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  • richardmitnick 1:06 pm on July 20, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From AAAS: “Potential geysers spotted on Pluto” 

    AAAS

    AAAS

    17 July 2015
    Eric Hand

    1
    Smooth plains of ice form polygons some 30 kilometers across in Sputnik Planum, the latest region revealed in close-up images by New Horizons. In the lower right, pits dot the landscape and dark hills protrude above the plains.

    Today, NASA’s New Horizons team unveiled the latest trove of geological goodies in close-up pictures of the surface of Pluto: hummocky hills that rise up above smooth plains of ice, patches of ice pocked by eroded pits, and troughs that form the boundaries of mysterious polygonal structures. Most tantalizing of all, the team has spotted streaks of material that may have blown downwind from dark spots. Although the team is not yet ready to declare that these spots are geysers shooting plumes above Pluto, scientists say the spots and streaks resemble actively spewing geysers on Neptune’s moon Triton that were discovered in 1989.

    The evidence is accumulating that Pluto is an active world, and not only as a place shaped by top-down atmospheric processes of frost and wind and sublimating ice. There also appear to be processes working from the bottom up: forces that lift up water ice mountains the size of the Rocky Mountains and allow them to sit next to smooth plains of ice that, the team suspects, have been resurfaced as recently as within the past 100 million years—or even last week.

    “Have a look at the icy frozen plains of Pluto,” said Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, as he revealed a glimpse of a region named Sputnik Planum in a press conference today at NASA headquarters. “Who would have expected this kind of complexity?”

    The team released the first results from measurements made as the spacecraft passed behind Pluto into its shadow. By measuring the way sunlight was eclipsed around the rim of Pluto, the team was able to analyze its atmosphere—and rule out models showing a turbulent atmosphere in favor of one that is more sluggish. Even with a more stagnant atmosphere, the part of it closest to the surface could still harbor winds blowing at a meter per second or two—enough to move tiny particles of ice around, says Randy Gladstone, a mission co-investigator at SwRI in San Antonio, Texas.

    But the pictures, as usual, stole the show. Sputnik Planum is a region along the southern fringe of the left ventricle of the “heart,” now informally called Tombaugh Regio after Pluto’s discoverer. “I’m still having to remind myself to take deep breaths,” says Jeff Moore, a mission co-investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “The landscape is just astoundingly amazing.” To underscore the point, scientists used New Horizons’ terrain measurements to simulate a dramatic flyover video of the area and a nearby ice mountain range called Norgay Montes (see below).

    Moore says that one of the few terrains that invites a confident diagnosis are the pitted regions, which form as ice sublimates into the atmosphere. He cannot say whether the hills are features that were pushed up above the surrounding plains, or whether they are composed of tougher materials that resisted erosion as the rest of the region wore down. “They can either be popping up or emerging from an erosion-lowering process,” he says. The polygonal troughs are also mysterious, he says. He doesn’t know whether they result from convection in the interior—the large-scale patterns of heat upwelling in Pluto’s mantle—or from contracting ice, analogously to the way mud cracks form on Earth.

    Moore says it’s likely that the Sputnik Planum terrain—which also contains the geyser like spots—extends all the way up into the left ventricle of the heart. Stern presented chemical evidence that this entire region is enriched in carbon monoxide ice. It could be either a pool of very thick layers of ice that welled up from below, or just a centimeter-thick veneer of carbon monoxide snow from above. Moore says the jury is still out on whether Tombaugh Regio was emplaced from below or shaped from above. Quite possibly, he says, both processes are in play: The terrain may have been deposited in a bout of activity a long time ago, and since been eroded. “It could be there’s a source region there,” Stern says. “It’s a very special place on the planet.”

    New Horizons, a spacecraft the size of a baby grand piano, on Tuesday made its closest approach past Pluto, flying within 12,500 kilometers of its surface and making a first-ever reconnaissance of an object in the Kuiper belt, the region of icy worlds beyond Neptune.

    2
    Known objects in the Kuiper belt beyond the orbit of Neptune (scale in AU; epoch as of January 2015).

    But images from Pluto are being returned to Earth in a trickle over the course of 16 months, because of the vast distances and the modest power of New Horizon’s radio antenna. NASA Planetary Science Division Director Jim Green says the spacecraft has returned only 1% to 2% of the data so far.

    In pictures NASA released on Wednesday, the big surprise was mountains of water ice rising 3500 meters up from strikingly smooth, crater-free surfaces. The lack of craters—also seen on Charon, Pluto’s largest moon—is evidence for youthfulness, and geological activity that could pave over the surfaces in fresh icy materials. This was unexpected, because many thought that the internal heat sources within Pluto and Charon, leftover from their formation in a giant impact billions of years ago, would have dissipated long ago.

    Larry Soderblom, a retired scientist from the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona, who helped explore Neptune’s moon Triton on NASA’s Voyager mission, is impressed by both the similarities and differences between that world and Pluto. Pluto is the largest Kuiper belt object; Triton is thought to be a captured one. Both harbor smooth surfaces that suggest repaving driven by internal heating. But where that activity on Triton can be driven by the tidal pull of Neptune, scientists are scratching their heads over what could be driving it on Pluto. There are other differences between the worlds, Soderblom says: Triton lacks Pluto’s tall mountains and its rugged, ropy pits. “Everywhere we go, we’re surprised,” he says. “We should know better by now.”

    NASA is planning its next press conference on 24 July. After that, image retrievals from New Horizons’ cameras will pause for nearly 2 months while the team focuses on gathering data from its particle and plasma instruments. In August, the team plans to choose between two candidate Kuiper belt objects—far smaller than Pluto—and then steer the spacecraft to an encounter with it in 2019. The $720 million mission is being operated by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

    With additional reporting by Richard Kerr.

    See the full article here.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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  • richardmitnick 1:25 pm on July 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “NASA’s New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto’s ‘Heart’” 

    NASA

    NASA

    July 17, 2015

    Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
    dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

    Mike Buckley
    Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
    240-228-7536
    michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

    Maria Stothoff
    Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
    210-522-3305
    maria.stothoff@swri.org

    1
    In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature – informally named “Tombaugh Regio” – lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains and has been informally named Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), after Earth’s first artificial satellite. The surface appears to be divided into irregularly-shaped segments that are ringed by narrow troughs. Features that appear to be groups of mounds and fields of small pits are also visible. This image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The blocky appearance of some features is due to compression of the image. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

    In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    New Horizons

    This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

    “This terrain is not easy to explain,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations.”

    This fascinating icy plains region — resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth — has been informally named “Sputnik Planum” (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth’s first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.

    Scientists have two working theories as to how these segments were formed. The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp. On Pluto, convection would occur within a surface layer of frozen carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen, driven by the scant warmth of Pluto’s interior.

    Pluto’s icy plains also display dark streaks that are a few miles long. These streaks appear to be aligned in the same direction and may have been produced by winds blowing across the frozen surface.

    The Tuesday “heart of the heart” image was taken when New Horizons was 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) from Pluto, and shows features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across. Mission scientists will learn more about these mysterious terrains from higher-resolution and stereo images that New Horizons will pull from its digital recorders and send back to Earth during the next year.

    The New Horizons Atmospheres team observed Pluto’s atmosphere as far as 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) above the surface, demonstrating that Pluto’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere is quite extended. This is the first observation of Pluto’s atmosphere at altitudes higher than 170 miles above the surface (270 kilometers).

    The New Horizons Particles and Plasma team has discovered a region of cold, dense ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto — the planet’s atmosphere being stripped away by the solar wind and lost to space.

    “This is just a first tantalizing look at Pluto’s plasma environment,” said New Horizons co-investigator Fran Bagenal, University of Colorado, Boulder.

    “With the flyby in the rearview mirror, a decade-long journey to Pluto is over –but, the science payoff is only beginning,” said Jim Green, director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Data from New Horizons will continue to fuel discovery for years to come.”

    Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado, added, “We’ve only scratched the surface of our Pluto exploration, but it already seems clear to me that in the initial reconnaissance of the solar system, the best was saved for last.”

    New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning.

    Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates are also available on the mission Facebook page.

    For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and new images, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

    and

    http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:12 pm on July 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From AAAS: “Pluto is alive—but where is the heat coming from?” 

    AAAS

    AAAS

    15 July 2015
    Eric Hand

    1
    Mountains of water ice rise up from the surface of Pluto, in images released today by NASA’s New Horizons mission. Image credit NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

    Towering mountains of water ice rise up to 3500 meters tall on Pluto, above smooth plains covered in veneers of nitrogen and methane ice, NASA’s New Horizons team announced today.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    New Horizons

    The discovery, along with the finding that parts of the dwarf planet’s surface are crater-free and therefore relatively young, points to a place that has been geologically reworked in the recent past. “It could even be active today,” said John Spencer, a New Horizons team member at Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Boulder, Colorado, at a press conference today at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

    The team also showed off new images of unexpectedly smooth surfaces on Pluto’s moon Charon—which, without an atmosphere, was expected to have an even more battered surface than Pluto. Radioactive elements in both bodies’ interiors could provide some of the heat needed for geological mountain building or ice flows that repave the surface. But Pluto, and especially Charon, are far too small for this heat to persist. The giant impact thought to have formed the two worlds could also provide a source of energy, but that probably happened billions of years ago.

    “It’s going to send a lot of scientists back to the drawing boards,” said Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator at SWRI, at the press conference. Scientists outside the team suggest that the puzzlingly youthful surfaces could be explained if the dwarf planet and its moon were formed in a far more recent impact event, or if their reservoirs of water ice were mixed with other compounds that can melt and flow and lower temperatures.

    Although the number of TV crews parked outside APL has diminished considerably since the historic flyby on 14 July, the power of Pluto to dazzle continues to grow. The New Horizons team still has not retrieved data from the moment of close approach, which came on Tuesday as the probe swooped within 12,500 kilometers of the surface, 33 times closer than the moon is to Earth. Those images will come much later, over the course of 16 months, after the spacecraft completes its observations and can devote itself to beaming back data. At distances of about 4.7 billion kilometers, it takes 4.5 hours for New Horizons to communicate with Earth, and the data returns in trickles of a few kilobits per seconds.

    But the early images are still providing scientists with plenty to chew on. One surprise was the discovery of the rugged water ice mountains in a dark, equatorial region next to a bright, heart-shaped region. (The team said it would informally name the “heart” Tombaugh Regio, after Pluto’s discoverer.) The frigid temperatures on Pluto mean that water ice is hard and doesn’t move or melt easily: It is Pluto’s bedrock. Seeing it protrude in mountains at the surface suggests that layers of other, more volatile ices—methane, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide—might only be a thin veneer of materials. Yet if these layers are too thin, they would be lost completely relatively quickly as they sublimate into the atmosphere and erode into space, Stern says. That means that there must be a way of replenishing these more volatile ices from within Pluto’s interior—perhaps through volcanoes of ice, called cryovolcanoes. “We haven’t found geysers and we haven’t found cryovolcanoes, but this is very strong evidence that will send us looking,” he says.

    2
    Smooth surfaces on Pluto’s moon Charon imply geological reworking in the recent past. Image credit NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

    Geoffrey Collins, a planetary scientist at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, unaffiliated with the team, is amazed by the images. “Clearly we’re seeing internal activity on the surface of Pluto and Charon,” he says. “Something is pulling apart their ice crusts.” Collins is excited because there is no way to explain the activity with conventional models of heat loss. “If the Charon-Pluto impact happened more recently, all the problems would be solved,” he says.

    Jonathan Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University who is not affiliated with the mission, agrees that the most curious discovery is the youthful surfaces of both bodies. “How do you keep these things warm for so long?” he asks. But he would rather find a mechanism besides a more recent impact event, which he calls “special pleading.” A giant impact is more likely to have occurred near the start of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago, when the Kuiper belt—the distant shell of icy bodies in which Pluto resides—harbored more potential impactors than it does today.

    3
    Known objects in the Kuiper belt beyond the orbit of Neptune (scale in AU; epoch as of January 2015).

    But Lunine says it could be that the dynamics of the Kuiper belt are different from those in the rest of the solar system. Another mechanism to get water ice to move and flow more readily, he suggests, is to mix it with other compounds, such as ammonia. Ammonia-water mixes have been proposed for other icy bodies in the outer solar system, but they have never been identified directly, he says. “Maybe that’s happening here.”

    Nancy Chabot, another planetary scientist at APL who is not affiliated with the mission, says the most important discovery today will end up being the ice mountains. “It’s going to be something people talk about for a while,” she says. The mountains—and their implication of mountain-building activity—runs counter to the expectation that Kuiper belt objects are cold, pristine relics. “We talk about these things as time capsules from the early solar system,” she says. That notion must evolve, she says. “Even though they are primitive bodies, they are also active bodies.”

    NASA is planning to reveal more images at press conferences on Friday, 17 July, and a week later, on 24 July. After that, downloads of image data from the spacecraft will pause until September, while the mission concentrates on retrieving near real-time data from particle and plasma measuring instruments. Even once the full dataset is retrieved, sometime toward the end by 2016, the mission will not be over. In August, the team will choose between two small Kuiper belt objects for an extended mission. If granted funding, New Horizons will steer toward an encounter with one of those small bodies in 2019.

    See the full article here.

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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    • richardmitnick 2:05 pm on July 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I am looking at the post with your comment approved. I do see the reblog button with the bunch of buttons below the “about these ads bloc.

      Thanks, I hope you do find it and share the post.

      Like

  • richardmitnick 8:16 am on July 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA: “The Women who Power NASA’s New Horizons Mission to Pluto” 

    NASA

    NASA

    Last Updated: July 16, 2015
    Editor: Tricia Talbert

    1
    Women make up approximately 25 percent of the New Horizons flyby team. The female team members were photographed at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on July 11, 2015, just three days before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto. Kneeling from left to right: Amy Shira Teitel, Cindy Conrad, Sarah Hamilton, Allisa Earle, Leslie Young, Melissa Jones, Katie Bechtold, Becca Sepan, Kelsi Singer, Amanda Zangari, Coralie Jackman, Helen Hart. Standing, from left to right: Fran Bagenal, Ann Harch, Jillian Redfern, Tiffany Finley, Heather Elliot, Nicole Martin, Yanping Guo, Cathy Olkin, Valerie Mallder, Rayna Tedford, Silvia Protopapa, Martha Kusterer, Kim Ennico, Ann Verbiscer, Bonnie Buratti, Sarah Bucior, Veronica Bray, Emma Birath, Carly Howett, Alice Bowman. Not pictured: Priya Dharmavaram, Sarah Flanigan, Debi Rose, Sheila Zurvalec, Adriana Ocampo, Jo-Anne Kierzkowsk Sheila Zurvaleci. Credits: SwRI/JHUAPL

    2
    Alice Bowman, the Mission Operations Manager, at work in the Mission Operations Center. On the job, Bowman is the “MOM” of the MOC. This photo was taken during the New Horizons (final) hibernation wake-up on December 6, 2014. Bowman said, “It looks like I was either asking for a different configuration or asking about the telemetry I was seeing on the displays.” Credits: SwRI/JHUAPL

    When Fran Bagenal began her career working on NASA’s Voyager mission to the outer planets, she was among just a handful of women on the team. But that didn’t phase her. “That’s just how it was,” she explains, adding that she was focused on particles and plasma. “Space physics was just my way of exploring the solar system.” Now, as the particles and plasma science team leader on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, her response to the relative abundance of women on the team is met mostly with a shrug. “This isn’t remarkable—it’s just how it is.”

    Bagenal’s attitude regarding the strong female presence on the New Horizons mission is mostly echoed by colleagues who were informally surveyed. “I’ve never really thought about it,” says Kim Ennico, a deputy project scientist on New Horizons who calibrates instruments on the spacecraft and monitors their status. “I’m really only conscious of it when there are only women in a meeting room.”

    In preparation for New Horizons’ Pluto flyby—the mission phase between July 7 and July 16—Ennico works with Leslie Young, another deputy project scientist who is also the encounter planning leader on the science team. Young is tasked with fitting all of New Horizons’ science goals into the precious few days the spacecraft will be in the near vicinity of Pluto. “I figure out the spacecraft’s priorities,” she says, describing the process as, “a job that means scheduling observations that can run simultaneously to gather the most data in a limited time.”

    Young’s flyby playbook for New Horizons is turned into spacecraft commands by the science operation team managed by Tiffany Finley, who calls the gender balance on the New Horizons team “refreshing.”

    Spacecraft commands are passed on to the mission operations team, managed by Alice Bowman. She personally reads every line of code before it’s sent on a four-and-a-half hour journey to New Horizons. “I’m the last one who signs off on everything we send to the spacecraft,” she explains. “I want to make sure it’s perfect.”

    Of course, the flyby science couldn’t happen without the spacecraft arriving at its target, a major challenge that falls to Yanping Guo. As the mission design leader, Guo configured the entire mission trajectory, including the Jupiter and Pluto flybys. In short, “My job is to get New Horizons to Pluto.”

    The dozens of women who are powering New Horizons to a history-making July 14 flyby of Pluto look forward to the day when the conversation about gender becomes irrelevant. “Girls will be inspired to be scientists and boys will grow up to be ‘gender blind,’ seeing women in science as the norm,” says Young.

    For deputy project scientist Cathy Olkin, it’s simple. “New Horizons is about a group of talented, smart people who are passionate about the mission. That’s what makes New Horizons awesome.”

    3
    Members of the New Horizons team are shown at the launch of the spacecraft, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 19, 2006. From left to right: Leslie Young, Yanping Guo, Cathy Olkin, Jeanette Thorn, Debi Rose, Ann Harch, Heather Elliott, Fran Bagenal.
    Credits: KSC/NASA

    At 7:49 AM EDT on Tuesday, July 14 New Horizons will zip past Pluto at 30,800 miles per hour (49,600 kilometers per hour), with a suite of seven science instruments busily gathering data. The mission will complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system with the first-ever look at the icy dwarf planet.

    Follow the path of the spacecraft in coming days in real time with a visualization of the actual trajectory data, using NASA’s online Eyes on Pluto.

    Stay in touch with the New Horizons mission with #PlutoFlyby and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/new.horizons1

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:04 am on July 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From NASA: “Pluto and Charon Shine in False Color” 

    NASA

    NASA

    July 14, 2015

    Last Updated: July 16, 2015
    Editor: Tricia Talbert

    1
    Pluto and Charon in False Color Show Compositional Diversity
    Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    New Horizons

    New Horizons has obtained impressive new images of Pluto and its large moon Charon that highlight their compositional diversity. These are not actual color images of Pluto and Charon—they are shown here in exaggerated colors that make it easy to note the differences in surface material and features on each planetary body.

    The images were obtained using three of the color filters of the “Ralph” instrument on July 13 at 3:38 am EDT. New Horizons has seven science instruments on board the spacecraft—including “Ralph” and “Alice”, whose names are a throwback to the “Honeymooners,” a popular 1950s sitcom.

    “These images show that Pluto and Charon are truly complex worlds. There’s a whole lot going on here,” said New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy, Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona. “Our surface composition team is working as fast as we can to identify the substances in different regions on Pluto and unravel the processes that put them where they are.”

    The color data helps scientists understand the molecular make-up of ices on the surfaces of Pluto and Charon, as well as the age of geologic features such as craters. They can also tell us about surface changes caused by space “weather,” such as radiation.

    The new color images reveal that the “heart” of Pluto actually consists of two remarkably different-colored regions. In the false-color image, the heart consists of a western lobe shaped like an ice cream cone that appears peach color in this image. A mottled area on the right (east) side looks bluish. A mid-latitude band appears in shades ranging from pale blue through red. Even within the northern polar cap, in the upper part of the image, various shades of yellow-orange indicate subtle compositional differences. This image was obtained using three of the color filters of the Ralph instrument on July 13 at 3:38 am EDT and received on the ground on at 12:25 pm.

    Charon is Just as Colorful

    The surface of Charon is viewed using the same exaggerated color. The red on the dark northern polar cap of Charon is attributed to hydrocarbon and other molecules, a class of chemical compounds called tholins. The mottled colors at lower latitudes point to the diversity of terrains on Charon. This image was obtained using three of the color filters of the Ralph instrument on July 13 at 3:38 am EDT and received on the ground on at 12:25 pm.

    “We make these color images to highlight the variety of surface environments present in the Pluto system,” said Dennis Reuter, co-investigator with the New Horizons Composition Team. “They show us in an intuitive way that there is much still to learn from the data coming down.”

    Due to the three-billion-mile distance to Pluto, data takes 4 ½ hours to come to Earth, even at the speed of light. It will take 16 months for all of New Horizons’ science data to be received, and the treasure trove from this mission will be studied for decades to come.

    The image reveals that the bright heart-shaped region of Pluto includes areas that differ in color characteristics. The western lobe, shaped like an ice-cream cone, appears peach color in this image. A mottled area on the right (east) appears bluish. Even within Pluto’s northern polar cap, in the upper part of the image, various shades of yellow-orange indicate subtle compositional differences.

    The surface of Charon is viewed using the same exaggerated color. The red on the dark northern polar cap of Charon is attributed to hydrocarbon materials including a class of chemical compounds called tholins. The mottled colors at lower latitudes point to the diversity of terrains on Charon.

    This image was taken at 3:38 a.m. EDT on July 13, one day before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:44 am on July 16, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA New Horizons   

    New Horizons and Pluto with Dr Stephen Hawking 

    NASA TV’s coverage of the historic New Horizons mission to Pluto included a the reaction to the transmission by the New Horizons spacecraft of a preprogrammed signal after its closest approach to Pluto.

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft

    NASA

    NASA

    See the full article here.
    Download of video available.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:32 pm on July 14, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA New Horizons   

    From NASA: “NASA’s Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto Reaches Historic Encounter” 

    NASA

    NASA

    Temp 0
    Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes.
    Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI

    NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is at Pluto.

    After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

    “I’m delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA’s multifaceted journey of discovery continues.”

    Temp 1
    Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft’s last and sharpest image of Pluto before closest approach later in the day, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
    Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

    “The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”

    Per the plan, the spacecraft currently is in data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physical Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons “phones home,” transmitting to Earth a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. The “call” is expected shortly after 9 p.m. tonight.

    The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world.

    “Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer’s son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system.”

    New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.

    New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, says the mission now is writing the textbook on Pluto.

    “The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system,” Stern said. “This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve.”

    New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space — the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.

    Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could incapacitate the spacecraft. Once it reestablishes contact Tuesday night, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data – 10 years’ worth — back to Earth.

    New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple rovers exploring the surface of Mars, the Cassini spacecraft that has revolutionized our understanding of Saturn and the Hubble Space Telescope, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. All of this scientific research and discovery is helping to inform the agency’s plan to send American astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

    “After nearly 15 years of planning, building, and flying the New Horizons spacecraft across the solar system, we’ve reached our goal,” said project manager Glen Fountain at APL “The bounty of what we’ve collected is about to unfold.”

    APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

    Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

    For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:
    http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons
    and
    http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm
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    This article was received by email subscription and I cannot provide a link. There may be future articles which can be of use.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:35 pm on July 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA New Horizons, NASA SPACEFLIGHT.COM   

    From NASA Spaceflight.com: “New Horizons arriving at Pluto for historic Kuiper Belt encounter” 

    NASA

    NASA

    NASA Spaceflight

    July 12, 2015
    Chris Gebhardt

    1

    Humanity is set to visit the dwarf planet Pluto – the first-ever Kuiper Belt Object visited by a spacecraft – as NASA’s New Horizons probe cruises by the space body that was placed at the center of the debate of planet-hood in 2006 and a planetary object that has sparked significant intrigued and pride for millions since its discovery in 1930.

    1
    Kuiper Belt. Source: Minor Planet Center, http://www.cfeps.net

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons

    Completing the Grand Tour of the outer solar system:

    When New Horizons swings past Pluto at 11:49:57 UTC (07:49:57 EDT in the United States) on 14 July 2015, it will not only become the first spacecraft to visit Pluto, but it will also complete a goal originally hoped for during the Voyagers’ Grand Tour of the Solar System in the 1970s and 1980s: visiting every planet (as planets were known at the time of the Voyager missions) in the solar system.

    NASA Voyager 1
    NASA/Voyager 1

    NASA Voyager 2
    NASA/Voyager 2

    When Voyager 1’s course was altered during its approach to Saturn in 1980 to ensure a very close flyby and encounter with the Saturnian moon Titan, the new path put Voyager 1 on an escape trajectory out of the solar system and precluded any possible visit of Voyager 1 to Pluto – as Titian was deemed more important for scientific observation than Pluto because of the moon’s atmosphere.

    When Voyager 2 was sent on a trajectory from Saturn to ensure encounters with and flybys of Uranus and Neptune, NASA thus precluded any chance of a Pluto encounter as Uranus and Neptune’s locations and the needed trajectory to get to both of these planets prevented a course alteration of Voyager 2 to Pluto.

    Thus, when Voyager 2 completed its planetary observations of Neptune in 1989, Pluto was the only bonafide planet (at the time) left unexplored.

    However, with the 2006 International Astronomical Union’s (IAU’s) reclassification of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet status, the decision not to send Voyager 1 or 2 to Pluto and instead focus on the other outer planets meant that the Voyagers had actually visited all of the planets of the solar system as of August 2006.

    But Pluto was never forgotten after the Voyager missions, and numerous missions – that would eventually become New Horizons – were proposed to study the curious little object that became curiouser and curiouser in the near-reaches of the trans-Neptunian region of the solar system.

    The birth of New Horizons:

    Part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, the New Horizons mission rose – as some missions do – from the cancellations of previous Pluto exploration missions, specifically Pluto Fast Flyby and Pluto Kuiper Express.

    Specifically, the Pluto Fast Flyby mission was part of NASA’s concerted effort to study Pluto’s atmosphere while the then-planet was in a portion of its orbit that permitted its atmosphere to remain in a gaseous state.

    3
    Kuiper belt – where Pluto and Charon reside.

    Unlike the Pluto Fast Flyby mission, which would have reached Pluto in 2010, the Pluto Kuiper Express mission would have reached Pluto in 2012 or 2013.

    However, budgetary constraints forced NASA to cancel the mission in 2000, a decision which triggered a three-month concept study in 2001 for additional missions to Pluto.

    In total, two mission concepts were studied: New Horizons and POSSE (Pluto and Outer Solar System Explorer).

    4

    In November 2001, New Horizons was officially selected for funding under the newly created New Frontiers program for NASA.

    Over the following five years, the Southwest Research Institute and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) built New Horizons for NASA.

    Due to the operational needs of the spacecraft in the outer reaches of the solar system, scientists and engineers built New Horizons for limited electronic activity during its short time in the inner solar system and designed interior paint and exterior thermal blanket positions to maximize heat retention in the outer solar system.

    Furthermore, because of the distances from the Sun at which New Horizons’ primary mission would occur, the probe could not realistically carry solar arrays.

    Instead, New Horizons was built with one Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) to provide power – 250 W at launch and 200 W during the Pluto-Charon system encounter – for its systems and all-important scientific instruments.

    5

    Given the nuclear power aspect of the probe, the engineers building New Horizons built-in numerous protections around the plutonium-238 oxide pellets (New Horizons’ “fuel”), covering them with iridium and then encasing them in a graphite shell to prevent any accidental nuclear contamination of Earth’s atmosphere or launch site in the event of a launch failure.

    The U.S. Department of Energy performed several pre-launch studies of a potential launch failure and estimated the chances of a launch accident resulting in the release of radiation into the atmosphere to be 1 in 350.

    Worst-case scenario estimates of radiation exposure from a launch failure stood at 80% of the average annual dosage in North America received from background radiation spread over an area of 105 km (65 miles) from the point of a potential launch accident.

    6

    Once in space, engineers designed New Horizons’ attitude control system with a spin stabilization for cruise stage and a three-axis stabilization for scientific modes – both controlled through 16 hydrazine monopropellant burning thrusters (with four thrusters providing 1.0 lbf and 12 thrusters providing 0.2 lbf).

    Additionally, New Horizons’ designers included two star cameras for fine attitude control during spin and three-axis stabilization modes and two Sun sensors for overall attitude control based on an angle to the Sun and measurements of spin rate and clocking.

    Branching from these propulsion and attitude requirements, scientists chose an X-band communications system for New Horizons to allow the probe to achieve a communication rate of 38 Kbit/s during its Jupiter flyby and 1 Kbit/s during its Plutonian system encounter.

    7

    But above these requirements, the science equipment needed to achieve the mission’s objectives was the most important aspect of pre-mission design and planning.

    In all, the seven scientific instruments chosen for New Horizons were the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI); the Pluto Exploration Remote Sensing Investigation (PERSI) platform, consisting of two instruments: the Ralph telescope and Alice; the Plasma and High-Energy Particles Spectrometer Suite (PAM), consisting of two instrument: SWAP (Solar Wind At Pluto) and PEPSSI (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation); the Radio Science Experiment (REX); and the Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter (VBSDC).

    Launch and cruise to Jupiter:

    New Horizons arrived at its launch site on 24 September 2005 for final launch preparations, which at that time targeted a launch date of 11 January 2006 at the opening of a 23-day window to allow for a gravity assist flyby of Jupiter.

    8

    Back-up launch opportunities were secured for February 2006 and February 2007.

    However, those February launch dates would preclude a flyby of Jupiter and add two to four years travel time for the probe to Pluto. Thus, the 11 January launch date at the opening of the Jupiter gravity assist window was consider unmissable.

    However, the launch date soon slipped to 17 January to allow for inspections of the Atlas V launch vehicle’s kerosene fuel tank.

    When inspections of the Atlas V’s kerosene tank revealed no anomalies, launch operations proceeded toward 17 January but were foiled due to unacceptable high winds at the pad.

    The second launch attempt on 18 January 2006 was subsequently scrubbed due to low clouds and a power outage at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

    8

    Finally, and with a great sense of pride and relief, New Horizons successfully launched on the Atlas V 551 variant on 19 January 2006 at 14:00 EST from Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

    The five solid rocket motors and core stage of the Atlas V in cooperation with the Centaur second stage successfully boosted New Horizons onto its initial trajectory before the Centaur second stage reignited at 14:30 EST to send New Horizons into an Earth-and-Solar escape trajectory.

    An added third stage burn followed the escape burn and boosted New Horizons’ velocity to 58,536 km/h (36,373 mph).

    With this third stage burn, New Horizons set a record for the highest launch speed of any human-made object from Earth, taking only nine hours to reach the moon’s orbit.

    Toward the end of January 2006, with New Horizons safely on its way, mission controllers performed the craft’s first trajectory correction maneuver. This maneuver was so successful that the second trajectory correction maneuver was cancelled.

    Scientists performed the first initial onboard tests of three science instruments on 20 February 2006, resulting in a clean bill of health for those three instruments.

    9

    Mission controllers then performed the third trajectory correction maneuver on 9 March, and by 7 April 2006, New Horizons sailed beyond the orbit of Mars, moving away from the Sun at a relative velocity of 76,000 km/h (47,000 mph).

    As New Horizons cruised toward the asteroid belt by mid-2006, control teams scanned the spacecraft’s trajectory to see if it would, by complete chance, pass close enough to an asteroid to allow for observation.

    On 13 June 2006, New Horizons passed close to asteroid 132524 APL at a minimum distance of 101,867 km (63,297 miles).

    The incidental encounter allowed mission controllers and the scientific teams to use the Ralph telescope to make observations of the asteroid as well as test New Horizons’ observational and tracking systems ahead of the planned Jovian encounter in 2007 and arrival at Pluto in 2015.

    10

    As New Horizons cruised through the asteroid belt in August 2006, the probe’s upcoming encounter with Jupiter took on a different significance than had originally been expected when the probe was launched seven months prior.

    On 24 August 2006, the IAU officially defined “planet” for the first time.

    According to IAU, a planet is an astronomical object orbiting a star or stellar remnant that: (1) is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, (2) is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and (3) has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.

    Under this definition, only eight bodies in the solar system meet the definitional requirements for planet status: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

    11

    However, the IAU went a step further, recognizing and formalizing a new class of celestial bodies that are planetary-mass objects that are neither planets nor a natural satellite, that are in direct orbit of the Sun, that are massive enough for their shape to be in hydrostatic equilibrium (round) under their own gravity, but (crucially) are not massive enough to clear the neighborhood around their orbit.

    This new classification was formally recognized as dwarf planet, of which five solar system bodies currently meet the criteria: Pluto, Ceres, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris.

    Thus, as of 24 August 2006, Pluto has been a dwarf planet, not a planet, and the solar system is now defined as having eight planets and five dwarf planets.

    Thus, New Horizons’ upcoming encounter with Jupiter meant that Jupiter would be the only officially recognized planet of which New Horizons would visit.

    Encounter with the Jovian system: A practice run for Pluto

    At the beginning of September 2006, New Horizons’ teams activated the LORRI and commanded it to take its first long-range photographs of Jupiter at a distance of 291 million km (181 million miles).

    Formal observations, proximity operations, and experiment package testing with Jupiter began in January 2007.

    During proximity operations with the Jovian system, New Horizons’ scientists and mission controllers used Jupiter as a stand-in for Pluto to test New Horizons’ systems and the spacecraft’s ability to perform automated maneuvers during planetary flyby operations.

    Since New Horizons was outfitted with state-of-the-art instruments that far exceeded the instrument capabilities of the Jupiter-dedicated Galileo mission of the 1990s, New Horizons returned significant scientific data about the Jovian system.

    This, coupled with the probe’s still close proximity to Earth (allowing for faster and higher bandwidth communications), meant that New Horizons actually returned more scientific data about Jupiter than it is expected to return about Pluto.

    Of the data returned about Jupiter, New Horizons observed atmospheric condition, analyzed the structures and composition of Jupiter’s clouds, and discovered debris from recent collisions within Jupiter’s rings while also searching for new rings and new moons around Jupiter.

    The search for new rings and moons revealed no previously undiscovered objects.

    12

    However, during New Horizons’ observations of the Jovian moons Io and Callisto, the probe captured 11 volcanic eruptions on the surface of Io, including one eruption that sent ejecta material to an altitude of 330km above the moon’s surface.

    Moreover, observations of Callisto further defined how lighting and viewing conditions affect infrared spectrum readings of surface water ice on the moon.

    Closest encounter with Jupiter occurred at 05:43:40 UTC on 28 February 2007 when New Horizons passed within 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) of the largest planet in the solar system.

    The probe’s trajectory during the flyby was meticulously designed to send New Horizons through a gravity assist slingshot maneuver to maintain the probe’s trajectory while increasing its speed by 14,000 km/h (9,000 mph), thereby accelerating the probe to a total velocity of 83,000 km/h (51,000 mph) relative to the Sun and shortening the probe’s journey to Pluto by three years.

    Jupiter to Pluto:

    Following the probe’s encounter with Jupiter, New Horizons’ control teams commanded the spacecraft into hibernation mode to preserve power as well as the onboard scientific systems.

    From 2007 through 2014, New Horizons spent a majority of its time in hibernation, awakened by its flight control team periodically for a series of tests to ensure that its systems were still operational.

    13

    In terms of travel milestones, New Horizons crossed the orbital boundary of Saturn on 8 June 2008 and the orbit of Uranus on 18 March 2011.

    Following the crossing of Uranus’ orbit, astronomers studying the Plutonian system announced the discovery of two previously unknown moons of Pluto.

    (The two moons were eventually named Kerberos and Styx. The last two previously discovered moons of Pluto, found in 2005, were named Nix and Hydra — both for their connection in mythology to the god Pluto and also because their names began with the first two letters of the New Horizons mission name.)

    However, the discovery of Kerberos and Styx, which had not been detected by previous observations of the Plutonian system by the Hubble Space Telescope, caused concern among mission operators about the possibility of New Horizons running into unseen debris in the Plutonian system.

    14
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    To this end, numerous Earth-based telescopes as well as the Hubble Space Telescope where aimed at Pluto to determine the possibility of a catastrophic collision with debris or dust within the system.

    The observations yielded a 0.3 percent chance of a catastrophic collision with an object in the Plutonian system.

    By 20 July 2014, during a non-hibernation phase of its cruise stage, New Horizons, for the first time, successfully imaged Pluto and Charon as two distinct bodies from a distance of 2.8 AU. (An AU – Astronomical Unit – is defined as the average orbital distance of Earth from the Sun.)

    Following this observation, New Horizons’ team placed the spacecraft into its final hibernation phase.

    On 25 August 2014, New Horizons successfully surpassed the orbital distance of Neptune.

    Distance observations of the Plutonian system:

    On 6 December 2014, NASA awakened New Horizons from hibernation and began regular operations and preparations for the probe’s arrival at the Plutonian system.

    Distance operations officially began on 4 January 2015.

    14

    Between 25-30 January, New Horizons’ onboard cameras captured an orbital dance photographic series of Pluto and Charon – which were still far too distant to be discerned in any clarity – which distinctly showed the two objects orbiting each other with the barycenter (the center of mass of two or more bodies that are orbiting each other, or the point around which they both orbit) of their orbits outside each of them.

    At this time, the remaining four Plutonian moons were still too small and faint to be seen.

    Finally, in earlier February, New Horizons captured its first images of Nix and Hydra.

    It was not until 25 April that New Horizons’ cameras finally captured Kerberos and Styx.

    15

    Prior to Kerberos’ and Styx’s imaging, New Horizons captured evidence for a possible polar cap on Pluto on 15 April.

    By 11 May, New Horizons’ team commanded the spacecraft to perform its own hazard search of the Plutonian system – to be used in conjunction with already established hazard photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope and numerous Earth-based telescopes.

    The hazard scan was also designed to identify any previously unknown objects, such as rings or smaller moons, that had previously avoided detection. To date, no such items or hazards have been identified.

    On 15 May, New Horizons’ cameras began providing higher resolution images of the entire Plutonian system than are capable of being produced from Hubble.

    Furthermore, in addition to direct observations of the Plutonian system during this time, New Horizons also performed observations of Kuiper Belt object VNH0004 when it was just 0.5 AU away.

    Proximity Ops and close-encounter with Pluto:

    Following a small glitch on 4 July (which temporarily placed New Horizons into safe mode, an event that was much hyped in many news media outlets but was in reality a rather minor inconvenience to the mission that resulted in no loss or impact to the primary scientific objectives), New Horizons officially entered proximity operations and flyby mode on 8 July 2015.

    15

    With the close approach flyby at 11:49:57 UTC on 14 July 2015 (07:49:57 EDT in the United States), New Horizons will pass within 7,800 km (12,500 miles) of the surface of Pluto and 28,800 km (17,900 miles) from Charon.

    For the flyby campaign, the New Horizons mission carries multiple scientific objectives divided into three categories.

    The primary mission objectives of the flyby campaign include: mapping of the chemical compositions of Pluto’s and Charon’ surfaces, the characterization of global geologies and morphologies of both Pluto and Charon, and the characterization of the neutral atmosphere of Pluto and its escape rate.

    17

    Secondary mission objectives include: imaging of Pluto and Charon in stereo with LORRI and Ralph; characterization of the time variability of Pluto’s surface and atmosphere and of Pluto’s ionosphere and its interaction with the solar wind; mapping of the chemical compositions of select areas of Pluto and Charon (determined en route to Pluto), the terminators (day/night border) of Pluto and Charon, of surface temperatures on Pluto and Charon, and of additional surfaces on Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, and Styx.

    Other objectives include: determination of bolometric (measurement of the power of incident of electromagnetic radiation by heating a material with a temperature-dependent electrical resistance) Bond albedos (used to determine how much energy a body absorbs) for Pluto and Charon; searching for and determining the composition of any atmosphere on Charon; and searching for neutral hydrogen, hydrocarbons, hydrogen cyanide, and other nitriles in the atmosphere of Pluto (and possibly Charon).

    18

    Finally, New Horizons also carries a series of tertiary objectives, including: refining of the radii, masses, and orbits of Pluto and Charon, searching for additional moons and rings, and characterizing the energetic particle environment at Pluto and Charon.

    To accomplish part of these objectives, on 11 July, New Horizons’ instruments began mapping the surfaces of Pluto and Charon to within 40 km (25 miles) resolution.

    Mapping operations began on 11 July to ensure that all features of Pluto’s and Charon’s surfaces were mapped as the two objects complete one full revolution about their axes during the flyby campaign.

    Moreover, this three-day mapping campaign will allow New Horizons’ LORRI camera to obtain four complete color dayside maps of Pluto at a maximum of 1.6km resolution.

    To accomplish all of the mission’s objectives, New Horizons carries a suite of instruments tailor made for the Pluto encounter.

    Included in the probe’s science package is LORRI, an 8.2-inch aperture camera capable of resolving to approximately 1 asec (1.6km resolution) that will provide high-resolution images within the visual range.

    19

    Joining LORRI is the PERSI platform, consisting of the Ralph telescope (which will provide broadband and color channels in the visible light spectrum as well as near infrared imaging spectrometry) and the Alice instrument (which will provide ultraviolet imaging spectrometer capability to resolve wavelength bands in the far and extreme ultraviolet range).

    Both Ralph and Alice will help determine the composition of Pluto’s atmosphere.

    New Horizons also carries the PAM experiment and its two instruments that will measure the particles of the solar wind and the concentration of those particles at Pluto’s distance from the Sun.

    Meanwhile, the REX instruments will allow for radio scientific observations of the dwarf planet system while VBSDC – a student-built experiment from the University of Colorado at Boulder – will measure dust particle concentration throughout the entirety of New Horizons journey from the distance of Uranus’ orbit out into the Kuiper Belt.

    19

    No dust collector instrument has ever operated successfully beyond the orbital bounds of Uranus, and models for dust accumulation and concentration in the outer solar system remain speculative.

    Thus, VBSDC will help validate those speculative models and help refine our understanding of dust concentrations in the outer solar system.

    With all these instruments concentrating their focus on Pluto and Charon during approach and close flyby, the investigation of Pluto will not end once New Horizons swings beyond the dwarf planet.

    Excitingly enough, since Charon is more than half the diameter of Pluto, its large, relative size and position “behind” Pluto – as viewed from the Sun – at the time of flyby will allow enough reflected light from Charon’s surface onto Pluto’s nightside to allow for some nightside imaging and observations of Pluto.

    New Horizons will also perform backlight, post-flyby observations of Pluto to once again search for any rings around the dwarf planet.

    At the same time, New Horizons’ REX instrument will perform radiometry on the nightside of Pluto.

    Beyond Pluto: To other Kuiper Belt objects

    Once the Pluto encounter is complete, New Horizons will not enter orbit of the dwarf planet but instead continue on into the deep recesses of the Kuiper Belt.

    Pre-mission planning hoped that New Horizons would be able to fly by at least one and possibly two additional Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) after the Pluto encounter.

    19

    However, since the entirety of the mission was based on the successful encounter with Pluto, any KBO visited afterword would have to fall within 1 degree of New Horizons’ trajectory at the time of the Pluto encounter and fall within an orbital boundary of 55 AU.

    The restriction of 1 degree from New Horizons’ trajectory is because of the minimal amount of hydrazine fuel that will remain within the probe following the Pluto campaign.

    The restriction to 55 AU has to do with the probe’s communications and power abilities.

    Beyond 55 AU, New Horizons’ communications link will become too weak to support a flyby.

    Likewise, New Horizons’ power source (its RTG wattage) will have decayed too much to allow for scientific observations of objects beyond 55 AU.

    Moreover, the New Horizons team hoped that any KBO visited after Pluto would be more than 50 km (31 miles) in diameter, neutral in color, and, if possible, have a moon.

    20

    By 15 October 2014, the Hubble Space Telescope had revealed three potential KBO targets for New Horizons post-Pluto.

    All three objects fell within an estimated diameter range of 30-55 km and were observed at distances from the Sun between 43 and 44 AU.

    Of the three objects identified as PT1, PT2, and PT3, estimates for fuel probability of reaching these objects were found to be 100%, 7%, and 97%, respectively.

    Moreover, all three KBOs are low-inclination and low-eccentricity classical KBOs that are quite different from Pluto.

    If PT1 is chosen for flyby (the object with a 100% probability of enough fuel for flyby), New Horizons will reach it in January 2019.

    21

    However, PT3 (the object with a 97% probability of enough fuel for flyby) might be more preferable since it is brighter and therefore probably larger than PT1.

    As of writing, PT2 is no longer in consideration for flyby, and PT1, with a diameter now estimated at 40–70 km, is the preferred flyby target.

    A final decision on which object to take New Horizons to after Pluto will be made in August 2015.

    After this proposed flyby of a KBO, New Horizons will join the Voyager probes in their exploration of the outer realm of the solar system, specifically in the mapping of the heliosphere.

    It is currently estimated that New Horizons will end its mission based on RTG plutonium decay in 2026, thus resulting in intermittent heliosphere data collection if instrument power-sharing is required – as is currently done on the Voyager probes.

    If, like the Voyager probes, New Horizons is still functioning when it reaches the outer heliosphere, it is expected that the probe will encounter the heliopause in 2047 and join Voyager 1 (and by that point, Voyager 2) in the interstellar medium between the stars.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 5:02 pm on July 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA New Horizons,   

    From NASA: “July 12th Daily Briefing for New Horizons/Pluto Mission Pre-Flyby ” Video 

    NASA

    July 12th daily pre-flyby overview of the New Horizons mission, the spacecraft and its suite of instruments and a summary of Pluto science to date from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, site of the mission operations center.

    Watch, enjoy, learn.

    NASA

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:38 pm on July 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA New Horizons, ,   

    From SETI: “Pluto in Sight” 


    SETI Institute

    1

    It takes a village to pull off a decade-long mission to the outer pickets of the solar system.


    SETI Institute Senior Research Scientist, Mark Showalter briefly discusses the discovery of Pluto, its moons and the Kuiper belt then goes on to tell us what we might expect to see when the New Horizons spacecraft approaches Pluto.

    The SETI Institute is deeply involved with the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and several of our scientists are awaiting results that could truly revolutionize understanding of the solar system’s early history.

    We’ve listed these people below, together with brief descriptions of their interests. As you can imagine, they are eagerly awaiting the data that are already streaming back from the spacecraft. The flyby of Pluto will forever transform this storied world from an enigmatic dot of light to one that we will know far better than the ancients knew the Earth.

    New Horizons is about to shift the study of Pluto from astronomy to geology. Meet some of the scientists who are making this happen.

    2
    Mark Showalter

    Mark Showalter is a Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute, and a member of the New Horizons Science Team. His particular focus is making sure that the spacecraft sails past Pluto without suffering damage due to dust or small particles. Keep in mind that most of the information collected by this craft will only be radioed back after the flyby, so a smooth passage is absolutely essential.

    This is not the first time Mark has been uncovering new information about the outer solar system. In addition to finding two of Pluto’s five known moons, Styx and Kerberos, he discovered two moons of Uranus and one of Saturn.

    3
    David Hinson

    David is a Co-Investigator on the New Horizons mission, and a member of the Atmospheres Science Theme Team. By using an on-board transmitter, Hinson will be exploring the atmospheres of both Pluto and Charon by means of radio occultation measurements.

    4
    Angela Zalucha

    Planetary scientist Angela Zalucha makes analytic models of planet atmospheres. The New Horizons results will guide her work by accurately determining Pluto’s diameter, the temperature near the surface, and the distribution and composition of ices on its landscapes. This information will help solve mysteries about Pluto’s atmospheric circulation (i.e., its weather and climate) including such things as wind strength and direction.

    5
    Ross Beyer

    Ross is a member of the New Horizons Geology and Geophysical Imaging sub-team, and participates in image processing and geological interpretations. As data continue to stream back from the spacecraft over the next year, he will be building the first 3-D terrain models of Pluto’s surface. Ross will also be making sure the images are correctly mosaicked together, and will be one of the Pluto system’s first cartographers.

    6
    Cristina Dalle Ore

    Cristina studies organic compounds often found on the surfaces of planets, and in particular the types of compounds known as tholins – blackish materials that form when ultraviolet light from the Sun hits water, ice, methane, and nitrogen. This dark, low-temperature material may cover some of the worlds in the Pluto system, and understanding how it was formed and where it is found could offer us important clues to life’s origin.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SETI Institute – 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
    Mountain View, CA 94043
    Phone 650.961.6633 – Fax 650-961-7099
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