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...
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...
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...
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....
Archive for March 2011
"This mission will continue to revolutionize our understanding of Mercury during the coming year," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who was at MESSENGER mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., as engineers received telemetry data confirming orbit insertion. "NASA science is rewriting text books. MESSENGER is a great example of how our scientists are innovating to push the envelope of human knowledge."
At 9:10 p.m. EDT, engineers Operations Center, received the anticipated radiometric signals confirming nominal burn shutdown and successful insertion of the MESSENGER probe into orbit around the planet Mercury. NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, Geochemistry, and Ranging, or MESSENGER, rotated back to the Earth by 9:45 p.m. EDT, and started transmitting data. Upon review of the data, the engineering and operations teams confirmed the burn executed nominally with all subsystems reporting a clean burn and no logged errors.
MESSENGER's main thruster fired for approximately 15 minutes at 8:45 p.m., slowing the spacecraft by 1,929 miles per hour and easing it into the planned orbit about Mercury. The rendezvous took place about 96 million miles from Earth.
"Achieving Mercury orbit was by far the biggest milestone since MESSENGER was launched more than six and a half years ago," said Peter Bedini, MESSENGER project manager of the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). "This accomplishment is the fruit of a tremendous amount of labor on the part of the navigation, guidance-and-control, and mission operations teams, who shepherded the spacecraft through its 4.9-billion-mile journey."
For the next several weeks, APL engineers will be focused on ensuring the spacecraft's systems are all working well in Mercury's harsh thermal environment. Starting on March 23, the instruments will be turned on and checked out, and on April 4 the mission's primary science phase will begin.
"Despite its proximity to Earth, the planet Mercury has for decades been comparatively unexplored," said Sean Solomon, MESSENGER principal investigator of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "For the first time in history, a scientific observatory is in orbit about our solar system's innermost planet. Mercury's secrets, and the implications they hold for the formation and evolution of Earth-like planets, are about to be revealed."
APL designed and built the spacecraft. The lab manages and operates the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Question: What is the definition of a supermoon and why is it called that?
Supermoon' is a situation when the moon is slightly closer to Earth in its orbit than on average, and this effect is most noticeable when it occurs at the same time as a full moon. So, the moon may seem bigger although the difference in its distance from Earth is only a few percent at such times.
It is called a supermoon because this is a very noticeable alignment that at first glance would seem to have an effect. The 'super' in supermoon is really just the appearance of being closer, but unless we were measuring the Earth-Moon distance by laser rangefinders (as we do to track the LRO [Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter] spacecraft in low lunar orbit and to watch the Earth-Moon distance over years), there is really no difference. The supermoon really attests to the wonderful new wealth of data NASA's LRO mission has returned for the Moon, making several key science questions about our nearest neighbor all the more important.
Are there any adverse effects on Earth because of the close proximity of the moon?
The effects on Earth from a supermoon are minor, and according to the most detailed studies by terrestrial seismologists and volcanologists, the combination of the moon being at its closest to Earth in its orbit, and being in its 'full moon' configuration (relative to the Earth and sun), should not affect the internal energy balance of the Earth since there are lunar tides every day. The Earth has stored a tremendous amount of internal energy within its thin outer shell or crust, and the small differences in the tidal forces exerted by the moon (and sun) are not enough to fundamentally overcome the much larger forces within the planet due to convection (and other aspects of the internal energy balance that drives plate tectonics). Nonetheless, these supermoon times remind us of the effect of our 'Africa-sized' nearest neighbor on our lives, affecting ocean tides and contributing to many cultural aspects of our lives (as a visible aspect of how our planet is part of the solar system and space).
Discovery’s six crew members will awaken to a special song with a surprise twist at 3:23 a.m. Monday, “Theme from Star Trek” by Alexander Courage.
During the afternoon Friday, Mission Specialists Steve Bowen and Alvin Drew stowed tools they used outside on the spacewalks earlier this week. Meanwhile their colleagues continued with Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module activities, moving supplies and equipment from the new module into the station and outfitting the interior of the module.
Earlier in the day, all 12 shuttle and station crew members gathered for the joint news conference. They took questions from reporters at Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center and in Italy.
The liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is targeted for the middle of a 48-second launch window. Spacecraft separation will occur 13 minutes after launch. Coverage of the countdown on the Glory launch blog and on NASA TV will begin on launch day at 3:30 a.m. EST. Technical issues with ground support equipment for the Taurus XL launch vehicle led to the scrub of the first launch attempt on Feb. 23.
Data from the Glory mission will allow scientists to better understand how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate. Both aerosols and solar energy influence the planet's energy budget -- the amount of energy entering and exiting Earth's atmosphere. An accurate measurement of these impacts is important in order to anticipate future changes to our climate and how they may affect human life.
Project management for Glory is the responsibility of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is the launch service provider to Kennedy of the four-stage Taurus XL rocket and is also builder of the Glory satellite for Goddard.
This was the final STS-133 spacewalk, the 244th by U.S. astronauts. It was the seventh for Bowen totaling 47 hours, 18 minutes and places him sixth on the all-time list. It was the second spacewalk for Drew, totaling 12 hours, 48 minutes. It was the 155th spacewalk in support of International Space Station assembly and maintenance, totaling 973 hours, 53 minutes, equal to 40 full days of spacewalks.