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News Article | March 17, 2016
Site: phys.org

Data downloaded and analyzed by the New Horizons team indicated the space environment around Pluto and its moons contained only about six dust particles per cubic mile, said CU-Boulder Professor Fran Bagenal, who leads the New Horizons Particles and Plasma Team. "The bottom line is that space is mostly empty," said Bagenal, a faculty member at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). "Any debris created when Pluto's moons were captured or created during impacts has long since been removed by planetary processes." Studying the microscopic dust grains can give researchers clues about how the solar system was formed billions of years ago and how it works today, providing information on planets, moons and comets, said Bagenal. A paper on Pluto's interaction with the space environment is being published in Science March 17. The study was led by Bagenal and involved more than other 20 researchers, including LASP physics Professor Mihaly Horanyi; CU-Boulder doctoral student Marcus Piquette of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences; and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) postdoctoral researcher Jamey Szalay, who received his doctorate in physics from CU-Boulder under Horanyi last year. Launched in 2006, the New Horizons mission was designed to help planetary scientists better understand the icy world at the edge of our solar system, including Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. A vast region thought to span more than a billion miles beyond Neptune's orbit, the Kuiper Belt is believed to harbor at least 70,000 objects more than 60 miles in diameter and contain samples of ancient material created during the solar system's violent formation some 4.5 billion years ago. Horanyi said the SDC logged thousands of dust grain hits over the spacecraft's nine year, 3 billion-mile journey to Pluto while most of other six instruments slept. "Now we are now starting to see seeing a slow but steady increase in the impact rate of larger particles, possibly indicating that we already have entered the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt," said Horanyi, the principal investigator for the SDC. The CU-Boulder dust counter is a thin film resting on a honeycombed aluminum structure the size of a cake pan mounted on the spacecraft's exterior. A small electronic box functions as the instrument's "brain" to assess each individual dust particle that strikes the detector, allowing the students to infer the mass of each particle. A revolving cast of more than 20 CU-Boulder students, primarily undergraduates, worked on designing and building the SDC for New Horizons between 2002 and 2005. Several students and researchers are now assessing data from the flyby. "Our instrument has been soaring through our solar system's dust disk and gathering data since launch," said Szalay, who works at SwRI headquarters in San Antonio. "It's going to be very exciting to get into the Kuiper Belt and see what we find there." New Horizons is traveling at a mind-blowing 750,000 miles a day. Images from closest approach were taken from roughly 7,700 miles above Pluto's surface. The spacecraft, about the size of a baby grand piano, carries six other instruments. The principal investigator of the New Horizons mission is Alan Stern of the SwRI Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, who received his doctorate from CU-Boulder in 1989. "CU-Boulder is the only place in the world where students could have built an instrument that eventually flew off to another planet," said Bagenal. The next and final target of New Horizons is a 30-mile-in diameter Kuiper Belt object named 2014 MU69, which the spacecraft is expected to pass in January 2019. Bagenal also is a mission scientist for NASA's Juno Mission to Jupiter, launched in 2011 and which will begin orbiting the gas giant's poles in July. Explore further: Student dust counter breaks distance record on New Horizons mission to Pluto More information: "Pluto's interaction with its space environment: Solar wind, energetic Particles, and Dust," DOI: 10.1126/science.aad9045


"The new solar soft X-ray spectral irradiance measurement from MinXSS is starting to answer questions about solar flare energetics, including plasma temperature, density and composition," Tom Woods, MinXSS Principal Investigator at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Astrowatch.net. MinXSS was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec. 6, 2015, aboard Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft. It was deployed into space from the ISS few months later on May 16, 2016, to begin its science operations on June 9, 2016. Weighing around 7.7 lbs. (3.5 kilograms), MinXSS is a three-unit CubeSat with dimensions of 13.4 x 3.94 x 3.94 inch (34 x 10 x 10 centimeters). It was built by a team of over 40 scientists and engineers at the CU Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). "From an education point of view, it is one of the most important student projects at LASP that has involved 45 students over the past five years," Woods said. MinXSS uses its Amptek X123-SDD (silicon drift detector) soft X-ray spectrometer to study the Sun's dynamic processes, including solar flares, in order to further understand how these events influence the Earth's atmosphere. With a mass of only 0.7 lbs. (0.32 kilograms), this instrument is providing advanced spectral measurements of solar soft X-rays. Recently, this spectrometer observed a low-intensity solar flare, providing crucial data about its energy and brightness. These observations show how dynamic the solar atmosphere can become, and confirm that MinXSS has great sensitivity to observe even weak flares erupting from the sun. Data acquired by the Amptek spectrometer could improve our understanding of flare heating processes, temporal evolution and elemental abundances. The measurements made by MinXSS are also important for scientists to update solar irradiance spectral models and to use such results as input for terrestrial and planetary atmosphere models. "The MinXSS CubeSat mission is an important mission for NASA as it is NASA's first science CubeSat mission for the NASA Science Division. The previous NASA CubeSat missions have been for technology demonstration. MinXSS has demonstrated that high-quality science can, indeed, be done aboard a CubeSat," Woods noted. So far, the MinXSS CubeSat has observed more than 40 C-class and seven M-class solar flares. The largest flares observed by the spacecraft to date occurred on July 23, 2016 with an M5.0 flare that peaked at 2:11 GMT, an M7.6 flare that peaked at about 5:16 GMT, and an M5.5 flare that peaked a few minutes later. Besides conducting solar flare observations, MinXSS also serves as a technology demonstrator of the Blue Canyon Technologies XACT attitude determination and control system (ADCS), one of the only commercially available three-axis ADCSs for CubeSats. "The MinXSS Cubesat is the first flight of the Blue Canyon Technologies attitude determination and control system that has the best-ever three-axis control for CubeSats. It is providing about eight arc-second pointing stability for the MinXSS solar observations," Woods said. He added that MinXSS is currently in excellent health and is still operating in its normal solar observing mode. The spacecraft's one-year mission is expected to end in spring 2017 with a re-entry into Earth's atmosphere. Meanwhile, the LASP team is developing the second MinXSS CubeSat. The new spacecraft is slated to be launched in April 2017. MinXSS-2 will be equipped with an upgraded version of the X123 spectrometer, called the Fast SDD, which has lower noise and wider dynamic range for enhanced measurements. Explore further: MinXSS CubeSat brings new information to study of solar flares


News Article | December 2, 2016
Site: phys.org

Data from NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere. This data was collected from Nov. 17-28, 2016. Credit: NASA/HU/VT/CU-LASP/AIM/Joy Ng, producer Data from NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere, or AIM, spacecraft shows the sky over Antarctica is glowing electric blue due to the start of noctilucent, or night-shining, cloud season in the Southern Hemisphere - and an early one at that. Noctilucent clouds are Earth's highest clouds, sandwiched between Earth and space 50 miles above the ground in a layer of the atmosphere called the mesosphere. Seeded by fine debris from disintegrating meteors, these clouds of ice crystals glow a bright, shocking blue when they reflect sunlight. AIM studies noctilucent clouds in order to better understand the mesosphere, and its connections to other parts of the atmosphere, weather and climate. We observe them seasonally, during summer in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. This is when the mesosphere is most humid, with water vapor wafting up from lower altitudes. Additionally, this is also when the mesosphere is the coldest place on Earth - dropping as low as minus 210 degrees Fahrenheit - due to seasonal air flow patterns. This year, AIM saw the start of noctilucent cloud season on Nov. 17, 2016 - tying with the earliest start yet in the AIM record of the Southern Hemisphere. Scientists say this corresponds to an earlier seasonal change at lower altitudes. Winter to summer changes in the Antarctic lower atmosphere sparked a complex series of responses throughout the atmosphere - one of which is an earlier noctilucent cloud season. In the Southern Hemisphere, AIM has observed seasons beginning anywhere from Nov. 17 to Dec. 16. Since its 2007 launch, AIM data has shown us that changes in one region of the atmosphere can effect responses in another distinct, and sometimes distant, region. Scientists call these relationships atmospheric teleconnections. Now, due to natural precession, the spacecraft's orbit is evolving, allowing the measurement of atmospheric gravity waves that could be contributing to the teleconnections.


News Article | November 4, 2015
Site: www.techtimes.com

Key scientific findings about Mars' atmosphere and its fate will be revealed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Nov. 5, 2015. The news conference will kick off at 2:00 PM EST (1900 GMT) and will be streamed live on the Space.com website. The conference will be held in NASA's Washington Headquarters at the James Webb Auditorium. NASA's planetary science director Jim Green will chair the upcoming event. Conference speakers will include Michael Meyer (Mars Exploration Program lead scientist at NASA Headquarters), Bruce Jakosky (MAVEN spacecraft's chief investigator at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics or LASP at the University of Colorado), Jasper Halekas (MAVEN spacecraft's instrument lead for Solar Wind Ion Analyzer at the University of Iowa), Dave Brain, (MAVEN LASP co-investigator) and Yaxue Dong (MAVEN LASP science team member). Key details made by NASA's spacecraft MAVEN will be reported during the Nov. 5 press conference. MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, which is a $671 million mission set to discover why Mars has no atmosphere, how exactly it was lost and when. MAVEN was launched in November 2013 and reached Mars' orbit in September 2014. "Scientists will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability," wrote NASA officials on the mission overview of the MAVEN spacecraft. MAVEN is just one of the five spacecraft in Mars' orbit. Others include NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, European Space Agency's Mars Express and India's Mangalyaan probe. Is there definite proof that Mars can be the next Earth? In September 2015, NASA confirmed that "liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars" based on data provided by the space agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). There were also speculations that ancient Mars once had huge oceans and river systems but scientists believe a catastrophic event 'wiped out' these bodies of water. Today, Mars' surface and skies seem barren and incapable of supporting any form of life, however, theories hold that it once had the right environments for the development of life.


News Article | November 10, 2016
Site: phys.org

Designed and built by CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), the instrument suite known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the first of four identical packages that will fly on four NOAA weather satellites in the coming decade. EXIS will measure energy output from the sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation and power grids on Earth as part of NOAA's next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites -R Series (GOES-R). "We are ready for launch and are looking forward to a successful mission," said LASP Senior Research Scientist Frank Eparvier, principal investigator on the EXIS project. "These extremely sensitive instruments will help scientists better understand solar events and help to mitigate the effects of space weather on Earth." NASA's contract with CU Boulder on behalf of NOAA to design, build, test, deliver and scientifically support the four instrument packages is for roughly $105 million. The GOES-R satellite was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Littleton, Colorado and will be launched on an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance, headquartered in Centennial, Colorado. EXIS consists of two LASP instruments, including XRS, an X-ray sensor that can determine the strength of solar flares and provide rapid alerts to scientists, said Eparvier. Large solar flares, equivalent to the explosion of millions of atomic bombs, can trigger "proton events" that send charged atomic particles flying off the sun and into Earth's atmosphere in just minutes. They can damage satellites, trigger radio blackouts and even threaten the health of astronauts by penetrating spacecraft shielding, he said. "The XRS gives the first alert that a solar flare is occurring, providing NOAA with details on its timing, magnitude and direction within seconds," said Eparvier. The second EXIS instrument, EUVS, will monitor solar output in the extreme ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is completely absorbed by Earth's upper atmosphere, said Eparvier. When the extreme UV light wavelengths penetrate the upper atmosphere during active periods on the sun, they can break apart, ionize and change the properties of the atmosphere through which satellites fly and radio waves propagate. Fluctuations in extreme UV wavelengths from the sun ionize the upper atmosphere and interfere with communications like cell phones and GPS signals, said Eparvier. In addition, such fluctuations can create satellite drag, causing spacecraft to slowly fall out of orbit and burn up months or years before such events are anticipated. "Modern technology has made us vulnerable to extreme variations in space weather that can have significant effects on Earth communications," Eparvier said. "Extreme solar activity can cause problems for power companies all around the world, for example, in part because they all are interconnected." NOAA's GOES satellites are a series of weather satellites that help scientists make timely and accurate weather forecasts. Two GOES satellites are now in geostationary orbit at a height of about 22,000 miles, with one focusing on the east part of the Americas overlapping with another focusing on the west. Satellites in geostationary orbits complete one revolution in the same amount of time it takes for the Earth to rotate once on its polar axis, allowing them to "stare" at a portion of Earth, said Eparvier. LASP also built key solar instruments for NASA's Van Allen Probes mission launched in 2012 to study Earth's radiation belts, and designed and built a $32 million instrument package for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory that launched in 2010. More than 100 LASP personnel ranging from scientists and engineers to technicians, programmers and students have worked on the EXIS program since 2006. CU Boulder's LASP will support EXIS on the four NOAA GOES satellite missions through spacecraft integration, testing, launch and commissioning, said Eparvier. Each instrument package, roughly the size of a large microwave oven and weighing 66 pounds, is three times heavier than normal due to extra shielding that protects them from high-energy particle penetration. LASP's Mike Anfinson is the EXIS project manager. Explore further: Satellite instrument package to assess space weather ready for delivery


News Article | November 10, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A multimillion dollar University of Colorado Boulder instrument package expected to help scientists better understand potentially damaging space weather is now slated to launch aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite on Saturday, Nov. 19. Designed and built by CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), the instrument suite known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the first of four identical packages that will fly on four NOAA weather satellites in the coming decade. EXIS will measure energy output from the sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation and power grids on Earth as part of NOAA's next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites -R Series (GOES-R). "We are ready for launch and are looking forward to a successful mission," said LASP Senior Research Scientist Frank Eparvier, principal investigator on the EXIS project. "These extremely sensitive instruments will help scientists better understand solar events and help to mitigate the effects of space weather on Earth." NASA's contract with CU Boulder on behalf of NOAA to design, build, test, deliver and scientifically support the four instrument packages is for roughly $105 million. The GOES-R satellite was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Littleton, Colorado and will be launched on an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance, headquartered in Centennial, Colorado. EXIS consists of two LASP instruments, including XRS, an X-ray sensor that can determine the strength of solar flares and provide rapid alerts to scientists, said Eparvier. Large solar flares, equivalent to the explosion of millions of atomic bombs, can trigger "proton events" that send charged atomic particles flying off the sun and into Earth's atmosphere in just minutes. They can damage satellites, trigger radio blackouts and even threaten the health of astronauts by penetrating spacecraft shielding, he said. "The XRS gives the first alert that a solar flare is occurring, providing NOAA with details on its timing, magnitude and direction within seconds," said Eparvier. The second EXIS instrument, EUVS, will monitor solar output in the extreme ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is completely absorbed by Earth's upper atmosphere, said Eparvier. When the extreme UV light wavelengths penetrate the upper atmosphere during active periods on the sun, they can break apart, ionize and change the properties of the atmosphere through which satellites fly and radio waves propagate. Fluctuations in extreme UV wavelengths from the sun ionize the upper atmosphere and interfere with communications like cell phones and GPS signals, said Eparvier. In addition, such fluctuations can create satellite drag, causing spacecraft to slowly fall out of orbit and burn up months or years before such events are anticipated. "Modern technology has made us vulnerable to extreme variations in space weather that can have significant effects on Earth communications," Eparvier said. "Extreme solar activity can cause problems for power companies all around the world, for example, in part because they all are interconnected." NOAA's GOES satellites are a series of weather satellites that help scientists make timely and accurate weather forecasts. Two GOES satellites are now in geostationary orbit at a height of about 22,000 miles, with one focusing on the east part of the Americas overlapping with another focusing on the west. Satellites in geostationary orbits complete one revolution in the same amount of time it takes for the Earth to rotate once on its polar axis, allowing them to "stare" at a portion of Earth, said Eparvier. LASP also built key solar instruments for NASA's Van Allen Probes mission launched in 2012 to study Earth's radiation belts, and designed and built a $32 million instrument package for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory that launched in 2010. More than 100 LASP personnel ranging from scientists and engineers to technicians, programmers and students have worked on the EXIS program since 2006. CU Boulder's LASP will support EXIS on the four NOAA GOES satellite missions through spacecraft integration, testing, launch and commissioning, said Eparvier. Each instrument package, roughly the size of a large microwave oven and weighing 66 pounds, is three times heavier than normal due to extra shielding that protects them from high-energy particle penetration. LASP's Mike Anfinson is the EXIS project manager.


News Article | December 8, 2016
Site: phys.org

GOES-R (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series) is the first in the latest generation of GOES environmental satellites, operated by NOAA in collaboration with NASA. When it finishes its shakedown period, GOES-R will be able to scan the planet five times faster and with four-fold higher resolution than any of NOAA's other satellites, track regional weather events with images updated as often as every 30 seconds, and continuously record the frequency and location of lightning strikes. It will also monitor space weather that can disrupt performance of navigational and communications satellites, as well as commercial aircraft routes and the nation's power grid. But before they could be approved for launch, GOES-R's highly sensitive sensors and imagers had to be calibrated and tested to prove that they could perform to the demanding mission specifications. NIST scientists played a key role in that process, as they have done for other satellites over the past three decades. The Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) is the main instrument on GOES-R (renamed GOES-16 when it reached geostationary orbit at the end of November) for observing weather, oceans, and the environment. The radiometer—which measures wavelengths and intensities of light coming from the Earth's surface and atmosphere—records in 16 different wavelength bands from infrared radiation to visible light. (The current GOES imager tracks five bands.) Because each kind of weather or environmental condition has its own distinctive wavelength signatures, the ability to distinguish three times as many bands will provide an unprecedented level of data for imaging storms as well as fire, smoke, aerosols, air quality, floods, the health of vegetation, and much more. NIST scientists have been involved with NASA, NOAA, and contractors in the ABI project for more than 10 years, from initial development of specifications to the calibrations prior to launch. For the final stages of the process, staff from various parts of NIST's Sensor Science Division traveled to the facilities of instrument contractor Harris in Fort Wayne, IN, and Rochester, NY, often for weeks at a time. Testing and calibrating the ABI required multiple procedures to ensure that the wavelengths and intensities recorded on the satellite sensors are accurate and traceable to NIST and thus to the International System of Units (SI). Doing so entails comparing the ABI readings to precisely known light source instruments and standards. Some of this was done with portable NIST-calibrated radiometers; some was done at NIST, including tests of filter transmittance. Much was provided by a traveling version of NIST's tunable, narrow-wavelength source facility called Spectral Irradiance and Radiance Responsivity Calibrations Using Uniform Sources (SIRCUS). SIRCUS employs continuously tunable lasers coupled into hollow enclosures called integrating spheres as sources to test the response of sensors to uncertainties as low as 0.1%. NIST was also involved in calibration of the ABI infrared bands, using a portable cryogenic radiometer (the NIST Thermal-infrared Transfer Radiometer, TXR) for a 3-week test in a vacuum chamber in Rochester. NIST staff measured the infrared standard (IR) source (a blackbody infrared source) to ensure that it agreed with the NIST scale. Many of the GOES bands are comparatively narrow. Band 1, the blue visible band, important for detecting smoke and aerosols, only covers wavelengths from 450 nm to 490 nm. Band 3, the "veggie" band, which detects the state of vegetation as well as daytime clouds, fog, aerosols, and fire and flood potential, extends over a similarly narrow range from 846 nm to 885 nm. Band 4, the "cirrus" band, covering near-IR at 1360 nm to 1380 nm, is particularly sensitive to high, thin cirrus clouds. The required degree of accuracy in sensor response depends on the goal of the observation. "The SIRCUS measurements resolved a discrepancy between modelled and measured band center wavelengths and bandpasses in favor of the modelled results," says NIST scientist Steve Brown, who performed many of the measurements. Another key instrument aboard GOES-R is the Extreme Ultraviolet/X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS), which tracks variations in the Sun's high-energy radiation that directly impact conditions in Earth's upper atmosphere, affecting radio transmission and changing the temperature and electrical properties of the air at altitudes above 85 km. It also monitors radiation caused by events such as solar flares. Those measurements help provide warnings of periodic storms of charged particles that blow off the Sun and can threaten the quality of global communications, the GPS system, and other essential orbiting resources. EXIS was calibrated using NIST's Synchrotron Ultraviolet Radiation Facility (SURF III) in Gaithersburg, MD, as an absolute calculable source of extreme ultraviolet (UV) and "soft" x-ray beams. Designed and built at The University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) , the EXIS instruments were calibrated across a range of wavelengths and intensities within a vacuum enclosure at the end of a SURF III beamline. Working with NIST staff, it took EXIS lead scientist Frank Eparvier and his team from LASP about six weeks to complete the work. SURF III is frequently used to test and calibrate sensors for space missions because it is an absolutely accurate source of radiation at specific wavelengths (with uncertainties lower than 1% in the range from 4 nm x-rays to 400 nm UV), and has a linear output that can be varied over 11 orders of magnitude in intensity. Checking the linearity of the EXIS over a large range is important. "For example, during the 11-year solar cycle, UV radiance can change by a factor of 100," says Thomas Lucatorto, leader of the Ultraviolet Radiation Group in NIST's Physical Measurement Laboratory. Explore further: Ready for launch: CU Boulder instrument suite to assess space weather


News Article | February 10, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

A new study on the absence of liquid water on the surface of Mars has suggested that an easy escape route of hydrogen from the high altitude upper atmosphere is one of the major reasons. In the study, researchers at the University of Colorado debunked the earlier assumption of slower loss of water from Mars and argued that the planet lost liquid water at a rapid pace. The new theory refutes earlier models that said Martian hydrogen escaped slowly yet steadily. "Going back to the 1970s, the conventional picture of Martian hydrogen loss has been one of slow, steady escape over long time scales," said Mike Chaffin, lead author of the new study and a research associate at Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. According to data from Mars Express, one reason for the rapid hydrogen escape was the floating of water molecules at unusually higher altitudes when the Red planet warms up during summers. This is in contrast to "cold trap" mechanism existing on Earth for keeping atmospheric water closer to the ground. When the water molecules pile up in the middle atmosphere, ultraviolet rays break them into oxygen and hydrogen. After this, an easy escape by hydrogen follows by defying the Mars' low gravity. The study has been published in Nature GeoScience. Though consolidating the findings will require more validations from other data, the finding is significant in underscoring that Mars lost water at a differential rate and no uniform time scale existed. Chaffin noted that there was high seasonal variation in the matter of water loss from Mars than thought earlier. Drastic variations in the hydrogen escape were documented by Hubble Telescope of NASA and the Mars Express of ESA way back in 2007. The data said the rate of hydrogen escape became 100 times more than the normal rate when the orbit of Mars came closest to the sun. That makes the old model of slow hydrogen escape from Mars pretty inadequate. Previous models made a case of water molecules in the Martian atmosphere getting "cold trapped" at lower levels as vapor abundance was low at high altitudes. This was the mechanism with regard to water molecules in Earth's atmosphere. However, that process does not work with Mars as shown by Mars Express data. What actually happens is, when the lower atmosphere of Red Planet heats up during southern summer, water molecules keep rising higher than normal in the atmosphere and bypass the cold trap to move into middle altitudes. Ultraviolet light rays split the water molecules to produce atomic oxygen and hydrogen. When hydrogen moves up the higher altitudes thanks to its low weight, the gas escapes the Martian gravity while leaving the heavier oxygen behind. More details on the hydrogen escape may be gauged by the observations Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft that is studying the Martian upper atmosphere and Trace Gas Orbiter of ESA that starts Martian studies in 2018. The co-authors of the study included LASP planetary scientists Justin Deighan, Nick Schneider, and Ian Stewart. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | November 11, 2016
Site: www.cemag.us

A multimillion dollar CU Boulder instrument package expected to help scientists better understand potentially damaging space weather is now slated to launch aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite on Saturday, Nov. 19. Designed and built by CU Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), the instrument suite known as the Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray Irradiance Sensors (EXIS) is the first of four identical packages that will fly on four NOAA weather satellites in the coming decade. EXIS will measure energy output from the sun that can affect satellite operations, telecommunications, GPS navigation and power grids on Earth as part of NOAA’s next-generation Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites-R Series (GOES-R). “We are ready for launch and are looking forward to a successful mission,” said LASP Senior Research Scientist Frank Eparvier, principal investigator on the EXIS project. “These extremely sensitive instruments will help scientists better understand solar events and help to mitigate the effects of space weather on Earth.” NASA’s contract with CU Boulder on behalf of NOAA to design, build, test, deliver and scientifically support the four instrument packages is for roughly $105 million. The GOES-R satellite was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Littleton, Colorado and will be launched on an Atlas V rocket built by United Launch Alliance, headquartered in Centennial, Colorado. EXIS consists of two LASP instruments, including XRS, an X-ray sensor that can determine the strength of solar flares and provide rapid alerts to scientists, said Eparvier. Large solar flares, equivalent to the explosion of millions of atomic bombs, can trigger “proton events” that send charged atomic particles flying off the sun and into Earth’s atmosphere in just minutes. They can damage satellites, trigger radio blackouts and even threaten the health of astronauts by penetrating spacecraft shielding, he said. “The XRS gives the first alert that a solar flare is occurring, providing NOAA with details on its timing, magnitude and direction within seconds,” said Eparvier. The second EXIS instrument, EUVS, will monitor solar output in the extreme ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is completely absorbed by Earth’s upper atmosphere, said Eparvier. When the extreme UV light wavelengths penetrate the upper atmosphere during active periods on the sun, they can break apart, ionize and change the properties of the atmosphere through which satellites fly and radio waves propagate. Fluctuations in extreme UV wavelengths from the sun ionize the upper atmosphere and interfere with communications like cell phones and GPS signals, said Eparvier. In addition, such fluctuations can create satellite drag, causing spacecraft to slowly fall out of orbit and burn up months or years before such events are anticipated. “Modern technology has made us vulnerable to extreme variations in space weather that can have significant effects on Earth communications,” Eparvier said. “Extreme solar activity can cause problems for power companies all around the world, for example, in part because they all are interconnected.” NOAA’s GOES satellites are a series of weather satellites that help scientists make timely and accurate weather forecasts. Two GOES satellites are now in geostationary orbit at a height of about 22,000 miles, with one focusing on the east part of the Americas overlapping with another focusing on the west. Satellites in geostationary orbits complete one revolution in the same amount of time it takes for the Earth to rotate once on its polar axis, allowing them to “stare” at a portion of Earth, said Eparvier. LASP also built key solar instruments for NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission launched in 2012 to study Earth’s radiation belts, and designed and built a $32 million instrument package for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory that launched in 2010. More than 100 LASP personnel ranging from scientists and engineers to technicians, programmers and students have worked on the EXIS program since 2006. CU Boulder’s LASP will support EXIS on the four NOAA GOES satellite missions through spacecraft integration, testing, launch and commissioning, said Eparvier. Each instrument package, roughly the size of a large microwave oven and weighing 66 pounds, is three times heavier than normal due to extra shielding that protects them from high-energy particle penetration. LASP’s Mike Anfinson is the EXIS project manager.


News Article | November 6, 2015
Site: news.yahoo.com

The window for life to take root across broad stretches of the Martian surface may have closed shortly after the first microbes evolved on Earth. New results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft suggest that the Red Planet lost most of its carbon dioxide-dominated atmosphere — which had kept Mars relatively warm and allowed the planet to support liquid surface water — to space about 3.7 billion years ago. "We think that all of the action took place between about 4.2 to 3.7 billion years ago," MAVEN principal investigator Bruce Jakosky, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder, told Space.com. [Mars Atmosphere Being Stripped By Solar Wind (Video)] But this finding doesn't rule out ancient Mars as an abode for life, he stressed. After all, scientists know that Earth supported life by 3.8 billion years ago, and a recent study suggests that microbes may even have existed on Earth as early as 4.1 billion years ago. "Mars appears to have had a more clement environment for just as long as it took life to form on Earth," Jakosky said. "That doesn't tell us that life did form on Mars, but it says it's very plausible. It's at least not a stupid idea to ask whether it did." Mars is cold and dry today (albeit with scattered areas of seasonal water flow), but things were very different in the ancient past. Observations by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity and other spacecraft have shown that the Red Planet was relatively warm billions of years ago, with extensive lake-and-stream systems and perhaps even a large ocean that covered much of the Martian surface. The planet's dramatic transition is tied to the loss of its atmosphere, which is now just 1 percent as dense as that of Earth at sea level. Scientists have long wondered what exactly happened to Mars' air, and that's where the $671 million MAVEN mission comes in. Since November 2014, MAVEN (whose name is short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) has been characterizing the Red Planet's upper atmosphere from orbit and measuring how fast Martian air is leaking into space, among other duties. The probe's observations should help scientists better understand the planet's climate history and its past potential to host life, NASA officials have said. A better understanding is indeed now starting to emerge, as demonstrated by a series of new MAVEN studies that were published online today (Nov. 5) in the journal Science. For example, one of these studies suggests that long-ago solar eruptions played a large role in stripping away the Red Planet's air. In that paper, Jakosky and his colleagues report the effects of a coronal mass ejection (CME) — a powerful eruption of solar plasma — that slammed into Mars in March 2015. The Red Planet is currently losing about 100 grams of its atmosphere to space every second (a new result obtained via MAVEN observations), but the CME temporarily jacked up that rate by a factor of 10 or 20, Jakosky said. [The Sun's Wrath: Worst Solar Storms in History] Such solar storms were stronger and more frequent about 4 billion years ago, and the sun's emissions in extreme ultraviolet (UV) light were more powerful back then as well, he added. The solar wind — the flow of charged particles from the sun, which is a major driver of Martian atmosphere loss today — was also more potent during the sun's youth. "All of these [factors] point to the loss of the Martian atmosphere in the earliest stages," Jakosky said. This all happened right after Mars lost its global magnetic field, which had protected the planet's air against solar-driven stripping, he added. (Earth, which is much larger than Mars, retains a global field to this day.) That stripping would then have proceeded very quickly, "within a few hundred million years after the shutoff of the magnetic field," Jakosky said. The other, related papers published today in Science shed new light on the composition of Mars' upper atmosphere; provide new details about the Red Planet's intriguing, diffuse auroras, which are similar in some ways to the gorgeous northern lights displays seen on Earth; and report the detection of dust that appears to be interplanetary in origin. "It's not something we expected," Jakosky said of the Martian auroras, whose detection the team first announced this past March at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas. "It tells us that solar particles are streaming directly into the Mars atmosphere, where they can have an impact." MAVEN spotted the auroras in December 2014 using its Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph instrument, which, as its name suggests, is sensitive to UV light. "We know that the same processes that create UV emissions on Mars will create visible emissions that would appear green, red or blue to the eye — if bright enough," study lead author Nick Schneider, also of LASP, told Space.com via email. "We think that this event probably wasn't bright enough, but suspect that other events could be. So maybe if you had as much time on Mars as Matt Damon, you might see it!" MAVEN's observations also show that these diffuse auroras can happen anywhere on the planet, Schneider added (unlike Earth's displays, which are generally restricted to high latitudes). "Our observations show unambiguously that a planet with no global magnetic field can [be] exposed to the full force of the solar wind and solar storms," he said. "Mars' atmosphere took a beating." The dust, which MAVEN observed at altitudes ranging from 124 miles to 621 miles (150 to 1,000 kilometers), also came as a surprise, Jakosky said. "We're getting hit by thousands of grains of dust," he said. "We think that this is dust coming from outside the Mars system." The detection by itself "is an interesting oddity," he added. "But [the dust] would also be the source of a steady-state metal-ion layer in the ionosphere that we've detected as well. That's another discovery from MAVEN. It's something that has the ability to affect the chemistry and energetics of the upper atmosphere. We still haven't worked through the implications, but it's something that's a really important observation." These findings provide just a taste of what MAVEN has been doing in Mars orbit for the past year. The mission team also published 44 (yes, 44!) studies online today in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. "It's incredibly satisfying to get to this point and realize that we really are answering the questions we set out to when we started the mission," Jakosky said. "We're beginning to understand what drives climate change on Mars, and to try to generalize to planets more generally." Why Is Mars A Desert Wasteland? NASA MAVEN Mission Will Investigate | Video Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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