The President’s budget proposal for FY13 effectively ends the U.S. exploration of Mars by 2018, except for a directed mission supporting human exploration. Congress must not allow the collapse of such a successful and valuable program, and the irreversible loss of national capability, expertise and preeminence that would follow. We recommend that Congress maintain the NASA Planetary Division budget at a minimum of its FY12 level and direct NASA to restore the Mars program according to the following priorities, consistent with the recent NRC Planetary Decadal survey:
- Funding for the Mars Fundamental Research and Mars Data Analysis Programs will be increased by 20% in FY13 with the goal of doubling the aggregate funding level of these programs over the next 5 years.
- Current operating missions at Mars will be fully funded for as long as they continue to produce high value science.
- The Mars Scout program will be reconstituted within the Discovery Program Office, with selections every 24 months, thereby maintaining American access to the Martian surface and orbital environment.
Technology investments can improve the cost-effectiveness of Mars Sample Return, which would be of great value, but no Mars Sample Return mission should be undertaken at the expense of the robust Mars exploration program outlined above.
Since the mid-1800s, scientists have been systematically measuring changes in the Earth’s magnetic field and the occurrence of geomagnetic activity. Such long-term investigation has uncovered a number of cyclical changes, including a signal associated with 27-day solar rotation. This is most clearly seen during the declining phase and minimum of each 11-year solar cycle, when the Sun’s magnetic dipole is sometimes tilted with respect to the Sun’s rotational axis. With the Sun’s rotation and the emission of solar wind along field lines from either end of the solar magnetic dipole, an outward propagating spiral-like pattern is formed in the solar wind and the interplanetary magnetic field that can drive 27-day, and occasionally 13.5-day, recurrent geomagnetic activity. Recurrent geomagnetic activity can also be driven by isolated and semipersistent coronal holes, from which concentrated streams of solar wind can be emitted.
Today astronomers from the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) released the first series of scientific results showing its best-in-the-world performance in canceling the blur of the Earth’s atmosphere. Included in these first findings are previously impossible discoveries about extrasolar planets and their environments and new insights into how stars are formed.
The LBT is the first in the new generation of extraordinary large ground-based telescopes that uses advanced adaptive secondary mirrors to see more clearly than ever before. The LBT utilizes two giant 8.4 meter mirrors (27.5 feet) and is located on Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona.
“With this unrivaled new technology, we can now probe the close-in environments of nearby stars with a clarity that was previously not possible,” said Richard Green, Director of the LBT. “We expect these to be the first of many amazing new discoveries as we are now able to observe in unique detail the formation of stars and their systems of planets.”
The most recent spacecraft tracking and telemetry data were collected March 14 using the Deep Space Network’s 70 meter Station 43 at Canberra, Australia. The Cassini spacecraft is in an excellent state of health. All subsystems are operating normally except for the issues being worked with the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer and the Ultrastable Oscillator. Information on the present position of the Cassini spacecraft may be found on the “Present Position” page at:http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/presentposition/.
There were two Earth-based highlights this week. First, a review with JPL upper management Thursday of a recommendation made by the Cassini Project, the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, and the CAPS instrument team resulted in the decision to proceed with turning the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) back on. (Recall the instrument was turned off last June due to concerns over some problems internal to the instrument and others associated with Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator #3.) Commands to turn CAPS on were prepared and approved, and will be sent to the spacecraft on March 16.
Second, the Cassini Mission was named the recipient of the top group honor from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, the Trophy for Current Achievement. Representatives from Cassini will receive the trophy on March 21 at a black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C. The full story appears here: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/newsreleases/newsrelease20120314/.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most detailed image so far of Messier 9, a globular star cluster located close to the centre of the galaxy. This ball of stars is too faint to see with the naked eye, yet Hubble can see over 250 000 individual stars shining in it.
Messier 9, pictured here, is a globular cluster, a roughly spherical swarm of stars that lies around 25 000 light-years from Earth, near the centre of the Milky Way, so close that the gravitational forces from the galactic centre pull it slightly out of shape.
Globular clusters are thought to harbour some of the oldest stars in our galaxy, born when the Universe was just a small fraction of its current age. As well as being far older than the Sun — around twice its age — the stars of Messier 9 also have a markedly different composition, and are enriched with far fewer heavier elements than the Sun.
In particular, the elements crucial to life on Earth, like oxygen and carbon, and the iron that makes up our planet’s core, are very scarce in Messier 9 and clusters like it. This is because the Universe’s heavier elements were gradually formed in the cores of stars, and in supernova explosions. When the stars of Messier 9 formed, there were far smaller quantities of these elements in existence.
Full Story: http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1205/