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NASA’s Opportunity At 10: New Findings From Old Rover

January 23, 2014 Leave a comment

New findings from rock samples collected and examined by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity have confirmed an ancient wet environment that was milder and older than the acidic and oxidizing conditions told by rocks the rover examined previously.

In the Jan. 24 edition of the journal Science, Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, writes in detail about the discoveries made by the rover and how these discoveries have shaped our knowledge of the planet. According to Arvidson and others on the team, the latest evidence from Opportunity is landmark.

“These rocks are older than any we examined earlier in the mission, and they reveal more favorable conditions for microbial life than any evidence previously examined by investigations with Opportunity,” said Arvidson.

While the Opportunity team celebrates the rover’s 10th anniversary on Mars, they also look forward to what discoveries lie ahead and how a better understanding of Mars will help advance plans for human missions to the planet in the 2030s.

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Liftoff For Europe’s Billion-Star Surveyor

December 19, 2013 1 comment

Copyright ESA–S. Corvaja, 2013

Copyright ESA–S. Corvaja, 2013

19 December 2013 ESA PR 44-2013: ESA’s Gaia mission blasted off this morning on a Soyuz rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on its exciting mission to study a billion suns.

Gaia is destined to create the most accurate map yet of the Milky Way. By making accurate measurements of the positions and motions of 1% of the total population of roughly 100 billion stars, it will answer questions about the origin and evolution of our home Galaxy.

The Soyuz launcher, operated by Arianespace, lifted off at 09:12 GMT (10:12 CET). About ten minutes later, after separation of the first three stages, the Fregat upper stage ignited, delivering Gaia into a temporary parking orbit at an altitude of 175 km.

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Beatles Legend, Antiwar Author Among Those Honored By Newly Named Mercury Craters

December 19, 2013 Leave a comment

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) — the arbiter of planetary and satellite nomenclature since its inception in 1919 — recently approved a proposal from the MESSENGER Science Team to assign names to 10 impact craters on Mercury. In keeping with the established naming theme for craters on Mercury, all of the newly designated features are named after “deceased artists, musicians, painters, and authors who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field and have been recognized as art historically significant figures for more than 50 years.”

Ten newly named craters join 114 other craters named since the MESSENGER spacecraft’s first Mercury flyby in January 2008. More information about the names of features on Mercury and the other objects in the Solar System can be found at the U.S. Geological Survey’s planetary nomenclature web site.

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The Gaia Mission App, Ready Before The Launch

December 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Gaia, a satellite of the European Space Agency (ESA), is launched tomorrow, 19 December. It will take a census of a billion stars to create the most complete 3D map of the Milky Way ever done. Launch is planned to occur at 10.12 a.m. (local time in mainland Spain) from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou (French Guiana). Scientists and engineers from the University of Barcelona (UB) have remarkably collaborated in the mission.

A group of researchers from UB, the Barcelona Team, has developed the Gaia Mission App, which allows discovering scientific and technical details of the mission and keeps users updated on satellite’s operations from 19 December. App is available in English, Spanish and Catalan.

Gaia is considered ESA’s cornerstone mission not only for its ability to revolution future astrophysics —thanks to the unprecedented accuracy of its astrometric observations—, but also for the technological challenge it means. In addition, the project constitutes the maximum exponent of a technology that places Europe in a leading position in the field of astrometry.

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Reveals Clues About Saturn Moon

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is providing scientists with key clues about Saturn’s moon Titan, and in particular, its hydrocarbon lakes and seas.

Titan is one of the most Earth-like places in the solar system, and the only place other than our planet that has stable liquid on its surface.

Cassini’s recent close flybys are bringing into sharper focus a region in Titan’s northern hemisphere that sparkles with almost all of the moon’s seas and lakes. Scientists working with the spacecraft’s radar instrument have put together the most detailed multi-image mosaic of that region to date. The image includes all the seas and most of the major lakes. Some of the flybys tracked over areas that previously were seen at a different angle, so researchers have been able to create a flyover of the area around Titan’s largest and second largest seas, known as Kraken Mare and Ligeia Mare, respectively, and some of the nearby lakes.

“Learning about surface features like lakes and seas helps us to understand how Titan’s liquids, solids and gases interact to make it so Earth-like,” said Steve Wall, acting radar team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “While these two worlds aren’t exactly the same, it shows us more and more Earth-like processes as we get new views.”

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NASA’s Juno Gives Starship-Like View Of Earth Flyby

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew past Earth on Oct. 9, 2013, it received a boost in speed of more than 8,800 mph (about 3.9 kilometers per second), which set it on course for a July 4, 2016, rendezvous with Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. One of Juno’s sensors, a special kind of camera optimized to track faint stars, also had a unique view of the Earth-moon system. The result was an intriguing, low-resolution glimpse of what our world would look like to a visitor from afar.

“If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, ‘Take us home, Scotty,’ this is what the crew would see,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. “In the movie, you ride aboard Juno as it approaches Earth and then soars off into the blackness of space. No previous view of our world has ever captured the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon.”

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NASA Mars Spacecraft Reveals A More Dynamic Red Planet

December 11, 2013 2 comments

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed to scientists slender dark markings — possibly due to salty water – that advance seasonally down slopes surprisingly close to the Martian equator.

“The equatorial surface region of Mars has been regarded as dry, free of liquid or frozen water, but we may need to rethink that,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson, principal investigator for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

Tracking how these features recur each year is one example of how the longevity of NASA orbiters observing Mars is providing insight about changes on many time scales. Researchers at the American Geophysical Union meeting Tuesday in San Francisco discussed a range of current Martian activity, from fresh craters offering glimpses of subsurface ice to multi-year patterns in the occurrence of large, regional dust storms.

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NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Hears Amateur Radio Operators Say ‘Hi’

December 11, 2013 1 comment

Photo by Tim Schoon

Photo by Tim Schoon

Thousands of amateur (ham) radio operators around the world were able to say “Hi” to NASA’s Juno spacecraft Oct. 9 as it swung past Earth on its way to Jupiter.

According to Donald Kirchner, University of Iowa research engineer on Juno and one of the coordinators of the all-volunteer “Say Hi to Juno” project, all licensed amateur radio operators were invited to participate by visiting a website and following posted instructions.

“The idea was to coordinate the efforts of amateur radio operators all over the world, and send a message in Morse code that could be received by the University of Iowa-designed-and-built instrument on the Juno spacecraft,” he says. “We know that over a thousand participated, and probably many more than that.”

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SwRI Scientists Publish First Radiation Measurements From The Surface Of Mars

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

In the first 300 days of the Mars Science Laboratory surface mission, the Curiosity rover cruised around the planet’s Gale Crater, collecting soil samples and investigating rock structures while the onboard Radiation Assessment Detector made detailed measurements of the radiation environment on the surface of Mars.

“Our measurements provide crucial information for human missions to Mars,” said Dr. Don Hassler, a Southwest Research Institute program director and RAD principal investigator. Hassler is the lead author of “Mars’ Surface Radiation Environment Measured with the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity Rover,” scheduled for publication in the journal Science online on December 9, 2013. “We’re continuing to monitor the radiation environment, and seeing the effects of major solar storms on the surface and at different times in the solar cycle will give additional important data. Our measurements also tie into Curiosity’s investigations about habitability. The radiation sources that are of concern for human health also affect microbial survival as well as the preservation of organic chemicals.”

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NASA Curiosity: First Mars Age Measurement And Human Exploration Help

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity rover is providing vital insight about Mars’ past and current environments that will aid plans for future robotic and human missions.

n a little more than a year on the Red Planet, the mobile Mars Science Laboratory has determined the age of a Martian rock, found evidence the planet could have sustained microbial life, taken the first readings of radiation on the surface, and shown how natural erosion could reveal the building blocks of life. Curiosity team members presented these results and more from Curiosity in six papers published online today by Science Express and in talks at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The second rock Curiosity drilled for a sample on Mars, which scientists nicknamed “Cumberland,” is the first ever to be dated from an analysis of its mineral ingredients while it sits on another planet. A report by Kenneth Farley of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and co-authors, estimates the age of Cumberland at 3.86 billion to 4.56 billion years old. This is in the range of earlier estimates for rocks in Gale Crater, where Curiosity is working.

“The age is not surprising, but what is surprising is that this method worked using measurements performed on Mars,” said Farley. “When you’re confirming a new methodology, you don’t want the first result to be something unexpected. Our understanding of the antiquity of the Martian surface seems to be right.”

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