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Posts Tagged ‘SWRI’

IBEX Measures ‘Alien’ Particles from Outside Solar System

February 1, 2012 1 comment

Using data from NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) spacecraft, an international team of researchers has measured neutral “alien” particles entering our solar system from interstellar space. A suite of studies published in theAstrophysical Journal provide a first look at the constituents of the interstellar medium, the matter between star systems, and how they interact with our heliosphere.

The heliosphere, the “bubble” in which our Sun and planets reside, is formed by the interaction between the solar wind, flowing outward from the Sun, and the interstellar medium, which presses up against it. Electrically charged, or ionized, particles cannot penetrate the boundary between these two bodies. However, neutral particles, which make up about half the material outside the heliosphere, flow freely in through the boundary.

The only other spacecraft to directly detect these inflowing neutral particles was Ulysses, which more than a decade ago measured interstellar neutral helium. Although IBEX is designed primarily to map the interactions between the solar wind and ionized interstellar material, its low-energy energetic neutral atom camera has now also measured interstellar neutral particles not detected by Ulysses. From its location within Earth’s orbit, IBEX has sampled interstellar hydrogen, oxygen, and neon in addition to neutral helium.

Full Story: http://swri.org/9what/releases/2012/ibex-spacecraft.htm

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MSL’s RAD Measures Radiation from Solar Storm

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

The largest solar particle event since 2005 hit the Earth, Mars and the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft travelling in-between, allowing the onboard Radiation Assessment Detector to measure the radiation a human astronaut could be exposed to en route to the Red Planet.

On Sunday, a huge coronal mass ejection erupted from the surface of the sun, spewing a cloud of charged particles in our direction, causing a strong “S3” solar storm. A NASA Goddard Space Weather Lab animation of the CME illustrates how the disturbance impacts Earth, Mars and several spacecraft. Solar storms can affect the Earth’s aurorae, satellites, air travel and GPS systems; no harmful effects to the Mars Science Laboratory have been detected from this solar event.

 

Full Story: http://www.swri.org/9what/releases/2012/rad-solarstorm.htm

Measuring the Radiation Environment on Mars

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment

NASA will launch the Mars Science Laboratory on Nov. 26, 2011, to assess the past and present habitability of the Red Planet’s surface. The mission will land Curiosity, a rover equipped with 10 instruments designed to search for evidence of elements needed to support life – namely, water and carbon-based materials – and to characterize life-limiting factors, such as the planet’s radiation environment.

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) led the development of the Radiation Assessment Detector, which will measure, for the first time, the radiation environment on the surface of Mars, measuring all the relevant energetic particle species originating from galactic cosmic rays, the Sun and other sources. Positioned in the left front corner of the rover, RAD is about the size of a coffee can and weighs about three pounds, but has capabilities of an Earth-bound instrument nearly 10 times its size. Its wide-angle telescope detects charged particles arriving from space, and the instrument also measures neutrons and gamma rays coming from Mars’ atmosphere above, or the surface material below, the rover.

Full Story: http://swri.org/9what/releases/2011/rad.htm

Giant Planet Ejected from the Solar System

November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

Just as an expert chess player sacrifices a piece to protect the queen, the solar system may have given up a giant planet and spared the Earth, according to an article recently published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“We have all sorts of clues about the early evolution of the solar system,” says author Dr. David Nesvorny of the Southwest Research Institute. “They come from the analysis of the trans-Neptunian population of small bodies known as the Kuiper Belt, and from the lunar cratering record.”

These clues suggest that the orbits of giant planets were affected by a dynamical instability when the solar system was only about 600 million years old. As a result, the giant planets and smaller bodies scattered away from each other.

Full Story: http://swri.org/9what/releases/2011/giant-planet.htm

Solar System Likely Once Had Another Gas-Giant Planet

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Those are the gas giants, the four heavyweights of the solar system. But was there once a fifth?

Maybe so, says a new study by David Nesvorny of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He used computer simulations to explore what the solar system may have looked like some four billion years ago.

Full Story: http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=solar-system-likely-once-had-anothe-11-09-19

Jupiter-Bound Space Probe Captures Earth And Moon

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

This image of Earth (on the left) and the moon (on the right) was taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft on Aug. 26, 2011, when the spacecraft was about 6 million miles (9.66 million kilometers) away.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This image of Earth (on the left) and the moon (on the right) was taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft on Aug. 26, 2011, when the spacecraft was about 6 million miles (9.66 million kilometers) away. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On its way to the biggest planet in the solar system — Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft took time to capture its home planet and its natural satellite — the moon.
“This is a remarkable sight people get to see all too rarely,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “This view of our planet shows how Earth looks from the outside, illustrating a special perspective of our role and place in the universe. We see a humbling yet beautiful view of ourselves.”

The image was taken by the spacecraft’s camera, JunoCam, on Aug. 26 when the spacecraft was about 6 million miles (9.66 million kilometers) away. The image was taken as part of the mission team’s checkout of the Juno spacecraft. The team is conducting its initial detailed checks on the spacecraft’s instruments and subsystems after its launch on Aug. 5.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-271