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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 2010

Ten years ago, on Dec. 30, 2000, NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter on its way to orbiting Saturn. The main purpose was to use the gravity of the largest planet in our solar system to slingshot Cassini towards Saturn, its ultimate destination. But the encounter with Jupiter, Saturn's gas-giant big brother, also gave the Cassini project a perfect lab for testing its instruments and evaluating its operations plans for its tour of the ringed planet, which began in 2004.

"The Jupiter flyby allowed the Cassini spacecraft to stretch its wings, rehearsing for its prime time show, orbiting Saturn," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Ten years later, findings from the Jupiter flyby still continue to shape our understanding of similar processes in the Saturn system."

Cassini spent about six months - from October 2000 to March 2001 - exploring the Jupiter system. The closest approach brought Cassini to within about 9.7 million kilometers (6 million miles) of Jupiter's cloud tops at 2:05 a.m. Pacific Time, or 10:05 a.m. UTC, on Dec. 30, 2000.

Cassini captured some 26,000 images of Jupiter and its moons over six months of continual viewing, creating the most detailed global portrait of Jupiter yet.

While Cassini's images of Jupiter did not have higher resolution than the best from NASA's Voyager mission during its two 1979 flybys, Cassini's cameras had a wider color spectrum than those aboard Voyager, capturing wavelengths of radiation that could probe different heights in Jupiter's atmosphere. The images enabled scientists to watch convective lightning storms evolve over time and helped them understand the heights and composition of these storms and the many clouds, hazes and other types of storms that blanket Jupiter.

Technicians in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are making such good progress with X-ray type image scans of space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank that they expect to finish the job today, a day ahead of schedule.

The team has been using a refined method of gathering the computed radiography scans of all 108 support beams, called stringers, on the outside of the external tank’s intertank section. The method has provided overlapping images, which has lowered the need to have scans retaken.

Engineers at other NASA locations are analyzing the new image scans, which began Sunday. The new data, along with previous testing and analysis, will help engineers and managers determine what caused small cracks on the tops of two stringers during Discovery’s launch countdown on Nov. 5.

Space Shuttle Program managers still are scheduled to decide Thursday afternoon whether testing and analysis indicate modifications are needed on some of the stringers. If required, modifications would begin next Monday

One of the greatest challenges that NASA faces in incorporating advanced technologies into future missions is bridging the mid-Technology Readiness Level (TRL 3-6) gap between early conceptual studies and infusion of a new technology onto the critical path of a science or exploration mission. Maturing a space technology to flight readiness status through relevant environment testing is a significant challenge from both a cost and risk perspective. Flight demonstration of a technology is often considered too risky or too costly for a mission. The Crosscutting Capability Demonstrations Division matures a small number of technologies that are of benefit to multiple customers to flight readiness status, TRL 6 or higher.

The Crosscutting Capability Demonstrations Division consists of three programs that will demonstrate technologies in a relevant environment:
  • Technology Demonstration Missions Program
  • Edison Small Satellite Demonstration Missions Program
  • Flight Opportunities Program.

Snows are finally winding down in New England today, Dec. 27, as a powerful low pressure system brought blizzard conditions from northern New Jersey to Maine over Christmas weekend. The GOES-13 satellite captured an image of the low's center off the Massachusetts coast and saw the snowfall left behind.

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite called GOES-13 captured the visible image. GOES satellites are operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and NASA's GOES Project, located at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. creates some of the GOES satellite images and animations.

As of 1:30 p.m. EST, all blizzard warnings were canceled as the low has pulled much of its snow and rain away from land areas and into the North Atlantic Ocean. The winds behind the system are now causing more problems for residents along the U.S. East coast.

Snowfall ranged from 1.5 inches in Atlanta, Georgia to more than a foot in various areas of New Jersey, New York and the New England states. Near Wallops Island, Va. where NASA has a facility, more than 11 inches of snow was reported this morning. Newark, N.J. reported 17.7 inches of snow by midnight last night. Central Park in New York City reported 12.0 inches of snow had fallen just before midnight. Providence, Rhode Island reported 7.9 inches by midnight, while Boston, Mass. reported 9.9 inches at that time. More snow fell on top of those totals during the morning hours today.

Some of those snows are visible in today's GOES-13 satellite image. Snowfall on the ground can be seen in the image over South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and southeastern New York. The clouds of the low obscure New England in the image.

From Maine south to the Carolinas winds are howling in excess of 30 mph, and power outages could occur as a result of the winds and the areas with the heaviest snows. The winds in Portland, Maine today are blowing from the northwest from 20 to 30 mph with gusts over 40 mph. Yesterday in Newark, N.J. sustained winds of 41 mph were reported with gusts as high as 51 mph. Going further south, the Raleigh, N.C. National Weather Service noted that sustained northwest winds of 10 to 20 mph with gusts up to 30 mph are expected today. Even further south, Atlanta, Georgia is also experiencing winds up to 20 mph today.

The winds are making clean-up efforts difficult along the east coast, but as temperatures are expected to slowly and steadily climb over the course of the week travel will become easier every day.

A rock-zapping laser instrument on NASA's next Mars rover has roots in a demonstration that Roger Wiens saw 13 years ago in a colleague's room at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument on the rover Curiosity can hit rocks with a laser powerful enough to excite a pinhead-size spot into a glowing, ionized gas. ChemCam then observes the flash through a telescope and analyzes the spectrum of light to identify the chemical elements in the target.

That information about rocks or patches of soil up to about 7 meters (23 feet) away will help the rover team survey the rover's surroundings and choose which targets to drill into, or scoop up, for additional analysis by other instruments on Curiosity. With the 10 science instruments on the rover, the team will assess whether any environments in the landing area have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving evidence about whether life existed. In late 2011, NASA will launch Curiosity and the other parts of the flight system, delivering the rover to the surface of Mars in August 2012.

Wiens, a geochemist with the U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory, serves as ChemCam's principal investigator. An American and French team that he leads proposed the instrument during NASA's 2004 open competition for participation in the Mars Science Laboratory project, whose rover has since been named Curiosity.

In 1997, while working on an idea for using lasers to investigate the moon, Wiens visited a chemistry laboratory building where a colleague, Dave Cremers, had been experimenting with a different laser technique. Cremers set up a cigar-size laser powered by a little 9-volt radio battery and pointed at a rock across the room.

On Dec. 16, 2010, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity reached a crater about the size of a football field—some 90 meters (295 feet) in diameter. The rover team plans to use cameras and spectrometers during the next several weeks to examine rocks exposed at the crater, informally named "Santa Maria."
A mosaic of image frames taken by Opportunity's navigation camera on Dec. 16 shows the crater's sharp rim and rocks ejected from the impact that had excavated the crater.

Opportunity completed its three-month prime mission on Mars in April 2004 and has been working in bonus extended missions since then. After the investigations at Santa Maria, the rover team plans to resume a long-term trek by Opportunity to the rim of Endeavour Crater, which is about 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.

NASA has taken the next step toward a new generation of Deep Space Network antennas. A $40.7 million contract with General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies, San Jose, Calif., covers implementation of two additional 34-meter (112-foot) antennas at Canberra, Australia. This is part of Phase I of a plan to eventually retire the network's aging 70-meter-wide (230-foot-wide) antennas.

The Deep Space Network (DSN) consists of three communications complexes: in Goldstone, California Madrid, Spain; and Canberra, Australia. The 70-meter antennas are more than 40 years old and are showing signs of surface deterioration from constant use. Additional 34-meter antennas are being installed in Canberra in the first phase; subsequent phases will install additional 34-meter antennas in Goldstone and Madrid.
The 34-meter beam waveguide antennas are essential to keep communications flowing smoothly as NASA's fleet of spacecraft continues to expand. In addition, the waveguide design of the antennas provides easier access for maintenance and future upgrades, because sensitive electronics are housed in a below-the-ground pedestal equipment room, instead of in the center of the dish.Read More

NASA and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne have successfully completed the heart of the J-2X upper stage rocket engine - the turbomachinery assemblies - for the first development engine off the production line.
The engine's turbomachinery consists of two turbopumps, each part pump and part turbine. Turbines provide the power to drive the pumps. One pump pushes high-pressure liquid oxygen, or oxidizer, and the other pumps liquid hydrogen fuel through the engine and to the engine's main injector. When the two meet, the fuels combine in a controlled high-pressure explosion producing the combustion needed to propel a launch vehicle to its journey to space.

"The turbopumps are extremely complicated engine components whose design requires delicate balances between many of the fields of mechanical engineering, and whose fabrication and assembly involve extremely precise construction," said Gary Genge, J-2X turbomachinery manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "We're thrilled these parts are completed, and are ready to send to Stennis Space Center for assembly onto our first engine."
The J-2X engine is a highly efficient and versatile rocket engine and has the ideal thrust and performance characteristics to power the upper stage of a heavy-lift launch vehicle. Investments made in developing the J-2X engine provide the nation with a new, robust rocket engine for future human spaceflight missions to low-Earth orbit, Mars or an asteroid. Read More

Christmas Eve, 1968. As one of the most turbulent, tragic years in American history drew to a close, millions around the world were watching and listening as the Apollo 8 astronauts -- Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders -- became the first humans to orbit another world.

As their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts beamed back images of the moon and Earth and took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone "on the good Earth."

"We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice," recalled Borman during 40th anniversary celebrations in 2008. "And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate."

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24

"The first ten verses of Genesis is the foundation of many of the world's religions, not just the Christian religion," added Lovell. "There are more people in other religions than the Christian religion around the world, and so this would be appropriate to that and so that's how it came to pass."

The mission was also famous for the iconic "Earthrise" image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Anders has said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.

The Apollo 8 astronauts got where they were that Christmas Eve because of a bold, improvisational call by NASA. With the clock ticking on President Kennedy's challenge to land on the moon by decade's end, delays with the lunar module were threatening to slow the Apollo program. So NASA decided to change mission plans and send the Apollo 8 crew all the way to the moon without a lunar module on the first manned flight of the massive Saturn V rocket.

The crew rocketed into orbit on December 21, and after circling the moon 10 times on Christmas Eve, it was time to come home. On Christmas morning, mission control waited anxiously for word that Apollo 8's engine burn to leave lunar orbit had worked. They soon got confirmation when Lovell radioed, "Roger, please be informed there is a Santa Claus."

The crew splashed down in the Pacific on December 27. A lunar landing was still months away, but for the first time ever, men from Earth had visited the moon and returned home safely.

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Lots of questions are coming in about the best times to view this around the world. Here's a summary from our astronomers below:

"Early in the morning on Dec. 21, a total lunar eclipse will be visible to sky watchers around the world. The eclipse is visible across all of North America - for viewers in western states, the eclipse actually begins late in the evening of Dec. 20. Viewers in Greenland, Iceland and western Europe will be able to see the beginning stages of the eclipse before moonset. In western Asia, the later stages of the eclipse will be visible after moonrise. 

All of the eclipse will be visible throughout Mexico and Central America and northwest South America. Viewers in Peru, Chile and Bolivia will see most of the eclipse, but the moon will set before the end of the Penumbral phase. Viewers in Brazil will see the moon set during totality. Parts of Africa in the northwest will also see the moon set while it is eclipsed. All but the westernmost tip of Australia will see an eclipsed moon as it rises. Unfortunately most of Africa, the middle East and India will not have a view of this event. This map will help you determine the viewing in your area." Read More

Two satellite instruments aboard NASA's Solar Radiation & Climate Experiment (SORCE) mission - the Total Solar Irradiance Monitor (TIM) and the Solar Irradiance Monitor (SIM) - have made daily measurements of the sun's brightness since 2003.

The two instruments are part of an ongoing effort to monitor variations in solar output that could affect Earth's climate. Both instruments measure aspects of the sun's irradiance, the intensity of the radiation striking the top of the atmosphere.
Instruments similar to TIM have made daily irradiance measurements of the entire solar spectrum for more than three decades, but the SIM instrument is the first to monitor the daily activity of certain parts of the spectrum, a measurement scientists call solar spectral irradiance.

In recent years, SIM has collected data that suggest the sun's brightness may vary in entirely unexpected ways. If the SIM's spectral irradiance measurements are validated and proven accurate over time, then certain parts of Earth’s atmosphere may receive surprisingly large doses of solar radiation even during lulls in solar activity.

"We have never had a reason until now to believe that parts of the spectrum may vary out of phase with the solar cycle, but now we have started to model that possibility because of the SIM results,” said Robert Cahalan, the project scientist for SORCE and the head of the climate and radiation branch at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Cahalan, as well as groups of scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder and Johns Hopkins University, presented research at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco in December that explored the climate implications of the recent SIM measurements.

Cahalan’s modeling, for example, suggests that the sun may underlie variations in stratospheric temperature more strongly than currently thought. Measurements have shown that stratospheric temperatures vary by about 1 °C (1.8 °F) over the course of a solar cycle, and Cahalan has demonstrated that inputting SIM’s measurements of spectral irradiance into a climate model produces variations of that same magnitude.

Without inclusion of SIM data, the model produces stratospheric temperature variations only about a fifth as strong as would be needed to explain observed stratospheric temperature variations. "We may have a lot more to learn about how solar variability works, and how the sun might influence our climate," Cahalan said. Read More...

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians are finalizing preparations at Launch Pad 39A for a tanking test on space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank on Friday, Dec. 17.

The rotating service structure will be moved away from the spacecraft tonight at 9:30 p.m. EST. Managers will meet at 6:30 a.m. Friday for a weather briefing before beginning the test at 7 a.m.

The test will help verify repairs associated with cracks on the tops of two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the external tank.

Data collected from the strain gauge and thermal couple sensors will potentially help engineers determine what caused the cracks during Discovery's launch countdown on Nov. 5. Technicians repaired the cracks and reapplied foam insulation on the stringers last month.

Results of the instrumented test will not be known immediately. Managers and engineers will review the data gathered from the test before determining the next course of action. Discovery’s next launch opportunity is no earlier than 1:34 a.m. on Feb. 3.

Life is best at Contempo technologies PVT LTD. I joined Contempo SEG before a year. I have been in more than 4 companies and this is the first time I am experiencing homely atmosphere. People are very friendly and Contempo technologies organizes many social events that helps to know each other.
All other companies I worked rarely care about employee socialism. In Contempo tech that is not the case people are allowed to be friendly with each other in a pleasant office environment. Events like Christmas party, quiz, Halloween party makes people enjoy the company. Contempo technologies pvt ltd has a team that helps people get to know each other. At Contempo I never felt I am at an IT company. Usually IT work is very stressful but in this company it has not been the case. Don’t think I am writing a positive review about the company I work but it is true that this company made the difference while other companies did not.
Please name one company that gives equal important to extra curricular activities and work. Here in Contempo technologies PVT ltd they do it they give us the feeling that we need to be part of this world to work and enjoy. People here are not just money minded most companies are just money minded and never care what people think about the work environment. Other companies I worked they just want us to work and leave the place in many cases I worked till late nights but they never encouraged me financially. All they want is work , work , work from me. But in Contempo technologies pvt ltd they don’t see it that way. The way they give important to fun activities it clearly portraits their feeling on what they want to give to an employee. Contempo technologies PVT LTd just don’t see work they utilize our other special skills too. I was personally afraid of going on stage this has changed now and I can boldly face people because of Contempo SEG. I sincerely hope this company grows into one of the leading MNCs.

NASA's Mars Odyssey, which launched in 2001, will break the record Wednesday for longest-serving spacecraft at the Red Planet. The probe begins its 3,340th day in Martian orbit at 8:55 p.m. EST on Wednesday to break the record set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.

Odyssey's longevity enables continued science, including the monitoring of seasonal changes on Mars from year to year and the most detailed maps ever made of most of the planet. In 2002, the spacecraft detected hydrogen just below the surface throughout Mars' high-latitude regions. The deduction that the hydrogen is in frozen water prompted NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which confirmed the theory in 2008. Odyssey also carried the first experiment sent to Mars specifically to prepare for human missions, and found radiation levels around the planet from solar flares and cosmic rays are two to three times higher than around Earth.
Odyssey also has served as a communication relay, handling most of the data sent home by Phoenix and NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Odyssey became the middle link for continuous observation of Martian weather by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Odyssey will support the 2012 landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and surface operations of that mission. MSL will assess whether its landing area has had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and preserving evidence about whether life has existed there. The rover will carry the largest, most advanced set of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface.

"The Mars program clearly demonstrates that world-class science coupled with sound and creative engineering equals success and longevity," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Other recent NASA spacecraft at Mars include the Mars Global Surveyor that began orbiting the Red Planet in 1997. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars in January 2004. They have been exploring for six years, far surpassing their original 90-day mission. Phoenix landed May 25, 2008, farther north than any previous spacecraft to the planet's surface. The mission's biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes, but potentially toxic for others. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later. MRO arrived at Mars in 2006 on a search for evidence that water persisted on the planet's surface for a long period of time.

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 kilometers (10.8 billion miles) from the sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.
The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1's passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun's sphere of influence, and the spacecraft's upcoming departure from our solar system." The solar wind has turned the corner," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Voyager 1 is getting close to interstellar space."

Our sun gives off a stream of charged particles that form a bubble known as the heliosphere around our solar system. The solar wind travels at supersonic speed until it crosses a shockwave called the termination shock. At this point, the solar wind dramatically slows down and heats up in the heliosheath.

Launched on Sept. 5, 1977, Voyager 1 crossed the termination shock in December 2004 into the heliosheath. Scientists have used data from Voyager 1's Low-Energy Charged Particle Instrument to deduce the solar wind's velocity. When the speed of the charged particles hitting the outward face of Voyager 1 matched the spacecraft's speed, researchers knew that the net outward speed of the solar wind was zero. This occurred in June, when Voyager 1 was about 17 billion kilometers (10.6 billion miles) from the sun. Read More

On August 1, 2010, an entire hemisphere of the sun erupted. Filaments of magnetism snapped and exploded, shock waves raced across the stellar surface, billion-ton clouds of hot gas billowed into space. Astronomers knew they had witnessed something big.

It was as big as it may have shattered old ideas about solar activity. "The August 1st event really opened our eyes," says Karel Schrijver of Lockheed Martin’s Solar and Astrophysics Lab in Palo Alto, CA. "We see that solar storms can be global events, playing out on scales we scarcely imagined before."

An extreme ultraviolet movie of the August 1st global eruption. Different colors represent different plasma temperatures in the range 1.0 to 2.2 million

For the past three months, Schrijver has been working with fellow Lockheed-Martin solar physicist Alan Title to understand what happened during the "Great Eruption." They had plenty of data: The event was recorded in unprecedented detail by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and twin STEREO spacecraft. With several colleagues present to offer commentary, they outlined their findings at a press conference today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

Explosions on the sun are not localized or isolated events, they announced. Instead, solar activity is interconnected by magnetism over breathtaking distances. Solar flares, tsunamis, coronal mass ejections--they can go off all at once, hundreds of thousands of miles apart, in a dizzyingly-complex concert of violence.

"To predict eruptions we can no longer focus on the magnetic fields of isolated active regions," says Title, "we have to know the surface magnetic field of practically the entire sun." This revelation increases the work load for space weather forecasters, but it also increases the potential accuracy of their forecasts.

"The whole-sun approach could lead to breakthroughs in predicting solar activity," commented Rodney Viereck of NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, CO. "This in turn would provide improved forecasts to our customers such as electric power grid operators and commercial airlines, who could take action to protect their systems and ensure the safety of passengers and crew."

In a paper they prepared for the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR), Schrijver and Title broke down the Great Eruption into more than a dozen significant shock waves, flares, filament eruptions, and CMEs spanning 180 degrees of solar longitude and 28 hours of time. At first it seemed to be a cacophony of disorder until they plotted the events on a map of the sun's magnetic field.

Locations of key events are labeled in this extreme ultraviolet image of the sun, obtained by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on August 1st.

Title describes the Eureka! Moment: "We saw that all the events of substantial coronal activity were connected by a wide-ranging system of separatrices, separators, and quasi-separatrix layers." A "separatrix" is a magnetic fault zone where small changes in surrounding plasma currents can set off big electromagnetic storms.

Researchers have long suspected this kind of magnetic connection was possible. "The notion of 'sympathetic' flares goes back at least three quarters of a century," they wrote in their JGR paper. Sometimes observers would see flares going off one after another--like popcorn--but it was impossible to prove a link between them. Arguments in favor of cause and effect were statistical and often full of doubt.

"For this kind of work, SDO and STEREO are game-changers," says Lika Guhathakurta, NASA's Living with a Star Program Scientist. "Together, the three spacecraft monitor 97% of the sun, allowing researchers to see connections that they could only guess at in the past."

To wit, barely two-thirds of the August event was visible from Earth, yet all of it could be seen by the SDO-STEREO fleet. Moreover, SDO's measurements of the sun's magnetic field revealed direct connections between the various components of the Great Eruption—no statistics required.

Much remains to be done. "We're still sorting out cause and effect," says Schrijver. "Was the event one big chain reaction, in which one eruption triggered another--bang, bang, bang!--in sequence? Or did everything go off together as a consequence of some greater change in the sun's global magnetic field?"

Further analysis may yet reveal the underlying trigger; for now, the team is still wrapping their minds around the global character of solar activity. One commentator recalled the old adage of three blind men describing an elephant--one by feeling the trunk, one by holding the tail, and another by sniffing a toenail. Studying the sun one sunspot at a time may be just as limiting.

"Not all eruptions are going to be global," notes Guhathakurta. "But the global character of solar activity can no longer be ignored."

As if the sun wasn't big enough already….

NASA researchers are presenting new findings on a wide range of Earth and space science topics during the 2010 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The meeting runs from Monday, Dec. 13, through Friday, Dec. 17, at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center. They are all open to registered media representatives.

This NASA AGU media Web site contains detailed information about how media can participate in the press briefings, both on-site and remotely. The site will be updated throughout the week with additional information about NASA presentations.
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A circular rainbow appears like a halo around an exploded star in this new view of the IC 443 nebula from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

When massive stars die, they explode in tremendous blasts, called supernovae, which send out shock waves. The shock waves sweep up and heat surrounding gas and dust, creating supernova remnants like the one pictured here. The supernova in IC 443 happened somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago.

In this WISE image, infrared light has been color-coded to reveal what our eyes cannot see. The colors differ primarily because materials surrounding the supernova remnant vary in density. When the shock waves hit these materials, different gases were triggered to release a mix of infrared wavelengths.

The supernova remnant's northeastern shell, seen here as the violet-colored semi-circle at top left, is composed of sheet-like filaments that are emitting light from iron, neon, silicon and oxygen gas atoms and dust particles heated by a fast shock wave traveling at about 100 kilometers per second, or 223,700 mph.

The smaller southern shell, seen in bright bluish colors, is constructed of clumps and knots primarily emitting light from hydrogen gas and dust heated by a slower shock wave traveling at about 30 kilometers per second, or 67,100 miles per hour. In the case of the southern shell, the shock wave is interacting with a nearby dense cloud. This cloud can be seen in the image as the greenish dust cutting across IC 443 from the northwest to southeast.

With the success of the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon mission still fresh, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the flight "has really been better than I expected. It's actually almost too good."

The Falcon 9 lofted the Dragon capsule into orbit this morning at 10:43 a.m. EST, lifting off from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, a few miles south of the space shuttle launch pads. The Dragon returned to Earth at about 2:02 p.m., safely splashing down in the Pacific Ocean following two orbits. It marked the first time a commercial company has recovered a spacecraft from orbit.

NASA officials also were very pleased with the mission's results.

"This is really an amazing accomplishment for SpaceX," said Alan Lindenmoyer, NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Manager. "Thank you for the early Christmas present."

The mission was a demonstration flight under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services, or COTS, contract.

The first demonstration flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program has been scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 8, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends from 9 a.m. to 12:22 p.m. EST.
During a routine inspection this week, SpaceX engineers observed two small cracks in the rocket's second stage engine nozzle. SpaceX completed repairs to the cracked nozzle Tuesday.

On Dec. 6 at 1:31 a.m. EST, NASA for the first time successfully ejected a nanosatellite from a free-flying microsatellite. NanoSail-D ejected from the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, or FASTSAT, demonstrating the capability to deploy a small cubesat payload from an autonomous microsatellite in space.

The successful ejection of NanoSail-D demonstrates the operational capability of FASTSAT as a cost-effective independent means of placing cubesat payloads into orbit safely.

Airline and cruise ship passengers will soon be able to see an Emmy award-winning NASA TV program that shows how agency technology is part of everyday life.

The producers of "NASA 360" have reached agreement with Airline Media Productions (AMP) International to air the half-hour magazine-style TV show through AMP's entertainment outlets around the world.

"We're excited to work with AMP International to bring 'NASA 360' to hundreds of thousands of the 760 million people who fly each year," said Mike Bibbo, the program's producer.

AMP International provides in-flight entertainment for airlines in the U.S., Middle East and Asia, including US Airways, Virgin America, Singapore Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Flydubai and Tunisair. The company also supplies video products to cruise ships and other users of entertainment services.

"We thought travelers would be interested in learning more about how NASA technology makes planes safer, quieter and more efficient and other contributions to their daily lives," said "NASA 360" co-producer Kevin Krigsvold.

Black is black, right? Not so, according to a team of NASA engineers now developing a blacker-than pitch material that will help scientists gather hard-to-obtain scientific measurements or observe currently unseen astronomical objects, like Earth-sized planets in orbit around other stars.

The nanotech-based material now being developed by a team of 10 technologists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is a thin coating of multi-walled carbon nanotubes — tiny hollow tubes made of pure carbon about 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair. Nanotubes have a multitude of potential uses, particularly in electronics and advanced materials due to their unique electrical properties and extraordinary strength. But in this application, NASA is interested in using the technology to help suppress errant light that has a funny way of ricocheting off instrument components and contaminating measurements.

The first SpaceX Falcon 9 demonstration launch for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program is targeted for liftoff on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Liftoff will occur from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends from 9:03 a.m. to 12:22 p.m. EST. If necessary, launch opportunities also are available on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 with the same window.
Known as COTS 1, the launch is the first flight of the Dragon spacecraft and the first commercial attempt to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit. This is the first of three test launches currently planned in the Falcon 9 test flight series. It is intended as a demonstration mission to prove key capabilities such as launch, structural integrity of the Dragon spacecraft, on-orbit operation, re-entry, descent and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA established the COTS program to procure a commercial launch service to stimulate the commercial space industry, to facilitate a private industry cargo capability to the International Space Station, and to achieve cost-effective access to low Earth orbit that will attract private customers.

More than one million people have watched assembly and testing of NASA's next Mars rover via a live webcam since it went online in October.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover, is being tested and assembled in a clean room at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The webcam, affectionately dubbed "Curiosity Cam," shows engineers and technicians clad in head-to-toe white smocks working on the rover.
Metrics from the webcam's hosting platform, Ustream, showed more than one million unique viewers spent more than 400,000 hours watching Curiosity Cam between Oct. 21 and Nov. 23. There have been more than 2.3 million viewer sessions.

The camera is mounted in the viewing gallery of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at JPL. While the gallery is a regular stop on JPL's public tour, Curiosity Cam allows visitors from around the world to see NASA engineers at work without traveling to Pasadena

NASA will hold a news conference at 2 p.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 2, to discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

The news conference will be held at the NASA Headquarters auditorium at 300 E St. SW, in Washington. It will be broadcast live on NASA Television.

Participants are:
  • Mary Voytek, director, Astrobiology Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Felisa Wolfe-Simon, NASA astrobiology research fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, Calif.
  • Pamela Conrad, Astrobiologist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
  • Steven Benner, distinguished fellow, Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, Gainesville, Fla.
  • James Elser, professor, Arizona State University, Tempe.

Artist's concept showing a planned flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus by NASA's Cassini spacecraft This artist's concept shows a planned flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on Nov. 30. During the closest part of the flyby, Cassini's radio science subsystem will make gravity measurements.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft resumed normal operations today, Nov. 24. All science instruments have been turned back on, the spacecraft is properly configured and Cassini is in good health. Mission managers expect to get a full stream of data during next week's flyby of the Saturnian moon Enceladus.
Cassini went into safe mode on Nov. 2, when one bit flipped in the onboard command and data subsystem computer. The bit flip prevented the computer from registering an important instruction, and the spacecraft, as programmed, went into the standby mode. Engineers have traced the steps taken by the computer during that time and have determined that all spacecraft responses were proper, but still do not know why the bit flipped.

The flyby on will bring Cassini to within about 48 kilometers of the surface of Enceladus. At 61 degrees north latitude, this encounter and its twin three weeks later at the same altitude and latitude, are the closest Cassini will come to the northern hemisphere surface of Enceladus during the extended Solstice mission.

During the closest part of the 30th November flyby, Cassini's radio science subsystem will make gravity measurements. The results will be compared with those from an earlier flyby of the Enceladus South Pole to understand the moon's interior structure better. Cassini's fields and particles instruments will sample the charged particle environment around Enceladus. Other instruments will capture images in visible light and other parts of the light spectrum after Cassini makes its closest approach.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.

Astronomers have caught sight of an unusual galaxy that has illuminated new details about a celestial "sandbar" connecting two massive islands of galaxies. The research was conducted in part with NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.

These "sandbars," or filaments, are known to span vast distances between galaxy clusters and form a lattice-like structure known as the cosmic web. Two years ago, Spitzer's infrared eyes revealed that one such intergalactic filament containing star forming galaxies ran between the galaxy clusters called Abell 1763 and Abell 1770.

Now these observations have been bolstered by the discovery, inside this same filament, of a galaxy that has a rare boomerang shape and unusual light emissions. Hot gas is sweeping the wandering galaxy into this shape as it passes through the filament, presenting a new way to gauge the filament's particle density. Researchers hope that other such galaxies with oddly curved profiles could serve as signposts for the faint threads, which in turn signify regions ripe for forming stars.

A space shuttle main engine burns at 6,000 degrees F, but the outside of the nozzle remains cool to the touch. Prior to launch, sometimes it even frosts over. The nozzle technology that allows a finger-width of ridged metal to contain and steer flames that would boil iron is just one of the scores of innovations designers came up with for the engines three decades ago.

Such advances were critical if NASA was going to realize its plans for a reusable space shuttle that, unlike the previous rockets, would not use its engines once and then drop them in the ocean.

Some of the others:
  • A system that lets the engines be incrementally throttled up and down depending on the needs of the mission
  • A hydrogen turbo pump spins 567 times a second with each 2” tall turbine blade generating 700 horsepower.
  • A computer that runs 50 health checks on the engine every second using data from 200 sensors
  • A system of pipes, or ducts, those withstand pressures as high as 7,000 pounds per square inch
  • A main combustion chamber strong enough to contain the explosion of 970 pounds of oxygen and 162 pounds of hydrogen fuel every second, continuously for 8 1/2 minutes
  • The only heavy-lift booster engine that continuously performs all the way from launch pad to orbit
  • Engineering and materials that allow the engine to be reused multiple times
  • A compact, efficient design that produces 8 times the thrust of a modern high performance jet engine per each pound of weight.
Added together, the innovations became a rocket engine that is more than 99.9 percent efficient, which means that almost all of its hydrogen and oxygen is used to create thrust. For comparison, an automobile engine is about a third as efficient, since most of its energy is created in the form of heat that does not turn the wheels.

Teams have completed final inspections on the stringer repair work on space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The environmental enclosure, built to support foaming operations, was removed. Flight Crew Systems middeck stow operations are under way.

Inspections Complete on Repaired Tank Stringers
The Space Shuttle Program will review the analysis and repairs that are required to safely launch shuttle Discovery on its STS-133 mission at a special Program Requirements Control Board session Wednesday. Pending a successful review of the flight rationale at that meeting, a Launch Status Briefing would be held with senior NASA management on Monday, 29th Nov at Kennedy.

Glory is a remote-sensing Earth-orbiting observatory designed to achieve two separate mission objectives. One is to collect data on the chemical, microphysical, and optical properties, and spatial and temporal distributions of aerosols. The other is to continue collection of total solar irradiance data for the long-term climate record.

The Glory mission's scientific objectives are met by implementing two separate science instruments, one with the ability to collect polarimetric measurements along the satellite ground track within the solar reflective spectral region (0.4 to 2.4 micrometers) and one with the ability to monitor changes in sunlight incident on the Earth's atmosphere by collecting high accuracy, high precision measurements of total solar irradiance.

Glory accomplishes these objectives by deploying two instruments aboard a low earth orbit satellite, the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) and the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM). Additionally, a cloud camera system will provide images that allow the APS scans along the spacecraft ground track to be put into spatial context and to facilitate determination of cloud occurrence within the APS instantaneous field of view.

The Glory mission will respond to the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) by continuing and improving upon NASA's research of the forcings influencing climate change in the atmosphere. As summarized below, measurements produced by this mission and the scientific knowledge such observations will provide are essential to predicting future climate change, and to making sound, scientifically based economic and policy decisions related to environmental change.

The science objectives of the Glory mission include:

1. The determination of the global distribution, microphysical properties, and chemical composition of natural and anthropogenic aerosols and clouds with accuracy and coverage sufficient for a reliable quantification of the aerosol direct and indirect effects on climate.

2. The continued measurement of the total solar irradiance to determine the Sun's direct and indirect effect on the Earth's climate.

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To make a difference look- NASA, Microsoft, Google, The World Bank and Yahoo! are welcoming software developers, independent computer experts and students to participate in the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) event on December 4th and 5th in several locations around the world.

RHoK is a worldwide event that will use the new technology to make the world a better place by building a community of innovation. A "hackathon" brings together the best and brightest hackers from around the world, who volunteer their time to solve real-world troubles. Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is also an opportunity to meet and work with top software developers and experts from around the world, create new applications and win prizes.

"NASA is proud to be supporting Random Hacks of Kindness and promote wider usage of our open data to solve the world's greatest challenges,” said by Linda Cureton (CIO). The hackathon is a fast-paced competition where software developers have a specific time to solve challenges. The winners will earn prizes and the opportunity to see their applications put to use to respond to critical disaster risk challenges.

When Patrick Minnis saw video of the "mystery" contrail Nov. 9 that looked like a missile launch near Catalina Island off Los Angeles, he figured it the way most people did. "I assumed it was a missile," said Minnis, a contrail expert in the Science Directorate at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Then he got a call from an Associated Press reporter and told her, yes, it sure looks like a missile.

"She responded with links to two different blogs that compared it to older aircraft contrail pictures, and indicated that the blog authors thought it was an aircraft contrail," Minnis recalls. "I had not really thought about that aspect previously and, at first glance, the video showed what looked like a missile launch. Once the idea that it was an aircraft contrail entered my head, I had to pay closer attention, because aircraft contrails are part of my job description."

Minnis usually studies contrails to determine their effect on Earth's climate. He and others have discovered that airplane contrails create cirrus clouds on days they wouldn't usually exist. Because of this, he calculates, the cirrus-cloud cover over the United States is increasing by one percent each decade and contributing to global warming by blocking the release of heat from the planet.

Technicians at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A in Florida plan to install new quick disconnect hardware Tuesday morning in the recently-installed ground umbilical carrier plate (GUCP) to fix a hydrogen gas leak that scrubbed space shuttle Discovery’s launch Nov. 5. Technicians installed a new flight seal in the GUCP attached to Discovery’s external fuel tank last Friday night and spent the weekend taking precise measurements of the hardware to ensure all components are properly aligned and prevent another hydrogen leak.

Another team of technicians is working on repairing cracks on the tops of two, 21-foot-long support beams, called stringers, on the exterior of the external tank in an area known as the intertank. The team includes personnel from the external tank manufacturing plant in Louisiana, the Michoud Assembly Facility.

Over the weekend, technicians removed a section of one of the stringers that had two, 9-inch cracks in it. Last Friday, during foam removal and inspection of adjacent stringers to the one with the 9-inch cracks, technicians identified a crack about 3-inches long on the left-hand adjacent stringer. Further foam removal revealed one additional corresponding crack on the same left-hand adjacent stringer. Technicians plan to remove that section of the stringer Monday night. They’ll also install a new section of metal, called a doubler because it’s twice as thick as the original stringer metal, on the stringer that had the 9-inch cracks.

Engineers continue evaluating the intertank for any potential issues, but so far no other cracks have been found beyond the ones on the two previously identified stringers. There are a total of 108 stringers on the intertank. Senior managers plan to meet on Nov. 22 at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and via video conference for a launch status briefing to assess and review the repair work and launch preparations. Although managers have not set a new target launch date for Discovery’s STS-133 mission to the International Space Station, the repair work and planning still are aimed at supporting an attempt in the upcoming launch window that opens November 30.

NASA selected DB Consulting Group, Inc. in Silver Spring, Md., to provide information technology, multimedia, information management and external relations support services at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The new Information Technology and Multimedia Services contract has a maximum value of $251.5 million.

The services provided are primarily under the management of Johnson's Information Resources Directorate with participation by the Office of External Relations. The services include operation and maintenance of primary information technology services; graphics; library management; imagery acquisition, processing and cataloguing; television systems support for human spaceflight missions; public affairs services including creative content for NASA Television, live mission television, multimedia and the public Internet; and education program support.

The three-year base performance period is valued at $150.5 million. Two one-year options are valued at $50.5 million each. The base period extends from Jan. 18, 2011 through Jan. 17, 2014. If both options are exercised, the contract would extend to Jan. 17, 2017. It is a cost-plus-incentive, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract.

Overnight, crews removed space shuttle Discovery’s ground umbilical carrier assembly, or GUCA, which includes the flight seal, the 7-inch quick disconnect, or QD and the carrier plate, known as the GUCP, as they continue working to investigate the leak.

Teams performed an initial inspection of the flight seal and quick disconnect prior to sending them to labs for a thorough inspection. Data collected from the initial inspections will be evaluated today by the investigation team. Engineering saw some areas of interest that are being further evaluated. Based on this evaluation, crews could be ready to install a new GUCA on Friday.

Also, technicians have removed external tank foam insulation that cracked during initial loading operations for space shuttle Discovery’s launch attempt on Nov. 5. After foam removal, two cracks were found on a section of the tank’s metal exterior. The cracks were found on the stringer, which is the aluminum strip that forms the section between the Liquid Oxygen tank and the Liquid Hydrogen tank.
Status of GUCP Work, ET Foam and Stringer CracksStringers provide structural integrity to the intertank. The cracks are approximately nine inches long and were found at the top of one of the stringers beneath the area of foam that cracked during tanking. The cracks in the stringer moved the metal outward sufficiently to dislocate the foam. Engineers are reviewing images of the cracks to determine the best possible repair method, which would be done at Launch Pad 39A.

The stringers are manufactured using a lighter weight, stronger material of Aluminum Lithium, which was initially incorporated with the Super Light Weight Tank on ET-96 and first flown on STS-91. While the material is stronger and lighter in weight, it is more brittle and has resulted in increased cases of cracked stringers in the areas noted.

The cracked stringer section matches well with the area of foam that cracked, which indicates the stringer crack was the root cause of the foam crack. Analysis shows the intertank has sufficient structural capability for the launch and ascent environments with the cracks in a single stringer. Although the foam was firmly attached to the damaged structure, it is undesirable to launch in this configuration. This area is clearly visible during the pre-launch inspections and would have been detected by the final inspection team.

Crews have repaired similar cracks during external tank production by installing a second piece of aluminum for reinforcement on top of the cracked area before replacing the foam insulation. This piece frequently is referred to as a "doubler." The repair plan being put into effect is a known one consisting of cutting out the cracked section and replacing it with an available piece that matches its size. A doubler will be inserted before the mounting rivets to complete the repair.

BX foam then will be formed over the newly repaired stringer and will require about four days to cure.Exact schedules and repair options still are being evaluated. Engineers will meet Friday to discuss the status of the three repair activities underway, the external tank stringer and foam repair, the ground umbilical carrier plate and the cockpit panel L4 removal and replacement.

NASA will hold a news conference on Monday, Nov. 15 at 12 PM and to discuss about the Chandra X-ray Observatory's discovery.

The news conference will start off from NASA Headquarters' TV studio, 300 E St. SW in Washington and going to live on NASA TV.

Precocious Galaxy Cluster Identified by Chandra
Media representatives may also attend the conference and they join by telephone or ask questions from NASA locations. To obtain dial-in information, journalists must send their name, affiliation and telephone number email to by 10 a.m. on Nov. 15.

Reporters wishing to be present at the conference in-person must have a valid press credential for access. Non-U.S. media people must bring passports.

Scientists involved answering questions.
  • Jon Morse - Director, Astrophysics Division, NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Kimberly Weaver - Astrophysicist, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
  • Alex Filippenko - Astrophysicist, University of California, Berkeley

Active sunspot 1121 has unleashed one of the brightest x-ray solar flares in years, an M5.4-class eruption.

Radiation from the flare created a wave of ionization in Earth's upper atmosphere that altered the propagation of low-frequency radio waves. There was, however, no bright CME hurled in our direction, so the event is unlikely to produce auroras in the nights ahead.

This is the third M-flare in as many days from this increasingly active sunspot. So far none of the eruptions has been squarely Earth-directed, but this could change in the days ahead as the sun's rotation turns the active region toward our planet.

During the encounter, the spacecraft and comet whisked past each other at a speed of 12.3 kilometers per second (27,560 miles per hour). The spacecraft came within about 700 kilometers (435 miles) of the comet's nucleus at the time of closest approach.

The video clip of the flyby is comprised of 40 frames taken from the spacecraft's Medium-Resolution Instrument during the encounter. The first image was taken at about 37 minutes before the time of closest approach at a distance of about 27,350 kilometers (17,000 miles). The last image was taken 30 minutes after closest approach at a distance of 22,200 kilometers (13,800 miles). The spacecraft was able to image nearly 50 percent of the comet's illuminated surface in detail.
EPOXI mission's flyby of comet Hartley 2The EPOXI mission's flyby of comet Hartley 2 was only the fifth time in history that a comet nucleus has been imaged, and the first time in history that two comets have been imaged with the same instruments and same spatial resolution.

EPOXI is an extended mission that utilizes the already "in flight" Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity. The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft will continue to be referred to as "Deep Impact."

Light-colored mounds of a mineral deposited on a volcanic cone more than three billion years ago may preserve evidence of one of the most recent habitable microenvironments on Mars.

Observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enabled researchers to identify the mineral as hydrated silica and to see its volcanic context. The mounds' composition and their location on the flanks of a volcanic cone provide the best evidence yet found on Mars for an intact deposit from a hydrothermal environment -a steam fumarole, or hot spring. Such environments may have provided habitats for some of Earth's earliest life forms.

"The heat and water required to create this deposit probably made this a habitable zone," said J.R. Skok of Brown University, Providence, R.I., lead author of a paper about these findings published online today by Nature Geoscience. "If life did exist there, this would be a promising type of deposit to entomb evidence of it - a microbial mortuary."

No studies have yet determined whether Mars has ever supported life. The new results add to accumulating evidence that, at some times and in some places, Mars has had favorable environments for microbial life. This specific place would have been habitable when most of Mars was already dry and cold. Concentrations of hydrated silica have been identified on Mars previously, including a nearly pure patch found by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit in 2007. However, none of those earlier findings were in such an intact setting as this one, and the setting adds evidence about the origin.

High Fives:
This is the fifth time humans will see a comet close-up, and the Deep Impact spacecraft flew by Earth for its fifth time on Sunday, June 27, 2010.

Eco-friendly Spacecraft: Recycle, Reuse, Record:
The EPOXI mission is recycling the Deep Impact spacecraft, whose probe intentionally collided with comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, revealing, for the first time, the inner material of a comet. The spacecraft is now approaching a second comet rendezvous, a close encounter with Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The spacecraft is reusing the same trio of instruments used during Deep Impact: two telescopes with digital imagers to record the encounter, and an infrared spectrometer.

Five quick facts about the EPOXI missionSmall, Mighty and Square-Dancing in Space:
Although comet Hartley 2 is smaller than Tempel 1, the previous comet visited by Deep Impact, it is much more active. In fact, amateur skywatchers may be able to see Hartley 2 in a dark sky with binoculars or a small telescope. Engineers specifically designed the mighty Deep Impact spacecraft to point a camera at Tempel 1 while its antenna was directed at Earth. This flyby of comet Hartley 2 does not provide the same luxury. It cannot both photograph the comet and talk with mission controllers on Earth. Engineers have instead programmed Deep Impact to dance the do-si-do. The spacecraft will spend the week leading up to closest approach swinging back and forth between imaging the comet and beaming images back to Earth.

Storytelling Comets:
Comets are an important aspect of studying how the solar system formed and Earth evolved. Comets are leftover building blocks of solar system formation, and are believed to have seeded an early Earth with water and organic compounds. The more we know about these celestial bodies, the more we can learn about Earth and the solar system.

What's in a Name?:
EPOXI is a hybrid acronym binding two science investigations: the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization and Deep Impact extended Investigation. The spacecraft keeps its original name of Deep Impact, while the mission is called EPOXI.

Flight Dynamics data from THEMIS-B indicated that one of the electric field instrument sphere-shaped tip masses may have been struck by a meteoroid on October 14. All science instruments continue to collect the data and the probe and science instruments aboard the spacecraft continue to operate technically. The upcoming placing into Lissajous orbit will not be interrupted.

ARTEMIS Spacecraft Believed fixed by Object“Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics” are the acronym for ARTEMIS of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun”. The mission uses two of the five in-orbit spacecraft from another NASA Heliophysics constellation of satellites THEMIS that were launched in 2007 and successfully completed their mission earlier in 2010.

The mission allowed NASA to repurpose two in-orbit spacecraft to expand their useful science mission. ARTEMIS mission will use real-time measurements of particles and electric and magnetic fields from two locations to provide the first three-dimensional perspective of how energetic particle acceleration occurs near the Moon's orbit, in the distant magnetosphere, and in the solar wind.

The lunar rocks brought back to the Earth by the Apollo astronauts were found to have very little water, and to be much drier than rocks on Earth. An explanation for this was that the Moon formed billions of years ago in the solar system's turbulent youth, when a Mars-sized planet crashed into Earth. The impact stripped away our planet's outer layer, sending it into orbit. The pieces later coalesced under their own gravity to form our Moon. Heat from all this mayhem vaporized most of the water in the lunar material, so the water was lost to space.

However, there was still a chance that water might be found in special places on the Moon. Due to the Moon's orientation to the Sun, scientists theorized that deep craters at the lunar poles would be in permanent shadow and thus extremely cold and able to trap volatile material like water as ice perhaps delivered there by comet impacts or chemical reactions with hydrogen carried by the solar wind.

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It has flown to space more than any other craft, and it has carried more crew members to orbit. It was the first spacecraft to retrieve a satellite and bring it back to Earth. It has visited two space stations. It launched a telescope that has seen deeper in space and in time than ever before. And twice it has demonstrated the United States' will to persevere following devastating tragedy, returning America to orbit following the two worst accidents in space history.

Although all five vehicles that have comprised NASA's space shuttle fleet are unmatched in achievements, space shuttle Discovery is unique among the extraordinary. In 38 trips to space, Discovery has spent 351 days in orbit, almost a full year. Discovery has circled Earth 5,628 times, all the while speeding along at 17,400 miles per hour. It has traveled almost 143 million miles. That equals 288 round trips to the moon or about one and a half trips to the sun.

Discovery has carried more crew members -246- than any space vehicle. Those have included the first female to ever pilot a spacecraft, the oldest person to fly in space, the first African-American to perform a spacewalk, the first cosmonaut to fly on an American spacecraft and the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space.

It took four years to build Discovery, the third shuttle orbiter built. Named for past sailing ships of exploration, it rolled out of its Palmdale, Calif. assembly plant in October 1993 and was delivered via piggyback airplane flight to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center the next month. Discovery's first launch was Aug. 30, 1984 on mission STS-41D. That flight launched three communications satellites and tested an experimental solar array wing. The mission was commanded by astronaut Henry W. Hartsfield.

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