and Department of Energy project that will be based in Chile. That survey will image the entire visible sky every few nights, gathering data on billions of stars and how some of those stars change in brightness over time. NASA’s Kepler mission has already captured the same kind of time-varying data on hundreds of thousands of stars.

    LSST Telescope
    LSSTLSST Exterior
    LSST

    Humans alone can’t easily make sense of all this data. That is where machines, or in this case, computers using specialized algorithms, can help out.

    But before the machines can learn, they first need a “training period.” Miller and his colleagues started with 9,000 stars as their training set. They obtained spectra for these stars, which revealed several of their basic properties: sizes, temperatures and the amount of heavy elements, such as iron. The varying brightness of the stars had also been recorded by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, producing plots called light curves. By feeding the computer both sets of data, it could then make associations between the star properties and the light curves.

    Once the training phase was over, the computer was able to make predictions on its own about other stars by only analyzing light-curves.

    “We can discover and classify new types of stars without the need for spectra, which are expensive and time-consuming to obtain,” said Miller.

    The technique essentially works in the same way as email spam filters. The spam filters are programmed to identify key words associated with junk mail, and then remove the unwanted emails containing those words. With time, a user continues to “teach” the filtering program more key words, and the program becomes better at filtering spam. The machine learning program used by Miller and collaborators likewise becomes better at accurately predicting properties of the stars with additional training from the astronomers.

    The team’s next goal is to get their computers smart enough to handle the more than 50 million variable stars that the LSST project will observe.

    “This is an exciting time to be applying advanced algorithms to astronomy,” said Miller. “Machine learning allows us to mine for rare and obscure gems within the deep data sets that astronomers are only now beginning to acquire.”

    The Astrophysical Journal study is online at: http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/798/2/122/article.

    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 7:14 am on January 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “NASA’s NEOWISE Images Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) “ 

    JPL

    1
    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) is one of more than 32 comets imaged by NASA’s NEOWISE mission from December 2013 to December 2014. This image of comet Lovejoy combines a series of observations made in November 2013, when comet Lovejoy was 1.7 astronomical units from the sun. (An astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the sun.)

    The image spans half of one degree. It shows the comet moving in a mostly west and slightly south direction. (North is 26 degrees to the right of up in the image, and west is 26 degrees downward from directly right.) The red color is caused by the strong signal in the NEOWISE 4.6-micron wavelength detector, owing to a combination of gas and dust in the comet’s coma.

    Comet Lovejoy is the brightest comet in Earth’s sky in early 2015. A chart of its location in the sky during dates in January 2015 is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19103 .

    For more information about NEOWISE (the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Survey Explorer), see http://neowise.ipac.caltech.edu/.

    NASA Wise Telescope
    NASA/Wise

    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 8:30 pm on January 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “Will the Real Monster Black Hole Please Stand Up?” 

    JPL

    January 8, 2015
    Whitney Clavin
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-4673
    whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

    3

    A new high-energy X-ray image from NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has pinpointed the true monster of a galactic mashup. The image shows two colliding galaxies, collectively called Arp 299, located 134 million light-years away. Each of the galaxies has a supermassive black hole at its heart.

    a
    Arp299

    NASA NuSTAR
    NuSTAR

    [Above first image]NuSTAR has revealed that the black hole located at the right of the pair is actively gorging on gas, while its partner is either dormant or hidden under gas and dust.

    The findings are helping researchers understand how the merging of galaxies can trigger black holes to start feeding, an important step in the evolution of galaxies.

    “When galaxies collide, gas is sloshed around and driven into their respective nuclei, fueling the growth of black holes and the formation of stars,” said Andrew Ptak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, lead author of a new study accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “We want to understand the mechanisms that trigger the black holes to turn on and start consuming the gas.”

    NuSTAR is the first telescope capable of pinpointing where high-energy X-rays are coming from in the tangled galaxies of Arp 299. Previous observations from other telescopes, including NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, which detect lower-energy X-rays, had indicated the presence of active supermassive black holes in Arp 299. However, it was not clear from those data alone if one or both of the black holes was feeding, or “accreting,” a process in which a black hole bulks up in mass as its gravity drags gas onto it.

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    Chandra

    ESA XMM Newton
    XMM-Newton

    The new X-ray data from NuSTAR — overlaid on a visible-light image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope — show that the black hole on the right is, in fact, the hungry one. As it feeds on gas, energetic processes close to the black hole heat electrons and protons to about hundreds of millions of degrees, creating a superhot plasma, or corona, that boosts the visible light up to high-energy X-rays. Meanwhile, the black hole on the left either is “snoozing away,” in what is referred to as a quiescent, or dormant state, or is buried in so much gas and dust that the high-energy X-rays can’t escape.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    Hubble

    “Odds are low that both black holes are on at the same time in a merging pair of galaxies,” said Ann Hornschemeier, a co-author of the study who presented the results Thursday at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle. “When the cores of the galaxies get closer, however, tidal forces slosh the gas and stars around vigorously, and, at that point, both black holes may turn on.”

    NuSTAR is ideally suited to study heavily obscured black holes such as those in Arp 299. High-energy X-rays can penetrate the thick gas, whereas lower-energy X-rays and light get blocked.

    Ptak said, “Before now, we couldn’t pinpoint the real monster in the merger.”

    NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Va. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley ; Columbia University, New York; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, Calif.; ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, Calif., and with support from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Science Data Center.

    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 12:18 pm on January 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “NASA Robot Plunges Into Volcano to Explore Fissure” 

    JPL

    January 7, 2015
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    Volcanoes have always fascinated Carolyn Parcheta. She remembers a pivotal moment watching a researcher take a lava sample on a science TV program video in 6th grade.

    “I said to myself, I’m going to do that some day,” said Parcheta, now a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    Exploring volcanoes is risky business. That’s why Parcheta and her co-advisor, JPL robotics researcher Aaron Parness, are developing robots that can get into crevices where humans wouldn’t be able to go, gaining new insights about these wondrous geological features.

    “We don’t know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic,” Parcheta said.

    Parcheta’s research endeavors were recently honored in National Geographic‘s Expedition Granted campaign, which awards $50,000 to the next “great explorer.” Parcheta was a finalist, and was voted number 2 by online participants for her research proposal for exploring volcanoes with robots.

    “Having Carolyn in the lab has been a great opportunity for our robotics team to collaborate with someone focused on the geology. Scientists and engineers working together on such a small team is pretty rare, but has generated lots of great ideas because our perspectives on the problems are so different,” Parness said.

    The research has implications for extraterrestrial volcanoes. On both Earth and Mars, fissures are the most common physical features from which magma erupts. This is probably also true for the previously active volcanoes on the moon, Mercury, Enceladus and Europa, although the mechanism of volcanic eruption — whether past or present — on these other planetary bodies is unknown, Parcheta said.

    m
    Lava flow on Hawaii. Lava is the extrusive equivalent of magma.

    “In the last few years, NASA spacecraft have sent back incredible pictures of caves, fissures and what look like volcanic vents on Mars and the moon. We don’t have the technology yet to explore them, but they are so tantalizing! Working with Carolyn, we’re trying to bridge that gap using volcanoes here on Earth for practice. We’re learning about how volcanoes erupt here on Earth, too, and that has a lot of benefits in its own right,” Parness said.

    Parcheta, Parness, and JPL co-advisor Karl Mitchell first explored this idea last year using a two-wheeled robot they call VolcanoBot 1, with a length of 12 inches (30 centimeters) and 6.7-inch (17-centimeter) wheels. It is a spinoff of a different robot that Parness’s laboratory developed, the Durable Reconnaissance and Observation Platform (DROP).

    “We took that concept and redesigned it to work inside a volcano,” Parcheta said.

    For their experiments in May 2014, they had VolcanoBot 1 roll down a fissure – a crack that erupts magma – that is now inactive on the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

    Finding preserved and accessible fissures is rare. VolcanoBot 1 was tasked with mapping the pathways of magma from May 5 to 9, 2014. It was able to descend to depths of 82 feet (25 meters) in two locations on the fissure, although it could have gone deeper with a longer tether, as the bottom was not reached on either descent.

    “In order to eventually understand how to predict eruptions and conduct hazard assessments, we need to understand how the magma is coming out of the ground. This is the first time we have been able to measure it directly, from the inside, to centimeter-scale accuracy,” Parcheta said.

    VolcanoBot 1 is enabling the researchers to put together a 3-D map of the fissure. They confirmed that bulges in the rock wall seen on the surface are also present deep in the ground, but the robot also found a surprise: The fissure did not appear to pinch shut, although VolcanoBot 1 didn’t reach the bottom. The researchers want to return to the site and go even deeper to investigate further.

    Specifically, Parcheta and Parness want to explore deeper inside Kilauea with a robot that has even stronger motors and electrical communications, so that more data can be sent back to the surface. They have responded to these challenges with the next iteration: VolcanoBot 2.

    VolcanoBot 2 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, at a length of 10 inches (25 centimeters). Its vision center can tip up and down, with the ability to turn and look at features around it.

    “It has better mobility, stronger motors and smaller (5 inch, or 12 centimeter) wheels than the VolcanoBot 1. We’ve decreased the amount of cords that come up to the surface when it’s in a volcano,” Parcheta said.

    While VolcanoBot 1 sent data to the surface directly from inside the fissure, data will be stored onboard VolcanoBot 2. VolcanoBot 2 has an electrical connection that is more secure and robust so that researchers can use the 3-D sensor’s live video feed to navigate.

    The team plans to test VolcanoBot 2 at Kilauea in early March.

    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 1:55 pm on January 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/JPL: What’s Up in January 2015 

    JPL

    Jupiter’s moons are putting on an amazing show this month. The orbital path of the moons is tilting edge-on to Earth and the sun. This lineup makes it possible to watch the moons pass in front of each other and even eclipse each other with their shadows. Get all the details, including where to find Jupiter in the sky this month, in this edition of What’s Up.

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    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 11:52 am on December 31, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “NASA Finds Good News on Forests and Carbon Dioxide” 

    JPL

    December 29, 2014
    Carol Rasmussen
    NASA Earth Science News Team

    A new NASA-led study shows that tropical forests may be absorbing far more carbon dioxide than many scientists thought, in response to rising atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gas. The study estimates that tropical forests absorb 1.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of a total global absorption of 2.5 billion — more than is absorbed by forests in Canada, Siberia and other northern regions, called boreal forests.

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    “This is good news, because uptake in boreal forests is already slowing, while tropical forests may continue to take up carbon for many years,” said David Schimel of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Schimel is lead author of a paper on the new research, appearing online today in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

    Forests and other land vegetation currently remove up to 30 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. If the rate of absorption were to slow down, the rate of global warming would speed up in return.

    The new study is the first to devise a way to make apples-to-apples comparisons of carbon dioxide estimates from many sources at different scales: computer models of ecosystem processes, atmospheric models run backward in time to deduce the sources of today’s concentrations (called inverse models), satellite images, data from experimental forest plots and more. The researchers reconciled all types of analyses and assessed the accuracy of the results based on how well they reproduced independent, ground-based measurements. They obtained their new estimate of the tropical carbon absorption from the models they determined to be the most trusted and verified.

    “Until our analysis, no one had successfully completed a global reconciliation of information about carbon dioxide effects from the atmospheric, forestry and modeling communities,” said co-author Joshua Fisher of JPL. “It is incredible that all these different types of independent data sources start to converge on an answer.”

    The question of which type of forest is the bigger carbon absorber “is not just an accounting curiosity,” said co-author Britton Stephens of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado. “It has big implications for our understanding of whether global terrestrial ecosystems might continue to offset our carbon dioxide emissions or might begin to exacerbate climate change.”

    As human-caused emissions add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, forests worldwide are using it to grow faster, reducing the amount that stays airborne. This effect is called carbon fertilization. “All else being equal, the effect is stronger at higher temperatures, meaning it will be higher in the tropics than in the boreal forests,” Schimel said.

    But climate change also decreases water availability in some regions and makes Earth warmer, leading to more frequent and larger wildfires. In the tropics, humans compound the problem by burning wood during deforestation. Fires don’t just stop carbon absorption by killing trees, they also spew huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere as the wood burns.

    For about 25 years, most computer climate models have been showing that mid-latitude forests in the Northern Hemisphere absorb more carbon than tropical forests. That result was initially based on the then-current understanding of global air flows and limited data suggesting that deforestation was causing tropical forests to release more carbon dioxide than they were absorbing.

    In the mid-2000s, Stephens used measurements of carbon dioxide made from aircraft to show that many climate models were not correctly representing flows of carbon above ground level. Models that matched the aircraft measurements better showed more carbon absorption in the tropical forests. However, there were still not enough global data sets to validate the idea of a large tropical-forest absorption. Schimel said that their new study took advantage of a great deal of work other scientists have done since Stephens’ paper to pull together national and regional data of various kinds into robust, global data sets.

    Schimel noted that their paper reconciles results at every scale from the pores of a single leaf, where photosynthesis takes place, to the whole Earth, as air moves carbon dioxide around the globe. “What we’ve had up till this paper was a theory of carbon dioxide fertilization based on phenomena at the microscopic scale and observations at the global scale that appeared to contradict those phenomena. Here, at least, is a hypothesis that provides a consistent explanation that includes both how we know photosynthesis works and what’s happening at the planetary scale.”

    NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in the last year, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

    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 [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 8:32 pm on December 30, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL: “Technology Innovations Spin NASA’s SMAP into Space” 

    JPL

    December 30, 2014
    Carol Rasmussen
    NASA Earth Science News Team

    Scheduled for launch on Jan. 29, 2015, NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) instrument will measure the moisture lodged in Earth’s soils with an unprecedented accuracy and resolution. The instrument’s three main parts are a radar, a radiometer and the largest rotating mesh antenna ever deployed in space.

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    NASA/SMAP

    Remote sensing instruments are called “active” when they emit their own signals and “passive” when they record signals that already exist. The mission’s science instrument ropes together a sensor of each type to corral the highest-resolution, most accurate measurements ever made of soil moisture — a tiny fraction of Earth’s water that has a disproportionately large effect on weather and agriculture.

    To enable the mission to meet its accuracy needs while covering the globe every three days or less, SMAP engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, designed and built the largest rotating antenna that could be stowed into a space of only one foot by four feet (30 by 120 centimeters) for launch. The dish is 19.7 feet (6 meters) in diameter.

    “We call it the spinning lasso,” said Wendy Edelstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, the SMAP instrument manager. Like the cowboy’s lariat, the antenna is attached on one side to an arm with a crook in its elbow. It spins around the arm at about 14 revolutions per minute (one complete rotation every four seconds). The antenna dish was provided by Northrop Grumman Astro Aerospace in Carpinteria, California. The motor that spins the antenna was provided by the Boeing Company in El Segundo, California.

    “The antenna caused us a lot of angst, no doubt about it,” Edelstein noted. Although the antenna must fit during launch into a space not much bigger than a tall kitchen trash can, it must unfold so precisely that the surface shape of the mesh is accurate within about an eighth of an inch (a few millimeters).

    The mesh dish is edged with a ring of lightweight graphite supports that stretch apart like a baby gate when a single cable is pulled, drawing the mesh outward. “Making sure we don’t have snags, that the mesh doesn’t hang up on the supports and tear when it’s deploying — all of that requires very careful engineering,” Edelstein said. “We test, and we test, and we test some more. We have a very stable and robust system now.”

    SMAP’s radar, developed and built at JPL, uses the antenna to transmit microwaves toward Earth and receive the signals that bounce back, called backscatter. The microwaves penetrate a few inches or more into the soil before they rebound. Changes in the electrical properties of the returning microwaves indicate changes in soil moisture, and also tell whether or not the soil is frozen. Using a complex technique called synthetic aperture radar processing, the radar can produce ultra-sharp images with a resolution of about half a mile to a mile and a half (one to three kilometers).

    SMAP’s radiometer detects differences in Earth’s natural emissions of microwaves that are caused by water in soil. To address a problem that has seriously hampered earlier missions using this kind of instrument to study soil moisture, the radiometer designers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, developed and built one of the most sophisticated signal-processing systems ever created for such a scientific instrument.

    The problem is radio frequency interference. The microwave wavelengths that SMAP uses are officially reserved for scientific use, but signals at nearby wavelengths that are used for air traffic control, cell phones and other purposes spill over into SMAP’s wavelengths unpredictably. Conventional signal processing averages data over a long time period, which means that even a short burst of interference skews the record for that whole period. The Goddard engineers devised a new way to delete only the small segments of actual interference, leaving much more of the observations untouched.

    Combining the radar and radiometer signals allows scientists to take advantage of the strengths of both technologies while working around their weaknesses. “The radiometer provides more accurate soil moisture but a coarse resolution of about 40 kilometers [25 miles] across,” said JPL’s Eni Njoku, a research scientist with SMAP. “With the radar, you can create very high resolution, but it’s less accurate. To get both an accurate and a high-resolution measurement, we process the two signals together.”

    SMAP will be the fifth NASA Earth science mission launched within the last 12 months.

    For more about the SMAP mission, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/smap/

    NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from space, air and land with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities this year, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

    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 [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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