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Archive for May 20, 2013

Mars Rover Opportunity Examines Clay Clues In Rock


Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech / Cornell / Arizona State Univ.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech / Cornell / Arizona State Univ.

NASA’s senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is driving to a new study area after a dramatic finish to 20 months on “Cape York” with examination of a rock intensely altered by water.

The fractured rock, called “Esperance,” provides evidence about a wet ancient environment possibly favorable for life. The mission’s principal investigator, Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., said, “Esperance was so important, we committed several weeks to getting this one measurement of it, even though we knew the clock was ticking.”

The mission’s engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., had set this week as a deadline for starting a drive toward “Solander Point,” where the team plans to keep Opportunity working during its next Martian winter.

“What’s so special about Esperance is that there was enough water not only for reactions that produced clay minerals, but also enough to flush out ions set loose by those reactions, so that Opportunity can clearly see the alteration,” said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, a long-term planner for Opportunity’s science team.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-167

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New Method Proposed For Detecting Gravitational Waves From Ends Of Universe


A new window into the nature of the universe may be possible with a device proposed by scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno and Stanford University that would detect elusive gravity waves from the other end of the cosmos. Their paper describing the device and process was published in the prestigious physics journal Physical Review Letters.

“Gravitational waves represent one of the missing pieces of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” Andrew Geraci, University of Nevada, Reno physics assistant professor, said. “While there is a global effort already out there to find gravitational waves, our proposed method is an alternate approach with greater sensitivity in a significantly smaller device.

“Our detector is complementary to existing gravitational wave detectors, in that it is more sensitive to sources in a higher frequency band, so we could see signals that other detectors might potentially miss.”

Full Story: http://www.unr.edu/nevada-today/news/2013/space-time-gravitational-waves

Subaru Telescope Observations And The CoRoT Mission Unveil The Future Of The Sun


A team of astronomers led by Jose Dias do Nascimento (Department of Theoretical and Experimental Physics, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte [DFTE, UFRN], Brazil) has found the farthest known solar twin in the Milky Way Galaxy– CoRoT Sol 1, which has about the same mass and chemical composition as the Sun. Spectra from the High Dispersion Spectrograph (HDS) on the Subaru Telescope showed that CoRoT Sol 1 is about 6.7 billion years old while space-based data from the CoRoT (Convection, Rotation and planetary Transits) satellite indicated a rotation period of 29 +/- 5 days. This newly discovered, evolved solar twin allows astronomers to uncover the near future of our solar system’s central star–the Sun.

Since the Sun is the closest star to Earth, it has been extensively studied in a variety of ways. Despite considerable efforts by astronomers, we do not know yet how typical a star the Sun is. Except for the youngest stars, the true rotation of those similar to the Sun is unknown, and there are few studies of mature solar twins or of more evolved ones.

Full Story: http://www.naoj.org/Pressrelease/2013/05/17/index.html

Sifting Through The Atmospheres Of Far-off Worlds


Gone are the days of being able to count the number of known planets on your fingers. Today, there are more than 800 confirmed exoplanets — planets that orbit stars beyond our sun — and more than 2,700 other candidates. What are these exotic planets made of? Unfortunately, you cannot stack them in a jar like marbles and take a closer look. Instead, researchers are coming up with advanced techniques for probing the planets’ makeup.

One breakthrough to come in recent years is direct imaging of exoplanets. Ground-based telescopes have begun taking infrared pictures of the planets posing near their stars in family portraits. But to astronomers, a picture is worth even more than a thousand words if its light can be broken apart into a rainbow of different wavelengths.

Those wishes are coming true as researchers are beginning to install infrared cameras on ground-based telescopes equipped with spectrographs. Spectrographs are instruments that spread an object’s light apart, revealing signatures of molecules. Project 1640, partly funded by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., recently accomplished this goal using the Palomar Observatory near San Diego.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2013-157