Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cassini Celebrates 10 Years Since Jupiter Encounter

Ten years ago, on Dec. 30, 2000, NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter on its way to orbiting Saturn. The main purpose was to use the gravity of the largest planet in our solar system to slingshot Cassini towards Saturn, its ultimate destination. But the encounter with Jupiter, Saturn's gas-giant big brother, also gave the Cassini project a perfect lab for testing its instruments and evaluating its operations plans for its tour of the ringed planet, which began in 2004.

"The Jupiter flyby allowed the Cassini spacecraft to stretch its wings, rehearsing for its prime time show, orbiting Saturn," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Ten years later, findings from the Jupiter flyby still continue to shape our understanding of similar processes in the Saturn system."

Cassini spent about six months - from October 2000 to March 2001 - exploring the Jupiter system. The closest approach brought Cassini to within about 9.7 million kilometers (6 million miles) of Jupiter's cloud tops at 2:05 a.m. Pacific Time, or 10:05 a.m. UTC, on Dec. 30, 2000.

Cassini captured some 26,000 images of Jupiter and its moons over six months of continual viewing, creating the most detailed global portrait of Jupiter yet.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Scans of Discovery's External Tank Progressing Well

NASATechnicians in the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are making good progress with X-ray type image scans of space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank.

By Tuesday evening, they'll be more than half way done with the computed radiography scans of all 108 support beams, called stringers, on the outside of the external tank’s intertank section.

Engineers at various other NASA locations already are analyzing the new image scans, which began Sunday. The new data, along with previous testing and analysis, will help engineers and managers determine what caused small cracks on the tops of two stringers during Discovery’s launch countdown on Nov. 5.‬

‪‬Technicians expect to complete their scans by Thursday (Dec. 30) when Space Shuttle Program managers are set to decide whether testing and analysis indicate modifications are needed on some of the stringers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas at the Moon

Christmas Eve, 1968. As one of the most turbulent, tragic years in American history drew to a close, millions around the world were watching and listening as the Apollo 8 astronauts -- Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders -- became the first humans to orbit another world.

As their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts beamed back images of the moon and Earth and took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone "on the good Earth."

Christmas Eve, 1968. As one of the most turbulent, tragic years in American history drew to a close, millions around the world were watching and listening as the Apollo 8 astronauts -- Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders -- became the first humans to orbit another world.

As their command module floated above the lunar surface, the astronauts beamed back images of the moon and Earth and took turns reading from the book of Genesis, closing with a wish for everyone "on the good Earth."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse


Early in the morning on December 21 a total lunar eclipse will be visible to sky watchers across North America (for observers in western states the eclipse actually begins late in the evening of December 20), Greenland and Iceland. Viewers in Western Europe will be able to see the beginning stages of the eclipse before moonset, and in western Asia the later stages of the eclipse will be visible after moonrise.

From beginning to end, the eclipse will last about three hours and twenty-eight minutes. For observers on the east coast of the U.S. the eclipse lasts from 1:33am EST through 5:01 a.m. EST. Viewers on the west coast will be able to tune in a bit earlier. For them the eclipse begins at 10:33 p.m. PST on December 20 and lasts until 2:01am PST on Dec. 21. Totality, the time when Earth's shadow completely covers the moon, will last a lengthy 72 minutes.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

NASA Probe Sees Solar Wind Decline


The 33-year odyssey of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has reached a distant point at the edge of our solar system where there is no outward motion of solar wind.

Now hurtling toward interstellar space some 17.4 billion kilometers (10.8 billion miles) from the sun, Voyager 1 has crossed into an area where the velocity of the hot ionized gas, or plasma, emanating directly outward from the sun has slowed to zero. Scientists suspect the solar wind has been turned sideways by the pressure from the interstellar wind in the region between stars.

The event is a major milestone in Voyager 1's passage through the heliosheath, the turbulent outer shell of the sun's sphere of influence, and the spacecraft's upcoming departure from our solar system.

"The solar wind has turned the corner," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "Voyager 1 is getting close to interstellar space."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Explosion of Infrared Light

A circular rainbow appears like a halo around an exploded star in this new view of the IC 443 nebula from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE.

When massive stars die, they explode in tremendous blasts, called supernovae, which send out shock waves. The shock waves sweep up and heat surrounding gas and dust, creating supernova remnants like the one pictured here. The supernova in IC 443 happened somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago.

In this WISE image, infrared light has been color-coded to reveal what our eyes cannot see. The colors differ primarily because materials surrounding the supernova remnant vary in density. When the shock waves hit these materials, different gases were triggered to release a mix of infrared wavelengths.

Monday, December 06, 2010

the Falcon 9 Merlin 1C engines


The first SpaceX Falcon 9 demonstration launch for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program is targeted for liftoff on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Liftoff will occur from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window extends from 9:03 a.m. to 12:22 p.m. EST. If necessary, launch opportunities also are available on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9 with the same window.

Known as COTS 1, the launch is the first flight of the Dragon spacecraft and the first commercial attempt to re-enter a spacecraft from orbit. This is the first of three test launches currently planned in the Falcon 9 test flight series. It is intended as a demonstration mission to prove key capabilities such as launch, structural integrity of the Dragon spacecraft, on-orbit operation, re-entry, descent and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA established the COTS program to procure a commercial launch service to stimulate the commercial space industry, to facilitate a private industry cargo capability to the International Space Station as soon as achievable, and to achieve cost-effective access to low Earth orbit that will attract private customers.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Shuttle Managers Continue Tank Repair Analysis


NASA space shuttle managers met today at a Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB) to review repairs and engineering evaluations associated with shuttle Discovery and cracks on two 21-foot-long, U-shaped aluminum brackets, called stringers, on the shuttle's external tank. NASA will continue to review and analyze the data before setting a launch date. NASA managers are meeting daily to assess the data and progress being made.

Technicians at Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A will continue to collect data on the stringer repair by performing backscatter scans, which bounces radiation off space shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank, through the weekend.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Inspections Complete on Repaired Tank Stringers


Teams have completed final inspections on the stringer repair work on space shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The environmental enclosure, built to support foaming operations, was removed. Flight Crew Systems middeck stow operations are under way.

The Space Shuttle Program will review the analysis and repairs that are required to safely launch shuttle Discovery on its STS-133 mission at a special Program Requirements Control Board session Wednesday. Pending a successful review of the flight rationale at that meeting, a Launch Status Briefing would be held with senior NASA management on Monday, Nov. 29 at Kennedy.

Kennedy's “Call-to-Stations” to begin the launch countdown will be no earlier than Nov. 30, supporting a first launch attempt no earlier than Dec. 3 at about 2:52 a.m. EST.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Space Shuttle STS-133


During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members will take important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4. Discovery has been moved to Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sun's Northern Hemisphere Bristling with Solar Flares

This movie show the activity on the Sun over the latest 48-hours in the 171 Angstrom emission line (showing the ~700,000K plasma) from the Atmospheric and Imaging Assembly (AIA) onboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). With a large active region currently in the northern hemisphere of the Sun, there has been a flurry of small solar flares over the past day. This larger active region may actually be comprised of four different active regions that are very close to each other forming one large, interconnected active region with multiple magnetic poles. This magnetically complex region has lead to 12 B-class and 1 C-class solar flare over the last 24 hours.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Discovery Technicians Work to Resolve Small Leak

A small leak was discovered in a propellant line for space shuttle Discovery's orbital maneuvering system engines. The leak was found at a flange located at the interface where two propellant lines meet in the shuttle's aft compartment. The line carries a propellant called monomethyl hydrazine, one of two chemicals used to ignite the 6,000-pound thrust engines seen on either side of the shuttle's tail above the three main engines.

Engineers and technicians working on Discovery at Launch Pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida will tighten the six bolts around the suspect flange and re-evaluate for leaks. If that doesn't work, the propellants already inside the tanks will be pumped out and technicians will replace its primary and secondary seals.

The processing schedule could allow the two seals to be replaced without delaying Discovery's targeted launch on Nov. 1. Space Shuttle Program managers, however, are careful about making sure any potential fixes are indeed successful before pressing ahead with a countdown.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

NASA astronaut launch video



NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Skripochka and Alexander Kaleri launched in their Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Thursday at 7:10 p.m. EDT (Friday, Kazakhstan time) beginning a two-day journey to the International Space Station.

Less than 10 minutes after launch, their spacecraft reached orbit and its antennas and solar arrays were deployed.

The trio will dock to the Poisk module Saturday at 8:02 p.m. completing the Expedition 25 crew. Kelly, Skripochka and Kaleri will begin a five-month tour of duty aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Welcoming them aboard will be current station residents, Expedition 25 Commander Doug Wheelock and Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Shannon Walker. Wheelock, Yurchikhin and Walker arrived June 17 aboard their Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

MAVEN Mission to Investigate How Sun Steals Martian Atmosphere



The Red Planet bleeds. Not blood, but its atmosphere, slowly trickling away to space. The culprit is our sun, which is using its own breath, the solar wind, and its radiation to rob Mars of its air. The crime may have condemned the planet's surface, once apparently promising for life, to a cold and sterile existence.

Features on Mars resembling dry riverbeds, and the discovery of minerals that form in the presence of water, indicate that Mars once had a thicker atmosphere and was warm enough for liquid water to flow on the surface. However, somehow that thick atmosphere got lost in space. It appears Mars has been cold and dry for billions of years, with an atmosphere so thin, any liquid water on the surface quickly boils away while the sun's ultraviolet radiation scours the ground.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hurricane Karl


The Global Hawk left southern California at 6 a.m. PDT for a 24-hour roundtrip flight to observe the storm. The DC-8, temporarily based in Ft Lauderdale, Fla., took off at approximately 1 p.m. EDT for about seven hours of research time. The WB-57, based in Houston, Texas, began its six-hour mission at about 12:30 CDT. The aircraft rendezvoused at the storm, which is currently in the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Global Hawk’s altitude is about 60,000 feet over Karl, while the WB-57 is flying between 56,000 and 58.000 feet. The DC-8 joins the other two at an altitude of between 33,000 and 37,000 feet.

Today’s coordinated flights are the first time during the GRIP campaign that NASA’s three aircraft have been in the same storm at the same time. In addition, aircraft from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the Air Force are monitoring Hurricane Karl.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chandra Finds Evidence for Stellar Cannibalism


The composite image on the left shows X-ray and optical data for BP Piscium (BP Psc), a more evolved version of our Sun about 1,000 light years from Earth. Chandra X-ray Observatory data are colored in purple, and optical data from the 3-meter Shane telescope at Lick Observatory are shown in orange, green and blue. BP Psc is surrounded by a dusty and gaseous disk and has a pair of jets several light years long blasting out of the system. A close-up view is shown by the artist's impression on the right. For clarity a narrow jet is shown, but the actual jet is probably much wider, extending across the inner regions of the disk. Because of the dusty disk, the star’s surface is obscured in optical and near infrared light. Therefore, the Chandra observation is the first detection of this star in any wavelength.

The disk and the jets, seen distinctly in the optical data, provide evidence for a recent and catastrophic interaction in which BP Psc consumed a nearby star or giant planet. This happened when BP Psc ran out of nuclear fuel and expanded into its "red giant" phase.

Colorado's Reservoir Road Fire from Space


Colorado's "Reservoir Road Fire" from Space

NASA's Aqua satellite flies around the Earth twice a day and captures visible and infrared imagery. On Sept. 12 at 19:20 UTC (3:20 p.m. EDT), the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on Aqua captured a visible image of the "Reservoir Road Fire" that is currently raging in the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests / Pawnee National Grassland.

According to the National Forest Incident report on September 13, the Reservoir Road Fire near Loveland, Colorado, has burned 600 acres, and firefighting continues. Loveland is the second most populous city in Larimer County, Colo. Loveland is located 46 miles north of Denver.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tropical Depression Hermine


Tropical cyclones are usually big rainmakers once they make landfall and they start to fizzle out, and Hermine, now a tropical depression over Texas is no exception. Rainfall data on Hermine's heavy rains were gathered by NASA and the Japanese Space Agency's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. That data was used to create a map of potential flood areas that showed areas of flooding and potential flooding over a large area in southeastern and central Texas.

Hal Pierce of NASA's TRMM team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. used the rainfall data from TRMM's rainfall measurements and various reporting stations to create a flood potential map. The map is color-coded and depicts areas with severe flood potential on Sept, 8.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Two Asteroids to Pass by Earth


Two asteroids, several meters in diameter and in unrelated orbits, will pass within the moon's distance of Earth on Wednesday, Sept. 8.

Both asteroids should be observable near closest approach to Earth with moderate-sized amateur telescopes. Neither of these objects has a chance of hitting Earth. A 10-meter-sized near-Earth asteroid from the undiscovered population of about 50 million would be expected to pass almost daily within a lunar distance, and one might strike Earth's atmosphere about every 10 years on average.

The Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Ariz., discovered both objects on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 5, during a routine monitoring of the skies. The Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Mass., first received the observations Sunday morning, determined preliminary orbits and concluded that both objects would pass within the distance of the moon about three days after their discovery.

Near-Earth asteroid 2010 RX30 is estimated to be 32 to 65 feet (10 to 20 meters) in size and will pass within 0.6 lunar distances of Earth (about 154,000 miles, or 248,000 kilometers) at 2:51 a.m. PDT (5:51 a.m. EDT) Wednesday. The second object, 2010 RF12, estimated to be 20 to 46 feet (6 to 14 meters) in size, will pass within 0.2 lunar distances (about 49,088 miles or 79,000 kilometers) a few hours later at 2:12 p.m. PDT (5:12 pm EDT).

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Crew Readies for Resupply Ship and Upcoming Departure


The Expedition 24 crew members are preparing for the arrival of the ISS Progress 39 cargo craft to replenish the orbiting laboratory with food, fuel, supplies and other cargo. The Progress 39 will dock to the aft end of the Zvezda service module Friday, Sept. 10. It is replacing the trash-filled Progress 38 which undocked Aug. 31 and is poised to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere Monday for a fiery destruction over the Pacific Ocean.

The crew also will have an off-duty day Monday due to a frenetic pace of science activities. The six crew members are relaxing after three repair spacewalks restored the station’s cooling system.

Hurricane activity captured the attention of the station residents as they photographed and videotaped Earl churning in the Atlantic Ocean. The imagery and video are downlinked to ground controllers for observation and study by scientists. A Russian experiment, Uragan (Hurricane), monitors and studies the catastrophic effects of natural and man-made disasters. Other ongoing Earth observation experiments aboard the orbiting laboratory study natural phenomena and human activities and their consequences on the planet.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Science and Maintenance for Station Crew


As part of the ongoing Russian Seiner experiment, Expedition 24 Commander Alexander Skvortsov photographed and documented developments and conditions in the Earth’s oceans Wednesday. His unique perspective of the oceans provides scientists on the ground with current position coordinates of bioproductive water areas.

Flight Engineer Mikhail Kornienko worked with the PILOT-M experiment. PILOT-M is an ongoing experiment that examines the effects of long-duration space flight and stress on the ability of crew members to complete manual spacecraft control tasks.

Flight Engineer Shannon Walker set up the Space Linear Acceleration Mass Measurement Device (SLAMMD) experiment and performed body mass measurements. SLAMMD follows Newton's Second Law of Motion by having two springs generate a known force against a crew member mounted on an extension arm, the resulting acceleration being used to calculate the subject's mass, in effect weighing the individuals.

Using the Fluid Servicing System, Walker also refilled the Columbus laboratory’s Internal Active Thermal Control System with a water-based coolant.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Successful Ice Cloud and Land Elevation Mission


orbiting sentinels is expected to return to Earth in a few days. The agency's Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation (ICESat) satellite completed a very productive scientific mission earlier this year. NASA lowered the satellite's orbit last month and then decommissioned the spacecraft in preparation for re-entry. It is estimated that the satellite will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and largely burn up on or about August 29.

ICESat's lasting legacy will be its impact on the understanding of ice sheet and sea ice dynamics. The mission has led to scientific advances in measuring changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, polar sea ice thickness, vegetation-canopy heights, and the heights of clouds and aerosols. Using ICESat data, scientists identified a network of lakes beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. ICESat introduced new capabilities, technology and methods such as the measurement of sea ice freeboard – or the amount of ice and snow that protrudes above the ocean surface - for estimating sea ice thickness.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

WISE Captures the Unicorn's Rose

Unicorns and roses are usually the stuff of fairy tales, but a new cosmic image taken by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Explorer (WISE) shows the Rosette nebula located within the constellation Monoceros, or the Unicorn.

This flower-shaped nebula, also known by the less romantic name NGC 2237, is a huge star-forming cloud of dust and gas in our Milky Way galaxy. Estimates of the nebula's distance vary from 4,500 to 5,000 light-years away.

At the center of the flower is a cluster of young stars called NGC 2244. The most massive stars produce huge amounts of ultraviolet radiation, and blow strong winds that erode away the nearby gas and dust, creating a large, central hole. The radiation also strips electrons from the surrounding hydrogen gas, ionizing it and creating what astronomers call an HII region.

Although the Rosette nebula is too faint to see with the naked eye, NGC 2244 is beloved by amateur astronomers because it is visible through a small telescope or good pair of binoculars. The English astronomer John Flamsteed discovered the star cluster NGC 2244 with a telescope around 1690, but the nebula itself was not identified until John Herschel (son of William Herschel, discoverer of infrared light) observed it almost 150 years later.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Perseids Complete 2010


The 2010 Perseid meteor shower is drawing to a close after painting brilliant streaks across the August nighttime skies. This year's shower began around July 17, peaked August 12-13 and will be officially over by August 24.

"The Perseids are a great shower, one I look forward to every year. And this year didn’t disappoint!" said Dr. Bill Cooke, head of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, located at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The Perseid meteor shower has been observed for at least 2,000 years and is associated with the comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years or so. Each year in August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet's debris. These bits of ice and dust travel around 132,000 mph, burning up about 56 miles overhead in the Earth's atmosphere to create one of the best meteor showers of the year. The shower is called the "Perseids" because the meteors appear to come from the direction of the constellation Perseus.

Monday, August 23, 2010

space shuttle orbiter


A jet engine noise reduction device called a chevron, now in use on commercial airliners, is a good example of a NASA-developed technology that climbed the TRL scale to success, said Fay Collier, manager of NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project.

Chevrons are the saw-tooth pattern that can be seen on the trailing edges of some jet engine nozzles. As hot air from the engine core mixes with cooler air blowing through the engine fan, the jagged edges serve to smooth the mixing, which reduces turbulence that creates noise.

The new Boeing 787 is among the most modern jets relying on chevrons to reduce engine noise levels, sporting chevrons on the nacelles, or fan housings. The Boeing 747-8 has chevrons on both the nacelles and inner core engine nozzles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

GRIP 'Shakedown' Flight Planned over Gulf Coast

The first flight of NASA's hurricane airborne research mission is scheduled to take off from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 17. NASA's DC-8 research aircraft will be making a planned five-hour flight along the Gulf Coast from western Florida to Louisiana primarily as a practice run for the many scientific instruments aboard.

Mission scientists, instrument teams, flight crew and support personnel gathered in Fort Lauderdale this weekend to begin planning the six-week Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes mission, or GRIP. NASA's DC-8, the largest of NASA's three aircraft taking part in the mission, is based at the Fort Lauderdale airport. The two other aircraft -- the WB-57 based in Houston and the autonomous Global Hawk flying out of southern California -- will join the campaign in about a week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

NRC's 2010 Astrophysics Decadal Survey


National Research Council's Astro2010 report, New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics. We appreciate the science community's efforts in defining a set of compelling science objectives for space-based astrophysical research for the coming decade, and for carefully considering the cost of the initiatives the report recommends.

We look forward to assessing the report's findings and recommendations for strengthening the nation's world-class space astrophysics program. From new worlds to new physics, the coming decade of discovery leverages not only our current space observatories – such as the Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra and Fermi space telescopes – but also our planned facilities – especially those from previous decadal surveys, the James Webb Space Telescope and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The survey calls for new facilities that expand our reach into the cosmos that will include opportunities for coordination and cooperation with other Federal agencies and international partners.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Launch Preps Move Ahead for Mission to International Space Station

During space shuttle Discovery's final spaceflight, the STS-133 crew members will take important spare parts to the International Space Station along with the Express Logistics Carrier-4. Discovery is being readied for flight inside Kennedy's Orbiter Processing Facility-3 while its solid rocket boosters are stacked inside the nearby Vehicle Assembly Building. STS-133 is slated to launch Nov. 1.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crew to Perform Second of Three Spacewalks Wednesday

Flight controllers and engineers continue meetings to review the results from the first spacewalk conducted Saturday by International Space Station Expedition 24 Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson and to plan for the second of what now will be three spacewalks to complete the replacement of a failed pump module on the station’s starboard truss.

In the wake of an eight-hour, three-minute spacewalk Saturday that fell short of removing the failed pump module due to a leak in the fourth of four ammonia line connectors hooked up to the old pump, mission operations and station program officials laid out a series of procedures for Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson to perform at the beginning of the second spacewalk Wednesday designed to greatly reduce, or eliminate the possibility of ammonia leaking from the final fluid connector – called M3 – when it is demated to set the stage for the failed pump to be removed from the truss.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Second CME to Hit Earth's Magnetic Field


Another great image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) of the news-making solar event on August 1, 2010 resulting in two Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) launched in Earth's direction.

Earth's magnetic field is still reverberating from the CME impact of August 3rd, which sparked auroras as far south as Wisconsin and Iowa in the United States. Analysts believe a second CME is right behind it, due to arrive today. This second impact could re-energize the fading geomagnetic storm and spark a new round of Northern Lights.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Hundreds of New Views from Telescope Orbiting Mars

At the center of this view of an area of mid latitude northern Mars, a fresh crater about 6 meters in diameter holds an exposure of bright material, blue in this false color image.

The latest set of new images from the telescopic High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter offers detailed views of diverse Martian landscapes.

Features as small as desks are revealed in the 314 observations made between June 6 and July 7, 2010, now available on the camera team's site and NASA's Planetary Data System.

The camera is one of six instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars in 2006.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Wind Shear Accident Was Catalyst for Technology

On that day 25 years ago the public affairs specialist was a young U.S. Air Force airman heading home on leave to North Carolina, flying out of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

"I was looking out my window, sitting at the end of the runway aboard the second airplane lined up to take off," said Creech. "I had a window seat and was looking out the window when I noticed some really, really black thunder clouds at our end of the runway. Then I saw orange, extremely bright orange, light. My brain didn't register what I was seeing."

One hundred and thirty four people of the 163 on board the Delta Lockheed L-1011 and one person on the ground died that day, in part because of a powerful thunderstorm microburst-induced wind shear, a rare but potentially deadly downdraft.

Dave Hinton, now the deputy director of the Aeronautics Research Directorate at NASA's Langley Research Center, also remembers that accident vividly. He and a team of researchers studied it for years as part of their efforts to help develop predictive wind shear radar, a technology that is now standard on all airliners.

"It was a tremendously productive cooperation between multiple agencies and companies," said Hinton. "We advanced the state of the art from basic knowledge of a meteorological phenomena to developing well defined system requirements for on board sensors and crew procedures."

"They followed the technology development and as a result provided the credibility and basis for certification," said Hinton. "That meant that within two to three years of our wrapping up the project there were certified systems available. " Those airborne systems, better ground-based radar and improved pilot training have now virtually eliminated U.S. airliner wind shear accidents.

Monday, August 02, 2010

NASA's ATHLETE Warms Up for High Desert Run

Engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are currently putting their All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra Terrestrial Explorer through a series of long drive tests on the long, dirt roads found adjacent to JPL.

The JPL grounds do not include an unpaved area of sufficient size for testing such a large robot over a long distance. Some of the dirt roads in the Arroyo Seco are wide enough for ATHLETE, and its close proximity to JPL allows the robot to be secured in its hangar between test runs.

The engineers want to test the moon rover's ability to meet a NASA milestone of traveling at least 40 kilometers over 14 days under its own power. The official demonstration is slated to begin in the Arizona high desert next month.

ATHLETE is a 1/2-scale working prototype of a robot under development to transport habitats and other cargo on the surface of the Moon or Mars. The ATHLETE concept is a level cargo deck carried by six wheels, each on the end of a configurable leg. The prototype stands approximately 4.5 meters tall and 4.5 meters wide and weighs about . The robot moves relatively slowly, with a top speed during traverse of approximately 2 kilometers per hour.

Friday, July 30, 2010

GRAIL Spacecraft Takes Shape

Engineers have conducted a fuel tank check of one of NASA's GRAIL mission spacecraft scheduled for launch in 2011. Confirming the size and fit of manufactured components is one of the steps required prior to welding the spacecraft's fuel tanks into the propulsion system's feed lines.

The image was taken on June 29, 2010, during the propulsion subsystem assembly and integration effort in the Space Support Building clean room at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver.

The GRAIL mission will fly twin spacecraft in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission will also answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon, and provide scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Enormous Star blazes speedy and enraged in snap

An exceptional model of enormous stars that survive fast and die young has been photographed by a European observatory in Chile.The blazing hot star is called WR 22 and is detaching its atmosphere many millions of times sooner than our own sun in external blasts that unleash powerful radiation releases.

t has about 70 times the mass of the sun, and its brightness permits Earth spectators to spot its intensity with the unaided eye from over 5,000 light-years away. A light-year is about 6 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year.

WR 22 sits in a southern arrangement of stars, the Carina Constellation, which symbolizes the keel of Jason's ship Argo in Greek mythology. It is one of many incredibly bright stars in the Carina Nebula a giant province of star structure in the southern Milky Way galaxy.

The astronomical sighting came from European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory. Its colorful image imitates the interactions between the extreme ultraviolet radiation coming from hot massive stars such as WR 22 and vast gas clouds composed mostly of hydrogen.

The upper-left image also contains the star Eta Carinae, just 7,500 light-years away and more than 100 times the mass of our sun. Astronomers expect such gigantic stars to lose their entire hydrogen envelopes before they go out with a supernova bang.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cosmonauts Complete First Expedition 24 Spacewalk


Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Mikhail Kornienko concluded a six-hour, 42-minute spacewalk Tuesday at 6:53 a.m. EDT. The cosmonauts began their spacewalk when they opened the hatches of the Pirs docking compartment at 12:11 a.m.

This was the 147th spacewalk overall in support of
International Space Station assembly and maintenance. The cosmonauts wore their Russian Orlan spacesuits to outfit the new Rassvet module for a Kurs automated rendezvous system capability for future dockings of Russian vehicles arriving at the station to link up to Rassvet. They also routed and mated Command and Data Handling cables on the Zvezda and Zarya modules.

A video camera was removed and replaced on the aft end of Zvezda then successfully tested. The old camera was safely jettisoned away from the station. The new camera will be used to provide television views of the final approach and docking of future European Automated Transfer Vehicles carrying cargo to the complex.

This was Kornienko’s first spacewalk and Yurchikhin’s fourth. Yurchikhin’s first three spacewalks occurred when he was commander of Expedition 15 in 2007.

The second spacewalk of Expedition 24 is planned for August 5 by Flight Engineers Doug Wheelock and Tracy Caldwell Dyson in U.S. spacesuits out of the Quest airlock. They will install a power cable to the Unity module in preparation for the installation of the Permanent Multipurpose Module during the STS-133 mission in November.

A Portable Data Grapple Caldwell Dyson will be making the first spacewalk of her career. Wheelock will be conducting his fourth. His first three spacewalks occurred as a mission specialist during STS-120 in late 2007.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Curiosity Rover Grows by Leaps and Bounds

Talk about a growth spurt. In one week, Curiosity grew by approximately 1 meter spacecraft technicians and engineers attached the rover's neck and head called the Remote Sensing Mast to its body. At around 2 meters tall, the next rover to Mars now stands head and shoulders above the rest.

Mounted on Curiosity's mast are two navigation cameras , two mast cameras , and the laser-carrying chemistry camera .

While it now has a good head on its shoulders, Curiosity's "eyes" , have been blindfolded in a protective silvery material. The Mastcam, containing two digital cameras, will soon be unveiled, so engineers can test its picture-taking abilities.

Up next today , the towering rover will take its first baby steps: a slow roll on the floor of the clean room where it's being built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Watch Curiosity's progress live from the clean room on Ustream until 3:30 p.m. PDT tod


Friday, July 23, 2010

NASA Moves Forward on Commercial Partnership for Rocket Engine Testing


Engineers at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center recently installed an Aerojet AJ26 rocket engine for qualification testing as part of a partnership that highlights the space agency's commitment to work with commercial companies to provide space transportation.

Stennis has partnered with Orbital Sciences Corporation to test the AJ26 engines that will power the first stage of the company's Taurus II space launch vehicle. Orbital is working in partnership with NASA under the agency's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services research and development project. The company is under contract with NASA through the Commercial Resupply Services program to provide eight cargo missions to the International Space Station through 2015.

Stennis operators have been modifying their E-1 test facility since April 2009 to test the AJ26 engines for Orbital. Work has included construction of a 27-foot-deep flame deflector trench.
The latest step in the project involved delivery and installation of an AJ26 engine for testing. In upcoming days, operators will perform a series of "chilldown" test, which involves running sub cooled rocket propellants through the engine, just as will occur during an actual "hotfire" ignition test.

The chilldown tests are used to verify proper temperature conditioning of the engine systems and elapse time required to properly chill the engine, and to measure the quantity of liquid oxygen required to perform the operation.

Once the installed engine passes the chilldown and other qualification tests, it will be removed from the Stennis E-1 test facility. The first actual flight engine then will be delivered and installed for hotfire testing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spitzer Space Telescope

Astronomers using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope have discovered carbon molecules, known as "buckyballs," in space for the first time. Buckyballs are soccer ball shaped molecules that were first observed in a laboratory 25 years ago.

They are named for their resemblance to architect Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes, which have interlocking circles on the surface of a partial sphere. Buckyballs were thought to float around in space, but had escaped detection until now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cassini Sees Moon Building Giant Snowballs in Saturn Ring

While orbiting Saturn for the last six years, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has kept a close eye on the collisions and disturbances in the gas giant's rings. They provide the only nearby natural laboratory for scientists to see the processes that must have occurred in our early solar system, as planets and moons coalesced out of disks of debris.

New images from Cassini show icy particles in Saturn's F ring clumping into giant snowballs as the moon Prometheus makes multiple swings by the ring. The gravitational pull of the moon sloshes ring material around, creating wake channels that trigger the formation of objects as large as 20 kilometers in diameter.

"Scientists have never seen objects actually form before," said Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team member based at Queen Mary, University of London. "We now have direct evidence of that process and the rowdy dance between the moons and bits of space debris."

Murray discussed the findings today at the Committee on Space Research meeting in Bremen, Germany, and they are published online by the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters on July 14, 2010. A new animation based on imaging data shows how one of the moons interacts with the F ring and creates dense, sticky areas of ring material.

Saturn's thin, kinky F ring was discovered by NASA's Pioneer 11 spacecraft in 1979. Prometheus and Pandora, the small "shepherding" moons on either side of the F ring, were discovered a year later by NASA's Voyager 1. In the years since, the F ring has rarely looked the same twice, and scientists have been watching the impish behavior of the two shepherding moons for clues.

The newly found F ring objects appear dense enough to have what scientists call "self-gravity." That means they can attract more particles to themselves and snowball in size as ring particles bounce around in Prometheus's wake, Murray said. The objects could be about as dense as Prometheus, though only about one-fourteenth as dense as Earth.

The new findings could also help explain the origin of a mysterious object about 5 to 10 kilometers in diameter that Cassini scientists spotted in 2004 and have provisionally dubbed S/2004 S 6. This object occasionally bumps into the F ring and produces jets of debris.

"The new analysis fills in some blanks in our solar system's history, giving us clues about how it transformed from floating bits of dust to dense bodies," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The F ring peels back some of the mystery and continues to surprise us."



Monday, July 19, 2010

NASA Goddard Felt July 16 Quake


A small earthquake, centered in Germantown, Md. occurred at 5:04 a.m. EDT today, July 16, and its vibrations were felt from West Virginia to Bridgeport, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center located in Greenbelt lies about 25 miles east-southeast of today's small earthquake and reported no damages. In fact, there were no reports of damage throughout Maryland.

The earthquake registered 3.6 on the Richter scale, according to the U.S. Geological Survey , the agency that monitors quakes around the U.S. USGS reported that the quake occurred today, Friday, July 16, 2010 at 5:04:47 a.m. EDT. The quake originated 5 kilometers deep and it was centered at 39.167°North, 77.252°West, in Germantown, Md. That latitude and longitude positions the quake's epicenter just west of Interstate 270 and south of Maryland state route 119.

Although earthquakes are monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA conducts research in various earthquake projects. That research is done in earthquake country, however, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles. NASA measures, computes, and models crustal deformation using GPS and Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar from its airborne unmanned aerial vehicle SAR platform and international satellites.

"Crustal deformation occurs both as a result of earthquakes and quietly," said Andrea Donnellan, a geophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. and a research professor at the University of Southern California and NASA's Applied Sciences Program Area Co-Lead for Natural Disasters.

NASA funds several projects that integrate the GPS and InSAR data into models that provide insight into fault activity and earthquake potential, and Donnellan is the Principal Investigator of NASA's QuakeSim project, as well as supercomputing, earthquake modeling, and UAVSAR projects.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the quake was too small for NASA to detect. The last earthquake in the region occurred in May of 2008 and was even smaller, registering a magnitude of 2.0 on the Richter Scale.


Friday, July 16, 2010

MESSENGER Spacecraft Reveals New Information About Mercury

The first spacecraft designed by NASA to orbit Mercury is giving scientists a new perspective on the planet's atmosphere and evolution.

Launched in August 2004, the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging spacecraft, known as MESSENGER, conducted a third and final flyby of Mercury in September 2009. The probe completed a critical maneuver using the planet's gravity to remain on course to enter into orbit around Mercury next year.

Data from the final flyby has revealed the first observations of ion emissions in Mercury's exosphere, or thin atmosphere; new information about the planet's magnetic substorms; and evidence of younger volcanic activity than previously recorded. The results are reported in three papers published online in the July 15 edition of Science Express.

The distribution of individual chemical elements that the spacecraft saw in Mercury’s exosphere varied around the planet. Detailed altitude profiles of those elements in the exosphere over the north and south poles of the planet were also measured for the first time.

"These profiles showed considerable variability among the sodium, calcium, and magnesium distributions, indicating that several processes are at work and that a given process may affect each element quite differently," said Ron Vervack, lead author of one of the papers and the spacecraft's participating scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory , in Laurel, Md.

In addition to flying by Mercury, the spacecraft flew past Earth in August 2005 and Venus in October 2006 and June 2007. Approximately 98 percent of Mercury's surface has been imaged by NASA spacecraft. After this spacecraft goes into orbit around Mercury for a yearlong study of the planet, it will observe the polar regions, which are the only unobserved areas of the planet.

The spacecraft was designed and built by APL. The mission is managed and operated by APL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Moon's Largest Impact Basin


The South Pole-Aitken basin is the largest and oldest recognized impact basin on the Moon. It's diameter is roughly 2,500 km or 1,550 miles. The Moon's circumference is just under 11,000 km, meaning the basin stretches across nearly a quarter of the Moon. In the LROC WAC mosaic below, which is centered on the middle of the basin, you can see SPA as an area of relatively low reflectance extending from the crater Aitken in the north and all the way down to the South Pole. Topographic data from LOLA can also help to give a sense of the enormous effect the SPA impact had on the Moon - the basin is more than 8 km deep.

A tratigraphic relationships show that SPA is the oldest impact basin on the Moon, but scientists are intensely interested in just how old it is. Lunar samples suggest that most of the major basins on the Moon formed around 3.9 billion years ago in a period called the late heavy bombardment. By this time most of the large debris within the solar system should have already accreted to form the planets, so such a large number of big impacts occurring at nearly the same time may have been due to unusual gravitational dynamics in the early Solar System.

The Constellation region of interest, highlighted in the NAC detail above and outlined in the WAC mosaic was selected , because it is in a deep portion of the basin, where a large volume of melt would be expected. Some of this melt would remain as a significant component of the soil, and an analysis of a carefully selected suite of samples from this region would reveal the age of the oldest lunar impact basin.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Apollo-Soyuz: An Orbital Partnership Begins

Most of us take it for granted today that American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts live and work together in Earth orbit. They've been doing it for years, first in the Shuttle-Mir program, and now on the International Space Station.

But before the two Cold War-rivals first met in orbit in 1975, such a partnership seemed unlikely. Since Sputnik bleeped into orbit in 1957, the superpowers were driven by the Space Race, with the U.S. and then-Soviet Union driven more by competition than cooperation. When President Kennedy called for a manned moon landing in 1961, he spoke of "battle that is now going on around the world between freedom and tyranny" and referred to the "head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines."

Watch the Apollo-Soyuz docking and crew handshake:But by the mid-70s things had changed. The U.S. had "won" the race to the Moon, with six Apollo landings between 1969 and 1972. Both nations had launched space stations, the Russian Salyut and American Skylab. With the Space Shuttle still a few years off and the diplomatic chill thawing, the time was right for a joint mission.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project would send NASA astronauts Tom Stafford, Deke Slayton and Vance Brand in an Apollo Command and Service Module to meet Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Leonov and Valeriy Kubasov in a Soyuz capsule. A jointly designed, U.S.-built docking module fulfilled the main technical goal of the mission, demonstrating that two dissimilar craft could dock in orbit.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Webb Telescope's Mass Simulator

There are a lot of things that happen "behind the scenes" when a space telescope is being built and all of the components are being tested. In this recent photo, two technicians from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. were working with a "Mass Simulator" for the James Webb Space Telescope.

A mass simulator is used to replicate the weight and shape of an instrument and is attached to a main component of a space telescope or satellite to test the satellite's durability and sturdiness. The mass simulator is like a "dead weight" that contains no electronics or optics that the engineering test units contain. For each instrument that will fly on the James Webb Space Telescope, there are both mass simulators and engineering test units created.

Engineering Test Units are working models of the instruments that are used for testing and validation in laboratory tests, to ensure that they work properly.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the next-generation premier space observatory, exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars. The Webb Telescope will give scientists clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth.

The Webb Telescope project is managed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Heavy Metal Rock Takes Center Stage


PASADENA, Calif. On its way to a 2014 rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, with NASA instruments aboard, will fly past asteroid Lutetia this Saturday, July 10.

The instruments aboard Rosetta will record the first close-up image of a metal asteroid. They will also make measurements to help scientists derive the mass of the object, understand the properties of the asteroid's surface crust, record the solar wind in the vicinity and look for evidence of an atmosphere. The spacecraft will pass the asteroid at a minimum distance of 3,160 kilometers at a velocity of 15 kilometers second.

"Little is known about asteroid Lutetia other than it is about 100 kilometers wide," said Claudia Alexander, project scientist for the U.S. role in the Rosetta mission, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Allowing Rosetta's suite of science instruments to focus on this target of opportunity should greatly expand our knowledge of this huge space rock, while at the same time giving the mission's science instruments a real out-of-this-world workout."

Previous images of Lutetia were taken by ground-based telescopes and show only hints of the asteroid’s shape. Lutetia will be the second asteroid to receive the full attention of Rosetta and its instruments. The spacecraft previously flew within 800 kilometers asteroid Steins in September of 2008. The Lutetia flyby is the final scientific milestone for Rosetta before controllers put the spacecraft into hibernation early in 2011, only to wake up in early 2014 for approach to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

NASA has contributed an ultraviolet instrument ; a plasma instrument ; a microwave instrument and portions of the electronics package for the double focusing mass spectrometer of the Rosetta orbiter sensor for ion and neutral analysis among other contributions to this international mission. NASA's Deep Space Network, managed by JPL, will be providing support for tracking and science operations.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Curiosity wheels

The Curiosity rover team just installed six shiny aluminum wheels on the rover, giving the rover its “legs.” Unlike previous missions that used air bags for landing on the Martian surface, Curiosity is touching down wheels first!

The rover, which is about the size of an SUV, has wheels that are 50 centimeters in diameter, making them bigger than a car tire. Each wheel has its own motor, giving the rover independent six-wheel drive that’s better than an average car with two-wheel drive. But engineers didn’t stop there; the rover can swerve and turn in place a full 360 degrees.

The suspension system is based on the “rocker-bogie” system, which was used on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and the earlier Pathfinder missions. This system allows the rover to roll over large rocks and dips without tipping over. The rover can also climb steep hills, up to 45 degrees.

With the wheels in place,Curiosity is one step closer to rolling on Mars.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Spitzer Space Telescope

A dragon-shaped cloud of dust seems to fly with the stars in a new image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope . In visible light the creature disappears into the clouds perhaps it's "frolicking in the autumn mist" like Puff, the Magic Dragon, from the famous Peter, Paul and Mary song.

The infrared image has revealed that this creature, a dark cloud called M17 SWex, is forming stars at a furious rate but has not yet spawned the most massive type of stars, known as O stars.The stars and gas in this region are now passing though the Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way, touching off a galactic "domino effect." It takes an infrared view to catch the light from these shrouded regions and reveal the earliest stages of star formation.

The bottom image is a three-color composite that shows infrared observations from two Spitzer instruments. Blue represents 3.6-micron light and green shows light of 8 microns, both captured by Spitzer's infrared array camera. Red is 24-micron light detected by Spitzer's multiband imaging photometer. The bottom visible light image is a composite of visible-light data from the Digitized Sky Survey from the UK Schmidt telescope. The image combines two observations that represent the blue and red light from the region.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Cassini to Dive Low through Titan Atmosphere

As American schoolchildren head out to pools for a summer splash, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will be taking its own deep plunge through the Titan atmosphere this week.

The altitude for the upcoming Titan flyby, whose closest approach occurs in the evening of July 6, Pacific and Eastern time be about 125 kilometers higher than the super-low flyby of June 21. The altitude of this flyby 1,005 kilometers is still considered a low dip into Titan's atmosphere. Cassini will not go lower again until May 2012.

During closest approach, Cassini's ion and neutral mass spectrometer will be sniffing out the chemical composition of Titan's atmosphere to refine estimates of the densities of nitrogen and methane there. The radar instrument will be mapping an area south of the dark region known as Senkyo and the Belet sand seas. It is an area that had not been well studied by radar until this flyby.

Because the geometry of this flyby is similar to the previous one, the magnetometer and other instruments measuring the magnetic bubble around Saturn will be conducting similar experiments. Though the magnetometer will be too high to detect any whisper of an internal magnetic field from Titan which was the focus of the search on the last flyby scientists will be looking into the interaction of Titan's atmosphere with the magnetic bubble around Saturn

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Coolest Stars Come Out of the Dark


Astronomers have uncovered what appear to be 14 of the coldest stars known in our universe. These failed stars, called brown dwarfs, are so cold and faint that they'd be impossible to see with current visible-light telescopes. Spitzer's infrared vision was able to pick out their feeble glow, much as a firefighter uses infrared goggles to find hot spots buried underneath a dark forest floor.

The brown dwarfs join only a handful of similar objects previously discovered. The new objects are between the temperatures of about 450 Kelvin to 600 Kelvin (350 to 620 degrees Fahrenheit). As far as stars go, this is bitter cold -- as cold, in some cases, as planets around other stars.

These cool orbs have remained elusive for years, but will soon start coming out of the dark in droves. NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, which is up scanning the entire sky now in infrared wavelengths, is expected to find hundreds of objects of a similarly chilly disposition, if not even colder. WISE is searching a volume of space 40 times larger than that sampled in the recent Spitzer study, which concentrated on a region in the constellation Boötes. The Spitzer mission is designed to look at targeted patches of sky in detail, while WISE is combing the whole sky.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pacific Ocean sea surface

"The central equatorial Pacific Ocean could stay colder than normal into summer and beyond. That's because sea level is already about 10 centimeters (4 inches) below normal, creating a significant deficit of the heat stored in the upper ocean," said JPL oceanographer and climatologist Bill Patzert. "The next few months will reveal if the current cooling trend will eventually evolve into a long-lasting La Niña situation."

A La Niña is essentially the opposite of an El Niño. During a La Niña, trade winds in the western equatorial Pacific are stronger than normal, and the cold water that normally exists along the coast of South America extends to the central equatorial Pacific. La Niñas change global weather patterns and are associated with less moisture in the air, resulting in less rain along the coasts of North and South America. They also tend to increase the formation of tropical storms in the Atlantic.

"For the American Southwest, La Niñas usually bring a dry winter, not good news for a region that has experienced normal rain and snowpack only once in the past five winters," said Patzert.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Astronomers Discover Star-Studded Galaxy Tail

"The gas in this galaxy is being blown back into a turbulent wake," said Janice Hester of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, lead author of a recent study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. "The gas is like sand caught up by a stiff wind. However, the particular type of gas that is needed to make stars is heavier, like pebbles, and can't be blown out of the galaxy. The new Galaxy Evolution Explorer observations are teaching us that this heavier, star-forming gas can form in the wake, possibly in swirling eddies of gas."

Collisions between galaxies are a fairly common occurrence in the universe. Our Milky Way galaxy will crash into the Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years. Galaxies tangle together, kicking gas and dust all around. Often the battered galaxies are left with tails of material stripped off during the violence.

The astronomers were able to find this tail with the help of the Galaxy Evolution Explorer. Clusters of massive, young stars speckle the tail, and these stars glow with ultraviolet light that the space telescope can see. The young stars tell scientists that a crucial ingredient for star formation - dense clouds of gas called molecular hydrogen - formed in the wake of this galaxy's plunge. This is the first time astronomers have found solid evidence that clouds of molecular hydrogen can form under the violent conditions present in a turbulent wake.