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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 October 2010

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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Though the universe is chocking full of spiral-shaped galaxies, no two look exactly the same. This face-on spiral galaxy, called NGC 3982, is striking for its rich tapestry of star birth, along with its winding arms. The arms are ruled with pink star-forming regions of glowing hydrogen, newborn blue star clusters, and obscuring dust lanes that provide the raw material for future generations of stars. The bright nucleus is home to an older population of stars, which grow ever more densely packed toward the center.

NGC 3982 is located about 68 million light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major. The galaxy spans about 30,000 light-years, one-third of the size of our Milky Way galaxy. This color image is composed of exposures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, and the Wide Field Camera 3. The observations were taken between March 2000 and August 2009. The rich color range comes from the fact that the galaxy was photographed invisible and near-infrared light. Also used was a filter that isolates hydrogen emission that emanates from bright star-forming regions dotting the spiral arms.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. in Washington, D.C.

Fast-growing sunspot 1112 is crackling with solar flares.

The three strongest of this 24 hour period
  • An M3-flare at 1910 UT on 16th October
  • C1-flare at 0900 UT on 17th October
  • C1-flare at 1740 UT on 17th October . So far, none of the blasts has hurled a substantial CME toward Earth.
Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this stunning image of one of the most intense
A vast filament of magnetism is cutting across the sun's southern hemisphere, measuring about 400,000 km. A bright 'hot spot' just north of the filament's midpoint is UV radiation from sunspot 1112.
A 400,000 km filament of magnetism stretches across the sun's southern hemisphere.
The proximity is no coincidence; the filament appears to be rooted in the sunspot below. If the sunspot flares, it could cause the entire structure to erupt. But so far, none of the flares has destabilized the filament.

Twice a year, Solar Week provides a weeklong series of web-based educational activities for classrooms about our magnetic variable star, the sun, and its interactions with Earth and the solar system.

Each day of Solar Week offers a different set of lessons and games for students ranging from the upper elementary to high school level. The site covers everything from solar radiation to pursuing careers in science. For example, on Monday, after learning details about how the sun is a star just like the other ones in the sky, students can play a game to determine just where the sun lies in the Milky Way. Or on Thursday, they measure how fast a coronal mass ejection races from the sun.

Helping to answer the student’s questions on an online bulletin board will be three scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. who have been involved almost since the project began in 2000. Throughout the week, Heliophysics researchers Terry Kucera, Dawn Myers, and Holly Gilbert will be among some twenty scientists who will share their excitement about the dynamic star at the center of our solar system.

NASA and Gowalla are bringing people one small step closer to the universe. Anyone who uses Gowalla, a mobile and web service, now has the opportunity to find and collect four NASA-related virtual items - a moon rock, a NASA patch, a spacesuit and a space shuttle.

Gowalla's mission is to inspire discovery by connecting people with the places around them. When Gowalla users virtually "check-in" at NASA-related venues via their iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm or iPad, they now have a chance to find one of the four items.

Virtual moon rocks can be found when Gowalla users check in to any location where a real one is on display. The United States successfully brought lunar samples back to Earth during the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 missions. NASA provides a number of these moon rocks for display and public viewing at museums, planetariums and scientific expositions around the world.

To help people find the lunar samples, Gowalla and JESS3, a creative agency that specializes in data visualization, created a special edition NASA+Gowalla Map: Search for the Moon Rocks. Gowalla users can find the virtual NASA patch, spacesuit and space shuttles by checking in to NASA visitor centers, agency-related locations, or one of the more than 400 museums, science centers, planetariums, observatories, parks, nature centers, zoos and aquariums that are part of NASA's Museum Alliance.

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured the snapshots of a suspected asteroid collision. The images show a bizarre X-shaped object at the head of a comet-like trail of material. In January, astronomers began using Hubble to track the object for five months. They thought they had witnessed a fresh asteroid collision, but were surprised to learn the collision occurred in early 2009.

We expected the debris field to expand dramatically, like shrapnel flying from a hand grenade," said astronomer David Jewitt of the University of California in Los Angeles, who is a leader of the Hubble observations. "But what happened was quite the opposite. We found that the object is expanding very, very slowly.

Images of Aftermath of Possible Asteroid Collision - NASAHubble WFC3 Image of P/2010 A2
The peculiar object, dubbed P/2010 A2, was found cruising around the asteroid belt, a reservoir of millions of rocky bodies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. It is estimated modest-sized asteroids smash into each other about once a year. When the objects collide, they inject dust into interplanetary space. But until now, astronomers have relied on models to make predictions about the frequency of these collisions and the amount of dust produced.

Catching colliding asteroids is difficult because large impacts are rare while small ones, such as the one that produced P/2010 A2, are exceedingly faint. The two asteroids that make up P/2010 A2 were unknown before the collision because they were too faint to be noticed. The collision itself was unobservable because of the asteroids' position in relation to the sun. About 10 or 11 months later, in January 2010, the Lincoln Near-Earth Research Program Sky Survey spotted the comet-like tail produced by the collision. But only Hubble discerned the X pattern, offering unequivocal evidence that something stranger than a comet out gassing had occurred.

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered that a giant star in a remote galaxy ended its life with a dust-shrouded whimper instead of the more typical bang.

Researchers suspect that this odd event - the first one of its kind ever viewed by astronomers – was more common early in the universe. It also hints at what we would see if the brightest star system in our Milky Way galaxy exploded, or went supernova.

The discovery is reported in a paper published online in the Astrophysical Journal. The lead author is Christopher Kochanek, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University, Columbus.

A little asteroid will fly past Earth early Tuesday inside the Earth-moon system. The asteroid 2010 TD54 will have its closest come up to Earth’s surface at an altitude of about 27,960 miles nearly 45,000 kilometers at early morning. At to facilitate the time, the asteroid will be over southeastern Asia in the surrounding area of Singapore. During its flyby, Asteroid 2010 TD54 has zero probability of impacting the Earth.

2010 TD54 is expected to be about 16 to 33 feet wide. Due to its small size, the asteroid would need a telescope of reasonable size to be viewed. A five-meter-sized near-Earth asteroid from the undiscovered of the population of about 30 million would be expected to pass daily within a lunar distance, and one might hit Earth's atmosphere about every two years on average.

Asteroid to Pass Within the Earth-Moon System

Small Asteroid To Fly by Earth Tuesday

If an asteroid of size of 2010 TD54 were to enter into the Earth’s atmosphere, it would be estimated to burn up high in the atmosphere and cause no damage to the Earth’s surface.The distance used on the Near Earth Object page is always the calculated distance from the center of Earth. The distance stated for 2010 TD54 is 52,000 kilometers. To get the distance it will pass from the Earth’s surface you need to subtract the distance from the center to the surface and then it takes to pass the distance at about 45,500 kilometers above the planet.

NASA detects the tracks and characteristics of the asteroids and comets passing close to the Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes. The Near-Earth Object Observations Program, commonly called "Spaceguard,”.

SAM will develop into an automated, mobile laboratory as it is carry across Mars by the rover when the mission arrives at the Red Planet in 2012.

SAM is in flight configuration, meaning its instruments are in the condition they will be during launch and are ready to begin operations on Mars. The instrument suite has started final environmental testing this week, which includes vibration and thermal testing to ensure SAM can survive the launch, deep space flight, and conditions on Mars.

Once at Mars, SAM will examine the planet's habitability by exploring molecular and elemental chemistry relevant to life. SAM will analyze samples of Martian rock and soil to assess carbon chemistry through a search for organic compounds. The lab will also determine the chemical state of light elements other than carbon, and look for isotopic tracers of planetary change.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured images of the large asteroid Vesta that will help refine plans for the Dawn spacecraft's rendezvous with Vesta in July 2011.

Chris Russell explains how new images obtained by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope help his mission refine plans for Dawn's rendezvous with the large asteroid.

Scientists have constructed a video from the images that will help improve pointing instructions for Dawn as it is placed in a polar orbit around Vesta. Analyses of Hubble images revealed a pole orientation, or tilt, of approximately four degrees more to the asteroid's east than scientists previously thought.

This means the change of seasons between the southern and northern hemispheres of Vesta may take place about a month later than previously expected while Dawn is orbiting the asteroid. The result is a change in the pattern of sunlight expected to illuminate the asteroid. Dawn needs solar illumination for imaging and some mapping activities.

Three views of Saturn's moon Rhea

Set of enhanced-color maps made from data obtained by NASA's Cassini

These three enhanced-color views of an equatorial region on Saturn's moon Rhea

Schematic graphic illustrates the bombardments that lead to colorful splotches

Enhanced-color view of Saturn's moon Mimas

Visitors at the 2010 International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., not only get the visual stimulation of hundreds of colorful hot-air balloons soaring skyward, but can learn about NASA efforts toward improving aviation via an exhibit focusing on the agency's aeronautics research efforts.

NASA Aeronautics exhibit this year is focusing on its "green aviation" initiative, which seeks to test and integrate technologies for reducing aircraft noise and emissions, maximizing fuel usage and improving air-traffic management.

Aeronautics Showcased at Balloon FiestaIt also features displays on the history of NASA aeronautics research, including a timeline of aviation achievements, a space shuttle tire flown on the shuttle Discovery, cockpit simulators, wind tunnels and even a "virtual airport" where visitors can zoom in to see how NASA’s technology has found its way to use on military, commercial and general aviation aircraft and helicopters.

A display about the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which incorporates the world's largest airborne infrared telescope installed in the rear fuselage of a NASA 747SP aircraft, introduces visitors to the infrared spectrum by allowing them to see themselves on a monitor through the lens of an infrared camera.

The Red Planet bleeds. Not blood, but its atmosphere, slowly trickling away to space. The culprit is our sun, which is using its own breath, the solar wind, and its radiation to rob Mars of its air. The crime may have condemned the planet's surface, once apparently promising for life, to a cold and sterile existence.
Features on Mars resembling dry riverbeds, and the discovery of minerals that form in the presence of water, indicate that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and was warm enough for liquid water to flow on the surface. However, somehow that thick atmosphere got lost in space. It appears Mars has been cold and dry for billions of years, with an atmosphere so thin, any liquid water on the surface quickly boils away while the sun's ultraviolet radiation scours the ground.

Such harsh conditions are the end of the road for known forms of life. Although it's possible that martian life went underground, where liquid water may still exist and radiation can't reach.

The lead suspect for the theft is the sun, and its favorite M.O. may be the solar wind. All planets in our solar system are constantly blasted by the solar wind, a thin stream of electrically charged gas that continuously blows from the sun's surface into space. On Earth, our planet's global magnetic field shields our atmosphere by diverting most of the solar wind around it. The solar wind’s electrically charged particles, ions and electrons, have difficulty crossing magnetic fields.

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The frigid ice of Jupiter's moon Europa may be hiding more than a presumed ocean: it is likely the scene of some unexpectedly fast chemistry between water and sulfur dioxide at extremely cold temperatures. Although these molecules react easily as liquids—they are well-known ingredients of acid rain—Mark Loeffler and Reggie Hudson at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., now report that they react as ices with surprising speed and high yield at temperatures hundreds of degrees below freezing. Because the reaction occurs without the aid of radiation, it could take place throughout Europa's thick coating of ice—an outcome that would revamp current thinking about the chemistry and geology of this moon and perhaps others.

"When people talk about chemistry on Europa, they typically talk about reactions that are driven by radiation," says Goddard scientist Mark Loeffler, the first author on the paper being published Oct. 2 in Geophysical Research Letters. That's because the moon's temperature hovers around 86 to 130 Kelvin, or about –300 to –225 °F. In this extreme cold, most chemical reactions require an infusion of energy from radiation or light. On Europa, the energy comes from particles from Jupiter's radiation belts. Because most of those particles penetrate just fractions of an inch into the surface, models of Europa's chemistry typically stop there.

"Once you get below Europa's surface, it's cold and solid, and you normally don't expect things to happen very fast under those conditions," explains co-author Reggie Hudson, the Associate Lab Chief of Goddard's Astrochemistry Laboratory.

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NASA will award $3.3 million over three years to support academic excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics tribal colleges and universities.

The awards are part of a Cooperative Agreement Notice released by the NASA Office of Education’s Minority University Research and Education Program for the Tribal Colleges and Universities Project.

Three institutions were selected through a merit-based, peer-reviewed competition for funding. Awards will go to Kiksapa Consulting, LLC of Mandan, N.D.; Salish Kootenai College of Pablo, Mo.; and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium in Alexandria, Va. The awards have a three-year period of performance and range in value from $215,000 to $592,000.

NASA's TCUP is a STEM education grant and mentoring program specifically targeting tribal colleges and universities. The goal of the project is to expand opportunities to academic institutions that prepare Native Americans to enter the nation's STEM workforce through internships, fellowships, research experiences, outreach, information exchange, capacity building and infrastructure development.