Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NASA Voyager 1 Encounters ‘magnetic highway’ in Deep Space

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NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region at the remote reaches of our solar system that scientists refer to as a magnetic highway for charged particles because our Sun’s magnetic field outlines are linked to interstellar magnetic field lines.

Scientists feel this new region is the last area the spacecraft has to cross before reaching interstellar space. This link allows lower-energy charged particles that start from within our heliosphere, or the bubble of charged particles the Sun blows around itself, to zoom out and allows higher-energy particles from outer to stream in.

 Although Voyager 1 still is within the Sun’s atmosphere, we now can taste what it’s like on the exterior because the particles are zipping in and out on this attractive highway, said Edward Stone

 We consider this is the last support of our trip to interstellar space. Our top guess is its probable just a few months to a duo years away. The new region isn’t what we expected, but we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Voyager, he stated.

Since December 2004 when Voyager 1 crossed a tip in space called the termination shock, the spacecraft has explored the heliosphere’s outer layer, called the heliosheath.

In this area, the stream of charged particles from the Sun known as the solar wind suddenly slowed down from supersonic speeds and became turbulent. Voyager 1’s atmosphere was consistent for about five and a half years. The spacecraft then detected that the external speed of the solar wind slowed to zero.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hubble space telescope helps discover most remote galaxy

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Astronomers have revealed what is probably the most remote galaxy yet seen in the Universe by combining the power of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and one of nature’s zoom lenses. The object offers a glance back into a time when the world was only 3% of its present age of 13.7 billion years.

We see the recently discovered galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, as it was 420 million years after the Big Bang. Its light has travelled for 13.3 billion years to reach Earth, which corresponds to a redshift of around 11.

This is the newest discovery from the Cluster Lensing and Supernova review with Hubble, which uses enormous galaxy clusters as cosmic telescopes to enlarge remote galaxies behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing

Along the way, 8 billion years into its trip, the galaxy’s light took a detour along many paths around the enormous galaxy cluster MACS J0647.7+7015. Due to the gravitational lensing, the team observed three magnified images of MACS0647-JD with Hubble.

The cluster’s gravity boosted the light from the distant galaxy, making the images show far brighter than they otherwise would, although they motionless appear as tiny dots in Hubble’s portrait.

The estimated mass of this baby galaxy is roughly equal to 100 million or a billion suns, or 0.1-1% the mass of our Milky Way’s stars. “This object may be one of many building blocks of a galaxy,” Dan Coe, lead author of the study said.

The object is so little it may be in the first stages of galaxy formation, with analysis showing the galaxy is less than 600 light-years across. For contrast the Milky Way is 150 000 light-years across.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

NASA's Cassini Space Probe at Saturn celebrates 15 years in space

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft marked 15 years in space Monday (Oct. 15), and the well-traveled probe won’t prevent studying Saturn and its many moons anytime soon.

Cassini has logged more than 3.8 billion miles since its launch on Oct. 15, 1997, researchers said. The spacecraft has made many contributions since arriving at Saturn in July 2004, including discovering water-ice geysers on the moon Escalades and snapping the primary views of the hydrocarbon lakes on Saturn’s biggest moon Titan.

During its time in space, the Cassini probe has sent home about 444 gigabytes of systematic data, including more than 300,000 images. Researchers have published more than 2,500 documents based on Cassini data so far, NASA officials said.

Cassini’s operators have sent it to call more than a dozen of Saturn’s 60-plus moons in the last eight years, and they sometimes ask the probe to find shots of the planet’s poles. Planning out such a pushy flight path is difficult, particularly given the gravitational influences of Saturn’s moons and Cassini’s incomplete fuel supply, mission managers said.

In November 2016, the probe will embark on a sequence of orbits that take it ever faster to Saturn. These orbits will begin just exterior Saturn's F ring, the outermost of the major rings, researchers said.

In April 2017, a close meet with Titan will throw Cassini on a pathway that will take it in Saturn’s innermost ring, just a hair away from the top of the huge planet’s atmosphere. Cassini will build 22 such close passes, and then a gravitational tug from a last, distant flyby of Titan will seal the spacecraft’s fate. It will crash into Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017.

The $3.2 billion Cassini-Huygens task is a collaboration involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini spacecraft ferried a probe called Huygens, which landed on Titan in January 2005. Huygens survived its thrust through the enormous moon’s broad atmosphere and sent information back to Earth for about 90 minutes after moving down.

Friday, September 14, 2012

NASA's Space Launch System rejoice: Powering Forward

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NASA's Space Launch System
NASA is powering ahead toward a brand new destinations in the solar system. This week marks one year of development since the formation of the Space Launch System (SLS), the nation's next pace in human examination efforts.

On Sept. 14, 2011, NASA announced a new ability for America's space program: a heavy-lift rocket planned to take the Orion spacecraft and send astronauts beyond into space than still before.

And now, one year afterward, NASA has made swift development improving on existing hardware, testing and developing new mechanism, and paving the method for a new launch vehicle. The SLS will build human examination of deep space an actuality and make new possibilities for systematic detection.

The SLS is a national ability and will be the biggest rocket ever built, providing the authority we want to really explore beyond our present limits," said Todd May, Space Launch System program manager. "Not only will it take us beyond small Earth orbit, but it will get us there faster."

"Our aim was to become a leaner and more proficient program, based on lessons learned from earlier successes by the agency," May said. "But even more significant is to build a secure vehicle for our astronauts and one that can keep up exploration for years to come.

When Orion flies for the first time, SLS also will trial the spacecraft payload integration adapter ring. Engineers and machinists at Marshall are building this part of the rocket, which will mate the spacecraft to the Delta IV stand-in for SLS during Orion's trial flight in 2014 and the rest of the Space Launch System in 2017.

The adapter ring was future for both applications as a model of NASA's obligation to affordable solutions for the human examination of space.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

NASA's traveler 'dancing on edge' of outer space

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In a lecture marking the approaching 35th centenary of the Voyager project, Ed Stone said it could be "days, months or years" before it lastly breaks into interstellar space.Earlier this year a surge in a key pointer fueled hopes that the craft was nearing the so-called heliopause, which inscription the limit between our solar system and external space.

Scientists were intrigued in May by an enlarge in cosmic waves hitting the spacecraft, which for decades has snapped images of the Earth and other planets in the solar system as it has made its long trip into external space.But measurements since then have fluctuated up and down, signifying that, while the ability is near to the edge, it may tranquil not get there for some time.

"Crossing into interstellar space -- that will be a significant instant when the first object launched from Earth finally leaves the fizz," he said. Before May's rush in space rays researchers had said they projected Voyager 1 would leave the solar system and enter interstellar space -- between the end of the Sun's pressure and the next star system -- within two years.

NASA has described Voyager 1 -- today 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) away from the Sun -- and its cohort Voyager 2 as "the two most far-away active representatives of civilization and its wish to discover."

The scientists scheming Voyager 1 -- whose 1970s technology means it has only a 100,000th of the computer recollection of an 8 gigabyte iPod Nano -- determined to turn off its cameras after it approved Neptune in 1989, to protect control.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Shuttle Update for July 17

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Shuttle Atlantis:

Shuttle Atlantis is being temporarily stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Atlantis is scheduled to return to Orbiter Processing Facility-2 in August to complete transition and retirement processing. Atlantis is being prepared for public display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and is scheduled to roll over to the complex in November. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is targeting a July 2013 grand opening for Atlantis’ new home.

Shuttle Endeavour:

On July 11-13, technicians in Orbiter Processing Facility-2, installed Endeavour’s replica shuttle main engines. Endeavour is being prepared for permanent public display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. Its ferry flight to California is targeted for mid-September.

NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 and continued to set high marks of achievement and endurance through 30 years of missions. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station. The final space shuttle mission, STS-135, ended July 21, 2011 when Atlantis rolled to a stop at its home port, NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

As humanity's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle pushed the bounds of discovery ever farther, requiring not only advanced technologies but the tremendous effort of a vast workforce. Thousands of civil servants and contractors throughout NASA's field centers and across the nation have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to mission success and the greater goal of space exploration.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tips to be Followed during Property Auction

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When you find a property at auction, you will immediately think about the loss that the owner of the property must have gone through for the property to come for public auction. Auctions have become very common these days due to the financial crunch that came forth in the recent past leaving a lot of home owners to take this bitter decision. We can see auctions as one of the methods that are in practice for selling and buying properties.

Mostly auctions are considered as loss for the property owner and a big gain for the ones who take the property in auction for the best bid. But the actual truth is that there are equal possibilities for the seller and the buyer to enjoy profit if they follow a few points while managing a property auction. But the saddest point is that in many cases neither the buyer nor the seller gets profit but the agent who makes the best use of the situation gets the best revenue. It is a real blunder if you let the third party to earn money without any actual work done over the whole process. You will have to be well informed about a few points and tips to follow even before you plan to place your bid at a Property auction .

Before the Auction you will have to keep yourself informed about the actual rate of a similar property at the same location. Do a proper property valuation check before you buy or sell your property. Don't let people to under estimate the property value if you are the seller or the brokers to over value the property in case you are the buyer.

If you are going to buy a property, study about the property and find if it's useful for your and if it is your kind before going for a property auction to place your bid. When you want to buy a property you will have to find out about the repair works that needs to be done for the property after buying it. Do a rough calculation of the estimated amount that you will have to spend on the property after you buy it in the auction. See if the total amount falls within your budget, this will avoid any financial scarcity. 

If you are planning to earn some money out of the rent that you might get from the building, do check with people about the area value and the possible amount of rent that you can expect from the property after you repair it. Check if there is any major local development that might affect the property that you are going to place the bid for. During the auction, always try to make note of the other auctioneers moves so that you can place your bid effectively and never turn emotional. Keep yourself calm and plan thing well before you place your bid.

The Writer has written about Investment Houses and UK auction list. He has written many articles in various topics like Residential Home , and UK property auctions.

NASA Satellites Examine a Powerful Summer Storm

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As a powerful summertime storm, known as a derecho, moved from Illinois to the Mid-Atlantic states on June 29, expanding and bringing destruction with it, NASA and other satellites provided a look at various factors involved in the event, its progression and its aftermath.

According to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center web site, a derecho (pronounced "deh-REY-cho") is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. Damage from a derecho is usually in one direction along a relatively straight track. By definition an event is classified a derecho if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles (about 400 kilometers) and includes wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) or greater along most of its length.

These storms are most common in the United States during the late spring and summer, with more than three quarters occurring between April and August. They either extend from the upper Mississippi Valley southeast into the Ohio Valley, or from the southern Plains northeast into the mid-Mississippi Valley.

The movie begins on June 28 at 1515 UTC (11:15 a.m. EDT) and ends on June 30, 2012 at 1601 UTC (12:01 p.m. EDT). In the animation, the derecho's clouds appear as a line in the upper Midwest on June 29 at 1432. By 1602 UTC, they appear as a rounded area south of Lake Michigan. By 2132, the area of the derecho's clouds were near Lake Erie and over Ohio expanding as the system track southeast. By 0630 UTC, the size appears to have almost doubled as the derecho moves over West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. At 0232 UTC on June 30 (10:32 p.m. EDT), the Derecho was over the mid-Atlantic bringing a 100 mile line of severe storms and wind gusts as high as 90 mph to the region.

The process of a derecho can become self-sustaining as hot and humid air is forced upward by the gust front and develops more (reinforcing) towering clouds. When one adds in a rear low level jet stream, there is nothing to stop the repeating process.

NASA's Aqua satellite flew over the derecho on June 29 and June 30, using the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder instrument (AIRS) onboard to capture infrared imagery of the event.

The AIRS images for June 29, shows the crescent shape of the initial stage of the derecho as it gathered strength on the Michigan-Indiana-Ohio border and began its rapid eastward movement. "The AIRS infrared image shows the high near-surface atmospheric temperatures blanketing the South and Midwestern U.S., approaching 98 degrees Fahrenheit," said Ed Olsen of the AIRS Team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cassini Shows Why Jet Streams Cross-Cut Saturn

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Turbulent jet streams, regions where winds blow faster than in other places, churn east and west across Saturn. Scientists have been trying to understand for years the mechanism that drives these wavy structures in Saturn's atmosphere and the source from which the jets derive their energy.

In a new study appearing in the June edition of the journal Icarus, scientists used images collected over several years by NASA's Cassini spacecraft to discover that the heat from within the planet powers the jet streams. Condensation of water from Saturn's internal heating led to temperature differences in the atmosphere. The temperature differences created eddies, or disturbances that move air back and forth at the same latitude, and those eddies, in turn, accelerated the jet streams like rotating gears driving a conveyor belt.

A competing theory had assumed that the energy for the temperature differences came from the sun. That is how it works in the Earth's atmosphere.

"We know the atmospheres of planets such as Saturn and Jupiter can get their energy from only two places: the sun or the internal heating. The challenge has been coming up with ways to use the data so that we can tell the difference," said Tony Del Genio of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, N.Y., the lead author of the paper and a member of the Cassini imaging team.

The new study was possible in part because Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn long enough to obtain the large number of observations required to see subtle patterns emerge from the day-to-day variations in weather. "Understanding what drives the meteorology on Saturn, and in general on gaseous planets, has been one of our cardinal goals since the inception of the Cassini mission," said Carolyn Porco, imaging team lead, based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. 

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 Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two on board cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo


Saturday, June 9, 2012

NASA readies to Hunt Black Holes with New Space Telescope

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Nasa Black Hole Hunter
The U.S. space group is set to launch a telescope into space June 13 to seek out and learn black holes -- those still-mysterious space bodies that scientists consider lie at the spirit of every massive galaxy, including our own Milky Way.

Black holes have a gravitational pull so intense that not even light can flee from them. As gas, dust and stars are sucked in; the fabric accelerates and heats up, generating powerful X-ray beam emissions.

NASA is setting out to conduct a survey of the black holes in the universe. 

The U.S. space organization is launching a black hole seeker, a new telescope called NuSTAR, but properly known as Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array. 

Paul Hertz is the director of NASA's astrophysics division. "Stars, nebulae and black holes emit X-rays of the type that we use in medical X-rays, and these cannot be detected from the outside of the Earth," explained Hertz.

Current telescopes offer images that show a universal glow from hundreds of massive black holes. NASA expects NuSTAR will be able to offer far improved images of black holes and other high-energy events when it surveys the extra-galactic sky.

NuSTAR launches, it will organize a 10-meter pole that will divide its mirrors from its detectors. That pole provides the distance required to focus the X-ray light into sharp images. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

SpaceX journey should get NASA moving

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A space capsule known as the Dragon touched down in the Pacific Ocean on Thursday.

After launching into orbit May 22, the capsule had performed a sequence of complicated exercises, docked with the International Space Station, dropped off more than 1,000 pounds of provisions and returned home bearing a load of science experiments.

It was the first profitable spacecraft to complete such an achievement. And the company that developed it, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, was satisfied with a U.S. government agreement of $1.6 billion to fly 12 more supply missions.

Optimists saw a quick private company leveraging public investment, reducing prospect taxpayer burdens and heralding a new age of profitable space flight.

SpaceX’s accomplishment is inspiring, and private venture seems likely to transport much-needed competence to the government’s space program. The problem is that, even if this new company delivers all its promised benefits, U.S. space policy will still have no clear objective. In spite of many setbacks, SpaceX looks like a comparatively good deal for taxpayers.

Elon Musk, the company’s billionaire founder, says its missions will charge one-eighth what space ferry flights did, and a study last year by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration set up that SpaceX spent far less than what NASA would have to expand the rocket that launched the Dragon capsule. Ambitiously, the company aims to take humans into space by 2015.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

ISS Transit of Venus

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In 1768, when James Cook sailed out of Plymouth harbor to observe the Transit of Venus in Tahiti, the trip was tantamount to a voyage through space. The remote island had just been "discovered" a year earlier, and by all accounts it was as strange and alien to Europeans as the stars themselves. Cook's pinpoint navigation to Tahiti and his subsequent observations of Venus crossing the South Pacific sun in 1769 have inspired explorers for centuries.

 One of those explorers is about to beat Cook at his own game.

High above Earth, astronaut Don Pettit is preparing to photograph the June 5th Transit of Venus from space itself.

 Because transits of Venus come in pairs that occur once every 100 years or so, humans have rarely had the chance to photograph the apparition from Earth, much less from Earth orbit.

"The Expedition 31 crew will be the first people in history to see a Venus transit from space, and Pettit will be the first to photograph one," says Mario Runco, Jr. of the Johnson Space Center (JSC). Runco, an astronaut himself who flew aboard three shuttle missions, is an expert in the optics of spacecraft windows. Along with his wife Susan Runco, who is the coordinator for astronaut photography at JSC, Mario is helping Pettit gather the best possible images of the transit.

Pettit will be pointing his camera through the side windows of the space station's cupola, an ESA-built observatory module that provides a wide-angle view of Earth and the cosmos. Its seven windows are used by the crew to operate the station's robotic arm, coordinate space dockings, and take science-grade photos of the Earth and sky. It's also a favorite "hangout" for off-duty astronauts who find the view exhilarating.

Pettit describes the camera system: "I'll be using a high-end Nikon D2Xs camera and an 800mm lens with a full-aperture white light solar filter."

This month's transit is the bookend of a 2004-2012 pair. Astronauts were onboard the ISS in 2004, but they did not see the transit, mainly because they had no solar filters onboard. Tiny Venus covers a small fraction of the solar disk, so the sun is still painfully bright to the human eye even at mid-transit. Pettit's foresight to bring a solar filter with him makes all the difference.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

SpaceX launches historic Trip to space station

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The US Company SpaceX on Tuesday became the first marketable outfit to send its own spacecraft toward the International Station with the launch of the cargo-bearing Dragon capsule.

Three, two, one and launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as NASA turns to the confidential sector to resupply the International Space Station," said NASA commentator George Diller, as the spaceship blasted off at 3.44 am .

The trial flight -- which should include a fly by and berthing with the station in the coming days -- aims to show that industry can reinstate US access to the ISS after NASA retired its space transport fleet last year.

The task was delayed on Saturday due to a defective engine valve in the rocket's main engine, but was repaired the same day.

California-based SpaceX, owned by billionaire Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, is the primary of several US competitors to attempt sending spacecraft to the ISS with the aim of restoring US access to space for human travelers by 2015.

The company effectively test-launched its Falcon 9 rocket in June 2010, then made history with its Dragon launch in December of that year, becoming the first marketable outfit to send a spaceship into orbit and back.

Until now, only the space agency’s of Russia, Japan and Europe have been able to send deliver ships to the ISS.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

NASA is Training up an Astronaut for asteroid mission

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NASA is presently teaching astronauts to land on asteroids and hopes to send humans to one of the distant space rocks in about a decade, The Telegraph reported over the weekend. As in the picture Armageddon, one inspiration for the attempt is to figure out a way to obliterate or deflect a huge asteroid that could be on a collision course with Earth.

In June, a group of astronauts will start learning how to activate vehicles and move about on asteroids.

Major Tim Peake, an astronaut with the European Space Agency, told The Telegraph that a manned mission to intercept a received asteroid would be a last option but could prove necessary because even huge space objects can be hard to notice.

Peake, before a test helicopter pilot, told the newspaper that "an asteroid mission of up to a year is absolutely achievable" with technology that's now available or being developed.

Asteroids are primarily placed in a belt beyond the orbit of Mars, but some "near-Earth" substance swing closer to our planet—sometimes even within 100,000 miles or nearer, clearly, when they strike us.

 Still, The Telegraph renowned that a mission to call an asteroid would probably takes space explorers further from Earth than the 239,000 miles traversed by NASA's Apollo astronauts when they visited the Moon.

Aside from receiving about securely on the near-zero gravity conditions on an asteroid, landing on such little, fast-moving substance could show thorny.

Monday, May 14, 2012

NASA Telescope Sees the Light from an Alien Super- Earth’ 55 Cancri e

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NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has detected light emanating from a "super-Earth" past our solar system for the first time. While the planet is not habitable, the recognition is a notable step toward the greatest search for signs of life on other planets.

"Spitzer has astonished us yet again," said Bill Danchi, Spitzer program scientist at NASA head office in Washington. The planet, called 55 Cancri e, falls into a group of planets termed wonderful Earths, which are more enormous than our residence world but lighter than massive planets like Neptune.

The planet is about twice as large and eight times as huge as Earth. It orbits an intense star, called 55 Cancri, in a mere 18 hours.

Previously, Spitzer and other telescopes were able to learn the planet by analyzing how the glow from 55 Cancri distorted as the planet accepted in front of the star.

In the new study, Spitzer calculated how much infrared light comes from the planet itself. The 55 Cancri systems are comparatively close to Earth, at 41 light-years away. It has five planets, with 55 Cancri e the closest to the star and tidally protected, so one surface always faces the star.

Spitzer exposed the sun-facing surface is tremendously hot, indicating the planet probably does not have an extensive atmosphere to take the sun's warmth to the unlit side.

The telescope might be able to use a similar infrared technique to Spitzer to search extra potentially habitable planets for signs of molecules perhaps associated to life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Private Company reschedules 1st Launch to Space Station to May 19

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The private spaceflight corporation SpaceX has once again delayed the launch of its first commercial Dragon space capsule bound for the global Space Station, this time to May 19, to permit more time to complete final checks on the spacecraft's rocket.

The new launch date, announced now (May 4), and is the newest delay for SpaceX, which originally hoped to loft the Dragon capsule on its debut journey to the space station on April 30.

 Last week, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based Corporation postponed the launch to May 7 to permit more time for flight software checks. Yesterday, SpaceX officials said the May 7 date was improbable, but kept open a choice for a May 10 takeoff.

"SpaceX is requesting a May 19th launch goal with a endorsement on May 22 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station," SpaceX officials announced in a Twitter update today.

The newest setback pushes the Dragon launch well into May, meaning it will launch on the heels of a Russian Soyuz spaceship transport three new crewmembers to the International Space Station.

That Soyuz spacecraft will discharge off from Kazakhstan on May 14 and arrive at the space station on May 17.

 NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin travel the Soyuz to the station to connect three other crewmates already aboard.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Hubble to Use Moon as Mirror to See Venus Transit

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This mottled landscape showing the impact crater Tycho is among the most violent-looking places on our moon. Astronomers didn't aim NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study Tycho, however. The image was taken in preparation to observe the transit of Venus across the sun's face on June 5-6.

Hubble cannot look at the sun directly, so astronomers are planning to point the telescope at the Earth's moon, using it as a mirror to capture reflected sunlight and isolate the small fraction of the light that passes through Venus's atmosphere. Imprinted on that small amount of light are the fingerprints of the planet’s atmospheric makeup.

These observations will mimic a technique that is already being used to sample the atmospheres of giant planets outside our solar system passing in front of their stars. In the case of the Venus transit observations, astronomers already know the chemical makeup of Venus's atmosphere, and that it does not show signs of life on the planet. But the Venus transit will be used to test whether this technique will have a chance of detecting the very faint fingerprints of an Earth-like planet, even one that might be habitable for life, outside our solar system that similarly transits its own star. , Venus is an excellent proxy because it is similar in size and mass to our planet.

The astronomers will use an arsenal of Hubble instruments, the Advanced Camera for Surveys, Wide Field Camera 3, and Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, to view the transit in a range of wavelengths, from ultraviolet to near-infrared light. During the transit, Hubble will snap images and perform spectroscopy, dividing the sunlight into its constituent colors, which could yield information about the makeup of Venus's atmosphere.

Hubble will observe the moon for seven hours, before, during, and after the transit so the astronomers can compare the data. Astronomers need the long observation because they are looking for extremely faint spectral signatures. Only 1/100,000th of the sunlight will filter through Venus's atmosphere and be reflected off the moon.

This image, taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys, reveals lunar features as small as roughly 560 feet (170 meters) across. The large "bulls-eye" near the top of the picture is the impact crater, caused by an asteroid strike about 100 million years ago. The bright trails radiating from the crater were formed by material ejected from the impact area during the asteroid collision. Tycho is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide and is circled by a rim of material rising almost 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor. The image measures 430 miles (700 kilometers) across, which is slightly larger than New Mexico.

Because the astronomers only have one shot at observing the transit, they had to carefully plan how the study would be carried out. Part of their planning included the test observations of the moon, made on Jan. 11, 2012, as shown in the release image.

Hubble will need to be locked onto the same location on the moon for more than seven hours, the transit's duration. For roughly 40 minutes of each 96-minute orbit of Hubble around the Earth, the Earth occults Hubble's view of the moon. So, during the test observations, the astronomers wanted to make sure they could point Hubble to precisely the same target area.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Public Invited to Two Free Earth Day 2012 Events at NASA Goddard

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. is hosting two free events on April 18 in celebration of Earth Day's forty-second anniversary. Both events will take place at the NASA Goddard Visitor's Center on IceSat Road, Greenbelt, Md.

Often cited as the most-viewed photograph of all time, the view of Earth's disk from Apollo 17 is emblematic of our home planet as an isolated blue marble. Despite the ubiquity of the Blue Marble, few people realize NASA has viewed the Earth since the agency's creation. In this talk Rob Simmon of NASA's Earth Observatory will discuss the history of NASA's evolving views of Earth, from the first weather satellites to the latest climate missions, from the orbit of Mercury to the edge of the Solar System. He will also describe the techniques used to build images that simulate the view from space, including cloud-free global composites and a picture of the Eastern Hemisphere from NASA and NOAA's newest Earth-observing mission, Suomi NPP. Speaker: Robert Simmon, NASA's Earth Observatory
Length: 20 minutes

1 - 2 p.m. EDT -- See the broadcast presentation titled: "Beautiful Earth Multimedia Performance and Science Dialogue," on a big screen at the NASA Goddard Visitor Center Auditorium.

Join us on a musical and visual tour of Earth from space with interactive discussions through the Beautiful Earth program. Director and Musician Kenji Williams performs the BELLA GAIA (www.bellagaia.com) multimedia show along with interactive discussions by NASA Earth Scientist Thorsten Markus and Native American Science Educator Jim Rock. The Beautiful Earth program highlights Earth's water in all of its forms: liquid, solid, and vapor, from the western scientific, indigenous, artistic, and multi-cultural points of view. The program simulates spaceflight for the public and reminds us of the beauty and inter-connectedness of Earth’s life systems. Students and teachers from across the country will interact live with the program.

Three days of NASA activities will also be held on the National Mall in Washington from April 20 through April 22. The agency's involvement includes free activities and exhibits open to the public.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Giant Prominence Erupts

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A beautiful prominence eruption producing a coronal mass ejection (CME) shot off the east limb (left side) of the sun on April 16, 2012. Such eruptions are often associated with solar flares, and in this case an M1 class (medium-sized) flare occurred at the same time, peaking at 1:45 PM EDT. The CME was not aimed toward Earth.

Monday, April 9, 2012

12-Mile-High Martian Dust Devil Caught in Act

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A Martian dust devil roughly 12 miles high (20 kilometers) was captured whirling its way along the Amazonis Planitia region of Northern Mars on March 14. It was imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Despite its height, the plume is little more than three-quarters of a football field wide (70 yards, or 70 meters).

Dust devils occur on Earth as well as on Mars. They are spinning columns of air, made visible by the dust they pull off the ground. Unlike a tornado, a dust devil typically forms on a clear day when the ground is heated by the sun, warming the air just above the ground. As heated air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler air above it, the air may begin to rotate, if conditions are just right.

The image was taken during late northern spring, two weeks short of the northern summer solstice, a time when the ground in the northern mid-latitudes is being heated most strongly by the sun.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been examining the Red Planet with six science instruments since 2006. Now in an extended mission, the orbiter continues to provide insights into the planet's ancient environments and how processes such as wind, meteorite impacts and seasonal frosts continue to affect the Martian surface today. This mission has returned more data about Mars than all other orbital and surface missions combined.

More than 21,700 images taken by HiRISE are available for viewing on the instrument team's website: http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu . Each observation by this telescopic camera covers several square miles, or square kilometers, and can reveal features as small as a desk.

HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and the Mars Exploration Rover Project are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the orbiter.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hurricane Season 2012: Typhoon Pakhar (Western North Pacific Ocean)

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Typhoon Pakhar made landfall on April 1 at 1200 UTC (8 a.m. EDT) in southeastern Vietnam and NASA satellites tracked its progress across Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and into the Gulf of Thailand.

A NASA satellite captured two infrared images of the clouds and thunderstorms that Pakhar brought when it made landfall. The two images were captured from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite on April 1 and April 2, after Typhoon Pakhar made landfall in southeastern Vietnam. The coldest cloud top temperatures were as cold as -63F (~-52C) and indicated the strongest thunderstorms with the heaviest rainfall. The images were from April 1 at 1823 UTC (2:23 p.m. EDT) when Pakhar had moved into Cambodia and April 2 at 0647 UTC (2:47 a.m. EDT) when the remnants moved into the Gulf of Thailand.

According to Vietnam News.com, as Pakhar made landfall it affected seven provinces including Ho Chi Minh City, with heavy rains and gusty winds. Two deaths and 10 injuries were reported. The province of Dong Nai, Bien Hoa City reported more than 700 damaged homes. Flooded streets, damaged structures and downed trees were reported throughout.

Monday, March 26, 2012

NASA GRAIL Returns First Student-Selected Moon Images

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One of two NASA spacecraft orbiting the moon has beamed back the first student-requested pictures of the lunar surface from its onboard camera. Fourth grade students from the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., received the honor of making the first image selections by winning a nationwide competition to rename the two spacecraft.

The image was taken by the MoonKam, or Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students. Previously named Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) A and B, the twin spacecraft are now called Ebb and Flow. Both washing-machine-sized orbiters carry a small MoonKAM camera. Over 60 student–requested images were taken by the Ebb spacecraft from March 15-17 and downlinked to Earth March 20.

"MoonKAM is based on the premise that if your average picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture from lunar orbit may be worth a classroom full of engineering and science degrees," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL mission principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. "Through MoonKAM, we have an opportunity to reach out to the next generation of scientists and engineers. It is great to see things off to such a positive start."

GRAIL is NASA's first planetary mission to carry instruments fully dedicated to education and public outreach. Students will select target areas on the lunar surface and request images to study from the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center in San Diego.

The MoonKAM program is led by Sally Ride, America's first woman in space, and her team at Sally Ride Science in collaboration with undergraduate students at the University of California in San Diego. More than 2,700 schools spanning 52 countries are using the MoonKAM cameras.

"What might seem like just a cool activity for these kids may very well have a profound impact on their futures," Ride said. "The students really are excited about MoonKAM, and that translates into an excitement about science and engineering."

Launched in September 2011, Ebb and Flow will answer longstanding questions about the moon and give scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the GRAIL mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, is home to the mission's principal investigator, Maria Zuber. GRAIL is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NASA spacecraft puts moon in new focus

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After buzzing around the moon for two years, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has beamed more than 192 terabytes of data back to its home planet — more than all the printed information contained in the U.S. Library of Congress, says project scientist Richard Vondrak of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Among those data are 4 billion measurements made by the orbiter’s laser altimeter, which allowed scientists to construct a detailed elevation map of the moon’s pockmarked surface. An animation of the moon’s rotation shows the orbiter’s data compared with maps made in 2005 by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Unified Lunar Control Network. Scientists presented the animation during a conference held on June 21. “We go from a relatively fuzzy moon that kind of looks out of focus, to one that’s sharp and very well-defined,” says NASA’s Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist for exploration.

Flying approximately 50 kilometers above the cratered world, the 1,900-kilogram spacecraft has helped illuminate Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor by studying its features, temperature, composition and elusive dark side. Using the data sent back home, scientists have identified locations likely to hold frozen water ice — shaded regions that never see sunlight and which are among the coldest places in the solar system — as well as sunnier spots that could one day host a solar-powered moon base.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

NASA’s Astrobiology Research Sparks 'GreenTech' Revolution

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NASA’s astrobiologists study microbial life to understand how it transformed a rocky Earth into the thriving, diverse, life-sustaining planet we inhabit today. These studies of photosynthetic ‘green’ algae are creating sparks for new ‘green technologies’ on Earth and future human space exploration missions.

“Once we understand these microbial recycling pathways, we can apply these processes in imaginative and innovative ways to solve problems on Earth, and in various space microgravity environments,” said Leslie Bebout, a research scientist in the Exobiology Branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Exobiology scientists at NASA Ames are conducting astrobiology research into the origin and early evolution of life, the potential of life to adapt to different environments, and the implications for life elsewhere. Goals of this research are to determine the nature of the most primitive organisms and the environments in which they evolved, and how those microbes and environments have changed over time to produce the world we have today.

These findings are helping scientists understand the transformations of Earth and its atmosphere throughout time. This requires an investigation of the evolution of genes, metabolic pathways, and microbial species, subject to long-term environmental change. Such an investigation will show the co-evolution of, and interactions within, microbial communities that drive the major recycling processes on Earth. These constantly flowing cycles of energy and elements are what make Earth unique, and are critical to the development of new technologies for sustainable energy, food and water processing.

“It may surprise people to learn that NASA’s space science research has so many direct applications to the development of ‘greentech.’ Many of the organisms we study are important producers of hydrogen, methane and lipids that can be used as carbon neutral fuels, and other products,” said Orlando Santos, chief of the Exobiology Branch at Ames.

Microbial ecology links this research together. By studying microbes in a given environment, scientists can observe how they thrive and interact with each other. It is important to note that microbial communities are profoundly influenced by their environment. By looking at geographic location, or a shift to short- or long-term environmental perturbations, scientists can determine how microbial populations and processes differ in response to different environments.

Monday, March 5, 2012

NASA Seeking University Participants for Summer Rocket Workshop

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NASA Seeking University Participants for Summer
University faculty and students are invited to join a weeklong workshop June 16-21 to learn how to build and launch a scientific experiment to space. Registration is open through May 1.

RockOn! 2012 will be held at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The annual workshop is held in partnership with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia.

"This workshop provides an opportunity for participants to learn how to build an experiment for space flight," said Phil Eberspeaker, chief of the sounding rocket program office at Wallops. "The hope is this experience will encourage them to participate in more ambitious payload programs, including someday building instruments for orbital spacecraft and beyond."

During the program, participants will work together to build experiment payloads for a NASA Terrier-Orion sounding rocket predicted to fly to an altitude of 73 miles. The flight will take place June 21, the last day of the workshop, weather permitting.

"During the week, the participants will gain an understanding of what it takes to build a basic scientific payload," said Chris Koehler, director of the Colorado Space Grant Consortium. "Through hands-on learning, they will learn how to develop circuit boards, program flight code and work together as a cohesive team."

Since the annual workshop began in 2008, 150 students and instructors have participated. It has been a successful program, with all experiments completed on time, launched and recovered. In addition, 48 of the 50 payloads have worked as intended.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NASA Satellite Finds Earth's Clouds are Getting Lower

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NASA Satellite Finds Earth's Clouds are Getting Lower
Earth's clouds got a little lower -- about one percent on average -- during the first decade of this century, finds a new NASA-funded university study based on NASA satellite data. The results have potential implications for future global climate.

Scientists at the University of Auckland in New Zealand analyzed the first 10 years of global cloud-top height measurements (from March 2000 to February 2010) from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument on NASA's Terra spacecraft. The study, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, revealed an overall trend of decreasing cloud height. Global average cloud height declined by around one percent over the decade, or by around 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 meters). Most of the reduction was due to fewer clouds occurring at very high altitudes.

Lead researcher Roger Davies said that while the record is too short to be definitive, it provides a hint that something quite important might be going on. Longer-term monitoring will be required to determine the significance of the observation for global temperatures.

A consistent reduction in cloud height would allow Earth to cool to space more efficiently, reducing the surface temperature of the planet and potentially slowing the effects of global warming. This may represent a "negative feedback" mechanism – a change caused by global warming that works to counteract it. "We don't know exactly what causes the cloud heights to lower," says Davies. "But it must be due to a change in the circulation patterns that give rise to cloud formation at high altitude."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Sun As Art

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The Sun As Art

A new interactive NASA art exhibit opens February 9 at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore that will showcase stunning images of the sun.

Called "Sun As Art," the collection consists of 20 full-color, high-resolution images of the star with which we live. Some of the pieces stand alone, beautiful images that hold true to the original picture. Others have been modified: one looks like an Andy Warhol painting; another like an orange. Several pieces in the collection have an interactive component where visitors using smart phones can scan a QR code and watch the particular solar event that inspired the finished image.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Dr. Steele Hill, a media specialist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Hill selected images from some of the agency's solar missions to showcase incredible details of the sun in a unique way.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

NASA Mission Returns First Video From Moon's Far Side

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A camera aboard one of NASA's twin Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar spacecraft has returned its first unique view of the far side of the moon. MoonKAM, or Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students, will be used by students nationwide to select lunar images for study.

GRAIL consists of two identical spacecraft, recently named Ebb and Flow, each of which is equipped with a MoonKAM. The images were taken as part of a test of Ebb's MoonKAM on Jan. 19. The GRAIL project plans to test the MoonKAM aboard Flow at a later date.

In the video, the north pole of the moon is visible at the top of the screen as the spacecraft flies toward the lunar south pole. One of the first prominent geological features seen on the lower third of the moon is the Mare Orientale, a 560-mile-wide (900 kilometer) impact basin that straddles both the moon's near and far side.

The clip ends with rugged terrain just short of the lunar south pole. To the left of center, near the bottom of the screen, is the 93-mile-wide (149 kilometer) Drygalski crater with a distinctive star-shaped formation in the middle. The formation is a central peak, created many billions of years ago by a comet or asteroid impact.

"The quality of the video is excellent and should energize our MoonKAM students as they prepare to explore the moon," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

The twin spacecraft successfully achieved lunar orbit this past New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Previously named GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, the washing machine-sized spacecraft received their new names from fourth graders at the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont., following a nationwide student naming contest.

Thousands of fourth- to eighth-grade students will select target areas on the lunar surface and send requests to the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center in San Diego. Photos of the target areas will be sent back by the satellites for students to study. The MoonKAM program is led by Sally Ride, America's first woman in space. Her team at Sally Ride Science and undergraduate students at the University of California in San Diego will engage middle schools across the country in the GRAIL mission and lunar exploration. GRAIL is NASA's first planetary mission carrying instruments fully dedicated to education and public outreach.

"We have had great response from schools around the country; more than 2,500 signed up to participate so far," Ride said. "In mid-March, the first pictures of the moon will be taken by students using MoonKAM. I expect this will excite many students about possible careers in science and engineering."

Launched in September 2011, Ebb and Flow periodically perform trajectory correction maneuvers that, over time, will lower their orbits to near-circular ones with an altitude of about 34 miles (55 kilometers). During their science mission, the duo will answer longstanding questions about the moon and give scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the GRAIL mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The GRAIL mission is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.

Monday, February 13, 2012

NASA Mission Takes Stock of Earth's Melting Land Ice

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In the first comprehensive satellite study of its kind, a University of Colorado at Boulder-led team used NASA data to calculate how much Earth's melting land ice is adding to global sea level rise.

Using satellite measurements from the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), the researchers measured ice loss in all of Earth's land ice between 2003 and 2010, with particular emphasis on glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica.

The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth's glaciers and ice caps during the study period was about 4.3 trillion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 0.5 inches (12 millimeters) to global sea level. That's enough ice to cover the United States 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) deep.

"Earth is losing a huge amount of ice to the ocean annually, and these new results will help us answer important questions in terms of both sea rise and how the planet's cold regions are responding to global change," said University of Colorado Boulder physics professor John Wahr, who helped lead the study. "The strength of GRACE is it sees all the mass in the system, even though its resolution is not high enough to allow us to determine separate contributions from each individual glacier."

About a quarter of the average annual ice loss came from glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica (roughly 148 billion tons, or 39 cubic miles). Ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica and their peripheral ice caps and glaciers averaged 385 billion tons (100 cubic miles) a year. Results of the study will be published online Feb. 8 in the journal Nature.

Traditional estimates of Earth's ice caps and glaciers have been made using ground measurements from relatively few glaciers to infer what all the world's unmonitored glaciers were doing. Only a few hundred of the roughly 200,000 glaciers worldwide have been monitored for longer than a decade.

One unexpected study result from GRACE was the estimated ice loss from high Asian mountain ranges like the Himalaya, the Pamir and the Tien Shan was only about 4 billion tons of ice annually. Some previous ground-based estimates of ice loss in these high Asian mountains have ranged up to 50 billion tons annually.

"The GRACE results in this region really were a surprise," said Wahr, who also is a fellow at the University of Colorado-headquartered Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. "One possible explanation is that previous estimates were based on measurements taken primarily from some of the lower, more accessible glaciers in Asia and extrapolated to infer the behavior of higher glaciers. But unlike the lower glaciers, most of the high glaciers are located in very cold environments and require greater amounts of atmospheric warming before local temperatures rise enough to cause significant melting. This makes it difficult to use low-elevation, ground-based measurements to estimate results from the entire system."

"This study finds that the world's small glaciers and ice caps in places like Alaska, South America and the Himalayas contribute about .02 inches per year to sea level rise," said Tom Wagner, cryosphere program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "While this is lower than previous estimates, it confirms that ice is being lost from around the globe, with just a few areas in precarious balance. The results sharpen our view of land ice melting, which poses the biggest, most threatening factor in future sea level rise."

The twin GRACE satellites track changes in Earth's gravity field by noting minute changes in gravitational pull caused by regional variations in Earth's mass, which for periods of months to years is typically because of movements of water on Earth's surface. It does this by measuring changes in the distance between its two identical spacecraft to one-hundredth the width of a human hair.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Astronomy team discovers nearby dwarf galaxy

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Astronomy team discovers nearby dwarf galaxyNGC 4449 has a nucleus that may someday host a black hole and an irregular structure, lacking the spiral arms characteristic of many galaxies, he said. It is surrounded by a huge complex of hydrogen gas that spans approximately 300,000 light years, which may be fueling its burst of star formation.

Rich collaborated with Francis Longstaff, a professor of finance at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and an amateur astronomer, in acquiring and using a specialized telescope designed to take images of wide fields of the sky. Known as the Centurion 28 (the diameter of the mirror is 28 inches), the telescope, and the observatory the astronomers used, are located at the Polaris Observatory Association near Frazier Park, in Kern County, Calif.

With the C28 telescope, the astronomers discovered the companion dwarf galaxy, which has "evidently experienced a close encounter with the nucleus of NGC 4449," Rich said. Dubbed NGC 4449B, the dwarf galaxy has been stretched into a comet-like shape by this gravitational encounter.

NGC 4449B had remained undetected because it is more than 10 times fainter than the natural brightness of the night sky and some 1,000 times fainter than our own Milky Way galaxy. The dwarf galaxy is in a "transient stage," Rich said, and will soon — by astronomical standards — be dissolved.

The Milky Way has a similar companion, known as the Sagittarius Dwarf galaxy, which has been wrapped around our galaxy as it orbits and which loses its stars to the Milky Way's gravitational tug.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Powerful Pixels: Mapping the "Apollo Zone"

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Apollo Zone
Grayscale pixels – up close, they look like black, white or grey squares. But when you zoom out to see the bigger picture, they can create a digital photograph, like this one of our moon:

For NASA researchers, pixels are much more – they are precious data that help us understand where we came from, where we've been, and where we're going.

At NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., computer scientists have made a giant leap forward to pull as much information from imperfect static images as possible. With their advancement in image processing algorithms, the legacy data from the Apollo Metric Camera onboard Apollo 15, 16 and 17 can be transformed into an informative and immersive 3D mosaic map of a large and scientifically interesting part of the moon.

The "Apollo Zone" Digital Image Mosaic (DIM) and Digital Terrain Model (DTM) maps cover about 18 percent of the lunar surface at a resolution of 98 feet (30 meters) per pixel. The maps are the result of three years of work by the Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) at NASA Ames, and are available to view through the NASA Lunar Mapping and Modeling Portal (LMMP) and Google Moon feature in Google Earth.

"The main challenge of the Apollo Zone project was that we had very old data – scans, not captured in digital format," said Ara Nefian, a senior scientist with the IRG and Carnegie Mellon University-Silicon Valley. "They were taken with the technology we had over 40 years ago with imprecise camera positions, orientations and exposure time by today’s standards."

The researchers overcame the challenge by developing new computer vision algorithms to automatically generate the 2D and 3D maps. Algorithms are sets of computer code that create a procedure for how to handle certain set processes. For example, part of the 2D imaging algorithms align many images taken from various positions with various exposure times into one seamless image mosaic. In the mosaic, areas in shadows, which show up as patches of dark or black pixels are automatically replaced by lighter gray pixels. These show more well-lit detail from other images of the same area to create a more detailed map.

Monday, January 30, 2012

First of NASA's GRAIL spacecraft enters Moon orbit

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NASA's GRAIL spacecraftThe first of two NASA spacecraft to study the moon in unprecedented detail has entered lunar orbit.

NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)-A spacecraft successfully completed its planned main engine burn at 2 p.m. PST (5 p.m. EST) today. As of 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST), GRAIL-A is in an orbit of 56 miles by 5,197 miles (90 kilometers by 8,363 kilometers) around the moon that takes approximately 11.5 hours to complete.

"My resolution for the new year is to unlock lunar mysteries and understand how the moon, Earth and other rocky planets evolved," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "Now, with GRAIL-A successfully placed in orbit around the moon, we are one step closer to achieving that goal."

The next mission milestone occurs tomorrow when GRAIL-A's mirror twin, GRAIL-B, performs its own main engine burn to place it in lunar orbit. At 3 p.m. PST (6 p.m. EST) today, GRAIL-B was 30,018 miles (48,309 kilometers) from the moon and closing at a rate of 896 mph (1,442 kilometers per hour). GRAIL-B's insertion burn is scheduled to begin tomorrow, Jan. 1, at 2:05 p.m. PST (5:05 p.m. EST) and will last about 39 minutes.

"With GRAIL-A in lunar orbit we are halfway home," said David Lehman, GRAIL project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Tomorrow may be New Year's everywhere else, but it's another work day around the moon and here at JPL for the GRAIL team."

Once both spacecraft are confirmed in orbit and operating, science work will begin in March. The spacecraft will transmit radio signals precisely defining the distance between them as they orbit the moon in formation. As they fly over areas of greater and lesser gravity caused by both visible features, such as mountains and craters, and masses hidden beneath the lunar surface, the distance between the two spacecraft will change slightly.

Scientists will translate this information into a high-resolution map of the moon's gravitational field. The data will allow scientists to understand what goes on below the lunar surface. This information will increase knowledge of how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Voyager Instrument Cooling After Heater Turned off

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It is now operating at a temperature below minus 79 degrees Celsius (minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit), the coldest temperature that the instrument has ever endured. This heater shut-off is a step in the careful management of the diminishing electrical power so that the Voyager spacecraft can continue to collect and transmit data through 2025.

At the moment, the spectrometer continues to collect and return data. It was originally designed to operate at temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius (minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit), but it has continued to operate in ever chillier temperatures as heaters around it have been turned off over the last 17 years. It was not known if the spectrometer would continue working, but since 2005, it has been operating at minus 56 degrees Celsius (69 degrees Fahrenheit.) So engineers are encouraged that the instrument has continued to operate, even after the nearby heater was turned off in December. (The spectrometer is likely operating at a temperature somewhat lower than minus 79 degrees Celsius, or minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but the temperature detector does not go any lower.)

Scientists and mission managers will continue to monitor the spectrometer’s performance. It was very active during Voyager 1’s encounters with Jupiter and Saturn, and since then an international team led by scientists in France has been analyzing the spectrometer’s data.

This latest heater shut-off was actually part of the nearby infrared spectrometer, which itself has not been operational on Voyager 1 since 1998.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

2012 Lunar Extreme Program and Workshop for Bay Area High School Teachers and Students

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2012 Lunar Extreme Program
Dynamic Response of the Environment At the Moon – is one of several teams comprising the NASA Lunar Science Institute. The purpose of DREAM is to investigate the response of the lunar environment to the harsh and ever-changing conditions in space, including extreme events such as solar storms and impacts. DREAM is looking for two teams of high school teachers and students (4-6 students per teacher) in the Bay Area of California who would like to participate in the Lunar Extreme Program for Jan.-June 2012, culminating in participation at a Lunar Extreme Workshop with DREAM scientists on June 18-22, 2012, at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The target audience for this program are students who have already been exposed to physics, Earth science, chemistry, or computer modeling, and the teachers of these subjects. Teachers will be provided with small stipends for their participation. Participants will be notified of their acceptance by Dec. 16. To learn more and to apply,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fastest Rotating Star Found in Neighboring Galaxy

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The massive, bright young star, called VFTS 102, rotates at a million miles per hour, or 100 times faster than our sun does. Centrifugal forces from this dizzying spin rate have flattened the star into an oblate shape and spun off a disk of hot plasma, seen edge on in this view from a hypothetical planet. The star may have "spun up" by accreting material from a binary companion star. The rapidly evolving companion later exploded as a supernova. The whirling star lies 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way.