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Curiosity Stretches Its Arm

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

 

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity flexed its robotic arm today for the first time since before launch in November 2011.

The 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm maneuvers a turret of tools including a camera, a drill, a spectrometer, a scoop and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.

“We have had to sit tight for the first two weeks since landing, while other parts of the rover were checked out, so to see the arm extended in these images is a huge moment for us,” said Matt Robinson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, lead engineer for Curiosity’s robotic arm testing and operations. “The arm is how we are going to get samples into the laboratory instruments and how we place other instruments onto surface targets.”

Weeks of testing and calibrating arm movements are ahead before the arm delivers a first sample of Martian soil to instruments inside the rover. Monday’s maneuver checked motors and joints by unstowing the arm for the first time, extending it forward using all five joints, then stowing it again in preparation for the rover’s first drive.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-251

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First Evidence Discovered Of Planet’s Destruction By Its Star

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

The first evidence of a planet’s destruction by its aging star has been discovered by an international team of astronomers. The evidence indicates that the missing planet was devoured as the star began expanding into a “red giant” — the stellar equivalent of advanced age. “A similar fate may await the inner planets in our solar system, when the Sun becomes a red giant and expands all the way out to Earth’s orbit some five-billion years from now,” said Alex Wolszczan, an Evan Pugh Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State, University, who is one of the members of the research team. Wolszczan also is the discoverer of the first planet ever found outside our solar system.

“Our detailed spectroscopic analysis reveals that this red-giant star, BD+48 740, contains an abnormally high amount of lithium, a rare element created primarily during the Big Bang 14 billion years ago,” Adamow said. Lithium is easily destroyed in stars, which is why its abnormally high abundance in this older star is so unusual. “Theorists have identified only a few, very specific circumstances, other than the Big Bang, under which lithium can be created in stars,” Wolszczan added. “In the case of BD+48 740, it is probable that the lithium production was triggered by a mass the size of a planet that spiraled into the star and heated it up while the star was digesting it.”

Full Story: http://science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2012-news/Wolszczan8-2012

Voyager At 35: Break On Through To The Other Side

August 20, 2012 1 comment

Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977, from the NASA Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida, propelled into space on a Titan/Centaur rocket. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Thirty-five years ago today, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, the first Voyager spacecraft to launch, departed on a journey that would make it the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune and the longest-operating NASA spacecraft ever. Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, that launched 16 days later on Sept. 5, 1977, are still going strong, hurtling away from our sun. Mission managers are eagerly anticipating the day when they break on through to the other side – the space between stars.

“Even 35 years on, our rugged Voyager spacecraft are poised to make new discoveries as we eagerly await the signs that we’ve entered interstellar space,” said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Voyager results turned Jupiter and Saturn into full, tumultuous worlds, their moons from faint dots into distinctive places, and gave us our first glimpses of Uranus and Neptune up-close. We can’t wait for Voyager to turn our models of the space beyond our sun into the first observations from interstellar space.”

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-249

New NASA Mission To Take First Look Deep Inside Mars

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA has selected a new mission, set to launch in 2016, that will take the first look into the deep interior of Mars to see why the Red Planet evolved so differently from Earth as one of our solar system’s rocky planets.

The new mission, named InSight, will place instruments on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth’s and why Mars’ crust is not divided into tectonic plates that drift like Earth’s. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve.

“The exploration of Mars is a top priority for NASA, and the selection of InSight ensures we will continue to unlock the mysteries of the Red Planet and lay the groundwork for a future human mission there,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “The recent successful landing of the Curiosity rover has galvanized public interest in space exploration and today’s announcement makes clear there are more exciting Mars missions to come.”

Full Story: http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2012/aug/HQ_12-288-New_Discovery_Mars_Mission.html

CU-Boulder Researchers Gear Up For NASA Radiation Belt Space Mission

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

The University of Colorado Boulder will play a key role in a NASA mission launching this week to study how space weather affects Earth’s two giant radiation belts known to be hazardous to satellites, astronauts and electronics systems on Earth.

The Radiation Belt Storm Probes, or RBSP, mission will study the invisible, doughnut-shaped regions above Earth known as the Van Allen radiation belts that are filled with high- energy electrons and protons, some of which are darting at roughly the speed of light. CU-Boulder, which will receive more than $18 million from NASA over the mission lifetime, designed and built an instrument to capture and measure the high-energy, or “killer,” electrons and an intricate electronics package for another instrument suite to measure changes in the electric and magnetic fields in the belts.

Full Story: http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2012/08/20/cu-boulder-researchers-gear-nasa-radiation-belt-space-mission

Johns Hopkins Astrophysicist Charles Bennett And WMAP Team Win 2012 Gruber Prize

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Johns Hopkins University professor Charles L. Bennett and members of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) space mission that he led will receive the Gruber Foundation’s 2012 Cosmology Prize in Beijing, China tomorrow.

Bennett and the 26-member WMAP team will share the $500,000 prize and are being recognized by the foundation for their transformative study of an ancient light dating back to the infant universe. So precise and accurate are the WMAP results that they form the foundation of the Standard Cosmological Model.

Bennett will receive a gold medal at the International Astronomical Union meeting on August 21, and will deliver a lecture on the 22nd. Watch Bennett explain WMAP’s groundbreaking science in a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72Y0mvXsHS0

“It is tremendously exciting to be recognized with the Gruber Cosmology Prize,” said Bennett, Alumni Centennial Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Gilman Scholar in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “I have been very fortunate to work with the talented and fine people of the WMAP team, and I am particularly delighted that our entire science team has been honored with this prestigious award.”

Under Bennett’s direction, the WMAP mission determined with unprecedented precision the age, shape (WMAP nailed down the curvature of space to within 0.6% of conventional Euclidean geometry), composition and history of the universe from the first-ever, exquisitely detailed full-sky “baby picture” of the universe, dating from when it was only 378,000 years old — 13.75 billion years ago. Using this picture, the team determined that the universe consists of 72.8 percent dark energy, 22.7 percent dark matter and 4.6 percent atoms. The team also concluded that the first stars formed when the universe was only about 400 million years old. The WMAP data substantiated key predictions of the cosmic inflation paradigm that describes the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the universe, while at the same time ruling out some specific implementations of the theory. WMAP data also place limits on the mass of the neutrino (an elementary particle with no electrical charge and travels at almost the speed of light), and provide evidence for primordial helium, consistent with big bang theory predictions.