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  • richardmitnick 5:16 pm on February 12, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "SwRI models hint at longer timescale for Mars formation", , , , , , SwRI   

    From Southwest Research Institute: “SwRI models hint at longer timescale for Mars formation” 

    SwRI bloc

    From Southwest Research Institute

    Deb Schmid
    +1 210 522 2254
    Communications Department

    A Southwest Research Institute team performed high-resolution, smoothed-particle simulations of a large, differentiated projectile hitting early Mars after its core and mantle had formed. The projectile’s core and mantle particles are indicated by brown and green spheres respectively, showing local concentrations of the projectile materials assimilated into the Martian mantle. Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

    Scientists developed this illustration of how early Mars may have looked, showing signs of liquid water, large-scale volcanic activity and heavy bombardment from planetary projectiles. SwRI is modeling how these impacts may have affected early Mars to help answer questions about the planet’s evolutionary history. Courtesy of Southwest Research Institute/Marchi

    The early solar system was a chaotic place, with evidence indicating that Mars was likely struck by planetesimals, small protoplanets up to 1,200 miles in diameter, early in its history. Southwest Research Institute scientists modeled the mixing of materials associated with these impacts, revealing that the Red Planet may have formed over a longer timescale than previously thought.

    An important open issue in planetary science is to determine how Mars formed and to what extent its early evolution was affected by collisions. This question is difficult to answer given that billions of years of history have steadily erased evidence of early impact events. Luckily, some of this evolution is recorded in Martian meteorites. Of approximately 61,000 meteorites found on Earth, just 200 or so are thought to be of Martian origin, ejected from the Red Planet by more recent collisions.

    These meteorites exhibit large variations in iron-loving elements such as tungsten and platinum, which have a moderate to high affinity for iron. These elements tend to migrate from a planet’s mantle and into its central iron core during formation. Evidence of these elements in the Martian mantle as sampled by meteorites are important because they indicate that Mars was bombarded by planetesimals sometime after its primary core formation ended. Studying isotopes of particular elements produced locally in the mantle via radioactive decay processes helps scientists understand when planet formation was complete.

    “We knew Mars received elements such as platinum and gold from early, large collisions. To investigate this process, we performed smoothed-particle hydrodynamics impact simulations,” said SwRI’s Dr. Simone Marchi, lead author of a Science Advances paper outlining these results. “Based on our model, early collisions produce a heterogeneous, marble-cake-like Martian mantle. These results suggest that the prevailing view of Mars formation may be biased by the limited number of meteorites available for study.”

    Based on the ratio of tungsten isotopes in Martian meteorites, it has been argued that Mars grew rapidly within about 2–4 million years after the Solar System started to form. However, large, early collisions could have altered the tungsten isotopic balance, which could support a Mars formation timescale of up to 20 million years, as shown by the new model.

    “Collisions by projectiles large enough to have their own cores and mantles could result in a heterogeneous mixture of those materials in the early Martian mantle,” said co-author Dr. Robin Canup, assistant vice president of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division. “This can lead to different interpretations on the timing of Mars’ formation than those that assume that all projectiles are small and homogenous.”

    The Martian meteorites that landed on Earth probably originated from just a few localities around the planet. The new research shows that the Martian mantle could have received varying additions of projectile materials, leading to variable concentrations of iron-loving elements. The next generation of Mars missions, including plans to return samples to Earth, will provide new information to better understand the variability of iron-loving elements in Martian rocks and the early evolution of the Red Planet.

    “To fully understand Mars, we need to understand the role the earliest and most energetic collisions played in its evolution and composition,” Marchi concluded.

    The paper, “A compositionally heterogeneous Martian mantle due to late accretion,” will be published in Science Advances on February 12, 2020.

    The research was partially funded by NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute and a NASA Habitable Worlds grant.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    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.

  • richardmitnick 8:17 pm on February 3, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , SwRI   

    From Southwest Research Institute: “SwRI-led team identifies low-energy solar particles from beyond Earth in the near-Sun environment” 

    SwRI bloc

    From Southwest Research Institute

    February 3, 2020

    Using data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP), a team led by Southwest Research Institute identified low-energy particles lurking near the Sun that likely originated from solar wind interactions well beyond Earth orbit.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker

    PSP is venturing closer to the Sun than any previous probe, carrying hardware SwRI helped develop. Scientists are probing the enigmatic features of the Sun to answer many questions, including how to protect space travelers and technology from the radiation associated with solar events.

    “Our main goal is to determine the acceleration mechanisms that create and transport dangerous high-energy particles from the solar atmosphere into the solar system, including the near-Earth environment,” said Dr. Mihir Desai, a mission co-investigator on the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (IS☉IS) instrument suite, a multi-institutional project led by Principal Investigator Prof. Dave McComas of Princeton University. IS☉IS consists of two instruments, Energetic Particle Instrument-High (EPI-Hi) and Energetic Particle Instrument-Low (EPI-Lo). “With EPI-Lo, we were able to measure extremely low-energy particles unexpectedly close to the solar environment. We considered many explanations for their presence, but ultimately determined they are the smoking gun pointing to interactions between slow- and fast-moving regions of the solar wind that accelerate high-energy particles from beyond the orbit of Earth. Some of those travel back toward the Sun, slowing against the tide of the outpouring solar wind but still retaining surprisingly high energies.”

    PSP, which will travel within 4 million miles of the Sun’s surface, is collecting new solar data to help scientists understand how solar events, such as coronal mass ejections, impact life on Earth. During the rising portion of the Sun’s activity cycle, our star releases huge quantities of energized matter, magnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation in the form of coronal mass ejections (CMEs). This material is integrated into the solar wind, the steady stream of charged particles released from the Sun’s upper atmosphere. The high-energy solar energetic particles (SEPs) present a serious radiation threat to human explorers living and working outside low-Earth orbit and to technological assets such as communications and scientific satellites in space. The mission is making the first-ever direct measurements of both the low-energy source populations as well as the more hazardous, higher energy particles in the near-Sun environment, where the acceleration takes place.

    SwRI-led team identified low-energy particles, the smoking gun pointing to interactions between slow- and fast-moving regions of the solar wind accelerating high-energy particles from beyond the orbit of Earth. Using Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (IS☉IS) instrument data, they measured low-energy particles in the near-Sun environment that had likely traveled back toward the Sun, slowing against the tide of the solar wind while still retaining surprising energies.

    When the Sun’s activity reaches a lull, roughly about every 11 years, solar equatorial regions emit slower solar wind streams, traveling around 1 million miles per hour, while the poles spew faster streams, traveling twice as fast at 2 million miles per hour. Stream Interaction Regions (SIRs) are created by interactions at boundaries between the fast and slow solar wind. Fast-moving streams tend to overtake slower streams that originate westward of them on the Sun, forming turbulent corotating interaction regions (CIRs) that produce shock waves and accelerated particles, not unlike those produced by CMEs.

    “For the first time, we observed low-energy particles from these CIRs near the orbit of Mercury,” Desai said. “We also compared the PSP data with data from STEREO, another solar energy probe. By measuring the full range of energetic populations and correlating the data with other measurements, we hope to get a clear picture of the origin and the processes that accelerate these particles. Our next step is to integrate the data into models to better understand the origin of SEPs and other materials. Parker Solar Probe will solve many puzzling scientific questions — and is guaranteed to generate new ones as well.”

    This research is described in the paper “Properties of Suprathermal-through-Energetic He Ions Associated with Stream interaction regions Observed over Parker Solar Probe’s First Two Orb­­its,” published February 3 in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series devoted exclusively to the first science results from the Parker Solar Probe mission.

    PSP is part of NASA’s “Living With a Star” program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The Living With a Star flight program is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, manages the mission for NASA.

    APL designed and built the spacecraft and is operating it. The IS☉IS instrument suite has two instruments mounted to the spacecraft on an SwRI-designed and fabricated bracket. The EPI-Lo instrument measures the lower-energy particles. SwRI collaborated with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the mechanical fabrication and analyses for the EPI-Hi instrument, which measures the higher-energy materials.

    Data from the IS☉IS instrument suite are processed by the IS☉IS Science Operations Center led by Prof. Nathan Schwadron at the University of New Hampshire. In addition to Princeton, JHU/APL, Caltech, SwRI and UNH, the ISʘIS team also includes scientists and engineers from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Delaware and the University of Arizona.


    U Delaware

    For more information, go to Heliophysics or contact Deb Schmid, +1 210 522 2254, 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.

    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.

  • richardmitnick 11:35 am on January 23, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , SwRI   

    From Science Node: “How does a planet form?” 

    Science Node bloc
    From Science Node

    15 Jan, 2020
    Jan Zverina

    New simulations of terrestrial planet formation raise questions about the ingredients of life.

    Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech


    Most of us are taught in grade school how planets come to be: dust particles clump together and over millions of years continue to collide until one is formed. This lengthy and complicated process was recently modeled using a novel approach with the help of the Comet [below] supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

    SDSC Triton HP supercomputer

    SDSC Gordon-Simons supercomputer

    SDSC Dell Comet supercomputer

    Accumulations of dust, like this disk around a young star, may eventually become planets. A new study models this complicated process. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    The modeling enabled scientists at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to implement a new software package, which in turn allowed them to create a simulation of planet formation that provides a new baseline for future studies of this mysterious field.

    “Specifically, we modeled the formation of terrestrial planets such as Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars,” said Kevin Walsh, SwRI researcher and lead author of the paper published in the Icarus Journal.

    “The problem of planet formation is to start with a huge amount of very small dust that interacts on super-short timescales (seconds or less), and the Comet-enabled simulations finish with the final big collisions between planets that continue for 100 million years or more.”

    What’s out there? And who?

    As Earthlings, these models give us insight into the key physics and timescales involved in our own solar system, according to the researchers. They also allow us to better understand how common planets such as ours could be in other solar systems. This may also mean that environments similar to Earth may exist.

    “One big consideration is these models traced the material in the solar system that we know is rich with water, and seeing what important mechanisms can bring those to Earth and where they would have done so.”

    Two large rocky bodies collide. New simulation models give insight into key physics and timescales involved in the formation of our own solar system. Courtesy Gemini Observatory/AURA.

    Studying the formation and evolution of the solar system—events that happened over four billion years ago–helps shed light on the distribution of different material throughout the solar system, explained Walsh.

    “While some of these tracers of solar system history are slight differences in the molecular makeup of different rocks, other differences can be vast and include the distribution of water-rich asteroids. Knowing the history and compositions of these smaller bodies could one day help as more distant and ambitious space travel may require harvesting some of their materials for fuel.”

    How did Comet (the supercomputer) help?

    The number, sizes, and times of the physics of planet formation makes it impossible to model in a single code or simulation. As the researchers learned more about the formation process, they realized that where one starts these final models (i.e. how many asteroids or proto-planets and their locations in a solar system) is very important, and that past models to produce those initial conditions were most likely flawed.

    Simulation of formation of terrestrial planets. Top row shows how eccentric each particle’s orbit is at the four times of 1, 2, 10 and 20 million years (where “eccentric” relates to the orbit’s elongation, where 0 is circular and 1 is a straight line). Black circles are particles that have grown to reach the mass of the Earth’s Moon. Bottom row shows the radius of each particle as a function of its distance from the Sun at the same four times. The black particles are again those that are as massive as the Moon, and the coloring of the particles relates to the mass (and radius). These glimpses show how the smaller particles are quickly gobbled up by the growing planets and that the planets stir and re-shape the orbits of the smaller bodies shown by their increases in eccentricity. Courtesy Kevin Walsh, Southwest Research Institute.

    “In this work we finally deployed a new piece of software that can model a much larger swath of this problem and start with the solar system full of 50 to 100-kilometer asteroids and build them all the way to planets and consider the complications of the gas disk around the sun and the effects of collisions blasting apart some of the material,” said Walsh.

    “We needed a supercomputer such as Comet to be able to crunch the huge amount of calculations required to complete the models and the power of this supercomputer allows us to dream up even bigger problems to attack in the future.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Science Node is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, Science Node is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

    You can read Science Node via our homepage, RSS, or email. For the complete iSGTW experience, sign up for an account or log in with OpenID and manage your email subscription from your account preferences. If you do not wish to access the website’s features, you can just subscribe to the weekly email.”

  • richardmitnick 12:32 pm on December 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "NASA's Juno Navigators Enable Jupiter Cyclone Discovery", , , , , , SwRI   

    From NASA JPL-Caltech: “NASA’s Juno Navigators Enable Jupiter Cyclone Discovery” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From NASA JPL-Caltech

    December 12, 2019
    DC Agle
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Alana Johnson
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Deb Schmid
    Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio

    A new, smaller cyclone can be seen at the lower right of this infrared image of Jupiter’s south pole taken on Nov. 4, 2019, during the 23rd science pass of the planet by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.


    The image was captured by Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument, which instrument measures heat radiated from the planet at an infrared wavelength of around 5 microns.

    To give some sense of the immense scale of cyclones arranged in a hexagonal pattern at Jupiter’s south pole, an outline of the continental United States is superimposed over the central cyclone and an outline of Texas is superimposed over the newest cyclone. The hexagonal arrangement of the cyclones is large enough to dwarf the Earth.

    This composite visible-light image taken by the JunoCam imager aboard NASA’s Juno spacecraft on Nov. 3, 2019, shows a new cyclone at Jupiter’s south pole has joined five other cyclones to create a hexagonal shape around a large single cyclone. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/JunoCam

    Jupiter’s south pole has a new cyclone. The discovery of the massive Jovian tempest occurred on Nov. 3, 2019, during the most recent data-gathering flyby of Jupiter by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. It was the 22nd flyby during which the solar-powered spacecraft collected science data on the gas giant, soaring only 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) above its cloud tops. The flyby also marked a victory for the mission team, whose innovative measures kept the solar-powered spacecraft clear of what could have been a mission-ending eclipse.

    “The combination of creativity and analytical thinking has once again paid off big time for NASA,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We realized that the orbit was going to carry Juno into Jupiter’s shadow, which could have grave consequences because we’re solar powered. No sunlight means no power, so there was real risk we might freeze to death. While the team was trying to figure out how to conserve energy and keep our core heated, the engineers came up with a completely new way out of the problem: Jump Jupiter’s shadow. It was nothing less than a navigation stroke of genius. Lo and behold, first thing out of the gate on the other side, we make another fundamental discovery.”

    When Juno first arrived at Jupiter in July 2016, its infrared and visible-light cameras discovered giant cyclones encircling the planet’s poles – nine in the north and six in the south. Were they, like their Earthly siblings, a transient phenomenon, taking only weeks to develop and then ebb? Or could these cyclones, each nearly as wide as the continental U.S., be more permanent fixtures?

    With each flyby, the data reinforced the idea that five windstorms were swirling in a pentagonal pattern around a central storm at the south pole and that the system seemed stable. None of the six storms showed signs of yielding to allow other cyclones to join in.

    “It almost appeared like the polar cyclones were part of a private club that seemed to resist new members,” said Bolton.

    Then, during Juno’s 22nd science pass, a new, smaller cyclone churned to life and joined the fray.

    The Life of a Young Cyclone

    “Data from Juno’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper [JIRAM] instrument indicates we went from a pentagon of cyclones surrounding one at the center to a hexagonal arrangement,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator at the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “This new addition is smaller in stature than its six more established cyclonic brothers: It’s about the size of Texas. Maybe JIRAM data from future flybys will show the cyclone growing to the same size as its neighbors.”

    Probing the weather layer down to 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) below Jupiter’s cloud tops, JIRAM captures infrared light emerging from deep inside Jupiter. Its data indicate wind speeds of the new cyclone average 225 mph (362 kph) – comparable to the velocity found in its six more established polar colleagues.

    The spacecraft’s JunoCam also obtained visible-light imagery of the new cyclone. The two datasets shed light on atmospheric processes of not just Jupiter but also fellow gas giants Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as well as those of giant exoplanets now being discovered; they even shed light on atmospheric processes of Earth’s cyclones.

    “These cyclones are new weather phenomena that have not been seen or predicted before,” said Cheng Li, a Juno scientist from the University of California, Berkeley. “Nature is revealing new physics regarding fluid motions and how giant planet atmospheres work. We are beginning to grasp it through observations and computer simulations. Future Juno flybys will help us further refine our understanding by revealing how the cyclones evolve over time.”

    Shadow Jumping

    Of course, the new cyclone would never have been discovered if Juno had frozen to death during the eclipse when Jupiter got between the spacecraft and the Sun’s heat and light rays.

    Juno has been navigating in deep space since 2011. It entered an initial 53-day orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Originally, the mission planned to reduce the size of its orbit a few months later to shorten the period between science flybys of the gas giant to every 14 days. But the project team recommended to NASA to forgo the main engine burn due to concerns about the spacecraft’s fuel delivery system. Juno’s 53-day orbit provides all the science as originally planned; it just takes longer to do so. Juno’s longer life at Jupiter is what led to the need to avoid Jupiter’s shadow.

    “Ever since the day we entered orbit around Jupiter, we made sure it remained bathed in sunlight 24/7,” said Steve Levin, Juno project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Our navigators and engineers told us a day of reckoning was coming, when we would go into Jupiter’s shadow for about 12 hours. We knew that for such an extended period without power, our spacecraft would suffer a similar fate as the Opportunity rover, when the skies of Mars filled with dust and blocked the Sun’s rays from reaching its solar panels.”

    Without the Sun’s rays providing power, Juno would be chilled below tested levels, eventually draining its battery cells beyond recovery. So the navigation team set devised a plan to “jump the shadow,” maneuvering the spacecraft just enough so its trajectory would miss the eclipse.

    “In deep space, you are either in sunlight or your out of sunlight; there really is no in-between,” said Levin.

    The navigators calculated that if Juno performed a rocket burn weeks in advance of Nov. 3, while the spacecraft was as far in its orbit from Jupiter as it gets, they could modify its trajectory enough to give the eclipse the slip. The maneuver would utilize the spacecraft’s reaction control system, which wasn’t initially intended to be used for a maneuver of this size and duration.

    On Sept. 30, at 7:46 p.m. EDT (4:46 p.m. PDT), the reaction control system burn began. It ended 10 ½ hours later. The propulsive maneuver – five times longer than any previous use of that system – changed Juno’s orbital velocity by 126 mph (203 kph) and consumed about 160 pounds (73 kilograms) of fuel. Thirty-four days later, the spacecraft’s solar arrays continued to convert sunlight into electrons unabated as Juno prepared to scream once again over Jupiter’s cloud tops.

    “Thanks to our navigators and engineers, we still have a mission,” said Bolton. “What they did is more than just make our cyclone discovery possible; they made possible the new insights and revelations about Jupiter that lie ahead of us.”

    More information about Juno is online at http://www.nasa.gov/juno and http://missionjuno.swri.edu.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

  • richardmitnick 12:51 pm on January 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SwRI   

    From Southwest Research Institute: “Juno mission captures images of volcanic plumes on Jupiter’s moon Io” 

    SwRI bloc

    From Southwest Research Institute

    Dec. 31, 2018

    A team of space scientists has captured new images of a volcanic plume on Jupiter’s moon Io during the Juno mission’s 17th flyby of the gas giant.


    A volcanic eruption on Io seen by the Galileo spacecraft in 1997. Image via NASA/JPL/DLR.

    On Dec. 21, during winter solstice, four of Juno’s cameras captured images of the Jovian moon Io, the most volcanic body in our solar system.

    Meet Io, Jupiter’s innermost large moon. The red dots – nicknamed the “fires of Io” – are active volcanoes. December 2018 image via NASA’s Juno spacecraft (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/INAF)

    JunoCam, the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) and the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVS) observed Io for over an hour, providing a glimpse of the moon’s polar regions as well as evidence of an active eruption.

    “We knew we were breaking new ground with a multi-spectral campaign to view Io’s polar region, but no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the moon’s surface,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of the Juno mission and an associate vice president of Southwest Research Institute’s Space Science and Engineering Division. “This is quite a New Year’s present showing us that Juno has the ability to clearly see plumes.”

    JunoCam acquired the first images on Dec. 21 at 12:00, 12:15 and 12:20 coordinated universal time (UTC) before Io entered Jupiter’s shadow. The Images show the moon half-illuminated with a bright spot seen just beyond the terminator, the day-night boundary.

    “The ground is already in shadow, but the height of the plume allows it to reflect sunlight, much like the way mountaintops or clouds on the Earth continue to be lit after the sun has set,” explained Candice Hansen-Koharcheck, the JunoCam lead from the Planetary Science Institute.

    At 12:40 UTC, after Io had passed into the darkness of total eclipse behind Jupiter, sunlight reflecting off nearby moon Europa helped to illuminate Io and its plume. SRU images released by SwRI depict Io softly illuminated by moonlight from Europa. The brightest feature on Io in the image is thought to be a penetrating radiation signature, a reminder of this satellite’s role in feeding Jupiter’s radiation belts, while other features show the glow of activity from several volcanoes. “As a low-light camera designed to track the stars, the SRU can only observe Io under very dimly lit conditions. Dec. 21 gave us a unique opportunity to observe Io’s volcanic activity with the SRU using only Europa’s moonlight as our lightbulb,” said Heidi Becker, lead of Juno’s Radiation Monitoring Investigation, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    Sensing heat at long wavelengths, the JIRAM instrument detects hotspots in the daylight and at night.

    “Though Jupiter’s moons are not JIRAM’s primary objectives, every time we pass close enough to one of them, we take advantage of the opportunity for an observation,” said Alberto Adriani, a researcher at Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics. “The instrument is sensitive to infrared wavelengths, which are perfect to study the volcanism of Io. This is one of the best images of Io that JIRAM has been able to collect so far.”

    The latest images can lead to new insights into the gas giant’s interactions with its five moons, causing phenomena such as Io’s volcanic activity or freezing of the moon’s atmosphere during eclipse, added Bolton. JIRAM recently documented Io’s volcanic activity before and after eclipse. Io’s volcanoes were discovered by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in 1979. Io’s gravitational interaction with Jupiter drives the moon’s volcanoes, which emit umbrella-like plumes of SO2 gas and produce extensive basaltic lava fields.

    The recent Io images were captured at the halfway point of the mission, which is scheduled to complete a map of Jupiter in July 2021. Launched in 2011, Juno arrived at Jupiter in 2016. The spacecraft orbits Jupiter every 53 days, studying its auroras, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

    The solar-powered Juno features eight scientific instruments designed to study Jupiter’s interior structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Juno mission for Bolton. Juno is part of the New Frontiers Program, which is managed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space built the spacecraft, and SwRI provided two Juno instruments to study the massive Jovian aurora.

    For more information, visit Space Science or contact Robert Crowe, +1 210 522 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.

    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.

  • richardmitnick 10:26 am on December 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , SwRI, What does Ceres’ carbon mean?   

    From EarthSky and SwRI: “What does Ceres’ carbon mean?” 


    From EarthSky

    December 27, 2018
    Paul Scott Anderson

    Earlier this month, scientists announced that dwarf planet Ceres has more carbon-rich organics than previously thought, both on and below its surface. Here’s why that’s exciting.

    False-color image of dwarf planet Ceres – largest body in the asteroid belt – from the Dawn spacecraft. The image shows Ceres’ famous bright spots, and the false color highlights differences in surface materials. Image via NASA PhotoJournal.

    Carbon is one of the most common elements in the universe and is the basis of organic biology on Earth. It can be found throughout the solar system, even in meteorites that bounce to Earth’s surface from other parts of space. Now scientists have found that another body in the solar system – the dwarf planet Ceres – is much richer in carbon that previously thought. Those results were published in a peer-reviewed article in Nature Astronomy on December 10, 2018.

    Astronomer Simone Marchi at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) was the lead author of the new paper. He said:

    “Ceres is like a chemical factory. Among inner solar system bodies, Ceres has a unique mineralogy, which appears to contain up to 20 percent carbon by mass in its near surface. Our analysis shows that carbon-rich compounds are intimately mixed with products of rock-water interactions, such as clays.”

    The interior structure of Ceres as scientists now understand it. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

    Why is the presence of carbon so intriguing? Carbon isn’t by itself necessarily the product of or connected to life, although it does serve as the basis for organic chemistry and biology on Earth. When combined with oxygen and hydrogen, carbon can form many groups of important biological compounds including sugars, alcohols and fats. Its presence on Ceres is evidence that the basic ingredients for life – including carbon – can be found in many different places, not only in our solar system but throughout the universe.

    More specifically, the new findings show that Ceres was, and still is, rich in amorphous carbon – a carbon-rich organic material – which is significant in terms of how carbon is distributed throughout the solar system. (Organic materials are any molecules that contain carbon – they can be formed on their own without life but are also building blocks of life). The new data suggests that Ceres contains several times more amorphous carbon on its surface and in its subsurface than even the most carbon-rich meteorites.

    While Ceres contains more carbon than meteorites, the study also shows that 50 to 60 percent of Ceres’ upper crust may have a composition similar to primitive carbonaceous chondrite meteorites – some of the most complex of all meteorites.

    Close-up view inside Urvara crater on Ceres. The 6,500-foot (1981-meter) central ridge is made from materials uplifted from deep below the surface, which experienced rock-water chemical interactions. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

    As Marchi explained:

    “Our results imply that either Ceres accreted ultra-carbon-rich materials or that carbon was concentrated in its crust. Both potential scenarios are important, because Ceres’ mineralogical composition indicates a global-scale event of rock-water alteration, which could provide conditions favorable to organic chemistry.”

    In other words, the carbon on Ceres may originate from when Ceres first formed or from incoming impacts of other asteroids. Scientists don’t know yet which scenario is correct. But regardless, the evidence for chemical reactions with water is intriguing, since that can eventually lead to the formation of the building blocks of life, even if not life itself.

    Ceres is classified as a dwarf planet but is also the largest asteroid in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft recently finished its mission at Ceres on November 1, 2018, studying its geology and sending back incredible high-resolution images of its surface from orbit.

    NASA Dawn Spacescraft

    One big surprise was the “bright spots” – light-colored deposits, now determined to be sodium carbonate salts – on the darker rocky surface. Scientists think they were formed when when water came up to the surface from deeper below and then evaporated in Ceres’ extremely tenuous and sporadic water vapor “atmosphere.”

    The best-known bright spots are those in Occator Crater, which stand out starkly against the darker rocky surface.

    High-resolution view of Cerealia Facula – a sodium carbonate (salt) deposit – in Occator Crater. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Roman Tkachenko.

    Whether Ceres ever had conditions suitable for life to evolve is still unknown, although there is also evidence that it has, or at least once had, water below the surface – maybe even a subsurface ocean. This water produced chemical reactions when it came in contact with minerals in rocks. There is also evidence for past cryovolcanic activity – cryovolcanoes, which erupt water, ammonia or methane rather than molten rock. It’s even possible that the subsurface environment was once warm and wet enough for basic biological chemistry to actually begin, although no direct signs of that have been discovered yet.

    Bottom line: As the largest object in the asteroid belt, Ceres is a fascinating world, and has been more geologically active than previously thought. The fact that Ceres is rich in organic carbon is a big part of its geological history and now scientists are beginning to understand what that means not only for the widespread presence of carbon in the solar system but also how organic chemistry can – at least sometimes – lead to the development of life itself.

    See the full EarthSky article here .

    From SwRI: “SwRI-led team finds evidence for carbon-rich surface on Ceres”

    December 10, 2018

    A team led by Southwest Research Institute has concluded that the surface of dwarf planet Ceres is rich in organic matter. Data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft indicate that Ceres’ surface may contain several times the concentration of carbon than is present in the most carbon-rich, primitive meteorites found on Earth.

    “Ceres is like a chemical factory,” said SwRI’s Dr. Simone Marchi, a principal scientist who was the lead author of research published in Nature Astronomy today. “Among inner solar system bodies, Ceres has a unique mineralogy, which appears to contain up to 20 percent carbon by mass in its near surface. Our analysis shows that carbon-rich compounds are intimately mixed with products of rock-water interactions, such as clays.”

    Ceres is believed to have originated about 4.6 billion years ago at the dawn of our solar system. Dawn data previously revealed the presence of water and other volatiles, such as ammonium derived from ammonia, and now a high concentration of carbon. This chemistry suggests Ceres formed in a cold environment, perhaps outside the orbit of Jupiter. An ensuing shakeup in the orbits of the large planets would have pushed Ceres to its current location in the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

    “With these findings, Ceres has gained a pivotal role in assessing the origin, evolution and distribution of organic species across the inner solar system,” Marchi said. “One has to wonder about how this world may have driven organic chemistry pathways, and how these processes may have affected the make-up of larger planets like the Earth.”

    Geophysical, compositional and collisional models based on Dawn data revealed that Ceres’ partially differentiated interior has been altered by fluid processes. Dawn’s Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer has shown that the overall low albedo of Ceres’ surface is a combination of rock-water interaction products such as phyllosilicates and carbonates and a significant amount of spectrally neutral darkening agents, such as an iron oxide called magnetite.

    Because Dawn’s Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector limits magnetite to only a few percent by mass, the data point to the presence of an additional darkening agent, probably amorphous carbon, a carbon-rich organic material. Interestingly, specific organic compounds have also been detected near a 31-mile-wide impact crater named Ernutet, giving further support to the widespread presence of organics in Ceres’ shallow subsurface.

    The new study also finds that 50-60 percent of Ceres’ upper crust may have a composition similar to primitive carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. This material is compatible with contamination from infalling carbonaceous asteroids, a possibility supported by Ceres’ battered surface.

    “Our results imply that either Ceres accreted ultra-carbon-rich materials or that carbon was concentrated in its crust,” Marchi said. “Both potential scenarios are important, because Ceres’ mineralogical composition indicates a global-scale event of rock-water alteration, which could provide conditions favorable to organic chemistry.”

    The paper “An aqueously altered carbon-rich Ceres” was published on December 10 in Nature Astronomy. The Dawn mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. JPL is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Northrop Grumman in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

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

    See the full SwRI article here .

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

    • stewarthoughblog 10:35 pm on December 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      Some very interesting science here, but “but also how organic chemistry can – at least sometimes – lead to the development of life itself.” is faith based speculation, not objective science. There is no viable evidence that organic chemistry ever formed sufficiently to posit that any serious biochemical compounds ever formed anything remotely complex that could be considered anything relevant to anything living.


  • richardmitnick 6:00 pm on October 27, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    From Spaceflight Insider: “New Horizons team previews Ultima Thule flyby” 


    From Spaceflight Insider

    October 27th, 2018
    Laurel Kornfeld

    An artist’s illustration of New Horizons flying by the Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule. Image Credit NASA / JPL / JHUAPL

    In an Oct. 24 online press conference broadcast from the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) 50th Annual Meeting in Knoxville, Tennessee, four members of NASA’s New Horizons team presented a preview of the spacecraft’s Jan. 1, 2019, flyby of Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) Ultima Thule, now just 10 weeks away.

    The presenting speakers included principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), science team collaborator Carey Lisse of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL), project scientist Hal Weaver, also of JHUAPL, and co-investigator Kelsi Singer, also of SwRI.

    Because Ultima Thule is so far away, details cannot yet be resolved and are not expected to be until about a day before the closest approach. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    Stern said this flyby will be more challenging than New Horizons’ Pluto flyby in July 2015 because Ultima Thule is located a billion miles beyond Pluto and much about it remains unknown. Mission scientists are still uncertain about its exact position and the presence of any potentially hazardous rings or moons. The spacecraft is older than it was at Pluto and has less battery power now while light levels are lower at such a great distance from the Sun.

    Additionally, communication between Earth and the spacecraft takes six hours one way, as opposed to four-and-a-half hours to Pluto.

    “New Horizons is going to have the capacity, in the space of one week, the first week of January 2019, to confirm or refute the very models [of solar system formation] presented here at the Division of Planetary Sciences meeting,” Stern said.

    Ultima Thule is estimated to be about 23 miles (37 kilometers) wide, much smaller than Pluto, which has a diameter of 1,477 miles (2,377 kilometers). For this reason, pre-flyby images 10 weeks before closest approach reveal just a dot rather than the increasing level of detail seen on Pluto during the same time frame. Details on the KBO will not be resolved until about one day before closest approach, Stern said.

    In addition to being the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft, Ultima Thule, which is about ten times as wide and 1,000 times as massive as Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was orbited by the Rosetta spacecraft, is set to be the most primitive object studied by a spacecraft.

    ESA/Rosetta spacecraft

    ESA Rosetta Philae Lander

    To preview what the KBO’s surface might look like, Lisse presented images of Comet Wild 2, Saturn’s moon Phoebe, Saturn’s moon Hyperion, and Comet 67P.

    All seven instruments aboard New Horizons will study Ultima Thule. Between now and the flyby, mission scientists will prepare by monitoring changes in the KBO’s brightness to determine its size, shape, and rotation speed, search for moons and other potential hazards to the spacecraft, and refine navigation if hazards are found, Weaver explained.

    Diversion from the optimal closest approach of 2,170 miles (3,500 kilometers) can be made as late as Dec. 16 if hazards are discovered. An alternate, safer approach would bring New Horizons within 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers) of Ultima Thule. Image resolution will be better than that obtained at Pluto because of the closer approach.

    Possible Shapes of Ultima Thule. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

    Singer outlined the mission’s goals as mapping the KBO’s geology and morphology and mapping its color and composition. Specifically, scientists will look for craters and grooves and various ices, including ammonia, carbon monoxide, methane, and water ice. They will also determine whether Ultima Thule is a binary or contact binary object or a double-lobed object like Comet 67P.

    Because KBOs are composed of pristine materials left over from the formation of the solar system, studying Ultima Thule’s ices will give scientists insight into the materials from which Earth and the solar system’s other planets were built.

    Mission scientists also hope to find answers as to why Ultima Thule, a very dark object, is slightly brighter than expected. They do not expect to find active geology or an atmosphere on such a small object.

    “This will be our first ground truth, our first close look at what makes these [Kuiper Belt] objects dark and red,” Singer said.

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    As done at Pluto, New Horizons will return a final image of Ultima Thule just before closest approach, then remain out of contact with Earth, instead focusing on data collection. Between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. EST (15:00-15:30 GMT) Jan. 1, a signal from the probe is expected to arrive, confirming it survived the flyby.

    New Horizons will continue to study the KBO and its environment for a short time after closest approach. Return of the data collected will continue through late 2020.

    Ultima Thule Timeline Overview. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

    Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science.

    HPHS Owls

    She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.

    Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

    [Sorry folks, I could not resist the references to my home town and my university]

    See the full article here .


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    SpaceFlight Insiderreports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

    Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

  • richardmitnick 9:46 am on July 19, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Occulting disc, , , , SwRI   

    From Southwest Research Institute via Science Alert: “Never-Before-Seen Structures Have Been Detected in Our Sun’s Corona” 

    SwRI bloc

    From Southwest Research Institute



    Science Alert

    19 JUL 2018

    DeForest et al./The Astrophysical Journal

    Using longer exposures and sophisticated processing techniques, scientists have taken extraordinarily high-fidelity pictures of the Sun’s outer atmosphere – what we call the corona – and discovered fine details that have never been detected before.

    The Sun is a complex object, and with the soon-to-be-launched Parker Solar Probe we’re on the verge of learning so much more about it.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus

    But there’s still a lot we can do with our current technology, as scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have just demonstrated.

    The team used the COR-2 coronagraph instrument on NASA’s Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory-A (STEREO-A) to study details in the Sun’s outer atmosphere.

    NASA/STEREO spacecraft

    This instrument takes images of the atmosphere by using what is known as an occulting disc – a disc placed in front of the lens that blocks out the actual Sun from the image, and therefore the light that would overwhelm the fine details in the plasma of the Sun’s atmosphere.

    The corona is extremely hot, much hotter than the inner photosphere’s 5,800 Kelvin, coming in at between 1 and 3 million Kelvin. It’s also the source of solar wind – the constant stream of charged particles that flows out from the Sun in all directions.

    When measurements of the solar wind are taken near Earth, the magnetic fields embedded therein are complex and interwoven, but it’s unclear when this turbulence occurs.

    “In deep space, the solar wind is turbulent and gusty,” says solar physicist Craig DeForest of the SwRI.

    “But how did it get that way? Did it leave the Sun smooth, and become turbulent as it crossed the solar system, or are the gusts telling us about the Sun itself?”

    If the turbulence was occurring at the source of the solar wind – the Sun – then we should have been able to see complex structures in the corona as the cause of it, but previous observations showed no such structures.

    Instead, they showed the corona as a smooth, laminar structure. Except, as it turns out, that wasn’t the case. The structures were there, but we hadn’t been able to obtain a high enough image resolution to see them.


    “Using new techniques to improve image fidelity, we realised that the corona is not smooth, but structured and dynamic,” DeForest explains. “Every structure that we thought we understood turns out to be made of smaller ones, and to be more dynamic than we thought.”

    To obtain the images, the research team ran a special three-day campaign wherein the instrument took more frequent and longer-exposure images than it usually does, allowing more time for light from faint sources to be detected by the coronagraph. But that was only part of the process.

    Although the occulting disc does a great job at filtering out the bright light from the Sun, there’s still a great deal of noise in the resulting images, both from the surrounding space and the instrument.

    Obviously, since STEREO-A is in space, altering the hardware isn’t an option, so DeForest and his team worked out a technique for identifying and removing that noise, vastly improving the data’s signal-to-noise ratio.

    They developed new filtering algorithms to separate the corona from noise, and adjust brightness. And, perhaps more challengingly, correct for the blur caused by the motion of the solar wind.

    They discovered that the coronal loops known as streamers – which can erupt into the coronal mass ejections that send plasma and particles shooting out into space – are not one single structure.

    “There is no such thing as a single streamer,” DeForest said. “The streamers themselves are composed of myriad fine strands that, together, average to produce a brighter feature.”

    They also found there’s no such thing as the Alfvén surface – a theoretical, sheet-like boundary where the solar wind starts moving forward faster than waves can travel backwards through it, and it disconnects from the Sun, moving beyond its influence.

    Instead, DeForest said, “There’s a wide ‘no-man’s land’ or ‘Alfvén zone’ where the solar wind gradually disconnects from the Sun, rather than a single clear boundary.”

    But the research also presented a new mystery to probe, as well. At a distance of about 10 solar radii the solar wind suddenly changes character. But it returns to normal farther out from the Sun, indicating that there’s some interesting physics happening at 10 solar radii.

    Figuring out what that is may require some help from Parker, for which this research is key. Parker is due to launch in August.

    Meanwhile, the team’s research has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

    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 8:34 am on March 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
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    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.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    • 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.


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