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New Views Show Old NASA Mars Landers

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded a scene on Jan. 29, 2012, that includes the first color image from orbit showing the three-petal lander of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit mission. Spirit drove off that lander platform in January 2004 and spent most of its six-year working life in a range of hills about two miles to the east.

Another recent image from HiRISE, taken on Jan. 26, 2012, shows NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander and its surroundings on far-northern Mars after that spacecraft’s second Martian arctic winter.  Phoenix exceeded its planned mission life in 2008, ending its work as solar energy waned during approach of its first Mars winter.

The image showing Spirit’s lander platform as a small, bright feature southwest of Bonneville Crater is athttp://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA15038. The new image of Phoenix is athttp://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA15039 .

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-037

AKARI Finds CO Molecules in 10,000,000-Degree Gas

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

A scientific team using the Japanese AKARI infrared space observatory finds carbon monoxide (CO) molecules in the ten million degree gas associated with the young supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A). The team is led by Dr. Jeonghee Rho, who holds a joint appointment at the SETI Institute, and at the SOFIA Science Center at NASA Ames Research Center (both located in Mountain View California). Theoretically it was neither predicted nor expected to find the carbon monoxide molecule associated with a highly energetic supernova remnant. Energetic electrons and heavy-element atoms produced by nuclear processes in supernovae should have destroyed these molecules. This finding could change our current understanding of the cycle of carbon and molecules in the interstellar gas and dust clouds.

Infrared spectra obtained by AKARI have detected a broad feature with a double-peaked profile. A dozen spectra reveal CO features similar to this across the angular extent of Cas A. The CO emission is specially detected not only from the bright ring of shocked ejecta but also from the central region where unshocked ejecta are located. The CO at the center of Cas A contains material which has been relatively unchanged since a few years after the original supernova explosion. The spectral model applied to these spectra indicates that the broad feature is being composed of a few ten thousand spectral lines produced by CO. Cas A is 330 years old and located at a distance of approximately 11 thousand light years in the direction of the well-known W-shaped constellation of Cassiopeia.

Full Story: http://www.ir.isas.jaxa.jp/AKARI/Outreach/results/PR2012_CasA/casa_e.html

NASA Mission Takes Stock of Earth’s Melting Land Ice

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

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

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

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

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/feb/HQ_12-048_GRACE_Land_Ice_Study.html

Chandra Finds Black Hole Grazing on Asteroids

February 9, 2012 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Image Credit: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

The giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way may be vaporizing and devouring asteroids, which could explain the frequent flares observed, according to astronomers using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

For several years Chandra has detected X-ray flares about once a day from the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A*, or “Sgr A*” for short. The flares last a few hours with brightness ranging from a few times to nearly one hundred times that of the black hole’s regular output. The flares also have been seen in infrared data from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.

“People have had doubts about whether asteroids could form at all in the harsh environment near a supermassive black hole,” said Kastytis Zubovas of the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, and lead author of the report appearing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “It’s exciting because our study suggests that a huge number of them are needed to produce these flares.”

Full Story: http://chandra.si.edu/photo/2012/sgra/