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NASA’S Voyager 1 Cruising On A ‘Magnetic Highway’

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has encountered a new region on the outskirts of our solar system that appears to be a magnetic highway for charged particles. Scientists believe this is the final region Voyager has to cross before reaching interstellar space, or the space between stars.

Scientists call this region the magnetic highway because our sun’s magnetic field lines are connected to interstellar magnetic field lines. The connection has allowed lower-energy charged particles that originate from inside our heliosphere – the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself – to zoom out, and higher-energy particles from outside to stream in.

Before entering this region, the charged particles bounced around in all directions, as if trapped on local roads inside the heliosphere. Thinking the particles might be colliding against the gaseous boundary of the solar system, scientists operating Voyager’s low-energy charged particle detector wondered if the spacecraft had reached the last stop before ­– or even crossed into ­– interstellar space. Data indicating that the direction of the magnetic field lines has not changed, however, leads the Voyager team to infer that this region is still inside the solar bubble.

Full Story: http://www.jhuapl.edu/newscenter/pressreleases/2012/121203.asp
Also: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-381

NASA Mars Rover Fully Analyzes First Soil Samples

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Scoop Marks in the Sand at 'Rocknest'. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Scoop Marks in the Sand at ‘Rocknest’. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has used its full array of instruments to analyze Martian soil for the first time, and found a complex chemistry within the Martian soil. Water and sulfur and chlorine-containing substances, among other ingredients, showed up in samples Curiosity’s arm delivered to an analytical laboratory inside the rover.

Detection of the substances during this early phase of the mission demonstrates the laboratory’s capability to analyze diverse soil and rock samples over the next two years. Scientists also have been verifying the capabilities of the rover’s instruments.

Curiosity is the first Mars rover able to scoop soil into analytical instruments. The specific soil sample came from a drift of windblown dust and sand called “Rocknest.” The site lies in a relatively flat part of Gale Crater still miles away from the rover’s main destination on the slope of a mountain called Mount Sharp. The rover’s laboratory includes the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite and the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. SAM used three methods to analyze gases given off from the dusty sand when it was heated in a tiny oven. One class of substances SAM checks for is organic compounds — carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life.

“We have no definitive detection of Martian organics at this point, but we will keep looking in the diverse environments of Gale Crater,” said SAM Principal Investigator Paul Mahaffy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-380#1

Rough Guide To Super-TIGER Watching: How To Participate Vicariously In A Cosmic-Ray Experiment

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s Dec. 3 and a scattering of people in St. Louis, Mo., Pasadena, Calif., and Greenbelt, Md., are getting antsy, clicking repeatedly on http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/antarctica/ice.htm to see whether anything is up yet. Like a balloon, for example.

They’re waiting for a two-ton balloon-borne cosmic-ray experiment called Super-TIGER to be launched into the high-altitude polar vortex over Antarctica.

The experiment, which the scientists hope will confirm that cosmic rays are created in loosely organized groups of hot, massive stars called OB associations, is a collaboration of Washington University in St. Louis, the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The team also includes people from the University of Minnesota and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Full Story: https://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/24652.aspx
Also: http://supertigerldb.blogspot.com/
Track Flight: http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/map/pathfinder/p1/dec2012/balloon1.htm

Have Venusian Volcanoes Been Caught In The Act?

December 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Rise and fall of sulphur dioxide. Credits: Data: E. Marcq et al. (Venus Express); L. Esposito et al. (earlier data); background image: ESA/AOES Medialab

Rise and fall of sulphur dioxide. Credits: Data: E. Marcq et al. (Venus Express); L. Esposito et al. (earlier data); background image: ESA/AOES Medialab

Six years of observations by ESA’s Venus Express have shown large changes in the sulphur dioxide content of the planet’s atmosphere, and one intriguing possible explanation is volcanic eruptions. The thick atmosphere of Venus contains over a million times as much sulphur dioxide as Earth’s, where almost all of the pungent, toxic gas is generated by volcanic activity.

Most of the sulphur dioxide on Venus is hidden below the planet’s dense upper cloud deck, because the gas is readily destroyed by sunlight. That means any sulphur dioxide detected in Venus’ upper atmosphere above the cloud deck must have been recently supplied from below.

A previous analysis of infrared radiation from the surface pointed to lava flows atop a volcano with a composition distinct from those of their surroundings, suggesting that the volcano had erupted in the planet’s recent past. Now, an analysis of sulphur dioxide concentration in the upper atmosphere over six years provides another clue.

Full Story: http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEM32XE16AH_index_0.html
Also: http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/index.cfm?fobjectid=51185