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  • richardmitnick 1:49 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “A Whole New Jupiter: First Science Results from NASA’s Juno Mission” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    May 25, 2017

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

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

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

    Nancy Neal Jones
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-0039
    nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

    Deb Schmid
    Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
    210-522-2254
    dschmid@swri.org

    1
    This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). The oval features are cyclones, up to 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter. Multiple images taken with the JunoCam instrument on three separate orbits were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced color, and stereographic projection.
    Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

    3
    An image of Jupiter taken by the Juno spacecraft. Credit: J.E.P. Connerney et al., Science (2017)phys.org

    3
    Credit: J.E.P. Connerney et al., Science (2017)phys.org

    Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought.

    “We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.”

    Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. The findings from the first data-collection pass, which flew within about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops on Aug. 27, are being published this week in two papers in the journal Science [http://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.aal2108] and [http://science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi/10.1126/science.aam5928] , as well as 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters [too many to chase down].

    “We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”

    Among the findings that challenge assumptions are those provided by Juno’s imager, JunoCam. The images show both of Jupiter’s poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together.

    “We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” said Bolton. “We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

    Another surprise comes from Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR), which samples the thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter’s atmosphere, from the top of the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere. The MWR data indicates that Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones are mysterious, with the belt near the equator penetrating all the way down, while the belts and zones at other latitudes seem to evolve to other structures. The data suggest the ammonia is quite variable and continues to increase as far down as we can see with MWR, which is a few hundred miles or kilometers.

    Prior to the Juno mission, it was known that Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the solar system. Measurements of the massive planet’s magnetosphere, from Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG), indicate that Jupiter’s magnetic field is even stronger than models expected, and more irregular in shape. MAG data indicates the magnetic field greatly exceeded expectations at 7.766 Gauss, about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth.

    “Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before,” said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and the lead for the mission’s magnetic field investigation at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Already we see that the magnetic field looks lumpy: it is stronger in some places and weaker in others. This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen. Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works.”

    Juno also is designed to study the polar magnetosphere and the origin of Jupiter’s powerful auroras—its northern and southern lights. These auroral emissions are caused by particles that pick up energy, slamming into atmospheric molecules. Juno’s initial observations indicate that the process seems to work differently at Jupiter than at Earth.

    Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter, and the majority of each orbit is spent well away from the gas giant. But, once every 53 days, its trajectory approaches Jupiter from above its north pole, where it begins a two-hour transit (from pole to pole) flying north to south with its eight science instruments collecting data and its JunoCam public outreach camera snapping pictures. The download of six megabytes of data collected during the transit can take 1.5 days.

    “Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” said Bolton. “On our next flyby on July 11, we will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system — one that every school kid knows — Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments.”

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for NASA. The principal investigator is Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in Denver, built the spacecraft.

    More information on the Juno mission is available at:

    https://www.nasa.gov/juno

    http://missionjuno.org

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

    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 11:22 am on May 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , NASA, Planetary Protection is a “Wicked” Problem   

    From Many Worlds: “Planetary Protection is a “Wicked” Problem” 

    NASA NExSS bloc

    NASA NExSS

    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    2017-05-15
    Marc Kaufman
    marc.kaufman@manyworlds.space

    1
    The Viking landers were baked for 30 hours after assembly, a dry heat sterilization that is considered the gold standard for planetary protection.

    NASA/Viking 1 Lander

    Before the baking, the landers were given a preliminary cleaning to reduce the number of potential microbial spores. The levels achieved with that preliminary cleaning are similar to what is now required for a mission to Mars unless the destination is an area known to be suitable for Martian life. In that case, a sterilizing equivalent to the Viking baking is required. (NASA)

    The only time that a formally designated NASA “life detection” mission was flown to another planet or moon was when the two Viking landers headed to Mars forty years ago.

    The odds of finding some kind of Martian life seemed so promising at the time that there was little dispute about how much energy, money and care should be allocated to making sure the capsule would not be carrying any Earth life to the planet. And so after the two landers had been assembled, they were baked at more than 250 °F for three days to sterilize any parts that would come into contact with Mars.

    Although the two landers successfully touched down on the Martian surface and did some impressive science, the life detection portion of the mission was something of a fiasco — with conflict, controversy and ultimately quite a bit of confusion.

    Clearly, scientists did not yet know enough about how to search for life beyond Earth and the confounding results pretty much eliminated life-detection from NASA’s missions for decades.

    But scientific and technological advances of the last ten years have put life detection squarely back on the agenda — in terms of future searches for fossil biosignatures on Mars and for potential life surviving in the oceans of Europa and Enceladus. What’s more, both NASA and private space companies talk seriously of sending humans to Mars in the not-too-distant future.

    With so many missions being planned, developed and proposed for solar system planets and moons, the issue of planetary protection has also gained a higher profile. It seems to have become more contentious and to some seems far less straight-forward as it used to be.

    A broad consensus appears to remain that bringing Earth life to another planet or moon, especially if it is potentially habitable, is a real possibility that is both scientifically and ethically fraught. But there are rumblings about just how much time, money and attention needs to be brought to satisfying the requirements of “planetary protection.”

    In fact, it has become a sufficiently significant question that the first plenary session of the recent Astrobiology Science Conference in Mesa, Arizona was dedicated to it. The issue, which was taken up in later technical sessions as well, was how to assess and weigh the risks of bringing Earth life to other bodies versus the benefits of potentially sending out more missions, more often and more cheaply.

    It is not a simple problem, explained Andrew Maynard, director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. Indeed, he told the audience of scientists that it was a “wicked problem,” a broadly used terms for issues that are especially complex and involve numerous issues and players.

    2
    A primary barrier to keeping microbes off spacecraft and instruments going to space is to build them in clean rooms, such as this one at JPL. These large rooms with filtered air do help lower the count of microbes on surfaces, but the bacteria are everywhere and further steps are essential. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    As he later elaborated to me, other “wicked” risk-benefit problems include gene editing and autonomous driving — both filled with great potential and serious potential downsides. Like travel to other planets and moons.

    “This is subjective,” Maynard said, “but I’d put planetary protection on the more wicked end of the spectrum. It combines individual priorities and ethics — what people and groups deeply believe is right — with huge uncertainties. That makes it something never really experienced before and so escalates all factors of wickedness.”

    Those groups include scientists (who very much don’t want Mars or another potentially habitable place to be contaminated with Earth life before they can get there), to advocates of greater space exploration (who worry that planetary protection will slow or eliminate some missions they very much want to proceed), to NASA mission managers (worried about delays and costs associated with planetary protections surprises.)

    And then there’s the general public which might (or might not) have entirely different ethical concerns about the potential for contaminating other planets and moons with Earth life.

    No wonder the problem is deemed wicked.

    We’ll get into the pros and cons, but first some background:

    I asked NASA’s Planetary Protection officer, Catharine Conley, whether Earth life has been transported to its most likely solar system destination, Mars.

    3
    Catharine “Cassie” Conley has been NASA’s Planetary Protection officer since 2006. There is only one other full-time official in the world with the same responsibilities, and he works for the European Space Agency. (NASA/W. Hrybyk)

    Her reply: “There are definitely Earth organisms that we’ve brought to Mars and are still alive on the spacecraft.”

    NASA/Mars Curiosity Rover

    She said it is quite possible that some of those organisms were brushed off the vehicles or otherwise were shed and fell to the surface. Because of the strong ultraviolet radiation and the Earth life-destroying chemical makeup of the soil, however, it’s unlikely the organisms could last for long, and equally unlikely that any would have made it below the surface. Nonetheless, it is sobering to hear that Earth life has already made it to Mars.

    Related to this reality is the understanding that Earth life, in the form of bacteria, algae and fungi and their spores, can be extraordinarily resilient. Organisms have been discovered that can survive unimagined extremes of heat and cold, can withstand radiation that would kill us, and can survive as dormant spores for tens of thousands of years.

    What’s more, Mars scientists now know that the planet was once much warmer and wetter, and that ice underlies substantial portions of the planet. There are even signs today of seasonal runs of what some scientists argue is very briny surface water.

    So the risk of Earth life surviving a ride to another planet or moon is probably greater than imagined earlier, and the possibility of that Earth life potentially surviving and spreading on a distant surface (think the oceans of Europa and Enceladus, or maybe a briny, moist hideaway on Mars) is arguably greater too. From a planetary protection perspective, all of this is worrisome.

    The logic of planetary protection is, like almost everything involved with the subject, based on probabilities. Discussed as far back as the 1950s and formalized in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the standard agreed on is to take steps that ensure there is less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of a spaceship or lander or instrument from Earth bringing life to another body.

    This figure takes into account the number of microorganisms on the spacecraft, the probability of growth on the planet or moon where the mission is headed, and a series of potential sanitizing to sterilizing procedures that can be used. A formula for assessing the risk of a mission for planetary protection purposes was worked out in 1965 by Carl Sagan, along with Harvard theoretical physicist Sidney Coleman.

    4
    Deinococcus radiodurans is an extremophilic bacterium, one of the most radiation-resistant organisms known. It can survive cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid, and is therefore known as a polyextremophile and is considered perhaps the world’s toughest bacterium. It can withstand a radiation dose 1,000 times stronger than what would kill a person. No image credit.

    A lot has been learned since that time, and some in the field say it’s time to re-address the basics of planetary protection. They argue, for instance, that since we now know that Earth life can (theoretically, at least) be carried inside a meteorite from our planet to Mars, then Earth life may have long been on Mars — if it is robust enough to survive when it lands.

    In addition, a great deal more is known about how to sanitize a space vehicle without baking it entirely — a step that is both very costly and could prove deadly to the more sophisticated capsules and instruments. And more is known about the punishing environment on the surface of Mars and elsewhere.

    People ranging from Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin to Cornell University Visiting Scientist Alberto G. Fairén in Nature Geoscience have argued — and sometimes railed — against planetary protection requirements. NASA mission managers have often voiced their concerns as well. The regulations, some say, slow the pace of exploration and science to avoid a vanishingly small risk.

    5
    Brent Sherwood, planetary mission formulation manager for JPL, is currently overseeing two proposed projects for New Frontiers missions. One is to search for signs of life on Saturn’s moon Enceladus and the other for habitability on the moon Titan. (Brent Sherwood)

    Brent Sherwood, program manager for solar system mission formulation at JPL, spoke at AbSciCon about what he sees as the need for a review and possibly reassessment of the planetary protection rules and regulations. As someone who helps scientists put together proposals for NASA missions in the solar system, he has practical and long considered views about planetary protection.

    He and his co-authors argue that the broad conversation that needs to take place should include scientists, ethicists, managers, and policy makers; and especially should include the generations that will actually implement and live with the consequences of these missions.

    In the abstract for his talk, Sherwood wrote:

    “The (1 chance in 10,000) requirement may not be as logically sound or deserving of perpetuation as generally assumed. What status should this requirement have within an ethical decision-making process? Do we need a meta-ethical discussion about absolute values, rather than an arbitrary number that purports to govern the absolute necessity of preserving scientific discovery or protecting alien life?”
    As he later he told me: “I’m recommending that we be proactive and engage the broadest possible range of stakeholder communities…. With these big, hairy risk problems, everything is probabilistic and open to argument. People are bad at thinking of very small and very big numbers, and the same for risks. They tend to substitute opinion for fact.”
    Sherwood is no foe of planetary protection. But he said planetary protection is a “foundational” part of the space program, and he wants to make sure it is properly adapted for the new space era we are entering.”

    6
    Elon Musk of SpaceX, Jeff Bezos of Blue Origins and NASA have all talked about potentially sending astronauts to Mars or establishing a colony on Mars in the decades ahead. Many obstacles remain, but planning is underway. (Bryan Versteeg/Spacehabs.com)

    Planetary protection officer Conley contends that regular reviews are already built into the system. She told me that every mission gets a thorough planetary protection assessment early in the process, and that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Rather, the risks and architecture of the missions are studied within the context of the prevailing rules.

    In addition, she said, the group that oversees planetary protection internationally — the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) — meets every two years and its Panel on Planetary Protection takes up general topics and welcomes input from whomever might want to raise issues large or small.

    “You hear it said that there are protected areas on Mars or Europa where missions can’t go, but that’s not the case,” she said. “These are sensitive areas where life just might be present now or was present in the past. If that’s the case, then the capsule or lander or rover has to be sterilized to the level of the Viking missions.”

    She said that she understood that today’s spacecraft are different from Viking, which was designed and built from scratch with planetary protection in mind. Today, JPL and other mission builders get some of their parts “off the shelf” in an effort to make space exploration less expensive.

    “We do have to balance the goals of exploration and space science with making sure that Earth life does not take hold. We also have to be aware that taxpayer money is being spent. But if a mission sent out returns a signal of life, what have we achieved if it turns out to be life we brought there?

    “I see planetary protection as a great success story. People identified a potential contamination problem back in the 50s, put regulations into place, and have succeeded in avoiding the problem. This kind of global cooperation that leads to the preventing of a potentially major problem just doesn’t happen that often.

    The global cooperation has been robust, Conley said, despite the fact that only NASA and the European Space Agency have a full-time planetary protection officer.

    She cited the planning for the joint Russian-Chinese mission to the Martian moon Phobos as an example of other nations agreeing to very high standards. She and her European Space Agency (ESA) counterpart traveled twice to Moscow to discuss planetary protection steps being taken.

    7
    Andrew Maynard is the director of Arizona State University’s Risk Innovation Lab and is a professor in School for the Future of Innovation in Society. (ASU.)

    So far, she said private space companies have been attentive to planetary protection as well. Some of the commercial space activity in the future involve efforts to mine on asteroids, and Conley said there is no planetary protection issues involved. The same with mining on our moon.

    But should the day arrive that private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin seriously propose a human mission to Mars — as they have said they plan to — Conley said they would have the same obligations as for NASA mission. The US has not yet determined how to ensure that compliance, she said, but companies already would need Federal Aviation Administration approval for a launch, and planetary protection is part of that.

    Risk innovation expert Maynard, however, was not so sure about those protections. He said he could imagine a situation where Elon Musk of SpaceX or Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin or any other space entrepreneur around the world would decide to move their launch to a nation that would be willing to provide the service without intensive planetary protection oversight.

    “The risk of this may be small, but this is all about the potentially outsize consequences of small risks,” he said.

    Maynard said that was hardly a likely scenario — and that commercial space pioneers so far have been supportive of planetary protection guidelines — but that he was well aware of the displeasure among some mission managers and participating scientists about planetary protection requirements.

    Given all this, it’s easy to see how and why planetary protection advocates might feel that the floodgates are being tested, and why space explorers looking forward to a time when Mars and other bodies might be visited by astronauts and later potentially colonized are concerned about potential obstacles to their visions.

    8
    An artist’s rendering of a sample return from Mars. Both the 2020 NASA Mars mission and the ESA-Russian mission are designed to identify and cache intriguing rocks for delivery to Earth in the years ahead. (Wickman Spacecraft & Propulsion)

    This column has addressed the issue of “forward contamination” — how to prevent Earth life from being carried to another potentially habitable solar system body and surviving there. But there is another planetary protection worry and that involves “backward contamination” — how to handle the return of potentially living extraterrestrial organisms to Earth.

    That will be the subject of a later column, but suffice it to say it is very much on the global space agenda, too.

    The Apollo astronauts famously brought back pounds of moon rocks, and grains of asteroid and comet dust have also been retrieved and delivered. A sample return mission by the Russian and Chinese space agencies was designed to return rock or grain samples from the Martian moon Phobos earlier this decade, but the spacecraft did not make it beyond low Earth orbit.

    However, the future will see many more sample return attempts. The Japanese space agency JAXA launched a mission to the asteroid 162173 Ryugu in 2014 (Hayabusa 2) and it will arrive there next year.

    JAXA/Hayabusa 2

    The plan is collect rock and dust samples and bring them back to Earth. NASA’s OSIRIS-REx is also making its way to an asteroid, 101955 Bennu, with the goal of collecting a sample as well for return to Earth.

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    And in 2020 both NASA and ESA (with Russian collaboration) will launch spacecraft for Mars with the intention of preparing for future sample returns. Sample return is a very high priority in the Mars and space science communities, and many consider it essential for determining whether there has ever been life on Mars.

    So the “wicked” challenges of planetary protection are only going to mount in the years ahead.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    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 2:10 pm on May 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA, NASA Receives Proposals for Future Solar System Mission   

    From NASA: “NASA Receives Proposals for Future Solar System Mission” 

    NASA image
    NASA

    May 5, 2017
    Editor: Bill Keeter

    1
    No image caption, no image credit

    NASA has received and is reviewing 12 proposals for future unmanned solar system exploration. The proposed missions of discovery – submitted under NASA’s New Frontiers program – will undergo scientific and technical review over the next seven months. The goal is to select a mission for flight in about two years, with launch in the mid-2020s.

    “New Frontiers is about answering the biggest questions in our solar system today, building on previous missions to continue to push the frontiers of exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re looking forward to reviewing these exciting investigations and moving forward with our next bold mission of discovery.”

    Selection of one or more concepts for Phase A study will be announced in November. At the conclusion of Phase A concept studies, it is planned that one New Frontiers investigation will be selected to continue into subsequent mission phases. Mission proposals are selected following an extensive competitive peer review process.

    Investigations for this announcement of opportunity were limited to six mission themes:

    Comet Surface Sample Return
    Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return
    Ocean Worlds (Titan and/or Enceladus)
    Saturn Probe
    Trojan Tour and Rendezvous
    Venus In Situ Explorer

    The New Frontiers Program conducts principal investigator (PI)-led space science investigations in SMD’s planetary program under a development cost cap of approximately $1 billion.

    This would be the fourth mission in the New Frontiers portfolio; its predecessors are the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Juno mission to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx, which will rendezvous with and return a sample of asteroid Bennu.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    NASA/Juno

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    New Frontiers Program investigations must address NASA’s planetary science objectives as described in the 2014 NASA Strategic Plan and the 2014 NASA Science Plan.

    The New Frontiers Program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

    Read more about NASA’s New Frontiers Program and missions at:

    https://discoverynewfrontiers.nasa.gov/index.cfml

    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 12:29 pm on May 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA, ,   

    From Universe Today: “Faster Supercomputer! NASA Announces the High Performance Fast Computing Challenge” 

    universe-today

    Universe Today

    5 May , 2017
    Matt Williams

    1
    Looking to the future of space exploration, NASA and TopCoder have launched the “High Performance Fast Computing Challenge” to improve the performance of their Pleiades supercomputer. Credit: NASA/MSFC

    For decades, NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) has been responsible for developing the technologies that put satellites into orbit, astronauts on the Moon, and sent robotic missions to other planets. Unfortunately, after many years of supporting NASA missions, some of their machinery is getting on in years and is in need of an upgrade.

    Consider the Pleiades supercomputer, the distributed-memory machine that is responsible for conducting modeling and simulations for NASA missions. Despite being one of the fastest supercomputers in the world, Pleiades will need to be upgraded in order to stay up to task in the years ahead. Hence why NASA has come together with TopCoder (and with the support of HeroX) to launch the High Performance Fast Computing Challenge (HPFCC).

    With a prize purse of $55,000, NASA and TopCoder are seeking programmers and computer specialists to help them upgrade Pleiades so it can perform computations faster. Specifically, they want to improve its FUN3D software so that flow analysis which previously took months can now be done in days or hours. In short, they want to speed up their supercomputers by a factor of 10 to 1000 while relying on its existing hardware, and without any decreases in accuracy.

    3
    The addition of Haswell processors in 2015 increased the theoretical peak processing capability of Pleiades from 4.5 petaflops to 5.3 petaflops. Credit: NASA

    Those hoping to enter need to be familiar with FUN3D software, which is used to calculate the nonlinear partial differential equations (aka. Navier-Stokes equations) that are used for steady and unsteady flow computations. These include large eddy simulations in computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which are of particular importance when it comes to supersonic aircraft, space flight, and the development launch vehicles and planetary reentry systems.

    NASA has partnered to launch this challenge with TopCoder, the world’s largest online community of designers, developers and data scientists. Since it was founded in 2001, this company has hosted countless online competitions (known as “single round matches”, or SRMs) designed to foster better programming. They also host weekly competitions to stimulate developments in graphic design.

    Overall, the HPFSCC will consist of two challenges – the Ideation Challenge and the Architecture Challenge. For the Ideation Challenge (hosted by NASA), competitors must propose ideas that can help optimize the Pleiades source code. As they state, may include (but is not limited to) “exploiting algorithmic developments in such areas as grid adaptation, higher-order methods and efficient solution techniques for high performance computing hardware.”

    4
    The computation of fluid dynamics is of particular importance when plotting space launches and reentry. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    The Architecture Challenge (hosted by TopCoder), is focused less on strategy and more on measurable improvements. As such, participants will be tasked with showing how to optimize processing in order to reduce the overall time and increase the efficiency of computing models. Ideally, says TopCoder, this would include “algorithm optimization of the existing code base, inter-node dispatch optimization, or a combination of the two.”

    NASA is providing $20,000 in prizes for the Ideation challenge, with $10,000 awarded for first place, and two runner-up awards of $5000 each. TopCoder, meanwhile, is offering $35,000 for the Architecture challenge – a top prize of $15,000 for first place, $10,000 for second place, with $10,000 set aside for the Qualified Improvement Candidate Prize Pool.

    The competition will remain open to submissions until June 29th, 2017, at which point, the judging will commence. This will wrap up on August 7th, and the winners of both competitions will be announced on August 9th. So if you are a coder, computer engineer, or someone familiar with FUN3D software, be sure to head on over to HeroX and accept the challenge!

    Human space exploration continues to advance, with missions planned for the Moon, Mars, and beyond. With an ever-expanding presence in space and new challenges awaiting us, it is necessary that we have the right tools to make it all happen. By leveraging improvements in computer programming, we can ensure that one of the most important aspects of mission planning remains up to task!

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:32 am on April 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA, Tiny Probes Hold Big Promise for Future NASA Missions   

    From NASA: “Tiny Probes Hold Big Promise for Future NASA Missions” 

    NASA image
    NASA

    April 18, 2017
    Editor: Loura Hall

    1
    This picture shows the entry probe and the metal outer shell. The metal shell allows the probe to be connected with the supply ship and also facilitates the probe to be released during break-up of the supply spacecraft during reentry.

    2
    The three probes shown in the above picture will reentry during the supply spacecraft break-up and collect data. The probe on the left has conformal TPS, the probe in the middle is Orion’s Avcoat TPS and the probe on the right is made of Shuttle Tile.

    Sometimes to find the best solution to a big problem, you have to start small.

    A team of NASA engineers has been working on a new type of Thermal Protection System (TPS) for spacecraft that would improve upon the status quo.

    Having seen success in the laboratory with these new materials, the next step is to test in space.

    The Conformal Ablative Thermal Protection System, or CA-TPS, will be installed on a small probe flight article provided by Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) and launched on Orbital ATK’s seventh contracted commercial resupply services mission for NASA to the International Space Station on April 18.

    TVA’s RED Data2 probe, only slightly larger than a soccer ball, is an unmanned exploratory spacecraft designed to transmit information about its environment.

    “The purpose of the flight test is to gather supply vehicle break up data and at the same time demonstrate performance of the conformal ablative thermal protection system as the probe—encapsulated with TPS—enters Earth’s atmosphere,” explained Ethiraj Venkatapathy, project manager for Thermal Protection System Materials with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Game Changing Development (GCD) program. “Thermal protection is a vital element that safeguards a spacecraft from burning up during entry.”

    “Data obtained from flight tests like this one with TVA and NASA, combined with testing at different atmospheric compositions, allows us to build design tools with higher confidence for entry into other planetary atmospheres such as Venus, Mars or Titan,” he continued. “Partnering with a small business to get flight data for a developmental material is a very inexpensive way of achieving multiple goals.”

    The TPS Venkatapathy and his team are designing uses newly emerging materials called conformal PICA (C-PICA) and conformal SIRCA (C-SIRCA), short for Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator and Silicone Impregnated Reusable Ceramic Ablator, respectively.

    The probe is essentially a hard aeroshell covered with the TPS and outfitted with sensors called thermocouples. To measure temperature during atmospheric entry, the thermocouples are embedded within the heat shield’s C-PICA and the back shell’s C-SIRCA to capture data for understanding how the materials behave in an actual entry environment.

    With funding through STMD/GCD, NASA’s Ames Research Center led the work providing conformal ablative materials and TPS instrumentation installed on Terminal Velocity’s probes. Terminal Velocity is also working with NASA’s Johnson Space Center with funding from STMD’s Small Business Innovation Research program for miniaturizing and improving the data acquisition and transmission system as well as providing support for ISS flight certification.


    Video of a probe-shaped test article that is a nearly-perfect match to the TVA flight article, tested in the IHF (Interactive Heating Facility) arc jet at a constant condition, matching the anticipated flight total heat load on the probe. After the flight, we will subject another test article with time-profiled heating to simulate the conditions determined from the actual flight trajectory reconstruction. This will be the first time we will have arc jet tested and flight tested the exact same geometry and materials.

    Through the ISS Exploration Flight Project Initiative, Johnson certified three TVA probes for flight. One probe uses the conformal ablative materials, another has the Orion heat-shield material and the third probe uses shuttle tile material for reference. TVA delivered the assembled probes to the Cargo Mission Contract group for this flight.

    After Orbital ATK’s resupply services launch arrives at the ISS, the probes will remain on the cargo ship awaiting their opportunity to go to work. Projected to be released from the ISS in June, once the cargo ship reenters Earth’s atmosphere and breaks up, the probes will deploy and then begin capturing data through the thermocouples embedded in the TPS.

    “The probes are designed to be released from the metallic shell and once they are released, they start to get heated. The thermal response data are collected from the various locations where thermocouples are embedded within the TPS,” explains Robin Beck, technical lead for the conformal TPS development. “The probe includes an antenna that allows it to communicate with an Iridium satellite. As the probe descends into the atmosphere and slows to the speed of sound, the data are collected and stored, then transmitted to the Iridium satellite above, which in turn transmits the data to researchers on the ground.”

    Once the flight test’s data are collected, TVA’s probe is allowed to fall into the ocean and is not recovered; however, these tiny spacecraft will contribute in a very big way to ensure the predictive models developed based on testing in ground facilities are valid and applicable in space.

    “There are known and unknown risks, but both NASA and TVA are motivated to be successful as the benefits also translate to the larger community that wants to have on-demand access to space,” says Venkatapathy. “This technology has the potential to lower the cost of access to space for small payloads while making it attractive for universities and the non-aerospace community who may be novices to flight testing—a challenge in and of itself and not risk free.”

    Because there is no backup for a spacecraft’s TPS, it is critical to understand and develop prediction capabilities that allow safe, robust entry system design. A successful flight test at this scale will increase confidence in the conformal ablator and allow mission planners to consider C-PICA and C-SIRCA for use in future programs such as New Frontiers or Orion.

    For more information about NASA’s Game Changing Development program, visit:

    https://gameon.nasa.gov/

    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 4:55 pm on March 31, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA   

    From Astronomy: “Rethinking the habitable zone” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    March 28, 2017
    K.N. Smith

    1
    NASA

    With proof of liquid water in the farthest reaches of the solar system, it’s clear that the habitable zone isn’t the only place life might exist, but it may be years before that knowledge changes how — and where — astrobiologists look for habitable exoplanets.

    If you want to look for life in space, most astronomy textbooks will tell you to stick to the Goldilocks Zone: the region around a star that’s the right temperature range for liquid water to exist on the surface of a planet, also called the habitable zone. The trouble is that water seems to be everywhere on icy moons in the outer solar system, well beyond the textbook habitable zone, and some planetary scientists have even suggested that there could be liquid seas out in the Kuiper Belt. Thanks to those discoveries, some experts are suggesting that it could be time to rethink how we define the habitable zone. But does that mean changing how we search for potentially habitable worlds in other solar systems?

    2
    Wilfried Bauer

    Beyond the Goldilocks Zone

    Until the last few decades, scientists assumed that the conditions for life, starting with liquid water, could only exist in a planetary neighborhood exactly like ours.

    “It’s been a big shift, but it’s been kind of gradual; it just kind of kept creeping up on people,” JPL’s Diana Blaney, principal investigator on the Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa, said.

    9
    Prototype MISE spectrometer

    That shift happened in two parts, fueled by discoveries in broadly different fields. First came the idea that life could live in colder, darker, stranger places than biologists could have dreamed. Second came the idea that the most basic conditions for survival – chiefly the presence of liquid water – could turn up in unexpected places.

    Most of the liquid water we’ve found in the solar system is concealed beneath the icy crusts of moons orbiting Jupiter and Saturn, but before scientists sent Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini out into the outer solar system to find those sub-surface oceans, they found analogues here on Earth. In 1970, airborne radio-echo sounding surveys found the first evidence of lakes hidden beneath several kilometers of glacial ice in Antarctica. Researchers have found 379 such lakes so far, and a series of discoveries in the last few years have confirmed the presence of microbial life beneath several of them.

    Just before the first mission to the outer solar system, in 1976 – while Viking 1 was searching for life on Mars – botanists discovered bacteria eking out a living in porous sandstone in the cold, dry, thoroughly inhospitable mountains of Antarctica’s Ross Desert. The following year, in 1977, a marine geology expedition discovered hydrothermal vents in the Galapagos Rift, deep beneath the eastern Pacific Ocean. In the lightless depths of the ocean, they found a thriving ecosystem based on chemosynthesis.

    Looking back, it’s easy to see how discoveries of extremophiles and sub-glacial lakes here on Earth pointed toward the idea that wildly unexpected environments out there might be habitable.

    The Voyager spacecraft launched later that year, on their way to the outer solar system; it was a mission that some in the scientific community at the time didn’t expect much from – after all, the moons of the outer solar system were far outside the bounds of the Goldilocks Zone.


    NASA/Voyager 1

    “It was really Voyager that broke all of this open, because a lot of scientists thought that most of the outer solar system was just dead balls of ice and rock,” said planetary scientist Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University. From 1979 to 1981, Voyager sent home images of active, complex worlds: Io with its violent, volcanic surface; Titan with its thick, hazy atmosphere; and Europa with a cracked crust that hinted at tidal movements of an ocean beneath.

    Once scientists realized that the moons of the outer solar system were dynamic, unexpectedly complex worlds, some began to speculate that they could host life, warmed not just by the light of the Sun, but by the tidal pull of a gas giant. Meanwhile, discoveries here on Earth continued apace, feeding into astrobiologists’ ideas about where life might flourish.

    4
    NASA Goddard/Katrina Jackson

    All these worlds are yours …

    The Galileo spacecraft left Earth in 1989, bound for Jupiter amid intensifying speculation about what it might find waiting beneath the ice at Europa.


    ESA Galileo Spacecraft

    Galileo’s close flybys of the Jovian moons confirmed what Voyager’s images had hinted at: liquid water exists well outside the familiar confines of the Goldilocks Zone, beneath the ice of Europa and Ganymede. Then, in 2005, the Cassini spacecraft captured surprising images of watery plumes jetting out from the southern surface of Enceladus.


    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini Spacecraft

    As the data came back from Galileo and Cassini, it collided with research on extremophiles here on Earth, fueling discussions about which unexpected corners of our solar system might turn out to be habitable.

    “I think they actually reinforced each other, you know?” said Blaney. “A lot of the stuff, I think, was happening in parallel. You were sitting in [science conferences] listening to people talk about the building evidence for an ocean on Europa, and then you would go next door and listen to someone talk about life in the Antarctic dry valleys, and that kind of cross-communication between the different communities, I think, got people thinking more about Europa potentially having life now.”

    Now astrobiologists may have to rethink the limits of habitability again. In late 2016, William McKinnon, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, and his colleagues concluded that orientation of Sputnik Planitia, the icy heart-shaped basin in Pluto’s northern hemisphere, could only be explained by an uneven distribution of mass in the planet’s crust.

    10
    Original discription: This image contains the initial, informal names being used by the New Horizons team for the features on Pluto’s Sputnik Planum (plain). Names were selected based on the input the team received from the Our Pluto naming campaign. Names have not yet been approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
    Date 29 July 2015
    Source http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/Multimedia/Images/index.php
    Author JPL/NASA

    That, in turn, the researchers claimed, could only be explained by a liquid ocean of (mostly) water beneath the ice. There’s no proof yet that Pluto hosts a subglacial lake similar to those beneath Antarctica’s ice, but the research proves it’s theoretically possible for Kuiper Belt Objects to hold liquid water.

    “We know oceans exist beneath icy crusts, generally maintained by tidal heating (Europa and Enceladus). What Pluto does is to push the potential limits of habitable zones to icy dwarf planets in deep solar space,” said McKinnon.

    6
    NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

    Miniature Habitable Zones

    The current view among many astrobiologists is that, because there are so many environments where liquid water – and therefore the basic ingredients for life – might exist, there are many habitable zones in a solar system. There’s the traditional Goldilocks Zone, where solar heating keeps the planet at just the right temperature; there are orbits around gas giants, where tidal heating could keep water liquid and potentially habitable beneath the ice.

    “The data point I seize on is more the number of potential habitable environments we have in our single solar system. I don’t think that’s a fluke,” said Curt Niebur, program scientist for NASA’s Europa Multiple Flyby Mission. “I think as we peer outward, we are going to find that in most solar systems we explore, either in person or via telescopes, that there is likely to be multiple habitable zones in every solar system.”

    In fact, we’ve found more liquid water on icy moons in the outer solar system than in the temperate belt of the Habitable Zone. Some planetary scientists are even beginning to talk about the idea that gas giants, like Jupiter and Saturn, create their own habitable zones through their tidal heating of icy moons like Europa and Enceladus. And if McKinnon and his colleagues turn out to be right about what lies beneath Pluto’s Sputnik Planum, then there may even be little habitable zones far out in the frozen reaches of the Kuiper Belt.

    “Sometimes it’s around giant planets like Jupiter, sometimes it’s on Earth-like planets, sometimes it’s in the deep solar system like at Pluto,” said Niebur. “I think every one of those three cases is a Goldilocks zone, and I think that there are more Goldilocks zones out there remaining to be discovered.”

    That means that we may not be giving gas giants enough credit as hosts for potentially habitable worlds. For one thing, they seem to be much more common – or at least easier to detect from Earth – than rocky planets, especially rocky planets that happen to orbit just the right distance from their stars, which means the odds are in favor of a gas giant winning the lottery of biochemistry.

    “I think it’s probably likely that gas giants are more common than terrestrial worlds, so just by sheer numbers, I think that they could either directly or indirectly provide far more habitable zones, far more Goldilocks zones, than terrestrial planets,” said Niebur.

    That’s an eye-opening concept for astrobiology, but in practice it could be nearly impossible to draw a neat map of that type of habitable zone. Mapping a star’s Goldilocks Zone is pretty straightforward; the temperature of a planet depends on its distance from the star, as well as how much heat the star produces. Figuring out the region of potential habitability around a gas giant, on the other hand, requires a lot more information about the gas giant, its moons, and how they all interact.

    The oceans of Europa, Enceladus, and Ganymede rely on tidal heating to keep them liquid, and those tidal forces come not only from the gravitational pull of the gas giants, but from gravitational interactions with other moons. For instance, every time Ganymede orbits Jupiter, Europa makes exactly two orbits, and Io makes exactly four. That means that the planets line up regularly, giving each other a gravitational tug that stretches their orbits out, making them more elliptical.

    Thanks to orbital resonance, the tidal effects of the planet’s gravity are much more pronounced. In simple terms, that’s because the difference between “high tide” and “low tide” is exaggerated. That, in turn, keeps the moons’ interiors in motion – and warm.

    That’s why Io is such a hotbed of volcanic activity, and it’s why Europa and Ganymede have enough geothermal heat to maintain liquid water so far from the Goldilocks Zone. Around Saturn, Enceladus is in a similar orbital resonance with its sister moon Dione, and that’s what keeps the plumes erupting from cracks in the moon’s icy crust.

    Astronomers have a very good understanding of the dynamics that make the moons of Jupiter and Saturn so active, but beyond our solar system, there’s no way to spot tidally heated habitable zones – yet. To predict whether a moon might experience enough tidal heating to keep water liquid in its interior, astronomers would need to know how many other moons were orbiting the same planet and whether those orbits are in resonance with each other.
    “The broader definition of habitable zones will also include some that we just can’t observe with the missions that we’re anticipating in the next decades,” said Lunine. “That includes icy moons around gas giants, which may be harboring life, or at least habitable oceans, that we can’t see yet.”

    7
    Danielle Futselaar / Franck Marchis / SETI Institute.

    Observable Habitable Zones

    It’s fascinating to think that an interesting new gas giant in a solar system like 51 Eridani may play host to another Enceladus or Europa, but with our current technology, those potentially habitable icy exo-moons are still invisible to astronomers here on Earth.

    “The problem, of course, is that if you really have something the size of Enceladus or even Europa orbiting around a giant planet, around another star, you have a really tough time observing it, and if it’s habitable five or ten kilometers below the surface, you’re sort of out of luck,” said Lunine. “It would be a very, very difficult challenge to make the kinds of observations of a Europa or an Enceladus that are required to determine its habitability.”

    Of course, that kind of observation is feasible for icy moons in our own solar system, because we can send probes to fly through the plumes of Enceladus or perhaps one day land on the surface of Europa, but to study objects in other solar systems, astronomers have to stick with looking for spectra through a telescope. So even if there might be miniature habitable zones in the other reaches of most solar systems, Earthbound astrobiologists can only speculate.

    Instead, Lunine says that in the search for potentially habitable exoplanets, what really matters is something he calls the observable habitable zone: the area where water might exist, and in a place where we could see evidence of it with a telescope. That means a planet that telescopes can actually observe, and it means liquid water existing stably on the surface, not hidden beneath a layer of ice. Essentially, it means the traditional Goldilocks Zone.

    “The technology limitations mean that you’re going to have to restrict yourself to the traditional definition of the Goldilocks, but I think that as our technology increases, we can pursue the more modern and accurate Goldilocks zone concept as well,” said Niebur.

    In the future, that might change. In the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind that the search for habitable worlds probably still has surprises in store.

    “People have to kind of keep an open mind about what’s possible and – and let the data take you where it takes you, because sometimes it takes you to places that are unexpected – like Europa,” said Blaney.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 5:09 pm on March 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory, NASA, ,   

    From SRON: “Dutch ‘cameras’ on NASA Science Mission ‘First complete study of all phases of the stellar life cycle’ “ 

    sron-bloc
    SRON

    1
    GUSTO: Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory

    Dutch ‘cameras’ on NASA Science Mission
    ‘First complete study of all phases of the stellar life cycle’

    NASA has selected a science mission that will measure emissions from cosmic material between stars (the interstellar medium) with Dutch Far-Infrared (FIR) ‘cameras’. The balloon telescope mission GUSTO will provide the first complete study of all phases of the stellar life cycle, from the formation of molecular clouds, through star birth and evolution, to the formation of gas clouds and the re-initiation of the cycle. SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and the TU Delft develop the key detector technologies.

    GUSTO stands for Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory. The observatory consists of a telescope of one meter in diameter, and three observation instruments carried by an Ultra-long Duration Balloon (ULDB). GUSTO will fly on an altitude of 40 km above Antarctica, at the edge of space. SRON and TU Delft contribute hot electron bolometer multi-pixel camera’s, operating at three Terahertz frequencies, and also a local oscillator and a novel phase grating that helps the detectors determine the exact color of the light. Last December GUSTO’s precursor STO2 was launched as a pathfinder, demonstrating the Dutch key detector technologies from SRON and TU Delft.

    GUSTO detects carbon, oxygen and nitrogen emission lines. The unique and novel combination of data will provide information needed to untangle the complexities of the interstellar medium, and map out large sections of our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.

    “NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Program with new and unique observational capabilities. GUSTO continues that tradition”, says Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
    NASA determined that out of eight proposals of which two were further studied since 2014, GUSTO has the best potential for excellent science return with a feasible development plan.

    The GUSTO mission is targeted for launch in 2021 from McMurdo, Antarctica, and is expected to stay in the air between 100 to 170 days, depending on weather conditions. It will cost approximately $40 million, including the balloon launch funding and the cost of post-launch operations and data analysis.

    The University of Arizona in Tucson will provide the actual GUSTO telescope and instruments, with technology from SRON, TU Delft, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and the Arizona State University in Tempe. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, provides the mission operations, and the gondola where the instruments are mounted.

    The principal investigator of the mission is Christopher Walker from the University of Arizona. Jian-Rong Gao (SRON & TU Delft) will lead the project in the Netherlands. Floris van der Tak (SRON & University Groningen) and Xander Tielens (University Leiden) will contribute to the science team.

    See the full article here .

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    sron-campus

    How did the Earth and life on it evolve? How do stars and planets evolve? How did the universe evolve? What is the position of the Earth and humankind in that immense universe? These are fundamental questions that have always intrigued humankind. Moreover, people have always possessed an urge to explore and push back the boundaries of science and technology.

    Science

    Since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, Dutch astronomers have seen the added value of space missions for science. Reaching beyond the Earth’s atmosphere would open up new windows on the universe and provide fantastic views of our home planet. It would at last be possible to pick up cosmic radiation that never normally reached the Earth’s surface, such as X-rays, ultraviolet and infrared radiation. A wealth of scientific information from every corner of the universe would then become available.

    The first Dutch scientific rocket experiments and contributions to European and American satellites in the early 1960s, formed the start of an activity in which a small country would develop an enviable reputation: scientific space research.

    Groundbreaking technology

    Nowadays we take for granted images of the Earth from space, beautiful photos from the Hubble Space Telescope or landings of space vehicles on nearby planets. Yet sometimes we all too easily forget that none of these scientific successes would have been possible without the people who developed groundbreaking technology. Technology that sooner or later will also prove useful to life on Earth.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:57 am on March 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA, Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO),   

    From U Arizona: “NASA Selects Airborne Observatory for Funding” 

    U Arizona bloc

    University of Arizona

    March 24, 2017
    Christopher Walker
    UA Steward Observatory
    520-621-8783
    cwalker@as.arizona.edu

    1
    Christopher Walker’s team successfully launched the Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory (STO) from McMurdo in Antarctica on Dec 8, 2016. (Photo: Brian Duffy and Christopher Walker)

    From a pool of eight proposed missions competing for funding in NASA’s Explorer category, the space agency has selected to fund the UA-led GUSTO mission. The goal of the $40 million endeavor is to send a balloon to near-space, carrying a telescope that will study the interstellar medium — the gas and dust between the stars, from which all stars and planets originate.

    Circling Antarctica in a balloon at an elevation between 110,000 and 120,000 feet, or 17 miles above a typical airliner’s cruising altitude, the Galactic/Extragalactic ULDB Spectroscopic Terahertz Observatory, or GUSTO, will study the interstellar medium in our Milky Way and beyond by observing the sky above most of the atmospheric water vapor that otherwise would obscure its view.

    Scheduled for launch on Dec. 15, 2021, the high-altitude, Ultralong-Duration Balloon, or ULDB, balloon will silently rise into the cold, dry air above Antarctica with an airborne observatory in tow. GUSTO’s science payload consists of a 1-meter telescope and various instruments mounted to a platform known as the gondola. The GUSTO payload will weigh close to 2 tons and run on about 1 kilowatt of electrical power generated by its solar panels.

    Christopher Walker, a professor of astronomy in the UA’s Steward Observatory with joint appointments in the UA’s Colleges of Optical Sciences and Engineering, is the principal investigator of the GUSTO mission. The mission’s science aims at measuring emissions from the interstellar medium. The data will help scientists determine the life cycle of interstellar gas in our Milky Way galaxy, witness the formation and destruction of star-forming clouds, and understand the dynamics and gas flow in the vicinity of the center of our galaxy.

    2
    The GUSTO mission will untangle the complexities of the interstellar medium, and map out large sections of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy and a nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud. (Credits: NASA, ESA and Hubble Heritage Team)

    “If we want to understand where we came from, we have to understand the interstellar medium,” Walker said, “because 4.6 billion years ago, we were interstellar medium.”

    The interstellar medium, it turns out, is the stuff from which most of the observable universe is made: stars, planets, rocks, oceans and all living creatures, and GUSTO is uniquely equipped to probe the conditions inside it.

    The telescope is outfitted with carbon, oxygen and nitrogen emission line detectors. This unique combination of data will provide the spectral and spatial resolution information needed for Walker and his team to untangle the complexities of the interstellar medium, and map out large sections of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.

    Walker, who is a longtime amateur radio (ham) operator, explains that carbon atoms, nitrogen atoms and oxygen atoms in the interstellar medium act like tiny, very-high-frequency radio transmitters, and GUSTO is engineered to listen to what they have to say.

    “We do this by using cutting-edge superconducting detectors and other instruments that allow us to listen in at these very high frequencies,” Walker explained.

    In December, his team successfully launched the Stratospheric Terahertz Observatory, or STO, which served as a pathfinder mission for GUSTO, in Antarctica. Carried by stable, circumpolar winds, the airborne observatory completed a three-week flight and collected data from a portion of the Milky Way.

    3
    STO’s gondola carrying the telescope and other scientific instruments (Photo: Christopher Walker)

    “With STO, we proved our team is capable of making a balloon payload capable of mapping the interstellar medium on a much larger scale,” Walker said.

    GUSTO will map the Milky Way and also the Large Magellanic Cloud, which has hallmarks of a galaxy more commonly found in the early universe, Walker said.

    “Our measurements will provide the data to help develop a model for early galaxies and our own Milky Way, which together will serve as bookends to understand the evolution of stars and galaxies through cosmic time,” he said.

    “GUSTO will provide the first complete study of all phases of the stellar life cycle, from the formation of molecular clouds, through star birth and evolution, to the formation of gas clouds and the re-initiation of the cycle,” added Paul Hertz, astrophysics division director in the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “NASA has a great history of launching observatories in the Astrophysics Explorers Program with new and unique observational capabilities. GUSTO continues that tradition.”

    Launched from McMurdo, Antarctica, GUSTO is expected to stay in the air between 100 to 170 days, depending on weather conditions. It will cost approximately $40 million, including the balloon launch funding and the cost of post-launch operations and data analysis.

    NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for mission of opportunity investigations in September 2014. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed two mission of opportunity concept studies selected from the eight proposals submitted at that time, and NASA has determined that GUSTO has the best potential for excellent science return with a feasible development plan.

    “This work is an example of the innovative cutting-edge ideas that our faculty are turning into reality every day,” said Kimberly Andrews Espy, the UA’s senior vice president for research. “We very much appreciate the support from NASA and confidence in Dr. Walker and his team to deliver this next generation space technology. Utilizing the stratosphere holds great promise to transform our approach to imaging and observing, and the UA researchers are leading the way forward.”

    The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, is providing the mission operations and the gondola. The UA will provide the GUSTO telescope and instrument, which will incorporate detector technologies from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge; Arizona State University; and SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.

    NASA’s Explorers Program is the agency’s oldest continuous program and is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the astrophysics and heliophysics programs in the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. The program has launched more than 90 missions. It began in 1958 with the Explorer 1, which discovered the Earth’s radiation belts, now called the Van Allen belt, named after the principal investigator. Another Explorer mission, the Cosmic Background Explorer, led to a Nobel Prize. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the program for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Arizona campus

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium? An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:12 pm on March 23, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , From NASA: "NASA Embraces Small Satellites" Video and text, NASA   

    From NASA: “NASA Embraces Small Satellites” Video and text 

    NASA image
    NASA


    Access mp4 video here .

    The earliest satellites of the Space Age were small. Sputnik, for instance, weighed just 184.3 lbs. America’s first satellite, Explorer 1, was even smaller at only about 30 lbs.

    Over time, satellites grew to accommodate more sensors with greater capabilities, but thanks to miniaturization and new technology capabilities, small is back in vogue.

    NASA is one of many government agencies, universities, and commercial organizations embracing small satellite designs, from tiny CubeSats to micro-satellites. A basic CubeSat has 4 inch sides and weighs just a few pounds!

    A CubeSat can be put into place a number of different ways. It can be a hitchhiker, flying to space onboard a rocket whose main purpose is to launch a full-sized satellite. Or it can be put into orbit from the International Space Station. Astronauts recently used this technique when they deployed the Miniature X-Ray Solar Spectrometer (MinXSS), a CubeSat that studies solar flares.

    2
    On Feb. 2, 2016, NASA announced which CubeSats will fly on the inaugural flight of the agency’s Space Launch System in late 2018. CubeSats are small satellites, about the size of a cereal box, which provide an inexpensive way to access space. This file photo shows a set of NanoRacks CubeSats in space after their deployment in 2014.
    Credits: NASA

    In 2018, NASA plans to launch the CubeSat to study Solar Particles (CuSP). It will hitch a ride out of Earth orbit during an uncrewed test flight of NASA’s Space Launch System.

    CuSP could serve as a small “space weather buoy.”

    Eric Christian, CuSP’s lead scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland says, “Right now, with our current fleet of large satellites, it’s like we’re trying to understand weather for the entire Pacific Ocean with just a handful of weather stations. We need to collect data from more locations.”

    For certain areas of science, having a larger number of less expensive missions will provide a powerful opportunity to really understand a given environment. Christian says, “If you had, say, 20 CubeSats in different orbits, you could really start to understand the space environment in three dimensions.”

    NASA scientists are taking this approach of using a constellation of sensors to probe the details of a large area with a number of recently launched and upcoming missions.

    The Cyclone Global Navigation Satallite System, or CYGNSS, launched in December 2016. CYGNSS uses eight micro-satellites to measure ocean surface winds in and near the eyes of tropical cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes to learn about their rapid intensification. These micro-satellites each weigh about 65 lbs, larger than a CubeSat but still very small compared to traditional satellite designs.

    Additionally, the first four selections from the In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program recently began launching. The goal of the InVEST program is to validate new technologies in space prior to use in a science mission.

    RAVAN, the first of the InVEST CubeSats, was launched in November 2016 to demonstrate a new way to measure radiation reflected by Earth. The next three InVEST missions to launch, HARP, IceCube, and MiRaTA, will demonstrate technologies that may pave the way for future satellites to measure clouds and aerosols suspended in Earth’s atmosphere, probe the role of icy clouds in climate change, and collect atmospheric temperature, water vapor, and cloud ice data through remote sensing, respectively.

    NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is looking to develop scientific CubeSats that cut across all NASA Science through the SMD CubeSat Initiative Program.

    Andrea Martin, communications specialist for NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office, believes this is just the beginning. She says, “CubeSats could be flown in formation, known as constellations, with quick revisit times to better capture the dynamic processes of Earth. Multiple CubeSats can also take complementary measurements unachievable by a single larger mission.” She envisions big things ahead for these little satellites.

    For more news about CubeSats and other cutting edge technologies both big and small, stay tuned to science.nasa.gov.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    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 9:32 am on March 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ESA aim to ram asteroid, Moonlet of asteroid 65803 Didymos, NASA,   

    From COSMOS: “NASA, ESA aim to ram asteroid” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    COSMOS

    22 March 2017
    Richard A. Lovett

    1
    Artist’s impression of the binary asteroid Didymos, the ESA satellite watching, the NASA satellite heading in for impact. ESA/Getty Images [This is confusing. ESA satellite is easy to pick out, but NASA dart?]

    A planned NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) joint mission is poised to test whether it is possible to knock an asteroid from one orbit into another.

    The mission, which has not yet fully funded, is part of the space agencies’ focus on “planetary defense”: the protection of Earth from collision with dangerous asteroids.

    But instead of trying to blow up such a threat, as in the 1998 science fiction movie Armageddon, the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment mission intends to prove that an asteroid can be shifted by hitting it with a fast-moving spacecraft launched from Earth.

    “We save Bruce Willis’s life,” quips Patrick Michel, a planetary scientist from the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, in Nice, France, in a reference to the movie. “He doesn’t have to sacrifice himself.”

    The mission uses two spacecraft, one to be launched by ESA in 2020, the other by NASA in 2021.

    The ESA spacecraft, called AIM (for Asteroid Impact Mission) will rendezvous with the selected asteroid and go into orbit around it in early 2022.

    5
    ESA AIM

    The NASA spacecraft, called DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) will be timed to hit the rock a few months later, at a speed of six kilometres per second, while the AIM spacecraft and earthbound telescopes watch.

    4
    NASA DART

    The target is a moonlet of 65803 Didymos, a near-Earth asteroid discovered in 1996. At the time of impact it will be about 11 million kilometres away.

    As the world “double” in the DART mission’s name suggests, Didymos is a binary system, meaning that there are two asteroids orbiting each other. The large one is about 800 metres across; the moonlet measures about 160 metres.

    The impact is expected to alter the moonlet’s orbital speed around Didymos by about a half-millimetre per second, says Andrew Cheng, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, who is lead investigator for the NASA side of the project.

    “That doesn’t sound like much, but it is very easily measured, both by the AIM spacecraft and by telescopes on the ground,” he said, speaking by phone from the 2017 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in the Woodlands, Texas, where he is presenting details on the project.

    The effect is easy to measure from Earth, he adds, because the moonlet’s orbit is aligned so that viewed from down here it passes behind Didymos once each circuit.

    These disappearances make it easy to precisely measure its orbital period, Cheng says, estimating that even the tiny speed change expected to be imparted by the crash will alter its 11.9-hour orbit by several minutes.

    One of the goals of the mission is to test whether it is possible to hit such a small, distant object with a spacecraft moving at such a high speed. But it’s also important, Cheng says, to see how the asteroid responds to the impact.

    That’s because hitting an asteroid with a spacecraft isn’t like hitting a billiard ball with the cue ball.

    “When we have a high-speed impact on an asteroid, you create a crater,” Cheng says. “You blow pieces back in the direction you came from.”

    The ejection of this material shoves the asteroid in the opposite direction, significantly increasing its momentum change.

    “The amount can be quite large,” Cheng says, “More than a factor of two.”

    With the AIM spacecraft orbiting nearby, the impact will also allow the first scientific measurements of precisely what happens when an asteroid (or moon) gets hit by a fast-moving object, such as the 500-kilogram DART spacecraft.

    “This will tell us about cratering processes,” says Michel, who is the lead investigator of the ESA side of the mission.

    That is important because planetary scientists use crater counts on other worlds to help determine how old their surfaces are, based on the numbers and sizes of objects that have hit the surface since it formed.

    But most of the research designed to correlate crater size to the size of the impactor rests either on modeling or small-scale laboratory tests.

    This is the first time, Cheng says, that scientists will be able to test their models by looking at a crater on an asteroid, knowing exactly what hit it and how fast it was moving. Michel adds that the target moonlet will also be the smallest asteroid ever to be visited by a spacecraft.

    “This is important for science and for companies interested in asteroid mining because so far we don’t have any data regarding what we will find on the surface of such a small body,” he says.

    “Each time we discover a new world we have surprises,” he adds. “The main driver [of this mission] is planetary defence, but it has a lot of scientific implicaitons.”

    See the full article here .

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