Friday, April 30, 2010

Cassini and Amateurs Chase Storm on Saturn

With the help of amateur astronomers, the composite infrared spectrometer instrument aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft has taken its first look at a massive blizzard in Saturn's atmosphere. The instrument collected the most detailed data to date of temperatures and gas distribution in that planet's storms.

The data showed a large, turbulent storm, dredging up loads of material from the deep atmosphere and covering an area at least five times larger than the biggest blizzard in this year's Washington, D.C.-area storm front nicknamed "Snowmageddon."

"We were so excited to get a heads-up from the amateurs," said Gordon Bjoraker, a composite infrared spectrometer team member based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Normally, he said, "Data from the storm cell would have been averaged out."

Cassini's radio and plasma wave instrument and imaging cameras have been tracking thunder and lightning storms on Saturn for years in a band around Saturn's mid-latitudes nicknamed "storm alley." But storms can come and go on a time scale of weeks, while Cassini's imaging and spectrometer observations have to be locked in place months in advance.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

GOES-15 Opens Its Infrared "Eyes" for First Image

The first GOES-15 full-disk infrared image was from the Imager. The GOES Imager is a multi-channel instrument designed to sense radiant and solar-reflected energy from the Earth.The first full-disk infrared image of the Earth was taken on April 26 at 17:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EDT).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Eye on the Sun Delivers Stunning First

NASA's recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is returning early images that confirm an unprecedented new capability for scientists to better understand our sun’s dynamic processes. These solar activities affect everything on Earth.

Some of the images from the spacecraft show never-before-seen detail of material streaming outward and away from sunspots. Others show extreme close-ups of activity on the sun’s surface. The spacecraft also has made the first high-resolution measurements of solar flares in a broad range of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

"These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research,” said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "SDO will change our understanding of the sun and its processes, which affect our lives and society. This mission will have a huge impact on science, similar to the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope on modern astrophysics.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

Leonardo Latched in Discovery Cargo Bay

The Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module was fully latched into space shuttle Discovery's payload bay at 3:15 a.m. EDT Friday. The removal of Leonardo from the International Space Station's Harmony node was delayed several hours the day before, setting the shuttle and station crews sleep shift back an hour later than planned.

Leonardo brought about six tons of material to the station and will return to Earth in Discovery’s cargo bay with about 2.5 tons from the station. Discovery is scheduled to undock from the station a little before 9 a.m. on Saturday.

This is the final roundtrip to the station for the 21-foot-long, 15-foot-diameter Leonardo. Once back on Earth, the module will be reconfigured with increased shielding on the outside for the STS-133 mission in September when it will be left on the station as a permanent module.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Crews Prepare for Final STS-131 Spacewalk, Continue to Unload Leonardo

The Expedition 23 and STS-131 crews got back to work moving equipment and supplies to and from the International Space Station and preparing for Tuesday’s spacewalk, the third and last planned for the shuttle mission.

STS-131 Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio and Clayton Anderson configured their tools in the Quest airlock. After a review of spacewalk procedures with other crew members, they are again spending the night in the airlock, its pressure reduced to 10.2 psi. That campout is aimed at reducing the nitrogen in their blood to avoid decompression sickness.

The spacewalk, replanned after difficulties bolting down an ammonia coolant tank on Sunday caused some rescheduling, is to begin at 3:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday and last 6½ hours. Activities include finishing the complicated change out of the large ammonia tank assembly, retrieving micrometeoroid shields from outside the airlock and retrieving a light-weight adapter plate assembly.

Mastracchio and Anderson completed the mission’s second spacewalk at 8:56 a.m. Sunday.

The shuttle and station crews continue to unload the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module and transfer 17,000 pounds of science racks and other supplies into the station.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Global Hawk Completes First Science Flight Over the Pacific 04.08.10

NASA pilots and flight engineers, together with colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have successfully completed the first science flight of the Global Hawk unpiloted aircraft system over the Pacific Ocean. The flight was the first of five scheduled for this month's Global Hawk Pacific (GloPac) mission to study atmospheric science over the Pacific and Arctic oceans.

The Global Hawk is a robotic plane that can fly autonomously to altitudes above 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers) -- roughly twice as high as a commercial airliner -- and as far as 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 kilometers) -- half the circumference of Earth. Operators pre-program a flight path, and then the plane flies itself for as long as 30 hours, staying in contact through satellite and line-of-site communications to the ground control station at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California's Mojave Desert.

"The Global Hawk is a revolutionary aircraft for science because of its enormous range and endurance," said Paul Newman, co-mission scientist for GloPac and an atmospheric scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "No other science platform provides this much range and time to sample rapidly evolving atmospheric phenomena. This mission is our first opportunity to demonstrate the unique capabilities of this plane, while gathering atmospheric data in a region that is poorly sampled."