David Kirkpatrick

May 5, 2011

Fifty years of US manned spaceflight

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 8:45 am

A round of applause to NASA and everyone involved in this ongoing adventure. “To infinity and beyond … ,” or something like that.

Hot from the inbox:

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s Statement About the 50th Anniversary of U.S. Human Spaceflight

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden issued the following statement Thursday, May 5, about the 50th anniversary of United States human spaceflight:

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

“50 years ago today, Alan Shepard rocketed into space on America’s first manned space mission. That flight set our nation on a path of exploration and discovery that continues to this day.

“May 5, 1961, was a good day. When Alan Shepard launched toward the stars that day, no American had ever done so, and the world waited on pins and needles praying for a good outcome. The flight was a great success, and on the strength of Shepard’s accomplishment, NASA built the leadership role in human spaceflight that we have held ever since.

“I was a teenager at the time and just sorting out the field of study I wanted to pursue. Though I never dared dream it growing up in segregated South Carolina, I was proud to follow in Alan’s footsteps several years later and become a test pilot myself. The experiences I’ve had would not have been possible without Alan’s pioneering efforts. The inspiration that has created generations of leaders to enlarge our understanding of our universe and to strive toward the highest in human potential was sparked by those early achievements of our space program. They began with Freedom 7 and a daring test pilot who flew the ultimate experimental vehicle that May day 50 years ago.

“Today we celebrate a first — and we celebrate the future. Project Mercury gave our country something new, including an astronaut corps and the space vehicles that began our human exploration efforts.

“I encourage everyone to not only remember that remarkable achievement, but to be reminded that we are still driven to reach for new heights in human exploration.

“At NASA, each first is grown and expanded until we make the next breakthrough. 50 years ago, we sent the first American into space. Today we have a space station flying 250 miles overhead right now on which men and women have lived continuously for more than 10 years.

“With the same spirit of innovation and grit of those early days of space flight, we now move out on an exciting path forward where we will develop the capabilities to take humans to even more destinations in the solar system. With our support and assistance, commercial companies will expand access to that rarefied area Alan Shepard first trod for America, allowing NASA to focus on those bigger, more challenging destinations and to enable our science missions to peer farther and farther beyond our solar system.

“We are just getting started. Our future, as an agency and as a country, holds many more firsts. We know the next 50 years will be just as exciting as the last – filled with discovery, innovation and inspiration.”

SOURCE  NASA

Photo:http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photoarchive.ap.org/
NASA

Web Site: http://www.nasa.gov

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February 4, 2011

One more thing to do this Sunday — check out the sun

Hot from the inbox:

NASA Releasing First Views of the Entire Sun on Super SUN-Day

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA will score big on super SUN-day at 11 a.m. EST, Sunday, Feb. 6, with the release online of the first complete view of the sun’s entire surface and atmosphere.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

Seeing the whole sun front and back simultaneously will enable significant advances in space weather forecasting for Earth, and improve planning for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system.

These views are the result of observations by NASA’s two Solar TErrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft. The duo are on diametrically opposite sides of the sun, 180 degrees apart. One is ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind.

Launched in October 2006, STEREO traces the flow of energy and matter from the sun to Earth. It also provides unique and revolutionary views of the sun-Earth system. The mission observed the sun in 3-D for the first time in 2007. In 2009, the twin spacecraft revealed the 3-D structure of coronal mass ejections which are violent eruptions of matter from the sun that can disrupt communications, navigation, satellites and power grids on Earth.

STEREO is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program within the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the mission, instruments and science center.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., designed and built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations.

The STEREO imaging and particle detecting instruments were designed and built by scientific institutions in the U.S., UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland.

To view the image with supporting visuals and information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/stereo

For information about NASA and other agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

SOURCE  NASA

Photo:http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photoarchive.ap.org/
NASA

Web Site: http://www.nasa.gov

October 21, 2010

The latest moon facts from NASA

Pretty interesting facts at that …

The release very hot from the inbox:

NASA Missions Uncover the Moon’s Buried Treasures

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Nearly a year after announcing the discovery of water molecules on the moon, scientists Thursday revealed new data uncovered by NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO.

The missions found evidence that the lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials, and the moon is chemically active and has a water cycle. Scientists also confirmed the water was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places. The results are featured in six papers published in the Oct. 22 issue of Science.

“NASA has convincingly confirmed the presence of water ice and characterized its patchy distribution in permanently shadowed regions of the moon,” said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This major undertaking is the one of many steps NASA has taken to better understand our solar system, its resources, and its origin, evolution, and future.”

The twin impacts of LCROSS and a companion rocket stage in the moon’s Cabeus crater on Oct. 9, 2009, lifted a plume of material that might not have seen direct sunlight for billions of years. As the plume traveled nearly 10 miles above the rim of Cabeus, instruments aboard LCROSS and LRO made observations of the crater and debris and vapor clouds. After the impacts, grains of mostly pure water ice were lofted into the sunlight in the vacuum of space.

“Seeing mostly pure water ice grains in the plume means water ice was somehow delivered to the moon in the past, or chemical processes have been causing ice to accumulate in large quantities,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Also, the diversity and abundance of certain materials called volatiles in the plume, suggest a variety of sources, like comets and asteroids, and an active water cycle within the lunar shadows.”

Volatiles are compounds that freeze and are trapped in the cold lunar craters and vaporize when warmed by the sun. The suite of LCROSS and LRO instruments determined as much as 20 percent of the material kicked up by the LCROSS impact was volatiles, including methane, ammonia, hydrogen gas, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

The instruments also discovered relatively large amounts of light metals such as sodium, mercury and possibly even silver.

Scientists believe the water and mix of volatiles that LCROSS and LRO detected could be the remnants of a comet impact. According to scientists, these volatile chemical by-products are also evidence of a cycle through which water ice reacts with lunar soil grains.

LRO’s Diviner instrument gathered data on water concentration and temperature measurements, and LRO’s Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector mapped the distribution of hydrogen. This combined data led the science team to conclude the water is not uniformly distributed within the shadowed cold traps, but rather is in pockets, which may also lie outside the shadowed regions.

The proportion of volatiles to water in the lunar soil indicates a process called “cold grain chemistry” is taking place. Scientists also theorize this process could take as long as hundreds of thousands of years and may occur on other frigid, airless bodies, such as asteroids; the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, including Europa and Enceladus; Mars’ moons; interstellar dust grains floating around other stars and the polar regions of Mercury.

“The observations by the suite of LRO and LCROSS instruments demonstrate the moon has a complex environment that experiences intriguing chemical processes,” said Richard Vondrak, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “This knowledge can open doors to new areas of research and exploration.”

By understanding the processes and environments that determine where water ice will be, how water was delivered to the moon and its active water cycle, future mission planners might be better able to determine which locations will have easily-accessible water. The existence of mostly pure water ice could mean future human explorers won’t have to retrieve the water out of the soil in order to use it for valuable life support resources. In addition, an abundant presence of hydrogen gas, ammonia and methane could be exploited to produce fuel.

LCROSS launched with LRO aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 18, 2009, and used the Centaur upper stage rocket to create the debris plume. The research was funded by NASA’s Exploration Systems Missions Directorate at the agency’s headquarters. LCROSS was managed by Ames and built by Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, Calif. LRO was built and is managed by Goddard.

For more information about LCROSS, a complete list of the papers and their authors, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/lcross

For more information about the LRO mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/lro

SOURCE  NASA

Photo:http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photoarchive.ap.org/
Photo:http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photoarchive.ap.org/
NASA

Web Site: http://www.nasa.gov

September 16, 2010

NASA’s LRO finds diversity in the moon’s past

Here’s a release hot from the inbox. (I’m in light blogging mode for the middle of this week due to multiple projects, so I’m taking the easy way out here. Of course presenting the entire release is standard procedure with this blog anyway, so, um, enjoy!)

The release:

NASA’s LRO Exposes Moon’s Complex, Turbulent Youth

GREENBELT, Md., Sept. 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The moon was bombarded by two distinct populations of asteroids or comets in its youth, and its surface is more complex than previously thought, according to new results from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft featured in three papers appearing in the Sept. 17 issue of Science.

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(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

In the first paper, lead author James Head of Brown University in Providence, R.I., describes results obtained from a detailed global topographic map of the moon created using LRO’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). “Our new LRO LOLA dataset shows that the older highland impactor population can be clearly distinguished from the younger population in the lunar ‘maria’ — giant impact basins filled with solidified lava flows,” says Head. “The highlands have a greater density of large craters compared to smaller ones, implying that the earlier population of impactors had a proportionally greater number of large fragments than the population that characterized later lunar history.”

Meteorite impacts can radically alter the history of a planet. The moon, Mars, and Mercury all bear scars of ancient craters hundreds or even thousands of miles across. If Earth was subjected to this assault as well — and there’s no reason to assume our planet was spared — these enormous impacts could have disrupted the initial origin of life. Large impacts that occurred later appear to have altered life’s evolution. The approximately 110-mile-diameter, partially buried crater at Chicxulub, in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, is from an impact about 65 million years ago that is now widely believed to have led or contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs and many other life forms.

Scientists trying to reconstruct the meteorite bombardment history of Earth face difficulty because impact craters are eroded by wind and water, or destroyed by the action of plate tectonics, the gradual movement and recycling of the Earth’s crust. However, a rich record of craters is preserved on the moon, because it has only an extremely thin atmosphere — a vacuum better than those typically used for experiments in laboratories on Earth. The moon’s surface has no liquid water and no plate tectonics. The only source of significant erosion is other impacts.

“The moon is thus analogous to a Rosetta stone for understanding the bombardment history of the Earth,” said Head. “Like the Rosetta stone, the lunar record can be used to translate the ‘hieroglyphics’ of the poorly preserved impact record on Earth.”

Even so, previous lunar maps had different resolutions, viewing angles, and lighting conditions, which made it hard to consistently identify and count craters. Head and his team used the LOLA instrument on board LRO to build a map that highlights lunar craters with unprecedented clarity. The instrument sends laser pulses to the lunar surface, measures the time that it takes for them to reflect back to the spacecraft, and then with a very precise knowledge of the orbit of the LRO spacecraft, scientists can convert this information to a detailed topographic map of the moon, according to Head.

Objects hitting the moon can be categorized in different “impactor populations,” where each population has its own set of characteristics. Head also used the LOLA maps to determine the time when the impactor population changed. “Using the crater counts from the different impact basins and examining the populations making up the superposed craters, we can look back in time to discover when this transition in impactor populations occurred. The LRO LOLA impact crater database shows that the transition occurred about the time of the Orientale impact basin, about 3.8 billion years ago. The implication is that this change in populations occurred around the same time as the large impact basins stopped forming, and raises the question of whether or not these factors might be related. The answers to these questions have implications for the earliest history of all the planets in the inner solar system, including Earth,” says Head.

In the other two Science papers, researchers describe how data from the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment instrument on LRO are showing that the geologic processes that forged the lunar surface were complex as well. The data have revealed previously unseen compositional differences in the crustal highlands, and have confirmed the presence of anomalously silica-rich material in five distinct regions.

Every mineral, and therefore every rock, absorbs and emits energy with a unique spectral signature that can be measured to reveal its identity and formation mechanisms. For the first time ever, LRO’s Diviner instrument is providing scientists with global, high-resolution infrared maps of the moon, which are enabling them to make a definitive identification of silicate minerals commonly found within its crust. “Diviner is literally viewing the moon in a whole new light,” says Benjamin Greenhagen of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., lead author of one of the Diviner Science papers.

Lunar geology can be roughly broken down into two categories – the anorthositic highlands, rich in calcium and aluminium, and the basaltic maria, which are abundant in iron and magnesium. Both of these crustal rocks are what’s deemed by geologists as ‘primitive’; that is, they are the direct result of crystallization from lunar mantle material, the partially molten layer beneath the crust.

Diviner’s observations have confirmed that most lunar terrains have spectral signatures consistent with compositions that fall into these two broad categories. However they have also revealed that the lunar highlands may be less homogenous than previously thought.

In a wide range of terrains, Diviner revealed the presence of lunar soils with compositions more sodium rich than that of the typical anorthosite crust. The widespread nature of these soils reveals that there may have been variations in the chemistry and cooling rate of the magma ocean which formed the early lunar crust, or they could be the result of secondary processing of the early lunar crust.

Most impressively, in several locations around the moon, Diviner has detected the presence of highly silicic minerals such as quartz, potassium-rich, and sodium-rich feldspar — minerals that are only ever found in association with highly evolved lithologies (rocks that have undergone extensive magmatic processing).

The detection of silicic minerals at these locations is a significant finding for scientists, as they occur in areas previously shown to exhibit anomalously high abundances of the element thorium, another proxy for highly evolved lithologies.

“The silicic features we’ve found on the moon are fundamentally different from the more typical basaltic mare and anorthositic highlands,” says Timothy Glotch of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y., lead author of the second Diviner Science paper. “The fact that we see this composition in multiple geologic settings suggests that there may have been multiple processes producing these rocks.”

One thing not apparent in the data is evidence for pristine lunar mantle material, which previous studies have suggested may be exposed at some places on the lunar surface. Such material, rich in iron and magnesium, would be readily detected by Diviner.

However, even in the South Pole Aitken Basin (SPA), the largest, oldest, and deepest impact crater on the moon — deep enough to have penetrated through the crust and into the mantle — there is no evidence of mantle material.

The implications of this are as yet unknown. Perhaps there are no such exposures of mantle material, or maybe they occur in areas too small for Diviner to detect.

However, it’s likely that if the impact that formed this crater did excavate any mantle material, it has since been mixed with crustal material from later impacts inside and outside SPA. “The new Diviner data will help in selecting the appropriate landing sites for potential future robotic missions to return samples from SPA. We want to use these samples to date the SPA-forming impact and potentially study the lunar mantle, so it’s important to use Diviner data to identify areas with minimal mixing,” says Greenhagen.

The research was funded by NASA’s Exploration Systems Missions Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. LRO was built and is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. LOLA was built by NASA Goddard. David E. Smith from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and NASA Goddard is the LOLA principal investigator. The Diviner instrument was built and is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. UCLA is the home institution of Diviner’s principal investigator, David Paige.

For images and more information about LRO, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/lro

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

September 2, 2010

NASA’s going to the sun

And announcing the first five solar missions. No need to rush and book reservations, though, since this mission is a good eight years from launch.

News hot from today’s inbox.

The release:

NASA Selects Investigations for First Mission to Encounter the Sun

WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA has begun development of a mission to visit and study the sun closer than ever before. The unprecedented project, named Solar Probe Plus, is slated to launch no later than 2018.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)
(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

The small car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun’s atmosphere approximately four million miles from our star’s surface. It will explore a region no other spacecraft ever has encountered. NASA has selected five science investigations that will unlock the sun’s biggest mysteries.

“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics —  why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?” said Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington. “We’ve been struggling with these questions for decades and this mission should finally provide those answers.”

As the spacecraft approaches the sun, its revolutionary carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures exceeding 2550 degrees Fahrenheit and blasts of intense radiation. The spacecraft will have an up close and personal view of the sun enabling scientists to better understand, characterize and forecast the radiation environment for future space explorers.

NASA invited researchers in 2009 to submit science proposals. Thirteen were reviewed by a panel of NASA and outside scientists. The total dollar amount for the five selected investigations is approximately $180 million for preliminary analysis, design, development and tests.

The selected proposals are:

— Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons Investigation: principal investigator, Justin C. Kasper, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass. This investigation will specifically count the most abundant particles in the solar wind — electrons, protons and helium ions — and measure their properties. The investigation also is designed to catch some of the particles in a special cup for direct analysis.

— Wide-field Imager: principal investigator, Russell Howard, Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. This telescope will make 3-D images of the sun’s corona, or atmosphere. The experiment actually will see the solar wind and provide 3-D images of clouds and shocks as they approach and pass the spacecraft. This investigation complements instruments on the spacecraft providing direct measurements by imaging the plasma the other instruments sample.

— Fields Experiment: principal investigator, Stuart Bale, University of California Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. This investigation will make direct measurements of electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions, and shock waves that course through the sun’s atmospheric plasma. The experiment also serves as a giant dust detector, registering voltage signatures when specks of space dust hit the spacecraft’s antenna.

— Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun: principal investigator, David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. This investigation consists of two instruments that will take an inventory of elements in the sun’s atmosphere using a mass spectrometer to weigh and sort ions in the vicinity of the spacecraft.

— Heliospheric Origins with Solar Probe Plus: principal investigator, Marco Velli of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Velli is the mission’s observatory scientist, responsible for serving as a senior scientist on the science working group. He will provide an independent assessment of scientific performance and act as a community advocate for the mission.

“This project allows humanity’s ingenuity to go where no spacecraft has ever gone before,” said Lika Guhathakurta, Solar Probe Plus program scientist at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “For the very first time, we’ll be able to touch, taste and smell our sun.”

The Solar Probe Plus mission is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand aspects of the sun and Earth’s space environment that affect life and society. The program is managed by NASA’S Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., with oversight from NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Division. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., is the prime contractor for the spacecraft.

For more information about the Solar Probe Plus mission, visit:
http://solarprobe.gsfc.nasa.gov/

For more information about the Living with a Star Program, visit:
http://science.nasa.gov/about-us/smd-programs/living-with-a-star/

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

August 23, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Earth from the moon

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:48 am

Well, really this one isn’t very beautiful at all aesthetically, but as a human achievement it is utterly amazing. This is the first image of the Earth taken from the moon’s distance by United States Lunar Orbiter I on this day (August 23) in 1966.

File:First View of Earth from Moon.jpg

The world’s first view of Earth taken by a spacecraft from the vicinity of the Moon. The photo was transmitted to Earth by the United States Lunar Orbiter I and received at the NASA tracking station at Robledo De Chavela near Madrid, Spain. This crescent of the Earth was photographed August 23, 1966 at 16:35 GMT when the spacecraft was on its 16th orbit and just about to pass behind the Moon. Reference Numbers: Center: HQ / Center Number: 67-H-218 / GRIN DataBase Number: GPN-2000-001588

August 22, 2010

Keeping solar panels clean

By using technology developed for Mars missions. The budget for NASA gets debated, scoffed at and cut, but all too often people against giving NASA money forget how many products and processes developed for space travel ended up with solidly terrestrial applications.

The release:

Self-cleaning technology from Mars can keep terrestrial solar panels dust free

IMAGE: Researchers have developed technology for large-scale solar power installations to self-clean.

Click here for more information.

BOSTON, Aug. 22, 2010 — Find dusting those tables and dressers a chore or a bore? Dread washing the windows? Imagine keeping dust and grime off objects spread out over an area of 25 to 50 football fields. That’s the problem facing companies that deploy large-scale solar power installations, and scientists today presented the development of one solution — self-dusting solar panels ― based on technology developed for space missions to Mars.

In a report at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), they described how a self-cleaning coating on the surface of solar cells could increase the efficiency of producing electricity from sunlight and reduce maintenance costs for large-scale solar installations.

“We think our self-cleaning panels used in areas of high dust and particulate pollutant concentrations will highly benefit the systems’ solar energy output,” study leader Malay K. Mazumder, Ph.D. said. “Our technology can be used in both small- and large-scale photovoltaic systems. To our knowledge, this is the only technology for automatic dust cleaning that doesn’t require water or mechanical movement.”

Mazumder, who is with Boston University, said the need for that technology is growing with the popularity of solar energy. Use of solar, or photovoltaic, panels increased by 50 percent from 2003 to 2008, and forecasts suggest a growth rate of at least 25 percent annually into the future. Fostering the growth, he said, is emphasis on alternative energy sources and society-wide concerns about sustainability (using resources today in ways that do not jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs).

Large-scale solar installations already exist in the United States, Spain, Germany, the Middle East, Australia, and India. These installations usually are located in sun-drenched desert areas where dry weather and winds sweep dust into the air and deposit it onto the surface of solar panel. Just like grime on a household window, that dust reduces the amount of light that can enter the business part of the solar panel, decreasing the amount of electricity produced. Clean water tends to be scarce in these areas, making it expensive to clean the solar panels.

“A dust layer of one-seventh of an ounce per square yard decreases solar power conversion by 40 percent,” Mazumder explains. “In Arizona, dust is deposited each month at about 4 times that amount. Deposition rates are even higher in the Middle East, Australia, and India.”

Working with NASA, Mazumder and colleagues initially developed the self-cleaning solar panel technology for use in lunar and Mars missions. “Mars of course is a dusty and dry environment,” Mazumder said, “and solar panels powering rovers and future manned and robotic missions must not succumb to dust deposition. But neither should the solar panels here on Earth.”

The self-cleaning technology involves deposition of a transparent, electrically sensitive material deposited on glass or a transparent plastic sheet covering the panels. Sensors monitor dust levels on the surface of the panel and energize the material when dust concentration reaches a critical level. The electric charge sends a dust-repelling wave cascading over the surface of the material, lifting away the dust and transporting it off of the screen’s edges.

Mazumder said that within two minutes, the process removes about 90 percent of the dust deposited on a solar panel and requires only a small amount of the electricity generated by the panel for cleaning operations.

The current market size for solar panels is about $24 billion, Mazumder said. “Less than 0.04 percent of global energy production is derived from solar panels, but if only four percent of the world’s deserts were dedicated to solar power harvesting, our energy needs could be completely met worldwide. This self-cleaning technology can play an important role.”

###

The American Chemical Society is a non-profit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 161,000 members, ACS is the world’s largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

August 21, 2010

Viking I Mars mission 35 years later

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:23 pm

Well, thirty years and a day since I didn’t post this yesterday.

From the link:

Thrust from a Titan 3/Centaur rocket launched NASA’s Viking 1 spacecraft on a 505-million-mile journey to Mars on Aug. 20, 1975. Viking 2 followed three weeks later.

This is the first photograph ever taken on the surface of the planet Mars. It was obtained by Viking 1 just minutes after the spacecraft landed successfully.
Here’s another cool image from the link:
This color image of the Martian surface in the Chryse area was taken by Viking Lander 1, looking southwest, about 15 minutes before sunset on the evening of August 21. The sun is at an elevation angle of 3 or 4 degrees above the horizon and about 50 degrees clockwise from the right edge of the frame. Local topographic features are accentuated by the low lighting angle. A depression is seen near the center of the picture, just above the Lander’s leg support structure, which was not evident in previous pictures taken at higher sun angles. Just beyond the depression are large rocks about 30 centimeters (1 foot) across. The diffuse shadows are due to the sunlight that has been scattered by the dusty Martian atmosphere as a result of the long path length from the setting sun. Toward the horizon, several bright patches of bare bedrock are revealed. Image: NASA/JPL

August 17, 2010

Trawling for space junk

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 10:21 pm

You have to admit, it’s a pretty cool idea for cleaning up low Earth orbit.

From the link:

A dozen space vehicles, equipped with 200 nets each, could scoop up the space debris floating in low Earth orbit, clearing the way for a future space elevator. That’s the idea described last Friday at the annual Space Elevator conference by Star Inc., a company that is receiving funding for the project from DARPA.

The white dots represent space debris that is currently being tracked by NASA. The dots are not scaled to Earth. Credit: NASA

August 9, 2010

ISS cooling system problem proving vexing

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 6:01 pm

Looks like the International Space Station crew will have to undertake a third spacewalk to attempt to repair the faulty cooling system. Best of luck to current batch of space travelers, this is a challenging issue.

From the link:

Despite making one of the longest spacewalks ever, Douglas Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson had to give up trying to remove a broken ammonia pump and retreat inside.

Disappointed managers said two more spacewalks now will be needed to replace the pump and get the International Space Station’s cooling system operating normally again. The original plan called for two spacewalks.

Another  won’t be attempted until Wednesday at the earliest. Engineers huddled following Saturday’s eight-hour, three-minute effort – the sixth longest spacewalk ever – to consider their options.

“We will get through this problem,” said space station program manager Mike Suffredini. “The challenge is to get through this problem before the next problem hits the other cooling system.”

The pump failure knocked out half of the space station’s cooling system last weekend, leaving the orbiting lab with only one good cooling loop. Another breakdown could leave the station in a precarious situation.

In this image taken from video and made available by NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock, foreground begins the first of two spacewalks to replace a broken ammonia pump Saturday Aug. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/NASA)

August 7, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Antennae galaxies

A space image two-fer today!

Enjoy …

From the link:

The X-ray image from Chandra shows huge clouds of hot, interstellar gas that have been injected with rich deposits of elements from supernova explosions. This enriched gas, which includes elements such as oxygen, iron, magnesium and silicon, will be incorporated into new generations of stars and planets.

The bright, point-like sources in the image are produced by material falling onto black holes and neutron stars that are remnants of the massive stars. Some of these black holes may have masses that are almost one hundred times that of the Sun.

The Spitzer data show infrared light from warm dust clouds that have been heated by newborn stars, with the brightest clouds lying in the overlap region between the two galaxies. The Hubble data reveal old stars in red, filaments of dust in brown and star-forming regions in yellow and white. Many of the fainter objects in the optical image are clusters containing thousands of stars.

The latest on NASA’s CubeSat missions

I’ve done a little blogging on CubeSats and here’s the latest news from NASA.

From the second link, the release:

RELEASE : 10-188

NASA Announces Next Opportunity for Cubesat Space Missions

WASHINGTON — NASA has announced a second opportunity for small satellite payloads to fly on rockets planned to launch in 2011 and 2012. These CubeSats could be auxiliary cargo on previously planned missions.

CubeSats are a class of research spacecraft called nanosatellites. The cube-shaped satellites are approximately four inches long, have a volume of about one quart and weigh less than 2.2 pounds.

CubeSat investigations should be consistent with NASA’s Strategic Plan or the Education Strategic Coordination Framework. The research should address aspects of science, exploration, technology development, education or operations.

Applicants must submit proposals electronically by 4:30 p.m. EST, Nov. 15. NASA will select the payloads by Jan. 31, 2011, but selection does not guarantee a launch opportunity. Collaborators may be required to provide partial reimbursement of approximately $30,000 per CubeSat. NASA will not provide funding for the development of the small satellites.

NASA recently announced the results from the first round of the CubeSat Launch Initiative. Twelve payloads have made the short-list for launch opportunities in 2011 and 2012. They are eligible for launch pending an appropriate opportunity and final negotiations. The satellites come from 10 states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Utah and Vermont.

For additional information on NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative program, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/directorates/somd/home/CubeSats_initiative.html
For more information on NASA’s Strategic Plan, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/budget
For more information on NASA’s Education Strategic Coordination Framework, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/performance/strategic_framework.html

– end –

Beautiful space image — the sun in a solar flare

A solar flare from August 1, 2010 no less (last Sunday).

Enjoy …

On August 1, 2010, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the news-making solar event on August 1 shows the C3-class solar flare.

Great Ball of Fire

On August 1, 2010, almost the entire Earth-facing side of the sun erupted in a tumult of activity. This image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory of the news-making solar event on August 1 shows the C3-class solar flare (white area on upper left), a solar tsunami (wave-like structure, upper right), multiple filaments of magnetism lifting off the stellar surface, large-scale shaking of the solar corona, radio bursts, a coronal mass ejection and more.

This multi-wavelength extreme ultraviolet snapshot from the Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun’s northern hemisphere in mid-eruption. Different colors in the image represent different gas temperatures. Earth’s magnetic field is still reverberating from the solar flare impact on August 3, 2010, which sparked aurorae as far south as Wisconsin and Iowa in the United States. Analysts believe a second solar flare is following behind the first flare and could re-energize the fading geomagnetic storm and spark a new round of Northern Lights.

Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

July 30, 2010

High tech contact lenses and NASA

News from NASA hot from today’s inbox. And a bit of a departure from the expected space news out of NASA.

The release:

NASA Talk is High Tech Prescription for Contact Lenses

HAMPTON, Va., July 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Imagine your contact lenses being able to improve your vision and tell your temperature.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)
(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Professor Babak Parviz, from the University of Washington presents, “What If Your Contact Lens Could Show You Images” at 2 p.m. in the Reid Conference Center. Parviz will provide an overview of the process it took to build contact lenses to display and monitor information about a person’s health.

On Tuesday evening, Parviz will present a similar talk for the general public at 7:30 p.m. at the Virginia Air & Space Center in downtown Hampton. The evening presentation is free and no reservations are required.

Through advancements in nanotechnology, Parviz will explain the how contact lenses have been converted into systems that can complete extraordinary tasks.

Researchers at the University of Washington are working on integrating small optical, electronic and biosensing devices into contact lenses. The lenses are designed to display information to the user and to continuously monitor the person’s health through the biochemistry of the eye surface.

Parviz’ research at the University of Washington includes nanotechnology, bionanotechnolgy and microsystems. His work was chosen by Time magazine as one of the top inventions of the year in 2008 and is on display at the London Museum of Science.

Parviz attended the University of Michigan, earning graduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering and studied chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review selected Parviz as one of the top innovators under the age of 35 in 2007. He is also the recipient of the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award for his exceptional integration of education and research.

For more information about NASA Langley’s Colloquium and Sigma Series Lectures:

http://shemesh.larc.nasa.gov/Lectures/

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

July 15, 2010

Is it a planet? Is it a comet? I don’t know!

News from NASA hot from the inbox:

NASA Finds Super Hot Planet With Unique Comet-Like Tail

WASHINGTON, July 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed the existence of a baked object that could be called a “cometary planet.” The gas giant planet, named HD 209458b, is orbiting so close to its star that its heated atmosphere is escaping into space.

Observations taken with Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) suggest powerful stellar winds are sweeping the cast-off atmospheric material behind the scorched planet and shaping it into a comet-like tail.

“Since 2003 scientists have theorized the lost mass is being pushed back into a tail, and they have even calculated what it looks like,” said astronomer Jeffrey Linsky of the University of Colorado in Boulder, leader of the COS study. “We think we have the best observational evidence to support that theory. We have measured gas coming off the planet at specific speeds, some coming toward Earth. The most likely interpretation is that we have measured the velocity of material in a tail.”

The planet, located 153 light years from Earth, weighs slightly less than Jupiter but orbits 100 times closer to its star than the Jovian giant. The roasted planet zips around its star in a short 3.5 days. In contrast, our solar system’s fastest planet, Mercury, orbits the sun in 88 days. The extrasolar planet is one of the most intensely scrutinized, because it is the first of the few known alien worlds that can be seen passing in front of, or transiting, its star. Linsky and his team used COS to analyze the planet’s atmosphere during transiting events.

During a transit, astronomers study the structure and chemical makeup of a planet’s atmosphere by sampling the starlight that passes through it. The dip in starlight because of the planet’s passage, excluding the atmosphere, is very small, only about 1.5 percent. When the atmosphere is added, the dip jumps to 8 percent, indicating a bloated atmosphere.

COS detected the heavy elements carbon and silicon in the planet’s super-hot 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit atmosphere. This detection revealed the parent star is heating the entire atmosphere, dredging up the heavier elements and allowing them to escape the planet.

The COS data also showed the material leaving the planet was not all traveling at the same speed. “We found gas escaping at high velocities, with a large amount of this gas flowing toward us at 22,000 miles per hour,” Linsky said. “This large gas flow is likely gas swept up by the stellar wind to form the comet-like tail trailing the planet.”

Hubble’s newest spectrograph has the ability to probe a planet’s chemistry at ultraviolet wavelengths not accessible to ground-based telescopes. COS is proving to be an important instrument for probing the atmospheres of “hot Jupiters” like HD 209458b.

Another Hubble instrument, the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS), observed the planet in 2003. The STIS data showed an active, evaporating atmosphere, and a comet-tail-like structure was suggested as a possibility. But STIS wasn’t able to obtain the spectroscopic detail necessary to show a tail, or an Earthward-moving component of the gas, during transits. The tail was detected for the first time because of the unique combination of very high ultraviolet sensitivity and good spectral resolution provided by COS.

Although this extreme planet is being roasted by its star, it won’t be destroyed anytime soon. “It will take about a trillion years for the planet to evaporate,” Linsky said.

The results appeared in the July 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

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

For illustrations and more information about HD 209458b, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA
Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

July 13, 2010

Beautiful space image — NGC 2467

Enjoy

Caption: A colorful star-forming region is featured in this stunning new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 2467. Looking like a roiling cauldron of some exotic cosmic brew, huge clouds of gas and dust are sprinkled with bright blue, hot young stars. Strangely shaped dust clouds, resembling spilled liquids, are silhouetted against a colourful background of glowing. Like the familiar Orion Nebula, NGC 2467 is a huge cloud of gas — mostly hydrogen — that serves as an incubator for new stars. This picture was created from images taken with the Wide Field Channel of the Advanced Camera for Surveys through three different filters (F550M, F660N and F658N, shown in blue, green and red). These filters were selected to let through different colours of red and yellow light arising from different elements in the gas. The total aggregate exposure time was about 2000 seconds and the field of view is about 3.5 arcminutes across. These data were taken in 2004.

Credit: NASA, ESA and Orsola De Marco (Macquarie University)

Usage Restrictions: None

Related news release: Hubble snaps sharp image of cosmic concoction

July 6, 2010

Moonbase Alpha, a free online game from NASA

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:01 pm

News very hot from the inbox:

NASA Takes Gamers on a Lunar Adventure With New Online Video Game

WASHINGTON, July 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA has given gamers a taste of lunar adventure with release of Moonbase Alpha, an exciting new, free online video game.

(Logo:  http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)
(Logo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

The game has single and multiplayer options that allow participants to step into the role of an exploration team member in a futuristic 3-D lunar settlement. Players must work to restore critical systems and oxygen flow after a meteor strike cripples a solar array and life support equipment. Available resources include an interactive command center, lunar rover, mobile robotic repair units and a fully-stocked equipment shed.

The game is a proof of concept to show how NASA content can be combined with a cutting-edge game engine to inspire, engage and educate students about agency technologies, job opportunities and the future of space exploration. Moonbase Alpha is rated “E” for everyone.

It is the first game in NASA’s Learning Technologies project. The project supports the delivery of NASA content through interactive technologies such as virtual worlds, games and software applications to enhance science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education.

Moonbase Alpha is a precursor to a planned NASA-based massively, multiplayer online game project. The project is being designed to have content and missions that require players to gain and demonstrate STEM knowledge to succeed.

NASA released the game on Valve’s Steam network. The agency will use the Steamworks suite of services for server browsing, leaderboards, statistics and more. Steam has more than 25 million accounts and has released more than 1,100 games. It was built on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3. The Army Game Studio developed the game with support from Virtual Heroes, a division of Applied Research Associates in Research Triangle Park, N.C. This collaboration between NASA and the Army’s Aviation Missile Research Development and Engineering Center is an example of government agencies working together to improve education in the STEM fields.

For more information about Moonbase Alpha, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/moonbasealpha

For information about NASA’s education programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/education

For information about NASA and agency projects, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

Robots on the moon in less than three years?

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:13 am

Maybe so if you believe in the stated goals of NASA’s Project M.

From the link:

Despite President Obama’s new budget proposal to scrap moon-landing plans NASA is pushing forward with a new lunar-based mission, dubbed Project M.

According to the agency, “the proposition is simple: land an operational humanoid robot on the moon in 1,000 days.”

NASA made a big splash earlier this year when it unveiled a humanoid robot called Robonaut2 in partnership with GM.

Credit: NASA/GM

June 16, 2010

Massive space storm coming in 2013 according to NASA

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:46 pm

Via Kurzweil.net — This news a little daunting. NASA isn’t typically known for hyperbolic statements. OF course if we’re wiped out by “Planet X” in 2012 it’s a moot point anyway.

Nasa warns solar flares from ‘huge space storm’ will cause devastation
Telegraph, June 14, 2010

In a new warning, NASA said a super storm in 2013 would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services, and national security unless precautions are taken.

According to Dr. Richard Fisher, director of NASA‘s Heliophysics division, it could damage everything from the power grid, GPS navigation systems, major satellites, emergency services systems, hospital equipment, banking systems, and air traffic control devices, to everyday items such as home computers, and iPods.

Also see: How to survive a solar storm
Read Original Article>>

June 14, 2010

Amazing space image — the sun

Hot from the inbox:

X-Ray image of the sun

Hit this link for a much, much larger version (too big for this blog).

The release:

GOES-15 Solar X-Ray Imager Makes a Miraculous First Light

GREENBELT, Md., June 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Solar X-Ray Imager instrument aboard the GOES-15 satellite has just provided its first light image of the sun, but it required a lot of experts to make it happen.

(Logo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

Scientists and engineers from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have been working to bring the Solar X-Ray Imager (SXI) instrument to full functionality since the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-15, formerly known as the GOES-P satellite, achieved orbit.

GOES-15 launched on March 4, 2010 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. On April 6, 2010, GOES-15 captured its first visible image of Earth and on April 26, GOES-15 took its first full-disk infrared image.

“Since the early checkout of GOES 15 (P) and the anomalous turn on of the Solar X-Ray Imager, the team has been aggressively pursuing all avenues to recover the instrument,” said Andre’ Dress, GOES N-P Deputy Project Manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Frankly, we were down to our last straw when all the teams’ hard work and efforts finally paid off.  We now believe we have a full recovery of the instrument’s functionality!  It’s an incredible story and a true testament of our NASA/contractor teams’ expertise, hard work and determination.”

On June 3, the GOES 15 Solar X-Ray Imager finally came on-line. Scientists and engineers had subjected SXI to a series of long duration turn on tests in the hopes of clearing the short. About 16 hours into the testing, the instrument voltages returned to normal values and SXI now appears to be functioning properly.

“We were facing a tough problem when we first attempted to bring SXI on-line,” said

George Koerner, SXI program manager at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC) Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, Calif., where the Solar X-ray Imager was designed and built. “But because of our ability to bring together subject matter experts from both government and industry, to move forward step by step, and to work as a team patiently and persistently, together we achieved mission success. This is an enormously satisfying outcome.”

Since its recovery, several test solar images have also been subsequently taken successfully. The GOES team continue to assess the health of the instrument. This new round of testing will assess SXI’s total functionality. That functionality means the team will capture images of the sun with the camera to assess whether the camera is properly processing image data.

“I don’t think most people realize how important these space weather instruments are in our everyday life,” Dress said. “This data is used by the U.S. Department of Defense, NOAA, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in protecting our space assets, land-based assets and directing flight paths for the FAA.”

GOES-15 will join three other NOAA operational GOES spacecraft that help the agency’s forecasters track life-threatening weather and solar activity that can impact the satellite-based electronics and communications industry. NASA’s testing of the spacecraft and its instruments will continue through the entire post-launch test period expected to end in late August 2010. This will be followed by a series of NOAA Science Tests. The GOES series of U.S. satellites are developed by a joint NASA-NOAA-Industry partnership, launched by NASA (with industry partners), and operated by NOAA.

For the first GOES SXI image, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/GOES-P/news/xray_imager.html

For more information about the GOES-P mission and program on the Web, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/goes-p

Photo:  PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

June 3, 2010

Spirit Mars Rover news

To join today’s post on the next generation of Mars rovers, here is news hot from the inbox on a current Mars rover.

The release (not from the link):

NASA Rover Finds Clue to Mars’ Past and Environment for Life

PASADENA, Calif., June 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Rocks examined by NASA’s Spirit Mars Rover hold evidence of a wet, non-acidic ancient environment that may have been favorable for life. Confirming this mineral clue took four years of analysis by several scientists.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

An outcrop that Spirit examined in late 2005 revealed high concentrations of carbonate, which originates in wet, near-neutral conditions, but dissolves in acid. The ancient water indicated by this find was not acidic.

NASA’s rovers have found other evidence of formerly wet Martian environments. However the data for those environments indicate conditions that may have been acidic. In other cases, the conditions were definitely acidic, and therefore less favorable as habitats for life.

Laboratory tests helped confirm the carbonate identification. The findings were published online Thursday, June 3 by the journal Science.

“This is one of the most significant findings by the rovers,” said Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the Mars twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and a co-author of the new report. “A substantial carbonate deposit in a Mars outcrop tells us that conditions that could have been quite favorable for life were present at one time in that place.”

Spirit inspected rock outcrops, including one scientists called Comanche, along the rover’s route from the top of Husband Hill to the vicinity of the Home Plate plateau which Spirit has studied since 2006. Magnesium iron carbonate makes up about one-fourth of the measured volume in Comanche. That is a tenfold higher concentration than any previously identified for carbonate in a Martian rock.

“We used detective work combining results from three spectrometers to lock this down,” said Dick Morris, lead author of the report and a member of a rover science team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The instruments gave us multiple, interlocking ways of confirming the magnesium iron carbonate, with a good handle on how much there is.”

Massive carbonate deposits on Mars have been sought for years without much success. Numerous channels apparently carved by flows of liquid water on ancient Mars suggest the planet was formerly warmer, thanks to greenhouse warming from a thicker atmosphere than exists now. The ancient, dense Martian atmosphere was probably rich in carbon dioxide, because that gas makes up nearly all the modern, very thin atmosphere.

It is important to determine where most of the carbon dioxide went. Some theorize it departed to space. Others hypothesize that it left the atmosphere by the mixing of carbon dioxide with water under conditions that led to forming carbonate minerals. That possibility, plus finding small amounts of carbonate in meteorites that originated from Mars, led to expectations in the 1990s that carbonate would be abundant on Mars. However, mineral-mapping spectrometers on orbiters since then have found evidence of localized carbonate deposits in only one area, plus small amounts distributed globally in Martian dust.

Morris suspected iron-bearing carbonate at Comanche years ago from inspection of the rock with Spirit’s Moessbauer Spectrometer, which provides information about iron-containing minerals. Confirming evidence from other instruments emerged slowly. The instrument with the best capability for detecting carbonates, the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer, had its mirror contaminated with dust earlier in 2005, during a wind event that also cleaned Spirit’s solar panels.

“It was like looking through dirty glasses,” said Steve Ruff of Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., another co-author of the report. “We could tell there was something very different about Comanche compared with other outcrops we had seen, but we couldn’t tell what it was until we developed a correction method to account for the dust on the mirror.”

Spirit’s Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer instrument detected a high concentration of light elements, a group including carbon and oxygen, that helped quantify the carbonate content.

The rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 for missions originally planned to last three months. Spirit has been out of communication since March 22 and is in a low-power hibernation status during Martian winter. Opportunity is making steady progress toward a large crater, Endeavour, which is about seven miles away.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rovers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. For more information about the rovers, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/rovers

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

May 24, 2010

Phoenix Mars Lander, RIP

Like this release hot from the inbox explains, the Phoenix Mars Lander exceeded its planned useful life by a gigantic margin.

The release:

Phoenix Mars Lander Does Not Phone Home, New Image Shows Damage

PASADENA, Calif., May 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has ended operations after repeated attempts to contact the spacecraft were unsuccessful. A new image transmitted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows signs of severe ice damage to the lander’s solar panels.

(Logo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO)

“The Phoenix spacecraft succeeded in its investigations and exceeded its planned lifetime,” said Fuk Li, manager of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Although its work is finished, analysis of information from Phoenix’s science activities will continue for some time to come.”

Last week, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site 61 times during a final attempt to communicate with the lander. No transmission from the lander was detected. Phoenix also did not communicate during 150 flights in three earlier listening campaigns this year.

Earth-based research continues on discoveries Phoenix made during summer conditions at the far-northern site where it landed May 25, 2008. The solar-powered lander completed its three-month mission and kept working until sunlight waned two months later.

Phoenix was not designed to survive the dark, cold, icy winter. However, the slim possibility Phoenix survived could not be eliminated without listening for the lander after abundant sunshine returned.

The MRO image of Phoenix taken this month by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on board the spacecraft suggests the lander no longer casts shadows the way it did during its working lifetime.

“Before and after images are dramatically different,” said Michael Mellon of the University of Colorado in Boulder, a science team member for both Phoenix and HiRISE. “The lander looks smaller, and only a portion of the difference can be explained by accumulation of dust on the lander, which makes its surfaces less distinguishable from surrounding ground.”

Apparent changes in the shadows cast by the lander are consistent with predictions of how Phoenix could be damaged by harsh winter conditions. It was anticipated that the weight of a carbon-dioxide ice buildup could bend or break the lander’s solar panels. Mellon calculated hundreds of pounds of ice probably coated the lander in mid-winter.

During its mission, Phoenix confirmed and examined patches of the widespread deposits of underground water ice detected by Odyssey and identified a mineral called calcium carbonate that suggested occasional presence of thawed water. The lander also found soil chemistry with significant implications for life and observed falling snow. The mission’s biggest surprise was the discovery of perchlorate, an oxidizing chemical on Earth that is food for some microbes and poisonous to other forms of life.

“We found that the soil above the ice can act like a sponge, with perchlorate scavenging water from the atmosphere and holding on to it,” said Peter Smith, Phoenix principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “You can have a thin film layer of water capable of being a habitable environment. A micro-world at the scale of grains of soil — that’s where the action is.”

The perchlorate results are shaping subsequent astrobiology research, as scientists investigate the implications of its antifreeze properties and potential use as an energy source by microbes. Discovery of the ice in the uppermost soil by Odyssey pointed the way for Phoenix. More recently, the MRO detected numerous ice deposits in middle latitudes at greater depth using radar and exposed on the surface by fresh impact craters.

“Ice-rich environments are an even bigger part of the planet than we thought,” Smith said. “Somewhere in that vast region there are going to be places that are more habitable than others.”

NASA’s MRO reached the planet in 2006 to begin a two-year primary science mission. Its data show Mars had diverse wet environments at many locations for differing durations during the planet’s history, and climate-change cycles persist into the present era. The mission has returned more planetary data than all other Mars missions combined.

Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001. The mission also has played important roles by supporting the twin Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The Phoenix mission was led by Smith at the University of Arizona, with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin in Denver. The University of Arizona operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., in Boulder. Mars missions are managed by JPL for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

For Phoenix information and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: NASA

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

May 2, 2010

Beautiful space image — the sun

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:34 am

Wow.

SDO First Light composite image from March 30, 2010.

A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credit: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team

As usual, hit the link up there for a larger version of the image and more information.

Update 5/3/10: I haven’t read the Bad Astronomer (see blogroll) in while and happened to yesterday only to find a post with this image and more explanation, plus another very cool image from the SDO.)

May 1, 2010

Two recent images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Very frightening. I feel for the folks in New Orleans (one of my favorite cities). From what I’ve read the air is already becoming too noxious to comfortably breathe and it’s only going to get worse over the next month (the current estimate to stop the flow of petroleum into the Gulf.)

satellite image of gulf oil spill

satellite image of gulf oil spill

Also from the link:

On April 29, the MODIS image on the Terra satellite captured a wide-view natural-color image of the oil slick (outlined in white) just off the Louisiana coast. The oil slick appears as dull gray interlocking comma shapes, one opaque and the other nearly transparent. Sunglint — the mirror-like reflection of the sun off the water — enhances the oil slick’s visibility. The northwestern tip of the oil slick almost touches the Mississippi Delta. Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the University of Wisconsin’s Space Science and Engineering Center MODIS Direct Broadcast system.

Be sure to hit the link for larger version of these satellite images and for more information.

April 21, 2010

Latest NASA satellite image of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano

Filed under: et.al., Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:21 am

Here you go:

Caption: The MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite captured a visible image of the ash plume (brown) drifting south and east from Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland at 11:55 UTC (7:55 a.m. EDT).

Credit: NASA’s MODIS Rapid Response Team

For more information, here’s the full release accompanying this image.

April 20, 2010

NASA’s Terra spacecraft image of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano

Here’s the latest from NASA on Eyjafjallajökull:

Satellite image of Iceland and volcano

On Monday, April 19, 2010, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) instrument onboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft obtained this image of the continuing eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Hit the link for more information, a larger version of the image and additional posts with more images from the eruption.

April 18, 2010

NASA image of Eyjafjallajökull volcano ash cloud

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:23 am

I do space images fairly often, here’s an image from space of the ash from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in Iceland:

Caption: NASA’s Terra satellite flew over the volcano on April 16 10:45 UTC (6:45 a.m. EDT) and the MODIS instrument captured a visible image of Eyjafjallajökull’s ash plume (brown cloud) stretching from the UK (left) to Germany (right).

Credit: NASA/MODIS Rapid Response Team

Here’s a link to the release with more information on the image.

April 9, 2010

Beautiful space image — M 66 of the Leo Triplet

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:08 am

A gorgeous galaxy:

Click for larger image

Hubble has snapped a spectacular view of M 66, the largest “player” of the Leo Triplet, and a galaxy with an unusual anatomy: it displays asymmetric spiral arms and an apparently displaced core. The peculiar anatomy is most likely caused by the gravitational pull of the other two members of the trio.

The unusual spiral galaxy, Messier 66, is located at a distance of about 35 million light-years in the constellation of Leo. Together with Messier 65 and NGC 3628, Messier 66 is the member of the Leo Triplet, a trio of interacting spiral galaxies, part of the larger Messier 66 group. Messier 66 wins in size over its fellow triplets — it is about 100 000 light-years across.

Be sure to hit the link up there for an absolutely humongous version of the image. Here’s some additional background.

March 17, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Berkeley 59 cluster

Check this out

WISE Captures a Cosmic Rose

A new infrared image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows a cosmic rosebud blossoming with new stars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

From the link:

A new infrared image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows a cosmic rosebud blossoming with new stars. The stars, called the Berkeley 59 cluster, are the blue dots to the right of the image center. They are ripening out of the dust cloud from which they formed, and at just a few million years old, are young on stellar time scales.

The rosebud-like red glow surrounding the hot, young stars is warm dust heated by the stars. Green “leafy” nebulosity enfolds the cluster, showing the edges of the dense, dusty cloud. This green material is from heated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, molecules that can be found on Earth in barbecue pits, exhaust pipes and other places where combustion has occurred.

Also hit the link for a much larger version of the image. I was going to run it here, but it’s a little too big for this blog’s format.

March 8, 2010

Things that make you go “oh, my”

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:54 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Oh my, indeed.

Dark, dangerous asteroids found lurking near Earth
New Scientist Space, Mar. 5, 2010

NASA‘s WISE mission has spotted 16 formerly hidden near-Earth objects with orbits close to Earth‘s.

WISE is expected to discover as many as 1000 near-Earth objects, but astronomers estimate that the number of unknown objects with masses great enough to cause ground damage in an impact runs into the tens of thousands.
Read Original Article>>

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