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  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on August 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA, ,   

    From EarthSky: “Studying sun’s atmosphere on eclipse day” 

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    EarthSky

    August 17, 2017
    EarthSky Voices

    Monday’s total solar eclipse will give scientists a rare opportunity to study the lower regions of the sun’s corona. Here’s what NASA scientists will be investigating.

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    A total solar eclipse gives scientists a rare opportunity to study the lower regions of the sun’s corona. These observations can help us understand solar activity, as well as the unexpectedly high temperatures in the corona. Image via NASA/S. Habbal, M. Druckmüller and P. Aniol.

    By Sarah Frazier, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    A total solar eclipse happens somewhere on Earth about once every 18 months. But because Earth’s surface is mostly ocean, most eclipses are visible over land for only a short time, if at all. The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, is different – its path stretches over land for nearly 90 minutes, giving scientists an unprecedented opportunity to make scientific measurements from the ground.

    Total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017: All you need to know

    When the moon moves in front of the sun on August 21, it will completely obscure the sun’s bright face. This happens because of a celestial coincidence – though the sun is about 400 times wider than the moon, the moon on August 21 will be about 400 times closer to us, making their apparent size in the sky almost equal. In fact, the moon will appear slightly larger than the sun to us, allowing it to totally obscure the sun for more than two and a half minutes in some locations. If they had the exact same apparent size, the total eclipse would only last for an instant.

    The eclipse will reveal the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, which is otherwise too dim to see next to the bright sun. Though we study the corona from space with instruments called coronagraphs – which create artificial eclipses by using a metal disk to block out the sun’s face – there are still some lower regions of the sun’s atmosphere that are only visible during total solar eclipses. Because of a property of light called diffraction, the disk of a coronagraph must block out both the sun’s surface and a large part of the corona in order to get crisp pictures. But because the moon is so far away from Earth – about 230,000 miles away during the eclipse – diffraction isn’t an issue, and scientists are able to measure the lower corona in fine detail.

    NASA is taking advantage of the August 21, 2017, eclipse by funding 11 ground-based science investigations across the United States. Six of these focus on the sun’s corona.

    The source of space weather

    Our sun is an active star that constantly releases a flow of charged particles and magnetic fields known as the solar wind. This solar wind, along with discrete burps of solar material known as coronal mass ejections, can influence Earth’s magnetic field, send particles raining down into our atmosphere, and – when intense – impact satellites. Though we’re able to track these solar eruptions when they leave the sun, the key to predicting when they’ll happen could lie in studying their origins in the magnetic energy stored in the lower corona.

    A team led by Philip Judge of the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado, will use new instruments to study the magnetic field structure of the corona by imaging this atmospheric layer during the eclipse. The instruments will image the corona to see fingerprints left by the magnetic field in visible and near-infrared wavelengths from a mountaintop near Casper, Wyoming. One instrument, POLARCAM, uses new technology based on the eyes of the mantis shrimp to obtain novel polarization measurements, and will serve as a proof-of-concept for use in future space missions. The research will enhance our understanding of how the sun generates space weather. Judge said:

    “We want to compare between the infrared data we’re capturing and the ultraviolet data recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and JAXA/NASA’s Hinode satellite.

    NASA/SDO

    JAXA/HINODE spacecraft

    This work will confirm or refute our understanding of how light across the entire spectrum forms in the corona, perhaps helping to resolve some nagging disagreements.”

    The results from the camera will complement data from an airborne study imaging the corona in the infrared, as well as another ground-based infrared study led by Paul Bryans at the High Altitude Observatory.

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    High Altitude Observatory. Hawaii location.

    Bryans and his team will sit inside a trailer atop Casper Mountain in Wyoming, and point a specialized instrument at the eclipse. The instrument is a spectrometer, which collects light from the sun and separates each wavelength of light, measuring their intensity. This particular spectrometer, called the NCAR Airborne Interferometer, will, for the first time, survey infrared light emitted by the solar corona. Bryant said:

    “These studies are complementary. We will have the spectral information, which reveals the component wavelengths of light. And Philip Judge’s team will have the spatial resolution to tell where certain features are coming from.”

    This novel data will help scientists characterize the corona’s complex magnetic field — crucial information for understanding and eventually helping to forecast space weather events. The scientists will augment their study by analyzing their results alongside corresponding space-based observations from other instruments aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and the joint NASA/JAXA Hinode.

    In Madras, Oregon, a team of NASA scientists led by Nat Gopalswamy at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will point a new, specialized polarization camera at the sun’s faint outer atmosphere, the corona, taking several-second exposures at four selected wavelengths in just over two minutes. Their images will capture data on the temperature and speed of solar material in the corona. Currently these measurements can only be obtained from Earth-based observations during a total solar eclipse.

    To study the corona at times and locations outside a total eclipse, scientists use coronagraphs, which mimic eclipses by using solid disks to block the sun’s face much the way the moon’s shadow does. Typical coronagraphs use a polarizer filter in a mechanism that turns through three angles, one after the other, for each wavelength filter. The new camera is designed to eliminate this clunky, time-consuming process, by incorporating thousands of tiny polarization filters to read light polarized in different directions simultaneously. Testing this instrument is a crucial step toward improving coronagraphs and ultimately, our understanding of the corona — the very root of the solar radiation that fills up Earth’s space environment.

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    NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, constantly observes the outer regions of the sun’s corona. During the Aug. 21, 2017, eclipse, scientists will observe the lower regions of the sun’s corona to better understand the source of solar explosions called coronal mass ejections, as well as the unexpectedly high temperatures in the corona. Image via ESA/NASA/SOHO.

    ESA/NASA SOHO

    Unexplained coronal heating

    The answer to another mystery also lies in the lower corona: It is thought to hold the secrets to a longstanding question of how the solar atmosphere reaches such unexpectedly high temperatures. The sun’s corona is much hotter than its surface, which is counterintuitive, as the sun’s energy is generated by nuclear fusion at its core. Usually temperatures go down consistently as you move away from that heat source, the same way that it gets cooler as you move away from a fire – but not so in the case of the sun’s atmosphere. Scientists suspect that detailed measurements of the way particles move in the lower corona could help them uncover the mechanism that produces this enormous heating.

    Padma Yanamandra-Fisher of the Space Science Institute will lead an experiment to take images of the lower corona in polarized light. Polarized light is when all the light waves are oriented the same way, and it is produced when ordinary, unpolarized light passes through a medium – in this case, the electrons of the inner solar corona. Yanamandra-Fisher said:

    “By measuring the polarized brightness of the inner solar corona and using numerical modeling, we can extract the number of electrons along the line of sight. Essentially, we’re mapping the distribution of free electrons in the inner solar corona.”

    Mapping the inner corona in polarized light to reveal the density of elections is a critical factor in modeling coronal waves, one possible source of coronal heating. Along with unpolarized light images collected by the NASA-funded citizen science project called Citizen CATE, which will gather eclipse imagery from across the country, these polarized light measurements could help scientists address the question of the solar corona’s unusually high temperatures.

    Shadia Habbal of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu will lead a team of scientists to image the sun during the total solar eclipse. The eclipse’s long path over land allows the team to image the sun from five sites across four different states, about 600 miles apart, allowing them to track short-term changes in the corona and increasing the odds of good weather.

    They will use spectrometers, which analyze the light emitted from different ionized elements in the corona. The scientists will also use unique filters to selectively image the corona in certain colors, which allows them to directly probe into the physics of the sun’s outer atmosphere.

    With this data, they can explore the composition and temperature of the corona, and measure the speed of particles flowing out from the sun. Different colors correspond to different elements — nickel, iron and argon — that have lost electrons, or been ionized, in the corona’s extreme heat, and each element ionizes at a specific temperature. By analyzing such information together, the scientists hope to better understand the processes that heat the corona.

    Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and his team will use two of NASA’s WB-57F research jets take observations from twin telescopes mounted on the noses of the planes. They will ­­­­­capture the clearest images of the sun’s outer atmosphere — the corona — to date and the first-ever thermal images of Mercury, revealing how temperature varies across the planet’s surface.

    Bottom line: NASA scientists will study the sun’s atmosphere at the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. [Alot!!]

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:22 am on August 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , BETTII, , ISS-CREAM, NASA, PIPER-Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer, Space balloons   

    From Goddard: “NASA’s Scientific Balloon Program Reaches New Heights” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Aug. 8, 2017
    Raleigh McElvery
    raleigh.e.mcelvery@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

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    This illustration shows the Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometer (BETTII) ascending into the upper atmosphere. The experiment was severely damaged on June 9, when the payload detached from its parachute and fell. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Michael Lentz

    For decades, NASA has released enormous scientific balloons into Earth’s atmosphere, miles above the altitude of commercial flights. The Balloon Program is currently preparing new missions bearing sensitive instruments, including one designed to investigate the birth of our universe and another with ballooning origins that will fly on the International Space Station.

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    Al Kogut, an astrophysicist at NASA Goddard, poses with one of the millimeter-wave telescopes for the Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer (PIPER) balloon mission. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Bill Hrybyk

    NASA’s Primordial Inflation Polarization Explorer (PIPER), which will launch a series of test flights over the next few years, could confirm the theory that our nascent universe expanded by a trillion trillion (1024) times immediately following the big bang. This rapid inflation would have shaken the fabric of space-time, generating ripples called gravitational waves. These waves, in turn, should have produced detectable distortions in the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the earliest light in the universe lengthened into microwaves today by cosmic expansion. The patterns will appear in measurements of how the CMB light is organized, a property called polarization. Discovering twisting, pinwheel-like polarization patterns in the CMB will prove inflation occurred and take astrophysicists back to the brink of the big bang.

    While Albert Einstein’s theories accurately describe gravity in today’s dilated cosmos, these large-scale physical laws did not apply when our universe was still the size of a hydrogen atom. To reconcile this disparity, PIPER will map the entire sky at four different frequencies, differentiating between twisting patterns in the CMB (indicating primordial gravitational waves) and different polarization signals due to interstellar dust. To maintain sensitivity, the telescope will fly immersed in a bucket of liquid helium the size of a hot tub but much cooler — nearly 457 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 272 degrees Celsius) and close to absolute zero, the coldest temperature possible.

    The PIPER mission was designed, built and tested at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the University of British Columbia, Canada, the National Institute of Standards and Technology at Boulder, Colorado, and Cardiff University in Wales.

    “We’re hoping to gain insight into our early universe as it expanded from subatomic size to larger than a planet in less than a second,” said Goddard’s Al Kogut, PIPER’s principal investigator. “Understanding inflation also augments our knowledge of high-energy particle physics, where the forces of nature act indistinguishably from one another.”

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    From its new vantage point on the International Space Station’s Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility, the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (ISS-CREAM) mission, shown in the inset illustration, will study cosmic rays to determine their sources and acceleration mechanisms. Credits: NASA

    While PIPER prepares to observe roughly 20 miles above Earth, the latest iteration of the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) experiment is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station in August. Although CREAM was balloon-borne during its seven prior missions, the new payload will take the technology past Earth’s atmosphere and into space. Called ISS-CREAM, the experiment will directly sample fast-moving matter from outside the solar system, called cosmic rays, from its new vantage point on the Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility.

    Cosmic rays are high-energy particles traveling at near the speed of light that constantly shower Earth. But precisely how they originate and accelerate through space requires more study, as does their abrupt decline at energies higher than 1,000 trillion electron volts. These particles have been boosted to more than 100 times the energy achievable by the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

    ISS-CREAM — about the size of a refrigerator — will carry refurbished versions of the silicon charge detectors and ionization calorimeter from the previous balloon missions over Antarctica. ISS-CREAM will contain two new instruments: the top/bottom counting detectors, contributed by Kyungpook National University in Daegu, South Korea, and a boronated scintillator detector to distinguish electrons from protons, constructed by a team from Goddard, Pennsylvania State University in University Park and Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights.

    The international collaboration, led by physicist Eun-Suk Seo at the University of Maryland, College Park, includes teams from numerous institutions in the United States as well as collaborating institutions in the Republic of Korea, Mexico and France. Overall management and integration of the experiment was led by NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s Eastern Shore under the direction of Linda Thompson, the CREAM project manager.

    According to co-investigator Jason Link, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County research scientist working at Goddard, the evolution of the CREAM project demonstrates the power of NASA’s Balloon Program as a developmental test bed for space instrumentation.

    “A balloon mission can go from an idea in a scientist’s head to a flying payload in about five years,” Link said. “In fact, many scientists who design experiments for space missions get their start in ballooning. It’s a powerful training ground for researchers and engineers.”

    As is true with any complex mission, things don’t always go as planned. Such was the case for the Balloon Experimental Twin Telescope for Infrared Interferometer (BETTII) experiment, intended to investigate cold objects emitting light in the far-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

    BETTII launched on June 8 from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas. Although nearly all the mission components functioned as they should, the payload detached from its parachute and fell 130,000 feet in 12 minutes as the flight ended the following day.

    BETTII Principal Investigator Stephen Rinehart at Goddard estimates it will take several years to secure funding and rebuild the mission.

    Designed, assembled and tested at Goddard in collaboration with the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, Cardiff University, University College London and the Far-Infrared Interferometric Telescope Experiment team in Japan, BETTII is designed to examine lower infrared frequencies with unprecedented resolution. While optical telescopes like Hubble cannot see stars shrouded by thick dust clouds, far-infrared observations pierce the veil, revealing how these objects form and evolve.

    “BETTII is one of the more complex balloon experiments ever flown,” Rinehart said. “As a research community, we understand that this risk is necessary for the scientific and technical progress we make with balloons.”

    After all, just as risk and failure go hand in hand, so do risk and reward.

    For more information about NASA’s Balloon Program, visit:

    https://www.nasa.gov/scientificballoons

    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.


    NASA/Goddard Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 12:04 pm on August 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA,   

    From NASA: “An Earth-like Atmosphere May Not Survive Proxima b’s Orbit” 

    NASA image
    NASA

    July 31, 2017
    Last Updated: Aug. 4, 2017
    Editor: Rob Garner

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    This artist’s impression shows a view of the surface of the planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the solar system. The double star Alpha Centauri AB also appears in the image. Proxima b is a little more massive than the Earth and orbits in the habitable zone around Proxima Centauri, where the temperature is suitable for liquid water to exist on its surface.
    Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser

    Centauris Alpha Beta Proxima 27, February 2012. Skatebiker

    A newly discovered, roughly Earth-sized planet orbiting our nearest neighboring star might be habitable, according to a team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s 3.6-meter telescope at La Silla, Chile, along with other telescopes around the world.

    ESO 3.6m telescope & HARPS at LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres.

    The exoplanet is at a distance from its star that allows temperatures mild enough for liquid water to pool on its surface.

    Proxima b, an Earth-size planet right outside our solar system in the habitable zone of its star, may not be able to keep a grip on its atmosphere, leaving the surface exposed to harmful stellar radiation and reducing its potential for habitability.

    At only four light-years away, Proxima b is our closest known extra-solar neighbor. However, due to the fact that it hasn’t been seen crossing in front of its host star, the exoplanet eludes the usual method for learning about its atmosphere. Instead, scientists must rely on models to understand whether the exoplanet is habitable.

    One such computer model considered what would happen if Earth orbited Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor and Proxima b’s host star, at the same orbit as Proxima b. The NASA study, published on July 24, 2017, in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, suggests Earth’s atmosphere wouldn’t survive in close proximity to the violent red dwarf.

    “We decided to take the only habitable planet we know of so far — Earth — and put it where Proxima b is,” said Katherine Garcia-Sage, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the study. The research was supported by NASA’s NExSS coalition — leading the search for life on planets beyond our solar system — and the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

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    At its orbit, the exoplanet Proxima b likely couldn’t sustain an Earth-like atmosphere. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith.

    Just because Proxima b’s orbit is in the habitable zone, which is the distance from its host star where water could pool on a planet’s surface, doesn’t mean it’s habitable. It doesn’t take into account, for example, whether water actually exists on the planet, or whether an atmosphere could survive at that orbit. Atmospheres are also essential for life as we know it: Having the right atmosphere allows for climate regulation, the maintenance of a water-friendly surface pressure, shielding from hazardous space weather, and the housing of life’s chemical building blocks.

    Garcia-Sage and her colleagues’ computer model used Earth’s atmosphere, magnetic field and gravity as proxies for Proxima b’s. They also calculated how much radiation Proxima Centauri produces on average, based on observations from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

    NASA/Chandra Telescope

    With these data, their model simulates how the host star’s intense radiation and frequent flaring affect the exoplanet’s atmosphere.

    “The question is, how much of the atmosphere is lost, and how quickly does that process occur?” said Ofer Cohen, a space scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell and co-author of the study. “If we estimate that time, we can calculate how long it takes the atmosphere to completely escape — and compare that to the planet’s lifetime.”

    An active red dwarf star like Proxima Centauri strips away atmosphere when high-energy extreme ultraviolet radiation ionizes atmospheric gases, knocking off electrons and producing a swath of electrically charged particles. In this process, the newly formed electrons gain enough energy that they can readily escape the planet’s gravity and race out of the atmosphere.

    Opposite charges attract, so as more negatively charged electrons leave the atmosphere, they create a powerful charge separation that pulls positively charged ions along with them, out into space.

    In Proxima Centauri’s habitable zone, Proxima b encounters bouts of extreme ultraviolet radiation hundreds of times greater than Earth does from the sun. That radiation generates enough energy to strip away not just the lightest molecules — hydrogen — but also, over time, heavier elements such as oxygen and nitrogen.

    The model shows Proxima Centauri’s powerful radiation drains the Earth-like atmosphere as much as 10,000 times faster than what happens at Earth.

    “This was a simple calculation based on average activity from the host star,” Garcia-Sage said. “It doesn’t consider variations like extreme heating in the star’s atmosphere or violent stellar disturbances to the exoplanet’s magnetic field — things we’d expect provide even more ionizing radiation and atmospheric escape.”

    To understand how the process can vary, the scientists looked at two other factors that exacerbate atmospheric loss. First, they considered the temperature of the neutral atmosphere, called the thermosphere. They found as the thermosphere heats with more stellar radiation, atmospheric escape increases.

    The scientists also considered the size of the region over which atmospheric escape happens, called the polar cap. Planets are most sensitive to magnetic effects at their magnetic poles. When magnetic field lines at the poles are closed, the polar cap is limited and charged particles remain trapped near the planet. On the other hand, greater escape occurs when magnetic field lines are open, providing a one-way route to space.

    “This study looks at an under-appreciated aspect of habitability, which is atmospheric loss in the context of stellar physics,” said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a Goddard space scientist not involved in the study. “Planets have lots of different interacting systems, and it’s important to make sure we include these interactions in our models.”

    The scientists show that with the highest thermosphere temperatures and a completely open magnetic field, Proxima b could lose an amount equal to the entirety of Earth’s atmosphere in 100 million years — that’s just a fraction of Proxima b’s 4 billion years thus far. When the scientists assumed the lowest temperatures and a closed magnetic field, that much mass escapes over 2 billion years.

    “Things can get interesting if an exoplanet holds on to its atmosphere, but Proxima b’s atmospheric loss rates here are so high that habitability is implausible,” said Jeremy Drake, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and co-author of the study. “This questions the habitability of planets around such red dwarfs in general.”

    Red dwarfs like Proxima Centauri or the TRAPPIST-1 star are often the target of exoplanet hunts, because they are the coolest, smallest and most common stars in the galaxy. Because they are cooler and dimmer, planets have to maintain tight orbits for liquid water to be present.

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    But unless the atmospheric loss is counteracted by some other process — such as a massive amount of volcanic activity or comet bombardment — this close proximity, scientists are finding more often, is not promising for an atmosphere’s survival or sustainability.

    For more information, go to:

    https://exoplanets.nasa.gov

    See the full article here .

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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 9:39 am on July 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA   

    From NASA- “Asteroids: In Depth” 

    NASA image
    NASA

    Undated
    No writer credit

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    Artist’s rendering of the the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft’s rendezvous with the asteroid Eros. NASA.

    Asteroids, sometimes called minor planets, are rocky remnants left over from the early formation of our solar system about 4.6 billion years ago.

    Most of this ancient space rubble can be found orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter within the main asteroid belt. Asteroids range in size from Vesta – the largest at about 329 miles (530 kilometers) in diameter – to bodies that are less than 33 feet (10 meters) across. . The total mass of all the asteroids combined is less than that of Earth’s Moon.

    Editor’s note: Even with more than one-half million asteroids known (and there are probably many more), they are still much more widely separated than sometimes seen in Hollywood movies: on average, their separation is in excess of 1-3 million km (depending on how one calculates it).

    Most asteroids are irregularly shaped, though a few are nearly spherical, and they are often pitted or cratered. As they revolve around the sun in elliptical orbits, the asteroids also rotate, sometimes quite erratically, tumbling as they go. More than 150 asteroids are known to have a small companion moon (some have two moons). There are also binary (double) asteroids, in which two rocky bodies of roughly equal size orbit each other, as well as triple asteroid systems.

    The three broad composition classes of asteroids are C-, S-, and M-types. The C-type (chondrite) asteroids are most common, probably consist of clay and silicate rocks, and are dark in appearance. They are among the most ancient objects in the solar system. The S-types (“stony”) are made up of silicate materials and nickel-iron. The M-types are metallic (nickel-iron). The asteroids’ compositional differences are related to how far from the sun they formed. Some experienced high temperatures after they formed and partly melted, with iron sinking to the center and forcing basaltic (volcanic) lava to the surface. Only one such asteroid, Vesta, survives to this day.

    Jupiter’s massive gravity and occasional close encounters with Mars or another object change the asteroids’ orbits, knocking them out of the main belt and hurling them into space in all directions across the orbits of the other planets. Stray asteroids and asteroid fragments slammed into Earth and the other planets in the past, playing a major role in altering the geological history of the planets and in the evolution of life on Earth.

    Scientists continuously monitor Earth-crossing asteroids, whose paths intersect Earth’s orbit, and near-Earth asteroids that approach Earth’s orbital distance to within about 45 million kilometers (28 million miles) and may pose an impact danger. Radar is a valuable tool in detecting and monitoring potential impact hazards. By reflecting transmitted signals off objects, images and other information can be derived from the echoes. Scientists can learn a great deal about an asteroid’s orbit, rotation, size, shape, and metal concentration.

    Several missions have flown by and observed asteroids. The Galileo spacecraft flew by asteroids Gaspra in 1991 and Ida in 1993; the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR-Shoemaker) mission studied asteroids Mathilde and Eros;

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    https://www.britannica.com/topic/Near-Earth-Asteroid-Rendezvous-Shoemaker

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    The Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) Shoemaker spacecraft being assembled. NASA.

    and the Rosetta mission encountered Steins in 2008 and Lutetia in 2010.

    ESA/Rosetta spacecraft

    Deep Space 1 and Stardust both had close encounters with asteroids.

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    Deep Space 1. NASA.

    NASA Stardust spacecraft

    In 2005, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa landed on the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa and attempted to collect samples. On June 3, 2010, Hayabusa successfully returned to Earth a small amount of asteroid dust now being studied by scientists.

    JAXA/Hayabusa 2

    NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, launched in 2007, orbited and explored asteroid Vesta for over a year.

    NASA/Dawn Spacecraft

    Once it left in September 2012, it headed towards dwarf planet Ceres, with a planned arrival of 2015. Vesta and Ceres are two of the largest surviving protoplanet bodies that almost became planets. By studying them with the same complement of instruments on board the same spacecraft, scientists will be able to compare and contrast the different evolutionary path each object took to help understand the early solar system overall.

    Asteroid Classifications

    Main asteroid belt: The majority of known asteroids orbit within the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, generally with not very elongated orbits. The belt is estimated to contain between 1.1 and 1.9 million asteroids larger than 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) in diameter, and millions of smaller ones. Early in the history of the solar system, the gravity of newly formed Jupiter brought an end to the formation of planetary bodies in this region and caused the small bodies to collide with one another, fragmenting them into the asteroids we observe today.

    Trojans: These asteroids share an orbit with a larger planet, but do not collide with it because they gather around two special places in the orbit (called the L4 and L5 Lagrangian points). There, the gravitational pull from the sun and the planet are balanced by a trojan’s tendency to otherwise fly out of the orbit. The Jupiter trojans form the most significant population of trojan asteroids. It is thought that they are as numerous as the asteroids in the asteroid belt. There are Mars and Neptune trojans, and NASA announced the discovery of an Earth trojan in 2011.

    Near-Earth asteroids: These objects have orbits that pass close by that of Earth. Asteroids that actually cross Earth’s orbital path are known as Earth-crossers. As of June 19, 2013, 10,003 near-Earth asteroids are known and the number over 1 kilometer in diameter is thought to be 861, with 1,409 classified as potentially hazardous asteroids – those that could pose a threat to Earth.

    How Asteroids Get Their Names

    The International Astronomical Union’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature.is a little less strict when it comes to naming asteroids than other IAU naming committees. So out there orbiting the sun we have giant space rocks named for Mr. Spock (a cat named for the character of “Star Trek” fame), rock musician Frank Zappa, regular guys like Phil Davis, and more somber tributes such as the seven asteroids named for the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia killed in 2003. Asteroids are also named for places and a variety of other things. (The IAU discourages naming asteroids for pets, so Mr. Spock stands alone).

    Asteroids are also given a number, for example (99942) Apophis. The Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics keeps a fairly current list of asteroid names.

    Significant Dates

    1801: Giuseppe Piazzi discovers the first and largest asteroid, Ceres, orbiting between Mars and Jupiter.
    1898: Gustav Witt discovers Eros, one of the largest near-Earth asteroids.
    1991-1994: The Galileo spacecraft takes the first close-up images of an asteroid (Gaspra) and discovers the first moon (later named Dactyl) orbiting an asteroid (Ida).
    1997-2000 : The NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft flies by Mathilde and orbits and lands on Eros.
    1998: NASA establishes the Near Earth Object Program Office to detect, track and characterize potentially hazardous asteroids and comets that could approach Earth.
    2006: Japan’s Hayabusa becomes the first spacecraft to land on, collect samples and take off from an asteroid.
    2006: Ceres attains a new classification — dwarf planet — but retains its distinction as the largest known asteroid.
    2007: The Dawn spacecraft is launched on its journey to the asteroid belt to study Vesta and Ceres.
    2008: The European spacecraft Rosetta, on its way to study a comet in 2014, flies by and photographs asteroid Steins, a type of asteroid composed of silicates and basalts.
    2010: Japan’s Hayabusa returns its asteroid sample to Earth.
    2010: Rosetta flies by asteroid Lutetia, revealing a primitive survivor from the violent birth of our solar system.
    2011-2012: Dawn studies Vesta. Dawn is the first spacecraft to orbit a main-belt asteroid and continues on to dwarf planet Ceres in 2015.

    See the full article here .

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

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

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

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

     
  • richardmitnick 2:43 pm on June 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , ESA Gravitational Wave Mission Selected. Planet Hunting Mission Moves Forward, , , ESA/Plato, , NASA   

    From ESA: “Gravitational Wave Mission Selected. Planet Hunting Mission Moves Forward” 

    ESA Space For Europe Banner

    European Space Agency

    1
    Merging black holes. No image credit

    20 June 2017
    ESA Media Relations Office

    Tel: + 33 1 53 69 72 99

    Email: media@esa.int

    The LISA trio of satellites to detect gravitational waves from space has been selected as the third large-class mission in ESA’s Science programme, while the Plato exoplanet hunter moves into development.

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    These important milestones were decided upon during a meeting of ESA’s Science Programme Committee today, and ensure the continuation of ESA’s Cosmic Vision plan through the next two decades.

    The ‘gravitational universe’ was identified in 2013 as the theme for the third large-class mission, L3, searching for ripples in the fabric of spacetime created by celestial objects with very strong gravity, such as pairs of merging black holes.

    Predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, gravitational waves remained elusive until the first direct detection by the ground-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in September 2015. That signal was triggered by the merging of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. Since then, two more events have been detected.

    Furthermore, ESA’s LISA Pathfinder mission has also now demonstrated key technologies needed to detect gravitational waves from space.

    ESA/LISA Pathfinder

    This includes free-falling test masses linked by laser and isolated from all external and internal forces except gravity, a requirement to measure any possible distortion caused by a passing gravitational wave.

    The distortion affects the fabric of spacetime on the minuscule scale of a few millionths of a millionth of a metre over a distance of a million kilometres and so must be measured extremely precisely.

    LISA Pathfinder will conclude its pioneering mission at the end of this month, and LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, also an international collaboration, will now enter a more detailed phase of study. Three craft, separated by 2.5 million km in a triangular formation, will follow Earth in its orbit around the Sun.

    Following selection, the mission design and costing can be completed. Then it will be proposed for ‘adoption’ before construction begins. Launch is expected in 2034.

    Planet-hunter adopted

    In the same meeting Plato – Planetary Transits and Oscillations of stars – has now been adopted in the Science Programme, following its selection in February 2014.

    ESA/PLATO

    This means it can move from a blueprint into construction. In the coming months industry will be asked to make bids to supply the spacecraft platform.

    Following its launch in 2026, Plato will monitor thousands of bright stars over a large area of the sky, searching for tiny, regular dips in brightness as their planets cross in front of them, temporarily blocking out a small fraction of the starlight.

    The mission will have a particular emphasis on discovering and characterising Earth-sized planets and super-Earths orbiting Sun-like stars in the habitable zone – the distance from the star where liquid surface water could exist.

    It will also investigate seismic activity in some of the host stars, and determine their masses, sizes and ages, helping to understand the entire exoplanet system.

    Plato will operate from the ‘L2’ virtual point in space 1.5 million km beyond Earth as seen from the Sun.

    LaGrange Points map. NASA

    Missions of opportunity

    3
    Proba-3. No image credit.

    The Science Programme Committee also agreed on participation in ESA’s Proba-3 technology mission, a pair of satellites that will fly in formation just 150 m apart, with one acting as a blocking disc in front of the Sun, allowing the other to observe the Sun’s faint outer atmosphere in more detail than ever before.

    ESA will also participate in Japan’s X-ray Astronomy Recovery Mission (XARM), designed to recover the science of the Hitomi satellite that was lost shortly after launch last year.

    JAXA/Hitomi telescope lost

    4
    LAXA/NASA XARM future satellite

    See the full article here .

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 1:52 pm on June 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA,   

    From Manu: “TRAPPIST-1h, exoplanet” 


    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.

    Astronomers confirm details of the lesser known orbital planet TRAPPIST-1

    q
    TRAPPIST-1h simulation turning around its star.

    Scientists using Kepler space telescope NASA identified a regular pattern in the orbits of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system suspects confirmed details on its outermost orbit and least understood planet TRAPPIST-1h .

    NASA/Kepler Telescope

    The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, is orbited by seven Earth-size planets (NASA).

    TRAPPIST-1 is only eight percent of the mass of our sun, so it is cooler and less luminous star, is defined as red dwarf of spectral class M. It is home to seven planets the size of Earth three of which orbit in the habitable zone of its star, the range of distances from a star where liquid water could be on the surface of a rocky planet. The system is located about 40 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius and is estimated to be between 3 billion and 8 billion years old.

    The Spitzer Space Telescope NASA, TRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and planetesimals Small Telescope) (Small Telescope transiting planets and planetesimals) in Chile and other ground – based telescopes were used to detect and characterize the planets, but the collaboration was only an estimate for the period TRAPPIST-1h.

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile interior

    ESO Belgian robotic Trappist-South National Telescope at Cerro La Silla, Chile

    Astronomers at the University of Washington have used data from the Kepler spacecraft to confirm that TRAPPIST-1h orbits its star every 19 days. Six million miles from her cold dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1h is beyond the outer edge of the habitable zone, and is likely to be too cold for life as we know it . The amount of energy (per unit area) that the planet receives from its star h is comparable to what the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter receives from our sun.

    “It’s incredibly exciting what we’re learning about this planetary system elsewhere, especially on the planet h, which had hardly any information so far,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Office of Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters Washington. “This finding is a great example of how the scientific community is unleashing the power of the complementary data from our different missions to do so fascinating discoveries.”

    “I really liked that TRAPPIST-1h is exactly where our team predicted it to be. I had worried for a while we were seeing what we really wanted to see, after all, things are almost never exactly what you expect them to be in our field “said Rodrigo Luger, doctoral student at UW in Seattle and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “Nature often surprised at every step, but, in this case, the theory and observation matched perfectly”.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    Orbital resonance – Harmony of Celestial Bodies.

    Using the above data from Spitzer, the team recognized a mathematical pattern in the frequency with which each of the six inner planets orbits its star. This complex but predictable pattern, called orbital resonance occurs when planets exert a regular gravitational pull and newspaper each other as they orbit its star.

    To understand the concept of resonance, consider Jupiter’s moons Io, Europa and Ganymede, which is the farthest of the three. For every time it orbits Jupiter Ganymede, Europa orbits twice and Io makes four trips around the globe. This resonance of 1: 2: 4 is stable and if a moon was pushed off course, self corrected and would be enclosed in a stable orbit. It is this harmonious influence among the seven brothers TRAPPIST-1 causes the system remains stable.

    These relationships, Luger said, suggested that by studying the orbital velocities of neighboring planets, scientists could predict the exact orbital velocity, and therefore also the orbital period of the planet h, even before the observations of Kepler. The team calculated six possible periods of resonance for the planet h not harm the stability of the system, but only one was not ruled out additional data. The other five possibilities could have been observed in data from Spitzer and ground collected by the TRAPPIST equipment.

    “All this,” Luger said, “it indicates that the orbital relationships were forged early in life TRAPPIST-1 system during the process of planet formation.”

    “The resonant structure is not a coincidence, and points to an interesting dynamic history in which the planets probably migrated inward in the form of blockade,” Luger said. “This makes the system a great laboratory for planet formation and migration theories”.

    Real-time web collaboration.

    The Kepler spacecraft stared at the patch of sky home system TRAPPIST-1 December 15, 2016 to March 4 that collected data on tiny changes in the star in brightness due to planets passing as part of its second mission, K2. On March 8, raw and uncalibrated data to the scientific community were sent to initiate follow-up studies.

    Work to confirm the orbital period TRAPPIST-1h began immediately and scientists from around the world took to social networks for real – time sharing new information collected about the behavior of the star and its planets breeding. Within two hours of the publication of the data, the team confirmed his prediction of an orbital period of 19 days.

    “I Throw results of the data is always exciting, but it was a rare treat to see scientists from all over the world collaborating and sharing your progress in near real time on social networks to analyze the data and identify transits TRAPPIST-1h ” said Jessie Dotson, project scientist for the mission at K2 Ames Research Center NASA in Silicon Valley in California. “Creativity and convenience for which the data has been put into use has been a particularly exciting K2 approach focused on community aspect”.

    Chain resonances seven planets TRAPPIST-1 established a record among the known planetary systems, the above being the Kepler-80 and Kepler-223 systems, each with four resonant planets.

    The TRAPPIST-1 system was first discovered in 2016 by collaboration TRAPPIST, and it was thought that only had three planets at that time. additional planets with Spitzer and ground-based telescopes found. The Hubble Space Telescope NASA is following atmospheric observations, and James Webb Space Telescope will be able to probe potential atmospheres in more detail.

    Ames manages Kepler and K2 missions for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA in Pasadena, California, managed the Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. operates the flight system supported by the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

    For more information on K2 and Kepler missions, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/kepler
    For more information about the TRAPPIST-1 system, visit: http://exoplanets.nasa.gov/trappist1

    Published in NASA on 22 May 2017.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:33 am on June 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA, NASA’s Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS), Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP)   

    From NASA: “NASA Selects Three Aeronautics Teams to Explore ‘Ambitious’ Ideas” 

    NASA image
    NASA

    1
    Three teams of NASA researchers who have dreamed up potential solutions for pieces of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) puzzle have received the nod to officially begin formal feasibility studies of their concepts.

    The trio of investigations are part of NASA’s Convergent Aeronautics Solutions (CAS) project and are expected to take between 24 and to 30 months to complete.

    “Our idea is to invest a very modest amount of time and money into new technologies that are ambitious and potentially transformative,” said Richard Barhydt, NASA’s acting director of the Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program (TACP). “They may or may not work, but we won’t know unless we try.”

    The studies will explore whether and how it might be possible to:

    Build a path toward safe inclusion and certification of autonomous systems in aviation. Autonomous systems, such as self-driving cars and future UAS, rely on learning algorithms that adapt to new goals and environments. The idea is to develop autonomy-enabling algorithms that lay a foundation for establishing justifiable confidence in machine decisions and, ultimately, lead to certification of autonomous systems.
    Develop new methods and technologies for a remotely-piloted drone to make sure it’s “fit to fly” before every single flight. The idea is to verify the aircraft is structurally and mechanically sound, and that all its onboard systems have not been damaged or hacked in some way. If it’s not sound, the aircraft will ground itself.
    Use quantum computing and communication technology to build a secure and jam-free network capable of accommodating hundreds of thousands of drones flying each day. Because of the manner in which data is organized and processed, quantum computing enables certain computations and communications to be done much more efficiently than a regular computer. For example, quantum computers may be able to solve certain problems in a few days that would take millions of years on the average computer.

    The three studies were selected by a team of NASA aeronautics managers, led by recently retired TACP Director Doug Rohn, who made their decisions after hearing proposals offered by the principal investigators.

    To be considered, research teams had to form on their own, represent multidisciplinary talents, and have members from more than one of NASA’s aeronautics centers in Virginia, California and Ohio.

    The three selected proposals join five that were selected in 2016 and six that were selected in 2015.

    For more information about NASA’s aeronautics research, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/aero

    Received via email .

    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 8:15 am on June 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: An array of Earth-viewing instruments, Demonstrate new solar panel technologies, Effects on the heart of prolonged exposure to microgravity, Kennedy Space Center, NASA, NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, Physics of neutron stars, SpaceX Dragon cargo craft, Systemic Therapy of NELL-1   

    From NASA: “New NASA Experiments, Research Headed to International Space Station” 

    NASA image
    NASA

    6.3.17
    Kathryn Hambleton
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-1100
    kathryn.hambleton@nasa.gov

    1
    The SpaceX Dragon cargo craft lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:07 p.m. June 3. About 6,000 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies are packed into the cargo craft that is now in Earth orbit and headed to the International Space Station.
    Credits: NASA TV

    Major experiments that will look into the human body and out into the galaxy are on their way to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft following its 5:07 p.m. EDT launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket.

    The Dragon lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. About 6,000 pounds of research equipment, cargo and supplies are packed into the cargo craft that is now in Earth orbit and headed to the station.

    NASA Television and the agency’s website will provide live coverage of the rendezvous and capture beginning at 8:30 a.m. Monday, June 5. NASA astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture SpaceX’s Dragon when it arrives at the station.

    Research materials flying inside the Dragon’s pressurized area include an experiment studying fruit flies to better understand the effects on the heart of prolonged exposure to microgravity. Because they’re small, age rapidly, and have a well-known genetic make-up, they are good models for heart function studies. This experiment could significantly advance understanding of how spaceflight affects the cardiovascular system and could aid in the development of countermeasures to help astronauts.

    The Systemic Therapy of NELL-1 for osteoporosis investigation tests a new drug that can rebuild bone and block further bone loss, improving crew health. When people and animals spend extended periods of time in space, they experience bone density loss, or osteoporosis. In-flight countermeasures, such as exercise, prevent it from getting worse, but there isn’t a therapy on Earth or in space that can restore bone. The results from this ISS National Laboratory-sponsored investigation build on previous research also supported by the National Institutes for Health and could lead to new drugs for treating bone density loss in millions of people on Earth.

    Three payloads inside Dragon’s unpressurized area will demonstrate new solar panel technologies, study the physics of neutron stars, and host an array of Earth-viewing instruments.

    This mission is SpaceX’s eleventh cargo flight to the station under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract. Dragon’s cargo will support dozens of the more than 250 science and research investigations during the station’s Expeditions 52 and 53.

    The Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to depart the space station in early July, returning with more than 3,400 pounds of science, hardware and crew supplies.

    For more than 16 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 1,900 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.

    Keep up with the International Space Station, and its research and crews, at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/station

    Get breaking news, images and features from the station on Instagram and Twitter at:

    http://instagram.com/iss

    and

    Learn more about SpaceX’s resupply mission at:

    http://www.nasa.gov/spacex

    Received via email .

    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 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.

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    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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    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.

     
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