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  • 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

    1
    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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    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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  • 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

    1

    Texas Standard

    Dec 15, 2016
    Paul Flahive

    1
    NASA

    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

    1
    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

    1
    Rivard Report

    11 August, 2016
    Mitch Hagney

    1
    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.

    NASA/Juno
    NASA/Juno

    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.

    3
    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” 

    NewScientist

    New Scientist

    2 August 2016
    Rebecca Boyle

    1
    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 .

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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” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    August 1, 2016
    No writer credit found

    1
    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 .

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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
    dschmid@swri.org;com67@swri.org
    (210) 522-2254

    1
    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.

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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 9:20 pm on February 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , SwRI   

    From NASA Goddard: “NASA’s IBEX Observations Pin Down Interstellar Magnetic Field” 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    Feb. 26, 2016
    Sarah Frazier
    sarah.a.frazier@nasa.gov
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Immediately after its 2008 launch, NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, spotted a curiosity in a thin slice of space: More particles streamed in through a long, skinny swath in the sky than anywhere else.

    NASA IBEX
    IBEX

    The origin of the so-called IBEX ribbon was unknown – but its very existence opened doors to observing what lies outside our solar system, the way drops of rain on a window tell you more about the weather outside.

    Now, a new study uses IBEX data and simulations of the interstellar boundary – which lies at the very edge of the giant magnetic bubble surrounding our solar system called the heliosphere – to better describe space in our galactic neighborhood. The paper, published Feb. 8, 2016, in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, precisely determines the strength and direction of the magnetic field outside the heliosphere. Such information gives us a peek into the magnetic forces that dominate the galaxy beyond, teaching us more about our home in space.

    Inner heliosheath
    (Artist concept) Far beyond the orbit of Neptune, the solar wind and the interstellar medium interact to create a region known as the inner heliosheath, bounded on the inside by the termination shock, and on the outside by the heliopause. Credits: NASA/IBEX/Adler Planetarium

    The new paper is based on one particular theory of the origin of the IBEX ribbon, in which the particles streaming in from the ribbon are actually solar material reflected back at us after a long journey to the edges of the sun’s magnetic boundaries. A giant bubble, known as the heliosphere, exists around the sun and is filled with what’s called solar wind, the sun’s constant outflow of ionized gas, known as plasma. When these particles reach the edges of the heliosphere, their motion becomes more complicated.

    “The theory says that some solar wind protons are sent flying back towards the sun as neutral atoms after a complex series of charge exchanges, creating the IBEX ribbon,” said Eric Zirnstein, a space scientist at the Southwest Research Institute [SwRI] in San Antonio, Texas, and lead author on the study. “Simulations and IBEX observations pinpoint this process – which takes anywhere from three to six years on average – as the most likely origin of the IBEX ribbon.”

    Outside the heliosphere lies the interstellar medium, with plasma that has different speed, density, and temperature than solar wind plasma, as well as neutral gases. These materials interact at the heliosphere’s edge to create a region known as the inner heliosheath, bounded on the inside by the termination shock – which is more than twice as far from us as the orbit of Pluto – and on the outside by the heliopause, the boundary between the solar wind and the comparatively dense interstellar medium.

    Some solar wind protons that flow out from the sun to this boundary region will gain an electron, making them neutral and allowing them to cross the heliopause. Once in the interstellar medium, they can lose that electron again, making them gyrate around the interstellar magnetic field. If those particles pick up another electron at the right place and time, they can be fired back into the heliosphere, travel all the way back toward Earth, and collide with IBEX’s detector. The particles carry information about all that interaction with the interstellar magnetic field, and as they hit the detector they can give us unprecedented insight into the characteristics of that region of space.

    “Only Voyager 1 has ever made direct observations of the interstellar magnetic field, and those are close to the heliopause, where it’s distorted,” said Zirnstein.

    NASA Voyager 1
    Voyager 1

    “But this analysis provides a nice determination of its strength and direction farther out.”

    The directions of different ribbon particles shooting back toward Earth are determined by the characteristics of the interstellar magnetic field. For instance, simulations show that the most energetic particles come from a different region of space than the least energetic particles, which gives clues as to how the interstellar magnetic field interacts with the heliosphere.

    For the recent study, such observations were used to seed simulations of the ribbon’s origin. Not only do these simulations correctly predict the locations of neutral ribbon particles at different energies, but the deduced interstellar magnetic field agrees with Voyager 1 measurements, the deflection of interstellar neutral gases, and observations of distant polarized starlight.

    However, some early simulations of the interstellar magnetic field don’t quite line up. Those pre-IBEX estimates were based largely on two data points – the distances at which Voyagers 1 and 2 crossed the termination shock.

    “Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock at 94 astronomical units, or AU, from the sun, and Voyager 2 at 84 AU,” said Zirnstein. One AU is equal to about 93 million miles, the average distance between Earth and the sun. “That difference of almost 930 million miles was mostly explained by a strong, very tilted interstellar magnetic field pushing on the heliosphere.”

    But that difference may be accounted for by considering a stronger influence from the solar cycle, which can lead to changes in the strength of the solar wind and thus change the distance to the termination shock in the directions of Voyager 1 and 2. The two Voyager spacecraft made their measurements almost three years apart, giving plenty of time for the variable solar wind to change the distance of the termination shock.

    “Scientists in the field are developing more sophisticated models of the time-dependent solar wind,” said Zirnstein.

    The simulations generally jibe well with the Voyager data.

    Ibex ribbon
    The IBEX ribbon is a relatively narrow strip of particles flying in towards the sun from outside the heliosphere. A new study corroborates the idea that particles from outside the heliosphere that form the IBEX ribbon actually originate at the sun – and reveals information about the distant interstellar magnetic field. Credits: SwRI

    “The new findings can be used to better understand how our space environment interacts with the interstellar environment beyond the heliopause,” said Eric Christian, IBEX program scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not involved in this study. “In turn, understanding that interaction could help explain the mystery of what causes the IBEX ribbon once and for all.”

    The Southwest Research Institute leads IBEX with teams of national and international partners. NASA Goddard manages the Explorers Program for the agency’s Heliophysics Division within the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    Related Link

    IBEX mission website
    Article: The Astrophysical Journal LettersLocal Interstellar Magnetic Field Determined From the Interstellar Boundary Explorer Ribbon

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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
    NASA/Goddard Campus

    NASA image

     
  • richardmitnick 11:27 am on September 9, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SwRI   

    From AAS NOVA: “Explaining the Kuiper Belt with a Jumping Planet” 

    AASNOVA

    Amercan Astronomical Society

    9 September 2015
    Susanna Kohler

    1
    Image approximation of Kuiper Belt

    A feature of the Kuiper Belt known as the “kernel” has yet to be adequately explained by solar system formation models. In a recent study, a theorist at the Southwest Research Institute proposes a new explanation for how Neptune arrived at its current orbit — and how this planet’s migration in the early years of the solar system might have created the kernel.

    Orbital Jump

    The kernel is a concentration of orbits within the Kuiper Belt that all have semimajor axes of roughly a ≈ 44 AU, low eccentricities, and low inclinations. How this collection of objects formed — and why they exist where they do — is difficult to explain with current models, however. Kernel objects aren’t in resonance with any of the larger bodies, so why are they concentrated at that specific distance? In this study, David Nesvorný proposes that the kernel resulted from Neptune’s outward migration through the solar system.

    In the currently favored model of our solar system’s formation, the outermost gas giant planets formed closer to the Sun and then migrated out to their current locations. Nesvorný ran a series of simulations of this migration to test the theory that a discontinuity in Neptune’s movement outward — i.e., a sudden jump in the planet’s orbital distance — could explain the presence of the Kuiper Belt’s kernel.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

     
  • richardmitnick 3:26 pm on August 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , SwRI   

    From SwRI: “SwRI scientists think “planetary pebbles” were the building blocks for the largest planets” 

    SwRI bloc

    Southwest Research Institute

    August 19, 2015
    Deb Schmid, (210) 522-2254

    1
    This artist’s concept of a young star system shows gas giants forming first, while the gas nebula is present. Southwest Research Institute scientists used computer simulations to nail down how Jupiter and Saturn evolved in our own solar system. These new calculations show that the cores of gas giants likely formed by gradually accumulating a population of planetary pebbles – icy objects about a foot in diameter.

    Researchers at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and Queen’s University in Canada have unraveled the mystery of how Jupiter and Saturn likely formed. This discovery, which changes our view of how all planets might have formed, will be published in the Aug. 20 issue of Nature.

    Ironically, the largest planets in the solar system likely formed first. Jupiter and Saturn, which are mostly hydrogen and helium, presumably accumulated their gasses before the solar nebula dispersed. Observations of young star systems show that the gas disks that form planets usually have lifetimes of only 1 to 10 million years, which means the gas giant planets in our solar system probably formed within this time frame. In contrast, the Earth probably took at least 30 million years to form, and may have taken as long as 100 million years. So how could Jupiter and Saturn have formed so quickly?

    The most widely accepted theory for gas giant formation is the so-called core accretion model. In this model, a planet-sized core of ice and rock forms first. Then, an inflow of interstellar gas and dust attaches itself to the growing planet. However, this model has an Achilles heel; specifically, the very first step in the process. To accumulate a massive atmosphere requires a solid core roughly 10 times the mass of Earth. Yet these large objects, which are akin to Uranus and Neptune, had to have formed in only a few million years.

    In the standard model of planet formation, rocky cores grow as similarly sized objects accumulate and assimilate through a process called accretion. Rocks incorporate other rocks, creating mountains; then mountains merge with other mountains, leading to city-sized objects, and so on. However, this model is unable to produce planetary cores large enough, in a short enough period of time, to explain Saturn and Jupiter.

    “The timescale problem has been sticking in our throats for some time,” said Dr. Hal Levison, an Institute scientist in the SwRI Planetary Science Directorate and lead author of the paper. Titled Growing the Gas Giant Planets by the Gradual Accumulation of Pebbles, the paper is co-authored by SwRI Research Scientist Dr. Katherine Kretke and Dr. Martin Duncan, a professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

    “It wasn’t clear how objects like Jupiter and Saturn could exist at all,” continued Levison. New calculations by the team show that the cores of Jupiter and Saturn could form well within the 10-million-year time frame if they grew by gradually accumulating a population of planetary pebbles – icy objects about a foot in diameter. Recent research has shown that gas can play a vital role in increasing the efficiency of accretion. So pebbles entering orbit can spiral onto the protoplanet and assimilate, assisted by a gaseous headwind.

    In their article, Levison, Kretke, and Duncan show that pebble accretion can produce the observed structure of the solar system as long as the pebbles formed slowly enough that the growing planets have time to gravitationally interact with one another.

    “If the pebbles form too quickly, pebble accretion would lead to the formation of hundreds of icy Earths,” said Kretke. “The growing cores need some time to fling their competitors away from the pebbles, effectively starving them. This is why only a couple of gas giants formed.”

    “As far as I know, this is the first model to reproduce the structure of the outer solar system, with two gas giants, two ice giants (Uranus and Neptune), and a pristine Kuiper belt,” says Levison.

    “After many years of performing computer simulations of the standard model without success, it is a relief to find a new model that is so successful,” adds Duncan.

    Levison is the principal investigator of the research, funded through a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grant.

    Editors: An image is available at http://www.swri.org/press/2015/planetary-pebbles-building-blocks-large-planets.htm.

    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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