Archive for May 14, 2013

NASA Curiosity Rover Team Selects Second Drilling Target On Mars

The team operating NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has selected a second target rock for drilling and sampling. The rover will set course to the drilling location in coming days.

This second drilling target, called “Cumberland,” lies about nine feet (2.75 meters) west of the rock where Curiosity’s drill first touched Martian stone in February. Curiosity took the first rock sample ever collected on Mars from that rock, called “John Klein.” The rover found evidence of an ancient environment favorable for microbial life. Both rocks are flat, with pale veins and a bumpy surface. They are embedded in a layer of rock on the floor of a shallow depression called “Yellowknife Bay.”

“We know there is some cross-contamination from the previous sample each time,” said Dawn Sumner, a long-term planner for Curiosity’s science team at the University of California at Davis. “For the Cumberland sample, we expect to have most of that cross-contamination come from a similar rock, rather than from very different soil.”

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Ground-Breaking Science And Spectacular Cosmic Images From The PAPER Instrument In The Karoo

Scientific studies done with the “PAPER” array, one of the world-class scientific instruments in South Africa’s Karoo Radio Astronomy Reserve, is producing ground-breaking science and spectacular cosmic images, resulting in several important articles in top astronomy journals.

The primary goal of PAPER (Precision Array to Probe the Epoch of Reionization) is to detect emission from the neutral gas that pervaded the universe before the first galaxies and black holes were formed. This ‘epoch of reionization’, as it is called, is the last frontier in observational cosmology.

Recent observations with PAPER were used to set the first physically interesting limits on emission from the neutral hydrogen during this key epoch in cosmic structure formation. Besides providing important constraints on the very early evolution of the universe, the PAPER observations are helping to define the techniques and instrumentation that will translate into the design of a next generation ‘Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array’ (HERA), and eventually, the low-frequency SKA.

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New Method Of Finding Planets Scores Its First Discovery

Detecting alien worlds presents a significant challenge since they are small, faint, and close to their stars. The two most prolific techniques for finding exoplanets are radial velocity (looking for wobbling stars) and transits (looking for dimming stars). A team at Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has just discovered an exoplanet using a new method that relies on Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

“We are looking for very subtle effects. We needed high quality measurements of stellar brightnesses, accurate to a few parts per million,” said team member David Latham of the CfA.

“This was only possible because of the exquisite data NASA is collecting with the Kepler spacecraft,” added lead author Simchon Faigler of Tel Aviv University, Israel.

The new method looks for three small effects that occur simultaneously as a planet orbits the star. Einstein’s “beaming” effect causes the star to brighten as it moves toward us, tugged by the planet, and dim as it moves away. The brightening results from photons “piling up” in energy, as well as light getting focused in the direction of the star’s motion due to relativistic effects.

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NASA Develops Key To Cosmic Carbon’s Molecular Evolution

Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., now have the capability to systematically investigate the molecular evolution of cosmic carbon. For the first time, these scientists are able to automatically interpret previously unknown infrared emissions from space that come from surprisingly complex organic molecules, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are abundant and important across the universe.

Between 2003 and 2005, thanks to its unprecedented sensitivity, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, managed and operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., created maps of the tell-tale PAH signature across large regions of space, from hot regions of harsh ultraviolet (UV) radiation close to stars, to cold, dark clouds where stars and planets form. By exclusively using their unique collection of authentic PAH spectra, coupled with algorithm-driven, blind-computational analyses, scientists at Ames were able to interpret the cosmic infrared maps with complex organic molecules. They found that PAHs changed significantly in size, electrical charge and structure, to adjust to the different environment at each spot in the map. Carbon is one of the most abundant atoms in space and scientists believe that the spectral changes across these maps trace the molecular evolution of carbon across the universe.

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