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

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



    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.

    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.


    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.

    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.

    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.


    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 3:03 pm on May 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Astronomy club at Cienega High School in Pima County Arizona, , , , Solar Eclipse, tucson.com   

    From tucson.com via AURA: “Cienega High students readying for work on total solar eclipse movie” 

    AURA Icon
    Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy



    May 13, 2017 Updated 1 hr ago
    Tom Beal

    Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star
    Cienega High students readying for work on total solar eclipse movie

    Cienega High School is a public high school in Pima County, Arizona, 2775 E Mary Ann Cleveland Way, Vail, AZ 85641. It opened in the fall of 2001 with approximately 400 students. It is a member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s 5A Conference.

    If you can’t travel 1,000 miles north to view the total solar eclipse in August, the students in Jack Erickson’s astronomy club at Cienega High School have got you covered.

    They are part of a 250-member team of citizen scientists who will deploy 60 identical telescopes along the continent-wide path of totality to produce a 90-minute movie that will detail the changing shapes of the sun’s corona.

    If all goes well, a shortened clip will be available for viewing on the day of the eclipse, Aug. 21.

    The longer version will be the subject of scientific inquiry by solar astronomers, who hope to confirm their theories about the halo of heated plasma surrounding the sun and maybe learn some new things. Any research papers written on the data will credit the entire team, including the students at Cienega.

    The students gathered last weekend to train on their new telescopes and to learn the software program that will enable them to capture about two minutes of total eclipse data from the lawn of the public library in Pawnee City, Nebraska, a town of fewer than 900 people that is on the path of totality.

    “I think it will be really exciting to be part of something this big,” said sophomore Bentley Bee, who took charge of the team’s computer during the morning tutorial as his classmates took notes on procedures being outlined by solar astronomer Matt Penn and Adriana Mitchell, a student in optical sciences and engineering at the University of Arizona.

    Penn, of the National Solar Observatory, is coordinating the nationwide effort — supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation. He has enlisted 60 teams of students and professional and amateur astronomers in the Citizen Continental-America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment, known in brief as Citizen CATE.

    At the workshop, he stressed the importance of capturing and preserving that data.

    As Mitchell tutored the four teams from across the country about the software program, Penn offered encouragement, practical advice and warnings.

    “Put the steadiest team member in charge of removing the solar filter,” he said, as he showed a movie of a similar experiment in Indonesia last year where the telescope was bumped off target during that process.

    The filter protects the telescope’s CCD camera during siting and focusing. Like your eyes, the camera can only look at the sun without filters during totality.

    Penn told the teams to simply rotate the telescope away from the sun at the end, rather than putting the filter back.

    They have a more critical, immediate task: “Back up the data.”

    “Use the USB stick. Practice. We need a copy in case you spill the champagne on your laptop.”

    “Not at our site, buddy,” said Erickson, who, along with parent volunteer Michele McClellan, is taking the teenage club members to Lincoln, Nebraska, in August.

    Erickson said he made reservations early in the closest big town — before he even knew exactly where the team would go. Hotel rooms and campgrounds are filling up along the path of the eclipse.
    Eclipse viewing

    Millions of Americans will be able to view the total eclipse by simply walking outside. It passes through mostly rural areas in the West and Midwest, but will be a short drive from many metropolitan centers, including the 3 million who live in and around St. Louis and 2 million in Nashville’s metropolitan area.

    Cities and towns along the path of totality are expecting an onslaught of visitors and hosting a variety of events.

    Tiny Madras, Oregon, population 6,533, is expecting 100,000 visitors, said Scott Dixon, one of five amateur astronomers from San Diego, who will be stationed there. “We have a reservation in a field,” he said. Fortunately, he also has an RV. Madras is hosting the Oregon Solarfest, promising sunny skies and a lineup of tribute bands on the eastern, dry side of Oregon’s rain-catching mountain ranges.

    Carbondale, Illinois, which will see the longest totality (2 minutes and 20 seconds) is planning daylong festivities on the campus of Southern Illinois University.

    NASA’s webcast, the EDGE, will be hosting four hours of “ESPN-style game day” programming in Carbondale, said Penn.

    “Nova,” the PBS science program, will broadcast a same-day program that will include the shortened version of NSO’s eclipse movie.

    That brief movie will also be posted on websites at NASA and the National Solar Observatory.

    This is all weather-permitting, of course. With 60 sites, Penn said, he can lose a few without adversely affecting the science, but is hoping for clear skies everywhere.
    Eclipse training

    At Saturday’s training session, Penn responded to a question about clouds affecting the ability to take “flats” (images of sections of blank sky) for calibrating the camera image, by saying, “Just do the best you can and I don’t want to hear the C-word again.”

    Operator error could also affect the results, but the students at Cienega seemed determined to keep that from happening in Pawnee City.

    When the group moved outside for a test run, Bee and junior Daniel Stelly positioned the telescope as Julie VanVoorhis settled into the role of computer operator, smoothly running through the setup, calibration, focusing and collecting phases.

    VanVoorhis said she was introduced to astronomy when she took Erickson’s freshman honors physics class. Then she was offered the opportunity to help capture the all-American eclipse.

    “At first, I was really hesitant, but then I figured you can learn a lot of stuff by doing it,” she said.

    Next year, she plans to take Erickson’s astronomy course and envisions a career that combines her love of business with her new-found interest in astronomy.

    Stelly said he’s “more of an arts person” than a scientist, but said the astronomy class at Cienega was “his favorite science class by far” and that he has an interest in “anything to do with space.”

    Savannah Shoffner said, “I never really thought about how science could be so interesting and that I could be a part of it.” She’s unsure what her future career will be but it will have “something to do with math and science.”

    Sophomore Madison Kroeger said she signed on to the Citizen CATE experiment for the opportunity to create “new science. We’ll be looking at the corona, helping them confirm things they have suspected. I would just like to help Matt and his research team get the data.”
    Corona study

    Penn will be in Weezer, Idaho, a small town near the Oregon border, where he will collect data and then compile images from the 59 other sites to quickly make a 10-second movie showing changes in the corona as the shadow of totality sweeps across the continent from Oregon to South Carolina.

    Changes will be more subtle in the longer movie, but should reveal information about the inner corona that is impossible to obtain, even from NASA’s space satellites, said Penn.

    The best sun-blocking coronagraphs available for ground-based and space telescopes don’t block the sun’s light efficiently enough to image the corona closer than 2.5 solar radii from the surface, he said. “It’s a big black donut in most NASA movies.”

    The sun is about 400 times larger than the moon, but it is also 400 times farther from Earth, a coincidence that makes it “the best occulting disk available,” he said.

    The Citizen CATE experiment will explore that inner region of the corona. “Our main focus is the acceleration of particles above the poles of the sun,” said Penn. He describes the region as the “on-ramp” for the solar wind which has already reached speeds of 100 kilometers per second where scientists have been able to measure it. By the time those streams of charged particles reach Earth, they are traveling at 1,000 kilometers per second.

    Penn said he is not “an eclipse chaser” but this will be his third total eclipse. As a graduate student, he collected data from the Hawaiian mountaintop of Mauna Kea in 1991, and went with a group to Chile’s Atacama Desert in 1994.

    He told the students what to expect: The sky darkens, the temperature drops, birds stop chirping, night insects emerge, stars appear, the horizons color in a 360-degree sunrise/sunset. And, at totality, the corona appears around the blacked-out sun, in patterns that form along the sun’s magnetic field.

    It is safe to look at the sun during totality, which will last between 30 and 150 seconds, depending on the site. It is not safe to look at the sun without special filters before or after totality, and not during the partial eclipse that will be visible over much of the nation, including Tucson, where about half the sun will be shadowed.

    Look around instead, said Penn. Tree leaves and common objects, like car keys, cast amazing, crescent shadows.
    Great opportunity

    Penn said the eclipse is a great opportunity to interest people, especially students, in the work he does every day.

    The Citizen CATE groups will be asked to plan future observing campaigns with their new telescopes, computers, cameras, mounts and drives, which they get to keep, courtesy of donations from Daystar Filters, Celestron and colorMaker. Mathworks donated programming.

    In addition to the students mentioned in the article, the Cienega Astronomy Club team includes Brynn Brettell, Bruno Acevedo and Cole Bramhall. Jack Erickson’s daughter Ella and Michele McClellan’s daughter Emilie will also accompany the group.

    Erickson said the Vail School District has been “fully supportive” of the effort, allowing the club to tap into the district’s state tax-credit donations for travel and lodging. The group also received a donation from Research Corp. for Science Advancement.

    See the full article here .

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    The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is a consortium of 42 US institutions and 5 international affiliates that operates world-class astronomical observatories. AURA’s role is to establish, nurture, and promote public observatories and facilities that advance innovative astronomical research. In addition, AURA is deeply committed to public and educational outreach, and to diversity throughout the astronomical and scientific workforce. AURA carries out its role through its astronomical facilities.

    Our mission

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    Our facilities

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile
    Gemini South telescope, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) campus near La Serena, Chile
    Gemini/North telescope at Manua Kea, Hawaii, USA
    Gemini/North telescope at Manua Kea, Hawaii, USA
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    LSST/Camera, built at SLAC
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  • richardmitnick 9:24 am on March 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Equinox, Lunar Eclipse, , NASA Satellites Ready When Stars and Planets Align, Solar Eclipse, Solstice, , Transits   

    From Goddard: “NASA Satellites Ready When Stars and Planets Align” A NASA Tour de Force 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    March 17, 2017
    Mara Johnson-Groh
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    No image caption. No image credit

    The movements of the stars and the planets have almost no impact on life on Earth, but a few times per year, the alignment of celestial bodies has a visible effect. One of these geometric events — the spring equinox — is just around the corner, and another major alignment — a total solar eclipse — will be visible across America on Aug. 21, with a fleet of NASA satellites viewing it from space and providing images of the event.

    To understand the basics of celestial alignments, here is information on equinoxes, solstices, full moons, eclipses and transits:


    Earth spins on a tilted axis. As our planet orbits around the sun, that tilt means that during half of the year, the Northern Hemisphere receives more daylight — its summertime — and during the other half of the year, the Southern Hemisphere does. Twice a year, Earth is in just the right place so that it’s lined up with respect to the sun, and both hemispheres of the planet receive the same amount of daylight. On these days, there are almost equal amounts of day and night, which is where the word equinox — meaning “equal night” in Latin — comes from. The equinox marks the onset of spring with a transition from shorter to longer days for half the planet, along with more direct sunlight as the sun rises higher above the horizon. In 2017, in the Northern Hemisphere, the spring equinox occurs on March 20. Six months later, fall begins with the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22.

    During the equinoxes, both hemispheres receive equal amounts of daylight. Image not to scale. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein


    As Earth continues along in its orbit after the equinox, it eventually reaches a point where its tilt is at the greatest angle to the plane of its orbit — and the point where one half of the planet is receiving the most daylight and the other the least. This point is the solstice — meaning “sun stands still” in Latin — and it occurs twice a year. These days are our longest and shortest days, and mark the change of seasons to summer and winter.

    During the solstices, Earth reaches a point where its tilt is at the greatest angle to the plane of its orbit, causing one hemisphere to receive more daylight than the other. Image not to scale.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein

    Full Moon and New Moon

    As Earth goes around the sun, the moon is also going around Earth. There is a point each month when the three bodies align with Earth between the sun and the moon. During this phase, viewers on Earth can see the full face of the moon reflecting light from the sun — a full moon. The time between full moons is about four weeks — 29.5 days to be exact. Halfway between full moons, the order of the three bodies reverses and the moon lies between the sun and Earth. During this time, we can’t see the moon reflecting the sun’s light, so it appears dark. This is the new moon.

    When the moon’s orbit around Earth lines up on the same plane as Earth’s orbit around the sun, its shadow is cast across the planet. Image not to scale. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein

    Lunar Eclipse

    Sometimes, during a full moon, Earth lines up perfectly between the moon and the sun, so its shadow is cast on the moon. From Earth’s viewpoint, we see a lunar eclipse. The plane of the moon’s orbit around Earth isn’t precisely aligned with the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun so on most months we don’t see an eclipse. The next lunar eclipse — which will be visible throughout much of Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia — will occur on Aug. 7.

    When the moon falls completely in Earth’s shadow, a total lunar eclipse occurs. Only light travelling through Earth’s atmosphere, which is bent into the planet’s shadow, is reflected off
    the moon, giving it a reddish hue. Image not to scale. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein

    Solar Eclipse

    A solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks our view of the sun. This can only happen at a new moon, when the moon’s orbit positions it between the sun and Earth — but this doesn’t happen every month. As mentioned above, the plane of the moon’s orbit around Earth isn’t precisely aligned with the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun so, from Earth’s view, on most months we see the moon passing above or below the sun. A solar eclipse happens only on those new moons where the alignment of all three bodies are in a perfectly straight line.

    When the moon blocks all of the sun’s light, a total eclipse occurs, but when the moon is farther away — making it appear smaller from our vantage point on Earth — it blocks most, but not all of the sun. This is called an annular eclipse, which leaves a ring of the sun’s light still visible from around the moon. This alignment usually occurs every year or two, but is only visible from a small area on Earth.

    On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will move across America. While lunar eclipses are visible from entire hemispheres of Earth, a total solar eclipse is visible only from a narrow band along Earth’s surface. Since this eclipse will take about an hour and a half to cross an entire continent, it is particularly important scientifically, as it allows observations from many places for an extended duration of time. NASA has funded 11 projects to take advantage of the 2017 eclipse and study its effects on Earth as well as study the sun’s atmosphere.

    When the moon’s orbit around Earth lines up on the same plane as Earth’s orbit around the sun, its shadow is cast across the planet. Image not to scale. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein


    Planet transit. NASA/Ames

    An eclipse is really just a special kind of transit — which is when any celestial body passes in front of another. From Earth we are able to watch transits such as Mercury and Venus passing in front of the sun. But such transits also offer a way to spot new distant worlds. When a planet in another star system passes in front of its host star, it blocks some of the star’s light — making it appear slightly dimmer. By watching for changes in the amount of light over time, we can deduce the presence of a planet. This method has been used to discover thousands of planets, including the TRAPPIST-1 planets.

    The seven planets that orbit the Trappist-1 star, in order of their distance from the star, compared to Earth’s solar system. https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2017/02/22/what-to-know-about-the-newly-discovered-trappist-1-solar-system.html

    During a transit, a planet passes in between us and the star it orbits. This method is commonly used to find new exoplanets in our galaxy. Image not to scale.
    Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Genna Duberstein

    For more information about how NASA looks at these events, visit:


    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
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