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Clay-Like Minerals Found On Icy Crust Of Europa

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI

A new analysis of data from NASA’s Galileo mission has revealed clay-type minerals at the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa that appear to have been delivered by a spectacular collision with an asteroid or comet. This is the first time such minerals have been detected on Europa’s surface. The types of space rocks that deliver such minerals typically also often carry organic materials.

“Organic materials, which are important building blocks for life, are often found in comets and primitive asteroids,” said Jim Shirley, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Shirley is giving a talk on this topic at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Friday, Dec. 13. “Finding the rocky residues of this comet crash on Europa’s surface may open up a new chapter in the story of the search for life on Europa,” he said.

Many scientists believe Europa is the best location in our solar system to find existing life. It has a subsurface ocean in contact with rock, an icy surface that mixes with the ocean below, salts on the surface that create an energy gradient, and a source of heat (the flexing that occurs as it gets stretched and squeezed by Jupiter’s gravity). Those conditions were likely in place shortly after Europa first coalesced in our solar system.

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NASA’s Juno Gives Starship-Like View Of Earth Flyby

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew past Earth on Oct. 9, 2013, it received a boost in speed of more than 8,800 mph (about 3.9 kilometers per second), which set it on course for a July 4, 2016, rendezvous with Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. One of Juno’s sensors, a special kind of camera optimized to track faint stars, also had a unique view of the Earth-moon system. The result was an intriguing, low-resolution glimpse of what our world would look like to a visitor from afar.

“If Captain Kirk of the USS Enterprise said, ‘Take us home, Scotty,’ this is what the crew would see,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. “In the movie, you ride aboard Juno as it approaches Earth and then soars off into the blackness of space. No previous view of our world has ever captured the heavenly waltz of Earth and moon.”

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NASA Mars Spacecraft Reveals A More Dynamic Red Planet

December 11, 2013 2 comments

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has revealed to scientists slender dark markings — possibly due to salty water – that advance seasonally down slopes surprisingly close to the Martian equator.

“The equatorial surface region of Mars has been regarded as dry, free of liquid or frozen water, but we may need to rethink that,” said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson, principal investigator for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

Tracking how these features recur each year is one example of how the longevity of NASA orbiters observing Mars is providing insight about changes on many time scales. Researchers at the American Geophysical Union meeting Tuesday in San Francisco discussed a range of current Martian activity, from fresh craters offering glimpses of subsurface ice to multi-year patterns in the occurrence of large, regional dust storms.

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NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Hears Amateur Radio Operators Say ‘Hi’

December 11, 2013 1 comment

Photo by Tim Schoon

Photo by Tim Schoon

Thousands of amateur (ham) radio operators around the world were able to say “Hi” to NASA’s Juno spacecraft Oct. 9 as it swung past Earth on its way to Jupiter.

According to Donald Kirchner, University of Iowa research engineer on Juno and one of the coordinators of the all-volunteer “Say Hi to Juno” project, all licensed amateur radio operators were invited to participate by visiting a website and following posted instructions.

“The idea was to coordinate the efforts of amateur radio operators all over the world, and send a message in Morse code that could be received by the University of Iowa-designed-and-built instrument on the Juno spacecraft,” he says. “We know that over a thousand participated, and probably many more than that.”

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Astrophysicists Launch Ambitious Assessment Of Galaxy Formation Simulations

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the most powerful tools for understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies has been the use of computer simulations–numerical models of astrophysical processes run on supercomputers and compared with astronomical observations. Getting computer simulations to produce realistic-looking galaxies has been a challenge, however, and different codes (simulation programs) produce inconsistent results.

Now, an international collaboration led by astrophysicists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, aims to resolve these issues through an ambitious multi-year project named AGORA (Assembling Galaxies of Resolved Anatomy). AGORA will run direct comparisons of different codes using a common set of initial conditions and astrophysical assumptions. Each code treats some aspects of the physics differently, especially the way that energy from stars and supernovas is fed back into the simulated galaxies. The simulations are being run at the best resolutions currently possible, and they are using the same input physics as much as possible. The simulation results will be systematically compared with each other and against a variety of observations using a common analysis and visualization tool.

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Seeing Double: New System Makes The VLA “Two Telescopes In One”

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

The Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) will get a new system allowing it to continuously monitor the sky to study the Earth’s ionosphere and detect short bursts of radio emission from astronomical objects. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) signed a $1 million contract under which NRL will fund a system to capture data from low-frequency radio receivers mounted on VLA antennas that will allow simultaneous and completely independent operation alongside the VLA’s standard scientific observations.

“This essentially will turn the VLA into two telescopes, working in parallel to perform different types of scientific research simultaneously,” said Dale Frail, NRAO’s Director for New Mexico Operations.

The new system, called VLITE (VLA Ionospheric and Transient Experiment), will tap data from 10 VLA antennas, and is a pathfinder for a proposed larger system called the Low Band Observatory (LOBO) that would equip all 27 antennas of the VLA. “The new system will operate independently of the VLA’s higher-frequency systems, using a separate path for data transmission and processing,” said Paul Ray, NRL’s VLITE system engineer.

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