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Archive for January, 2012

Astronaut Jerry Ross, First Seven-Time Flier, Retires

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Jerry Ross, the first person to launch into space seven times, has retired from NASA. In a career that spanned more than three decades, Ross spent almost 1,400 hours in space and conducted nine spacewalks to rank third on the list of most extravehicular activity time in space.

“Jerry has been instrumental in the success of many of NASA’s human spaceflight missions and numerous spacewalks,” said Peggy Whitson, chief of the Astronaut Office. “Not only were his skills and operational excellence key in major spaceflight activities but his expertise and vigilance also helped all those who followed in his footsteps. We are the better for his years of dedication to the corps and NASA.”

Ross joined NASA in 1979 as a payload officer and flight controller. In 1980, he was selected as an astronaut. He and Franklin Chang-Diaz are the only two astronauts to have flown into space seven times. In addition to Ross’ spaceflight mission accomplishments, he went on to serve NASA in the critical role of managing the Vehicle Integration Test Office.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jan/HQ_12-033_Ross_Retires.html

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NASA’s Kepler Announces 11 Planetary Systems Hosting 26 Planets

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA Ames/Dan Fabrycky, University of California, Santa Cruz

Image credit: NASA Ames/Dan Fabrycky, University of California, Santa Cruz

NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered 11 new planetary systems hosting 26 confirmed planets. These discoveries nearly double the number of verified Kepler planets and triple the number of stars known to have more than one planet that transits, or passes in front of, its host star. Such systems will help astronomers better understand how planets form.

The planets orbit close to their host stars and range in size from 1.5 times the radius of Earth to larger than Jupiter. Fifteen of them are between Earth and Neptune in size, and further observations will be required to determine which are rocky like Earth and which have thick gaseous atmospheres like Neptune. The planets orbit their host star once every six to 143 days. All are closer to their host star than Venus is to our sun.

“Prior to the Kepler mission, we knew of perhaps 500 exoplanets across the whole sky,” said Doug Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Now, in just two years staring at a patch of sky not much bigger than your fist, Kepler has discovered more than 60 planets and more than 2,300 planet candidates. This tells us that our galaxy is positively loaded with planets of all sizes and orbits.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/new-multi-systems.html

Cassini Significant Events 01/18/2012 – 01/24/2012

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Capture of the telemetry data that is carried on Cassini’s 1-way downlink signal, whose frequency is based on the Auxiliary Oscillator in the absence of an operable Ultrastable Oscillator (USO), continues to be normal. The most recent spacecraft tracking and telemetry data were acquired on Jan. 24 from the Deep Space Network 70 meter Deep Space Station 43 at Canberra, Australia. The Cassini spacecraft is in an excellent state of health with all subsystems operating normally except for the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer remaining powered off and the anomalous USO. Information on the present position and speed of the Cassini spacecraft may be found on the “Present Position” page at:http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/presentposition/.

While the spacecraft started inward from apoapsis, Saturn and Titan were again observed with the Optical Remote Sensing (ORS) instruments. The Cassini Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) measured oxygen compounds (H2O, CO2) in Saturn’s stratosphere as a function of latitude, and the Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) measured winds. The Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph imaged Titan and Saturn in the extreme- and far-ultraviolet parts of the spectrum, and ISS led a joint-ORS photometric measurement of Saturn known as an emission-angle scan. CIRS acquired a Saturn mid-infrared map to determine upper troposphere and tropopause temperatures. On Tuesday, ISS observed the small, irregular moon Siarnaq from approximately 26 million kilometers away. Preparations were made for the 56th Project Science Group meeting to be held next week at JPL.

Full Story: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/significantevents/significantevents20120126/

NASA Hosts Briefing on New Observations of Interstellar Matter

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA will host a Science Update at 1 p.m. EST, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, to discuss new analysis from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft of material from outside our solar system and the interstellar boundary region that surrounds our home in space.

The interstellar boundary region shields our solar system from most of the dangerous galactic cosmic radiation that otherwise would enter the solar system from interstellar space.

The briefing will take place at NASA Headquarters in the James E. Webb Auditorium, located at 300 E St. SW, Washington, and will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/jan/HQ_M12-016_IBEX.html

Vesta Likely Cold and Dark Enough for Ice

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Though generally thought to be quite dry, roughly half of the giant asteroid Vesta is expected to be so cold and to receive so little sunlight that water ice could have survived there for billions of years, according to the first published models of Vesta’s average global temperatures and illumination by the sun.

“Near the north and south poles, the conditions appear to be favorable for water ice to exist beneath the surface,” says Timothy Stubbs of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Stubbs and Yongli Wang of the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute at the University of Maryland published the models in the January 2012 issue of the journal Icarus. The models are based on information from telescopes including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Vesta, the second-most massive object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, probably does not have any significant permanently shadowed craters where water ice could stay frozen on the surface all the time, not even in the roughly 300-mile-diameter (480-kilometer-diameter) crater near the south pole, the authors note. The asteroid isn’t a good candidate for permanent shadowing because it is tilted on its axis at about 27 degrees, which is even greater than Earth’s tilt of roughly 23 degrees. In contrast, the moon, which does have permanently shadowed craters, is tilted at only about 1.5 degrees. As a result of its large tilt, Vesta has seasons, and every part of the surface is expected to see the sun at some point during Vesta’s year.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-024

Durable NASA Rover Beginning Ninth Year of Mars Work

January 25, 2012 2 comments

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

Eight years after landing on Mars for what was planned as a three-month mission, NASA’s enduring Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is working on what essentially became a new mission five months ago.

Opportunity reached a multi-year driving destination, Endeavour Crater, in August 2011. At Endeavour’s rim, it has gained access to geological deposits from an earlier period of Martian history than anything it examined during its first seven years. It also has begun an investigation of the planet’s deep interior that takes advantage of staying in one place for the Martian winter.

Opportunity landed in Eagle Crater on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time and EST (Jan. 24, PST), three weeks after its rover twin, Spirit, landed halfway around the planet. In backyard-size Eagle Crater, Opportunity found evidence of an ancient wet environment. The mission met all its goals within the originally planned span of three months. During most of the next four years, it explored successively larger and deeper craters, adding evidence about wet and dry periods from the same era as the Eagle Crater deposits.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-022

Wild Early Lives of Today’s Most Massive Galaxies

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Credit: ESO, APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO), A. Weiss et al., NASA Spitzer Science Center

Credit: ESO, APEX (MPIfR/ESO/OSO), A. Weiss et al., NASA Spitzer Science Center

Using the APEX telescope, a team of astronomers has found the strongest link so far between the most powerful bursts of star formation in the early Universe, and the most massive galaxies found today. The galaxies, flowering with dramatic starbursts in the early Universe, saw the birth of new stars abruptly cut short, leaving them as massive — but passive — galaxies of aging stars in the present day. The astronomers also have a likely culprit for the sudden end to the starbursts: the emergence of supermassive black holes.

Astronomers have combined observations from the LABOCA camera on the ESO-operated 12-metre Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope with measurements made with ESO’s Very Large Telescope, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, and others, to look at the way that bright, distant galaxies are gathered together in groups or clusters.

The more closely the galaxies are clustered, the more massive are their halos of dark matter — the invisible material that makes up the vast majority of a galaxy’s mass. The new results are the most accurate clustering measurements ever made for this type of galaxy.

Full Story: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1206/