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  • richardmitnick 10:00 am on June 28, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA, , Richly organic world of Titan   

    From NASA: “NASA’s Dragonfly Will Fly Around Titan Looking for Origins, Signs of Life” 

    NASA image
    From NASA

    June 27, 2019

    Grey Hautaluoma
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0668
    grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov

    Alana Johnson
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1501
    alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov

    1
    DESTINATION: TITAN It’s official: The next stop for a NASA spacecraft will be Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. A rotorcraft will parachute in and then perform dronelike exploration, as seen in this artist’s illustration. NASA.

    NASA has announced that our next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan. Advancing our search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn’s icy moon.

    Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth. Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone. It will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere – four times denser than Earth’s – to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

    Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet. During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed. They also will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.

    “With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”

    Dragonfly took advantage of 13 years’ worth of Cassini data to choose a calm weather period to land, along with a safe initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets. It will first land at the equatorial “Shangri-La” dune fields, which are terrestrially similar to the linear dunes in Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diverse sampling location. Dragonfly will explore this region in short flights, building up to a series of longer “leapfrog” flights of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), stopping along the way to take samples from compelling areas with diverse geography. It will finally reach the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of past liquid water, organics – the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) – nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.

    “Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “It’s remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself.”

    Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth. Unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow. The moon’s weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet.

    Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and is the second largest moon in our solar system. As it orbits Saturn, it is about 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from the Sun, about 10 times farther than Earth. Because it is so far from the Sun, its surface temperature is around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius). Its surface pressure is also 50 percent higher than Earth’s.

    Dragonfly was selected as part of the agency’s New Frontiers program, which includes the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    NASA/Juno

    NASA OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft

    Dragonfly is led by Principal Investigator Elizabeth Turtle, who is based at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

    New Frontiers supports missions that have been identified as top solar system exploration priorities by the planetary community. The program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Planetary Science Division in Washington.

    “The New Frontiers program has transformed our understanding of the solar system, uncovering the inner structure and composition of Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, discovering the icy secrets of Pluto’s landscape, revealing mysterious objects in the Kuiper belt, and exploring a near-Earth asteroid for the building blocks of life,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Now we can add Titan to the list of enigmatic worlds NASA will explore.”

    For more information about Titan, visit:

    https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/moons/saturn-moons/titan/overview

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

    https://planetarymissions.nasa.gov

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 9:09 am on June 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: NASA, PUNCH mission, , , TRACERS mission   

    From NASA: “NASA Selects Missions to Study Our Sun, Its Effects on Space Weather” 

    NASA image
    From NASA

    June 20, 2019

    Grey Hautaluoma
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0668
    grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov

    Karen Fox
    Headquarters, Washington
    301-286-6284
    karen.c.fox@nasa.gov

    1
    A constant outflow of solar material streams out from the Sun, depicted here in an artist’s rendering. On June 20, 2019, NASA selected two new missions – the Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission and Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS) – to study the origins of this solar wind and how it affects Earth. Together, the missions support NASA’s mandate to protect astronauts and technology in space from such radiation. Credits: NASA

    NASA has selected two new missions to advance our understanding of the Sun and its dynamic effects on space. One of the selected missions will study how the Sun drives particles and energy into the solar system and a second will study Earth’s response.

    The Sun generates a vast outpouring of solar particles known as the solar wind, which can create a dynamic system of radiation in space called space weather. Near Earth, where such particles interact with our planet’s magnetic field, the space weather system can lead to profound impacts on human interests, such as astronauts’ safety, radio communications, GPS signals, and utility grids on the ground. The more we understand what drives space weather and its interaction with the Earth and lunar systems, the more we can mitigate its effects – including safeguarding astronauts and technology crucial to NASA’s Artemis program to the Moon.

    2
    NASA’s Artemis spacecraft. The Planetary Society

    “We carefully selected these two missions not only because of the high-class science they can do in their own right, but because they will work well together with the other heliophysics spacecraft advancing NASA’s mission to protect astronauts, space technology and life down here on Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These missions will do big science, but they’re also special because they come in small packages, which means that we can launch them together and get more research for the price of a single launch.”

    PUNCH

    The Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere, or PUNCH, mission will focus directly on the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, and how it generates the solar wind.

    3
    PUNCH four satellites

    Composed of four suitcase-sized satellites, PUNCH will image and track the solar wind as it leaves the Sun. The spacecraft also will track coronal mass ejections – large eruptions of solar material that can drive large space weather events near Earth – to better understand their evolution and develop new techniques for predicting such eruptions.

    These observations will enhance national and international research by other NASA missions such as Parker Solar Probe, and the upcoming ESA (European Space Agency)/NASA Solar Orbiter, due to launch in 2020. PUNCH will be able to image, in real time, the structures in the solar atmosphere that these missions encounter by blocking out the bright light of the Sun and examining the much fainter atmosphere.

    Together, these missions will investigate how the star we live with drives radiation in space. PUNCH is led by Craig DeForest at the Southwest Research institute in Boulder, Colorado. Including launch costs, PUNCH is being funded for no more than $165 million.

    TRACERS

    The second mission is Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites, or TRACERS.

    NASA TRACER mission


    NASA TRACER MIssion

    The TRACERS investigation was partially selected as a NASA-launched rideshare mission, meaning it will be launched as a secondary payload with PUNCH. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate is emphasizing secondary payload missions as a way to obtain greater science return. TRACERS will observe particles and fields at the Earth’s northern magnetic cusp region – the region encircling Earth’s pole, where our planet’s magnetic field lines curve down toward Earth. Here, the field lines guide particles from the boundary between Earth’s magnetic field and interplanetary space down into the atmosphere.

    In the cusp area, with its easy access to our boundary with interplanetary space, TRACERS will study how magnetic fields around Earth interact with those from the Sun. In a process known as magnetic reconnection, the field lines explosively reconfigure, sending particles out at speeds that can approach the speed of light. Some of these particles will be guided by the Earth’s field into the region where TRACERS can observe them.

    Magnetic reconnection drives energetic events all over the universe, including coronal mass ejections and solar flares on the Sun. It also allows particles from the solar wind to push into near-Earth space, driving space weather there. TRACERS will be the first space mission to explore this process in the cusp with two spacecraft, providing observations of how processes change over both space and time. The cusp vantage point also permits simultaneous observations of reconnection throughout near-Earth space. Thus, it can provide important context for NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which gathers detailed, high-speed observations as it flies through single reconnection events at a time.

    TRACERS’ unique measurements will help with NASA’s mission to safeguard our technology and astronauts in space. The mission is led by Craig Kletzing at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Not including rideshare costs, TRACERS is funded for no more than $115 million.

    Launch date for the two missions is no later than August 2022. Both programs will be managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Explorers Program, the oldest continuous NASA program, is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the work of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in astrophysics and heliophysics. The program is managed by Goddard for the Science Mission Directorate, which conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and universe.

    For additional information, and the chance to ask more about the missions, please join us for a Reddit Ask Me Anything at 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. EDT June 21.

    For more information about the Explorers Program, visit:

    https://explorers.gsfc.nasa.gov

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 10:32 am on May 27, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Astronomers find 18 more Earth-sized exoplanets in Kepler data", , , , , , NASA, , Transit Least-Squares algorithm   

    From NASA via EarthSky: “Astronomers find 18 more Earth-sized exoplanets in Kepler data” 

    NASA image
    From NASA

    via

    1

    EarthSky

    May 27, 2019
    Paul Scott Anderson

    A new survey algorithm – called Transit Least-Squares – has just caused the number of known, rocky, Earth-sized worlds orbiting distant stars to grow again, as astronomers add another 18 exoplanets to the list.

    1
    Size comparison with Earth, Neptune and the 18 newly discovered exoplanets. Wouldn’t it be grand to see surface details on these new worlds? Image via NASA/JPL (Neptune), NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring (Earth), MPS/René Heller.

    Exoplanets about the same size as Earth can be some of the most difficult to detect, but their numbers are growing, and now scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Georg August University of Göttingen and the Sonneberg Observatory have added 18 more exoplanets to the ever-expanding list (as of May 1, 2019, there were 4,058 confirmed planets in 3,033 systems, with 658 systems having more than one planet). All 18 new exoplanets were found during a re-analysis of data from the highly effective Kepler Space Telescope planet-hunting mission, using a new, more sensitive search algorithm called Transit Least-Squares.

    NASA/Kepler Telescope, and K2 March 7, 2009 until November 15, 2018

    The first fruits of the new algorithm may be found in peer-reviewed findings published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics in two new papers, here and here. The first paper, focusing on exoplanet K2-32e, was published a few weeks ago, and the second paper regarding the other 17 exoplanets was published on May 21, 2019.

    These newly-found worlds are some of the smallest detected so far. They range in size from only 69 percent of the diameter of Earth (EPIC 201497682.03, 831 light-years away) to just slightly more than twice as large as Earth. All of them were hiding in the Kepler data, and were not found in previous searches because the search algorithms were not sensitive enough. Like many other exoplanet hunters, Kepler used the transit method, where a planet passes in front of its star, as seen from our vantage point here on Earth.

    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    As the planet transits in front of the star, it blocks out a tiny amount of the light coming from the star, which can then be measured by astronomers. As René Heller of Max Planck Institute, first author of both papers, explained:

    “Standard search algorithms attempt to identify sudden drops in brightness. In reality, however, a stellar disk appears slightly darker at the edge than in the center. When a planet moves in front of a star, it therefore initially blocks less starlight than at the mid-time of the transit. The maximum dimming of the star occurs in the center of the transit just before the star becomes gradually brighter again.”

    As could be expected, larger planets are the easiest to detect, since they block out more light from their stars during a transit. The amount of light blocked by smaller planets can easily be missed, as it can be hard to distinguish from the natural brightness fluctuations of the star itself and the background noise that is part of these kinds of observations.

    The new Transit Least-Squares algorithm improves the sensitivity of the transit method, making it easier to find smaller planets like Earth, as Michael Hippke of Sonneberg Observatory said:

    “Our new algorithm helps to draw a more realistic picture of the exoplanet population in space. This method constitutes a significant step forward, especially in the search for Earth-like planets.”

    All of the new planets were found in data from the K2 part of the Kepler mission. The K2 phase was initiated after the primary mission ended in 2013, after technical malfunctions with the telescope’s reaction wheels, which helped to keep Kepler stable for its observations of stars (K2 then ended in 2018). These researchers re-analyzed the 517 stars from K2 that were known to have at least one planet each.

    So what are these new planets like?

    Most of them, unfortunately, are not good candidates for life, orbiting their stars closer than any seen before, with temperatures ranging from over 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) to 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius). One of them, however, EPIC 201238110.02, orbits within its star’s habitable zone, the region around a star where liquid water can exist. EPIC 201238110.02 is 1.87 times Earth’s diameter and 522 light-years away.

    The first planet, K2-32e, orbits the star EPIC 205071984 and is the fourth known planet in that system. The other three planets are all Neptune-sized.

    It is now expected that – using Transit Least-Squares – astronomers should be able to find at least another 100 Earth-sized planets in the data from the primary Kepler mission phase. This bodes well for discovering many more such worlds with other telescopes as well, such as NASA’s orbiting TESS satellite, the newest member of the planet-hunting family, which has picked up where Kepler left off.

    The European Space Agency’s PLATO is another mission that will benefit from these findings with the new algorithm, according to Laurent Gizon, managing director at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research:

    “This new method is also particularly useful to prepare for the upcoming PLATO mission to be launched in 2026 by the European Space Agency.”

    ESA/PLATO

    Future telescopes, both space and land-based, are expected to find thousands more exoplanets in the years ahead, including ones that are Earth-sized, like these 18 new ones. Some telescopes, such as NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, will also be able to analyze the atmospheres of some of those distant worlds, looking for trace gases that may be a sign of life.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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 1:27 pm on May 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Shrinking Moon May Be Generating Moonquakes", Four seismometers were placed on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts during the Apollo 11 12 14 15 and 16 missions., NASA, The Apollo 11 seismometer operated only for three weeks but the four remaining recorded 28 shallow moonquakes., The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) has imaged over 3500 fault scarps., The Moon is shrinking as its interior cools getting more than about 150 feet (50 meters) skinnier over the last several hundred million years., The Moon is still tectonically active., The quakes ranged from about 2 to around 5 on the Richter scale., Tracks are evidence of a recent quake because they should be erased relatively quickly.   

    From NASA: “Shrinking Moon May Be Generating Moonquakes” 

    NASA image
    From NASA

    May 13, 2019

    Bill Steigerwald
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
    301-286-8955
    william.a.steigerwald@nasa.gov

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

    The Moon is shrinking as its interior cools, getting more than about 150 feet (50 meters) skinnier over the last several hundred million years. Just as a grape wrinkles as it shrinks down to a raisin, the Moon gets wrinkles as it shrinks. Unlike the flexible skin on a grape, the Moon’s surface crust is brittle, so it breaks as the Moon shrinks, forming “thrust faults” where one section of crust is pushed up over a neighboring part.

    “Our analysis gives the first evidence that these faults are still active and likely producing moonquakes today as the Moon continues to gradually cool and shrink,” said Thomas Watters, senior scientist in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington. “Some of these quakes can be fairly strong, around five on the Richter scale.”


    This visualization of Lee Lincoln scarp is created from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs and elevation mapping. The scarp is a low ridge or step about 80 meters high and running north-south through the western end of the Taurus-Littrow valley, the site of the Apollo 17 Moon landing. The scarp marks the location of a relatively young, low-angle thrust fault. The land west of the fault was forced up and over the eastern side as the lunar crust contracted. In a May 2019 paper published in Nature Geoscience [link is below], Thomas Watters and his coauthors provide evidence that this fault and others like it are still active and producing moonquakes today.
    Credits: NASA/Goddard/SVS/Ernie Wright

    These fault scarps resemble small stair-step shaped cliffs when seen from the lunar surface, typically tens of yards (meters) high and extending for a few miles (several kilometers). Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt had to zig-zag their lunar rover up and over the cliff face of the Lee-Lincoln fault scarp during the Apollo 17 mission that landed in the Taurus-Littrow valley in 1972.

    2
    This is a view of the Taurus-Littrow valley taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The valley was explored in 1972 by the Apollo 17 mission astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. They had to zig-zag their lunar rover up and over the cliff face of the Lee-Lincoln fault scarp that cuts across this valley. Credits: [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

    Watters is lead author of a study that analyzed data from four seismometers placed on the Moon by the Apollo astronauts using an algorithm, or mathematical program, developed to pinpoint quake locations detected by a sparse seismic network. The algorithm gave a better estimate of moonquake locations. Seismometers are instruments that measure the shaking produced by quakes, recording the arrival time and strength of various quake waves to get a location estimate, called an epicenter. The study was published May 13 in Nature Geoscience.

    Astronauts placed the instruments on the lunar surface during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 missions. The Apollo 11 seismometer operated only for three weeks, but the four remaining recorded 28 shallow moonquakes – the type expected to be produced by these faults – from 1969 to 1977. The quakes ranged from about 2 to around 5 on the Richter scale.

    Using the revised location estimates from the new algorithm, the team found that eight of the 28 shallow quakes were within 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) of faults visible in lunar images. This is close enough to tentatively attribute the quakes to the faults, since modeling by the team shows that this is the distance over which strong shaking is expected to occur, given the size of these fault scarps. Additionally, the new analysis found that six of the eight quakes happened when the Moon was at or near its apogee, the farthest point from Earth in its orbit. This is where additional tidal stress from Earth’s gravity causes a peak in the total stress, making slip-events along these faults more likely.

    3
    This prominent lunar lobate thrust fault scarp is one of thousands discovered in Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) images. The fault scarp or cliff is like a stair-step in the lunar landscape (left-pointing white arrows) formed when the near-surface crust is pushed together, breaks, and is thrust upward along a fault as the Moon contracts. Boulder fields, patches of relatively high bright soil or regolith, are found on the scarp face and back scarp terrain (high side of the scarp, right-pointing arrows). Image LROC NAC frame M190844037LR. Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/Smithsonian

    “We think it’s very likely that these eight quakes were produced by faults slipping as stress built up when the lunar crust was compressed by global contraction and tidal forces, indicating that the Apollo seismometers recorded the shrinking Moon and the Moon is still tectonically active,” said Watters. The researchers ran 10,000 simulations to calculate the chance of a coincidence producing that many quakes near the faults at the time of greatest stress. They found it is less than 4 percent. Additionally, while other events, such as meteoroid impacts, can produce quakes, they produce a different seismic signature than quakes made by fault slip events.

    Other evidence that these faults are active comes from highly detailed images of the Moon by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft.

    NASA/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

    The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) has imaged over 3,500 of the fault scarps. Some of these images show landslides or boulders at the bottom of relatively bright patches on the slopes of fault scarps or nearby terrain. Weathering from solar and space radiation gradually darkens material on the lunar surface, so brighter areas indicate regions that are freshly exposed to space, as expected if a recent moonquake sent material sliding down a cliff. Examples of fresh boulder fields are found on the slopes of a fault scarp in the Vitello cluster and examples of possible bright features are associated with faults that occur near craters Gemma Frisius C and Mouchez L. Other LROC fault images show tracks from boulder falls, which would be expected if the fault slipped and the resulting quake sent boulders rolling down the cliff slope. These tracks are evidence of a recent quake because they should be erased relatively quickly, in geologic time scales, by the constant rain of micrometeoroid impacts on the Moon. Boulder tracks near faults in Schrödinger basin have been attributed to recent boulder falls induced by seismic shaking.

    4
    The Taurus-Littrow valley is the location of the Apollo 17 landing site (asterisk). Cutting across the valley, just above the landing site, is the Lee-Lincoln fault scarp. Movement on the fault was the likely source of numerous moonquakes that triggered events in the valley. 1) Large landslides on of slopes of South Massif draped relatively bright rocks and dust (regolith) on and over the Lee-Lincoln scarp. 2) Boulders rolled down the slopes of North Massif leaving tracks or narrow troughs in the regolith on the slopes of North Massif. 3) Landslides on southeastern slopes of the Sculptured Hills. Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/Smithsonian

    Additionally, one of the revised moonquake epicenters is just 13 kilometers (8 miles) from the Lee-Lincoln scarp traversed by the Apollo 17 astronauts. The astronauts also examined boulders and boulder tracks on the slope of North Massif near the landing site. A large landslide on South Massif that covered the southern segment of the Lee-Lincoln scarp is further evidence of possible moonquakes generated by fault slip events.

    “It’s really remarkable to see how data from nearly 50 years ago and from the LRO mission has been combined to advance our understanding of the Moon while suggesting where future missions intent on studying the Moon’s interior processes should go,” said LRO Project Scientist John Keller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    Since LRO has been photographing the lunar surface since 2009, the team would like to compare pictures of specific fault regions from different times to see if there is any evidence of recent moonquake activity. Additionally, “Establishing a new network of seismometers on the lunar surface should be a priority for human exploration of the Moon, both to learn more about the Moon’s interior and to determine how much of a hazard moonquakes present,” said co-author Renee Weber, a planetary seismologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

    The Moon isn’t the only world in our solar system experiencing some shrinkage with age. Mercury has enormous thrust faults — up to about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) long and over a mile (3 kilometers) high — that are significantly larger relative to its size than those on the Moon, indicating it shrank much more than the Moon. Since rocky worlds expand when they heat up and contract as they cool, Mercury’s large faults reveal that is was likely hot enough to be completely molten after its formation. Scientists trying to reconstruct the Moon’s origin wonder whether the same happened to the Moon, or if instead it was only partially molten, perhaps with a magma ocean over a more slowly heating deep interior. The relatively small size of the Moon’s fault scarps is in line with the more subtle contraction expected from a partially molten scenario.

    NASA will send the first woman, and next man, to the Moon by 2024. These American astronauts will take a human landing system from the Gateway in lunar orbit, and land on the lunar South Pole. The agency will establish sustainable missions by 2028, then we’ll take what we learn on the Moon, and go to Mars.

    This research was funded by NASA’s LRO project, with additional support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. LRO is managed by NASA Goddard for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The LROC is managed at Arizona State University in Tempe.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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 12:28 pm on March 19, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA   

    From BBC: “US detects huge meteor explosion” 

    BBC
    From BBC

    18 March 2019
    Paul Rincon

    A huge fireball exploded in the Earth’s atmosphere in December, according to NASA.

    1
    Artwork: The fireball was the kind of event expected to happen only two to three times per century. Getty Images

    The blast was the second largest of its kind in 30 years, and the biggest since the fireball over Chelyabinsk in Russia six years ago.

    But it went largely unnoticed until now because it blew up over the Bering Sea, off Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula.

    The space rock exploded with 10 times the energy released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

    Lindley Johnson, planetary defence officer at NASA, told BBC News a fireball this big is only expected about two or three times every 100 years.

    What do we know?

    At about noon local time on 18 December, the asteroid barrelled through the atmosphere at a speed of 32km/s (20 miles per second) , on a steep trajectory of seven degrees.

    Measuring several metres in size, the space rock exploded 25.6km above the Earth’s surface, with an impact energy of 173 kilotons.

    “That was 40% the energy release of Chelyabinsk, but it was over the Bering Sea so it didn’t have the same type of effect or show up in the news,” said Kelly Fast, near-Earth objects observations programme manager at Nasa.

    “That’s another thing we have in our defence, there’s plenty of water on the planet.”

    Dr Fast was discussing the event here at the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, near Houston, Texas.

    Military satellites picked up the blast last year; NASA was notified of the event by the US Air Force.

    Dr Johnson said the fireball came in over an area not too far from routes used by commercial planes flying between North America and Asia. So researchers have been checking with airlines to see if there were any reported sightings of the event.

    2

    What’s the significance?

    In 2005, Congress tasked NASA with finding 90% of near-Earth asteroids of 140m (460ft) in size or larger by 2020. Space rocks of this size are so-called “problems without passports” because they are expected to affect whole regions if they collide with Earth. But scientists estimate it will take them another 30 years to fulfill this congressional directive.

    NASA NEOCAM

    Once an incoming object is identified, NASA has had some notable success at calculating where on Earth the impact will occur, based on a precise determination of its orbit.

    In June 2018, the small 3m (10ft) asteroid 2018 LA was discovered by a ground-based observatory in Arizona eight hours before impact. The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) then made a precision determination of its orbit, which was used to calculate a probable impact location.


    This showed the rock was likely to hit southern Africa.

    Just as the calculation suggested, a fireball was recorded over Botswana by security camera footage on a farm. Fragments of the object were later found in the area.

    4
    Japan’s Himawari satellite captures the fireball’s steep descent. Himawari/JMA/@simon_sat

    How can monitoring be improved?

    The latest event over the Bering Sea shows that larger objects can collide with us without warning, underlining the need for enhanced monitoring.

    A more robust network would be dependent not only on ground telescopes, but space-based observatories also.

    A mission concept in development would see a telescope called NeoCam launched to a gravitational balance point in space, where it would discover and characterise potentially hazardous asteroids larger than 140m.

    Dr Amy Mainzer, chief scientist on NeoCam at JPL, said: “The idea is really to get as close as possible to reaching that 90% goal of finding the 140m and larger near-Earth asteroids given to Nasa by Congress.

    She said that if the mission did not launch, projections suggested it would “take us many decades to get there with the existing suite of ground-based surveys”.

    Dr Mainzer added: “But if you have an IR-based (infrared) telescope, it goes a lot faster.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 9:37 am on February 25, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Hachimoji" DNA (from the Japanese "hachi" meaning "eight" and "moji" meaning "letter", A more effective search for life beyond Earth” said Mary Voytek senior scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters, A new synthetic DNA molecule dubbed hachimoji DNA, NASA, There could be an alternative to DNA-based life as we know it on Earth – a genetic system for life that may be possible on other worlds., This work expands our understanding of the types of molecules that might store information in extraterrestrial life on alien worlds   

    From NASA via Manu Garcia: “NASA-Funded Research Creates DNA-like Molecule to Aid Search for Alien Life” 


    From Manu Garcia, a friend from IAC.

    The universe around us.
    Astronomy, everything you wanted to know about our local universe and never dared to ask.

    NASA image
    From NASA

    Feb. 21, 2019

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

    Elizabeth Landau
    Headquarters, Washington
    818-359-3241
    elizabeth.r.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    This illustration shows the structure of a new synthetic DNA molecule, dubbed hachimoji DNA, which uses the four informational ingredients of regular DNA (green, red, blue, yellow) in addition to four new ones (cyan, pink, purple, orange). Credits: Indiana University School of Medicine

    In a research breakthrough funded by NASA, scientists have synthesized a molecular system that, like DNA, can store and transmit information. This unprecedented feat suggests there could be an alternative to DNA-based life, as we know it on Earth – a genetic system for life that may be possible on other worlds.

    This new molecular system, which is not a new life form, suggests scientists looking for life beyond Earth may need to rethink what they are looking for. The research appears in Thursday’s edition of Science Magazine.

    DNA is a complex molecule that stores and transmits genetic information, is passed from parent to offspring in all living organisms on Earth, and its components include four key ingredients called nucleotides – all standard for life as we know it. But, what about life on other worlds?

    “Life detection is an increasingly important goal of NASA’s planetary science missions, and this new work will help us to develop effective instruments and experiments that will expand the scope of what we look for,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

    One way to imagine the kinds of foreign structures found on other worlds is to try to create something foreign on Earth. A team of researchers, led by Steven Benner at the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution in Alachua, Florida, successfully achieved the fabrication of a new informational molecular system that is like DNA, except in one key area: The new molecule has eight informational ingredients instead of four.

    The synthetic DNA includes the four nucleotides present in Earth life – adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine – but also four others that mimic the structures of the informational ingredients in regular DNA. The result is a double-helix structure that can store and transfer information.

    Benner’s team, which collaborated with laboratories at the University of Texas in Austin, Indiana University Medical School in Indianapolis, and DNA Software in Ann Arbor, Michigan, dubbed their creation “hachimoji” DNA (from the Japanese “hachi,” meaning “eight,” and “moji,” meaning “letter”). Hachimoji DNA meets all the structural requirements that allow our DNA to store, transmit and evolve information in living systems.

    “By carefully analyzing the roles of shape, size and structure in hachimoji DNA, this work expands our understanding of the types of molecules that might store information in extraterrestrial life on alien worlds,” said Benner.

    Scientists have much more to do on the question of what other genetic systems could serve as the foundation for life, and where such exotic organisms could be found. However, this study opens the door to further research on ways life could structure itself in environments that we consider inhospitable, but which might be teeming with forms of life we haven’t yet imagined.

    “Incorporating a broader understanding of what is possible in our instrument design and mission concepts will result in a more inclusive and, therefore, more effective search for life beyond Earth,” said Mary Voytek, senior scientist for Astrobiology at NASA Headquarters.

    One of NASA’s goals is to search for life on other planets like Mars, where there was once flowing water and a thick atmosphere, or moons of the outer solar system like Europa and Enceladus, where vast water oceans churn under thick layers of ice. What if life on those worlds doesn’t use our DNA? How could we recognize it? This new DNA may be the key to answering these questions and many more.

    This work also interests those interested in information as part of life.

    “The discovery that DNA with eight nucleotide letters is suitable for storing and transmitting information is a breakthrough in our knowledge of the range of possibilities necessary for life,” said Andrew Serazin, president of Templeton World Charity Foundation in Nassau, The Bahamas, which also supported this work. “This makes a major contribution to the quest supported by Templeton World Charity Foundation to understand the fundamental role that information plays in both physics and biology.”

    This research was supported by NASA’s Astrobiology Program through the Exobiology Program. To learn more about NASA’s Astrobiology Program, visit

    https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 2:59 pm on January 12, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, Food and Drug Administration, Here’s how the record-breaking government shutdown is disrupting science, Indian Health Service, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Parks Service, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, , National Weather Service, , U.S. Geological Survey   

    From Science News: “Here’s how the record-breaking government shutdown is disrupting science” 

    From Science News

    January 12, 2019
    Laurel Hamers

    The shutdown is forcing scientists to cancel presentations and halt research.

    1
    TEMPORARY WORKAROUND For now, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory based in Charlottesville, Va., shown here closed during a 2013 government shutdown, is still open, funded by money left over from 2018. But if the current shutdown doesn’t end soon, it may be forced to close again. Emily Barney/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    As the partial federal government shutdown enters its fourth week — on January 12 becoming the longest in U.S. history — scientists are increasingly feeling the impact. Thousands of federal workers who handle food safety and public health are furloughed. Countless projects researching everything from climate change to pest control to hurricane prediction are on hold.

    Among government agencies hit by the partial shutdown are the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Agriculture, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA, where nearly all employees are on leave. Additionally, 40 percent of the Food and Drug Administration’s 14,000 workers are furloughed, as are most employees of the National Parks Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation, responsible for doling out nearly $8 billion in research funds each year, has stopped awarding grants and has canceled review panels with outside scientists that are part of the process. In 2018, NSF gave out $42 million in grants from January 1 through January 8, but this year, nothing has been funded so far, Benjamin Corb of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology noted in a statement January 8. Such stalled funding is leading to a backlog that could slow down approvals long beyond the shutdown. Here are some of the consequences of delaying government research, and how some scientists are trying to cope.

    Public safety

    Both the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention remain funded and operational. Flu surveillance is still being funded through the CDC. Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs are also safe.

    But other agencies working to protect public health have scaled back operations. The Indian Health Service, which funds care for Native Americans, is in limbo. Health clinic employees are working without pay, while some grants and programs are on hold.

    The USDA is still inspecting meat, dairy and poultry products. But routine FDA inspections of produce are suspended, increasing the possibility of a foodborne illness outbreak. Given that worry, the agency hopes to resume inspections of high-risk facilities prone to outbreaks, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb told the Washington Post.

    2
    PRODUCE PROBLEMS During the shutdown, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t been carrying out routine inspections of produce, upping the risk for a foodborne illness outbreak. Caroline Attwood/Unsplash

    Weather forecasts have become less accurate, with the National Weather Service’s key prediction tool not working correctly and no one around to fix it, the Washington Post also reported, citing Suru Saha of the National Weather Service’s Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Md.

    Meanwhile, work to improve hurricane models by adding the latest in physics and data isn’t happening, forecaster Eric Blake at the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center in Miami told Scientific American.

    Environment damage

    EPA employees policing industry compliance with laws restricting air and water pollution are on leave, and work to clean up Superfund sites, areas of extreme environmental contamination, is suspended. That means any research into the potential health or environmental effects of new contaminants is on hold.

    3
    POLLUTION UNPATROLLED The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials who hold companies accountable for complying with pollution regulations, as well as those who work on Superfund sites like the Gowanus Canal in New York (shown here), aren’t working right now. nicolecioe/iStock.com

    National parks are also in disarray, with few rangers to control crowds or enforce sanitation rules or regulations against environmental damage. Visitors wanting to drive off-road through the California desert cut down protected Joshua trees to clear a path in Joshua Tree National Park, park superintendent David Smith told National Parks Traveler. It can take years for desert soils and slow-growing Joshua trees to recover from such damage.

    4
    PARK PLUNDERED National parks have remained open during the partial shutdown. But with only a few rangers on duty, visitors have caused long-term damage to some, such as Joshua Tree National Park in California, where trees have been cut down for off-roading. Frank DeBonis/iStock.com

    Information access

    Scientists aren’t able to gather data from government websites that are not being updated or are now offline. That’s hurt climate scientist Angeline Pendergrass’ work building computer models at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, to predict how climate change will impact rainfall patterns.

    Pendergrass normally verifies her calculations against precipitation records housed in the Global Historical Climatology Network, which logs global temperature and rainfall measurements. But while those data are still being collected automatically, the data aren’t available as usual through NOAA. Pendergrass’ project was stalled for days until she found a workaround to access the data in a different way.

    “I worry a lot about missing observations” from monitoring equipment malfunctions, Pendergrass says, which could mess up her research.

    Her concerns are well-founded. About 10 percent of contributing U.S. weather stations appear to be offline, lead scientist Robert Rohde at Berkeley Earth, an independent group for scientific analysis based in Berkeley, Calif., tweeted. And data from “a large number of foreign stations are also not being merged into the archive,” he wrote.

    Animals in USDA facilities are still being cared for, but scientists can’t collect data or do experiments. Interruptions in animal research involving steps being taken at certain times — like cows that need to be bred at a certain age — can set researchers back months or even years.

    Scientific collaboration

    During the shutdown, federal scientists can’t attend scientific meetings — important arenas for sharing new research. Already, government scientists have missed key conferences on astronomy, biology, weather and agricultural science.

    More than 10 percent of planned participants at the American Astronomical Society meeting that just wrapped up on January 10 in Seattle had to cancel presentations, AAS spokesman Rick Fienberg says. Some were able to ask coauthors to take their place; astrophysicist Jane Rigby at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was not one of them.

    Rigby had to abandon her planned talks about the James Webb Space Telescope because nobody outside of the U.S. space agency had the expertise to cover for her. “This is the Super Bowl of astronomy, and we’re not allowed to play,” she says. “It’s not even like we’re benched. We’re not even allowed in the stadium.”

    Hundreds of USDA employees have also pulled out of the San Diego meeting of the International Plant & Animal Genome that starts January 12, says conference co-organizer Alison Van Eenennaam, an agricultural genomicist at the University of California, Davis.

    Because future research priorities are decided at such conferences, she says, the cancelations “will have implications for the whole year’s research.”

    One of Van Eenennaam’s graduate students relies on a USDA computer server to run a simulation program for research that’s needed to complete her degree. She isn’t allowed to access it right now, so the planned updates to make the program more suitable to the project’s needs also aren’t happening.

    “She’s stuck,” Van Eenennaam says.

    Timely research

    Some scientists can ride out any funding delays. But for those working on projects that are time sensitive, the halt in funding approvals threatens to throw off an entire year of work.

    Physiologist Hannah Carey is still waiting for this year’s money to come in for her research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison on ground squirrel hibernation. Because hibernating animals endure extreme changes in body temperature and heart rate, studying how they cope could help scientists understand how human bodies deal with trauma or extreme conditions.

    5
    GOING DORMANT Hannah Carey of the University of Wisconsin–Madison studies hibernation in ground squirrels. But because of the shutdown, her grant money for the year hasn’t arrived yet. Rob Streiffer

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 1:49 pm on January 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA, ,   

    From Sky & Telescope: “NASA Renews Interest in SETI” 

    SKY&Telescope bloc

    From Sky & Telescope

    January 4, 2019
    David Grinspoon

    After a long hiatus, the space agency gets back into the SETI game.

    In July I wrote about innovative approaches for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). In that column I lamented the fact that NASA support for this field dried up in the 1990s and had not returned, even though astrobiology has since flourished. Many of us felt that the bureaucratically maintained distinction between astrobiology and SETI did not make intellectual sense, and we longed for SETI to be let in from the cold.

    Sometimes wishes come true.

    As that column went to press I received an email asking if I would help organize a workshop on “technosignatures.” The sponsor? NASA. That got my attention. The purpose was to explore how to best use NASA resources in a renewed search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Apparently, Congress’s new federal budget mandated that NASA spend $10 million “to search for technosignatures, such as radio transmissions, in order to meet the NASA objective to search for life’s origin, evolution, distribution, and future in the universe.” Wow!

    The workshop, which took place in September, was highly stimulating, and given the renewed government interest in SETI, the mood was bright and optimistic. Along with evaluation of historical and current searches, there was an openness to new ideas born of a kind of humility. We can’t really second-guess the properties or motivations of technological aliens, so we have to cast a wide net. In addition to “traditional” SETI searches for radio signals or laser pulses, we must be alert to more passive signs of technological entities that might not be trying to get in touch with anyone. These include possible artifacts beyond or within our own solar system, or planetary atmospheres altered or engineered by industrial activities.

    Attendees made an effort to stick to the prosaic questions: What observing programs can we ramp up in the next few years using NASA’s current or expected assets and instruments? How can NASA best collaborate with private partners such as the SETI Institute and Breakthrough Listen?

    SETI/Allen Telescope Array situated at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, 290 miles (470 km) northeast of San Francisco, California, USA, Altitude 986 m (3,235 ft)

    Breakthrough Listen Project

    1

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA



    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA


    CSIRO/Parkes Observatory, located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia


    SKA Meerkat telescope, 90 km outside the small Northern Cape town of Carnarvon, SA

    But with SETI it’s hard to avoid deep philosophical musings. Some talks at the workshop delved into abstract but necessary puzzles about the properties and behavior of distant, advanced civilizations — even about what we mean by “advanced” and “civilization.” SETI has always combined solid engineering, daring speculation, and profound questioning.

    Laser SETI, the future of SETI Institute research

    This admixture didn’t always sit well with some. At the first international SETI conference in Byurakan, Soviet Armenia in 1971, organizers Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovsky welcomed historians, philosophers, linguists, and social scientists along with the scientists. At the time, one young Soviet astrophysicist asked that the humanities be left out, stating he didn’t want to listen to “windbags.” A leading American physicist exclaimed, “To hell with philosophy! I came here to learn about observations and instruments . . .”

    This historical tension seemed absent from September’s workshop. Although our prime directive was to guide NASA in the use of its assets to search for technosignatures, there was respectful discussion of the more esoteric and humanistic questions that are naturally evoked, and a recognition that a mature SETI program going forward will involve more than just telescopes and computer models. Out of this will come new calls for proposals to NASA, and then a new era of federally funded SETI research. May it be long and fruitful.

    See the full article here .

    NASA might also consider aiding SETI@home, a BOINC project from the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley processing data from The Arecibo Observatory


    SETI@home, a BOINC project originated in the Space Science Lab at UC Berkeley



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

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Sky & Telescope magazine, founded in 1941 by Charles A. Federer Jr. and Helen Spence Federer, has the largest, most experienced staff of any astronomy magazine in the world. Its editors are virtually all amateur or professional astronomers, and every one has built a telescope, written a book, done original research, developed a new product, or otherwise distinguished him or herself.

    Sky & Telescope magazine, now in its eighth decade, came about because of some happy accidents. Its earliest known ancestor was a four-page bulletin called The Amateur Astronomer, which was begun in 1929 by the Amateur Astronomers Association in New York City. Then, in 1935, the American Museum of Natural History opened its Hayden Planetarium and began to issue a monthly bulletin that became a full-size magazine called The Sky within a year. Under the editorship of Hans Christian Adamson, The Sky featured large illustrations and articles from astronomers all over the globe. It immediately absorbed The Amateur Astronomer.

    Despite initial success, by 1939 the planetarium found itself unable to continue financial support of The Sky. Charles A. Federer, who would become the dominant force behind Sky & Telescope, was then working as a lecturer at the planetarium. He was asked to take over publishing The Sky. Federer agreed and started an independent publishing corporation in New York.

    “Our first issue came out in January 1940,” he noted. “We dropped from 32 to 24 pages, used cheaper quality paper…but editorially we further defined the departments and tried to squeeze as much information as possible between the covers.” Federer was The Sky’s editor, and his wife, Helen, served as managing editor. In that January 1940 issue, they stated their goal: “We shall try to make the magazine meet the needs of amateur astronomy, so that amateur astronomers will come to regard it as essential to their pursuit, and professionals to consider it a worthwhile medium in which to bring their work before the public.”

     
  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on December 10, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Advances like those made by Hubble are possible only through sustained publicly-funded research, Arthur “Art” Code, , , , , Lyman Spitzer, NASA, OAO-2, , Space Astronomy Laboratory at UW–Madison,   

    From Scientific American: “The World’s First Space Telescope” 

    Scientific American

    From Scientific American

    December 7, 2018
    James Lattis

    50 years ago, astronomers launched the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, whose descendants include the Hubble, Spitzer and James Webb telescopes.

    In July 1958, an astronomer at the University of Wisconsin–Madison named Arthur “Art” Code received a telegram from the fledgling Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences. The agency wanted to know what he and his colleagues would do if given the opportunity to launch into Earth’s orbit an instrument weighing up to 100 pounds.

    Code, newly-minted director of the University’s Washburn Observatory, had something in mind. His department was already well known for pioneering a technique for measuring the light emitted by celestial objects, called photoelectric photometry, and Code had joined the university with the intent of adapting it to the burgeoning field of space astronomy.

    He founded the Space Astronomy Laboratory at UW–Madison and, with his colleagues, proposed to launch a small telescope equipped with a photoelectric photometer, designed to measure the ultraviolet (UV) energy output of stars—a task impossible from Earth’s surface. Fifty years ago, on December 7, 1968, that idea culminated in NASA’s launch of the first successful space-based observatory: the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, or OAO-2.

    NASA U Wisconsin Orbiting Astronomical Observatory OAO-2

    With it was born the era of America’s Great Observatories, bearing the Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra and Compton space telescopes, a time during which our understanding of the universe repeatedly deepened and transformed.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/Spitzer Infrared Telescope

    NASA/Chandra X-ray Telescope

    NASA Compton Gamma Ray Observatory

    Today, dwindling political appetite and lean funding threaten our progress. Contemporary projects like the James Webb Space Telescope flounder, and federal budgets omit promising projects like the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST).

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    NASA WFIRST

    In celebrating the half century since OAO-2’s launch, we are reminded that major scientific achievements like it become part of the public trust, and to make good on the public trust, we must repay our debt to history by investing in our future. Advances like those made by Hubble are possible only through sustained, publicly-funded research.

    These first investments originated in the late 1950s, during the space race between the U.S. the USSR. They led to economic gains in the private sector, technological and scientific innovations, and the birth of new fields of exploration.

    Astronomer Lyman Spitzer, considered the father of the Hubble Space Telescope, first posited the idea of space-based observing seriously in a 1946 RAND Corporation study. By leaving Earth’s atmosphere, he argued, astronomers could point telescopes at and follow nearly anything in the sky, from comets to galaxy clusters, and measure light in a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

    When Code pitched Wisconsin’s idea to the Space Board, the result was NASA funding to create part of the scientific payload for OAO. The agency went to work planning a spacecraft that could support these astronomical instruments. The Cook Electric Company in Chicago and Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation in New York won contracts to help pull it off.

    The payload, named the Wisconsin Experiment Package (WEP), bundled five telescopes equipped with photoelectric photometers and two scanning spectrophotometers, all with UV capabilities. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a package of X-ray and gamma detectors.

    Scientists and engineers had to make the instruments on OAO both programmable and capable of operating autonomously between ground contacts. Because repairs were impossible once in orbit, they designed redundant systems and operating modes. Scientists also had to innovate systems for handling complex observations, transmitting data to Earth digitally (still a novelty in those days), and for processing data before they landed in the hands of astronomers.

    The first effort, OAO-1, suffered a fatal power failure after launch in 1966, and the scientific instruments were never turned on. But NASA reinvested, and OAO-2 launched with a new WEP from Wisconsin, and this time a complementary instrument from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, called Celescope, that used television camera technology to produce images of celestial objects emitting UV light. Expected to operate just one year, OAO-2 continued to make observations for four years.

    Numerous “guest” astronomers received access to the instruments during the extended mission. Such collaborations ultimately led to the creation of the Space Telescope Science Institute, which Code helped organize as acting director in 1981.

    And the data yielded many scientific firsts, including a modern understanding of stellar physics, surprise insights into stellar explosions called novae, and exploration of a comet that had far-reaching implications for theories of planet formation and evolution.

    To be responsible beneficiaries of such insights, we must remember that just as we are yesterday’s future, the firsts of tomorrow depend on today. We honor that public trust only by continuing to fund James Webb, WFIRST, and other projects not yet conceived.

    In the forward of a 1971 volume publishing OAO-2’s scientific results, NASA’s Chief of Astronomy Nancy G. Roman wrote: “The performance of this satellite has completely vindicated the early planners and has rewarded … the entire astronomical community with many exciting new discoveries and much important data to aid in the unravelling of the secrets of the stars.”

    Let’s keep unraveling these stellar secrets.

    See the full article here .


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    Scientific American, the oldest continuously published magazine in the U.S., has been bringing its readers unique insights about developments in science and technology for more than 160 years.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:03 am on November 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A billionaire’s plan to search for life on Enceladus, , , , , Breakthrough Starshot Foundation, , , NASA,   

    From EarthSky: “A billionaire’s plan to search for life on Enceladus” 

    1

    From EarthSky

    November 27, 2018
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Russian entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner wants to send a probe back to Saturn’s ocean moon Enceladus, to search for evidence of life there. NASA wants to help him.

    1
    Illustration showing plumes on Saturnian moon Enceladus. Illustration: NASA /JPL-Caltech

    Saturn’s moon Enceladus is very small – only about 310 miles (500 kilometers) across – but it may hold clues to one of the biggest mysteries of all time – are we alone? Beneath the icy crust lies a global salty ocean, not too different from Earth’s oceans. Could that ocean contain life of some kind? That is a question that many scientists – and the public alike – would like to find an answer for. Enceladus, however, is very far away and planetary missions are expensive – but there may be an ideal solution.

    Billionaire entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner wants to send a private mission back to this intriguing world, and NASA wants to help him. This incredible idea was first reported in New Scientist on November 8, 2018 (please note this article is behind a paywall). It was then reported by Gizmodo the same day.

    “It looks like NASA will offer billionaire entrepreneur and physicist Yuri Milner help on the first private deep-space mission: a journey designed to detect life, if it exists, on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, according to documents acquired by New Scientist.

    New Scientist’s Mark Harris reports:

    Agreements signed by NASA and Milner’s non-profit Breakthrough Starshot Foundation in September show that the organisations are working on scientific, technical and financial plans for the ambitious mission. NASA has committed over $70,000 to help produce a concept study for a flyby mission. The funds won’t be paid to Breakthrough but represent the agency’s own staffing costs on the project.

    The teams will be working in the project plan and concepts through next year, New Scientist reports.”

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    Enceladus is a very small moon, but it has a global ocean beneath its icy crust. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    Breakthrough Initiatives, part of Milner’s non-profit Breakthrough Starshot Foundation, would lead and pay for the mission, with consultation from NASA. The board of Breakthrough Initiatives includes billionaires Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, and the late physicist Stephen Hawking. Breakthrough Initiatives has been studying various mission concepts for space exploration, including a solar sail to nearby stars, advancing the technology to discover other Earth-like planets and sending out a direct message, similar to the previous Arecibo message, specifically to try and catch the attention of aliens.

    Solar sail. Breakthrough Starshot image. Credit: Breakthrough Starshot

    This radio message was transmitted toward the globular cluster M13 using the Arecibo telescope in 1974. Image Credit Arne Nordmann (norro) Wikipedia


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

    Enceladus has become a prime target in the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system, since its subsurface ocean is thought to be quite similar to oceans on Earth, thanks to data from the Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn from 2004 until September of last year.

    NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens Spacecraft

    Scientists already know it is salty and there is evidence for geothermal activity on the ocean floor, such as “smoker” volcanic vents on the bottom of oceans on Earth. Such geothermal vents – at least on Earth – are oases for a wide variety of ocean life despite the darkness and cold temperatures away from the vents.

    Cassini also investigated the plumes of Enceladus – huge “geysers” of water vapor erupting through cracks in the surface at the south pole of Enceladus. Cassini flew right through some of them, analyzing their composition, and found they contain water vapor, ice particles, complex organic molecules and salts. Cassini wasn’t capable of finding life directly, but it did find valuable clues and hints that there may well be something alive in that alien ocean, even if only microbes.

    Earlier this year, New Scientist also reported that there may already be some tentative evidence for microbes in Enceladus’s ocean [Nature Communications]. Cassini detected traces of methane in the water vapor plumes, and when scientists tested computer models of conditions in the ocean, they found that microbes that emit methane after combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide – called methanogens – could easily survive there. According to Chris McKay at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California:

    “This [team] has taken the first step to showing experimentally that methanogens can indeed live in the conditions expected on Enceladus.”

    The scientists found that the microbes were able to thrive at temperatures and pressures likely found in Enceladus’s oceans, ranging from 0 to 90 degrees Celsius, and up to 50 Earth atmospheres. They also found that olivine minerals, thought to exist in the moon’s core, could be chemically broken down to produce enough hydrogen for methanogens to thrive.

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    Another proposed return mission to Enceladus is the Enceladus Life Finder (ELF), which would orbit Saturn and make repeated passes through the plumes – like Cassini, but with updated instruments. Image via Jonathan Lunine.

    Another proposed return mission to Enceladus is the Enceladus Life Finder (ELF), which would orbit Saturn and make repeated passes through the plumes – like Cassini, but with updated instruments that could even test whether any amino acids found have predominately left or right-handed structures. (Life on Earth predominately creates left-handed forms, and scientists think that life elsewhere will also favor one form over the other instead of a random mixture as would occur from abiotic chemistry.)

    Cassini wasn’t designed to detect life directly, but on a future mission – such as the one proposed – a mass spectrometer would be able to detect carbon isotope ratios unique to living organisms, as well as other potential “biomarkers” of methanogens, including lipids and hydrocarbons.

    Bottom line: Scientists are eager to return to Enceladus to learn more about its intriguing subsurface ocean. The new plan by billionaire Yuri Milner, with NASA’s assistance, may be the best bet to go back and see if anything is swimming in those mysterious alien waters.

    See the full article here .


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    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

     
    • stewarthoughblog 10:52 pm on November 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      This substantiates the maxim that intelligence can only be coincidently related to financial possession. Even considering that science can be expected to pursue the investigation of a wide array of physical phenomenon, wasting $billions on speculation of the possibility of life on remote bodies is nonsensical considering that there is virtually a total absence of any evidence of naturalist creation of life on Earth. Projection of any conditions on Enceladus of conditions similar to primordial Earth is pure faith, not based on scientific evidence.

      But, it is true that anyone can spend their money (peaceably) on what they want to

      Like

      • richardmitnick 2:08 pm on November 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        I totally agree with your assessment of this proposed project. But, of course, it is Milner’s money. The real problem beyond is that we cannot squelch even the wildest quests in hopes for new science. Science never sleeps. The best example of this is that when our Congress in 1993 killed the Superconducting super collider, we left the door wide open for Europe via CERN to build its substitute, the LHC and High Energy Physics simply moved to Europe.

        Like

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