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NASA Probe Sees Solar Wind Decline

The 33-year odyssey of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind. Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion...

Super-Earth Atmosphere

A team of astronomers, including two NASA Sagan Fellows, has made the first characterizations of a super-Earth's atmosphere, by using a ground-based telescope...

Kepler Discovers

NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered the first confirmed planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star...

Pulverized Planet

Tight double-star systems might not be the best places for life to spring up, according to a new study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope....

Dark Asteroids

NASA is set to launch a sensitive new infrared telescope to seek out sneaky things in the night sky -- among them, dark asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth....

Archive for August 2009


This image of Victoria Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at more of a sideways angle than earlier orbital images of this crater. The camera pointing was 22 degrees east of straight down, yielding a view comparable to looking at the landscape out an airplane window. East is at the top. The most interesting exposures of geological strata are in the steep walls of the crater, difficult to see from straight overhead. Especially prominent in this oblique view is a bright band near the top of the crater wall. Colors have been enhanced to make subtle differences more visible.

Earlier HiRISE images of Victoria Crater supported the exploration of this crater by NASA's Opportunity roverand contributed to joint scientific studies. Opportunity explored the rim and interior of this 800-meter-wide (half-mile-wide) crater from September 2006 through August 2008. The rover's on-site investigations indicated that the bright band near the top of the crater wall was formed by diagenesis (chemical and physical changes in sediments after deposition). The bright band separates bedrock from the material displaced by the impact that dug the crater.

This view is a cutout from a HiRISE exposure taken on July 18, 2009. Some of Opportunity's tracks are still visible to the north of the crater (left side of this cutout).

Full-frame images from this HiRISE observation, catalogued as ESP_013954_1780, are at http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/ESP_013954_1780. The full-frame image is centered at 2.1 degrees south latitude, 354.5 degrees east longitude. It was taken at 2:31 p.m. local Mars time. The scence is illuminated from the west with the sun 49 degrees above the horizon.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.


This image of Earth taken from 200 kilometers (124 miles) above the lunar surface was taken by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, one of two NASA instruments onboard the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. Australia is visible in the lower center of the image. The image is presented as a false-color composite with oceans a dark blue, clouds white, and vegetation an enhanced green. The image data were acquired on July 22, 2009.

The Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument is a state-of-the-art imaging spectrometer designed to provide the first map of the entire lunar surface at high spatial and spectral resolution. Scientists will use this information to answer questions about the moon's origin and development and the evolution of terrestrial planets in the early solar system. Future astronauts will use it to locate resources, possibly including water, that can support exploration of the moon and beyond.

The Moon Mineralogy Mapper was selected as a Mission of Opportunity through the NASA Discovery Program. Carle Pieters of Brown University, Providence, R.I., is the principal investigator and has oversight of the instrument as a whole, as well as the Moon Mineralogy Mapper Science Team. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., designed and built the Moon Mineralogy Mapper and is home to its project manager, Mary White. JPL manages the program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was constructed, launched, and is operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation.

More information about Chandrayaan-1 is at


More information about NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper is at

NASA's next space shuttle mission will carry two California- born astronauts into orbit.

Veteran space flier Rick Sturckow, from Lakeside, Calif., will command shuttle Discovery's mission to the International Space Station. Jose Hernandez, who considers Stockton, Calif., his hometown, will make his first trip to space.

Discovery, with its crew of seven astronauts, is targeted to launch at 1:36 a.m. EDT Aug. 25 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. To cover the launch on-site, U.S. reporters must request Kennedy credentials online at:


The 13-day flight will deliver science and storage racks, a freezer to store research samples, a new sleeping compartment and a treadmill named after comedian Stephen Colbert. The name Colbert received the most entries in NASA's online poll to name the station's Node 3. NASA named the node Tranquility.

Sturckow graduated from Grossmont High School in La Mesa, Calif. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., in 1984. Hernandez earned his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., in 1984, and a Master of Science degree in electrical and computer engineering from the University of California-Santa Barbara in 1986.

Hernandez is providing insights about his mission preparation on Twitter in English and Spanish. His Twitter account is astro_jose, and he can be followed at:


For Hernandez's complete biography, visit:


For Sturckow's complete biography, visit:


For the latest information about the STS-128 mission and crew, visit:


NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is starting a second career and taking its first shots of the cosmos since warming up.

The infrared telescope ran out of coolant May 15, 2009, more than five-and-a-half-years after launch. It has since warmed to a still-frosty 30 degrees Kelvin (about minus 406 degrees Fahrenheit).

New images taken with two of Spitzer's infrared detector channels -- two that work at the new, warmer temperature -- demonstrate the observatory remains a powerful tool for probing the dusty universe. The images show a bustling star-forming region, the remains of a star similar to the sun, and a swirling galaxy lined with stars.

"The performance of the two short wavelength channels of Spitzer's infrared array camera is essentially unchanged from what it was before the observatory's liquid helium was exhausted," said Doug Hudgins, the Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "To put that in perspective, that means Spitzer's sensitivity at those wavelengths is still roughly the same as a 30-meter ground-based telescope. These breathtaking images demonstrate Spitzer will continue to deliver world-class imagery and science during its warm mission."

The first of three images shows a cloud bursting with stars in the Cygnus region of our Milky Way galaxy. Spitzer's infrared eyes peer through and see dust, revealing young stars tucked in dusty nests. A second image shows a nearby dying star -- a planetary nebula called NGC 4361 -- which has outer layers that expand outward in the rare form of four jets. The last picture is of a classic spiral galaxy called NGC 4145, located approximately 68 million light-years from Earth.

"With Spitzer's remaining shorter-wavelength bands, we can continue to see through the dust in galaxies and get a better look at the overall populations of stars," said Robert Hurt, imaging specialist for Spitzer at NASA's Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "All stars are equal in the infrared."

Since its launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Aug. 25, 2003, Spitzer has made many discoveries. They include planet-forming disks around stars, the composition of the material making up comets, hidden black holes, galaxies billions of light-years away and more.

Perhaps the most revolutionary and surprising Spitzer finds involve planets around other stars, called exoplanets. In 2005, Spitzer detected the first photons of light from an exoplanet. In a clever technique, now referred to as the secondary-eclipse method, Spitzer was able to collect the light of a hot, gaseous exoplanet and learn about its temperature. Later detailed studies revealed more about the composition and structure of the atmospheres of these exotic worlds.

Warm Spitzer will address many of the same science questions as before. It also will tackle new projects, such as refining estimates of Hubble's constant, or the rate at which our universe is stretching apart; searching for galaxies at the edge of the universe; characterizing more than 700 near-Earth objects, or asteroids and comets with orbits that pass close to our planet; and studying the atmospheres of giant gas planets expected to be discovered soon by NASA's Kepler mission.

As during the cold Spitzer mission, these and the other programs are selected by a competition in which scientists from around the world are invited to participate.

Spitzer officially began its warm science mission on July 27, 2009. The new pictures were taken while the telescope was being re-commissioned on July 18 (NGC 4145, NGC 4361) and July 21 (Cygnus).

JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology.