David Kirkpatrick

February 18, 2010

Beautiful space image — the Andromeda galaxy

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:01 am

Just enjoy …

Andromeda Galaxy

The immense Andromeda galaxy, also known as Messier 31 or simply M31, is captured in full in this new image from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The mosaic covers an area equivalent to more than 100 full moons, or five degrees across the sky. WISE used all four of its infrared detectors to capture this picture (3.4- and 4.6-micron light is colored blue; 12-micron light is green; and 22-micron light is red). Blue highlights mature stars, while yellow and red show dust heated by newborn, massive stars.

Andromeda is the closest large galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy, and is located 2.5 million light-years from our sun. It is close enough for telescopes to spy the details of its ringed arms of new stars and hazy blue backbone of older stars. Also seen in the mosaic are two satellite galaxies, known as M32, located just a bit above Andromeda to the left of center, and the fuzzy blue M110, located below the center of the great spiral arms. These satellites are the largest of several that are gravitationally bound to Andromeda.

The Andromeda galaxy is larger than our Milky Way and contains more stars, but the Milky Way is thought to perhaps have more mass due to its larger proportion of a mysterious substance called dark matter. Both galaxies belong to our so-called Local Group, a collection of more than 50 galaxies, most of which are tiny dwarf systems. In its quest to map the whole sky, WISE will capture the entire Local Group.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Be sure to hit the link up there for a truly massive version of this image. Unbelievably beautiful.

Head below the fold for the release from yesterday’s inbox with links to this image. (more…)


February 5, 2010

First they took the auto industry jobs …

… now they’re stealing childhood dreams.

Seriously though, the idea of highly functional humanoid robotics is a great idea for space travel. Of course Ellen Ripley might disagree.

Via KurzweilAI.net:

NASA, GM team up to build robotic astronauts
Computerworld, Feb. 4, 2010

NASA and General Motors (GM) are developing humanoid robots that can work side-by-side with humans to help astronauts during dangerous mission and to help GM build cars and automotive plants.

Robonaut 2, aka R2, is designed to be a “faster, more dexterous and more technologically advanced” robot than Robonaut 1, using its hands to manipulate small parts, while also having exceptional strength.

Read Original Article>>

February 2, 2010

Head-on asteroid crash — cool space image

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:33 pm

This bit of interesting news is from this morning’s inbox. Very cool image

Suspected Asteroid Collision Leaves Trailing Debris

WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed a mysterious X-shaped debris pattern and trailing streamers of dust that suggest a head-on collision between two asteroids. Astronomers have long thought the asteroid belt is being ground down through collisions, but such a smashup has never been seen before.

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

Asteroid collisions are energetic, with an average impact speed of more than 11,000 miles per hour, or five times faster than a rifle bullet. The comet-like object imaged by Hubble, called P/2010 A2, was first discovered by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research, or LINEAR, program sky survey on Jan. 6. New Hubble images taken on Jan. 25 and 29 show a complex X-pattern of filamentary structures near the nucleus.

“This is quite different from the smooth dust envelopes of normal comets,” said principal investigator David Jewitt of the University of California at Los Angeles. “The filaments are made of dust and gravel, presumably recently thrown out of the nucleus. Some are swept back by radiation pressure from sunlight to create straight dust streaks. Embedded in the filaments are co-moving blobs of dust that likely originated from tiny unseen parent bodies.”

Hubble shows the main nucleus of P/2010 A2 lies outside its own halo of dust. This has never been seen before in a comet-like object. The nucleus is estimated to be 460 feet in diameter.

Normal comets fall into the inner regions of the solar system from icy reservoirs in the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud. As comets near the sun and warm up, ice near the surface vaporizes and ejects material from the solid comet nucleus via jets. But P/2010 A2 may have a different origin. It orbits in the warm, inner regions of the asteroid belt where its nearest neighbors are dry rocky bodies lacking volatile materials.

This leaves open the possibility that the complex debris tail is the result of an impact between two bodies, rather than ice simply melting from a parent body.

“If this interpretation is correct, two small and previously unknown asteroids recently collided, creating a shower of debris that is being swept back into a tail from the collision site by the pressure of sunlight,” Jewitt said.

The main nucleus of P/2010 A2 would be the surviving remnant of this so-called hypervelocity collision.

“The filamentary appearance of P/2010 A2 is different from anything seen in Hubble images of normal comets, consistent with the action of a different process,” Jewitt said. An impact origin also would be consistent with the absence of gas in spectra recorded using ground-based telescopes.

The asteroid belt contains abundant evidence of ancient collisions that have shattered precursor bodies into fragments. The orbit of P/2010 A2 is consistent with membership in the Flora asteroid family, produced by collisional shattering more than 100 million years ago. One fragment of that ancient smashup may have struck Earth 65 million years ago, triggering a mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. But, until now, no such asteroid-asteroid collision has been caught “in the act.”

At the time of the Hubble observations, the object was approximately 180 million miles from the sun and 90 million miles from Earth. The Hubble images were recorded with the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which is capable of detecting house-sized fragments at the distance of the asteroid belt.

For Hubble images and more information, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

And to save a trip to the Hubble site, here’s the image:

Hubble image of comet-like object P/2010 A2

Credit: NASA, ESA, and D. Jewitt (University of California, Los Angeles). Photo No. STScI-2010-07

January 28, 2010

Oh, that crazy bunch at NASA

Filed under: et.al., Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:44 pm

A little Space Shuttle humor …

The attachment point on the Space Shuttle’s 747 transport.

(Hat tip: FlyingPhotog)

January 27, 2010

Mars Exploration Rover Spirit now a stationary science lab

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:53 am

Both the Spirit and  Opportunity have provided an amazing amount of science from Mars. Even though Spirit is no longer mobile, it still has missions to accomplish.

From the link:

NASA has spent several months trying to free the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit from a sand trap. Now, engineers are calling it quits. After six years of exploration, and significant scientific discoveries, the rover will remain a stationary science platform.

“Spirit is not dead; it has just entered another phase of its long life,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., in a press release.

Assuming it survives the upcoming Martian winter, the rover will continue its scientific endeavors for several months to years.

This view from the front hazard-avoidance camera on
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit shows the position
of its front wheels following a backward drive on Jan. 23, 2010.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

January 25, 2010

The spacesuit, redesigned

In prep for a new lunar mission, NASA is redesigning the spacesuit.

From the link:

If NASA returns to the moon in 2020 as planned, astronauts will step out in a brand-new space suit. It will give them new mobility and flexibility on the lunar surface while still protecting them from its harsh environment. The suit will also be able to sustain life for up to 150 hours and will even be equipped with a computer that links directly back to Earth.

The new design will also let astronauts work outside of the International Space Station (ISS) and will be suitable for trips to Mars, as outlined in NASA’s program for exploration, called Constellation. “The current suits just cannot do everything we need them to do,” saysTerry Hill, the Constellation space suit engineering project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We have a completely new design, something that has never been done before.”

NASA has proposed a plug-in-play design, so that the same arms, legs, boots, and helmets can be used with different suit torsos. “It’s one reconfigurable suit that can do the job of three specialized suits,” says Hill. The space agency has awarded a $500 million, 6.5-year contract for the design and development of the Constellation space suit to Houston-based Oceaneering International, which primarily makes equipment for deep-sea exploration. Oceaneering has partnered with the Worcester, MA-based David Clark Company, which has been developing space suits for the U.S. space agency since the 1960s.

And, most importantly, the picture:

To infinity and beyond: David Clark Company, in partnership with Oceaneering International, is designing a new U.S. space suit for missions to the space station, moon, and Mars. It has interchangeable parts, so the arms, legs, boots, and helmet can be switched. The first configuration, shown here, is designed for launch, descent, and emergency activities, while the second design is meant for lunar exploration.

Credit: Brittany Sauser

November 13, 2009

There’s water on the moon

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:33 pm

That’s right — H2O –confirmed by NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

The release from today’s inbox:

NASA’S LCROSS Impacts Confirm Water In Lunar Crater

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif., Nov. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Preliminary data from NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, indicates the mission successfully uncovered water in a permanently shadowed lunar crater. The discovery opens a new chapter in our understanding of the moon.

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

The LCROSS spacecraft and a companion rocket stage made twin impacts in the Cabeus crater Oct. 9 that created a plume of material from the bottom of a crater that has not seen sunlight in billions of years. The plume traveled at a high angle beyond the rim of Cabeus and into sunlight, while an additional curtain of debris was ejected more laterally.

“We’re unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbor and, by extension, the solar system,” said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“The moon harbors many secrets, and LCROSS has added a new layer to our understanding.”

Scientists long have speculated about the source of significant quantities of hydrogen that have been observed at the lunar poles. The LCROSS findings are shedding new light on the question with the discovery of water, which could be more widespread and in greater quantity than previously suspected. If the water that was formed or deposited is billions of years old, these polar cold traps could hold a key to the history and evolution of the solar system, much as an ice core sample taken on Earth reveals ancient data. In addition, water and other compounds represent potential resources that could sustain future lunar exploration.

Since the impacts, the LCROSS science team has been analyzing the huge amount of data the spacecraft collected. The team concentrated on data from the satellite’s spectrometers, which provide the most definitive information about the presence of water. A spectrometer helps identify the composition of materials by examining light they emit or absorb.

“We are ecstatic,” said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist and principal investigator at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “Multiple lines of evidence show water was present in both the high angle vapor plume and the ejecta curtain created by the LCROSS Centaur impact. The concentration and distribution of water and other substances requires further analysis, but it is safe to say Cabeus holds water.”

The team took the known near-infrared spectral signatures of water and other materials and compared them to the impact spectra the LCROSS near infrared spectrometer collected.

“We were able to match the spectra from LCROSS data only when we inserted the spectra for water,” Colaprete said. “No other reasonable combination of other compounds that we tried matched the observations. The possibility of contamination from the Centaur also was ruled out.”

Additional confirmation came from an emission in the ultraviolet spectrum that was attributed to hydroxyl, one product from the break-up of water by sunlight. When atoms and molecules are excited, they release energy at specific wavelengths that can be detected by the spectrometers. A similar process is used in neon signs. When electrified, a specific gas will produce a distinct color. Just after impact, the LCROSS ultraviolet visible spectrometer detected hydroxyl signatures that are consistent with a water vapor cloud in sunlight.

Data from the other LCROSS instruments are being analyzed for additional clues about the state and distribution of the material at the impact site. The LCROSS science team and colleagues are poring over the data to understand the entire impact event, from flash to crater. The goal is to understand the distribution of all materials within the soil at the impact site.

“The full understanding of the LCROSS data may take some time. The data is that rich,” Colaprete said. “Along with the water in Cabeus, there are hints of other intriguing substances. The permanently shadowed regions of the moon are truly cold traps, collecting and preserving material over billions of years.”

LCROSS was launched June 18 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. Moving at a speed of more than 1.5 miles per second, the spent upper stage of its launch vehicle hit the lunar surface shortly after 4:31 a.m. PDT Oct. 9, creating an impact that instruments aboard LCROSS observed for approximately four minutes. LCROSS then impacted the surface at approximately 4:36 a.m.

LRO observed the impact and continues to pass over the site to give the LCROSS team additional insight into the mechanics of the impact and its resulting craters. The LCROSS science team is working closely with scientists from LRO and other observatories that viewed the impact to analyze and understand the full scope of the LCROSS data.

For information about LCROSS, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

October 29, 2009

Einstein-1, physicist detractors-0

I’ll let this release speak, so to speak, for itself:

Gamma-ray photon race ends in dead heat; Einstein wins this round

IMAGE: In this illustration, one photon (purple) carries a million times the energy of another (yellow). Some theorists predict travel delays for higher-energy photons, which interact more strongly with the proposed…

Click here for more information.


Racing across the universe for the last 7.3 billion years, two gamma-ray photons arrived at NASA’s orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope within nine-tenths of a second of one another. The dead-heat finish may stoke the fires of debate among physicists over Einstein’s special theory of relativity because one of the photons possessed a million times more energy than the other.

For Einstein’s theory, that’s no problem. In his vision of the structure of space and time, unified as space-time, all forms of electromagnetic radiation – gamma rays, radio waves, infrared, visible light and X-rays – are reckoned to travel through the vacuum of space at the same speed, no matter how energetic. But in some of the new theories of gravity, space-time is considered to have a “shifting, frothy structure” when viewed at a scale trillions of times smaller than an electron. Some of those models predict that such a foamy texture ought to slow down the higher-energy gamma-ray photon relative to the lower energy one. Clearly, it did not.

Even in the world of high-energy particle physics, where a minute deviation can sometimes make a massive difference, nine-tenths of a second spread over more than 7 billion years is so small that the difference is likely due to the detailed processes of the gamma-ray burst rather than confirming any modification of Einstein’s ideas.

“This measurement eliminates any approach to a new theory of gravity that predicts a strong energy-dependent change in the speed of light,” said Peter Michelson, professor of physics at Stanford University and principal investigator for Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT), which detected the gamma-ray photons on May 10. “To one part in 100 million billion, these two photons traveled at the same speed. Einstein still rules.”

Michelson is one of the authors of a paper that details the research, published online Oct. 28 by Nature.

Physicists have yearned for years to develop a unifying theory of how the universe works. But no one has been able to come up with one that brings all four of the fundamental forces in the universe into one tent. The Standard Model of particle physics, which was well developed by the end of the 1970s, is considered to have succeeded in unifying three of the four: electromagnetism; the “strong force” (which holds nuclei together inside atoms); and the “weak force” (which is responsible for radioactive decay, among other things.) But in the Standard Model, gravity has always been the odd man out, never quite fitting in. Though a host of theories have been advanced, none has been shown successful.

But by the same token, Einstein’s theories of relativity also fail to unify the four forces.

“Physicists would like to replace Einstein’s vision of gravity – as expressed in his relativity theories – with something that handles all fundamental forces,” Michelson said. “There are many ideas, but few ways to test them.”

The two photons provided rare experimental evidence about the structure of space-time. Whether the evidence will prove sufficient to settle any debates remains to be seen.

The photons were launched on their pan-galactic marathon during a short gamma-ray burst, an outpouring of radiation likely generated by the collision of two neutron stars, the densest known objects in the universe.

A neutron star is created when a massive star collapses in on itself in an explosion called a supernova. The neutron star forms in the core as matter is compressed to the point where it is typically about 10 miles in diameter, yet contains more mass than our sun. When two such dense objects collide, the energy released in a gamma-ray burst can be millions of times brighter than the entire Milky Way, albeit only briefly. The burst (designated GRB 090510) that sent the two photons on their way lasted 2.1 seconds.


NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics partnership, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, along with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and the United States.

October 19, 2009

This is quite the publicity stunt

Getting the ISS involved in the marketing for “Planet 51.”

I’ll let the release hot from the inbox explain:

The International Space Station Discovers ‘Planet 51′

Upcoming Animated Comedy Hitches Ride on Space Shuttle

The Milky Way Galaxy, Oct. 19 /PRNewswire/ — To celebrate the Solar System Premiere of Columbia Pictures’ new animated comedy Planet 51, which will be released in theaters on Earth November 20, 2009, the film is currently orbiting the planet on the International Space Station!

(Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20091019/LA94833)

The film was launched into space aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery on August 28, 2009, and was transferred to the space station by the astronauts a few days later.  The film is now cruising high above Earth at 17,500 miles per hour and orbiting the planet every 90 minutes, which is the exact running time of the movie, so it will make a full Earth orbit as the movie premieres on the ground.

In a joint statement, producers Guy Collins and Ignacio Perez said that, “Planet 51 is a fun film for all the family and one of its strong messages, particularly for children, is to not be afraid of the unknown. That is what NASA has been showing the world for 50 years and I hope that our film will encourage children to increase their understanding of the Universe and NASA’s work.”

Joshua Ravetch, a Senior Vice President at HandMade Films who arranged for the movie to get to the space station said, “What’s really amazing about this is that the movie will open day and date domestically, internationally and now, even a copy of the film will be available ‘orbitally’ circling the Earth for the astronauts to view at their leisure.”

In a photo accompanying the announcement, a disc of the film can be seen floating weightlessly in space, observing Earth as it floats by a Space Station window.  The photo mimics a shot from the film, in which Lem, an alien from Planet 51, observes his home planet from the window of a spaceship for the first time.

About the film:

Planet 51 is a galactic sized animated alien adventure comedy revolving around American astronaut Captain Charles “Chuck” Baker, who lands on Planet 51 thinking he’s the first person to step foot on it. To his surprise, he finds that this planet is inhabited by little green people who are happily living in a white picket fence world reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent 1950s America, and whose only fear is that it will be overrun by alien invaders…like Chuck! With the help of his robot companion “Rover” and his new friend Lem, Chuck must navigate his way through the dazzling, but bewildering, landscape of Planet 51 in order to escape becoming a permanent part of the Planet 51 Alien Invaders Space Museum.  The film is directed by Jorge Blanco, written by Joe Stillman, and produced by Guy Collins and Ignacio Perez Dolset.

About Sony Pictures Entertainment

Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America (SCA), a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE’s global operations encompass motion picture production and distribution; television production and distribution; digital content creation and distribution; worldwide channel investments; home entertainment acquisition and distribution; operation of studio facilities; development of new entertainment products, services and technologies; and distribution of filmed entertainment in more than 130 countries.  Sony Pictures Entertainment can be found on the World Wide Web at www.sonypictures.com.


HandMade is a UK public company quoted on the English Stock Exchange with offices in London and Los Angeles.  HandMade’s group activities include film production, sales and financing, and the license and exploitation of existing HandMade assets which includes ownership of a library of over 100 films.  HandMade Films International is the sales & marketing arm of the Group and is a wholly owned subsidiary.

Current films on the HandMade slate include animated CG feature Planet 51, which features the voices of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Jessica Biel and Seann William Scott.  The film is released across the US on Thanksgiving weekend in November on 3,500 screens and will roll out from day & date across the rest of the world.  Cracks starring Eva Green, Juno Temple and Imogen Poots.  Executive Producer Ridley Scott’s daughter Jordan directs the film.  Other titles include 50 Dead Men Walking starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Jim Sturgess, and 2010’s remake productions of The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa.

HandMade also owns and exploits the rights to Eloise, one of the best known and much-loved fictional characters in the United States.  A live action feature film to be directed by Charles Shyer  and featuring the mischievous character, Eloise In Paris, will shoot in Early 2010 starring Uma Thurman.


Ilion Animation Studios was founded in 2002 to create state-of-the-art computer animated movies for worldwide theatrical release using its own purpose-built cutting-edge technology. Ilion Animation Studios and companies Zed and Pyro Studios, were founded and are run by Ignacio Perez Dolset (CEO of Ilion and Pyro) and Javier Perez Dolset (CEO of Zed).  Zed develops and markets entertainment and community products and services for mobile and the Internet. The company is the leading mobile value-added services (MVAS) player in the world in terms of revenue and geographical footprint, operating in 53 countries across 5 continents.  Pyro Studios, creator of the international best-seller video game saga Commandos is dedicated to latest generation video game development for the international market.

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20091019/LA94833
AP PhotoExpress Network:  PRN20
PRN Photo Desk photodesk@prnewswire.com
Source: Columbia Pictures

Web Site:  http://www.sonypictures.com/

October 18, 2009

IBEX finds solar system surprise

This release is from Friday and I’ve read this news a few different places and caught several releases, but this one is pretty comprehensive and contains a multitude of citations and external links.

Surprises in any scientific research are interesting, and often they are pretty cool.

The release:

Satellite reveals surprising cosmic ‘weather’ at edge of solar system

IMAGE: Priscilla Frisch, Senior Scientist in Astronomy & Astrophysics, and member of the science team, Interstellar Boundary Explorer. Collaborating with former UChicago astronomer Thomas F. Adams, she made the first spectrum…

Click here for more information.

The first solar system energetic particle maps show an unexpected landmark occurring at the outer edge of the solar wind bubble surrounding the solar system. Scientists published these maps, based mostly on data collected from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite, in the Oct. 15 issue of Science Express, the advance online version of the journal Science.

“Nature is full of surprises, and IBEX has been lucky to discover one of those surprises,” said Priscilla Frisch, a senior scientist in astronomy & astrophysics at the University of Chicago. “The sky maps are dominated by a giant ribbon of energetic neutral atoms extending throughout the sky in an arc that is 300 degrees long.” Energetic neutral atoms form when hot solar wind ions (charged particles) steal electrons from cool interstellar neutral atoms.

IBEX was launched Oct. 19, 2008, to produce the first all-sky maps of the heliosphere, which reaches far beyond the solar system’s most distant planets. Extending more than 100 times farther than the distance from Earth to the sun, the heliosphere marks the region of outer space subjected to the sun’s particle emissions.

The new maps show how high-speed cosmic particle streams collide and mix at the edge of the heliosphere, said Frisch, who co-authored three of a set of IBEX articles appearing in this week’s Science Express. The outgoing solar wind blows at 900,000 miles an hour, crashing into a 60,000-mile-an-hour “breeze” of incoming interstellar gas.

Revealed in the IBEX data, but not predicted in the theoretical heliosphere simulations of three different research groups, was the ribbon itself, formed where the direction of the interstellar magnetic field draping over the heliosphere is perpendicular to the viewpoint of the sun.

IMAGE: Image from one of the IBEX papers published in the Oct. 16, 2009, issue of Science showing a map of the ribbon of energetic neutral atoms (in green and yellow)…

Click here for more information.

Energetic protons create forces as they move through the magnetic field, and when the protons are bathed in interstellar neutrals, they produce energetic neutral atoms. “We’re still trying to understand this unexpected structure, and we believe that the interstellar magnetic forces are associated with the enhanced ENA production at the ribbon,” Frisch said.

IBEX shows that energetic neutral atoms are produced toward the north pole of the ecliptic (the plane traced by the orbit of the planets around the sun), as well as toward the heliosphere tail pointed toward the constellations of Taurus and Orion. “The particle energies change between the poles and tail, but surprisingly not in the ribbon compared to adjacent locations,” Frisch said.


BEX is the latest in NASA’s series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorers space missions. Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, leads and developed the mission with a team of national and international partners. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Explorers Program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Citations: N. A. Schwadron, M. Bzowski, G. B. Crew, M. Gruntman, H. Fahr, H. Fichtner, P. C. Frisch, H. O. Funsten, S. Fuselier, J. Heerikhuisen, V. Izmodenov, H. Kucharek, M. Lee, G. Livadiotis, D. J. McComas, E. Moebius, T. Moore, J. Mukherjee, N.V. Pogorelov, C. Prested, D. Reisenfeld, E. Roelof, G.P. Zank, “Comparison of Interstellar Boundary Explorer Observations with 3-D Global Heliospheric Models,” ScienceExpress, Oct. 15, 2009.

H.O. Funsten, F. Allegrini, G.B. Crew, R. DeMajistre, P.C. Frisch, S.A. Fuselier, M. Gruntman, P. Janzen, D.J. McComas, E. Möbius, B. Randol, D.B. Reisenfeld, E.C. Roelof, N.A. Schwadron, “Structures and Spectral Variations of the Outer Heliosphere in IBEX Energetic Neutral Atom Maps,”Science Express, Oct. 15, 2009.

D.J. McComas, F. Allegrini1, P. Bochsler, M. Bzowski, E.R. Christian, G.B.Crew, R. DeMajistre, H. Fahr, H. Fichtner, P.C. Frisch, H.O. Funsten, S. A. Fuselier, G. Gloeckler, M. Gruntman, J. Heerikhuisen, V. Izmodenov, P.J anzen, P. Knappenberger, S. Krimigis, H. Kucharek, M. Lee, G. Livadiotis, S. Livi, R.J. MacDowall, D. Mitchell, E. Möbius, T. Moore, N.V. Pogorelov, D. Reisenfeld, E. Roelof, L. Saul, N.A. Schwadron, P.W. Valek, R. Vanderspek, P. Wurz, G.P. Zank, “Global Observations of the Interstellar Interaction from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer-IBEX”, ScienceExpress, Oct. 15, 2009.

Related links:

Animation shows how energetic neutral atoms are made in the heliosheath when hot solar wind protons grab an electron from a cold interstellar gas atom. The ENAs can then easily travel back into the solar system, where some are collected by IBEX. Credit: NASA/GSFChttp://www.swri.org/temp/ibexscience/DM/SP_draft1.mov

Solar Journey: The Significant of Our Galactic Environment for the Heliosphere and Earth, Priscilla C. Frisch, editor.http://www.springer.com/astronomy/practical+astronomy/book/978-1-4020-4397-0

IBEX Web page at Southwest Research Institute http://ibex.swri.edu/

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/ibex/index.html

To view a video related to this research, please visit http://astro.uchicago.edu/%7Efrisch/soljourn/Hanson/AstroBioScene7Sound.mov

If you’re dying for more on the topic, here’s another press release.

October 15, 2009

TDRS-1 communications satellite, RIP

Well, technically it isn’t dead — and to get real technical about it, it never was actually alive — but the TDRS-1 communications satellite is being decommissioned after 26 years of circling the Earth working for NASA, scientists, the military and intelligence.

From the link:

Although it was never advertised, the biggest users of the TDRS constellation weren’t NASA astronauts and scientists, but the military and the National Reconnaisance Office, who had priority use of the system for keeping in touch with their spy satellites. This occaisonally caused frustration for scientific users of the system, especially during tense geopolitical moments–in his book on the Hubble Space Telescope, The Hubble WarsEric Chaisson writes about the difficulty of scheduling telescope observations during the first Gulf War.

October 7, 2009

Good news, everyone …

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:41 pm

… the Earth is much less likely to hit by an asteroid in 2036 than previously expected. (And, yes, the Futurama reference is intentional.)

The NASA release from today’s inbox:

NASA Refines Asteroid Apophis’ Path Toward Earth

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Using updated information, NASA scientists have recalculated the path of a large asteroid. The refined path indicates a significantly reduced likelihood of a hazardous encounter with Earth in 2036.

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

The Apophis asteroid is approximately the size of two-and-a-half football fields. The new data were documented by near-Earth object scientists Steve Chesley and Paul Chodas at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. They will present their updated findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences in Puerto Rico on Oct. 8.

“Apophis has been one of those celestial bodies that has captured the public’s interest since it was discovered in 2004,” said Chesley. “Updated computational techniques and newly available data indicate the probability of an Earth encounter on April 13, 2036, for Apophis has dropped from one-in-45,000 to about four-in-a million.”

A majority of the data that enabled the updated orbit of Apophis came from observations Dave Tholen and collaborators at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy in Manoa made. Tholen pored over hundreds of previously unreleased images of the night sky made with the University of Hawaii’s 88-inch telescope, located near the summit of Mauna Kea.

Tholen made improved measurements of the asteroid’s position in the images, enabling him to provide Chesley and Chodas with new data sets more precise than previous measures for Apophis. Measurements from the Steward Observatory’s 90-inch Bok telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona and the Arecibo Observatory on the island of Puerto Rico also were used in Chesley’s calculations.

The information provided a more accurate glimpse of Apophis’ orbit well into the latter part of this century. Among the findings is another close encounter by the asteroid with Earth in 2068 with chance of impact currently at approximately three-in-a-million. As with earlier orbital estimates where Earth impacts in 2029 and 2036 could not initially be ruled out due to the need for additional data, it is expected that the 2068 encounter will diminish in probability as more information about Apophis is acquired.

Initially, Apophis was thought to have a 2.7 percent chance of impacting Earth in 2029. Additional observations of the asteriod ruled out any possibility of an impact in 2029. However, the asteroid is expected to make a record-setting — but harmless — close approach to Earth on Friday, April 13, 2029, when it comes no closer than 18,300 miles above Earth’s surface.

“The refined orbital determination further reinforces that Apophis is an asteroid we can look to as an opportunity for exciting science and not something that should be feared,” said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL. “The public can follow along as we continue to study Apophis and other near-Earth objects by visiting us on our AsteroidWatch Web site and by following us on the @AsteroidWatch Twitter feed.”

The science of predicting asteroid orbits is based on a physical model of the solar system which includes the gravitational influence of the sun, moon, other planets and the three largest asteroids.

NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth using both ground and space-based telescopes. The Near Earth-Object Observations Program, commonly called “Spaceguard,” discovers these objects, characterizes a subset of them and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Cornell University operates the Arecibo Observatory under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

For more information about asteroids and near-Earth objects, visit:


For more information about NASA, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

September 14, 2009

NASA’ll take you to Jupiter

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:56 pm

At least virtually. Pretty cool idea overall.

A release from today’s inbox:

NASA Launches Virtual Trip to Jupiter

GREENBELT, Md., Sept. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA invites the public to travel to Jupiter from the comfort of one of 38 Science On a Sphere theaters around the globe. Viewers will feel like they are in orbit around the largest planet in our solar system as images based on data from NASA missions are projected onto a 6-foot sphere in the center of the theater.

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Called “LARGEST,” the free, seven-minute presentation opens September 15. “The movie has incredible visual appeal,” said astrophysicist Amy Simon-Miller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., who was a scientific consultant for the production. “We think it will engage people and get them interested in learning more about Jupiter and planetary exploration.”

On September 24, the NASA Goddard Visitor Center will hold a public lecture on this new movie. Dr. Amy Simon-Miller, Chief Planetary Systems Laboratory at Goddard will provide details on Jupiter’s active environment and data collection. Michael Starobin, Goddard’s Senior Producer and the film’s director, will discuss the creative process and technical challenges for making a movie on a sphere.  Registration is required to attend the event.

The film is based on data from NASA’s robotic missions to the outer solar system, including Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini, as well as Hubble Space Telescope observations. Watching the movie sends viewers on a journey stretching more than five times the Earth-Sun distance. Jupiter is a “gas giant” — more than 11 times wider than Earth — with a small core forever shrouded beneath a cloak of toxic, roiling clouds and oceans of liquid metallic hydrogen tens of thousands of miles deep.

Viewers will be treated to up-close-and-personal encounters of the Great Red Spot, a storm larger than Earth that’s been raging for hundreds of years. They’ll also experience dramatic fireballs with up to six million megatons of explosive power from the impacts of doomed comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which left planet-sized “bruises” of soot hanging for months in the Jovian atmosphere.

As virtual astronauts, visitors will also explore Jupiter’s swirling mini-solar system of more than 60 moons, including tormented Io, which gushes fountains of molten sulfur over a hundred miles high, and fractured Europa, which may harbor oceans of liquid water, and possibly life, beneath its cracked, icy crust.

Science On a Sphere is an exciting new projection technology developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “LARGEST” is the latest in a series of films for the Sphere created by the team at NASA Goddard using new techniques and technology of their own, designed specifically for making spherical movies. In fact, LARGEST pushed the team to develop several new presentation techniques, demonstrated throughout the film. Goddard released the world’s first major spherical film in 2006 called “FOOTPRINTS.”

“Jupiter is not only a perfect subject for the Sphere, but also simply a great subject for a movie,” said Senior Producer Michael Starobin of Honeywell Technology Solutions, Inc., Columbia, Md. “It presents itself as a regal, mighty character, and we tried hard to invest its cinematic depiction with as much commanding grandeur as possible. This is a movie that takes viewers somewhere way out of the ordinary. It brings abstract ideas to vibrant life and makes the fifth planet real in fresh, unexpected ways. This was a thrilling project to develop.” Starobin wrote, produced, and directed the film.

“LARGEST” was funded by NASA’s Educational and Public Outreach in Earth and Space Science program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. The science and educational outreach team includes Simon-Miller and David Williams of NASA Goddard, Maurice Henderson of Adnet Systems, Inc., Rockville, Md., Pamela Clark of the Catholic University of America, Washington, Louis Mayo of Honeywell Technology Solutions, Inc., and Sallie Smith of Lux Consulting Group, Silver Spring, Md. Over a dozen people from Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio and Conceptual Image Lab pioneered the techniques used to make the film (complete credits are available at the website below).

To find the nearest Science on a Sphere theater, and for more images and information about Jupiter, refer to:


To register for the September 24 lecture, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

September 10, 2009

Reporting on the International Space Station

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:51 am

News from NASA hot from this morning’s inbox:

NASA Publishes Report About International Space Station Science

HOUSTON, Sept. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Advances in the fight against food poisoning, new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells, and better materials for future spacecraft are among the results published in a NASA report detailing scientific research accomplishments made aboard the International Space Station during its first eight years.

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The report includes more than 100 science experiments ranging from bone studies to materials’ research.

“This report represents a record of science accomplishments during assembly and summarizes peer-reviewed publications to date,” said Julie Robinson, program scientist for the station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “As we enter the final year of station assembly, this report highlights the capabilities and opportunities for space station research after assembly is complete.”

One of the most compelling results reported is the confirmation that the ability of common germs to cause disease increases during spaceflight, but that changing the growth environment of the bacteria can control this virulence. The Effect of Spaceflight on Microbial Gene Expression and Virulence experiment identified increased virulence of space-flown Salmonella typhimurium, a leading cause of food poisoning. New research on subsequent station missions will target development of a vaccine for this widespread malady.

Another experiment produced a potential medical advance, demonstrating a new and powerful method for delivering drugs to targets in the human body. Microgravity research on the station was vital to development of miniature, liquid-filled balloons the size of blood cells that can deliver medicine directly to cancer cells. The research was conducted for the Microencapsulation Electrostatic Processing System experiment.

One of the most prolific series of investigations aboard the station tests how spacecraft materials withstand the harsh space environment. The results of the Materials International Space Station Experiment already have been used to develop solar cells for future commercial station cargo ships. This experiment has significantly reduced the time needed to develop new satellite systems, such as solar cells and insulation materials, and paved the way for materials to be used in new NASA spacecraft such as the Orion crew capsule.

The report compiles experiment results collected from the first 15 station missions, or expeditions, from 2000 to 2008. Results of some of the summarized investigations are complete. Preliminary results are available from other continuing investigations.

NASA’s research activities on the station span several scientific areas, including exploration technology development; microgravity research in the physical and biological sciences; human physiology research; Earth science and education.

The report details 22 different technology demonstrations; 33 physical science experiments; 27 biological experiments; 32 experiments focused on the human body; Earth observations and educational activities. In addition to science important to long-duration human spaceflights, most findings also offer new understanding of methods or applications relevant to life on Earth.

In 2008, station laboratory space and research facilities tripled with the addition of the European Space Agency’s Columbus Laboratory and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s three Kibo scientific modules, adding to the capabilities already provided in NASA’s Destiny Laboratory. In 2009, the number of crew members increased from three to six, greatly increasing crew time available for research.

The stage is set for increased station scientific return when assembly and outfitting of the research facility is completed in 2010 and its full potential as a national and international laboratory is realized. Engineers and scientists from around the world are working together to refine operational relationships and build on experiences to ensure maximum use of the expanded capabilities.

The International Space Station Program Scientist Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center published the report. A link to the full NASA Technical Publication, which provides an archival record of U.S.-sponsored research through Expedition 15, is available at:

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20090029998_200903090 7.pdf

For more information about the space station, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

July 31, 2009

NASA contest for “green” aircraft

A release very hot from the inbox (minutes old) combining NASA and green technology:

NASA and CAFE Announce Green Aircraft Challenge

WASHINGTON, July 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The NASA Innovative Partnerships Program and the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation today announced the Green Flight Challenge. The contest is a flight efficiency competition for aircraft that can average at least 100 mph on a 200-mile flight while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles per gallon.

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The prize for the aircraft with the best performance is $1.5 million. The competition is scheduled for July 2011 at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif. A variety of innovative experimental aircraft using electrical, solar, bio-fuel or hybrid propulsion are expected to enter. Several major universities and aircraft builders have expressed their intention to enter teams in the challenge.

To win, teams must use cutting-edge technologies in mechanical and electrical engineering, structures, aerodynamics and thermodynamics.  As a national showcase of “green” technology, the challenge is expected to help advance all three of the major climate mitigation initiatives: efficiency, conservation and zero-carbon energy sources. These technologies will support advances in aviation and may have broader applications in transportation and energy storage.

The Green Flight Challenge is administered for NASA by CAFE. Founded in 1981, CAFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of personal aircraft technologies through research, analysis and education.

NASA is providing the prize money as part of the Centennial Challenges program. The program seeks innovative solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation from diverse and unconventional sources. Competitors may not receive government funding for their entries in this challenge.

  For information about CAFE and competing in this challenge, visit:


  For more information about Centennial Challenges, visit:


  For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


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

July 27, 2009

Nanotech and NASA

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 3:59 pm

Via KurzweilAI.net — Two of my favorites blogging topics together in one post …

NASA Nanotechnology in particular Buckypaper
Next Big Future, July 25, 2009

NASA has a lot of nanotechnology research for which they are looking for business partners for commercial development.

For example, carbon nanotube=based membranes known as buckypaper may be used as filter media for analytical mission instruments or implantable device support for astronaut health monitoring.

Read Original Article>>

July 8, 2009

The internet — to the stars and beyond

Via KurzweilAI.net — This is just cool.

Interplanetary internet gets permanent home in space
New Scientist Space, July 6, 2009

The interplanetary Internet now has its first permanent node in space, aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

It could one day allow data to flow between Earth, spacecraft, and astronauts automatically, using delay-tolerant networking (DTN) to cope with the patchy coverage in space that arises when spacecraft pass behind planets or suffer power outages.

NASA aims to have the DTN protocol ready for use on future spacecraft by the end of 2011.

Read Original Article>>

July 3, 2009

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera sending images

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

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera is sending back it’s first images from the lunar exploration. It should be both interesting and cool to see what comes in as the mission really kicks into gear.

The release:

New focus on the moon

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera releases its first images of the moon

IMAGE: This Locator Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera’s Narrow Angle Camera image shows the position of the first two images. This image is 253×1000 pixels or 3,542 meters (2.2 miles) wide by…

Click here for more information. 

TEMPE, Ariz. – NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) has taken and received its first images of the Moon, kicking off the year-long mapping mission of Earth’s nearest celestial neighbor. The LROC imaging system, under the watchful eyes of Arizona State University professor Mark Robison, the principal investigator, consists of two Narrow Angle Cameras (NACs) to provide high-resolution black-and-white images, a Wide Angle Camera (WAC) to provide images in seven color bands over a 60-kilometer (37.28-mile) swath, and a Sequence and Compressor System (SCS) supporting data acquisition for both cameras.

NASA reports that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched June 18, is performing exceptionally well and spacecraft checkout is proceeding smoothly, so smoothly in fact that LROC was given an early, but short (two orbits) opportunity Tuesday evening to measure temperatures and background values while imaging. Since LRO is in a terminator orbit, much of the area photographed was in shadows, which is actually a good situation for performing engineering checks of camera settings, according to Robinson, with ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. Much to the delight of the LROC team, a few of the images captured dramatic views of the surface.

“Our first images were taken along the Moon’s terminator – the dividing line between day and night – making us initially unsure of how they would turn out,” says Robinson. “Because of the deep shadowing, subtle topography is exaggerated suggesting a craggy and inhospitable surface. In reality, the area is similar to the region where the Apollo 16 astronauts comfortably explored in 1972. Though these images are magnificent in their own right, the main message is that LROC is nearly ready to begin its mission.”

LROC NAC: Two details from one of the first images

LRO was 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) above the lunar surface when the summed mode image was taken, resulting in a resolution of approximately 1.4-meters/pixel (34.4°S, 6.0°W). Incredible levels of detail are visible in these two (1000 pixel-by-1000 pixel) cutouts from the full image (2532 pixels-by-53,248 pixels). The NAC data shown has not been calibrated, and the pixel values were stretched to enhance contrast.

Along the terminator, there simply is not much light – the instrument is “photon-starved,” resulting in suboptimal signal-to-noise ratios. Without summing, images taken in this circumstance would be underexposed. To compensate for low light levels, the pixels can effectively be made larger by summing adjacent pixels to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, making the image sharper, though with 2x lower resolution. At this resolution, features as small as three meters (9.8 feet) wide can be discerned.

The NAC image shows a starkly beautiful region a few kilometers east of Hell E crater, which is located on the floor of the ancient Imbrian-aged Deslandres impact structure in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium. Numerous small, secondary craters can be identified, including several small crater chains. Also identifiable are distinctive lineations made readily apparent by the extreme lighting, representing ejecta from a nearby impact. The quality of these early engineering test images gives the LROC science team confidence it can achieve its primary goals, including obtaining the data needed to support future human lunar exploration and utilization.

IMAGE: This full resolution detail is from one of the first images taken by a Narrow Angle Camera, part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera imaging system. At this scale and…

Click here for more information. 

Once LRO finishes commissioning operations and enters its 50-kilometer x 50-kilometer (31 miles x 31 miles) mapping orbit, a maneuver currently scheduled for mid-August, the LROC NAC will take images of over 8 percent of the Moon at 50-cm/pixel.

LROC WAC: Seeing the colors of the Moon

The LROC WAC represents a very different type of imaging system than the NAC. The WAC sees the surface in seven colors, one after the other. Looking at the raw image is akin to looking through venetian blinds, which is a little confusing at first.

First you notice the five stair step-like visible bands, and then the two lower-resolution and barely visible ultraviolet bands. During processing, these seven bands are pulled apart and seven single-filter mosaics are created that can be combined in various combinations for scientific analysis.

IMAGE: This full resolution detail is from one of the first images taken by a Narrow Angle Camera, part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera imaging system. Visible are distinctive trending…

Click here for more information. 

The WAC is designed to help place the super-high-resolution NAC images into their proper geologic context, as well as discriminate color units on the surface to help geologists map rock types and identify resources. Acquired at the same time as the NAC image, more of the Deslandres region is visible because the WAC has a field of view 20 times wider than the NAC though with substantially lower resolution. For comparison, the width of the NAC image is shown as two vertical bars in the center of the image. The WAC image shown here has not been calibrated and the pixel values were stretched to enhance contrast.

LROC is scheduled for activation July 3 to formally begin its commissioning activities. The LROC Science Operations Center, part of the School of Earth and Space Exploration in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on ASU’s Tempe campus plans to steadily release images of the lunar frontier as more data is collected and processed.

LRO will spend the next year gathering crucial data on the lunar environment that will help astronauts prepare for exploring the Moon and eventually leaving the Earth-Moon system for voyages to Mars and beyond.


 The public can view LROC images online at http://www.nasa.gov/lro.

Additional information about the LROC instrument is at http://lroc.sese.asu.edu.

June 30, 2009

Catch a view of the ISS July 4th weekend

Filed under: et.al., Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:13 pm

This coming weekend is a great opportunity to view the International Space Station from the ground. Think of it as satellite watching on steroids.

The release:

Space Station Appearing Nationwide Over July 4 Weekend

HOUSTON, June 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — As America celebrates its 233rd birthday this holiday weekend, there will be an extra light in the sky along with the fireworks. Across the country, Americans will be treated to spectacular views of the International Space Station as it orbits 220 miles above Earth.

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Many locations will have unusually long sighting opportunities of as much as five minutes, weather permitting, as the station flies almost directly overhead.

  To find out when to see the station from your city, visit:


The largest spacecraft ever built, the station also is the most reflective. It will be brighter than most stars at dawn and dusk, appearing as a solid, glowing light, slowly traversing the predawn or evening sky. It is visible when lit by the sun while the ground below is not in full daylight. It moves across the sky too fast for conventional telescopes, but a good set of binoculars can enhance the viewing experience, even revealing some detail of the station’s structure.

The station circles Earth every 90 minutes. It is 357 feet long, about the length of a football field including the end zones, and 45 feet tall. Its reflective solar arrays are 240 feet wide, a wingspan greater than that of a jumbo jet, and have a total surface area of more than 38,000 square feet.

An international crew of six astronauts, including American flight engineer Michael Barratt, is aboard the complex conducting research and continuing its assembly. Other crew members are from Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan. For more information about the station, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

June 18, 2009

NASA’s heading back to the moon

A release hot from the inbox:

NASA Returning to the Moon With First Lunar Launch In A Decade

GREENBELT, Md., June 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launched at 5:32 p.m. EDT Thursday aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite will relay more information about the lunar environment than any other previous mission to the moon.

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The orbiter, known as LRO, separated from the Atlas V rocket carrying it and a companion mission, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and immediately began powering up the components necessary to control the spacecraft. The flight operations team established communication with LRO and commanded the successful deployment of the solar array at 7:40 p.m. The operations team continues to check out the spacecraft subsystems and prepare for the first mid-course correction maneuver. NASA scientists expect to establish communications with LCROSS about four hours after launch, at approximately 9:30 p.m.

“This is a very important day for NASA,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, which designed and developed both the LRO and LCROSS missions. “We look forward to an extraordinary period of discovery at the moon and the information LRO will give us for future exploration missions.”

The spacecraft will be placed in low polar orbit about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, above the moon for a one year primary mission. LRO’s instruments will help scientists compile high resolution three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also survey it at many spectral wavelengths. The satellite will explore the moon’s deepest craters, exploring permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans.

“Our job is to perform reconnaissance of the moon’s surface using a suite of seven powerful instruments,” said Craig Tooley, LRO project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “NASA will use the data LRO collects to design the vehicles and systems for returning humans to the moon and selecting the landing sites that will be their destinations.”

High resolution imagery from LRO’s camera will help identify landing sites for future explorers and characterize the moon’s topography and composition. The hydrogen concentrations at the moon’s poles will be mapped in detail, pinpointing the locations of possible water ice. A miniaturized radar system will image the poles and test communication capabilities.

“During the 60 day commissioning period, we will turn on spacecraft components and science instruments,” explained Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard. “All instruments will be turned on within two weeks of launch, and we should start seeing the moon in new and greater detail within the next month.”

“We learned much about the moon from the Apollo program, but now it is time to return to the moon for intensive study, and we will do just that with LRO,” said Richard Vondrak, LRO project scientist at Goddard.

All LRO initial data sets will be deposited in the Planetary Data System, a publicly accessible repository of planetary science information, within six months of launch.

Goddard built and manages LRO. LRO is a NASA mission with international participation from the Institute for Space Research in Moscow. Russia provides the neutron detector aboard the spacecraft.

The LRO mission is providing updates via @LRO_NASA on Twitter. To follow, visit:


  For more information about the LRO mission, visit:


May 21, 2009

NASA plans robotic moon exploration

A release hot from the inbox:

NASA Details Plans for Lunar Exploration Robotic Missions

WASHINGTON, May 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA’s return to the moon will get a boost in June with the launch of two satellites that will return a wealth of data about Earth’s nearest neighbor. On Thursday, the agency outlined the upcoming missions of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS. The spacecraft will launch together June 17 aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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Using a suite of seven instruments, LRO will help identify safe landing sites for future human explorers, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment and test new technology. LCROSS will seek a definitive answer about the presence of water ice at the lunar poles. LCROSS will use the spent second stage Atlas Centaur rocket in an unprecedented way that will culminate with two spectacular impacts on the moon’s surface.

“These two missions will provide exciting new information about the moon, our nearest neighbor,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington. “Imaging will show dramatic landscapes and areas of interest down to one-meter resolution. The data also will provide information about potential new uses of the moon. These teams have done a tremendous job designing and building these two spacecraft.”

LRO’s instruments will help scientists compile high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also survey it in the far ultraviolet spectrum. The satellite’s instruments will help explain how the lunar radiation environment may affect humans and measure radiation absorption with a plastic that is like human tissue.

LRO’s instruments also will allow scientists to explore the moon’s deepest craters, look beneath its surface for clues to the location of water ice, and identify and explore both permanently lit and permanently shadowed regions. High resolution imagery from its camera will help identify landing sites and characterize the moon’s topography and composition. A miniaturized radar will image the poles and test the system’s communications capabilities.

“LRO is an amazingly sophisticated spacecraft,” said Craig Tooley, LRO project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Its suite of instruments will work in concert to send us data in areas where we’ve been hungry for information for years.”

While most Centaurs complete their work after boosting payloads out of Earth’s orbit, the LCROSS Centaur will journey with the spacecraft for four months and be guided to an impact in a permanently shadowed crater at one of the moon’s poles. The resulting debris plume is expected to rise more than six miles. It presents a dynamic observation target for LCROSS as well as a network of ground-based telescopes, LRO, and possibly the Hubble Space Telescope. Observers will search for evidence of water ice by examining the plume in direct sunlight. LCROSS also will increase knowledge of the mineralogical makeup of some of the remote polar craters that sunlight never reaches. The satellite represents a new generation of fast development, cost capped missions that use flight proven hardware and off the shelf software to achieve focused mission goals.

“We look forward to engaging a wide cross section of the public in LCROSS’ spectacular arrival at the moon and search for water ice,” said LCROSS Project Manager Dan Andrews of NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. “It’s possible we’ll learn the answer to what is increasingly one of planetary science’s most intriguing questions.”

LRO and LCROSS are the first missions launched by the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Their data will be used to advance goals of future human exploration of the solar system. LRO will spend at least one year in low polar orbit around the moon, collecting detailed information for exploration purposes before being transferred to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to continue collecting additional scientific data.

Goddard manages the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Ames manages the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. LRO is a NASA mission with international participation from the Institute for Space Research in Moscow. Russia provides the neutron detector aboard the spacecraft. Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, Calif., built the LCROSS spacecraft.

  For more information about LRO, visit:


  For more information about LCROSS, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

May 8, 2009

Zapping “killer” electrons

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:10 pm

An interesting release from NASA today:

NASA’s THEMIS: ‘Singing’ Electrons Help Create and Destroy ‘Killer’ Electrons

GREENBELT, Md., May 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Scientists using NASA’s fleet of THEMIS spacecraft have discovered how radio waves produced by electrons injected into Earth’s near-space environment both generate and remove high-speed “killer” electrons.

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Killer electrons are born within Earth’s natural radiation belts, called the Van Allen belts after their discoverer, James Van Allen. Killer electrons are mostly found in the outer belt, which over the equator begins approximately 8,000 miles above Earth and tapers off about 28,000 miles high.

The high-speed electrons pose a threat to satellites in or near the outer belt — those in medium-level and higher (geosynchronous) orbits — like the Global Positioning System and most communications satellites. They are known as “killer” electrons because they can penetrate a spacecraft’s sensitive electronics and cause short circuits.

“This discovery is important to understand the physical processes that shape the radiation belts, so that one day we will be able to predict the moment-by-moment evolution of the radiation belts and be in a position to safeguard satellites in these regions, or astronauts passing through them on the way to the moon or other destinations in the solar system,” said Dr. Jacob Bortnik of the University of California, Los Angeles, lead author of a paper on this research appearing May 8 in Science.

Electrons are subatomic particles that carry negative electric charge, and we harness their flow every day as electricity. Electrons are also present in space in a gas of electrically charged particles called plasma, which is constantly blown from the surface of the sun. When this plasma interacts with Earth’s magnetic field, some of it is shot toward Earth. The magnetic field over Earth’s night side acts like a slingshot, propelling blobs of plasma toward Earth. When this happens, electrons in the plasma blobs release extra energy gained from the slingshot by “singing” — they generate a discrete type of organized radio wave called “chorus,” which sounds like birds singing when played through an audio converter.

Scientists previously discovered that electrons in the outer radiation belt can extract energy from these chorus waves to reach near-light speed and become killer electrons. The new research, confirmed by the team’s THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) observations, is that the chorus waves can be refracted into the inner portion of the radiation belts by dense plasma near Earth and bounce around from hemisphere to hemisphere within the radiation belts. When this happens, the chorus waves become disorganized and evolve into another type of radio wave called “hiss,” according to the team.

Hiss waves, named for the sound they make when played through a speaker, are of interest to space weather forecasters because earlier research showed they can clear killer electrons from lower altitudes of the outer radiation belt. Hiss deflects the speedy particles into Earth’s upper atmosphere, where they lose energy and are absorbed when they hit atoms and molecules there. Despite its important role, it was not clear how hiss was generated.

“It is not immediately obvious that these two waves are related, but we had a fortuitous observation where the THEMIS spacecraft were lined up just right to make the connection,” said Bortnik. “First we observed chorus on the THEMIS ‘E’ spacecraft, then a few seconds later, we observed hiss on the THEMIS ‘D’ spacecraft, about 20,000 kilometers (almost 12,500 miles) away, with the same modulation pattern as the chorus.”

“Last year, we published a Nature paper that put forward a theory that seemed to explain just about everything we knew about hiss,” adds Bortnik. “We showed theoretically how chorus could propagate from a distant region, and essentially evolve into hiss. We reproduced statistical information about hiss, and a few case-examples published in the literature seemed to agree with what we were predicting. The only problem was that it seemed really difficult to verify the theory directly — to have a satellite in the (distant) chorus source region, to have another satellite in the hiss region, to have both satellites recording in high-resolution simultaneously, for the waves to be active and present at the same time, and for the satellites to be in the right relative configuration to each other to make the measurement possible. That’s where THEMIS came in. It has the right set of instruments, and the right configuration at certain parts of its orbit.”

According to the team, it’s possible other mechanisms could contribute to the generation of hiss as well. “Lightning could certainly contribute, and so could ‘in situ’ growth — the high-speed particles in the belts could generate hiss with their own motion. However, it’s just a question of which mechanism is dominant, and each might dominate at different times and locations. More research is needed to determine this,” said Bortnik.

The research was funded by NASA. For images, refer to:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/themis/news/themis_singing_electrons.htm l

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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

April 14, 2009

The government goes Twitter

Filed under: Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 4:46 pm

Twitter is the tech phenomena for 2009 so far. Now the federal government is getting into the act.

It’s a little amazing. The big question still is exactly where is Twitter heading? And will this exponential growth lead to even more fail whale sightings.

You can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/davidkonline.

From the link:

Twitter is taking flight in unlikely skies: the U.S. federal government.

From NASA to the General Services Administration, more federal agencies are embracing Twitter as another Web-based channel to communicate news and engage in conversations with U.S. citizens (10 Twitter tips from early federal adopters).

NASA announced Mondaythat astronaut Mike Massimino would use Twitter to provide a personal behind-the-scenes peek at his last few weeks of training before embarking on a space shuttle mission.  In the first 48 hours of Astro_Mike tweets, Massimino attracted more than 14,000 followers on Twitter.

Follow Network World editors and bloggers on Twitter 

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration is notifying more than 3,200 consumers about recalls of peanut and pistachio products on its Twitter stream dubbed FDARecalls. FDA has been issuing four or five tweets a day announcing product recalls since December 2008.

Another leading advocate of Twitter is GSA, which manages government-wide IT contracts and provides training to federal Web managers on best practices for Web 2.0 technologies.

“We have done quite a bit with Twitter,” says B. Leilani Martinez, a bilingual content manager for the GSA’s Web site. “We have four official Twitter accounts for www.pueblo.gsa.gov, www.usa.gov, www.gobiernousa.gov, and www.govgab.gov. We blog one or two times a day….Twitter is just another channel that we are using to communicate.”

April 10, 2009

NASA craft to reveal moon’s origin?

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 11:59 am

Maybe. Cool research at any rate.

The releaes hot from the inbox:

NASA Twin Spacecraft May Reveal Secret of Moon’s Origin

GREENBELT, Md., April 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Two identical NASA spacecraft are preparing to enter a point in the universe that may eventually answer the question of how our moon was born.

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

The spacecraft duet, called Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, are nearing a zone known as the Lagrangian points. At these points, the gravity of the sun and Earth combine to form gravitational wells where asteroids and space dust tend to gather. The 18th-century mathematician Joseph-Louis Lagrange realized there were five such wells in the sun-Earth system. The twin probes are about to pass through two of them, named L4 and L5.

During their journey, the spacecraft will use a wide-field-of-view telescope to look for asteroids orbiting the region. Scientists will be able to identify if a dot of light is an asteroid because it will shift its position against stars in the background as it moves in its orbit.

“These points may hold small asteroids, which could be leftovers from a Mars-sized planet that formed billions of years ago,” said Michael Kaiser, STEREO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “According to Edward Belbruno and Richard Gott at Princeton University, about 4.5 billion years ago when the planets were still growing, a hypothetical world called Theia may have been nudged out of L4 or L5 by the increasing gravity of other developing planets like Venus, sending it on a collision course with Earth. The resulting impact blasted the outer layers of Theia and Earth into orbit, which eventually coalesced under their own gravity to form the moon.”

This concept is a modification of a scientific “giant impact” theory of the moon’s origin. The theory explains puzzling properties of the moon, such as its relatively small iron core. At the time of the giant impact, Theia and Earth would have been large enough to be molten, enabling heavier elements, like iron, to sink to the center to form their cores. An impact would have stripped away the outer layers of the two worlds, containing mostly lighter elements like silicon. The moon eventually formed from this material.

STEREO’S primary mission is to give three-dimensional views of space weather by observing the sun from the two points where the spacecraft are located. Images and other data are then combined for study and analysis. Space weather produces disturbances in electromagnetic fields on Earth that can induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines and causing wide-spread blackouts. It also can affect communications and navigation systems. Space weather has been recognized as causing problems with new technology since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century.

  For more information about the STEREO mission, visit:


  For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

April 8, 2009

NASA on solar storms

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 8:08 pm

A release from this afternoon:

NASA Science Update to Discuss Anatomy of Solar Storms

NASA will hold a Science Update at 1 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, April 14, to present new findings and three-dimensional views revealing the inner workings of solar storms known as coronal mass ejections. The data will improve the ability to predict how and when these solar tsunamis impact Earth, affecting communication systems, power grids, and other technology. The briefing will take place in the James E. Webb Memorial Auditorium at NASA Headquarters, 300 E St., S.W., and will be carried live on NASA Television.

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

  Briefing participants are:

— Michael Kaiser, project scientist, Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

— Angelos Vourlidas, project scientist, Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation, Naval Research Laboratory in Washington

— Antoinette Galvin, principal investigator, Plasma and Suprathermal Ion Composition instrument, University of New Hampshire in Durham

— Madhulika Guhathakurta, STEREO program scientist, NASA Headquarters

For information about NASA TV, streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:


  For more information about the STEREO mission, visit:

/PRNewswire-USNewswire — April 8/

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20081007/38461LOGO
Source: NASA
Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

March 26, 2009

Orion goes to the Mall

Fresh from the inbox:

NASA Brings Orion Spacecraft to National Mall for Public Viewing

WASHINGTON, March 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA will showcase the next generation of spacecraft that will return humans to the moon in a day-long public event March 30 on the National Mall in Washington. The full-size mockup of the Orion crew exploration vehicle will be parked on the Mall between 4th and 7th Streets, SW, in front of the National Air and Space Museum. Reporters are invited to attend a briefing by the vehicle at 10 a.m. EDT.

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

The spacecraft mockup is on its way from water testing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Carderock Division in Bethesda to open water testing in the Atlantic off the coast of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The goal of the operation, dubbed the Post-landing Orion Recovery Test, or PORT, is to determine what kind of motions the astronaut crew can expect after landing, as well as conditions outside for the recovery team.

NASA engineers and personnel will be available all day at the National Mall event to answer questions about the Orion crew module and the Constellation program.

Orion is targeted to begin carrying humans to the International Space Station in 2015 and to the moon in 2020. Along with the Ares I and Ares V rockets and the Altair lunar lander, it is part of the Constellation Program that is developing the country’s next capability for human exploration of the moon and further destinations in the solar system.

  For more information about the Orion crew capsule, visit:


  For information about the Constellation Program, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

March 20, 2009

Solar Orbiter science investigations chosen

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 2:16 pm

A release from this morning:

NASA and ESA Select Science Investigations for Solar Orbiter

WASHINGTON, March 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA and the European Space Agency have selected 10 proposals for science instruments to fly aboard a spacecraft that will study the sun from a unique vantage point in space.

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

The European-led mission, called the Solar Orbiter, will be positioned about one-fourth the distance Earth is from the sun. The location ultimately will enhance the ability for scientists worldwide to forecast space weather.

Space weather can produce electromagnetic fields on Earth that induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines, causing wide-spread blackouts and affecting communication cables that support the Internet. Severe space weather also produces energetic solar particles and the dislocation of Earth’s radiation belts, which can damage satellites used for commercial communications, global positioning and weather forecasting. Additionally, space weather poses risks to astronauts.

“These selections provide the highest scientific value to help answer questions about our life giving star, the sun,” said Dick Fisher, director for NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington. “This collaboration will create a new chapter in heliophysics research and provide a strong partnership with the international science community to complement future robotic and human exploration activities.”

The continued development of the selected investigations beyond initial design of the instruments, known as Phase A, will depend on technical feasibility, cost and schedule commitments from the principal investigators. Continuation also will depend on available NASA program funds and ESA’s Cosmic Vision mission down-selection process to be completed in early 2010.

“The announcement of the preliminary payload selection for Solar Orbiter is a positive step toward the realization of a joint mission aimed at collecting unprecedented data about our star,” said Marcello Coradini, ESA coordinator for solar system missions in Paris. “We are delighted to continue our tradition of partnership with NASA, which already has enabled us to carry out extraordinary scientific missions.”

Of the 10 selected instrument proposals, three will receive NASA funding:

* Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager; Russell Howard, principal investigator, Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. This instrument will provide revolutionary measurements to pinpoint coronal mass ejections or CMEs. CME’s are violent eruptions with masses greater than a few billion tons. They travel from 60 to more than 2,000 miles per second. They have been compared to hurricanes because of the widespread disruption of communications and power systems they can cause when directed at Earth.

* Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment; Donald Hassler, principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. This instrument will provide an extreme ultraviolet spectrometer or optical instrument that will measure different wavelengths of light emitted from the sun. Data will advance our knowledge of the sun’s dynamics to better understand the effects on Earth and the solar system.

* Suprathermal Ion Spectrograph; lead co-investigator Glenn Mason, Applied Physics Laboratory in Columbia, Md. This experiment will measure energetic particles ejected from the sun. Data will be compared to other solar and interplanetary processes to understand solar system space weather. Understanding the connections between the sun and its planets will allow better prediction of the impacts of solar activity on humans, technological systems and even the presence of life itself in the universe.

The investigations are part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program is designed to understand how and why the sun varies, how planetary systems respond and the effect on human space and Earth activities. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the program for the agency’s Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate.

  For more information about the Solar Orbiter program, visit:


  For more information about the Living with a Star Program, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://sci.esa.int/

March 17, 2009

Did life arrive from space?

Looks like this research from NASA lends a lot of credence to the idea life on Earth arrived via rocks from space. Very interesting.

The release fresh from the inbox:

NASA Researchers Find Clues to a Secret of Life

GREENBELT, Md., March 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA scientists analyzing the dust of meteorites have discovered new clues to a long-standing mystery about how life works on its most basic, molecular level.

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

“We found more support for the idea that biological molecules, like amino acids, created in space and brought to Earth by meteorite impacts help explain why life is left-handed,” said Dr. Daniel Glavin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “By that I mean why all known life uses only left-handed versions of amino acids to build proteins.” Glavin is lead author of a paper on this research appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences March 16.

Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life, used in everything from structures like hair to enzymes, the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet are arranged in limitless combinations to make words, life uses 20 different amino acids in a huge variety of arrangements to build millions of different proteins. Amino acid molecules can be built in two ways that are mirror images of each other, like your hands. Although life based on right-handed amino acids would presumably work fine, “you can’t mix them,” says Dr. Jason Dworkin of NASA Goddard, co-author of the study. “If you do, life turns to something resembling scrambled eggs — it’s a mess. Since life doesn’t work with a mixture of left-handed and right-handed amino acids, the mystery is: how did life decide — what made life choose left-handed amino acids over right-handed ones?”

Over the last four years, the team carefully analyzed samples of meteorites with an abundance of carbon, called carbonaceous chondrites. The researchers looked for the amino acid isovaline and discovered that three types of carbonaceous meteorites had more of the left-handed version than the right-handed variety — as much as a record 18 percent more in the often-studied Murchison meteorite. “Finding more left-handed isovaline in a variety of meteorites supports the theory that amino acids brought to the early Earth by asteroids and comets contributed to the origin of only left-handed based protein life on Earth,” said Glavin.

All amino acids can switch from left-handed to right, or the reverse, by chemical reactions energized with radiation or temperature, according to the team. The scientists looked for isovaline because it has the ability to preserve its handedness for billions of years, and it is extremely rarely used by life, so its presence in meteorites is unlikely to be from contamination by terrestrial life. “The meteorites we studied are from before Earth formed, over 4.5 billion years ago,” said Glavin. “We believe the same process that created extra left-handed isovaline would have created more left-handed versions of the other amino acids found in these meteorites, but the bias toward left-handed versions has been mostly erased after all this time.”

The team’s discovery validates and extends the research first reported a decade ago by Drs. John Cronin and Sandra Pizzarello of Arizona State University, who were first to discover excess isovaline in the Murchison meteorite, believed to be a piece of an asteroid. “We used a different technique to find the excess, and discovered it for the first time in the Orgueil meteorite, which belongs to another meteorite group believed to be from an extinct comet,” said Glavin.

The team also found a pattern to the excess. Different types of meteorites had different amounts of water, as determined by the clays and water-bearing minerals found in the meteorites. The team discovered meteorites with more water also had greater amounts of left-handed isovaline. “This gives us a hint that the creation of extra left-handed amino acids had something to do with alteration by water,” said Dworkin. “Since there are many ways to make extra left-handed amino acids, this discovery considerably narrows down the search.”

If the bias toward left-handedness originated in space, it makes the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system more difficult, while also making its origin a bit more likely, according to the team. “If we find life anywhere else in our solar system, it will probably be microscopic, since microbes can survive in extreme environments,” said Dworkin. “One of the biggest problems in determining if microscopic life is truly extra-terrestrial is making sure the sample wasn’t contaminated by microbes brought from Earth. If we find the life is based on right-handed amino acids, then we know for sure it isn’t from Earth. However, if the bias toward left-handed amino acids began in space, it likely extends across the solar system, so any life we may find on Mars, for example, will also be left-handed. On the other hand, if there is a mechanism to choose handedness before life emerges, it is one less problem prebiotic chemistry has to solve before making life. If it was solved for Earth, it probably has been solved for the other places in our solar system where the recipe for life might exist, such as beneath the surface of Mars, or in potential oceans under the icy crust of Europa and Enceladus, or on Titan.”

The research was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the NASA Cosmochemistry program, and the NASA Astrobiology: Exobiology, and Evolutionary Biology program. For an image, refer to:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

March 15, 2009

Discovery launches

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 8:00 pm

Good news after a few days of delay.

The release:

STS-119 Launches on Mission to Ready Station for Larger Crew

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., March 15 /PRNewswire/ — Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off today on a mission to deliver the International Space Station’s (ISS) final set of solar array wings that will help fully power science experiments and support an expanded crew of six.

(Logo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20080407/LAM060LOGO)

In addition to supporting the ISS with the delivery and installation of the Starboard 6 truss segment, Discovery is carrying technologies that will enhance the hardware, systems and operations of the next generation of exploration vehicles.  The mission is hosting two detailed test objectives (DTOs), or experiments, geared at gaining data to improve the next generation Constellation vehicles, and United Space Alliance played an important role in the development and implementation of both.

The Crew Seat DTO will measure the linear and vibrational acceleration of Shuttle flight deck seat three and mid-deck seats five and seven.  Each seat will have three accelerometers placed on the seat pan, the backrest, and the headrest.  Acceleration and g-loading data from this DTO will be used in conjunction with human factors data to determine the minimum readable font size during launch for the display formats on the next crew vehicle, Orion.

The Boundary Layer Transition DTO is designed to demonstrate that a protuberance on a BRI-18 thermal protection system tile is safe to fly.  Sensors on the tile, information from a long-range infrared camera and data collected by onboard instruments will help engineers evaluate the disruption of supersonic air across the BRI-18 tile, which is currently being considered for use on Orion.

“This mission exemplifies that the Shuttle is a reliable and versatile vehicle that has served and continues to serve our human space exploration needs well,” said Mark Nappi, USA Vice President Launch & Recovery Systems and Florida Site Executive.  “Its unique capabilities are being used as a test bed for experiments that directly impact the future of space flight.”

Since its first operational mission, STS-5, the Shuttle has hosted an array of tests and demonstrations that have enabled advancements in various fields including large scale assembly operations and multi-disciplinary sciences.

Large scale assembly operations on previous missions paved the way for current ISS construction work.  The EASE/ACCESS test on STS-61B challenged astronauts to construct the first large structures in space.  Crew members assembled small components to form larger structures, similar to what is done today in Station assembly.

Science conducted on previous missions demonstrated the ability of the Shuttle to support progressive research over long periods of time. STS-9 was the first flight of the Spacelab system that was designed for on-orbit scientific research in fields ranging from astronomy and meteorology to life science experiments that shed light on how the human body responds to microgravity.  This and subsequent Spacelab missions established research protocols and methodologies for long-duration space flight.

“Throughout its history, the Shuttle has served as a proving ground for establishing a productive and permanent human presence in space,” said Nappi.  “Its dynamic capabilities have resulted in continuing safety and performance improvements for the current system, as well as a wealth of knowledge that benefits future human space flight endeavors.”

About United Space Alliance:

United Space Alliance is a world leader in space operations with extensive experience in all aspects of the field. Headquartered in Houston, USA has 10,000 employees working in Texas, Florida and Alabama. Currently, USA is applying its broad range of capabilities to NASA’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Constellation programs as well as to space operations customers in the commercial and international space industry sectors.

Photo:  http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20080407/LAM060LOGO
Source: United Space Alliance

March 12, 2009

Latest news on space shuttle Discovery

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:02 pm

A release fresh from the inbox:

NASA Holds Briefing Friday on Status of Space Shuttle Discovery

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., March 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — NASA managers will hold a news conference at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Friday, March 13, to discuss the status of space shuttle Discovery’s launch to the International Space Station. Launch currently is targeted for no earlier than March 15 at 7:43 p.m. The briefing will air live on NASA Television and the agency Web site.

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

The shuttle launch was postponed Wednesday due to a leak associated with the gaseous hydrogen venting system outside the external fuel tank. The system is used to carry excess hydrogen safely away from the launch pad.

Discovery’s STS-119 flight will deliver the space station’s fourth and final set of solar array wings, completing the station’s truss, or backbone. The arrays will provide the electricity to fully power science experiments and support the station’s expanded crew of six in May. The flight also will replace a failed unit for a system that converts urine to potable water.

For information about NASA TV streaming video, downlink and schedule information, visit:


  For information about the space station, visit:


  For the latest information about the STS-119 mission and its crew, visit:


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

Web Site:  http://www.nasa.gov/

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