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  • richardmitnick 8:34 am on March 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , SwRI,   

    From JHUAPL via EarthSky: “Pluto craft’s next target is Ultima Thule” 

    Johns Hopkins
    Johns Hopkins University

    Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab bloc
    JHU Applied Physics Lab


    March 14, 2018
    Deborah Byrd

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    passed Pluto in 2015.

    With public input, the mission team has nicknamed the spacecraft’s next target – on the fringes of our solar system – Ultima Thule.

    This image shows New Horizons’ current position along its full planned trajectory toward MU69, now nicknamed Ultima Thule. The green segment of the line shows where the spacecraft has traveled since launch; the red indicates the spacecraft’s future path. Image via Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

    Some 115,000 people from around the world recently suggested some 34,000 possible nicknames for the distant object 2014 MU69, the next target of the New Horizons spacecraft, whose historic sweep past Pluto took place in July 2015. The New Horizons mission team announced on March 13, 2018, it has selected the name Ultima Thule – pronounced ultima thoo-lee – for New Horizon’s next target, a Kuiper Belt object officially named 2014 MU69. New Horizons will sweep closest to Ultima Thule on January 1, 2019. The mission team describes the object as:

    “… the most primitive world ever observed by spacecraft, in the farthest planetary encounter in history….”

    In a statement, the team explained their reasons for their choice:

    “Thule was a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography. Ultima Thule means “beyond Thule” – beyond the borders of the known world – symbolizing the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done.”

    Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, is New Horizons’ principal investigator. He said:

    “MU69 is humanity’s next Ultima Thule. Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission’s next achievement. Since this will be the farthest exploration of any object in space in history, I like to call our flyby target Ultima, for short, symbolizing this ultimate exploration by NASA and our team.”

    Artist’s conception of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering 2014 MU69 – now nicknamed Ultima Thule – on January 1, 2019. This object orbits a billion miles (1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto. Evidence gathered from Earth suggests it might be a binary (double) or multiple object. Image via NASA/ Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/ SwRI/ Steve Gribben.

    NASA and the New Horizons team launched the nickname campaign in early November. Hosted by the SETI Institute of Mountain View, California, and led by Mark Showalter, an institute fellow and member of the New Horizons science team, the online contest sought nominations from the public and stipulated that a nickname would be chosen from among the top vote-getters.

    SETI Institute

    The campaign wrapped up on December 6, after a five-day extension to accommodate more voting. Of the 34,000 names suggested, 37 reached the ballot for voting and were evaluated for popularity. This included eight names suggested by the New Horizons team and 29 nominated by the public.

    The team then narrowed its selection to the 29 publicly nominated names and gave preference to names near the top of the polls. Names suggested included Abeona, Pharos, Pangu, Rubicon, Olympus, Pinnacle and Tiramisu. Final tallies in the naming contest posted here.

    About 40 members of the public nominated the name Ultima Thule. This name was one of the highest vote-getters among all name nominees. Showalter said:

    “We are grateful to those who proposed such an interesting and inspirational nickname. They deserve credit for capturing the true spirit of exploration that New Horizons embodies.”

    After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons team say they’ll choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects.

    Learn more about New Horizons, NASA’s mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, at http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and http://pluto.jhuapl.edu.

    New Horizons mission team members during the 2015 Pluto encounter. Expect more excitement to come when New Horizons encounters Ultima Thule on January 1, 2019!

    Bottom line: With public input, the New Horizons mission team has given the nickname Ultima Thule to the spacecraft’s next target, Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69.

    See the full article here .

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    Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab Campus

    Founded on March 10, 1942—just three months after the United States entered World War II—APL was created as part of a federal government effort to mobilize scientific resources to address wartime challenges.

    APL was assigned the task of finding a more effective way for ships to defend themselves against enemy air attacks. The Laboratory designed, built, and tested a radar proximity fuze (known as the VT fuze) that significantly increased the effectiveness of anti-aircraft shells in the Pacific—and, later, ground artillery during the invasion of Europe. The product of the Laboratory’s intense development effort was later judged to be, along with the atomic bomb and radar, one of the three most valuable technology developments of the war.

    On the basis of that successful collaboration, the government, The Johns Hopkins University, and APL made a commitment to continue their strategic relationship. The Laboratory rapidly became a major contributor to advances in guided missiles and submarine technologies. Today, more than seven decades later, the Laboratory’s numerous and diverse achievements continue to strengthen our nation.

    APL continues to relentlessly pursue the mission it has followed since its first day: to make critical contributions to critical challenges for our nation.

    Johns Hopkins Campus

    The Johns Hopkins University opened in 1876, with the inauguration of its first president, Daniel Coit Gilman. “What are we aiming at?” Gilman asked in his installation address. “The encouragement of research … and the advancement of individual scholars, who by their excellence will advance the sciences they pursue, and the society where they dwell.”

    The mission laid out by Gilman remains the university’s mission today, summed up in a simple but powerful restatement of Gilman’s own words: “Knowledge for the world.”

    What Gilman created was a research university, dedicated to advancing both students’ knowledge and the state of human knowledge through research and scholarship. Gilman believed that teaching and research are interdependent, that success in one depends on success in the other. A modern university, he believed, must do both well. The realization of Gilman’s philosophy at Johns Hopkins, and at other institutions that later attracted Johns Hopkins-trained scholars, revolutionized higher education in America, leading to the research university system as it exists today.

  • richardmitnick 7:36 am on January 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Asteroid bombardment, , , , , , Life may have been possible in Earth’s earliest, most hellish eon, , SwRI   

    From ScienceNews: “Life may have been possible in Earth’s earliest, most hellish eon” 


    January 26, 2018
    Carolyn Gramling

    New analyses suggest heat caused by asteroid bombardment didn’t sterilize the planet.

    FIERY MYTH Scientists have long thought that Earth was a sterile hellscape during its earliest eon (illustrated), due to asteroid bombardment. But the heat from those impacts wasn’t too much for life to exist, new research indicates. SwRI/Dan Durda

    Maybe Earth’s early years weren’t so hellish after all.

    Asteroid strikes repeatedly bombarded the planet during its first eon, but the heat released by those hits wasn’t as sterilizing as once thought, new research suggests. Simulations indicate that after the first few hundred million years of bombardment, the heat from the impacts had dissipated enough that 10 to 75 percent of the top kilometer of the subsurface was habitable for mesophiles — microbes that live in temperatures of 20° to 50° Celsius. If so, the planet may have been habitable much earlier than previously believed.

    Earth’s earliest eon, the Hadean, spans the period from about 4.6 billion years ago, when the planet was born, to 4 billion years ago. The name, for the Greek god of the underworld, reflects the original conception of the age: dark and hellish and inhospitable to life. But little direct evidence of Hadean asteroid impacts still exists, limiting scientists’ understanding of how those collisions affected the planet’s habitability.

    “There has been an assumption that the Hadean was mostly an uninteresting slag heap until the sky stopped falling and life could take hold,” says Stephen Mojzsis, a geologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. That’s not to say that all of the Hadean was pleasant; the first 150 million years of Earth’s history, which included the giant whack that formed the moon, were pretty dramatic. But after that, things settled down considerably, says Mojzsis, who was not an author of the new study.

    For example, scientists have found signs of liquid water and even faint hints of possible life in zircon crystals dating back 4.1 billion years (SN: 11/28/15, p. 16). Other researchers have contested the idea that Earth was continually bombarded by asteroids through much of the Hadean, or that a last barrage of asteroids shelled the planet 3.9 billion years ago in what has been called the Late Heavy Bombardment, killing any incipient life (SN Online: 9/12/16).

    QUIET INTERVAL A new study suggests that the planet was mostly peaceful after the first 150 million years of its existence (illustrated). Rather than repeatedly sterilizing the planet, the intense heat from asteroid impacts dissipated relatively rapidly, the researchers suggest. As a result, habitable zones in the subsurface of the planet grew larger over the next billion years. SwRI/Dan Durda

    In the new study, geophysicist Robert Grimm and planetary scientist Simone Marchi, both of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., estimated how hot it would have been just a few kilometers beneath the planet’s surface during the Hadean. The scientists used an estimated rate of asteroid bombardment, as well as how much heat the projectiles would have added to the subsurface and how much that heat would have dissipated over time to simulate how hot it got — and whether microbial life could have withstood those conditions. The research built on earlier work, including Marchi’s 2014 finding that asteroid impacts became smaller and less frequent with time (SN: 8/23/14, p. 13).

    Asteroid impacts did heat the subsurface, according to the simulations, but even the heaviest bombardment scenarios were not intense enough to sterilize the planet, the researchers report March 1 in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. And if the rate of bombardment did decrease as the eon progressed, the heat the asteroids delivered to Earth’s subsurface would also have had time to dissipate. As a result, that habitable zone would have increased over time.

    A Late Heavy Bombardment, if it occurred, would have been tougher for the microbes, because the heat wouldn’t have had time to dissipate with such a rapid barrage. But that just would have meant the habitable zone didn’t increase, the team reports; mesophiles could still have inhabited at least 20 percent of the top kilometer of subsurface.

    Mojzsis says he’s come to similar conclusions in his own work. “For a long time people said, with absolutely no data, that there could be no biosphere before 3.9 billion years ago,” he says. But “after the solar system settled down, the biosphere could have started on Earth 4.4 billion years ago.”

    That’s not to say that there was definitely life, Grimm notes. Although the heat from impacts may not have been a limiting factor for life, asteroid bombardment introduced numerous other challenges, affecting the climate, surface or even convection of the mantle. Still, the picture of Earth’s earliest days is undergoing a sea change. As Grimm says, “An average day in the Hadean did not spell doom.”

    See the full article here .

    Science News is edited for an educated readership of professionals, scientists and other science enthusiasts. Written by a staff of experienced science journalists, it treats science as news, reporting accurately and placing findings in perspective. Science News and its writers have won many awards for their work; here’s a list of many of them.

    Published since 1922, the biweekly print publication reaches about 90,000 dedicated subscribers and is available via the Science News app on Android, Apple and Kindle Fire devices. Updated continuously online, the Science News website attracted over 12 million unique online viewers in 2016.

    Science News is published by the Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education.

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    • stewarthoughblog 9:31 pm on January 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Any proposition that the Hadean was not so Hadeanish is interesting science given what has been postulated previously, but it is not geochemically relevant to the intractable issues of any and all naturalistic stories about the origin of life. If no prospect for the origin of life is plausible even in the intelligently designed lab conditions of the labs being used to try to produce even simple biochemical processes and assembly formation, then any change in the Hadean conditions is a moot point.


  • richardmitnick 2:38 pm on December 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Earth and the Moon, , SwRI   

    From SwRI: “Collisions after Moon formation remodeled early Earth” 

    SwRI bloc

    Southwest Research Institute

    Dec. 4, 2017
    Jonathan O’Callahan

    SwRI scientists modeled the protracted period of bombardment after the Moon formed, determining that impactor metals may have descended into Earth’s core. This artistic rendering illustrates a large impactor crashing into the young Earth. Light brown and gray particles indicate the projectile’s mantle (silicate) and core (metal) material, respectively. Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute.

    A study has suggested that the young Earth was repeatedly pounded by objects the size of the Moon, which may explain the composition of rocks on our planet.

    Published in Nature Geoscience, scientists from the Southwest Research Institute in Texas looked at the period after a Mars-sized body hit Earth and formed the Moon about 4.5 billion years ago, known as the giant-impact hypothesis. That impactor was thought to be at least 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) across.

    Some of the pieces of rock from that collision, known as planetesimals, coalesced into the Moon. Others, we had thought, stayed in Earth orbit for about 100 million years before breaking apart or being scattered by gravity.

    However, this study suggests a much more dramatic process took place. The researchers say their model hints at “multiple subsequent impacts with the Earth by 1,500- to 3,000-km-diameter [930- to 1,860-mile] projectiles”, they write in their paper.

    “This is more violent than thought,” the study’s lead author, Dr Simone Marchi, told IFLScience. “Some of these planetesimals may have exceeded 1,000 kilometers [620 miles] in diameter, some were perhaps as large as the Moon itself.”

    We’d previously thought about 0.5 percent of our planet’s mass was made up of material from these planetesimals. However, the researchers suggest this may be two to five times greater than previous calculations.

    It all stems around something called siderophile elements. These are things that get absorbed into iron like gold, platinum, and iridium. Some of these were delivered to our planet after the Moon was formed, while others were either absorbed into our core or ejected into space.

    In order to explain the amount we observe today, we need more collisions. Thus, this paper points to the period after the Moon’s formation as the culprit, with more large planetesimals hitting Earth.

    Animation of a Moon-sized object hitting our planet. Southwest Research Institute

    “We modeled the massive collisions and how metals and silicates were integrated into Earth during this ‘late accretion stage,’ which lasted for hundreds of millions of years after the Moon formed,” Dr Marchi said in a statement. “Based on our simulations, the late accretion mass delivered to Earth may be significantly greater than previously thought, with important consequences for the earliest evolution of our planet.”

    This also helps solve another quandary. Namely, the presence of isotopic anomalies in some rocks on Earth had suggested that our mantle was mixed more than we thought after the Moon formed. This latest research could explain how that mixing occurred, as our planet was repeatedly hit by other impactors.

    See the full article here .

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    SwRI Campus

    Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

  • richardmitnick 9:21 am on April 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , SwRI, SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars’ giant impact history   

    From SwRI: “SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars’ giant impact history” 

    SwRI bloc

    Southwest Research Institute

    April 25, 2017
    No writer credit

    Mars bears the scars of five giant impacts, including the ancient giant Borealis basin (top of globe), Hellas (bottom right), and Argyre (bottom left). An SwRI-led team discovered that Mars experienced a 400-million-year lull in impacts between the formation of Borealis and the younger basins. Image Courtesy of University of Arizona/LPL/Southwest Research Institute

    From the earliest days of our solar system’s history, collisions between astronomical objects have shaped the planets and changed the course of their evolution. Studying the early bombardment history of Mars, scientists at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the University of Arizona have discovered a 400-million-year lull in large impacts early in Martian history.

    This discovery is published in the latest issue of Nature Geoscience in a paper titled, “A post-accretionary lull in large impacts on early Mars.” SwRI’s Dr. Bill Bottke, who serves as principal investigator of the Institute for the Science of Exploration Targets (ISET) within NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI), is the lead author of the paper. Dr. Jeff Andrews-Hanna, from the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in the University of Arizona, is the paper’s coauthor.

    “The new results reveal that Mars’ impact history closely parallels the bombardment histories we’ve inferred for the Moon, the asteroid belt, and the planet Mercury,” Bottke said. “We refer to the period for the later impacts as the ‘Late Heavy Bombardment.’ The new results add credence to this somewhat controversial theory. However, the lull itself is an important period in the evolution of Mars and other planets. We like to refer to this lull as the ‘doldrums.’”

    The early impact bombardment of Mars has been linked to the bombardment history of the inner solar system as a whole. Borealis, the largest and most ancient basin on Mars, is nearly 6,000 miles wide and covers most of the planet’s northern hemisphere. New analysis found that the rim of Borealis was excavated by only one later impact crater, known as Isidis. This sets strong statistical limits on the number of large basins that could have formed on Mars after Borealis. Moreover, the preservation states of four youngest large basins — Hellas, Isidis, Argyre, and the now-buried Utopia — are strikingly similar to that of the larger, older Borealis basin. The similar preservation states of Borealis and these younger craters indicate that any basins formed in-between should be similarly preserved. No other impact basins pass this test.

    “Previous studies estimated the ages of Hellas, Isidis, and Argyre to be 3.8 to 4.1 billion years old,” Bottke said. “We argue the age of Borealis can be deduced from impact fragments from Mars that ultimately arrived on Earth. These Martian meteorites reveal Borealis to be nearly 4.5 billion years old — almost as old as the planet itself.”

    The new results reveal a surprising bombardment history for the red planet. A giant impact carved out the northern lowlands 4.5 billion years ago, followed by a lull of approximately 400 million years. Then another period of bombardment produced giant impact basins between 4.1 and 3.8 billion years ago. The age of the impact basins requires two separate populations of objects striking Mars. The first wave of impacts was associated with formation of the inner planets, followed by a second wave striking the Martian surface much later.

    SSERVI is a virtual institute headquartered at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Its members are distributed among universities and research institutes across the United States and around the world. SSERVI is working to address fundamental science questions and issues that can help further human exploration of the solar system.

    For more information, contact Deb Schmid, (210) 522-2254, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.

    See the full article here .

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    Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

  • richardmitnick 12:37 pm on December 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: After Multiple Attempts NASA Launches Satellites With San Antonio Roots, , SwRI, Texas Standard   

    From SwRI via Texas Standard: “After Multiple Attempts, NASA Launches Satellites With San Antonio Roots” 

    SwRI bloc

    Southwest Research Institute


    Texas Standard

    Dec 15, 2016
    Paul Flahive


    This Morning NASA launched the first satellite designed and fabricated by San Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute. When the Orbital ATK l-1011 “Stargazer” released a Pegasus XL rocket this morning it took a big step in the field of hurricane analysis scientists say. It also marked the beginning of a new field for San Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute, who built the eight micro-satellites that made up todays payload.

    The Southwest Research Institute plans to double the 22 million dollars in research dollars it uses for space science based on its spacecraft research over the next ten years. According to the executive director of SwRI’s Space System Directorate Mike McLelland, CYGNSS’ launch marks a new path for the organization,

    “In fact this institution is an institution of firsts in space systems. We were the first Med-X mission. We were the P.I. for the first ‘New Frontiers’ with Pluto fast flyby. So we pride ourselves on being first, and tackling those tough problems.”

    Southwest Research is bidding on 22 more small satellite projects. Small satellites make up anything from 10 kilograms to 250 kilograms in weight. They won’t be building traditional satellite projects in the near future, but ones more akin to today’s CYGNSS launch, which were in the 60 pound range.

    All eight satellites that made up CYGNSS along with the launch cost $150 million. By comparison the GOES-R mission that launched last month was a billion dollars just for the one traditional space satellite, which was the size of a couple of cars. McLelland says small satellites are the future of the industry.

    “There’s 3600 satellites scheduled to launch in the next decade, small satellites, that’s almost a 362 percent increase from the last decade.”

    McLelland believes SwRI’s expertise in space systems will allow them to make a mark in small satellites especially in the medium-earth orbit field where high radiation rules out off-the-shelf solutions. SwRI can manufacture those solutions where others might not have the knowledge.

    This plan has been developing for more than a decade, McLelland says,

    “We have been working on expanding for at least 15 years. We worked on CYGNSS, or the bus that makes up CYGNSS for ten years before we got that first contract.”

    SwRI will next build a cubesat, or a even smaller satellite, for the National Science Foundation. It is called the CuSP, launches in two years, and will measure solar particles.

    See the full article here .

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    SwRI Campus

    Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

  • richardmitnick 12:30 pm on August 29, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SwRI, SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform (SSIPP)   

    From SwRI: “SwRI to demonstrate low-cost miniature solar observatory” 

    SwRI bloc

    Southwest Research Institute

    August 29, 2016
    Deb Schmid
    (210) 522-2254

    The SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform (SSIPP) is a miniature, low-cost solar observatory designed to conduct solar research from the near-space environment. SwRI hang tested the SSIPP payload, which will be demonstrated in August carried aloft by a stratospheric balloon.
    Image Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

    Southwest Research Institute will flight test a miniature solar observatory on a six-hour high-altitude balloon mission scheduled for the end of August. The SwRI Solar Instrument Pointing Platform (SSIPP) is a complete, high-precision solar observatory about the size of a mini fridge and weighing 160 pounds.

    “This novel, low-cost prototype was developed for less than $1 million, which is one-tenth the cost of other comparable balloon-borne observatories,” said Principal Investigator Dr. Craig DeForest, a principal scientist in SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division. “Funded by NASA’s Game-Changing Technologies program, SSIPP is a reusable, optical table-based platform. This novel approach breaks down barriers to science by allowing low-cost solar research.”

    SSIPP collects solar data using infrared, ultraviolet, or visible light instruments on an optical table, similar to those used in ground-based observatories but from a near-space environment. This arcsecond-class observatory provides optical precision equivalent to imaging a dime from a mile away. Originally conceived to fly aboard a commercial suborbital rocket, SSIPP has now been adapted for balloon flight. Collecting data from the edge of space — around 20 miles above the Earth’s surface — avoids image distortions caused by looking through the atmosphere.

    “SSIPP could support the development of a range of new instruments for the near-space environment at relatively low cost,” DeForest said. “Using a standard optical table platform increases flexibility, allowing scientists to try new things and develop new technologies without designing a custom observatory.”

    During the demonstration, scientists will spend two hours commissioning the observatory and searching for visible signatures of “high-frequency” solar soundwaves, which are actually some eight octaves below the deepest audible notes. By contrast, the most studied sound waves in the Sun (the solar “P-modes” used to probe the solar interior) are five octaves deeper still.

    The surface of the Sun is covered with granular convection cells analogous to a pot of water at a rolling boil. Continuously, every 5 minutes, a million of these cells erupt, creating sound waves at a range of frequencies. SSIPP will image the solar atmosphere to understand their heat and noise properties. The comparatively high frequency of the “solar ultrasound” waves makes them undetectable by ground-based observatories.

    “The transfer of heat to the surface of our star is a violent and tremendously loud process,” DeForest said. “Soundwaves heat the solar atmosphere to extremely high temperatures, but it’s a poorly understood process. Existing measurements of the solar infrasound cannot account for all the energy required.”

    SSIPP will launch aboard a World View stratospheric balloon, funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program under the Space Technology Mission Directorate. The program is managed by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

    See the full article here .

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    SwRI Campus

    Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

  • richardmitnick 1:11 pm on August 12, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Rivard Report, SwRI   

    From Rivard Report via SwRI: “NASA Reveals San Antonio Engineered Hurricane Satellites” 

    SwRI bloc

    Southwest Research Institute

    Rivard Report

    11 August, 2016
    Mitch Hagney

    NASA’s CYGNSS mini-satellites will collect wind speed data directly over the eye of cyclones. Photo courtesy of NASA.

    The Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), in partnership with the University of Michigan and NASA, will launch an array of satellites in November that will provide the most detailed observations of the inner core of hurricanes ever collected. Thursday morning it unveiled the satellites and its deployment module to reporters at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

    Since 1990, forecasts of hurricane courses improved by about 50% because of better data sets, including those from satellites. In that time, however, scientists still struggled with predicting hurricanes’ strength. NASA’s new CYGNSS mission (Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System) will use eight satellites in a coordinated constellation to monitor and predict rapid changes in hurricane intensity.

    CYGNSS will launch in November, deployed from a Pegasus launch vehicle which drops off a high flying airplane before firing into the upper atmosphere. For a gut-wrenching five seconds, CYGNSS will drop like a stone from the aircraft before its initial boosters ignite to bring the devices to their intended orbit. From there, all eight mini-satellites will separate from the module and adjust their speed slightly to get into the proper formation.

    Dr. Chris Ruf, CYGNSS principal investigator, was asked if he regarded the device’s launch as the light at the end of a tunnel.

    “All the preparations have taken a long time, but I don’t consider this the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I consider it the beginning of the real work.”

    CYGNSS, unlike previous hurricane monitoring methods, can accurately measure wind speed from Earth’s orbit. The satellites can determine the intensity of the wind from the roughness of the water, which they gather by measuring how scattered the GPS signals that reflect off of the ocean’s surface are. The measurements are taken continuously as the CYGNSS constellation orbits the planet, and they are completely unaffected by the intense rainfall that has made hurricane measurements difficult in the past.

    The only way to get accurate wind speeds from hurricanes now is to fly a plane with special sensors on board – nicknamed Hurricane Hunters – straight into the eye of the storm. Apart from danger and expense, planes aren’t optimal because they’re rarely deployed to the Pacific Ocean, where cyclones and typhoons crash against Australia and Asia. CYGNSS will take the same amount of constant data globally, improving storm predictions and potentially saving lives all over the world.

    Each of the eight satellites weighs around 65 pounds and operates on less than 60 watts, which is comparable to a dim light bulb. The program cost around $150 million and will operate between two and six years. Data will be gathered every hour of every day.

    The satellites were designed and built in San Antonio at the Southwest Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering division. The mission is hardly the first NASA project that SwRI has taken on. Its hardware on Juno is currently orbiting Jupiter and has already yielded amazing scientific discoveries like the first evidence of heat created from acoustic waves and canyons filled with liquid methane on Titan.


    SwRI also worked on New Horizons, which passed Pluto last year and provided the first detailed photographs of the former planet, revealing flowing pools of liquid nitrogen and a thin blue atmosphere.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft
    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    The institute even created the tempur aircraft brake pads that evolved into Tempur-Pedic mattresses.

    The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) will help improve hurricane track, intensity, and storm surge forecasts. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

    Space Science and Engineering is just one of ten divisions at the institute. It also work on fuels, lubricants, ballistics and explosives, autonomous vehicles, and chemical engineering, among other subjects. In total, it employs more than 1700 San Antonians with an additional 70 workers based in Boulder, Colo. The facility in Boulder will function as operational headquarters for the implementation of the CYGNSS mission.

    Every piece of data from every NASA Earth Science mission is offered free of charge to anyone who seeks it, and the hurricane data from CYGNSS will be no exception.

    “From the viewpoint of science, the more people you have looking at it, the better we understand the planet we’re jointly living in,” said Christine Bonniksen, NASA’s Earth Sciences division program director.

    That means the city of Houston will become safer just as impoverished towns in the Philippines will.

    “CYGNSS is the first earth science program in orbit for us,” she said. “This is an amazing mission that truly affects everyone here on Earth.”

    See the full article here .

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    SwRI Campus

    Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

  • richardmitnick 5:24 pm on August 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Fleet of robots could hunt for life on icy moon Enceladus, , SwRI   

    From New Scientist: “Fleet of robots could hunt for life on icy moon Enceladus” 


    New Scientist

    2 August 2016
    Rebecca Boyle

    Cassini flew through icy plumes from Enceladus. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

    Delicate space nets. Probes landing with the force of a bomb. Ice-burrowing tunnellers. These are a few of the robots poised to grab the baton from NASA’s Cassini orbiter in the search for alien life on Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus.

    As Cassini prepares for a death dive into Saturn next year, planetary scientists met in Boulder, Colorado, last week to discuss its possible successors.

    Enceladus has a massive global ocean under its frozen surface, and cracks in its exterior spew plumes of water into space. The plumes continually add icy material to one of Saturn’s rings, and offer a tantalising taste of the water within. But Cassini can’t test them. Its instruments aren’t detailed enough to analyse the water, because when it was built, no one knew the plumes were there.

    “That is a very fine example of why it’s so hard to design space missions,” says Alexis Bouquet, a PhD student at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “By definition, we are going to an object that we don’t know much about. So we always get surprises.”

    As Cassini flew through Enceladus’s plumes a handful of times in the past 11 years, its instruments were flooded with hydrogen molecules, which are a possible smoking gun for hydrothermal vents in the oceans. If confirmed, those vents would have major implications for life beneath the ice.

    Bugs on a windshield

    But it’s unclear whether the hydrogen molecules came from Enceladus or from Cassini itself. That’s because when ice grains in the plumes smack into Cassini’s instruments they break apart, like insects on a car windshield. “They are smashing so fast that they can actually chip the windshield and form tiny craters,” says Bouquet. This releases titanium into Cassini’s instruments, which steals oxygen from the icy water to release hydrogen molecules.

    At the meeting in Boulder, Bouquet presented computer simulations he is using to figure out how much water is really there and how much is the instrument’s confusion – although he hasn’t come to a conclusion yet.

    To improve matters, a future Enceladus plume sampler could use gold sensors, which wouldn’t react in the same way as the titanium ones. Or it could use a soft, spongy net, similar to the capture devices developed for the Stardust mission, which grabbed a few specks of cosmic dust from interstellar space in 2006.

    A net about 12 square centimetres in area would be big enough to capture a few micrograms of plume spray, says Richard Mathies, a chemist at the University of California at Berkeley. While that’s not a lot, the proposed lab-on-a-chip Enceladus Organic Analyzer — new details of which Mathies’s collaborators presented in Boulder — can sniff out one organic molecule in a billion others, Mathies says.

    Subsurface sea

    Landers and drills would be able to get an even closer look at the subsurface sea. But to enter they would have to crash with immense force or melt the ice, disturbing anything living there even as they tried to detect it. Tests on the EOA’s instruments suggest it could still do its job after an impact with an energy 50,000 times greater than Earth’s gravitational pull, which is a greater g-force than that felt by an artillery shell.

    At the meeting, Amanda Stockton at the Georgia Institute of Technology presented design concepts with optical instruments in the centre of a lander, which would make them more likely to survive impact.

    One other robot concept could break more than just ice grains. A proposed Enceladus Explorer mission could set up a robotic base station near the moon’s southern pole, where the plumes are thought to originate. A robot drill called the IceMole would both melt ice and ram through it, reaching down about 100 to 200 metres to the ocean below the surface.

    Researchers at Aachen University of Applied Sciences in Germany told the meeting of plans to test a smaller model of the probe in a vacuum chamber under simulated space conditions.

    Even as they plan future missions, planetary scientists will continue analysing data from Cassini long after it makes its final measurements. Cassini has not only fulfilled its mission, but opened the door to an armada of probes destined for oceans in the outer solar system, says Angela Stickle at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

    “Cassini is fantastic and marvellous,” she says. “But, as with any good spacecraft mission, it leaves us with more questions than answers. Having more missions to these planets will only help answer our questions.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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  • richardmitnick 2:38 pm on August 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Gemini Tracks Collapse of Io's Atmosphere During Frigid Eclipses, SwRI, Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph (TEXES)   

    From Gemini: “Gemini Tracks Collapse of Io’s Atmosphere During Frigid Eclipses” 


    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    August 1, 2016
    No writer credit found

    Artist’s concept of the atmospheric collapse of Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io, which is eclipsed by Jupiter for two hours of each day (1.7 Earth days). The resulting temperature drop freezes sulfur dioxide gas, causing the atmosphere to “deflate,” as seen in the shadowed area on the left. Credits: SwRI/Andrew Blanchard.

    Gemini observations show that the thin atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Io undergoes dramatic changes during frequent eclipses with the giant planet. The following press release, issued by the Southwest Research Institute, explains how the dramatic changes in temperature cause the moon’s atmosphere to collapse.

    SwRI Space Scientists Observe Io’s Atmospheric Collapse During Eclipse

    A Southwest Research Institute-led team has documented atmospheric changes on Io, Jupiter’s volcanically active satellite, as the giant planet casts its shadow over the moon’s surface during daily eclipses.

    A study led by SwRI’s Constantine Tsang concluded that Io’s thin atmosphere, which consists primarily of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas emitted from volcanoes, collapses as the SO2 freezes onto the surface as ice when Io is shaded by Jupiter. When the moon moves out of eclipse and ice warms, the atmosphere reforms through sublimation, where ice converts directly to gas.

    “This research is the first time scientists have observed this phenomenon directly, improving our understanding of this geologically active moon,” said Tsang, a senior research scientist in SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division.

    The findings were published in a study titled The Collapse of Io’s Primary Atmosphere in Jupiter Eclipse in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The team used the eight-meter Gemini North telescope in Hawai’i with the Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph (TEXES) for this research.

    Data showed that Io’s atmosphere begins to “deflate” when the temperatures drop from -235 degrees Fahrenheit in sunlight to -270 degrees Fahrenheit during eclipse. Eclipse occurs 2 hours of every Io day (1.7 Earth days). In full eclipse, the atmosphere effectively collapses as most of the SO2 gas settles as frost on the moon’s surface. The atmosphere redevelops as the surface warms once the moon returns to full sunlight.

    “This confirms that Io’s atmosphere is in a constant state of collapse and repair, and shows that a large fraction of the atmosphere is supported by sublimation of SO2 ice,” said John Spencer, an SwRI scientist who also participated in the study. “Though Io’s hyperactive volcanoes are the ultimate source of the SO2, sunlight controls the atmospheric pressure on a daily basis by controlling the temperature of the ice on the surface. We’ve long suspected this, but can finally watch it happen.”

    Prior to the study, no direct observations of Io’s atmosphere in eclipse had been possible because Io’s atmosphere is difficult to observe in the darkness of Jupiter’s shadow. This breakthrough was possible because TEXES measures the atmosphere using heat radiation, not sunlight, and the giant Gemini telescope can sense the faint heat signature of Io’s collapsing atmosphere.

    Tsang and Spencer’s observations occurred over two nights in November 2013, when Io was more than 420 million miles from Earth. On both occasions, Io was observed moving in and out of Jupiter’s shadow, for a period about 40 minutes before and after eclipse.

    Io is the most volcanically active object in the solar system. Tidal heating, the result of Io’s gravitational interaction with Jupiter, drives the moon’s volcanic activity. Io’s volcanoes emit umbrella-like plumes of SO2 gas extending up to 300 miles above the moon’s surface and produce extensive basaltic lava fields that can flow for hundreds of miles.

    This study is also timely given that NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter orbit on July 4th. “Io spews out gases that eventually fill the Jupiter system, ultimately seeding some of the auroral features seen at Jupiter’s poles,” Tsang said. “Understanding how these emissions from Io are controlled will help paint a better picture of the Jupiter system.”

    For more information, contact Robert Crowe, (210) 522-4630, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, PO Drawer 28510, San Antonio, TX 78228-0510.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
    AURA Icon

    Gemini’s mission is to advance our knowledge of the Universe by providing the international Gemini Community with forefront access to the entire sky.

    The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration with two identical 8-meter telescopes. The Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope is located on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i (Gemini North) and the other telescope on Cerro Pachón in central Chile (Gemini South); together the twin telescopes provide full coverage over both hemispheres of the sky. The telescopes incorporate technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors, under active control, to collect and focus both visible and infrared radiation from space.

    The Gemini Observatory provides the astronomical communities in six partner countries with state-of-the-art astronomical facilities that allocate observing time in proportion to each country’s contribution. In addition to financial support, each country also contributes significant scientific and technical resources. The national research agencies that form the Gemini partnership include: the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the Canadian National Research Council (NRC), the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Cientifica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Argentinean Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Productiva, and the Brazilian Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação. The observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the NSF. The NSF also serves as the executive agency for the international partnership.

  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on June 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SwRI, SwRI’s Parker discovers moon over Makemake in the Kuiper Belt   

    From SwRI: “SwRI’s Parker discovers moon over Makemake in the Kuiper Belt” 

    SwRI bloc

    Southwest Research Institute

    June 27, 2016
    Deb Schmid
    (210) 522-2254

    A SwRI-led team analyzed data from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to discover a small, dark moon around the dwarf planet Makemake. The image shows different views of the Makemake system taken two days apart. The moon over Makemake is faint but visible on the left, but completely lost in the glare of the parent dwarf on the right.

    Southwest Research Institute-led team has discovered an elusive, dark moon orbiting Makemake, one of the “big four” dwarf planets populating the Kuiper Belt region at the edge of our solar system. The findings are detailed in the paper Discovery of a Makemakean Moon, published in the June 27 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    “Makemake’s moon proves that there are still wild things waiting to be discovered, even in places people have already looked,” said Dr. Alex Parker, lead author of the paper and the SwRI astronomer credited with discovering the satellite. Parker spotted a faint point of light close to the dwarf planet using data from Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. “Makemake’s moon — nicknamed MK2 — is very dark, 1,300 times fainter than the dwarf planet.”

    A nearly edge-on orbital configuration helped it evade detection, placing it deep within the glare of the icy dwarf during a substantial fraction of its orbit. Makemake is one of the largest and brightest known Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), second only to Pluto. The moon is likely less than 100 miles wide while its parent dwarf planet is about 870 miles across. Discovered in 2005, Makemake is shaped like football and sheathed in frozen methane.

    “With a moon, we can calculate Makemake’s mass and density,” Parker said. “We can contrast the orbits and properties of the parent dwarf and its moon, to understand the origin and history of the system. We can compare Makemake and its moon to other systems, and broaden our understanding of the processes that shaped the evolution of our solar system.”

    With the discovery of MK2, all four of the currently designated dwarf planets are known to host one or more satellites. The fact that Makemake’s satellite went unseen despite previous searches suggests that other large KBOs may host hidden moons.

    Prior to this discovery, the lack of a satellite for Makemake suggested that it had escaped a past giant impact. Now, scientists will be looking at its density to determine if it was formed by a giant collision or if it was grabbed by the parent dwarf’s gravity. The apparent ubiquity of moons orbiting KBO dwarf planets supports the idea that giant collisions are a near-universal fixture in the histories of these distant worlds.

    The authors of this paper were supported by a grant from Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which conducts Hubble Space Telescope operations. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington, D.C., operates STScI for NASA. The Hubble telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SwRI Campus

    Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is an independent, nonprofit applied research and development organization. The staff of nearly 2,800 specializes in the creation and transfer of technology in engineering and the physical sciences. SwRI’s technical divisions offer a wide range of technical expertise and services in such areas as engine design and development, emissions certification testing, fuels and lubricants evaluation, chemistry, space science, nondestructive evaluation, automation, mechanical engineering, electronics, and more.

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