Washington, DC, United States
Washington, DC, United States

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the United States government agency responsible for the civilian space program as well as aeronautics and aerospace research.President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1958 with a distinctly civilian orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics . The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the Space Launch System and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches.NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite. Wikipedia.


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Smialek J.L.,NASA
Journal of the European Ceramic Society | Year: 2017

Alumina-forming commercial Ti2AlC (MAXthal 211)™ phase samples were exposed in a jet-fueled, high pressure burner rig (HPBR) at 1100°, 1200°, and 1300 °C, operating at 6 atm (bar) and 25 m/s, in ∼10% water vapor. Weight change exhibited a rapid initial uptake associated with a TiO2 transient phase followed by cubic kinetics of a slow-growing α-Al2O3 underlayer. The cubic rate constants, kc, were approximately 20% of those measured in static thermo-balance furnace tests. A small recession rate of −0.012 mg/cm2/h was measured at 1300 °C for a pre-oxidized sample. The loss rate was ∼15% that observed for SiO2 scales subject to volatile Si(OH)4 formation for SiC tested under similar conditions. These kinetic features were fitted in a modified cubic-linear law. From thermodynamic, XRD, and SEM analyses, it is proposed that volatile TiO(OH)2 was formed by the reaction of water vapor with TiO2 and TiAl2O5 outer layers. © 2016


In this work, I report on the stochastic X-ray variability of the 340 Hz accreting millisecond pulsar MAXI J0911-655. Analyzing pointed observations of the XMM-Newton and NuSTAR observatories, I find that the source shows broad band-limited stochastic variability in the range with a total fractional variability of ∼24% rms in the 0.4-3 energy band that increases to ∼40% rms in the 3-10 keV band. Additionally, a pair of harmonically related quasi-periodic oscillations (QPOs) are discovered. The fundamental frequency of this harmonic pair is observed between frequencies of 62 and 146 mHz. Like the band-limited noise, the amplitudes of the QPOs show a steep increase as a function of energy; this suggests that they share a similar origin, likely the inner accretion flow. Based on their energy dependence and frequency relation with respect to the noise terms, the QPOs are identified as low-frequency oscillations and discussed in terms of the Lense-Thirring precession model. © 2017. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.


Strohmayer T.E.,NASA
Astrophysical Journal | Year: 2017

We derive a generalization of forward fitting for X-ray spectroscopy to include linear polarization of X-ray sources, appropriate for the anticipated next generation of space-based photoelectric polarimeters. We show that the inclusion of polarization sensitivity requires joint fitting to three observed spectra, one for each of the Stokes parameters, I(E), U(E), and Q(E). The equations for Stokes' I(E) (the total intensity spectrum) are identical to the familiar case with no polarization sensitivity, and for which the model-predicted spectrum is obtained by a convolution of the source spectrum, F(E′), with the familiar energy response function, (E′) R(E′, E), where (E′) and R(E′, E) are the effective area and energy redistribution matrix, respectively. In addition to the energy spectrum, the two new relations for U(E) and Q(E) include the source polarization fraction and position angle versus energy, a(E′), and , respectively, and the model-predicted spectra for these relations are obtained by a convolution with the "modulated" energy response function, μ(E′) ϵ(E′)R(E, E′), where μ(E′) is the energy-dependent modulation fraction that quantifies a polarimeter's angular response to 100% polarized radiation. We present results of simulations with response parameters appropriate for the proposed PRAXyS Small Explorer observatory to illustrate the procedures and methods, and we discuss some aspects of photoelectric polarimeters with relevance to understanding their calibration and operation. © 2017. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved..


Gnoffo P.A.,NASA
Journal of Computational Physics | Year: 2017

Walsh functions form an orthonormal basis set consisting of square waves. Square waves make the system well suited for detecting and representing functions with discontinuities. Given a uniform distribution of 2p cells on a one-dimensional element, it is proved that the inner product of the Walsh Root function for group p with every polynomial of degree ≤(p−1) across the element is identically zero. It is also proved that the magnitude and location of a discontinuous jump, as represented by a Heaviside function, are explicitly identified by its Fast Walsh Transform (FWT) coefficients. These two proofs enable an algorithm that quickly provides a Weighted Least Squares fit to distributions across the element that include a discontinuity. It is shown that flux reconstruction relative to the FWT fit in partial differential equations provides improved accuracy. The detection of a discontinuity further enables analytic relations to locally describe its evolution and provide increased accuracy. Examples are provided for time-accurate advection, Burgers' equation, and quasi-one-dimensional nozzle flow. © 2017


Khan R.,NASA | Khan R.,University of Washington
Astrophysical Journal, Supplement Series | Year: 2017

We present Spitzer IRAC 3.6-8 μm and Multiband Imaging Photometer 24 μm point-source catalogs for M31 and 15 other mostly large, star-forming galaxies at distances ∼3.5-14 Mpc, including M51, M83, M101, and NGC 6946. These catalogs contain ∼1 million sources including ∼859,000 in M31 and ∼116,000 in the other galaxies. They were created following the procedures described in Khan et al. through a combination of point-spread function (PSF) fitting and aperture photometry. These data products constitute a resource to improve our understanding of the IR-bright (3.6-24 μm) point-source populations in crowded extragalactic stellar fields and to plan observations with the James Webb Space Telescope. © 2017. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.


News Article | April 25, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Earlier today, President Trump took time out of his busy schedule to video-call the American astronauts aboard the International Space Station. In between comments on how great American technology is, Trump seems to have let slip his administration's Mars policy. According to the pool report of the conversation, it's kinda ambitious: POTUS asked about the timeline for placing humans on Mars, and said he would like to speed up the timeline to get that done "at worst, during my second term." "I have great respect for you folks, it's amazing what you do." POTUS said. To be clear: Trump wants, "at worst," to have humans on Mars by 2024. That's an improvement of decades on NASA's current plan, which has the first Mars fly-by pencilled in for 2033, and no real plan for a human landing on Mars any time soon. That plan also assumes that NASA's budget remains intact and American scientific institutions aren't gutted, which is far from certain right now. More importantly, this raises the question of whether Trump actually knows where Mars is. It's quite possible that he's talking about getting humans to the Moon again, rather than Mars. His administration has said before that it'd like to see human space exploration (outside of the ISS) by the end of Trump's first term, which agrees with what Trump said about getting folks to the Moon/Mars "at worst, during my second term." Now we're left to wonder which is more likely: a President who thinks it's realistic to shave 20 years off the Martian exploration program, or one that confuses different celestial bodies. If the Earth can make it to 2024 intact, I guess we'll find out.


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Explorers planning to settle on Mars might be able to turn the planet's red soil into bricks without needing to use an oven or additional ingredients. Instead, they would just need to apply pressure to compact the soil--the equivalent of a blow from a hammer. These are the findings of a study published in Scientific Reports on April 27, 2017. The study was authored by a team of engineers at the University of California San Diego and funded by NASA. The research is all the more important since Congress passed a bill, signed by President Donald Trump in March 2017, directing NASA to send a manned mission on Mars in 2033. "The people who will go to Mars will be incredibly brave. They will be pioneers. And I would be honored to be their brick maker," said Yu Qiao, a professor of structural engineering at UC San Diego and the study's lead author. Proposals to use Martian soil to build habitats for manned missions on the planet are not new. But this is the first that shows astronauts would need minimal resources to do so. Previous plans included nuclear-powered brick kilns or using complex chemistry to turn organic compounds found on Mars into binding polymers. In fact, the UC San Diego engineers were initially trying to cut down on the amount of polymers required to shape Martian soil into bricks, and accidently discovered that none was needed. To make bricks out of Mars soil simulant, without additives and without heating or baking the material, two steps were key. One was to enclose the simulant in a flexible container, in this case a rubber tube. The other was to compact the simulant at a high enough pressure. The amount of pressure needed for a small sample is roughly the equivalent of someone dropping 10-lb hammer from a height of one meter, Qiao said. The process produces small round soil pallets that are about an inch tall and can then be cut into brick shapes. The engineers believe that the iron oxide, which gives Martian soil its signature reddish hue, acts as a binding agent. They investigated the simulant's structure with various scanning tools and found that the tiny iron particles coat the simulant's bigger rocky basalt particles. The iron particles have clean, flat facets that easily bind to one another under pressure. Researchers also investigated the bricks' strengths and found that even without rebar, they are stronger than steel-reinforced concrete. Researchers said their method may be compatible with additive manufacturing. To build up a structure, astronauts could lay down a layer of soil, compact it, then lay down an additional layer and compact that, and so on. The logical next step for the research would be to increase the size of the bricks.


News Article | April 22, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The mountain-sized 2014 JO25 asteroid safely avoided Earth in its close flyby on April 19 but left behind a heap of data for researchers to analyze. Besides sparking avid discussions on how humanity would perish in a big asteroid collision, the event provided astronomers with the perfect opportunity to study the enormous space rock and gather as much information as possible on the general characteristics of asteroids. This week's asteroid encounter marked 2014 JO25's closest approach to our planet in 400 years and the nearest it will come to Earth in the next half millennium. The asteroid passed by us at a distance of 1.1 million miles, or about 4.6 times the trip from Earth to the moon. A day before its closest approach, NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California captured footage of 2014 JO25 via deep space radar, revealing the asteroid's size, structure, and shape, as well as the space rock's traveling speed and rotation. This data, obtained in the early morning of April 18 with Goldstone's 70-meter (or about 230-foot) antenna, was extremely useful in determining 2014 JO25's orbital path and calculating the asteroid's likelihood of hitting Earth. First detected in 2014 (as its name suggests) by A. D. Grauer from the Catalina Sky Survey, a project conducted under NASA's Near-Earth Objects Observations Program, the asteroid's non-hazard status was established as early as three years ago. "We discovered 2014 JO25 on the night of May 4, 2014, using our 1.5-meter [or 4-foot] survey scope on top of Mt. Lemmon," says Eric Christensen, director of the Catalina Sky Survey. At the time, researchers passed the data to the Near-Earth Objects program to get a clearer picture of where and how close the space rock was, "so other astronomers can prepare to aim their telescopes and radars to collect data." The program, also known as "Spaceguard," analyzes the physical features of near-Earth objects and predicts their orbit in order to pinpoint whether they are potentially hazardous to our planet. The data collected from the space rock's latest flyby — which was close enough to gather asteroid radar imagery — will offer more insight into 2014 JO25's return period. The Goldstone antenna gathered 30 images of 2014 JO25 passing in the vicinity of our planet, which were later compacted into a video unveiling the asteroid's shape and spin. "The images reveal a peanut-shaped asteroid that rotates about once every five hours," shows a news release by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The asteroid has a contact binary structure — two lobes connected by a neck-like region," says Shantanu Naidu, the JPL scientist who led the Goldstone observations. "The images show flat facets, concavities, and angular topography," he adds. Researchers explain the asteroid's two-lobed shape is due to loose material on the rock's surface, which formed another asteroid that temporarily orbited 2014 JO25 before morphing into one giant cosmic rock. This process is common to about 15 percent of asteroids bigger than 656 feet in diameter. The grid of 30 radar images, captured when the asteroid was 1.9 million miles from Earth, shows 2014 JO25's largest lobe to be around 2,000 feet in diameter. Astronomers were also able to observe the asteroid's spinning pattern, induced by solar photons. By analyzing the disruption the photons cause in the rock's trajectory, researchers can tell if 2014 JO25's next flyby will be as safe as the last one. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


The exciting discovery of a giant nearby exoplanet has researchers wondering about the possibility of finding the first trace of extraterrestrial life. The massive super-Earth is located 40 light-years away from our home planet, in the Cetus ("Sea Monster") constellation, and has been dubbed the "best place to look for signs of life beyond the solar system." Telescopes around the world, including the HARPS instrument at La Silla operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), picked up the newly discovered planet and found it to be orbiting the habitable zone of a red dwarf star, known as LHS 1140. The finding was detailed in a study, featured April 19 in the journal Nature. "We could hardly hope for a better target to perform one of the biggest quests in science — searching for evidence of life beyond Earth," said lead author Jason Dittmann, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Cambridge, USA). The nearby super-Earth is huddled right next to its feeble red dwarf, so close that it only takes it 25 days to complete a full orbit. However, although it sits 10 times closer to its star than Earth to our sun, it only receives about half the warmth our planet enjoys, making for an uncomfortably chilly world. This is because red dwarfs are much smaller than the sun and give off substantially less heat. Classified as an M dwarf star, this particular star is one-fifth the size of the sun. However, though considerably chilly, the exoplanet has been deemed temperate enough to support life. The new planet is rocky — much like our Earth, albeit much larger — and is situated in the liquid water zone of the star. Named LHS 1140b, after its star, the planet has likely retained most of its atmosphere due to "its large surface gravity and cool insolation." According to an ESO news release, this makes it one of the most anticipated candidates for follow-up atmospheric studies. Astronomer Nicola Astudillo-Defru, from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland and one of the researchers who worked on the study, explains the presently seen conditions offered by the red dwarf are "particularly favorable" and could make the super-Earth capable of sustaining life. "LHS 1140 spins more slowly and emits less high-energy radiation than other similar low-mass stars," points out Astudillo-Defru. To spot the new exoplanet, researchers initially used the transit method, looking at the light from its star and trying to measure subtle dips in its intensity, typically produced by a passing planet. Sometimes, telescopes can capture the sliver of sunlight passing through the planet's atmosphere, revealing information about the atmospheric chemical composition. In their search for alien life, researchers have analyzed numerous other potentially habitable Earth-like planets, such as Proxima b — the nearest planet to our solar system, residing at a distance of just 4.2 light-years — or the planets found in the TRAPPIST-1 system. However, these planets don't transit their parent star as seen from Earth, so their atmospheres can't be observed through the same method. To better understand LHS 1140b's atmosphere, the team used HARPS to undertake a precise measurement of the new planet's density and deduce its mass. Their estimates reveal the exoplanet is at least 5 billion years old and 18,000 kilometers (or around 11,184 miles) in diameter, almost 1.4 larger than that of Earth. The giant mass of the new planet — around seven times larger than the Earth — and the subsequent much higher density led researchers to believe LHS 1140b is probably made of rock with a dense iron core. "What's great about having a density ahead of an atmospheric study is that this density tells you how tightly the planet holds on to its atmosphere (the atmospheric scale height)," Dittmann said in a statement. To better ascertain whether the alien planet can harbor life, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is due to evaluate the exact level of high-energy radiation LHS 1140b receives from its star — which, just like other red dwarfs — has been known to be quite violent in its early years. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center Monday, a victory for Elon Musk as he takes on Lockheed Martin and Boeing. SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, launched a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Monday, breaking up the Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT)-Boeing (NYSE:BA) stronghold on U.S. military contracts. Musk’s Falcon 9 received certification from the U.S. Air Force in 2015, paving the way for SpaceX to handle national security missions and enter a business long dominated by a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Space Exploration Technologies’ launch on Monday was completed as part of a contract between spacecraft maker Ball Aerospace (NYSE:BLL) and the National Reconnaissance Office, which oversees U.S. spy satellites. NROL-76, the designation for the classified satellite launch, was SpaceX’s first dedicated mission for the military. The 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket took off at 7:15 a.m. ET from a launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla. After splitting from its payload, the rocket landed back to Earth at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX has specialized in testing rocket landings and launching used rockets back into space. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company flew its first recovered booster last month, as Musk attempts to lower the cost of rocket launches. United Launch Alliance, the Lockheed-Boeing partnership, was the sole company launching satellites for the military for the last 10 years. In 2014, SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in a dispute over an $11 billion contract awarded to ULA. SpaceX pulled the lawsuit after a settlement with the military, which said it would make future contracts available to other companies. SpaceX now holds two launch contracts with the Air Force. The contracts call for SpaceX to launch Global Positioning System satellites in 2018 and 2019. Musk is also the founder and CEO of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA).


News Article | March 27, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

In an attempt to push boundaries, NASA is embracing mixed reality technology, which will be used to train astronauts. The space agency has partnered with Unreal Gaming, a game engine maker, to create a virtual International Space Station or an ISS simulator. A video released by Unreal Engine shows off the mixed reality technology, offering a glimpse into how NASA is training its astronauts. Several instruments and elements of the ISS have been integrated inside the semi-virtual world, and astronauts are getting trained using the replica tools. "NASA is always interested in how cutting edge technology could help in our programs. Creating a truly immersive experience for astronauts is a lot like creating a game. With Unreal Engine, we've created a completely immersive, three-dimensional, mixed reality training and development environment that is incredibly lifelike," says NASA software engineer Matthew Noyes. The mixed reality environment also includes an "active response gravity offload system," which allows trainee astronauts to float. This lends a micro-gravitational feeling to the training. Mixed reality aims to amalgamate the best features of augmented and virtual realities. This has led to the creation of a totally unique and new environment. People can then mold the environment into whatever they wish to be surrounded by. This process enables one to experience different realities seamlessly. In such an environment, users can navigate through both real and virtual environments at the same time. Rather than completely working in a virtual environment, virtual objects are placed inside the real-time environment. Users can interact virtually with these objects, making things appear realistic. Trainee astronauts at NASA spend over two years undergoing excessively rigorous drills and intense classes. These processes prepare them for weightless and seamless navigation in zero-gravity situations. The trainee astronauts learn to move to and fro, as well as operate different parts of a space shuttle. They also learn to serve each other as medical and technical helpers. Previously, NASA had a neutral buoyancy lab, which was a huge pool with a capacity of 6.2 million gallons of water. It also had a "space vehicle mock-up facility," which was a model of a space shuttle and contained bits and pieces of the ISS. These two were used to train budding astronauts, but had drawbacks that include limited capacity. The mixed reality replica of the ISS is poised to usher in a new era for NASA. The mixed reality simulator allows several people to be a part of the same augmented reality, at the same time. Interestingly, Unreal Engine's arch rival Unity has also collaborated with NASA. Both have adapted themselves to suit the requirements of the virtual reality segment. Unity is the more popular choice among developers, but Unreal Gaming has brands like BMW, Ikea, Lockheed Martin, and McLaren in its kitty. It will be interesting to see how NASA adopts the new technology to train its astronauts. It remains to be seen how effective the mixed replica of the ISS will be for the space agency. Check out the video below which shows the mixed reality replica of the ISS. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

WASHINGTON, DC -- Climate change is causing thick ice deposits that form along Arctic rivers to melt nearly a month earlier than they did 15 years ago, a new study finds. River icings form when Arctic groundwater reaches the surface and solidifies on top of frozen rivers. They grow throughout the winter until river valleys are choked with ice. Some river icings have grown to more than 10 square kilometers (4 square miles) in area - roughly three times the size of New York's Central Park - and can be more than 10 meters (33 feet) thick. In the past, river icings have melted out around mid-July, on average. But a new study measuring the extent of river icings in the U.S. and Canadian Arctic shows most river icings disappeared 26 days earlier, on average, in 2015 than they did in 2000, melting around mid-June. In addition, the study found most icings that don't completely melt every summer were significantly smaller in 2015 than they were in 2000. Watch a video of river icings here. "This is the first clear evidence that this important component of Arctic river systems - which we didn't know was changing - is changing and it's changing rapidly," said Tamlin Pavelsky, a hydrologist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and lead author of the new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Scientists have studied the effects of climate change on other types of Arctic ice like glaciers and sea ice, but until now no study has systematically looked at whether river icings are changing in response to a warming climate, according to the authors. Although the decline in river icings is likely a result of climate change, the authors are unsure whether the decline in river icings is a direct result of rising temperatures or if climate change is altering how rivers and groundwater interact. "While glaciers tell us about climate in the mountains and sea ice tells us about sea-atmosphere interactions, the processes that control river icing may offer great insight into how groundwater and surface waters are connected in the Arctic and how our headwaters will be connected to the ocean in the future," said Jay Zarnetske, a hydrologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, and co-author of the study. The decline in river icings is remarkably rapid and if it continues, it could have huge impacts on Arctic river ecosystems, Pavelsky said. River icings are found all over the Arctic and create wide channels that are important habitats for animals and fish. So much water is tied up in river icings that when they melt in summer, usually in July and August, they keep rivers flowing that might otherwise dry up, providing important freshwater habitat for fish and other animals, he said. The idea to study river icings came to Pavelsky in 2013 during a flight to northern Alaska for a recreational canoe trip. The pilot of the small plane, who had flown in the area for more than 30 years, said he noticed river icings were melting earlier in the season and the timing was becoming more unpredictable. River icings pack down the gravel on riverbeds and pilots use them as makeshift runways. "My scientist antenna went right up," Pavelsky said. "I said 'Hey, I think I know how to look at that." When Pavelsky returned from the trip, he downloaded data from the moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the NASA Terra satellite, which takes daily images of Earth. Pavelsky and Zarnetske then analyzed daily MODIS images of the U.S. and Canadian Arctic from 2000 to 2015, wondering if they could see evidence of changes to the ice that Pavelsky's pilot had described. They could. Pavelsky and Zarnetske detected 147 river icings using the MODIS data and found that of those, 84 are either becoming smaller or disappearing earlier in the season. The rest were unchanged. None of the river icings they analyzed grew or persisted later in the season. The minimum area of ice they measured also shrank considerably over the study period. In 2000, Pavelsky and Zarnetske measured a minimum ice area of 80 square kilometers (30 square miles) - roughly half the area of Washington, D.C. By 2010, that number had dwindled to just 4 square kilometers (2 square miles) - smaller than San Diego's Balboa Park. By 2015, the ice had rebounded slightly, with a minimum area of about 7 square kilometers (3 square miles). "I think it's a really important study, as another example of the types of changes we're seeing in the Arctic landscape," said Ken Tape, an ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who was not connected to the study. "This is not a prediction about something that will change, it's demonstrating something that has changed, likely in response to warming." The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing 60,000 members in 137 countries. Join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our other social media channels.


An image taken at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland shows what appear as ghostly figures surrounding the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) The photo may initially appear creepy but NASA photographer Chris Gunn said that the image actually shows scientists and technicians at work, all of whom are alive and well at the time the photo was taken. The image captured what happens when lights are turned out in the clean room where the James Webb telescope is currently housed. NASA said that the staff who were inspecting the telescope and its golden mirrors were conducting a lights out inspection at Goddard's Spacecraft Systems Development and Integration Facility (SSDIF) at the time the photo was captured. The lights out inspection was conducted to check the telescope after a vibration and acoustic testing. The contamination control engineer used bright flashlight and ultraviolet lights to look for any contamination on the telescope. This method is done since evidence of contamination is easier to find in the dark. The eerie outcome of the image has something to do with technology, Gunn said. "The people have a ghostly appearance because it's a long exposure," explained Gunn who left the shutter of the camera open for longer than normal so the movements of the technicians would appear as a blur. The photographer also used a special light painting technique to light up the telescope's primary mirror. The James Webb telescope is set to be the successor the Hubble Space Telescope, which, despite its age, continues to make significant scientific observations. In January this year, Hubble captured two galaxies about 1 billion light-years away from Earth colliding into each other. It also detected comets diving toward a young star about 95 light-years away, a phenomenon that offers insights into what happened during the infancy of the solar system when comets pelted into our planet and into other inner bodies of the solar system. NASA said that the James Webb telescope, which measures four stories high and whose size is equal to that of a tennis court, will be launched in 2018 aboard the Ariane 5 rocket of the European Space Agency from French Guiana. Over the next six months after launch, different parts of the telescope are expected to become operational. The telescope may also start transmitting back photos to Earth at this time. Scientists hope that the telescope will unveil many of the universe's secret including the potential existence of alien life in extraterrestrial worlds including those in the newly discovered TRAPPIST-1 star system. "JWST will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide," NASA said of the new telescope. "It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Just like robot butlers and personal jetpacks for all, flying cars are a technology we’ve all been promised since we were kids, mainly thanks to the Jetsons. Well, finally, they could be taking a step closer to the realms of reality thanks to Metro Skyway. The Israeli company has unveiled new plans for a four-person flying car that it claims could be sky worthy as early as 2022. Dubbed CityHawk, the flying car will reportedly utilise vertical take off and landing technology thanks to an internal thrust-producing rotor system embedded directly within the fuselage of the vehicle itself. The company, a subsidiary of Tel Aviv-based Urban Aeronautics, has based the CityHawk on more than a decade of flying car research that resulted in the Cormorant, a flying vehicle designed for military use. Instead of carrying military equipment, however, the CityHawk will pilot passengers around city set-ups, and be capable of hitting speeds of 115mph and fly for an hour at a time, cruising between buildings and below power lines. It won’t be a vehicle you’ll be able to fly yourself, however, acting instead as a flying taxi, assuming it passes aviation safety standards that is. Although the vehicle will initially run off jet fuel, Metro Skyway has claimed the car could eventually run off hydrogen, assuming the emissions-friendly fuel can be made safe enough. “Using hydrogen simply requires crash-proof fuel tanks, but there are quite a few hydrogen-powered road vehicles that are already in use and a number of reasons why it may even be safer than jet fuel,” Janina Frankel-Yoeli, vice president for marketing at Urban Aeronautics, told The Verge. Metro Skyway isn’t the only company working on flying cars. Earlier this year Uber hired a former NASA engineer in order to pursue its own flying taxi plans.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Mars has electrically charged metal atoms (ions) high in its atmosphere, according to new results from NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. The metal ions can reveal previously invisible activity in the mysterious electrically charged upper atmosphere (ionosphere) of Mars. "MAVEN has made the first direct detection of the permanent presence of metal ions in the ionosphere of a planet other than Earth," said Joseph Grebowsky of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because metallic ions have long lifetimes and are transported far from their region of origin by neutral winds and electric fields, they can be used to infer motion in the ionosphere, similar to the way we use a lofted leaf to reveal which way the wind is blowing." Grebowsky is lead author of a paper on this research appearing April 10 in Geophysical Research Letters. MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) is exploring the Martian upper atmosphere to understand how the planet lost most of its air, transforming from a world that could have supported life billions of years ago into a cold desert planet today. Understanding ionospheric activity is shedding light on how the Martian atmosphere is being lost to space, according to the team. The metal comes from a constant rain of tiny meteoroids onto the Red Planet. When a high-speed meteoroid hits the Martian atmosphere, it vaporizes. Metal atoms in the vapor trail get some of their electrons torn away by other charged atoms and molecules in the ionosphere, transforming the metal atoms into electrically charged ions. MAVEN has detected iron, magnesium, and sodium ions in the upper atmosphere of Mars over the last two years using its Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer instrument, giving the team confidence that the metal ions are a permanent feature. "We detected metal ions associated with the close passage of Comet Siding Spring in 2014, but that was a unique event and it didn't tell us about the long-term presence of the ions," said Grebowsky. The interplanetary dust that causes the meteor showers is common throughout our solar system, so it's likely that all solar system planets and moons with substantial atmospheres have metal ions, according to the team. Sounding rockets, radar and satellite measurements have detected metal ion layers high in the atmosphere above Earth. There's also been indirect evidence for metal ions above other planets in our solar system. When spacecraft are exploring these worlds from orbit, sometimes their radio signals pass through the planet's atmosphere on the way to Earth, and sometimes portions of the signal have been blocked. This has been interpreted as interference from electrons in the ionosphere, some of which are thought to be associated with metal ions. However, long-term direct detection of the metal ions by MAVEN is the first conclusive evidence that these ions exist on another planet and that they are a permanent feature there. The team found that the metal ions behaved differently on Mars than on Earth. Earth is surrounded by a global magnetic field generated in its interior, and this magnetic field together with ionospheric winds forces the metal ions into layers. However, Mars has only local magnetic fields fossilized in certain regions of its crust, and the team only saw the layers near these areas. "Elsewhere, the metal ion distributions are totally unlike those observed at Earth," said Grebowsky. The research has other applications as well. For example it is unclear if the metal ions can affect the formation or behavior of high-altitude clouds. Also, detailed understanding of the meteoritic ions in the totally different Earth and Mars environments will be useful for better predicting consequences of interplanetary dust impacts in other yet-unexplored solar system atmospheres. "Observing metal ions on another planet gives us something to compare and contrast with Earth to understand the ionosphere and atmospheric chemistry better," said Grebowsky. The research was funded by the MAVEN mission. MAVEN's principal investigator is based at the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Boulder. The university provided two science instruments and leads science operations, as well as education and public outreach, for the mission. NASA Goddard manages the MAVEN project and provided two science instruments for the mission. The University of California at Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory also provided four science instruments for the mission. Lockheed Martin built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, provides navigation and Deep Space Network support, as well as the Electra telecommunications relay hardware and operations.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.nature.com

For more than 80 years, the US media and political scholars have gauged a new president’s potential on the basis of his administration’s performance in its first 100 days. The time-honoured — if increasingly tiresome — tradition began when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933. He was able to act fast, being blessed with a Congress controlled by his own political party. And he needed to do so, his presidency being cursed with the Great Depression, a financial emergency that demanded quick and decisive action. The 100-days benchmark is by its nature arbitrary, and projections based on it can be superficial. Many historic presidential achievements — such as Barack Obama’s reform of the US health-care system — happened in the subsequent days (all 1,361 of them) of a typical four‑year term. But the first few months of an administration are crucial to filling staff vacancies. The White House Transition Project (WHTP), a non-partisan effort to ease the transfer of power by providing information to the new administration’s staff, has found that posts take longer to fill as time drags on: the longer a president waits to nominate candidates, the slower the US Senate is to confirm them. When Trump passes the 100-day mark this weekend, he will become the slowest president to stock an administration in four decades, the WHTP says. He has yet to nominate candidates for hundreds of empty seats — some of them vitally important to the country’s science policy and research direction. On 12 April, Republicans in Congress wrote to Trump to urge him to fill two vacancies on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent panel that oversees civilian use of radioactive materials in power plants and other applications. Without those appointments, the commission will not have the number of people mandated by law for it to make decisions when its chair’s term ends on 1 July. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fell below that level in February. Trump has blamed some delays on the Senate, which must confirm nearly 1,000 of his appointments. But he has also suggested that his inaction is a deliberate strategy to pare down the size of government. “What do all of these people do?” he said in one interview. “You don’t need all those jobs.” The United States certainly needs some of them. Whether owing to impairment, intention or inexperience, Trump’s dithering over key scientific positions puts the country’s research community and the broader public at risk. For many researchers, the main concern has been the lack of a science adviser to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The absence of a voice for science in the administration may have contributed to the draconian cuts to the US National Institutes of Health and Environmental Protection Agency proposed in Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint. (The proposal didn’t mention the National Science Foundation at all.) A science adviser could also have informed the administration of the damaging consequences for science of proposed immigration policies. And he or she could offer counsel when scientific crises — the next Zika virus or oil spill, for example — arise. And arise they will. Biomedical researchers, meanwhile, are waiting to see how long Francis Collins will continue to serve as director of the US National Institutes of Health. The National Cancer Institute, the head of which is also appointed by the president, has been led by its deputy director since April 2015. And some of the major science agencies, including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lack a leader. The uncertainty makes it difficult for agencies to plan ahead, negotiate for resources and launch initiatives. And the patchwork of vacancies will debilitate efforts to deal with emerging crises, which often require a coordinated response across agencies. In 1933, Roosevelt passed 76 laws in his first 100 days as he laboured to reshape the nation’s economy. He set a high bar for efficiency: no president has measured up to his achievement since. (Eight years into his presidency, Roosevelt appointed the nation’s first science adviser, engineer Vannevar Bush.) With any new president comes uncertainty, and no administration completes its full roster of appointments by the end of its first year. But Trump is lagging well behind his predecessors, and is fostering a damaging sense of uncertainty by suggesting that he will leave these chairs empty.


Even as efforts are picking up to find life on Mars, there is encouraging evidence that life-supporting chemical energy is present at Saturn's moon Enceladus. According to the findings shared by NASA, the current indications hold the prospect of life in Enceladus as bright. The topography of Enceladus is interesting — a surface covered with solid ice layers at an average thickness of 13 miles over the vast liquid-water ocean beneath. According to the evidence collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and published by NASA in the journal Science, there is evidence that Enceladus harbors chemical energy enabling life. "This is the closest we've come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment," noted Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The paper presents an exciting picture — the floor of Enceladus's ocean brimming with hot water vents similar to ecosystems in the deeper realms of Earth's oceans. However, a costly mission to drill Enceladus may not be necessary as plumes are erupting from the icy surface of Enceladus with ample indications of the chemical signatures, noted Morgan Cable, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. NASA had the first information on Enceladus housing a liquid water ocean in 2005. Cassini scientist Linda Spilker described the information as "tremendously exciting" because the reigning belief was that Enceladus was a solidly frozen terrain. NASA spacecraft Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and its mission is set to end in another four months. The probe has been sending good data about the watery moon and has made it the top place to scout for life beyond Earth. According to scientists, the outgoing plumes from Enceladus carry vital chemical signatures emerging from the interaction between water and rocky core deep down. The presence of life-supporting hydrogen was detected by the Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer onboard the Cassini spacecraft. The detection of molecular hydrogen in the plume led to more analysis for broad identification of signals indigenous to Enceladus. The Cassini team traces the source of hydrogen to the hydrothermal reactions of rocks. According to Cassini scientists, an abundance of hydrogen in the plume shows a thermodynamic disequilibrium favoring the formation of methane from carbon dioxide in Enceladus's ocean. It is surmised that the presence of hydrogen will obviously lead to a reaction with carbon dioxide for forming methane. In the deep seas of Earth, methane consumption by microbes is common and expecting a replay of the scenario in Enceladus is quite ideal. Professor Hunter Waite, principal investigator for Cassini's Mass Spectrometer instrument, explained that water-rock interaction is happening between the ocean and the rocky core. "It indicates there is chemical potential to support microbial systems," adds Waite, lead author of the paper. When Cassini's findings of the disequilibrium of carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane levels in the plume are extrapolated, it follows that an energy source that can be used by organisms is in sight. Meanwhile, the final flyby of Cassini by Enceladus moon will happen on Saturday, April 22. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

The scientific community is feeling anxious. Sorry to interrupt your research, but the “fasten seat belt sign” has been illuminated. The President’s budget proposes large cuts to science funding: a $6 billion cut at the National Institutes of Health, a $900 million cut at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and deep cuts to the science of the Earth at NASA and other agencies. How should scientists respond? How should science philanthropies respond? Dozing while flying over Greenland, coming home from a meeting about the Hubble Space Telescope, the captain’s voice disrupted my dream-state. “Passengers are kindly requested to securely their seat belts fasten.” I nudged the woman I love—“I really am getting better at understanding German.” She took off her noise-cancelling earphones and looked me in the eyes. “Wake up. That was English.” Up in the cockpit, they say they wear harnesses all the time. They change altitude when the ride gets rough. Change course, not so much. At 9 miles a minute, turbulent patches are brief: Frankfurt to San Francisco takes 10 hours. It’s better to keep the long-range goal in mind, endure a few bumps, and stay on course. Like flying home from Europe, science is a long-term enterprise. Our goal: to create the joy of discovery driven by curiosity and offer the possibility of future benefits for generations ahead. Before I was born, physicists were messing around with atomic nuclei using magnets and radio pulses to measure the esoteric nuclei spin; decades later my orthopedist uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging to probe the torn muscles of my quadriceps. Benefits of basic research come from surprising directions and after a long journey We know this works: invest in basic science, be patient, and reap the benefits to society in surprising ways. Try to think of something useless in your daily life. Perhaps Einstein’s General Relativity? While his work seems inaccessible at first, it is not irrelevant. Albert’s insights about gravity are essential to get the right GPS location on your phone! How about Quantum Mechanics? Not just spooky zen-like weirdness of particles acting like waves acting like particles, but the key to understanding how to make electronic devices that work. Perhaps the weirdness of quantum entanglement itself will be the essential part of quantum computers tomorrow. Reading and writing the genetic code? We don’t yet know precisely how to use this best, but it has revolutionized understanding of biology and will surely have benefits for human health. Stay tuned, stay hopeful, and don’t eat the seed corn. The daily news cycle doesn’t favor the long view over today’s turbulence. Yet, on March 25, President Trump’s Saturday weekly address extolled work with the Hubble Space Telescope, “We look to the heavens with wonder and curiosity.” The President referred to the Hubble Deep Field saying, “…the unforgettable image did not satisfy our deep hunger for knowledge…it reminded us how much we do not know about space; frankly, how much we do not know about life.” Exactly right! For scientists, today’s ignorance is our greatest resource for future discovery. But the science budget proposed by the President is not a good one for exploring the unknown. Let’s hope the people preparing the fleshed-out budget take a look at the President’s speeches! The vacant office of President’s Science Adviser is not a good sign. The President acknowledges there is a lot we don’t know, but it is hard to see how we are going to tap our resevoirs of ignorance without steady support for our drilling rigs. How can scientists and science philanthropies respond? The scientists I know are fully engaged in their work. They love their work. They wish the rest of the world would just leave them alone so they can get on with it without distraction. But when the political air around science is turbulent, some scientists are unbuckling their belts and getting out of their seats for a one-day March for Science. It is a little uncomfortable. The best sign I saw through the drizzle in Washington was “I can’t believe we have to do this.” Nobody wants to act like just another special interest—but science is for the long term good of the nation, not just the scientists. The march sprung from a sense of defiance, yet it has the potential to be a moment of national engagement with scientific ideas. In any case, a one-day event is not enough. Scientists should tithe the time to reach out to the public, to engage with media new and old, and to work with legislators and policy makers to convey the excitement of their work and to make the case that supporting the scientific enterprise is a wise choice for the long run. For the most part, they should do the work that makes science deserve public support and creates new possibilities for a better future, but these other actions are needed, too. For science philanthropies, the most important thing is to fund that work, accelerate progress, and create hope for a better future. No one should have the illusion that private philanthropy can fill the void that big cuts in the Federal budget will excavate. The Science Philanthropy Alliance gauges annual giving to science at about $2 Billion. Bill and Melinda Gates, Jim and Marilyn Simons, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, and Yuri Milner and (dare I say) Gordon and Betty Moore have been astonishingly generous in their support of science. They built fortunes from businesses built on the technology of the physical world, or deep insights based on mathematics and logic. But total giving from philanthropy to science is small compared to the proposed cuts in federal support for science. Six billion in cuts to NIH alone. Two billion in philanthropy to science of all kinds. Do the math! Six is a lot bigger than two! Philanthropies can also help highlight the value of science, and we should. We can help ensure that unbiased facts and scientific understanding are available to people who set policy, and we will. There may be a few areas, like environmental monitoring, where philanthropies can band together to help bridge an otherwise irreparable gap in data, but we cannot patch billion dollar rips in the funding tapestry. Mostly, we should not get distracted: we should continue to focus on our goal, using our limited resources well to support science for its own sake. We know this works to everyone’s benefit. Turbulence is brief. Goals take longer. Maybe it would help if the President acts to deepen the sense of wonder and curiosity that the Hubble Deep Field evoked. That’s a beginning for engagement with science. It would be great if he would travel to see the total eclipse of the sun that will run across our country from sea to shining sea on August 21. The All-American eclipse. A total eclipse can be a life-changing experience. It makes you know in your bones that the moon is in orbit around the Earth and it makes you feel small. During the black Sun of a total eclipse, even rational people tap into primitive hope that the Sun will emerge from darkness and shine brightly again on all of us. If you have Air Force One at your disposal, you could fly above the weather and stretch out the duration of totality. You could bring some school children along for a once in a lifetime experience. The Moore Foundation is sending a million pairs of eclipse glasses to public libraries. We’d be happy to send some to the White House. This eclipse can make America awed again.


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

The Interstate Traveler Company set a cornerstone for the future green economy in 2002 when they published their plans for an elevated magnetic levitation rail system that runs on solar and hydrogen power. The Hydrogen Super Highway (HSH) a first of its kind maglev rail system that is self-sustaining using solar powered hydrogen electrolysis, designed for automated mass production with a unique 3D suspension system that supports vehicles for public transit, for individual automobiles and standard ISO freight containers with an embedded hydrogen distribution pipeline system. The transports can be private, public and commercial transports such as medical triage units responding to emergencies, restaurants, plush lounges and starlight cruisers for cross country tours. The HSH will be installed by rail mounted cranes using large round steel stanchion tubes drilled into the ground as a foundation so it can be built just about anywhere without having to tear up the ground for an access road. The company states that this method will insure the HSH will have a near zero impact on the environment. Designed originally as an upgrade to the U.S. Interstate Highway System increasing the capacity and safety of the highway tenfold while providing the hydrogen infrastructure required for the growing energy economy. The system is designed to provide direct pipeline access to hydrogen and other fuels to all the existing fueling stations along the highway. The HSH may completely avoid costly delays and challenges of eminent domain for new rights of way. Company officials also state that the HSH system can be built without any disruption to local businesses and because it is elevated it will be the safest and most versatile form of high speed transportation yet. By 2004 the company received wide ranging support and international acknowledgement. While working to bring the HSH proposal to decision makers the ‘Interstate Traveler Project’ was honored with Unanimous Resolutions from the House and Senate of the State of Michigan in 2003, several forward looking Skilled Trade Unions proffered letters of support and sponsored radio interviews on WJR AM 760 News Talk Radio in Detroit. The HSH technology has also been recognized by a number of national and international journals and associations, highlighted by Discovery Channel in 2007 and the Founder of the company was the keynote speaker at the 2010 National Engineers Week at Western Michigan University. Company officials also showed us records of a large number of US DOD related energy conferences where they have hosted exhibits and provided panelists and speakers on the issues of bulk hydrogen infrastructure and energy security. The company is a registered federal contractor. “We found out early that this would be a long process to get up and running” said Justin Sutton, the founder of the company, “but we made the commitment to put in the time to quietly build our global network, to see this through, and now we have a huge network and dozens of proposals for projects all over the world, large and small.” According to Sutton, the company has reached out to decision makers around the world in government, banking, NGOs, international trade missions and conferences to host diplomats, trade association leaders and private businesses without ceasing since 2002. He went on to explain that the company has a large number of partners and many are actively engaged in teams working on projects around the world getting ready to handle growth after the first system is built. Jim M. Jung of Lawrenceburg, Indiana is the Volunteer CEO of the company for several years and started with the company about ten years ago as the Director of Marketing, “We have an amazing team of people from all walks of life and from all over the world.” Jung continued that the company’s international board of directors, which is published on the company website, collectively manages dozens of proposals. “Yes, we have some investors, but our entire management team is an all-volunteer organization.” Jung continued to explain that the company has an available franchise model that provides the rights to build, own and operate installations of the HSH in foreign countries, as well as provide a means to independently fund and manage construction of the HSH rail on existing railroad rights of way to accommodate the handling of shipping containers. “Port Authorities are a big deal for us and we can help,” Jung said. “We realize the growth problems many ports face and the need to establish new large logistics centers where Ports can securely and quickly transport containers with digital ‘just in time’ and location accuracy.” Referencing case studies Jung pointed out that large new logistics hubs are being built and many of the largest ports are landlocked and are exploring new ways to expand. “The problem is that existing roads in the area are often substandard and are quickly ruined by the increased truck traffic. By putting containers on the HSH rail system they are secure from potential at-grade collisions, defacement or getting broken into. Also our system is railbound so it cannot be derailed by accident or even by most earthquakes and our system is safe and secure from floods that would leave roads and traditional rail unpassable.” Jung continued to explain how most vital 'Sea' Ports are at or near sea level or are on rivers that are prone to floods. “We think investment in an elevated system is the best method going forward.” Jung concluded by saying “We now have key government and community leaders in Dearborn County Indiana in full support of our proposal and we have identified the location of our first quarter mile test system. We are excited to finally have a place to build and we will release more information on that soon, but I can say that we have engaged the support of America’s most respected Hydrogen scientist, retired NASA Hydrogen program director Dr. Addison Bain. We are honored to have his full support.” During the interview with the Founder and the CEO we learned about several international trade missions and one Partner who is currently working for the company in Vietnam: US Army Col (Ret.) Andre Sauvageot. Sauvageot is the company Director for Vietnam, South East Asia and the District of Columbia and he joined the company in 2009 during the early negotiations to build the H2RSH system in Indonesia and proceeded to establish connections for the company with the government of Vietnam and other member States of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) He also maintains active company engagement with the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi and the Vietnam Clean Energy Association. Company officials declined any further details on their work overseas, yet they did state their current interest in joining the World Expo in Kazakhstan which is happening this summer. They talked about producing Hydrogen for the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome that provides active support for the International Space Station with plans for expanding commercial space development. For the Interstate Traveler Company, the future of railbound transportation must be safe, secure and sustainable. The HSH is designed with a unique magnetic levitation suspension system that enables 3D position control at any speed with near zero vibration. They claim that their 3D position control system provides lateral g-force reduction technology by enabling the transport to shift its orientation in real-time and in 3D just enough so that the transports will experience almost zero shaking or shifting, suggesting that a person riding it will feel more safe and comfortable than travel by any other rail system. As a public transportation system, the company says the HSH will enable vehicles of nearly any size, shape and purpose and will enable public, private and commercial ownership, effectively creating new lanes of commerce on the existing public access interstate highway systems, and on other applicable right of ways, that are faster, safer and much better for the environment. Company officials also stated that with the recent growing interest in Hydrogen Infrastructure, the founder has created a profile on a leading crowd funding website and is exploring the potential of opening the door to a larger group of participants. For more information, please contact: info(at)interstatetraveler(dot)us


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Astronomers have discovered a rare star full of calcium that could teach us more about the stellar explosions called supernovas. It’s a story of love and death, with two stars orbiting the same point — a binary star system — until one day the larger star explodes and floods its mate with material. A study in Nature Astronomy found the scientists detected a star in the remnants of the supernova comparable in size to our sun, but its atmosphere is “strongly polluted with calcium and other elements” to have them in concentrations many times greater than the sun. That could mean the supernova is part of a “class of calcium-rich supernovae … the origin of which is strongly debated.” Those supernovas are rare, so discovering another could help scientists understand how they work. Lomonosov Moscow State University, which had an astrophysicist leading the research, explained that in the supernova remnant there is a neutron star, which would be what is left of the exploded giant, which can be detected from X-rays. But there is also a sun-like star that can be seen in the optical wavelengths — the ones that include ultraviolet, visible light and infrared. A supernova is the biggest possible explosion in outer space and occurs when a star takes on too much mass. That can happen because it is an old star or, in the case of some binary stars, because it consumed its companion. “It would look beautiful up close, right up until the energy intensity vaporized you,” astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explained. “One of the greatest events in the universe. … happens maybe only once per century per galaxy.” If you’re looking to get a front row seat to one, you are out of luck — NASA said the sun is just not big enough to cause a supernova once it’s ready to die. Vasilii Gvaramadze, the lead scientist from Lomonosov Moscow State University, said his team will continue studying the new binary system in hope of understanding how the stars orbit, what the neutron star was like before it exploded and the levels of other elements in the sun-like star’s atmosphere. Previously, scientists generally thought calcium-rich supernovas formed with old stars that have used up all their fuel when there is a “detonation” in a shell of helium around the star, the university said. But the new findings “imply that under certain circumstances a large amount of calcium could also be synthesized by explosion of massive stars in binary systems.” Learning about these space explosions gives us clues about how our universe works. “One kind of supernova has shown scientists that we live in an expanding universe, one that is growing at an ever increasing rate,” NASA said. “Scientists also have determined that supernovas play a key role in distributing elements throughout the universe. When the star explodes, it shoots elements and debris into space. Many of the elements we find here on Earth are made in the core of stars. These elements travel on to form new stars, planets and everything else in the universe.” How are Stars Born? When a Supermassive Black Hole Farts Why Did This Massive Young Galaxy Stop Making Stars? Baby Stars Are Eating This Galaxy’s Gas Too Fast To Last


News Article | April 14, 2017
Site: scienceblogs.com

The latest data from NASA GISS has come out, showing a surprise result for the month of March. Hat tip to Jeff Masters of Wunderground for sending this info. He’ll probably be blogging on it soon. The surprise is that March, while expected to be warm due to human caused greenhouse gas pollution, turned out to be very warm globally. This is a surprise because the Earth supposedly just experienced a minor cooling La Niña event that ended in January. March 2017, it turns out, is the fourth warmest month since 1880 expressed as an anomaly from a 1951-1980 baseline (that’s a bit tricky, more on that below). The key thing to notice here is all those years being very very recent. The ranking of months is on a month by month basis. In other words, Feb 2016 is not necessarily the warmest month of all the months over 120 years. Rather, it is the warmest of all the Februaries over this period of time. This may seem like a strange way to do it, but it actually makes sense. Even though these are global values and thus integrate northern and southern seasons, there is a potential for intra-annual variation in global temperatures, for a number of reasons (including the uneven distribution of land and ocean between the northern and southern hemispheres). For this and other even more esoteric reasons having to do with how to track anomalies, we compare months to months (Januaries to Januaries, Februaries to Februaries, etc.).


News Article | May 2, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

AMES, Iowa - NASA's SOFIA aircraft, a 747 loaded with a 2.5-meter telescope in the back and stripped of most creature comforts in the front, took a big U-turn over the Pacific west of Mexico. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft was just beginning the second half of an overnight mission on Jan. 28, 2015. It turned north for a flight all the way to western Oregon, then back home to NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. Along the way, pilots steered the plane to aim the telescope at a nearby star. Iowa State University's Massimo Marengo and other astronomers were on board to observe the mission and collect infrared data about the star. That star is called epsilon Eridani. It's about 10 light years away from the sun. It's similar to our sun, but one-fifth the age. And astronomers believe it can tell them a lot about the development of our solar system. Marengo, an Iowa State associate professor of physics and astronomy, and other astronomers have been studying the star and its planetary system since 2004. In a 2009 scientific paper, the astronomers used data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to describe the star's disk of fine dust and debris left over from the formation of planets and the collisions of asteroids and comets. They reported the disk contained separate belts of asteroids, similar to the asteroid and Kuiper belts of our solar system. Subsequent studies by other astronomers questioned that finding. A new scientific paper, just published online by The Astronomical Journal, uses SOFIA and Spitzer data to confirm there are separate inner and outer disk structures. The astronomers report further studies will have to determine if the inner disk includes one or two debris belts. Kate Su, an associate astronomer at the University of Arizona and the university's Steward Observatory, is the paper's lead author. Marengo is one of the paper's nine co-authors. Marengo said the findings are important because they confirm epsilon Eridani is a good model of the early days of our solar system and can provide hints at how our solar system evolved. "This star hosts a planetary system currently undergoing the same cataclysmic processes that happened to the solar system in its youth, at the time in which the moon gained most of its craters, Earth acquired the water in its oceans, and the conditions favorable for life on our planet were set," Marengo wrote in a summary of the project. A major contributor to the new findings was data taken during that January 2015 flight of SOFIA. Marengo joined Su on the cold and noisy flight at 45,000 feet, above nearly all of the atmospheric water vapor that absorbs the infrared light that astronomers need to see planets and planetary debris. Determining the structure of the disk was a complex effort that took several years and detailed computer modeling. The astronomers had to separate the faint emission of the disk from the much brighter light coming from the star. "But we can now say with great confidence that there is a separation between the star's inner and outer belts," Marengo said. "There is a gap most likely created by planets. We haven't detected them yet, but I would be surprised if they are not there. Seeing them will require using the next-generation instrumentation, perhaps NASA's 6.5-meter James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in October 2018." That's a lot of time and attention on one nearby star and its debris disk. But Marengo said it really is taking astronomers back in time. "The prize at the end of this road is to understand the true structure of epsilon Eridani's out-of-this-world disk, and its interactions with the cohort of planets likely inhabiting its system," Marengo wrote in a newsletter story about the project. "SOFIA, by its unique ability of capturing infrared light in the dry stratospheric sky, is the closest we have to a time machine, revealing a glimpse of Earth's ancient past by observing the present of a nearby young sun."


News Article | April 24, 2017
Site: www.npr.org

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has now spent more time off-planet than any other American. On Monday morning, the president and Ivanka Trump called Whitson at the International Space Station to congratulate her.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Online viewers of Tuesday's rocket launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, will be able to see the launch in a more complete way. For the first time, viewers will be able to watch the launch live, with all 360 degrees covered. NASA is calling it a "pads-eye view" of the launch. Users will be able to move a smartphone device around, move a mouse in a web browser or look around using a virtual reality headset for the full experience. The live stream begins 10 minutes prior to liftoff, which is scheduled for 11:11 a.m. EDT. The contracted rocket will resupply the International Space Station and deliver science experiments in coordination with United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK. NASA will have live coverage of the Orbital ATK Cygnus array deployment later in the day, along with a post-launch press conference.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.techrepublic.com

On Wednesday, the ride-sharing giant Uber was accused of using secret tracking software to track the whereabouts of Lyft drivers, according to a report from The Information. The software program, called "Hell," has supposedly been tracking Lyft drivers by using fake Lyft accounts—and is able to gather information about the location of Lyft drivers, how many were open for new rides, and how many Lyft drivers also worked for Uber, according to a "Hell" insider who disclosed the program to The Information. By using fake accounts, The Information reported, Uber was able to see other nearby Lyft drivers in a given city. Uber has been plagued with several major controversies over the last several months. In January, the #DeleteUber Twitter campaign was launched in protest of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick taking a seat on President Trump's economic advisory council—the campaign forced Kalanick to back down from the position. The next month, former US Attorney General Eric Holder launched an investigation into allegations of sexism raised by former Uber employee Susan Fowler Rigetti. In March, The New York Times reported that Uber had been deceiving authorities in areas where the company has been restricted, in its Greyball program. The same month, Uber's president Jeff Jones left the company after only six months, citing the toxic company culture at Uber as his reason for leaving. A number of competitors, in fact, have sprung up to compete with the ride-sharing giant, offering socially-conscious alternatives for customers who may not agree with the direction of Uber. It is important to remember that while Uber wears the crown for the most popular ride-share app, it is involved in many other ventures. It unveiled self-driving fleets to the public in Pittsburgh in August 2016—and later, in San Francisco, where it was called "illegal," and Arizona. The company also purchased Otto, a self-driving trucking company, that same month. SEE: Uber president quits over 'beliefs' and 'leadership,' highlighting toxic company culture AI is also a heavy focus for Uber, and the company announced the launch of Uber AI Labs in December 2016. In February 2017, Uber brought a NASA veteran on staff to create flying autonomous cars. Still, if the latest accusation is true, it could have big implications for using software among tech companies to spy on and undermine competitors. Uber could have trouble recruiting top talent, and could face a consumer base that is weary of controversies the company has become associated with.


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Large and small scale solar eruptions might all be triggered by a single process, according to new research that leads to better understanding of the Sun's activity. Researchers at Durham University, UK, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center used 3-D computer simulations to show a theoretical link between large and small scale eruptions that were previously thought to be driven by different processes. They looked at the mechanism behind coronal jets - relatively small bursts of plasma (hot gas) from the Sun - and much larger-scale coronal mass ejections (CMEs), where giant clouds of plasma and magnetic field are blown into space at high speed. Both types of eruptions were known to involve snake-like filaments of dense plasma low in the Sun's atmosphere, but until now how they erupted at such vastly different scales was unclear. The researchers discovered that the filaments in jets are triggered to erupt when the magnetic field lines above them break and rejoin - a process known as magnetic reconnection. The same process was previously known to explain many CMEs. The strength and structure of the magnetic field around the filament determines the type of eruption that occurs, the researchers said. Their findings are published in the journal Nature. Understanding solar eruptions is important as their electromagnetic radiation can disrupt radio transmissions and satellite communications, and they can eject high-energy electrically charged particles that can potentially endanger astronauts. CMEs also help create the spectacular light shows, or aurorae, at both of the Earth's magnetic poles, as charged particles accelerated by the CME collide with gases such as oxygen and nitrogen in Earth's atmosphere. The new study provides theoretical support for previous observational research which suggested that coronal jets are caused in the same way as CMEs. The Durham-led researchers said their latest findings covered all solar eruptions from the largest CMEs to the smallest coronal jets. "It was previously thought that there were different drivers for the varying scales of eruptions from the Sun, but our research provides a theoretical universal model for this activity, which is very exciting,” said lead author Peter Wyper, Royal Astronomical Society Fellow, in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, Durham University "A greater understanding of solar eruptions at all scales could ultimately help in better predicting the Sun's activity. "Large-scale coronal mass ejections, where huge amounts of solar plasma, radiation and high energy particles are being released, can influence the space around them, including the space near to Earth. "They can interfere with satellite communications, for example, so it is beneficial for us to be able to understand and monitor this activity." The research was funded by the Royal Astronomical Society and NASA. The computer simulations were carried out at NASA's Center for Climate Simulation. The scientists call their proposed mechanism for how filaments lead to eruptions the breakout model, because of the way the stressed filament pushes relentlessly at - and ultimately breaks through - its magnetic restraints into space. "The breakout model unifies our picture of what's going on at the Sun,” said co-author Richard DeVore, a solar physicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Within a unified context, we can advance understanding of how these eruptions are started, how to predict them, and how to better understand their consequences." In future, the researchers plan to use further simulations to test their model for solar eruptions in different magnetic configurations, and to study how the swarms of high energy particles, which can affect satellites and astronauts, are launched into space by these events. Confirming the theoretical mechanism will require high-resolution observations of the magnetic field and plasma flows in the solar atmosphere, especially around the Sun's poles where many jets originate—data that is currently not available. For now, scientists are looking to upcoming missions such as NASA's Solar Probe Plus and the joint European Space Agency/NASA Solar Orbiter, which will acquire novel measurements of the Sun's atmosphere and magnetic fields emanating from solar eruptions.


News Article | March 31, 2017
Site: www.scientificcomputing.com

What happens when the lights are turned out in the enormous clean room that currently houses NASA's James Webb Space Telescope? The technicians who are inspecting the telescope and its expansive golden mirrors look like ghostly wraiths in this image as they conduct a "lights out inspection" in the Spacecraft Systems Development and Integration Facility (SSDIF) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The clean room lights were turned off to inspect the telescope after it experienced vibration and acoustic testing. The contamination control engineer used a bright flashlight and special ultraviolet flashlights to inspect for contamination because it's easier to find in the dark. NASA photographer Chris Gunn said "The people have a ghostly appearance because it's a long exposure." He left the camera's shutter open for a longer than normal time so the movement of the technicians appear as a blur. He also used a special light "painting" technique to light up the primary mirror.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

With Cassini making final preparations to penetrate Saturn's rings, and renewed interest in colonising the Moon and sending people to Mars, space flight and exploration are experiencing a level of interest not seen since the Apollo missions to the Moon in the late 60's and 70's, and the space shuttle programme of the 80's. Space travel and exploration have resulted in a variety of technological developments which have benefitted life on Earth - but could the experiences of humans in space also have impact on our understanding of terrestrial human health? Scientists at the University of Plymouth and Northumbria University, Newcastle, are helping to write the medical rulebook that will keep astronauts fit and healthy during long trips through the solar system. While working at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC), in Germany, Northumbria's Dr Andrew Winnard realised there was very little evidence housed under one roof on what changes we expect to occur in astronauts during spaceflight - and what interventions work best to try and prevent these changes. Andrew also noticed that there was no systematic review group for the entire aerospace medicine field, like there are for almost all other areas of medicine. He recommended a systematic review group for aerospace medicine, to look at the effectiveness of interventions to prevent health and fitness changes among astronauts and military and civil aviators that will facilitate reviews to inform operational medical guidelines and decision-making processes. He enlisted the support of systematic review expert, co-convener of the Cochrane Priority Settings Method Group and qualified pilot, Dr Mona Nasser from the University of Plymouth, to help formulate the group. As well as benefiting astronauts and those working in space, the learning will also be used to inform medical practice on Earth; such as in the treatment of lower back pain. Northumbria is working with experts from the University of Plymouth, the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Royal Air Force (RAF) the International Space University and Blue Abyss - the world's largest research, training and development pool for marine and aerospace - to launch this review group at an aerospace medicine conference in the US in May 2017. The group are also launching their website at the Aerospace Medical Association 2017 Annual Scientific Meeting in Denver, between April 29- and May 4 2017. The Aerospace Medicine Systematic Review Group will facilitate pooling of studies done in aerospace medicine under one roof and ensure that results of reviews are used to feed into comprehensive guidelines that will feed into major operational decisions. Dr Winnard, Lecturer in Clinical/Musculoskeletal Biomechanics at Northumbria University and Coordinator of the UK Space Environments Association, said: "The group is developing and publishing methods that can be used by anyone undertaking aerospace systematic reviews. These tools help researchers understand and assess what is good quality aerospace research. For example, one tool already developed and available freely online (at our website) helps researchers determine the quality of bed rest studies often used to similar spaceflight for research. "Already the ESA is hoping the group can help lead reviews to answer questions such as, what exercises will work in small spacecraft on missions that return to the moon, compared to on the International Space Station (ISS) and also asking how the medical challenges will be different on the moon compared to what we are familiar with on ISS." Dr Mona Nasser from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry added: "Systematic reviews are vital to helping clinicians, researchers and the public make sense of published research. Research evidence needs to be considered in the context of evidence which has gone before in the form of a systematic review. Only by looking at the full picture in a systematic manner can we hope to glean a glimmer of understanding. By bringing the discipline of the systematic review to research around aerospace medicine, we believe we can help aerospace clinicians make the most of the research available to improve their practices and benefit their patients. That this can be translated to 'Earth-bound' medicine is also exciting." Northumbria University has already worked with ESA and international collaborators including astronauts to conduct a systematic review of the effectiveness of exercise to protect the lower spine and pelvis from changes that happen in space. The review found no current researched exercises are fully effective at preventing these changes so post flight rehab is needed. Northumbria is now developing the 'Functional Re-adaptive Exercise Device', known as FRED, which has been created to combat the back problems astronauts suffer when they return to earth. The device can also be used by those that have developed back pain on Earth. Former NASA Astronaut Dan Barry said: "As more people go into space and as space exploration expands beyond low earth orbit, effective countermeasures to low gravity environments become even more essential for crew health and mission success. "Existing literature on space health topics is widely scattered and of highly variable quality. A dedicated systematic aerospace medicine review group is important to provide a consistent, high quality assessment of findings that will lead to improved medical decisions." Wing Commander Pete Hodkinson, Consultant in Aviation and Space Medicine for the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine added: "Aerospace medicine like all other areas of medicine is striving to improve the evidence base to its practice. The establishment of an aerospace medicine systematic review group is a great step towards more evidence based practice in this field; it is warmly welcomed and strongly supported by the RAF Centre of Aviation Medicine."


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A pirate is lurking in northern Canada, and global warming is only making it stronger. The Alsek River recently stole water flowing into the Slims River and took it for itself, a phenomenon known as "river piracy" — which scientists blame on a massive retreating glacier distributing water in new ways. The development is the first known case of river piracy in the modern era, and it's the first to be pinned in part on climate change, researchers wrote in a study published Monday in the journal Nature Geoscience. It also points to an unexpected consequence of human-caused global warming. SEE ALSO: NASA photos capture a strange new crack in a massive Greenland glacier and we might be doomed "So far, a lot of the scientific work surrounding glaciers and climate change has been focused on sea-level rise," Dan Shugar, the study's lead author and a geoscientist at the University of Washington, Tacoma, said in a news release. "Our study shows there may be other under-appreciated, unanticipated effects of glacial retreat." The river piracy began last year at the edge of the massive Kaskawulsh Glacier, which spans some 15,000 square miles across Canada's Yukon territory. For hundreds of years, the glacier poured meltwater into river basins of the Slims, which ends in the Bering Sea, and the Kaskawulsh, which empties into the Gulf of Alaska. Researchers found that a new, 100-foot canyon in the glacier's toe had abruptly rerouted meltwater away from a glacial lake that feeds the Slims River and instead delivered that water to the Kaskawulsh River, which feeds the Alsek River. As a result, the Alsek River — a popular whitewater rafting destination — ran higher than normal last summer, bloated with stolen water. The Slims River, meanwhile, was rapidly reduced to a trickle. Kluane Lake, which is fed by the river, was so low that residents struggled to launch their boats. Dust swirled in the parched valley, making it hard to fly on certain days, Yukon News reported last June. Shugar and his co-authors, including Jim Best at the University of Illinois and John Clague at Canada's Simon Fraser University, had originally planned to study the Slims River in August 2016. Instead, they found "a long, skinny lake," Shugar said. Gauges showed that the river, once 10 feet deep, had dropped suddenly from May 26 to 29, not long after the canyon was formed in the glacier. "Day by day we could see the water level dropping," he said. Scientists said there are two main reasons why the Kaskawulsh Glacier has retreated by about mile over the last century. After expanding during a cold period centuries ago, known as the Little Ice Age, the glacier is naturally readjusting its size in these warmer times. But it's also melting in part because of greenhouse gases. The team found only a tiny probability — 0.5 percent — that the glacier's retreat could have happened in a "constant climate," meaning there's a 99.5 percent probability that the glacier is responding to modern climate change. The ice fields of Ellesmere Island, Canada, are retreating due to warming temperatures. "I always point out to climate-change skeptics that Earth's glaciers are becoming markedly smaller, and that can only happen in a warming climate," Clague, one of the co-authors, said in the news release. Canadian scientists who observed this river piracy last year were more ambivalent about the role of human-driven global warming in the glacier's retreat. "Would this particular event have happened without anthropogenic climate change? Probably," Kristen Kennedy, a geologist with the Yukon Geological Survey, told the Yukon News last summer.  "It's neat to see. It's really just an interesting natural phenomenon that's happening right before our eyes, and not very many people get to see something like this," she said. But outside scientists praised Monday's study and said it was significant. Richard Alley, a glacier expert at Pennsylvania State University who wasn't part of the study, told the Associated Press that the findings reconfirm "that climate change has large, widespread and sometimes surprising impacts." WATCH: NASA timelapse shows just how quickly our Arctic sea ice is disappearing


News Article | April 20, 2017
Site: phys.org

Since its launch on 24 April 1990, Hubble has been nothing short of a revolution in astronomy. The first orbiting facility of its kind, for 27 years the telescope has been exploring the wonders of the cosmos. Astronomers and the public alike have witnessed what no other humans in history have before. In addition to revealing the beauty of the cosmos, Hubble has proved itself to be a treasure chest of scientific data that astronomers can access. ESA and NASA celebrate Hubble's birthday each year with a spectacular image. This year's anniversary image features a pair of spiral galaxies known as NGC 4302—seen edge-on—and NGC 4298, both located 55 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice's Hair). The pair, discovered by astronomer William Herschel in 1784, form part of the Virgo Cluster, a gravitationally bound collection of nearly 2000 individual galaxies. The edge-on NGC 4302 is a bit smaller than our own Milky Way Galaxy. The tilted NGC 4298 is even smaller: only half the size of its companion. At their closest points, the galaxies are separated from each other in projection by only around 7000 light-years. Given this very close arrangement, astronomers are intrigued by the galaxies' apparent lack of any significant gravitational interaction; only a faint bridge of neutral hydrogen gas—not visible in this image—appears to stretch between them. The long tidal tails and deformations in their structure that are typical of galaxies lying so close to each other are missing completely. Astronomers have found very faint tails of gas streaming from the two galaxies, pointing in roughly the same direction—away from the centre of the Virgo Cluster. They have proposed that the galactic double is a recent arrival to the cluster, and is currently falling in towards the cluster centre and the galaxy Messier 87 lurking there—one of the most massive galaxies known. On their travels, the two galaxies are encountering hot gas—the intracluster medium—that acts like a strong wind, stripping layers of gas and dust from the galaxies to form the streaming tails. Even in its 27th year of operation, Hubble continues to provide truly spectacular images of the cosmos, and even as the launch date of its companion—the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope—draws closer, Hubble does not slow down. Instead, the telescope keeps raising the bar, showing it still has plenty of observing left to do for many more years to come. In fact, astronomers are looking forward to have Hubble and James Webb operational at the same time and use their combined capabilities to explore the Universe. Explore further: Hubble catches a transformation in the Virgo constellation


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: news.mit.edu

In 1992, the Edgerton Center — one of MIT's original makerspaces — opened in Building 4. At its 25th anniversary gala on April 13, alumni, faculty, and relatives of Harold "Doc" Edgerton gathered to celebrate what the center has grown into: a home to students who build rockets, robots, and more, as well as an invaluable resource for high-speed photography and K-12 outreach. Edgerton, an MIT professor of electrical engineering, was renowned for his work in high-speed imaging as well as sonar and deep-sea photography; he and his equipment accompanied oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in searches for shipwrecks and even the Loch Ness monster. But his legend lies more in his spirit of encouraging students to explore their engineering and science interests by building things from scratch, learning by doing, and helping others learn in the same way. "The word I most associate with Doc is generosity. His encouragement and mentorship were powerful and life-changing for me," said Professor J. Kim Vandiver, the Forbes Director of the Edgerton Center. Vandiver, a professor of ocean and mechanical engineering and MIT's dean for undergraduate research, was one of Edgerton's graduate students in the 1960s and '70s. He was later instrumental in founding the Edgerton Center and has been its sole director. Among Edgerton's guiding principles: You have to try out your ideas for yourself, and you never get it right the first time around. "This is a very safe space to fail," said Jacqueline Sly '14. "Often, what the outside world is looking for is your reaction to failure and what kind of creativity you have." Sly took her MIT-acquired engineering know-how to NASA and is now an engineer in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Extreme Environment Robotics Group. The Edgerton Center had its beginnings in Building 4's Strobe Alley as a combination of the existing photography lab and workshop. It continues as a locus for high-speed imaging, "and there are still bullet holes in the wall" from when Edgerton photographed apples, soap bubbles, and other items getting shot, said Amy Smith, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering and founding director of the D-Lab at MIT. But the heart of the Edgerton Center nowadays lies in Area 51, a space directly behind the MIT Museum in Building 51. It's the headquarters for student engineering groups including the Robotics Team, the Rocket Team, the Solar Electric Vehicle Team, and Hyperloop, which is working on a prototype of a frictionless passenger vehicle that can zoom through an airless tube at 760 mph. Also on site is a fabrication facility with injection-molding and water jet cutting machines as well as computer numeric control (CNC) milling machines. As part of the anniversary celebration, team members showed off their creations to guests at an Area 51 open house. "A lot of things get thrown at you when you're a freshman, but one of the things that stuck to me was the Edgerton Center. I knew when I went to college that I wanted to build something and get my hands dirty," said sophomore Veronica LaBelle, captain of the Solar Electric Vehicle Team. Being part of a team working together on a long-term project (and in some cases, entering their machines in competitions around the world) creates tight bonds as well as fertile ground for learning from each other. "This deserves to be called way more than a makerspace," said sophomore Cheyenne Hua of the MIT Motorsports Team, which builds electric Formula-style race cars. "A lot of people call this building their home. We walk through each other's spaces and we might see something and say 'Whoa, that's cool — explain to me what you're doing!'" "The Edgerton Center is a living embodiment of so many attributes we loved about Doc ... [especially] the spirit that allowed students to go in and explore their passions," Provost Martin Schmidt said. Several of Doc Edgerton's descendants at the celebration remembered the same spirit of curiosity, enthusiasm, and generosity experienced by his MIT students and colleagues. "My granddad always encouraged hands-on exploration, which is what the Edgerton Center was built for," said Edgerton's granddaughter Ellen Law '86. "He was the most fun, charismatic, unassuming, loving, and loveable guy. It's hard to believe he was also a productive genius with the ability to combine science and art," said his grandniece Tracy Pogue. "How many people would have tried to capture the beauty of a hummingbird drinking nectar from a flower?" Edgerton's legacy of encouraging students to tinker and figure things out can be seen in ongoing clinics, workshops, and summer programs for young children and high school students — something Vandiver envisioned from the start. At the center's dedication in 1994, he said: "I want the Edgerton Center to be a window on MIT to the outside world so kids can say, 'That's neat; I want to go there.'"


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.sciencemag.org

In just half a day, a new type of robot built an igloo-shaped building half the diameter of the U.S. Capitol dome—all by itself. In the future, such autonomous machines could assemble entire towns, create wacky Dr. Seuss–like structures, and even prepare the moon for its first human colony. “It’s an impressive project,” says Matthias Kohler, an architect who studies autonomous construction at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, but was not involved in the work. People have experimented with many approaches to autonomous construction, and the scientists—a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) materials science and design focused Mediated Matter lab in Cambridge—weighed them all before designing their robot. Should their robot manufacture prefabricated parts in a distant factory? If it works on site, should it be crane-shaped? Should they create a swarm of builder drones? And what about the construction materials—should the robot assemble buildings from blocks? The scientists chose to go with a mobile, mechanical arm for easy customization and wider reach, and they decided to print buildings layer by layer, for more complex shapes. Their solution consists of a large hydraulic arm on motorized tanklike treads (which you can watch at work, above). At the end of the arm is a smaller electric arm for finer movements, armed with a suite of sensors for positioning and stability control, along with swappable tools for welding, digging, and printing. The combined reach of the arms is more than 10 meters. The Digital Construction Platform, as it’s called, also carries solar panels and batteries. To put the bot through its paces, the scientists programmed it to drive out of a warehouse and build an open-top dome using a method they developed called print-in-place: The electronic tip sprays a line of expanding foam that creates the outline of the structure. Layer by layer, the robot uses the foam to build up a hollow wall that serves as insulation and can later be filled with concrete and covered in plaster. To show its ability to print horizontally, the bot even added a bench to a wall. At 14.6 meters across, the structure is the largest building ever 3D-printed by a mobile robot, the researchers report today in . It’s also the fastest to be printed: 13.5 hours. Several elements of the new bot made the feat possible. For example, the group made an “interesting leap forward” by putting lasers at the end of the arm to sense the tip’s position and help it counteract any unwanted movement in the rest of the arm, instead of keeping the whole thing perfectly stable, Kohler says. The technique, which has never before been used in a construction bot, allows the entire machine to be lightweight and have a huge reach. David Wilson, a mechanical engineer and the chief innovation officer at Bechtel in Houston, Texas (the contractor responsible for the Hoover Dam), says that the micro-macro manipulators and print-in-place method offer new potential. Aside from the safety advantages, autonomous 3D printing is faster and more precise than manual construction. It can also maximize building strength and efficiency by placing material only where it’s needed, and it simplifies planning and logistics. Steven Keating, the MIT mechanical engineer who led the project, imagines seeing the exact time, cost, and structural integrity of a building before even hitting “print.” Robots also allow for almost any design you can dream up. “Instead of making a square building,” he says, “you can make a Dr. Seuss–looking building for the same cost.” The new robot can also build smaller structures from sand, compressed earth, metal chains (which it welds together), and even ice (which it deposits first as water). Such resourcefulness would be useful if it’s ever in a remote environment and has to build with whatever’s at hand. It can dig, sense various environmental cues including radiation (which could help it repair nuclear reactors), and print walls with variations in color or stiffness for further customization and efficiency. Keating would love to see the robot go to Mars, design a structure based on local ground and weather conditions, collect its own energy and materials, and then put up a house—or even a town. For the moment, the building machine still needs a little help from its human friends. At one point, dew settled on the dome, causing a layer of foam to slide off the structure before it could fully adhere. Keating had to swap out the printing tip for a chainsaw and backtrack. But because print-in-place uses standard materials, the MIT researchers say it can be used alongside traditional construction techniques, paving a path toward code certification. “We wanted to have the dream, the future vision,” Keating says, “and also something that we could implement right away.” Some people can hardly wait. The team has already been getting calls from NASA, the U.S. military, Google, and one guy who saw the dome and made a special request for a famous client: an underground basketball court.


After spending more than a year and a half living in space throughout her career, astronaut and International Space Station commander Peggy Whitson has received a congratulatory call from President Donald Trump to commemorate her record breaking time in orbit. During the chat they also happened to discuss drinking urine. “It’s really not as bad as it sounds,” Ms Whitson told Mr Trump about the recycling program on the International Space Station that converts astronaut urine into drinkable water. “Well, that’s good, I’m glad to hear that,” Mr Trump said. “Better you than me.” Donald Trump wants to put humans on Mars in three years Ms Whitson, 57, beat the previous US record of 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes spent in space. By the end of her current stint in space she will have spent 666 days in orbit between three space flights. She was already the most experienced female astronaut in US history and the oldest woman in space. “This is a very special day in the glorious history of American space flight,” Mr Trump said of her achievement, speaking from the Oval Office Monday with his daughter Ivanka seated near him. During the call, the two also discussed the importance of the International Space Station for deep space flights and NASA’s plans to send human expeditions to Mars in the 2030s. Mr Trump at one point mentioned that he’d like to see humans make it to Mars before the end of his first term in office, an unlikely scenario since plans for manned space flight to Mars tend to schedule such a flight in the 2030s. “Well, we want to try and do it during my first term, or, at worst, during my second term, so we’ll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?” Mr Trump said when discussing NASA’s development of a new rocket to carry astronauts farther than ever before. Trump’s interest in sending a manned flight to Mars isn’t anything new. Last month, after announcing sweeping cuts for much of the federal government, the president signed legislation authorising $19.5 billion in funding for NASA to help keep those plans on track. Russian astronaut Gennady Padalka holds the world record for most time spent in space, with 879 days.


News Article | April 20, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Astronomers have found yet another planet that seems to have just the right Goldilocks combination for life: Not so hot and not so cold. It's not so far away, either. This new, big, dense planet is rocky, like Earth, and has the right temperatures for water, putting it in the habitable zone for life, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature . It's the fifth such life-possible planet outside our solar system revealed in less than a year, but still relatively nearby Earth. Rocky planets within that habitable zone of a star are considered the best place to find evidence of some form of life. "It is astonishing to live in a time when discovery of potentially habitable worlds is not only common place but proliferating," said MIT astronomer Sara Seager, who wasn't part of the study. The first planet outside our solar system was discovered in 1995, but thanks to new techniques and especially NASA's planet-hunting Kepler telescope, the number of them has exploded in recent years. Astronomers have now identified 52 potentially habitable planets and more than 3,600 planets outside our solar system. The latest discovery, called LHS 1140b, regularly passes in front of its star, allowing astronomers to measure its size and mass. That makes astronomers more confident that this one is rocky, compared to other recent discoveries. In the next several years, new telescopes should be able to use the planet's path to spy its atmosphere in what could be the best-aimed search for signs of life, said Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, a co-author of the study. If scientists see both oxygen and some carbon in an atmosphere, that's a promising sign that something could be living. Outside astronomers have already put this new planet near the top of their must-see lists for new ground and space-based telescopes. "This is the first one where we actually know it's rocky," Charbonneau said. "We found a planet that we can actually study that might be actually Earth-like." Make that super-sized, because it belongs to a class of planets called super-Earths that are more massive than Earth but not quite the size of giants Neptune or Jupiter. Compared to Earth, the new planet is big, pushing near the size limit for rocky planets. It's 40 percent wider than Earth but it has 6.6 times Earth's mass, giving it a gravitational pull three times stronger, Charbonneau said. A person weighing 167 pounds would feel like 500 pounds on this planet. While many super-Earths are too big to have the right environment for life, 1140b is just small enough to make it a good candidate. Thirty-two of the potentially habitable planets found so far are considered super-Earth sized. The new planet was found using eight small telescopes in Chile and help from an amateur planet-hunter, Charbonneau said. In the constellation Cetus, it is 39 light years or 230 trillion miles away. So are a group of seven mostly Earth-sized planets in or near the habitable zone found circling a star called Trappist-1 earlier this year, but it in a different direction. And in August, astronomers found that the nearest planet to Earth outside our solar system, only 25 trillion miles away, also could have the right temperature for life, but astronomers can't get a peek at its atmosphere. "If you picture the Milky Way as the size of the United States, then these systems are all within the size of Central Park," Charbonneau said. "These are your neighbors." The latest discoveries have their founders at odds over which of the planets are the most promising. Charbonneau said recent studies show that the Trappist planets may not be rocky like Earth, while Trappist discoverer Michael Gillon said the newest planet has such intense gravity that its atmosphere may be smooshed down so telescopes can't get a good look at it. Seven outside astronomers said the Milky Way is big enough for all the discoveries to be exciting, requiring more exploring. Yale astronomer Greg Laughlin, who wasn't part of any of the teams, praised all the new findings but said the Trappist planets seem too light and the new one too dense for his taste: "I wouldn't book a trip to any of these planets." You Might Also Like


News Article | April 7, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA’s New Horizons probe has reached the halfway point between Pluto and its second target for flyby, a remote Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69. New Horizons reached this milestone at midnight UTC last April 3, at a distance of 486.19 million miles from Pluto and the same distance to the distant asteroid. New Horizons targets swooping past MU69, which is almost 1 billion miles beyond Pluto, on Jan. 1, 2019. This will mark another record for space exploration. “That flyby will set the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization,” noted principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in a statement, dubbing it “fantastic” to have already accomplished half the journey to the next flyby. The probe’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) will start to observe MU69 in September. And while it continues to zoom along, the spacecraft is slightly slowing down as it gets more distant from the sun. At any rate, it is still speeding through the Kuiper Belt at around 32,000 miles each hour. Also for the first time since December 2014, New Horizons will enter a five-month hibernation later in the week as it faces 466 million miles more into its mission. Given the groundbreaking Pluto flyby and the 16-month transmission of data obtained from Pluto, the spacecraft had to stay “awake” for over 2.5 years. While awake, New Horizons’ instruments also observed 12 Kuiper Belt objects, studied dust as well as charged particles in the solar system’s twilight zone, and evaluated hydrogen gas in the heliosphere, a massive region surrounding the sun through which solar wind reaches and the sun maintains a magnetic effect. The New Horizons probe arrived at Pluto back in July 2015 after launching from Cape Canaveral in Florida in January 2006. It serves as Pluto’s first guest from Earth. At present, it is 3.5 billion miles from our planet, and it takes radio signals five hours and 20 minutes to get from the Johns Hopkins University control center in Maryland to the spacecraft. The discoveries made by New Horizons in the form of images and space environment data have enhanced scientists’ knowledge of the Pluto system and offer enough signs and indicators of what can be expected from Kuiper Belt. They hold solid value as Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, are considered ice dwarfs and distinguished by solid surfaces. Researchers have long speculated whether the great ball of ice could also be capable of hosting life. Regarding New Horizons’ wealth of findings, Stern has a couple of favorites, including atmospheric hazes and lower atmospheric escape demolishing previous flyby models; indications of an internal water-ice ocean; and the gradual demystifying of the dark, red polar cap of Charon, to name a few. The probe successfully imaged a weird and snakeskin-looking terrain on Pluto, or icy ridges that are around 1,650 feet tall and similar to Earth’s “penitentes” or bowl-shaped depressions manifesting in cold mountain regions. Apart from having these Earth-like icy ridges, the dwarf planet has also been found to host exotic icy mountains, a blue sky, and an actively evolving surface. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

New research has found that the distribution of mass in galaxy clusters can be explained by dark matter that's both fuzzy and in excited states (Credit: richter1910/Depositphotos ) Even though it's suspected of making up about 85 percent of the matter in the observable universe, dark matter is a mysterious beast. It's effectively invisible and can only be detected through its interactions with ordinary matter, but that hasn't stopped scientists from trying to understand just what it is and how it behaves. Now, using data gathered from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have found that the best way to explain how matter clumps together in galaxies is with a model of dark matter that's both fuzzy and excited. Dark matter gets its name from the fact that it doesn't interact with light at all, which renders it invisible to us. In fact, we only know (or at least, strongly suspect) that it exists because its gravity affects the visible parts of the cosmos, and it conveniently plugs a few other holes in our understanding of the universe. Past research has suggested that it forms "hairs" around planets, connects galaxy clusters in filaments, and could play a key role in Earth's mass extinction cycle. The most commonly accepted theory says that dark matter is "cold", which means that its particles move much slower than the speed of light. This theory is useful because it helps explain how the universe became so "lumpy." Shortly after the Big Bang, the universe is thought to have been relatively smooth, with matter distributed fairly evenly, but today it tends to clump together into galaxies and clusters of galaxies. If dark matter is cold, then as the universe expanded, pockets of it slowed down and eventually recollapsed, creating more dense sections. Ordinary (or baryonic) matter is attracted to dark matter so it will tend to gather in these areas as well, creating galaxies as we know them. But handy as it is for explaining the structure of the universe on an intergalactic scale, the cold dark matter theory falls apart when it's applied to how matter is distributed inside a given galaxy. According to the theory, both dark and regular matter should be most dense right in the center of a galaxy, but observations show that isn't the case. Instead, it tends to spread out more evenly. Fuzzy dark matter, on the other hand, helps solve that problem. For this work, the researchers assumed that dark matter is made up of extremely light particles, with a mass about ten thousand trillion trillion times smaller than that of an electron. If this is the case, the particle's wavelength of light would be about 3,000 light-years long, meaning if you could see these particles, they would appear very fuzzy – hence the name. The theory of fuzzy dark matter itself comes in two flavors: in the more simple version, all particles have the lowest possible energy, but a more complex version says that the particles can have different amounts of energy, called "excited states." For this study, the astronomers applied both models to 13 galaxy clusters, to test how well the theories explained what was observed. Based on data gathered by Chandra, the team estimated how much dark matter would be present in each cluster, and how it's spread out from the center. Based on that data, the researchers concluded that the more simple model doesn't work, but the excited states model does agree with observations, in some cases even better than the standard cold dark matter idea. While the researchers are encouraged by their findings, they point out that more work needs to be done to properly test the model. In particular, they say that the excited states should produce ripples that can be detected in the density of normal matter, and spotting this effect would help confirm the theory. The research was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


A new government audit reveals that NASA is running low on spacesuits and new ones might not be available in time. Astronauts have been using the same suits since 1981. The suit were only designed to last 15 years, but NASA was able to extend the lifetime during Shuttle era by returning the suits to Earth for regular repairs. Without the Shuttles, NASA has no way or returning the suits so they are kept on the space station. And recent incidents show that these suits are well past their due date. The biggest problem is the primary life support systems, which are the large backpacks that astronauts wear during spacewalks. In 2013, one of the units malfunctioned while an astronaut was in space. First Italian astronaut, Luca Parmitano, had a leak in one of the units that supplied water water to the suit. The water spilled over into his ventilation, which caused his helmet to start filling with water. By the time he reached safety back on the station, over a liter of water had filled his helmet, entering his mouth, ears, nose, and eyes. Ultimately, he was unharmed. In recent years, NASA has had 2 other water-related incidents, though not as severe as Parmitano’s. Today, only 11 of the 18 life support systems are considered safe to use. But those units may not even last long enough. NASA plans to continue sending astronauts to the ISS to at least 2024. These astronaut will need safe, functioning spacesuits to perform spacewalks that are critical for maintaining the space station. The main concern is that the remaining 11 life support systems will not last to 2024. Over the last decade, NASA has invested nearly $200 million toward developing new and better spacesuits. However, because NASA's budget and missions mainly rely on government funding, its focus has changed numerous times over the years from Moon-focused to Mars-focused. And since different environments in space require different types of spacesuit protection, it was impossible for the space agency to stick to just one spacesuit design. As a result, NASA divided its funding across three companies: $135.6 million toward the Constellation Space Suit System, $51.6 million to Advanced Space Suit Project, and $12 million for the Orion Crew Survival System. None of the three companies have had enough funding to complete and develop a new spacesuit, yet. The report recommends that NASA develop a formal plan that fits their immediate needs. It also suggests that NASA determine if current spacesuit designs can meet the agency’s needs, or if next-generation suits are necessary. The clock is ticking. NASA has already scheduled 17 spacewalks between now and 2020.


The race to become the first private group to make a landing on the moon is underway, and a European team of scientists are planning for that event. The team, known as PTScientists, developed two rovers and a landing module, it plans to launch on board the SpaceX-owned Falcon 9 rocket in 2018. The expedition plans to land in the Taurus-Littrow valley, which is in a 2-mile radius of the site of the Apollo 17 mission. The scientists are primarily going to search for NASA's moon buggy, which remained on the Earth's satellite since 1971. The buggy or LRV is a battery-operated four wheeler rover used while on an expedition to the moon. It was used for the last three missions of the Apollo Programs by the American government in 1971 and 1972. PTScientists' mission will look for the lost buggy on the moon's surface, and will also try to establish the condition it is in after all these years. On March 19, the scientists announced that they will be collaborating with telecommunications company Vodafone, to find communication solutions during the length of the mission. "This is a crucial first step for sustainable exploration of the solar system. In order for humanity to leave the cradle of Earth, we need to develop infrastructures beyond our home planet," said Robert Boehme, CEO of PTScientists. PTScientists has been researching on its lander, which is an independent navigation and landing module, and two rovers since the last two years. These rovers will be solar operated and have been developed by Audi. This device will be able to move around the lunar surface at 2.2 miles per hour. The rovers include two stereo cameras that are able to click 3D images. It also has a third camera which has the ability to record and capture panoramic images. PTScientists were part of a global competition known as Google Lunar X Prize, whose winning reward is about $30 million. The competition is tough as countries from all around the globe participate. To win the competition, teams have to become the first one to reach the moon, to investigate, and send images and videos back to Earth. PTScientists need to launch their expedition before the end of 2017 to remain in the running for the competition. However, the team would not be able to meet this deadline and so has been disqualified from the competition. The team, however, is positive that it can become the first private company to reach the moon, especially after Vodafone stepped in to help it with the communication aspects. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | March 21, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Spring has come in the Northern Hemisphere, amid snow still tightly gripping many part of the region. Spring equinox, or the yearly celestial alignment happening between Earth and sun, announced this shift in seasons and the arrival of spring. The phenomenon took place in March 20, Monday, at 6:28 a.m. Eastern time. Twice every year, Earth gets to a point in its annual trip around the sun when its Northern and Southern hemispheres obtain the same dose of daylight, called equinox or “equal night” in Latin. The Northern Hemisphere’s spring equinox also heralds the start of fall in the Southern Hemisphere. Its autumnal equinox, on the other hand, takes place in September and signals the arrival of spring south of the equator. Daylight is nearly always unequally distributed across Earth due to the way the planet orbits the sun. One of the Northern and Southern hemispheres is receiving daylight longer during a 24-hour period. "During two special times twice a year, the tilt is actually perpendicular to the sun, which means that Earth is equally illuminated in the Northern and Southern hemispheres," explained C. Alex Young of Heliophysics Science at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to Live Science. It remains unclear at what exact point ancient civilizations were first made aware of this occurrence. Humans, however, have been erecting structures for thousands of years in order to observe the sun and sky’s changing positions relative to the seasons. Spacecraft today, though, offer planetary views that capture light distribution across the planet's surface and can very well see the effect of an equinox, Young added. Satellites established in space offer long-range perspectives of the planet, including the extent of cloud cover, water bodies, and landmasses. During equinoxes, for instance, both hemispheres are lit up equally. It’s not just the annual equinoxes that can take one’s breath away. This year, a rare solar alignment is anticipated: a total solar eclipse seen across the entire country on Aug. 21. It will be the first of its kind in almost four decades. The total solar eclipse will move across the United States for around 90 minutes, offering scientists the chance to study complex sun-Earth connection because of the eclipse’s long path over land. “The path of the total eclipse crosses the U.S. from coast to coast, so scientists will be able to take ground-based observations over a period of more than an hour to complement the wealth of data provided by NASA satellites,” NASA said in a statement. In a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks out the sun’s brightness, revealing the corona or the faint solar atmosphere. The space agency continues to observe the sun even without anticipated eclipses. Its Heliophysics System Observatory (HSO), comprising 23 spacecraft and 20 missions, take care of this mission. In 2018, it expects a more intimate look at the sun via Solar Probe Plus, an unmanned space probe flying closer to the sun than any other man-made object. It will explore why the corona is way hotter than its surface, and what leads the sun to give off different high-energy particles that can pose risks to astronauts and space vehicles. Going back to springtime, U.S. forecasters are predicting balmy weather for much of the season, but not before winter keeps striking in sections of the Northeast and the Midwest, reported CS Monitor. The flowers may already be pretty, but you may also want to delay breaking out the picnic basket if you are one of the 50 million Americans battling seasonal allergies. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 13, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has entered its first hibernation phase on April 7 and it will last until early September. The spacecraft is known for having performed the first-ever flyby of Pluto back in 2015. Approximately two and a half years of activity it never needed rest. New Horizons is now about 3.5 billion miles away from Earth. The radio signals took more than five hours of travel at the speed of light to reach the APL mission operations center through NASA's Deep Space Network. New Horizons has been awake for 852 days, which is the longest the shuttle has remained active since it was launched back in January 2006. The benefit of New Horizons' hibernation process is that the shuttle will need less monitoring from the mission control on Earth, which is extremely important. The team is working on getting the next task ready for the spacecraft. The following mission will consist of flying by an icy body at the edge of the Solar System that's never been visited before. "It frees up our small team to work on the flyby sequence, and that's really the main reason we do it," noted Alice Bowman, New Horizons' mission operations manager. New Horizons will meet up with an object called 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. The icy object was discovered back in 2014 and it is located in the Kuiper Belt - a massive cloud of small space rocks orbiting beyond Neptune. This flyby target is very exciting for the team. It was selected in August 2015 before New Horizons managed to complete its Pluto flyby, but it was only approved by NASA in 2016. It's highly important for the shuttle to be at its best during this mission, as we've never visited any other similar object in the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons will have to ace many commands during this mission, and understanding the processes needed to complete it will be a complex process. The sleep mode allows it to make this entire transition easier. When the spacecraft is active, it needs a great deal of maintenance. Every three or four times a week, it needs a check-up and additional command needs uploading every two weeks. Because every command has to be checked for the crew to make sure it's optimal, keeping the spacecraft working requires a large volume of work, which makes this hibernation process a small breath of fresh air for the team. As round-trip communication with the New Horizons takes more than 10 hours because of the spacecraft's distance from Earth, every command has to be checked numerous times, and the interval necessary for the command to be recorded also causes a delay in the shuttle's functioning. All these processes turn communication and maintenance into very complex processes. However, the spacecraft only needs one check in every week and an additional monthly update about its safety and well-functioning. The hibernation process doesn't require the team to constantly upload new commands, as most of the spacecraft is unpowered. The onboard flight computer can monitor the system and broadcast the status. NASA has practiced hibernation for a long time now, and it's been proven to be highly efficient. The process spares resources, both from the wear and tear of the spacecraft and from the teams that coordinate the projects from Earth. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 8, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Small asteroids pass by Earth quite frequently, but NASA is reporting that a much larger asteroid will fly close to the planet on April 19. The hefty asteroid in question was discovered three years ago and has been dubbed 2014 JO25. Scientists at the Catalina Sky Survey, Arizona, discovered the 2014 JO25 asteroid in May 2014. This project is part of NASA's NEO Observations Program. Following the discovery, the astronomers used special equipment to estimate the size of the asteroid. It was found that 2014 JO25 is around 2,000 feet in size and its surface is almost twice as reflective as the moon. However, apart from its trajectory, scientists are unaware of any physical properties of the asteroid. On April 19, the massive asteroid will fly past the Earth — at a distance of around 1.1 million miles. This is equivalent to 4.6 times the distance from the Earth to the moon. Luckily, there is no danger or possibility of the asteroid colliding with the Earth. Nonetheless, it will pass "very close" to the Earth per NASA officials. This is the closest that an asteroid of this size will pass the Earth, since Toutatis in September 2004. Toutatis was a 3.1-mile sized asteroid, which crossed Earth at a distance equal to four times that of the moon from the planet. Scientists at NASA also predict that the next asteroid of such a large stature, which will pass by the planet will be the 1999 AN10. This asteroid will cross Earth in 2027, at a distance of around 236,000 miles. The last time that 2014 JO25 approached this close to the Earth was estimated to be at least 400 years ago. Astronomers believe that it will take another 500 years for it to return to such a close proximity. The 2014 JO25 will approach Earth from the direction of the Sun and will be visible at night, after April 19. The asteroid is expected to brighten considerably as it passes by the planet, giving people an opportunity to catch a glimpse of it. People will be able to see it with the help of small optical telescopes for one or two nights, before it disappears into the distance once again. On April 19, another celestial body, namely the comet PanSTARRS will also come to its closest proximity to Earth. The comet will approach Earth at a safe distance of roughly 109 million miles. This comet, which was discovered is 2015, can be viewed at dawn using a telescope or with binoculars. Check out the video below, which gives an artist's impression on how asteroid 2014 JO25 will pass by the Earth. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | March 9, 2017
Site: boingboing.net

These eyelash-sized bits of minerals found in rock from northern Quebec may be the oldest traces of life ever found. The tubes of hematite are 4.28 billion years old, beating out 3.7 billion year old microbial remains found in Greenland. Nadia Drake tells the story at National Geographic: The microfossils also lend support to the idea that the warm, watery, mineral-rich neighborhoods around submerged vents are prime places for life to emerge, whether on this planet, on the seafloors of icy moons, or elsewhere in the universe.... “If indeed their analyses and interpretations are correct, then life arose rapidly on Earth, soon after the planet itself began to stabilize,” says astrobiologist Kevin Hand of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “As the froth of geology began to cool, biology established its role as a planetary process.” But while the fossils are clad in iron, they might not be iron-clad evidence of ancient life. Some scientists doubt that they are the remains of microbes at all. Others note that the age of the crystals cradling the potential microfossils is controversial, and the structures may be more than a billion years younger than reported.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Financial challenges are causing NASA to most likely postpone its first two exploration missions to Mars — EM-1 and EM-2. The impending delay was announced by the agency's Office of Inspector General. NASA officials also state the agency's plan to send astronauts to Mars has met technical difficulties as well. Initially scheduled for November 2018, the two launches of the Orion spacecraft aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) will probably have to wait a while longer, as NASA strives to overcome the hurdles of preparing for the intrepid journey to the red planet. The first exploratory mission to Mars, EM-1, is currently set to send the Orion capsule — which will be unmanned during its first mission — into lunar orbit next year, at the beginning of November. The second trip beyond Earth's orbit, EM-2, is to follow it soon afterward. Scheduled for August 2021, this will be the first crewed mission of the Orion on the SLS mega rocket. Nevertheless, a nine-month audit undertaken by NASA disclosed a series of predicaments connected with both the Orion and the SLS rocket, as well as associated ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "NASA's initial exploration missions on its Journey to Mars — EM-1 and EM-2 — face multiple cost and technical challenges that likely will affect their planned launch dates," NASA officials said in a statement. The agency's report shows the technical problems are linked to the service module developed for the Orion capsule, which was supplied entirely by the European Space Agency. Work on the service module has been delayed, setting the entire mission off schedule. In addition, the capsule's heat shield has suffered some design modifications. As per NASA's report, these changes can potentially pose a technical risk to the mission's success. Another complication revealed by the audit is the lag in software development for the SLS — the biggest and most powerful rocket ever built. Software setbacks were also reported for the Orion and the ground systems. "We are concerned NASA will not be able to resolve all necessary software validation and verification efforts in time to meet a November 2018 launch date for EM-1," the report said. NASA's human exploration missions to Mars may also face budget and time constraints. Work on the SLS has already consumed nearly all of the 11 months of schedule reserve it originally had. The remaining 30 more days of scheduled work time may prove insufficient to meet the November 2018 launch date. The total cost of the Orion, SLS, and ground systems is expected to reach $23 billion, while EM-2 alone will likely exceed the sum of $33 billion. Furthermore, to achieve the goal of sending astronauts near Mars in the 2030s, NASA needs to complete the development of "a deep space habitat, in-space transportation, and Mars landing and ascent vehicles" during the next decade, the audit report notes. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


For the last 13 years, a NASA spacecraft the size of a school bus has been whirling around Saturn, collecting data and snapping mesmerizing images of the ringed planet and its icy moons. That vehicle is Cassini, and its exploration of Saturn has led to some of the biggest discoveries ever made about the worlds in our Solar System. But as accomplished as this spacecraft is, it’s time for its life to end: this weekend, Cassini will change course and embark on a new path around Saturn — one that will eventually lead to the probe’s destruction. Cassini’s demise is an important part of NASA’s mission plan. After all this time, the vehicle is running low on fuel, which means NASA will eventually lose the ability to maneuver it. And the agency doesn’t want to risk Cassini going somewhere it shouldn’t. Saturn’s ocean moon Enceladus and the moon Titan, which is covered in lakes of methane, could be home to alien life. If left unchecked, Cassini could potentially wander too close to these moons and contaminate them with Earth microbes, ruining our chances of finding pristine extraterrestrial organisms elsewhere in the Solar System. The safest bet is to send the spacecraft hurtling toward Saturn, where it will burn and break apart. The safest bet is to send the spacecraft hurtling toward Saturn, where it will burn and break apart But before that happens, there’s still a lot Cassini will do. Early Saturday morning, the vehicle will fly close by Titan, a move that will send the spacecraft plunging between Saturn and its rings. That will put Cassini in its closest orbit yet around the planet, bringing it within roughly 1,840 miles of Saturn’s atmosphere. The probe will complete 22 full orbits at this altitude, one every seven days — a phase known as the Grand Finale. At this time, the probe will be getting an up-close taste of Saturn’s atmosphere, as well as some of the most precise measurements of the planet’s magnetic and gravitational fields. It’s key science that wouldn’t happen unless Cassini was on a course for destruction. “The emotional response runs full spectrum,” Earl Maize, the Cassini program manager, tells The Verge. “You come in and look at the images we’re doing and the excitement of the science coming up. It’s a great sense of pride, but then after that it’s going to be over.” In fact, in mid-September, the planet’s gravitational pull will eventually draw Cassini inward, and the spacecraft will smash into the world it has been exploring. Whatever Cassini finds during the Grand Finale will add to what has already been an impressive mission in the outer Solar System. Launched in 1997, Cassini spent seven years traveling through space before inserting itself into Saturn’s orbit in July 2004. And since then, the spacecraft has boasted one major discovery after the next. The probe is the reason we know there’s a liquid ocean underneath the surface of Enceladus, for instance, and that this water periodically erupts through the moon’s crust in the form of plumes. Just recently, NASA announced that Cassini had found hydrogen in those plumes — a strong indicator of hot spots on the moon’s ocean floor. That means Enceladus could be a prime place for alien life to thrive. The spacecraft has boasted one major discovery after the next Cassini was also responsible for carrying a lander to Saturn known as the Huygens probe, which traveled to the surface of Titan in 2005. Built by the European Space Agency, this probe was a big motivation for sending Cassini to Saturn in the first place. Scientists were super curious about Titan, a cloudy moon with an intriguing chemical makeup and suspected methane lakes. “It has just the right chemicals that you might imagine life needing here on Earth,” Scott Edgington, the deputy project scientist for Cassini, tells The Verge. “But you couldn’t see through the surface or see through the weather patterns.” The Huygens probe gave scientists their first up-close look at the surface of Titan. To study Saturn, Cassini has taken an incredibly intricate path around the planet. The spacecraft has shifted orbits numerous times, in order to fly close by Saturn’s rings or one of the planet’s many moons. The goal was also to cover as much territory as possible while trying to conserve Cassini’s propellant. So Cassini’s path looks a bit messy. “Imagine a big ball of yarn that’s all knotted,” says Edgington. “In order to satisfy everyone’s requests, you have to come up with these orbits that look complicated.” Actually, tomorrow will be just a routine maneuver for Cassini. It’s the spacecraft’s 127th — and last — flyby of Titan. But Cassini will also use Titan’s gravity to shift into its final orbit between Saturn and the planet’s rings, something that’s never been done before. That part doesn’t necessarily worry the mission team, though. “We have no doubt that Titan will put us into that gap,” says Maize. “What we have less certainty about is what’s in that gap.” Cassini will also use Titan’s gravity to shift into its final orbit The region between Saturn and its rings has never been explored before, and there’s some uncertainty about what Cassini will encounter there. There’s always a chance that Cassini could be knocked out by a large enough particle coming from the rings. And the team won’t know right away if the spacecraft has survived its first “ring crossing.” Cassini will make its first pass at around 5AM ET on April 26th, collecting data and using its antenna as a shield against any particles. The spacecraft will then send a message to Earth nearly a day later. The team won’t get that “I’m still alive” message until 3:10AM ET on April 27th. “We’ll all be waiting for that signal,” says Maize. If it survives, Cassini will do the same orbit all over again — about once a week until September 15th. During these trips, Cassini will be directly sampling Saturn’s atmosphere, as well as getting more precise measurements about the planet’s mass. Scientists don’t really know, for instance, how much Saturn’s rings weigh versus how much the planet weighs. But traveling in the ring gap will allow Cassini to better separate the two measurements. And the probe will also be sampling something called ring rain — particles that escape from Saturn’s rings and flow into the planet itself. This will give scientists an even better understanding of what the rings are made of. But as Cassini makes each orbit around Saturn, it crosses Titan’s orbit every time. And that pushes Cassini a little bit — either closer to the rings or deeper into Saturn’s atmosphere. During the final five orbits, Titan will push Cassini quite close to the atmosphere, and there’s a possibility that the mission team will have to use its last bits of propellant to slightly adjust course and keep the vehicle afloat. But that will be it. At some point, Saturn’s gravity will become too much and Cassini will make its death dive. “I’m sure everyone will be taking bets on when the last signal will be heard from Cassini,” says Edgington, who added that the moment would be very emotional for everyone involved too. “[The spacecraft] has been home to me for 15 plus years now.” “Cassini will leave a legacy that is going to influence our exploration of the outer planets for a long time to come.” That reality is still nearly five months away, though, so it’s not time to mourn the spacecraft just yet. Plus, once Cassini is gone, there’ll still be a lot of data to analyze. Edgington expects that work to continue for many years, maybe even longer than the spacecraft has been exploring Saturn. There’s also a lot of incentive to send something else to the planetary system now. Cassini’s discoveries at Enceladus and Titan have just made the moons even more tantalizing places to search for alien life, proving that habitable worlds don’t necessarily have to look like Earth. “Cassini will leave a legacy that is going to influence our exploration of the outer planets for a long time to come,” says Edgington.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: phys.org

As with most other telescopes, astronomers apply for observing time on SOFIA by submitting proposals that are being evaluated by peers for their scientific promise and intellectual merits. SOFIA, however, is special in that observers also can apply to be onboard during an observation run. Kate Su of the University of Arizona talked about what it was like to be aboard NASA's flying observatory while the telescope was trained on the object of her scientific interest. Q: What is your motivation to study planetary systems like Epsilon Eridani? A: Epsilon Eridani is the closest star that hosts a debris disk. Therefore, many consider it to be the Rosetta Stone for sunlike planetary systems. At 800 million years, it's much younger than our sun (800 million versus 4.5 billion years), so we think it has properties similar to the early sun. Its proximity makes it a prime target to perform high angular resolution research to understand the early evolution of our solar system. Q: What are the advantages of SOFIA compared to ground-based and space telescopes? A: Being able to be above most of the Earth's atmosphere, SOFIA can operate at wavelengths that can't be observed from the ground, especially the mid-infrared wavelength that the warm debris dust emits most efficiently. I am interested in the inner debris zone around Epsilon Eridani where warm dust emission was originally discovered by Spitzer (an infrared space observatory). Therefore, SOFIA is an obvious choice to do follow-up work for Epsilon Eridani. Q: What was it like to fly on the SOFIA plane? A: Guest observers like me have to complete a safety training about the emergency procedure onboard the aircraft on the day before the flight. The airplane looks like a normal commercial plane from outside, but it's totally different inside. There are a few first-class seats available in the front of the cabin for education outreach. The rest of the cabin is like a big cargo hall where many computers and equipment are located, just like a normal control room of an observatory, except that everybody needs to wear headphones with a mic to communicate during the flight. It was very cold inside the cabin, not like a commercial airplane at all. Q: What scientific questions came out of this project? What is next in your research? A: The original Spitzer discovery suggests the Epsilon Eridani system is complex, with multiple dust zones similar to our solar system. However, the spatial resolution of Spitzer was pretty poor, so there are other alternatives to explain the data with a simpler dust distribution. SOFIA has a larger telescope, i.e., a better spatial resolution. With the SOFIA data, we are able to show the Epsilon Eridani system is indeed more like our solar system that has a population of leftover planetesimals in the inner region. These leftover planetesimals can be distributed in one broad region or two narrow belt-like regions, with the inner one similar to our own asteroid belt and outer one at about 10 to 15 astronomical units, which in our solar system falls into the region between Saturn and Uranus. SOFIA's resolution is not high enough to differentiate the two distributions. However, the soon-to-be launched James Webb Space Telescope has a very sharp infrared vision that will pin down the location of dust debris and resolve the detailed structure of the inner debris zone. Explore further: Astronomers confirm nearby star a good model of our early solar system


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: phys.org

Designed and built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the instrument tracks levels of methane and carbon dioxide, two gases crucial for studying the chemistry of Earth's atmosphere. Portable and nearly self-contained, the unit could represent the start of a low-cost global network to provide atmospheric monitoring even in hard-to-reach locations. Recently, a Goddard team deployed the instrument for field testing high on Mauna Loa, in a remote region considered an analog site for Mars. There, the instrument is being maintained by the crew living in the habitat known as HI-SEAS—short for Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, a NASA-funded project run by the University of Hawai'i at Manoa to help prepare for the possibility of long-duration missions on the surfaces of other planets or moons. "The partnership with HI-SEAS gives us a unique opportunity to test our instrument's performance and, at the same time, to help train the team to maintain and operate equipment under challenging conditions similar to those that explorers would face," said Goddard scientist Emily Wilson, who developed the instrument. Called the miniaturized laser heterodyne radiometer, or mini-LHR, the instrument measures the total amount of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmospheric column, which is essentially a straight line from the ground to the top of the atmosphere. The system is passive, collecting only sunlight, and nothing leaves the unit—not even stray light. The instrument has sensitivities as low as 1 part per million for carbon dioxide and 10 parts per billion for methane. Inside the unit, the sunlight gets mixed with a laser beam in a technique that's similar to the way an FM radio receiver operates. Instead of an antenna, the instrument is equipped with a telescope. To boost its sensitivity to weak signals, the mini-LHR carries a tiny infrared laser, like those used in telecommunications. Atmospheric gases are identified by the absorption of light at particular infrared wavelengths; the pattern for each gas is as unique as a fingerprint. Right now, the instrument monitors carbon dioxide and methane, but it could be set up to track carbon monoxide and water vapor, as well. Goddard's Jacob Bleacher, a planetary geologist collaborating with Wilson, envisions a time when instruments like this might be deployed on the surface of another world. "We foresee a need for instrument packages designed for environmental monitoring at and around human landing sites on Mars or other planetary surfaces," said Bleacher. "To preserve our ability to conduct research in those locations, we will need to establish what the environment was like before human arrival and to monitor it the entire time humans are present." Wilson partnered with Bleacher to develop a protocol to train the HI-SEAS crew to use the mini-LHR. Bleacher also will conduct follow-up studies to assess the effectiveness of the HI-SEAS training. The challenging part of the training was that Wilson's team couldn't meet or speak to the HI-SEAS crew in person. That's because the 8-month habitat mission requires the crew to live the kind of confined, regimented lifestyle that future Mars astronauts might experience. They carry out scientific research and geological field work while carefully managing their consumption of food, water and power. The six-person team eats, sleeps and works in a dome that has about 1,200 square feet of floor space—the rough equivalent of a two-bedroom apartment. The team conducts all communication either by email, with messages delayed by 20 minutes to simulate the travel time between Earth and Mars, or through a video link similar to the one used for the International Space Station. Whenever the crew exits the habitat, they wear full body suits, including helmets and gloves. The decision not to train the HI-SEAS team to operate the mini-LHR before their mission began was intentional. "Long-duration human stays on Mars will likely involve situations in which the crew would want to use the hardware available to them in new ways or for new purposes," said Bryan Caldwell, the HI-SEAS project manager. "Additional training would have to be done remotely in a situation like that." At least once a week now, team members suit up and trek a quarter-mile across a rock-strewn expanse of solidified lava to check on Wilson's instrument and download the data onto a memory stick. To make it possible to do that while wearing bulky gloves, A. J. DiGregorio, a member of Wilson's team, equipped the unit with a touch screen and stylus, similar to the signature pads used in checkout lines at stores. After the EVA, or extravehicular activity, is done, the team members return to the habitat and upload the data to share with Wilson's team. So far, Wilson is pleased with the data she has seen, and soon she will start comparing the readings to other data sets, such as the carbon dioxide measurements that have been made on Mauna Loa since 1958. In the meantime, Wilson's team continues to focus on miniaturizing the mini-LHR's components. Her goal is to deploy a network of instruments, first on Earth and later, well, even the sky isn't the limit. Explore further: After four months on simulated Mars, HI-SEAS team is as strong as ever


News Article | April 8, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

After amateur astronomers identified four potential Planet Nine candidates, another crowdsourcing astronomy event led to the discovery of four previously unknown gigantic planets orbiting a nearby star. Australian scientists recruited volunteers to take part in ABC's Stargazing Live event and search for exoplanets among the enormous heap of data recorded by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. The information comprises observations of nearly 100,000 stars and could be consulted on the Zooniverse website. In just 48 hours, more than 7,000 participants to the Zooniverse project, called Exoplanet Explorers, managed to confirm more than 90 new planets in an arduous exercise of cataloging points of interest from the downloaded data. Amid all the new discoveries, four never-before-seen planets stood out as the most interesting find and will soon be the subject of a published paper, announces the website. "In the seven years I've been making Stargazing Live this is the most significant scientific discovery we've ever made. The results are astonishing," says astrophysicist Chris Lintott, a professor at Oxford University and the lead investigator from Zooniverse. The newly discovered planetary system was found 600 light-years away in the Aquarius constellation, and is made up of four exoplanets bigger than Earth but smaller than Uranus and Neptune - which classifies them as super-Earths. Their size is more than double compared with our home planet and they are currently found in orbit around a star 90 percent the mass of our sun. The star database revealed these planets are crammed together and sit much closer to their star than Mercury is to the sun, making them extremely hot worlds. Lintott points out that their high temperature, together with the fact they are presumably rocky, makes them unfit for human life. Fresh readings from the Kepler telescope showed the four planets orbit their star once every three to 13 days. "The closest of them whips around in just three-and-a-half days, so a year is only three-and-a-half days long," explains Lintott. Because the new solar system is so much different from our own, this important discovery could shed more light into how planets take shape. Only one or two other similar solar systems have ever been encountered, making the new data highly valuable to the scientific community. Because the four planets are packed in close proximity to one another, scientists are hoping to find more exoplanets in the star's vicinity. The Exoplanet Explorers project is the first time citizen scientists have been able to collaborate and classify fresh data from Kepler. The amateur astronomers combed through data on the brightness of distant stars, looking for blinking patterns that point to a planet in transit. When planets pass in front of stars as they follow their orbit, the star's emitted light grows paler as seen from Earth. These small changes in light can be difficult to spot and, according to Astronomy Magazine, are often best left to humans to discern, as opposed to computers. Such citizen science projects rely on sheer numbers to find real objects, meaning the more people identify a planet, the more chances are the planet is in fact real. The gathered observations were analyzed by scientific teams in multiple countries afterward. In no more than two days, the thousands of volunteers taking part in Exoplanet Explorers provided the amount of investigation "equivalent of a single astronomer working for a couple of years straight, no coffee breaks, no nipping to the loo," says Lintott. guar One of the amateur astronomers who found the four super-Earths is Andrew Grey, a 26-year-old Australian mechanic from Darwin, who will soon see his name on the published scientific paper pertaining to this discovery. "It's definitely my first scientific publication," said Grey, who told ABC he cataloged around 1,000 stars just in the first night. All the volunteers that contributed to the find will be credited in the study, notes Zooniverse. Other notable results of the project include the detection of a Jupiter-sized planet 700 light-years away that orbits its star every 24 days, as well as an Earth-sized planet (the smallest one discovered) that only needs 2.2 days to complete its orbit. The closest planet found was another super-Earth 390 light-years away that orbits its red dwarf star every seven days. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 25, 2017
Site: phys.org

It's springtime and the deployed primary mirror of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope looks like a spring flower in full bloom.


News Article | April 3, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA’s Earth sciences program is not exactly in the Trump administration’s good graces, with grim funding prospects as revealed by a blueprint of the White House’s 2018 requests. Based on the document, it will receive $1.8 billion, a cut of $102 million or about 5 percent from its 2016 budget level. Despite the proposed budget reduction, however, NASA officials are confident that the Earth sciences program is still a go, with no major disruptions in sight. The blueprint, also dubbed the “skinny” budget, harbored plans to terminate four missions currently under development, namely the ocean-monitoring PACE satellite, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 instruments for the International Space Station, the Deep Space Climate Observatory, and the CLARREO Pathfinder for measuring heat levels in our atmosphere. But at a March 30 NASA Advisory Council meeting, NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot was quick to acknowledge the planned cuts while putting emphasis away from their possible effects. “Overall, I’d say science funding was stable at the topline, although some missions in development will clearly not go forward in the Earth science arena. We continue to be committed to study our home planet,” he said, as reported by Space News. The U.S. space agency will “reshape” its focus based on available resources, Lightfoot added, saying the lower budget still fits their planned activities concerning Earth science. At a previous gathering, NASA’s Earth science division director Michael Freilich also seemed to play down the planned cuts, saying that while significant, the impact “is not existential.” Freilich also delved on the lack of language about the division in the NASA authorization act recently passed by Congress and signed by Trump into law. Earth science’s omission in the bill, he said, led to some conclusion that the said programs were no longer authorized. While the missing Earth science provisions in the act is not one of the matters that Freilich said he worries about, the planned budget cuts in different areas of science and health received great criticism from scientists and advocates. In March, planetary scientists decried the proposed cuts on Earth science missions. During a March 20 event in Texas, scientist Nancy Chabot dubbed it “short-sighted” to be pleased with the planetary science budget and not mourn the cuts on the other field. “Planetary science does not live in isolation,” Chabot said. Without directly mentioning Trump or the proposed budget, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson also railed against science and health budget cuts that could make America “sick,” “weak,” and “stupid.” Earth science is not the only NASA program on the chopping board. It finds company in the NASA Office of Education, which is aimed to be eliminated when it received $115 million in 2016. The said office is engaged in conducting internships, scholarships, and camps and enrichment programs for future scientists, as well as support provision for women and minorities in STEM fields. The biggest portion of the agency funds ($3.7 billion), on the other hand, will go to NASA’s human exploration division for the famed Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System jumbo rocket intended for planet Mars. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


New photo of Earth between Saturn's rings can shift your perspective on our reality That point of light between Saturn's rings is Earth, captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on April 12. More about the image here at NASA JPL . It reminds me of the last photo taken by the Voyager I spacecraft before engineers shut off its imaging systems. Carl Sagan had persuaded NASA to turn Voyager I’s cameras back toward the sun on Valentine's Day 1990 and take the first ever " portrait of our solar system " from outside of it. Earth is just a speck in that photo too, a " pale blue dot " as Sagan called it. His beautiful words remind me how a single image can alter one's perspective in an instant: Watch a crushed Life Saver emit light at 28,000 frames per second Destin from Smarter Every Day just polted a cool video on his alt channel: a demonstration of triboluminescence that occurs when a Wint-O-Green Life Saver candy is crushed. The New York Times’ new columnist, Bret Stephens, is an everyday conservative: he thinks institutional racism is imaginary, that campus rape is a big lie, and that the “Arab Mind” is “diseased”. But these are just opinions, and common ones on the right. It is his anti-science positions, on display in his first fact-mangled column […] The true color of Saturn's north pole is a stunning blue Astroparticle physicist Sophia Nasr posted a gorgeous photo of Saturn’s north pole, processed to account for a luminance layer. Instead of a reddish hue, it is a breathtaking cerulean blue. Jason Major replicated the results. This coding bundle is the ultimate coding bundle You are probably very good at your job, and may not feel the need to learn how to code. That’s perfectly okay. But it’s possible that learning programming could be an interesting and fiscally rewarding way to enrich your life and advance your career. In that case, take a look at The Ultimate Learn to Code […] Airbnb has made lodging arrangements much easier for budget-conscious, impulsive (or not-so-impulsive) travelers across the globe. Instead of staying in an expensive hotel, braving the elements in a campground or guilting your friend into putting you up on a couch, why not just borrow a trustworthy stranger’s room for a night or two? Couch surfing is totally […] These sheets are really soft and you haven't made them dirty yet Bamboo has lots of uses beyond just being panda food. Things like bikes, roads, scaffolding, and musical instruments are made from the fast-growing grass. But unless you are participating in a tropical-themed LARP, you probably wouldn’t want a shirt made from bamboo stalks. So why do bamboo bed sheets make any sense? Because yarn extracted from […]


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

The 33rd annual Space Symposium wrapped up recently in Colorado and New Atlas was on hand to check out some of the exhibits and talks. Amidst the rocket models, jet engines and satellites, we found a quiet corner to sit down with Scott Fouse, the vice president of Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center. For our One Big Question series, we wanted to get his thoughts on what reaching for the stars will look like in the future, so we asked him: What will space exploration look like in 2040? Oh, and, he was so rich with information that we broke our regular format of asking only one question this time and threw in a few follow-ups. We didn't think you would mind. Here's an edited version of our interview. One of the things we're we're doing right now is starting a collaboration with Breakthrough Initiatives, led by former head of the NASA Ames Research Center, Pete Worden. They do these kind of far-out projects – one they're doing is called Breakthrough Starshot. The idea is they want to visit the closest star, Alpha Centauri. To do that they're developing a single-chip spacecraft attached to a light sail. The concept is that there will be a satellite in orbit that will pop out one of these light sails, they'll turn on the laser, hit it for two minutes and that will accelerate it to .8 the speed of light. At that point it just goes. And there's lots of very interesting cool technology about how you build that single-chip spacecraft, and the light sail itself is very interesting. It can be more than just a sail, it can be an imaging sensor, it could be the aperture for communicating. So that's a pretty far-off concept. In talking with the guys, they're thinking that's a kind of 20 to 30-year vision. So it's it's definitely in the ballpark of 2040 I think. A little closer to home, you watch what's happening in our daily lives and it's quite interesting how traditional computers are disappearing and they're becoming embedded in our fabric. Everything is a computer, so the times we sit with a computer in front of us are diminishing – they're just always around. So in a very similar way you can think today about what a traditional satellite would look like tomorrow. Right now, we build the structure and you put all these boxes inside, but for us we're thinking at one point that all those boxes will become embedded in the structure itself. So a few years ago we did a concept project called PrintSat where we we actually developed a robotic cluster of additive manufacturing tools and demonstrated this concept of printing the satellite, where you've got embedded electronics and other things right in the structure. It was a very early concept, and there are lots of challenges right now because we don't yet have systems-engineering tools that would allow us to reliably do that. But I I have no doubt by 2040 those will be there. Part of it is that they'd be significantly lighter, because with space it's all about the weight. Plus, think about the cost savings in how we manufacture. Today it takes us two to three years to build a fairly capable satellite. I might be able to print a satellite maybe somewhere in the order of a couple weeks or a month. And that would also be a significant benefit, because you wouldn't actually have to have people assembling it. Whenever you have this kind of touch labor, you have the potential for mistakes to happen. One of the things we've been working on in our lab is a concept we call SPIDER (Segmented Planar Imaging Detector for Electro-optical Reconnaissance). You think about the satellites for which we're doing optical systems and optical sensors, and in order to do that you've got to have some kind of lens or mirror to form the image. And the quality of the image is going to be directly linked to the quality of that mirror, which is also kind of a long-lead item. So I want to not use a lens, but build it as a true flat optical sensor. So for the whole image-formation process, we're going to do that using integrated photonics that sit behind that image. We've actually done a prototype of one of those right now funded by DARPA, but it's very early. But I honestly believe by 2040 that will be there. You can go back to this concept that it's all printed in the structure. And you basically get a sensor with all of the computation behind it. We do Earth sites at Lockheed where we're staring at the Earth, but we also do heliophysics where we're staring at the sun. Such an optical sensor would be a perfect thing for that. And with 360-degree viewing possible, you could also be looking around and making sure there aren't satellites or other things around and assume a kind of defensive posture. It's actually fairly interesting because it uses some of the same principles that go all the way back to early radio astronomy where you had multiple radio telescopes and images were made by combining their signals. And that's what this is doing for interferometric imaging. And so it's just using tried-and-true principles of image formation but now doing it a very interesting scale. One of the other things I fully expect to happen are very low-cost, highly capable lasers. I think we'll see more of that. Not only will it allow satellites to communicate with each other, but maybe more importantly, we can get to where we have very precise relative location between satellites. In terms of the optical sensors, that would allow us to create a much larger aperture by having multiple telescopes so we can get a very high-fidelity image. Right now if I have a satellite with a one-meter aperture, and I have a number of those, I could probably get to being able to form an image where it will be as if I have a 100-meter telescope. But in order to do that, you've got to have really precise relative location. And that's another concept we're starting to work on. One of the other things we think is going to be happening by 2040, and again, you're starting to see the earliest examples of it now, is satellite servicing. Over the last few years Lockheed has been exploring the notion of just being able to go up there and refuel satellites. But we think realistically with the robotics technology that will be there, you'll have systems that will actually be able to service and repair satellites. And the other thing we've talked about is that we may start making the satellites inside out, so that literally, this robotic servicer can go in there and replace boards, which means I could fly a satellite and then three or four years later upgrade it in terms of its computational power or storage power. This is where (Lockheed executive vice president) Rick Ambrose likes to talk about the notion of a software-defined satellite. You see it on fighter aircraft right now. Probably 80 percent of the capability of the F-35 is being driven by the software, so it's a software-defined fighter, right? Well, we can do that with satellites. You see it with Tesla too. Tesla does these software updates and all of a sudden you've got a half dozen new capabilities in your car. So that that will be a big part of it. It'll be interesting to watch this space and see if it will eventually be better to repair the satellites up there or launch new ones. A big area that's for me a little bit more of a passion is this whole human/machine teaming. Just how do we leverage all of the capabilities of automation, AI, big data analytics, deep learning, and other technologies, and couple that with the human to make a more powerful human/machine pairing? We have a guy named Bill Casebeer and he's building a team called "human performance augmentation." His work involves the area where the machine understands your state and based on that state, will do things to enhance the overall human/machine performance. And Bill is actually a neuroscientist so he's really trying to understand how people think and trying to drive the research to where you get peak performance. A good friend of mine is a DARPA program manager – he's the guy actually whose project spun out Siri – and he just went back to DARPA again and he's doing a project on explainable AI. When you think about how we do collaboration, you ask the question and I give you an answer, but then I'll explain more. If all you ever have is the answer, there's no way for us to develop trust; we need to understand how you're thinking about the world. So he's trying to now build that in. They are just now kicking off a whole new program on explainable AI. So to me that's a key part of it. One of the things that's very interesting is that both the computational power and also the kind of software technologies are currently developed to where we can start to do this kind of stuff. I was part of a small AI company 30 years ago and we were talking about these things then, but the computational horsepower just wasn't there. But when you look at what the human brain is like and you look at what kind of computing power we have today, we're approaching that. And so I fully expect that this is going to be an aspect of how we see what plays out in space clearly in the 2040 timeframe. We're already seeing it a lot in the military space.


News Article | April 25, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has had its last close brush with Saturn's hazy moon Titan and is now beginning its final set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet. The spacecraft made its 127th and final close approach to Titan on April 21 at 11:08 p.m. PDT (2:08 a.m. EDT on April 22), passing at an altitude of about 608 miles (979 kilometers) above the moon's surface. Cassini transmitted its images and other data to Earth following the encounter. Scientists with Cassini's radar investigation will be looking this week at their final set of new radar images of the hydrocarbon seas and lakes that spread across Titan's north polar region. The planned imaging coverage includes a region previously seen by Cassini's imaging cameras, but not by radar. The radar team also plans to use the new data to probe the depths and compositions of some of Titan's small lakes for the first (and last) time, and look for further evidence of the evolving feature researchers have dubbed the "magic island." "Cassini's up-close exploration of Titan is now behind us, but the rich volume of data the spacecraft has collected will fuel scientific study for decades to come," said Linda Spilker, the mission's project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The flyby also put Cassini on course for its dramatic last act, known as the Grand Finale. As the spacecraft passed over Titan, the moon's gravity bent its path, reshaping the robotic probe's orbit slightly so that instead of passing just outside Saturn's main rings, Cassini will begin a series of 22 dives between the rings and the planet on April 26. The mission will conclude with a science-rich plunge into Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15. "With this flyby we're committed to the Grand Finale," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "The spacecraft is now on a ballistic path, so that even if we were to forgo future small course adjustments using thrusters, we would still enter Saturn's atmosphere on Sept. 15 no matter what." Cassini received a large increase in velocity of approximately 1,925 mph (precisely 860.5 meters per second) with respect to Saturn from the close encounter with Titan. After buzzing Titan, Cassini coasted onward, reaching the farthest point in its orbital path around Saturn at 8:46 p.m. PDT (11:46 p.m. EDT) on April 22. This point, called apoapse, is where each new Cassini lap around Saturn begins. Technically, Cassini began its Grand Finale orbits at this time, but since the excitement of the finale begins in earnest on April 26 with the first ultra-close dive past Saturn, the mission is celebrating the latter milestone as the formal beginning of the finale. The spacecraft's first finale dive will take place on April 26 at 2 a.m. PDT (5 a.m. EDT). The spacecraft will be out of contact during the dive and for about a day afterward while it makes science observations from close to the planet. The earliest time Cassini is scheduled to make radio contact with Earth is 12:05 a.m. PDT (3:05 a.m. EDT) on April 27. Images and other data are expected to begin flowing in shortly after communication is established.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

A windy day on Earth is no comparison to a windy day on Saturn. The ringed planet is home to terrifying winds that can top 1,100 mph (1,800 kph). NASA describes them as "some of the fastest in the solar system." A Cassini image released Monday shows what those winds do to Saturn's atmosphere. Cassini sneaked a peek through the gas giant's hazy outer region by imaging the planet at infrared wavelengths. NASA poetically notes "the high-speed winds of Saturn's atmosphere produce watercolor-like patterns." Cassini snapped the image in December at a distance of 592,000 miles (953,000 kilometers) from Saturn. The spacecraft, a joint project from NASA, European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, launched in 1997 and is due to end its mission later this year by plunging into Saturn's atmosphere.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Fusion-driven rockets, remote control systems for space robots, and satellites that build themselves up in orbit are among the made-in-Washington projects getting a share of $49.9 million in NASA grants. Seven businesses in Washington state will benefit from NASA’s latest round of Small Business Innovation Research grants and Small Business Technology Transfer grants, announced today. The two programs, known as SBIR and STTR, are aimed at encouraging the development of commercial innovations that could come in handy for NASA’s space missions. “The SBIR and STTR program’s selection of nearly 400 proposals for further development is a testament to NASA’s support of American innovation by small businesses and research institutions,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for space technology at NASA Headquarters, said in today’s announcement. In all, 399 proposals from 277 small businesses and 44 research institutions across the U.S. were chosen for Phase I funding, out of a total of 1,621 submissions. The next step is for NASA to negotiate contracts with the winners. SBIR contracts last for six months, while STTR contracts last for 12 months, both with maximum funding of $125,000. Ten contracts will go to the seven Washington-based teams. One of the companies, Bothell-based Tethers Unlimited, had four of its SBIR proposals accepted: Six awards were made to these other Washington state teams: For the full list of winning proposals and their sponsors, including a plan to design drills capable of probing the hidden oceans of icy Europa and Enceladus, check out NASA’s lists for the SBIR and STTR programs.


News Article | April 22, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

For Earth Day on Saturday, many Twitter users wanted to say something festive. However this planet-size topic means that all the memes and jokes didn't exactly fall into one category. Even saving the Earth can be funny. You knew there would be political references. Corporations and celebrities wanted to look engaged without being too controversial. But some of the best messages came from NASA along with current and former astronauts, who know what the Earth really looks like from a distance and how fragile it can be. It's Complicated: This is dating in the age of apps. Having fun yet? These stories get to the heart of the matter. Batteries Not Included: The CNET team reminds us why tech is cool.


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

The research found that drones fall more slowly than wood or metal of the same mass, due to the aerodynamic drag Plenty of people have their reservations about the widespread adoption of drones, and rightly so with more and more of them buzzing around. But how real is the threat that they pose exactly? A study issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has sought to bring some figures into the discussion, finding, among other things, the chances of a head injury from a falling drone to be 0.03 percent. The study kicked off in September 2015 and is being carried out by the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE). This collaboration includes researchers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the University of Kansas and Mississippi State University, and has set out to bring better understanding of the risks surrounding drones and the public. "The research team reviewed over 300 publications from the automotive industry, consumer battery market, toy standards and other fields to inform their research using the most modern research techniques," said the University of Alabama in Huntsville's David Arterburn, principal investigator for the study. "From these, we were able to identify blunt force trauma, penetration injuries and lacerations as the most significant threats to people on the ground." As part of the study, the team conducted crash tests as a way of investigating kinetic energy, energy transfer and the dynamics of a collision between a falling drone and a human head. Their results were then peer reviewed by NASA, the Department of Defense and FAA scientists. This involved comparing the impact velocity and chances of injury when struck by a drone (as judged by motor vehicle standards), compared to a piece of wood or steel of the same weight. The team found that a 2.7-lb drone (1.22 kg) landing on your head brought a 0.01 to 0.03 percent chance of head injury, compared to a 99 to 100 percent chance from both the wood and steel. Risk of neck injury was rated at 11 to 13 percent, compared to probabilities of around 60 to 70 with the other materials. Check out the drone vs steel plate below. The research found that drones fall more slowly than wood or metal of the same mass due to the aerodynamic drag, and therefore cause less damage. What's more, a drone is more forgiving and will flex more on impact, therefore transferring less energy in the process. These results seem pretty positive, as an increasing number of companies and startups incorporate drones into their business operations. But having seen drones fall out of the air ourselves, we still wouldn't like to be sat squarely underneath as one comes plummeting to the ground. In June this year, ASSURE will begin the second phase of its research. This will involve verifying the results of this initial study and developing tests that drone manufacturers can use to certify their aircraft for flights over people on the ground.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

(AP) — A new report finds that NASA's spacewalking suits are in short supply. The suits were developed more than 40 years ago, and a replacement is still years away. That's despite nearly $200 million spent on new suit technology for Mars and other future space travel. According to the report, NASA is dealing with a variety of design problems and health risks from the spacewalking suits used by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The suits were only intended to be used for 15 years. Of the original backpacks containing life-support equipment, only 11 of the 18 are still used. The report says that might not be enough to last until the station's retirement in 2024, or a possible extension until 2028.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

Pres. Donald Trump issued a major executive order last week that, if successful, could undercut the nation’s fight against global warming. In particular, the order kicks off an attempt to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from the power sector. While Trump’s move represents a big blow to U.S. climate efforts, the renowned scientist James Hansen sees a different—and, he argues, better—way forward on global warming. “The problem is the Clean Power Plan is really not that effective,” says Hansen, former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, who brought climate change to the U.S. public’s attention in his famed 1988 congressional testimony. “It’s a tragedy that [the Obama administration] continued to pursue a regulatory approach.” The solution Hansen believes will work best is one recently advocated by a group of Republican statesmen: a “carbon fee and dividend.” Although it is not a tax, the approach would put a price on carbon—a step Hansen thinks is absolutely essential for cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. Hansen, who has been called the father of climate change awareness, recently spoke about the issue along with Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs, a leading expert on economic development, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Scientific American followed up with Hansen, also director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at Columbia, to discuss this strategy and how he thinks it will help the U.S. turn the tide on global warming. [An edited transcript of the interview follows.] What’s the United States’ best hope for solving climate change at this point? The only effective way of addressing climate change is to make the price of fossil fuels include their cost to society. That could be done in a simple way by collecting a fee from the fossil fuel companies that would gradually rise over time—a carbon fee and dividend. Studies show this would benefit the economy and this is a conservative approach, where you let the market move you toward a better situation. I call it a carbon fee because you would give all of the money to the public, a dividend to each legal resident. [A group of Republicans] have adopted [this approach] almost precisely as I proposed it in 2008. The starting level of the fee varies from one proposition to another—I believe that they start at $40 per ton of carbon. [I] suggest $55 per ton—[that price] yields a dividend of $1,000 per legal resident and $3,000 for a family with two or more children, with one half-share for each child [and] a maximum of two half-shares per family. This way it actually stimulates the economy. If it’s a tax taken by the government, it makes the government bigger and it depresses the economy. That’s why I object to the Democrats as much as to the Republicans. The only way the public will allow a carbon fee is if you give the money to them—people don’t want to see the price of gasoline at the pump going up. That’s what’s frustrating about this problem—the fact that there’s a solution, which is not difficult and not economically harmful. It would be remarkable if the Trump administration would actually understand this and realize that it would be popular. It would work, unlike some of the things that Trump is advocating. What is the number-one action the U.S. could take to reduce its emissions, without the federal government? Unless you get a fee on carbon, you cannot solve the problem. As long as fossil fuels appear to be cheap energy, they’re going to keep being burned by somebody. So ultimately the solution has got to involve the government. You view nuclear energy as an integral part of addressing climate change—why? Nuclear energy—even in its current sad state—is doing a lot to reduce carbon emissions and deaths and illnesses from pollution. There’s no way countries like China and India are going to phase out their coal use without the help of advanced nuclear power. The safety record of nuclear power is actually very impressive. We should have developed the technology of advanced nuclear power but the bias against nuclear has been so strong that the industry has not developed. It’s still not too late because there are a lot of innovative start-up companies out there—but these need to be encouraged. You’ve been focusing your energy on helping people understand the urgency of global warming. Are you hopeful that the public will demand major action from the government soon? Climate change is not going to register on the public’s list of priorities, so we need the help of an intelligent government system. Even though the fossil fuel industry money has been able to distort the climate science in Congress, the judicial branch can come into play. That’s why I’m a plaintiff along with 21 young people in a lawsuit against the federal government [suing it for having taken—and continuing to take—actions that support fossil fuel production and create greenhouse gas emissions].* We now have a really bulletproof case, which I think will win even with a conservative Supreme Court. It’s going to be a combination of using the judiciary branch of the government and then using the democratic process to shape the policy that’s accepted. Between those two, I’m optimistic we could get on a path that would then influence the world. So then is communicating with the public even useful? This is somewhat analogous to civil rights—the courts did not force the government to carry out policies to end segregation until the public began to make an issue of it. Courts don’t often move in front of public opinion, so it is important to try to get public pressure. How should climate scientists—both federal government researchers and outside scientists—react to the Trump presidency? We have to use the scientific method and facts to make it clear that we’re being objective, and that there’s nothing political about the science. Scientists should stick to trying to explain the science as clearly as possible. Given the president's stance on global warming, are you concerned about climate scientists’ ability to communicate with the public? I’m very concerned about their inability to communicate with the public, but that’s nothing new with Trump. That problem has come about over the last decade or two, because of the political preference of those politicians who support the fossil fuel industry—they’ve found that an extremely effective technique is simply to deny the science or politicize it, or make it appear that scientists have an agenda. It’s made it difficult for science to provide effective advice to the government. Why is it important that climate scientists be able to openly communicate with the public about climate change? We have to make this situation clear to the public. The public still does not treat this as a high-priority issue, while in fact it should be near the top of the list. It’s a difficult story to communicate to the public because you just don’t see that much happening—the fact that the climate system has a delayed response is what makes this whole thing so dangerous. You might think the great inertia of the ocean and the ice sheets is our friend because we’ve seen a relatively slow response so far. But it’s very clear in the science that we’re building in bigger changes in the future, so there’s a danger of handing young people a system that’s out of their control. We’re setting up a situation that’s extremely dangerous. That’s just crystal clear in the science. *Editor's Note (4/10/17): This sentence has been updated with additional information since its original posting.


City skylines are always beautiful at night. The beauty of planet Earth at night can be enjoyed from crisp images captured by NASA, called night light maps, and recently released by the space agency. The latest NASA Earth night images of 2016 showcase concrete patterns of human settlement. Compiled from satellite views, NASA's global maps for 2016 stand out for clarity and accuracy compared with similar images that have been around for 25 years. Previously, these images were compiled once in 10 years. In early April, NASA released a global map of night lights in 2016 based on satellite observations. It also released an updated version of the 2012 night light map. The NASA images of cities at night will be serving a scientific purpose besides the conventional use as a tool for studying cities. The night images are being used in research projects of economics, social science, and the environment. In the words of the space agency, the night maps have been offering a "gee-whiz curiosity for the public and a tool for fundamental research for nearly 25 years." The images of 2016 express better clarity and accuracy compared with the relatively vague images of 2012. It is an advancement of the globe being lit up and a bigger contribution of humans in shaping up the earth. In the time to come, the satellite images of night Earth referred to as "night lights" will see greater frequency as NASA will be launching more images. This will also help in shoring up weather forecasting, improving responses to natural disasters, and studying the effects of war on the planet. Determined to optimize the potential of NASA night lights, the space agency is planning rapid updates, breaking the 10-year interval. Already, a team led by Miguel Román, an earth scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA, is at work to develop new software to attain more clarity and accuracy for the night lights. The plan is to produce high-definition views of Earth at night. Since the 2011 launch of NASA's NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership or NPP satellite, Román and team have been analyzing night lights data and developing new software and algorithms to make images brighter, clearer, and more accurate. NASA coped with many challenges in preparing the night images as the quantum of light shining on Earth varies constantly and predictably. NASA examined how light is radiated, reflected and scattered by land, atmospheric, and ocean surfaces. Normally, it is hard to make an image at night as constantly shifting light is a problem. Then the changing phases of the moon also affects light patterns. There are also factors affecting the path of light and their visibility in various parts of the world such as vegetation, clouds, aerosols, ice cover, and feeble emissions like auroras. However, things have changed now with the advent of new technology. NASA has an able tool in the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS from the Suomi NPP weather satellite. VIIRS boasts of the capability to detect light reflected from Earth's surface and atmosphere in 22 wavelengths. It also excels as the first satellite instrument that takes quantitative measurements of emitted and reflected light. The measurements can determine the intensity and source of light over a number of years. In September 2016, VIIRS mapped the power outages in southeast America and the Caribbean after Hurricane Matthew hit the continent. "Thanks to VIIRS, we can now monitor short-term changes caused by disturbances in power delivery, such as conflict, storms, earthquakes and brownouts," said NASA scientist Román. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is set to make its first dive through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017.


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

Last adventure ahead for NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn (AP) — NASA's Cassini spacecraft faces one last perilous adventure around Saturn. "That last kiss goodbye," as project manager Earl Maize calls it, will push Cassini onto a path no spacecraft has gone before — into the gap between Saturn and its rings. It's treacherous territory. A particle from the rings — even as small as a speck of sand — could cripple Cassini, given its velocity. Cassini will make its first pass through the relatively narrow gap Wednesday. Twenty-two crossings are planned, about one a week, until September, when Cassini goes in and never comes out, vaporizing in Saturn's atmosphere. Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Its European traveling companion, Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005. Cassini's fuel tank is practically empty, so with little left to lose, NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale. "What a spectacular end to a spectacular mission," said Jim Green, NASA's planetary science division director. "I feel a little sad in many ways that Cassini's discoveries will end. But I'm also quite optimistic that we're going to discover some new and really exciting science as we probe the region we've never probed before." There's no turning back once Cassini flies past Titan, Maize said. The spacecraft on Wednesday will hurtle through the 1,200-mile-wide gap (1,900 kilometers) between Saturn's atmosphere and its rings, at a breakneck 70,000-plus mph (113,000 kph). From a navigation standpoint, "this is an easy shot," Maize said. The operation will be run from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The concern is whether computer models of Saturn's rings are accurate. On a few of the crossings, Cassini is "kind of flirting with the edge of where we think it's safe," he noted. For at least the first trip through the gap, Cassini's big dish antenna will face forward to shield the science instruments from any ring particles that might be lurking there. A couple instruments will provide a quick rundown on the dust situation. Scientists anticipate lots of lightweight impacts, since the spacecraft will be going through extremely small material, more like smoke than distinct particles. Material from the innermost D ring — which is slowly extending into Saturn — should be diffuse enough "that we should be fine," Maize said. If the models are wrong and Cassini is clobbered by BB-size material, it still will end up exactly where NASA is aiming for on Sept. 15 — at Saturn. The space agency wants to keep the 22-foot-high, 13-foot-wide spacecraft away from Titan and its lakes of liquid methane and from the ice-encrusted moon Enceladus and its underground ocean and spouting geysers. It doesn't want to shower contaminating wreckage onto these worlds that might harbor life. This last leg of Cassini's 20-year, $3.27 billion voyage should allow scientists to measure the mass of the multiple rings — shedding light on how old they are and how they formed — and also to determine the composition of the countless ring particles. First spotted by Galileo in 1610, the rings are believed to be 99 percent ice; the remaining 1 percent is a mystery, said project scientist Linda Spilker. A cosmic dust analyzer on Cassini will scoop up ring particles and analyze them. "Imagine the pictures we're going to get back of Saturn's rings," Spilker said. Cassini will have the best views ever of Saturn's poles, as it skims its surface. Near mission's end, Spilker said, "we're actually going to dip our toe" into Saturn's atmosphere, sending back measurements until the last possible moment. All this is on top of a science mission that already has rewritten the textbooks on the Saturnian system. "But the best is still yet to come — perhaps," Maize said at a news conference in early April. "But we are certainly going to provide more excitement."


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

Venus has a second wind. Not only do winds whip around our planetary neighbour’s equator, they also blow from the equator toward the poles, something never conclusively observed before. Their existence could help solve the biggest mystery about the planet’s atmosphere: how it rotates so quickly. Venus rotates once every 243 Earth days, but its atmosphere does so every four days, with wind speeds in excess of 400 kilometres per hour parallel to the equator. Energy from sunlight is needed to maintain this frenzy. But with more sunlight hitting near the equator than at the poles, it wasn’t clear how enough energy could arrive where it was needed. The newly detected meridional winds, blowing at a relatively leisurely 80 kilometres per hour, could pull some of that energy away from the equatorial regions, spreading it more evenly throughout the atmosphere. “It was difficult to understand how the atmosphere could maintain these speeds at high latitudes,” says Pedro Machado at the Astronomical Observatory of Lisbon, Portugal. “But with these meridional winds, we have energy and momentum transported from equatorial regions to higher latitudes.” Machado and his colleagues were able to “see” the wind using the Doppler effect. Just as a siren’s sound changes pitch as it moves toward or away from you, light waves reflected off Venus’s atmosphere are compressed or elongated depending on the atmosphere’s motion. But the Doppler shift is tiny in the case of Venus’s winds. To observe it, the team studied sunlight reflected from Venus’s clouds, which are being dragged along by those winds. We already know how different atoms and molecules absorb light in different ways, leaving a distinctive signature. To detect the clouds’ motion, and hence the associated wind, Machado and colleagues compared the Doppler-shifted light they were seeing with that known signature. “It is amazingly hard to make these kinds of measurements,” says Glyn Collinson at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “I just read the paper and thought, holy smoke, you measured that?” We already had hints of meridional circulation from the Venus Express spacecraft, but its orbit only allowed it to study winds in Venus’s southern hemisphere. Using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii, Machado and his team were able to measure the winds in both hemispheres, finding them to be symmetrical. “This is very important, because we don’t know how the atmosphere of Venus works,” says Ricardo Hueso at the University of the Basque Country in Bilbao, Spain. “Understanding meridional circulation is one of the key elements to solving this problem.” With the Doppler method attaining precision close to what spacecraft can achieve, without leaving Earth, Machado hopes to use it to probe the atmospheres of other nearby worlds like Saturn and its hazy moon Titan.


News Article | April 24, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

Astronaut breaks record for most time in space by American (AP) — Astronaut Peggy Whitson has another record under her space belt. Early Monday, the International Space Station commander surpassed the record of 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes for most accumulated time in orbit by an American. That record was set last year by Jeffrey Williams. Whitson already was the world's most experienced spacewoman and female spacewalker and, at 57, the oldest woman in space. By the time she returns to Earth in September, she'll have logged 666 days in orbit over three flights. As part of the celebration, Whitson is getting a special phone call. President Donald Trump will speak to Whitson from the Oval Office, along with his daughter Ivanka and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins. The world record — 879 days — is held by Russian Gennady Padalka.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

On the rust-colored north flank of one of Earth's largest volcanoes, a backpack-sized instrument monitors our atmosphere and, at the same time, helps set the stage for possible human exploration of other worlds. Designed and built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the instrument tracks levels of methane and carbon dioxide, two gases crucial for studying the chemistry of Earth's atmosphere. Portable and nearly self-contained, the unit could represent the start of a low-cost global network to provide atmospheric monitoring even in hard-to-reach locations. Recently, a Goddard team deployed the instrument for field testing high on Mauna Loa, in a remote region considered an analog site for Mars. There, the instrument is being maintained by the crew living in the habitat known as HI-SEAS--short for Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, a NASA-funded project run by the University of Hawai'i at Manoa to help prepare for the possibility of long-duration missions on the surfaces of other planets or moons. "The partnership with HI-SEAS gives us a unique opportunity to test our instrument's performance and, at the same time, to help train the team to maintain and operate equipment under challenging conditions similar to those that explorers would face," said Goddard scientist Emily Wilson, who developed the instrument. Called the miniaturized laser heterodyne radiometer, or mini-LHR, the instrument measures the total amount of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmospheric column, which is essentially a straight line from the ground to the top of the atmosphere. The system is passive, collecting only sunlight, and nothing leaves the unit--not even stray light. The instrument has sensitivities as low as 1 part per million for carbon dioxide and 10 parts per billion for methane. Inside the unit, the sunlight gets mixed with a laser beam in a technique that's similar to the way an FM radio receiver operates. Instead of an antenna, the instrument is equipped with a telescope. To boost its sensitivity to weak signals, the mini-LHR carries a tiny infrared laser, like those used in telecommunications. Atmospheric gases are identified by the absorption of light at particular infrared wavelengths; the pattern for each gas is as unique as a fingerprint. Right now, the instrument monitors carbon dioxide and methane, but it could be set up to track carbon monoxide and water vapor, as well. Goddard's Jacob Bleacher, a planetary geologist collaborating with Wilson, envisions a time when instruments like this might be deployed on the surface of another world. "We foresee a need for instrument packages designed for environmental monitoring at and around human landing sites on Mars or other planetary surfaces," said Bleacher. "To preserve our ability to conduct research in those locations, we will need to establish what the environment was like before human arrival and to monitor it the entire time humans are present." Wilson partnered with Bleacher to develop a protocol to train the HI-SEAS crew to use the mini-LHR. Bleacher also will conduct follow-up studies to assess the effectiveness of the HI-SEAS training. The challenging part of the training was that Wilson's team couldn't meet or speak to the HI-SEAS crew in person. That's because the 8-month habitat mission requires the crew to live the kind of confined, regimented lifestyle that future Mars astronauts might experience. They carry out scientific research and geological field work while carefully managing their consumption of food, water and power. The six-person team eats, sleeps and works in a dome that has about 1,200 square feet of floor space--the rough equivalent of a two-bedroom apartment. The team conducts all communication either by email, with messages delayed by 20 minutes to simulate the travel time between Earth and Mars, or through a video link similar to the one used for the International Space Station. Whenever the crew exits the habitat, they wear full body suits, including helmets and gloves. The decision not to train the HI-SEAS team to operate the mini-LHR before their mission began was intentional. "Long-duration human stays on Mars will likely involve situations in which the crew would want to use the hardware available to them in new ways or for new purposes," said Bryan Caldwell, the HI-SEAS project manager. "Additional training would have to be done remotely in a situation like that." At least once a week now, team members suit up and trek a quarter-mile across a rock-strewn expanse of solidified lava to check on Wilson's instrument and download the data onto a memory stick. To make it possible to do that while wearing bulky gloves, A. J. DiGregorio, a member of Wilson's team, equipped the unit with a touch screen and stylus, similar to the signature pads used in checkout lines at stores. After the EVA, or extravehicular activity, is done, the team members return to the habitat and upload the data to share with Wilson's team. So far, Wilson is pleased with the data she has seen, and soon she will start comparing the readings to other data sets, such as the carbon dioxide measurements that have been made on Mauna Loa since 1958. In the meantime, Wilson's team continues to focus on miniaturizing the mini-LHR's components. Her goal is to deploy a network of instruments, first on Earth and later, well, even the sky isn't the limit. For more information about the mini-LHR instrument, please visit: https:/


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) have begun discussions regarding a potential collaboration on a lunar human outpost and related technologies. CNSA led a series of talks with ESA, and secretary general for China's space agency, Tian Yulong, discussed the potential for a lunar base on Chinese state media, according to theIndependent. Pal Hvistendahl, a spokesman for ESA, confirmed the discussion. "The Chinese have a very ambitious moon program already in place," Hvistendahl said. "Space has changed since the space race of the '60s. We recognize that to explore space for peaceful purposes, we do international cooperation." Since Yang Liwei's manned mission in 2003, China's space program has grown rapidly. CNSA began working with ESA less than a year later when the two launched the Double Star satellite, "dedicated to investigating global physical processes in Earth's magnetic environment and its response to solar disturbances." A potential "Moon Village," as ESA Director General Jan Woerner likes to call it, could have any number of uses, from serving as a jumping-off point for a manned mission to Mars, to sample collection, to space tourism. ESA has already begun to develop 3D printing methods that could use lunar soil to manufacture various items, potentially reducing the cost of launching materials to space. One group unlikely to collaborate on the project is the United States. All researchers from NASA are banned from working with any Chinese state employees on issues related to space, thanks to an act of Congress in 2011. No one from NASA may " develop, design, plan, promulgate, implement, or execute a bilateral policy, program, order, or contract of any kind to participate, collaborate, or coordinate bilaterally in any way with China." The legislation is also the reason Chinese astronauts do not visit the International Space Station, and in 2013 it became illegal for any Chinese national to step foot into a NASA building without a special waiver. However, with CSNA growing rapidly in its space exploration capabilities, it might be time for the U.S. to rethink its policy. You Might Also Like


News Article | May 2, 2017
Site: www.cemag.us

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has successfully passed the center of curvature test, an important optical measurement of Webb’s fully assembled primary mirror prior to cryogenic testing, and the last test held at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., before the spacecraft is shipped to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for more testing. After undergoing rigorous environmental tests simulating the stresses of its rocket launch, the Webb telescope team at Goddard analyzed the results from this critical optical test and compared it to the pre-test measurements. The team concluded that the mirrors passed the test with the optical system unscathed. “The Webb telescope is about to embark on its next step in reaching the stars as it has successfully completed its integration and testing at Goddard. It has taken a tremendous team of talented individuals to get to this point from all across NASA, our industry and international partners, and academia,” says Bill Ochs, NASA’s Webb telescope project manager. “It is also a sad time as we say goodbye to the Webb Telescope at Goddard, but are excited to begin cryogenic testing at Johnson.” Rocket launches create high levels of vibration and noise that rattle spacecraft and telescopes. At Goddard, engineers tested the Webb telescope in vibration and acoustics test facilities that simulate the launch environment to ensure that functionality is not impaired by the rigorous ride on a rocket into space. Before and after these environmental tests took place, optical engineers set up an interferometer, the main device used to measure the shape of the Webb telescope’s mirror. An interferometer gets its name from the process of recording and measuring the ripple patterns that result when different beams of light mix and their waves combine or “interfere.” Waves of visible light are less than a thousandth of a millimeter long and optics on the Webb telescope need to be shaped and aligned even more accurately than that to work correctly. Making measurements of the mirror shape and position by lasers prevents physical contact and damage (scratches to the mirror). So, scientists use wavelengths of light to make tiny measurements. By measuring light reflected off the optics using an interferometer, they are able to measure extremely small changes in shape or position that may occur after exposing the mirror to a simulated launch or temperatures that simulate the subfreezing environment of space. During a test conducted by a team from Goddard, Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colo., and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, temperature and humidity conditions in the cleanroom were kept incredibly stable to minimize fluctuations in the sensitive optical measurements over time. Even so, tiny vibrations are ever-present in the cleanroom that cause jitter during measurements, so the interferometer is a “high-speed” one, taking 5,000 “frames” every second, which is a faster rate than the background vibrations themselves. This allows engineers to subtract out jitter and get good, clean results on any changes to the mirror's shape. “Some people thought it would not be possible to measure beryllium mirrors of this size and complexity in a cleanroom to these levels but the team was incredibly ingenious in how they performed these measurements and the results give us great confidence we have a fantastic primary mirror,” says Lee Feinberg, Webb’s telescope optical element manager. The Webb telescope will be shipped to Johnson for end-to-end optical testing in a vacuum at its extremely cold operating temperatures. Then it will continue on its journey to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, Calif., for final assembly and testing prior to launch in 2018. The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s most advanced space observatory. This engineering marvel is designed to unravel some of the greatest mysteries of the universe, from discovering the first stars and galaxies that formed after the big bang to studying the atmospheres of planets around other stars. It is a joint project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), and the Canadian Space Agency, and was assembled in a Class 10,000 cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.


A team of astronomers says they’ve caught wind of an atmosphere around a super-Earth known as GJ 1132b, just 39 light-years away. The findings, described in the Astronomical Journal, mark another step on the road to determining whether alien worlds near and far might be capable of hosting life. “It’s a great proof of concept that we can observe atmospheres on these small, rocky planets even from the ground,” said Laura Schaefer, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University who was not involved in the paper. “That’s really exciting and that means that we’ll be able to do it with more planets down the line as we find more planets of this size.” The planet, Gliese 1132b, was first spotted in 2015 orbiting a small, dim M dwarf (a type of red dwarf) star about one-quarter of the Sun’s radius. At the time, the discovery excited scientists even though — with a surface temperature of about 620 degrees Fahrenheit — the planet wasn’t considered habitable. “Receiving 19 times more stellar radiation than the Earth, the planet is too hot to be habitable but is cool enough to support a substantial atmosphere,” the authors of the 2015 study in Nature wrote. Because the host star was so close by, they added, “existing and upcoming telescopes will be able to observe the composition and dynamics of the planetary atmosphere.” Astronomers often try to find exoplanets using the transit method: They wait for a planet to cross in front of its star and measure how much starlight is blocked. It’s much easier to pick out gas giants akin to Jupiter than it is to pick out small, rocky planets because oversized gas giants cause more dramatic dips in the amount of starlight. Those few other exoplanets whose atmospheres have been studied are gas-giant planets or very large super-Earths, with something like eight times our planet’s mass. But because GJ 1132b is so close, and because its star is so small, the rocky planet blocks proportionally more light, making it easier to study. Gliese 1132b is interesting not just because it’s the first low-mass super-Earth to have a detectable atmosphere. It’s near Earth, putting it in the sights of existing telescopes; and it was also thought to be about 1.2 times the Earth’s radius, making it very close in size — and potentially composition — to our planetary home. For this paper, a team of European astronomers used the 2.2-meter ESO/MPG telescope in Chile to track nine of the planet’s transits in front of its star. They studied the starlight in seven different bands of light across optical and infrared wavelengths. As a planet passes in front of the star, it blocks a certain amount of starlight across all seven bands. But the small amount of starlight that passes through the atmosphere will be selectively filtered: Certain chemicals in the atmosphere will absorb (and thus, block) certain wavelengths while allowing others to pass straight through. The missing wavelengths can tell scientists which atoms and molecules are present. The astronomers found that, based on the amount of light blocked, the silhouetted planet has a radius about 1.4 times that of Earth, making it a little bigger than previously thought. GJ 1132b also appears larger in one of the infrared wavelength bands than it does in the rest — signaling the presence of an atmosphere that is transparent to some wavelengths but opaque to others. The researchers then modeled different scenarios, finding that the atmosphere could potentially be rich in water and methane. If that’s true, then it means the planet could have a steamy atmosphere and perhaps a magma ocean, said Schaefer, who cautioned that many more follow-up observations need to be done to ensure the vapor-filled atmosphere really is there. “It’s not confirmed that it’s water,” she pointed out. “So it’s very exciting but we definitely need more data on it.” Because M dwarfs are so abundant throughout the galaxy, and habitable-zone planets circling them are easier to find, many scientists think these dim stars may offer one of the best chances for finding a life-friendly world. But these red dwarfs are also thought to be much more active than main-sequence stars like the sun — with flares, eruptions and other activity that could blow a planet’s atmosphere away. Keep in mind, Gliese 1132b circles its star so closely that its “year” lasts just 1.6 Earth days. So if the planet does turn out to have an atmosphere in spite of that proximity, it would be good news for astronomers — because it would mean that M dwarfs are more stable places for habitable planets than thought. For now, researchers are somewhat limited in what they can probe with existing ground and space telescopes. But with the launch of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) later this year and the James Webb Space Telescope in 2018, researchers may soon be able to find more interesting nearby targets and then probe their atmospheric composition with precision. Follow @aminawrite on Twitter for more science news and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook. Why would beetles want to look, act and smell like army ants? To eat them, of course New view of dinosaurs could radically reshape their family tree Ancient relative of crabs, shrimps and lobsters is named in honor of David Attenborough


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

During the early 2000s, environmental scientists studying methane emissions noticed something unexpected: the global concentrations of atmospheric methane (CH4)--which had increased for decades, driven by methane emissions from fossil fuels and agriculture--inexplicably leveled off. The methane levels remained stable for a few years, then started rising again in 2007. Previous studies have suggested a variety of potential culprits behind the renewed rise: increasing emissions from high-latitude wetlands, increasing fossil fuel emissions, or the growth of agriculture in Asia. However, new modeling by researchers at Caltech and Harvard University suggests that methane emissions might not have increased dramatically in 2007 after all. Instead, the most likely explanation has less to do with methane emissions and more to do with changes in the availability of the hydroxyl (OH) radical, which breaks down methane in the atmosphere. As such, the amount of hydroxyl in the atmosphere governs the amount of methane. If global levels of hydroxyl decrease, global methane concentrations will increase--even if methane emissions remain constant, the researchers say. Methane is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide. However, the colorless, odorless gas can be difficult to track and derives from a wide range of sources, from decomposing biological material to leaks in natural gas pipelines. When atmospheric concentrations of methane increase, it may not be correct to chalk it up solely to an increase in methane emissions, says Caltech's Christian Frankenberg, co-corresponding author of a study on the decadal trends of methane concentrations that was published the week of April 17 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Frankenberg is an associate professor of environmental science and engineering at Caltech and a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is administered by Caltech for NASA. His collaborators on the paper are Paul Wennberg, the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering at Caltech, and Alexander Turner and Daniel Jacob of Harvard. "Think of the atmosphere like a kitchen sink with the faucet running," Frankenberg explains. "When the water level inside the sink rises, that can mean that you've opened up the faucet more. Or it can mean that the drain is blocking up. You have to look at both." In this analogy, hydroxyl represents part of the draining mechanism in the sink. Hydroxyl is the neutral form of the negatively charged hydroxide molecule (OH?). It is described as a "radical" because it is highly reactive and, as such, acts like a detergent in the atmosphere, breaking down methane into oxygen and water vapor. Tracking decadal trends in both methane and hydroxyl, Frankenberg and his colleagues noted that fluctuations in hydroxyl concentrations correlated strongly with fluctuations in methane. However, the authors do not yet have a mechanistic explanation for the last decade's global changes in hydroxyl concentrations. Future studies are needed to investigate this further, Frankenberg says. The researchers also would like to see the trends they detected verified with a more detailed study of both methane sources and sinks. "The tropics are the tricky part," Frankenberg says. "They're very complex in terms of methane emissions and destruction." Methane has the shortest lifetime in the tropics due to the large amounts of water vapor and radiation there. But because tropical areas are often remote and cloud-covered (thwarting satellite observation), they remain understudied, Frankenberg says. The PNAS study is titled "Ambiguity in the causes for decadal trends in atmospheric methane and hydroxyl."


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: phys.org

Now, as a systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, he is still very much in the world of textiles. He and his colleagues are designing advanced woven metal fabrics for use in space. These fabrics could potentially be useful for large antennas and other deployable devices, because the material is foldable and its shape can change quickly. The fabrics could also eventually be used to shield a spacecraft from meteorites, for astronaut spacesuits, or for capturing objects on the surface of another planet. One potential use might be for an icy moon like Jupiter's Europa, where these fabrics could insulate the spacecraft. At the same time, this flexible material could fold over uneven terrain, creating "feet" that won't melt the ice under them. The prototypes that Polit-Casillas and colleagues have created look like chain mail, with small silver squares strung together. But these fabrics were not sewn by hand; instead, they were "printed," created in one piece with advanced technologies. A technique called additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3-D printing on an industrial scale, is necessary to make such fabrics. Unlike traditional manufacturing techniques, in which parts are welded together, additive manufacturing deposits material in layers to build up the desired object. This reduces the cost and increases the ability to create unique materials. "We call it '4-D printing' because we can print both the geometry and the function of these materials," said Polit-Casillas. "If 20th Century manufacturing was driven by mass production, then this is the mass production of functions." Fabricating spacecraft designs can be complex and costly, said Andrew Shapiro-Scharlotta of JPL, whose office funds research for early-stage technologies like the space fabric. He said that adding multiple functions to a material at different stages of development could make the whole process cheaper. It could also open the door to new designs. "We are just scratching the surface of what's possible," Shapiro-Scharlotta said. "The use of organic and non-linear shapes at no additional costs to fabrication will lead to more efficient mechanical designs." The space fabrics have four essential functions: reflectivity, passive heat management, foldability and tensile strength. One side of the fabric reflects light, while the other absorbs it, acting as a means of thermal control. It can fold in many different ways and adapt to shapes while still being able to sustain the force of pulling on it. The JPL team not only wants to try out these fabrics in space someday, they want to be able to manufacture them in space, too. Separate from his space fabric research, Polit-Casillas co-founded JPL's Atelier, a workshop that does rapid prototyping of advanced concepts and systems. They use additive manufacturing to mix metals and polymers, creating composites with a range of functionality. In the distant future, Polit-Casillas said, astronauts might be able to print materials as they're needed—and even recycle old materials, breaking them down and reusing them. Conservation is critical when you're trapped in space with just the resources you take with you. But it would also be critical to think about new forms. Print a single plate of aluminum, and it has limited functionality. Print the same plate using a heat-radiating design, and suddenly it's more useful. Spacecraft housing could have different functionality on its outsides and insides, becoming more than just structural. "I can program new functions into the material I'm printing," Polit-Casillas said. "That also reduces the amount of time spent on integration and testing. You can print, test and destroy material as many times as you want." This kind of design-based thinking could revolutionize the way spacecraft are engineered. Instead of having to assemble something with dozens of parts, all of which create potential points of failure, the spacecraft of the future could be created "whole cloth"—and with added function, as well.


News Article | April 30, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

What would it take to hide an entire planet? It sounds more like a question posed in an episode of “Star Trek” than in academic discourse, but sometimes the bleeding edge of science blurs with themes found in science fiction. Of course we’ve been leaking our own position to distant stars via radio and television signals for six decades now, largely ignorant of the cosmic implications. But several notable scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have publicly voiced concerns about revealing our presence to other civilizations. These concerns largely draw from the darker chapters of our own history, when a more advanced civilization would subjugate and displace a less advanced one. It might be too late for us to withdraw back into invisibility, but maybe not for other intelligent alien civilizations out there. A far-off planet’s inhabitants might prefer to hide from the likes of us. Recently, my graduate student Alex Teachey and I published a paper that proposes a way to cloak planets, as well as a way to broadcast a civilization’s existence. Even if we’re not manipulating our own signal in this way, it doesn’t mean other planets out there aren’t. It’s possible what we see as we scan the universe for other habitable planets has been engineered to disguise or highlight the existence of other civilizations. Before we talk about how to hide a planet from distant voyeurs, consider the best way we’ve figured out to find one. Humanity’s most successful technique for detecting other planets is the transit method. A transit occurs when a planet appears to pass in front of its parent sun, blocking out some of its starlight for a few hours. So if we have our telescopes trained at one part of the universe and a star seems to fade out for part of a day, that tells us that a planet has temporarily come between us as it goes about its orbit. Using this technique, NASA’s Kepler Mission has discovered several thousand planets. It seems likely that any advanced civilization would be aware of this simple method. Each time a planet transits its star, its existence is essentially being advertised to all points lying along the same plane as the planet and star. An advanced civilization might be okay having its planet’s location, size and even atmospheric chemistry advertised across the cosmos. Or it might wish to conceal its presence. If the latter, it might choose to build a cloak. It turns out that hiding planets from the transit method would be surprisingly easy, so easy that we earthlings could do it right now, if we chose. Since transits appear as a brightness decrease of a distant star, our hypothetical cloak simply produces the opposite brightness increase. Lasers provide an efficient means of countering that dip in brightness. All a laser’s power is contained in a relatively narrow beam, as opposed to spreading out in all directions like starlight does. Due to the way light spreads as it travels – called diffraction – the laser beam would spread to encompass entire solar systems after journeying many light years across space, bathing that distant planetary system within the cloaking beam. No dip in brightness makes it look like there’s no planet there at all. A laser cloak capable of hiding the Earth from an alien version of NASA’s Kepler Mission would require 30 megawatts of power at peak intensity, approximately equivalent to 10 wind turbines worth of power output. While Kepler sees light in only one color, advanced civilizations might use more sophisticated detectors capable of collecting light at all wavelengths. Here too, our current technology could cloak us using modern tunable lasers, for a cost of about 10 times more power overall. More advanced civilizations might be able to detect other fine details of the light’s properties, betraying the cloak. But here too there’s no reason why with a little bit of work we couldn’t engineer solutions, leading to a near perfect cloak which could be targeted at distant stars where we suspect someone might be home. So yes, it sounds like science fiction, but even current technology could do a fine job of cloaking the Earth’s transit signature. Forget the Earth though; we never really thought of this as something humanity should or should not do. Instead, we posit that if our rudimentary human technology can build such an effective transit cloak at relatively little economic cost, then more advanced civilizations may be able to hide from us with respect to all detection techniques. The universe might not be all that it seems. Why might a civilization choose to wrap itself in invisibility? It could be a sort of insurance policy: find the nearby planets with potential for supporting life and turn on a targeted cloak – just in case a civilization ever emerges. Such a policy effectively buys them time to reveal their presence when they see fit. Given how cheap such a cloak would be, an insurance policy for your home planet is perhaps not as strange as it seems. It’s certainly not implausible a civilization might want to bide its time – surveilling the neighbors for a while before rolling out the intergalactic welcome mat. But there’s a flip side to this technology that could turn it from an invisibility cloak into more of a we-are-here spotlight. The reverse: flick on the beacon Perhaps not all civilizations are xenophobic – some might want to talk. If you wanted to reveal your presence to other civilizations as cheaply and unambiguously as possible, how might you do it? Imagine looking at some data of a distant planet – which has become a somewhat normal enterprise for astronomers – and noticing something weird. The signature of the planet has a strange shape – in fact, none of your models are able to explain it. It looks like someone has imprinted a series of spikes into the data, following the prime number series. Nothing in nature can do this – you have just detected another civilization’s beacon. Alternative use of the cloaking system’s laser could be to make a planet’s signal look highly artificial, instead of hidden. Now they don’t care about building the perfect cloak; they want to be found! Could such signals be lurking in our existing measurements? Perhaps so. No one has ever looked, and we hope our work sparks efforts on that front. It may be a long shot, since to even get to this point we need to try to imagine how aliens might think – but given the scientific prize on offer it’s also worth it. If we identify a strange transit, it may well contain information encoded via laser light pulses. Huge volumes of information could be hidden within the transit signatures of other planets. For us, this was an exercise in intellectual curiosity. We simply calculated how much energy it would take to either cloak or broadcast a planet’s existence. Whether we should seriously consider wrapping Earth in a protective cloak of invisibility – or conversely, getting serious about trumpeting our existence – via laser manipulations is something we should all decide together. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

For scientists searching the skies for other Earth-like planets—other living worlds—the brightest hope may be a quiet star too dim to be seen with the naked eye, a sedate and solitary red dwarf called LHS 1140 nestled just 40 light-years away in the southern constellation Cetus. There an international team of astronomers has found a world that, although not a twin of Earth, certainly counts as a close cousin. LHS 1140 b is a “super-Earth,” a planet bigger than ours but smaller than Neptune, and the most common variety of world thought to exist in our galaxy. Many erstwhile super-Earths, however, have proved to be uninhabitable “mini-Neptunes” smothered beneath thick layers of gas. This world is different. At just under 50 percent larger than Earth but more than six times as heavy, its dimensions suggest it must be a ball of rock and metal, potentially with a thin and comparatively Earth-like atmosphere. Its 25-day orbit brings it 10 times closer to its star than Earth ever gets to our sun, but LHS 1140 shines so weakly that its planet soaks up just half the starlight our own world receives—just enough, it seems, to sustain the possibility of life-giving liquid water oceans on its surface. This alien world might well be tidally locked due to its nearness to its star, eternally turning the same face to its sun just as the moon does to Earth, leaving its far side in constant darkness. The planet and star are estimated to be at least five billion years old—that is, about half a billion years older than our solar system. Most importantly, each orbit sends this temperate, rocky world “transiting” across the face of its star as seen from Earth—a fortuitous alignment allowing astronomers to observe the planet more closely than any other potentially habitable world yet found beyond our solar system. Molecules in a transiting planet's upper atmosphere absorb a fraction of the starlight passing through, forming a tenuous ring of light around the globe that astronomers can study to learn what is in its alien air. In coming years astronomers will use this and other techniques to seek out any biosphere that might exist on LHS 1140 b, potentially revealing signs of oxygen and other atmospheric gases that, on Earth, constitute the literal breath of life. The planet’s discovery is detailed in a study published in Nature. “LHS 1140 b is the best candidate to look at for signs of life in the near future,” says study co-author David Charbonneau, an astronomer at Harvard University who leads the MEarth Project, a global network of small telescopes that first observed the transiting planet. (The “M” in “MEarth” stands for “M dwarf,” a technical term for those red dwarf stars that are about 30 percent or less the mass of the sun. Such stars are by far the most common variety in our galaxy, and the most amenable to studies of planets.) “This is the first time we’ve found a rocky planet that gives us the opportunity to look for oxygen,” Charbonneau adds This really is the one we’ve been hunting for.” Long sought, the planet was also one that almost got away. MEarth’s array of telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere, located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, first picked up tentative signs of LHS 1140b’s transit in September 2014. MEarth team member and lead study author Jason Dittmann, then a graduate student at Harvard University, spearheaded the effort to confirm and study the potential planet. The case for the planet slowly grew over the next two years, as the MEarth team enlisted help from a second group of astronomers operating the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS instrument in Chile—the world’s premiere planet-hunting spectrograph. Rather than look for transits, HARPS finds planets by the periodic gravitational wobbles they impose on their stars. This slow, painstaking technique allows a planet’s mass to be estimated. “MEarth detected a transit event, but only one, and it was low signal to noise so they were not completely sure it was real,” says study co-author Xavier Bonfils, an astronomer at the University of Geneva who helms the HARPS survey of red dwarf stars. “But they have never passed us a false positive, so we considered this a quite reliable candidate and began an intensive observing campaign.” By combining HARPS and MEarth observations, the teams eventually predicted a transit for the putative planet would be viewable from facilities in Hawaii and Australia on September 1, 2016. But on the appointed night, poor weather prevented five of the six telescopes from observing the star. Only one observer, amateur astronomer and study co-author Thiam-Guan Tan, successfully watched the transit using a small telescope in the suburbs of Perth, Australia. That night, Tan sent the MEarth team a terse e-mail reporting his success: “Transit egress seen at ~HJD +7633.12. Depth about 5 mmag.” That is, Tan had recorded LHS 1140 dimming by just half of 1 percent from a transiting planet—equivalent, he says, to “observing the dimming of light caused by a grain of sand moving in front of a candle placed 400 kilometers away.” With the planet’s orbital period in hand, subsequent observations with MEarth and HARPS quickly firmed up estimates for its size and mass, revealing it to be a giant, rocky and very noteworthy world. One could be forgiven for thinking planet hunters are somehow confused. With every passing month a new prime candidate for “Earth 2.0” seems to emerge. But not all potentially habitable worlds are equally promising for follow-up study. For example, since its launch in 2009 NASA’s Kepler space telescope has discovered about a dozen potentially habitable worlds transiting other stars in our galaxy. Yet Kepler’s finds are thousands of light-years away—too far to be scrutinized for more nuanced signs of habitability and life. Conversely, last year astronomers discovered a potentially habitable Earth-size planet, Proxima b, around the sun’s nearest neighboring star—the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, scarcely more than four light-years away. But like most other known nearby worlds, Proxima b does not appear to transit, meaning deeper studies may be delayed for years as astronomers develop the technology to actually snap its picture. Earlier this year, planet hunters hit pay dirt with a system of at least seven Earth-size planets transiting another red dwarf, TRAPPIST-1, which like LHS 1140 is about 40 light-years away. Researchers carefully studied each transiting planet’s shadow to determine its size, and even managed to estimate some of their weights by watching how the orbiting planets tugged on one another to subtly alter the timing of their transits. These studies, however, yielded mixed results—the worlds of TRAPPIST-1 could be rocky, Charbonneau says, or they could be drowned or smothered beneath thick layers of water, ice or gas. Even so, because they do transit, astronomers using NASA’s upcoming infrared James Webb Space Telescope or under-construction ground-based telescopes with 30-meter mirrors will be able to learn much more about the planets of TRAPPIST-1 by studying the makeup of their atmospheres. But although TRAPPIST-1 is the same distance from Earth as LHS 1140, it is a much smaller and dimmer “ultracool” red dwarf—as small and dim as a star can be, in fact, while still qualifying as a star. The meager trickle of light it shines toward Earth is insufficient to support a robust search for atmospheric oxygen. Even if TRAPPIST-1 were bright enough to allow its planets to be studied for signs of oxygen, the star presents other problems for life-seeking astronomers. Like all red dwarfs, it experienced a tempestuous youth during which it shined far brighter as it slowly contracted to its current size. This formative period lasted for perhaps a billion years, and may well have left its retinue of worlds scorched and airless—or wreathed in a crushing, arid atmosphere of almost pure carbon dioxide, due to a Venus-style runaway greenhouse effect. Even today the star is highly active, bathing its planets in atmosphere-eroding x-ray and ultraviolet radiation. LHS 1140, by contrast, is thought to have had a much briefer formative phase of just 40 million years, and is now a relatively quiescent star. “That’s the big question now: ‘Which planet is going to retain its atmosphere against stellar heating and erosion?’” Bonfils says. “And the chance seems higher around a quiet star like LHS 1140.” The great bulk of LHS 1140 b, its discoverers say, could offer additional advantages. The planet’s hefty gravitational field may have allowed it to retain more of its air against stellar insults. And even if it did lose its primordial atmosphere or suffer a runaway greenhouse effect during its star’s initial 40 million years of planet-scorching brightness, back then its crust and mantle were likely still molten, forming a planetary magma ocean that could act as a reservoir for volatile gases. As the magma cooled, it could release those gases to replenish the planet’s atmosphere and inventory of water. Studying both planetary systems together, Dittmann says, could yield crucial insights about how potentially habitable worlds can keep—or lose—their atmospheres around red dwarf stars. “Between TRAPPIST-1 and LHS 1140 b we have the opportunity to compare a planet bathed in intense radiation by an active ultracool dwarf star with one around a much calmer, steadier star,” he explains. “That will let us ask—and answer—some fun questions.” In the meantime, he says, the MEarth team’s plans for LHS 1140 “are incredibly simple: We’re going to hit this system with everything we’ve got.” Already, the team is hammering away at the system with additional observations, bombarding the star with HARPS measurements practically every night for several months in hopes of pinning down the planet’s true mass and learning whether other worlds lurk hidden in the system. Observations with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope are measuring how much ultraviolet light from the star falls on the planet to better understand its prospects for life. Additional, yet-to-be-approved observations with Hubble and another space-based NASA telescope, the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, could reveal just how much high-energy radiation the world receives, further clarifying its capacity to support life. This fall the team hopes to take over most of the world-class telescopes in Chile for one night, monitoring a transit of the planet on October 26 with the twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes as well as three or four of the eight-meter observatories that make up the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope complex. These observations will seek to detect the planet’s atmosphere—or at least to confirm that it lacks a thick, biosphere-stifling envelope of gas. But the best information will come later this decade and early in the next with the launch of NASA’s Webb telescope in 2018 and the debut of ground-based 30-meter extremely large telescopes in the 2020s. Operating in the infrared part of the spectrum, Webb could search for signs of carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane and other gases in LHS 1140 b’s atmosphere. A ground-based facility such as the under-construction Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) could look for atmospheric oxygen in visible light reflected from the planet. Combining data from Webb and the GMT, Charbonneau says, could allow astronomers to distinguish between potentially biological sources of oxygen—such as photosynthetic organisms—and abiotic production routes for the gas, which can be generated in enormous amounts by runaway-greenhouse conditions. “The message is that we really need both Webb and something like the GMT,” Charbonneau says. “The GMT could detect oxygen, which would tell us that there really could be life there. But to understand the source of that oxygen you must go and measure other atmospheric molecules, and those will be in domain of Webb.” Astronomers preparing Webb for launch are already planning observations of the new planet. “Only time will tell, but I would not be surprised that LHS 1140b will become one of the most-studied planets by Webb in its entire lifetime,” says René Doyon, an astronomer at the University of Montreal and principal investigator for NIRISS, a Canadian-built instrument for Webb that is optimized for studying planetary atmospheres. Doyon has already allocated some of NIRISS’s precious observing time to study the system, which he calls a “dream target” for Webb. Pondering the prospect of devoting years—decades even—of his scientific career to studying this newfound planet, Dittmann (who has since moved to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is a postdoctoral fellow) occasionally wonders whether the investment will pan out. Red dwarfs and super-Earths are respectively the most abundant stars and planets in the galaxy, and when they come together to form a transiting system they offer astronomers a bonanza of observational possibilities with current or near-future technology. But they are also profoundly alien, presenting myriad unique challenges to observers hoping to understand them and their prospects for life. Studies of more familiar territory—smaller planets around scarcer, larger stars like our sun—are at present far more difficult, with breakthrough results perhaps still decades away. “We’re being pushed to [red dwarfs] because of their abundance and our available technology. But you know, we go outside everyday and there’s a nice yellow star up there, shining for us,” Dittmann muses. “It is kind of strange, to wonder why we don’t instead orbit one of the most common star types in the universe—and maybe it’s because they’re not so great for life. It’s on the back of everyone’s mind—certainly mine. Then again, maybe life would have no problem around these stars. What’s important is that we’re now at the point where we’re finding and studying these planets, like LHS 1140 b and those of TRAPPIST-1—and more that will come—so that we can confront all these hypotheticals with actual data. So this is where we’re going. In 10 years I may eat my words, but in 10 years I’ll also be eating lots of telescope time.”


San Antonio - April 13, 2017 - Scientists from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have discovered hydrogen gas in the plume of material erupting from Saturn's moon Enceladus. Analysis of data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft indicates that the hydrogen is best explained by chemical reactions between the moon's rocky core and warm water from its subsurface ocean. The SwRI-led team's discovery suggests that Enceladus' ocean floor could include features analogous to hydrothermal vents on Earth, which are known to support life on the seafloor. "Hydrogen is a source of chemical energy for microbes that live in the Earth's oceans near hydrothermal vents," said SwRI's Dr. Hunter Waite, principal investigator of Cassini's Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS). "Our results indicate the same chemical energy source is present in the ocean of Enceladus. We have not found evidence of the presence of microbial life in the ocean of Enceladus, but the discovery of hydrogen gas and the evidence for ongoing hydrothermal activity offer a tantalizing suggestion that habitable conditions could exist beneath the moon's icy crust." Waite is the lead author of "Cassini Finds Molecular Hydrogen in the Enceladus Plume: Evidence for Hydrothermal Processes," published in the April 14, 2017, issue of the journal Science. On the Earth's ocean floor, hydrothermal vents emit hot, mineral-laden fluid, allowing unique ecosystems teeming with unusual creatures to thrive. Microbes that convert mineral-laden fluid into metabolic energy make these ecosystems possible. "The amount of molecular hydrogen we detected is high enough to support microbes similar to those that live near hydrothermal vents on Earth," said SwRI's Dr. Christopher Glein, a co-author on the paper and a pioneer of extraterrestrial chemical oceanography. "If similar organisms are present in Enceladus, they could 'burn' the hydrogen to obtain energy for chemosynthesis, which could conceivably serve as a foundation for a larger ecosystem." During Cassini's close flyby of Enceladus on Oct. 28, 2015, INMS detected molecular hydrogen as the spacecraft flew through the plume of gas and ice grains spewing from cracks on the surface. Previous flybys provided evidence for a global subsurface ocean residing above a rocky core. Molecular hydrogen in the plumes could serve as a marker for hydrothermal processes, which could provide the chemical energy necessary to support life. To search for hydrogen specifically native to Enceladus, the spacecraft flew particularly close to the surface and operated INMS in a specific mode to minimize and quantify any spurious sources. "We developed new operations methods for INMS for Cassini's final flight through Enceladus' plume," said SwRI's Rebecca Perryman, the INMS operations technical lead. "We conducted extensive simulations, data analyses, and laboratory tests to identify background sources of hydrogen, allowing us to quantify just how much molecular hydrogen was truly originating from Enceladus itself." Scientists also considered other sources of hydrogen from the moon itself, such as a preexisting reservoir in the ice shell or global ocean. Analysis determined that it was unlikely that the observed hydrogen was acquired during the formation of Enceladus or from other processes on the moon's surface or in the interior. "Everything indicates that the hydrogen originates in the moon's rocky core," Waite said. "We considered various ways hydrogen could leach from the rock and found that the most plausible source is ongoing hydrothermal reactions of rock containing reduced minerals and organic materials." INMS, built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, is operated by an international team of scientists headed by Waite. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, a division of Caltech, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed, and assembled at JPL.


News Article | March 28, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

There is a new focus at NASA on small satellite missions as forerunners for larger missions of the Solar System. The NASA program, Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies gives a window for projects with small satellites to study Solar System's celestial bodies. In the latest step, NASA has awarded $3.6 million to ten projects for concept planning awaiting their roll out after a few months. Generally, small satellites weigh less than 400 pounds. Among the 10 projects selected, two are Venus centric with a focus on noble gasses and isotopes. One CubeSat project will be looking at ultraviolet absorption and atmosphere's nightglow emissions. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will be sending a 12-unit CubeSat to investigate the hydrogen cycle of the moon. The small satellite from Johns Hopkins University will target an asteroid with a seismometer to examine its surface and interiors. Another CubeSat from Purdue University will image Phobos and Deimos — the Martian moons. NASA Ames will deploy a CubeSat to Mars focusing on climate studies. The probe of Hampton University will be on Uranus and its atmosphere. The magnetosphere of Jupiter will be the core area of investigation for the project of Southwest Research Institute. Basically, SmallSats handle the delivery of preliminary data for upcoming bigger projects. The cost of launching SmallSats is also nominal. "These small but mighty satellites have the potential to enable transformational science. They guide NASA's development of small spacecraft technologies for deep space science investigation," noted Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. Green added that the agency is investing in SmallSats after being convinced of their utility for cutting edge scientific investigations. A range of merits justify SmallSats such as deployment from bigger spacecraft to target-specific investigations to back main missions. The Mars mission of NASA will use this approach by despatching two small satellites for advanced data. NASA is also buoyed by the 2016 report by the US National Academies that said SmallSats technology has come of age to provide high-value science. There are many cost benefits from the use of SmallSats. They also offer the flexibility to operate in constellations. "What we're seeing is a capability that we haven't really seen before in terms of small satellites that can do pretty good science at a much-reduced cost compared to the big missions," said Steve Mackwell from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Maryland. Mackwell said miniaturization helps in deploying SmallSats where larger missions had been thought about. It is an unprecedented opportunity in using them to explore inner Solar System bodies like the Venus and Moon. Green noted that miniature satellites had posed challenges in the past with problems like difficulties around power and communication. Mackwell, however, points that there a change and critical advances have been made in their functioning. An example is compact propulsion systems to reach places where they can ride and maneuver to the ultimate destination. Also, innovations have come up to incorporate solar panels into SmallSats to boost capabilities. More progress is being made on the technology front. An example is engineers at Nasa's Glenn Research Center demonstrating printed electronics suitable for operating in the harsh conditions at Venus. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.prnewswire.co.uk

DUBLIN, April 26, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Research and Markets has announced the addition of the "Redox Flow Batteries 2017-2027: Markets, Trends, Applications" report to their offering. Redox Flow Batteries were initially developed by NASA in the 70's for its space programme. The...


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

Eating in microgravity can be challenging, but it can also be a lot of fun. NASA astronaut Jack Fischer, who is in the early days of his first-ever stint aboard the International Space Station, shared images on Saturday of what a popular Earth snack looks like up in orbit. The image shows a smiling Fischer behind a floating armada of boat-shaped corn chips smeared with refried beans and plenty of gooey yellow cheese. The astronaut says they're like "bean & cheese tacos-only they float!" Another image shows a flour tortilla covered in beans, cheese and what looks like some sort of meat concoction while a tub of cheese sauce floats in the background. A closer inspection of Fischer's third photo shows a container of Fritos-brand bean dip, just in case you want to make your own space nachos. Fischer's enthusiasm for the nachos/tacos/open-face burritos meals is more amusing in light of his pre-launch declaration that the space station's toilet inspires "sheer terror."


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

What would you think if your government didn't believe in gravity? If your senator alleged that, because they couldn't see it, perhaps it didn't exist. To many, this might seem absurd—the science is enough to know that it's real. Like gravity, climate change isn't always obvious, but its forces on Earth are increasingly clear. Yet, more than half of America's 115th Congress are climate change deniers, according to a Motherboard survey of their personal testimonies and voting records. The majority of climate scientists—at least 97 percent—agree that climate change is happening, and is a consequence of human activity. Government and independent climate scientists alike have published abundant evidence showing our impact on Earth's climate. Meanwhile, task forces like the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have underscored the necessity of significantly reducing our global emissions. The United States is facing one of its most anti-science Congresses in history. Almost 30 years ago, a NASA scientist named James Hansen pleaded with Congress, under the Reagan Administration, to accept the evidence and do something about it. "It is already happening now," Hansen said before a Congressional committee in 1988. Fast-forward three decades, and the United States is facing one of its most anti-science Congresses in history. Many members of the Senate and House of Representatives have gone on-record to denounce climate change as a hoax. Others have proven through their votes that regulating greenhouse gas emissions is not a priority. And still, some state representatives claim to believe in human-made climate change, but consistently support policies that would erode initiatives to combat it. In the Senate, 53 out of 100 members are climate change deniers. In the House of Representatives, 232 out of 435 members are climate change deniers. For the purpose of this survey, we defined climate change deniers as those who deny the existence of anthropogenic, or human-made, climate change. Senators and representatives who called themselves "skeptics" were also included, because enough empirical evidence exists for them to make an informed decision on whether people are influencing the climate. To the argument that voting against climate change bills is not the same as denying it exists: the many species, ecosystems, and people already seeing its effects can no longer wait for Congress to debate the merits of addressing climate change right now. Both groups include Republicans and Democrats, though GOP members largely outnumber their counterparts. Curiously, states that are most vulnerable to climate change are not immune to a leadership of denial. In Florida, for example, where sea levels are carving away parts of its coastline, 14 out of 27 Representatives are climate change deniers. Even in California, where climate change is linked to, or at least exacerbates, periods of extreme drought, 15 out of 53 Representatives are climate change deniers. Deniers tend to use the same (scientifically debunk-able) reasoning for their beliefs. Explanations for recent climatic shifts include solar activity, corruption among scientists, Al Gore, and the discerning will of God. But the excuse most frequently touted was that Earth's climate has always been changing. It's partly true; the geological record tells us our planet has gone through several glacial and interglacial periods, most recently between 120,000 and 11,500 years ago. Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, believe that fluctuations in solar radiation due to Earth's varied orbit are one cause for these changes. To be clear, the mechanisms behind these cycles are established science. And instead of entering a gradual cooling period, which we should be right now, we're actually getting warmer, due to human activity. Deniers tend to use the same (scientifically debunk-able) reasoning for their beliefs. In regard to life on Earth, ancient widespread die-offs, such as the Permian-Triassic extinction that killed 70 percent of terrestrial species, have been linked to peaks in greenhouse gases and extreme warming. Scientists aren't saying that climate change definitely caused these extinction events, but they could act as much-needed harbingers for current times. What's different now—and what renders the original argument untrue—is that we know climate change is happening now because of human activity, and it's happening faster than ever. Climate scientists have compiled a thorough record of Earth's climate cycles over 800,000 years. As a result, they're able to compare historic warming rates with current ones. And, according to NASA's Earth Observatory, our modern climate is heating up ten times faster than the shifts that brought ice ages to an end. So how do we know that climate change is happening because of humans, and not volcanoes or solar activity? A report released by the IPCC stated, with 90 percent certainty, that most "of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." Atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million over the last 150 years, and its effects on global temperature are well-studied. From a scientist's perspective, the indifference to evidence and consensus has been frustrating, to say the least. A report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Pew Research Center last year found massive divides between public and scientific opinion. Approximately 37 percent of those surveyed did not think that climate scientists agreed on global warming. Many researchers and educators have vowed to organize and protest the Trump Administration as a result of climate inaction. Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, once said: "As a scientist, you don't just jump to conclusions. You do the tests. You say, 'OK, could it be a natural cycle this time? Could it be the sun? Could it be volcanoes? Could it be orbital cycles and ice ages?'" "We run those tests and we see if it could be any of those things that caused the climate to change naturally in the past. And in this case, we've run those tests and the answer to all those questions is, 'no.' In fact, if our temperature were controlled by natural causes right now, we'd be getting cooler, not warmer," she added. As we enter four years of climate ambiguity at best, and reckless environmental abuse at worst, Motherboard encourages you to know your Congressional representatives, and where they stand on the most important global issue of our generation. We've included contact information for the office of each Senator and Representative on this list so you may contact them.


News Article | March 24, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Using NASA's Hubble Telescope, Astronomers have detected a supermassive black hole being evicted from the central hub of its parent galaxy in what could be a demonstration of the immense force of gravitational waves. Scientists have suspected there are several black holes elsewhere kicked out of their galactic core and the recent discovery is considered a very strong case confirming what they assumed all the while. The black hole, which weighs more than 1 billion suns, is the first supermassive black hole found to have been evicted from its home. To propel a black hole as massive as this one from its galactic core requires an immense amount of energy. It is estimated that the energy required is equivalent to the energy of 100 supernovas exploding at the same time, study co-author Stefano Bianchi of Roma Tre University said. Stefano said their theoretical model suggested that the gravitational waves generated by the fusion of two black holes some 1 to 2 billion years ago, propelled this massive black hole spaceward. The rogue black hole was found to have moved 35,000 light-years away from the central hub of its parent galaxy 3C 186. This distance is farther than the Sun's distance from the center of the Milky Way. The researchers said this super massive black hole continues to hurtle away at a speed of 7.5 million kilometers per hour. Gravitational waves, first put forward by Albert Einstein, are ripples created when two massive objects bumped in space. These ripples are similar to the waves created when a stone is dropped into a pond. Its existence was only proven last year when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected them having their origin from the merging of two massive black holes. "When I first saw this, I thought we were seeing something very peculiar," team leader Marco Chiaberge of the Space Telescope Science Institute said of the observed black hole. Since black holes are located at the core of their galaxies, Chiaberge said he was surprised to see a quasar off from the galaxy's central hub. Quasars are the visible and energetic signature of black holes. He said the combined data from different observation sites revealed the same stellar event. Chiaberge's paper on the phenomenon will be published in Astronomy & Astrophysics on March 30. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 24, 2017
Site: phys.org

Cassini is the most sophisticated space probe ever built. Launched in 1997 as a joint NASA/European Space Agency mission, it took seven years to journey to Saturn. It's been orbiting the sixth planet from the sun ever since, sending back data of immense scientific value and images of magnificent beauty.


News Article | April 3, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák, which this year was dubbed "April Fools' Comet" since its passing in close proximity to our planet coincided with the international holiday, has a very interesting history. The green comet passes us by every 5.4 years, in its trajectory from Jupiter to the sun. Although its journey brings it close to Earth for a period of several days, the comet was most visible on April 1, when it came 13 million miles near our home planet, or about 55 times the distance from here to the moon. Discovered by three different scientists, who observed its flight on separate sightings in the course of almost 100 years (their names comprised in the comet's cognomen), this comet required a great deal of attention — it took four astronomers to properly identify it. The comet was first identified in 1858 by Horace Tuttle, back when it was only known as 41P, and was classified at the time as a periodic comet (meaning it orbits the sun). NASA states astronomers didn't know how long it took for the comet to complete its orbit, which is why, when it was spotted again in 1907 by Michael Giacobini, no one thought to link it to the 1858 observation. It was Andrew Crommelin who eventually made the connection between the two sightings and predicted the comet would be seen again in 1928 and 1934. Nevertheless, 41P remained elusive and, since researchers failed to detect it, it was deemed lost. Its identity was established beyond confusion only in 1951, after the comet's flight was once again noticed by L'ubor Kresák, who recognized its linkage to the previous encounters. Comet 41P belongs to the Jupiter family, a group of comets attracted by the giant planet's gravitational pull and currently found in orbit between Jupiter and the sun. Relatively few of these comets have been studied thus far, according to Michael DiSanti, from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. DiSanti is particularly interested to observe more about 41P's activity, nucleus composition and rotation speed. If you enjoyed Saturday's viewing, hold on to your telescope for the grand finale on April 12, when the comet will be reaching perihelion (its closest point to the sun), passing through the Ursa Major and Draco constellations. Scientists anticipate we'll be in for quite a treat as 41P approaches the sun, just like in May 1973, when the comet experienced a breathtaking brightness outburst, becoming 10,000 times more radiant in the span of only a few days. "Nobody knows for sure why the comet abruptly flared in 1973, but careful scrutiny of recent approaches to the sun in 1995, 2001, and 2006 suggest that outbursts in brightness tend to occur around the time [the comet] is passing closest to the Sun," explains astronomer Joe Rao, from New York's Hayden Planetarium, in a statement. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 29, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

The ancient Chinese practiced copromancy, the diagnosis of health based on the shape, size and texture of feces. So did the Egyptians, the Greeks and nearly every ancient culture. Even today, your doctor may ask when you last had a bowel movement and to describe it in exquisite detail. Sure, it's uncomfortable to talk about. But that's where science comes in, because what we don't like to discuss can still cause harm. Irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal infections and other poop-related ailments cost Americans billions of dollars annually. But trying to stem these problems was not our main motivation for trying to figure out some of the physics of defecation. It was something else, much more sinister. From personal observation, into the lab When parenthood hits, it hits hard. One of us is a working dad who survived by learning a new set of skills, one of which was fecal analysis. Years of diaper changes and then potty training turned me from a poo-analysis novice to a wizened connoisseur. My life passes by in a series of images: hard feces pellets like peas to long feces like a smooth snake to a puddle of brown water. Unlike the ancients, we didn't believe that we could predict the future from children's stool. But we did think it was worth trying to understand where all these shapes come from. Having a laboratory to answer questions about the everyday world is one of the distinct pleasures of being a scientist. As fluid dynamicists, we joined forces with colorectal surgeon Daniel Chu, and two stalwart undergraduates, Candice Kaminski and Morgan LaMarca, who filmed defecation and hand-picked feces from 34 mammalian species at Zoo Atlanta in order to measure their density and viscosity. Raw footage of an elephant at the Atlanta Zoo. We learned that most elephants and other herbivores create "floaters" while most tigers and other carnivores create "sinkers." Inadvertently, we also ranked feces from most to least smelly, starting with tiger and rhino and going all the way to panda. The zoo's variety of animals provided us with a range of fecal sizes and shapes that served as independent pieces of evidence to validate our mathematical model of the duration of defecation. We also placed the feces in a device called a "rheometer," a precision blender that can measure the properties of liquid-like and solid-like materials such as chocolate and shampoo. Our lab shares two rheometers with Georgia Tech physicist Alberto Fernandez-Nieves. We have since categorized the rheometers as the "clean rheometer" and the "David Hu rheometer," which has seen its fair share of frog saliva, mucus, and feces. The secret to the speed What else did we learn? Bigger animals have longer feces. And bigger animals also defecate at higher speed. For instance, an elephant defecates at a speed of six centimeters per second, nearly six times as fast as a dog. The speed of defecation for humans is in between: two centimeters per second. Together, this meant that defecation duration is constant across many animal species – around 12 seconds (plus or minus 7 seconds) – even though the volume varies greatly. Assuming a bell curve distribution, 66 percent of animals take between 5 and 19 seconds to defecate. It's a surprisingly small range, given that elephant feces have a volume of 20 liters, nearly a thousand times more than a dog's, at 10 milliliters. How can big animals defecate at such high speed? The answer, we found, was in the properties of an ultra-thin layer of mucus lining the walls of the large intestine. The mucus layer is as thin as human hair, so thin that we could measure it only by weighing feces as the mucus evaporated. Despite being thin, the mucus is very slippery, more than 100 times less viscous than feces. During defecation, feces moves like a solid plug. Therefore, in ideal conditions, the combined length and diameter of feces is simply determined by the shape of one's rectum and large intestine. One of the big findings of our study was that feces extend halfway up the length of the colon from the rectum. Putting the length of feces together with the properties of mucus, we now have a cohesive physics story for how defecation happens. Bigger animals have longer feces, but also thicker mucus, enabling them to achieve high speeds with the same pressure. Without this mucus layer, defecation might not be possible. Alterations in mucus can contribute to several ailments, including chronic constipation and even infections by bacteria such as C. difficile in the gastrointestinal tract. Beyond simply following our scientific curiosity, our measurements of feces have also had some practical applications. Our defecation data helped us design an adult diaper for astronauts. Astronauts want to stay in space suits for seven days, but are limited by their diapers. Taking advantage of the viscosity of feces, we designed a diaper that segregates the feces away from direct contact with skin. It was a semifinalist in the NASA Space Poop Challenge earlier this year. It just shows that physics and mathematics can be used everywhere, even in your toilet bowl. This post was originally published on The Conversation.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

The moon has buried scars. Maps of its gravity have confirmed the existence of hidden, ancient craters, long since filled in by lava flows and rising lunar mantle. By combining gravity-mapping data with their own mathematical models, Jay Melosh at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and his colleagues have confirmed the existence of two underground craters, one completely buried beneath the Sea of Tranquility. The approach could let us map every single impact that punctured the moon’s surface since its crust formed around 4.2 billion years ago, Melosh says. Astronomers have known about these buried craters since the early days of lunar science, says Jeffrey Andrews-Hanna at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was not involved in the new work. “We can still see their rims poking up above the maria like islands in a sea of frozen lava,” he says. Last year, Alex Evans at the University of Arizona and colleagues used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission to find evidence of over 100 craters buried beneath seas of basalt formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. GRAIL consisted of twin spacecraft, called Ebb and Flow, that orbited the moon for nine months in 2012. Measuring small changes in their acceleration allowed scientists to map the moon’s gravity. That in turn gives insights into variations in the density of the lunar surface and interior. “Gravity is sensitive to the distribution of mass beneath the surface, and so we can use it to see into the inside of the moon,” says Andrews-Hanna. Measurements from GRAIL also revealed buried rift valleys, structures underneath ancient volcanoes and other formations caused by volcanic activity. Melosh and his colleagues built on this work. They were searching the GRAIL data for traces of underground lava tubes when they came across the two large buried craters that had only been hinted at in Evans’s research. One crater, which the team call Earhart, measures around 200 kilometres in diameter. Located in the north-eastern part of the moon’s near side, it is almost completely masked by a later impact and subsequent lava flooding. It was probably created by an asteroid impact around three billion years ago, after the moon formed a crust but before it significantly cooled. Melosh estimates that the asteroid made a crater 40 or 50 kilometres deep, which was then filled in by a combination of lava flow from volcanoes and the moon’s mantle pushing up the thin crust. The Earhart impact left behind a small, visible trace of a crater rim which hinted at the existence of crater beneath. The team also discovered a slightly smaller buried crater 160 kilometres in diameter, which they called the Ashoka Anomaly. Further analysis of these buried craters could reveal more about the lunar surface beneath the vast plains of volcanic deposits, Andrews-Hanna says. “Like peeling back the layers of an onion, we can use gravity data to see below the surface and learn things like the age of the layers beneath,” he says.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

This NASA image obtained April 19, 2017 shows a movie of asteroid 2014-JO25 generated using radar data collected by NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California's Mojave Desert (AFP Photo/Handout) Paris (AFP) - A peanut-shaped asteroid 1.3 kilometres (3,280 feet) across streaked past Earth on Wednesday, giving astronomers a rare chance to check out a big space rock up close. But not too close. Dubbed 2014-JO25, the asteroid came nearest at 12:20 GMT and is now hurtling away from the centre of our solar system, said Ian Carnelli, an astronomer from the European Space Agency (ESA). "It does not represent a danger to our planet," Carnelli told AFP, noting that the asteroid passed within 1.8 million kilometres (1.1 million miles) of Earth -- about four times the distance to the moon. The Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico -- which has one of the world's biggest radio telescopes -- captured the 2014 JO25's first images, showing an object that is likely "two large asteroids that fused together". The space projectile will remain visible to onlookers equipped with a telescope in the northern hemisphere on Wednesday night. Herewith, a little primer on near-Earth asteroids and the danger they pose (or not). You may not see them, but space rocks whizz above our heads all the time. Patrick Michel, an astronomer at the Cote d'Azur Observatory, estimates that an average of 10,000 to 100,000 tons of spatial material come into our general neighbourhood each year. But large asteroids passing this close to Earth remain a rarity. "The next one will pass by in 2027, a 800-metre long object that will come within" one Earth-to-the-Moon distance, he said. The last time 2014-JO25 was in our vicinity was 400 years ago, and its next close encounter with Earth won't happen until sometime after 2600. 2014-JO25 does not represent an immediate danger. But it does fall within the category of "potentially hazardous asteroids" that astronomers monitor for safety, Pascal Descamps, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory told AFP by phone. Any space rock at least one kilometre (0.6 miles) across that travels within 7 million kilometres (4.3 million miles) of Earth qualifies. The good news is that scientists have identified at least 90 percent of these flying hazards within our solar system. "There isn't a single one that threatens us in the short term, meaning in the next few centuries," Michel said. "There are thousands of asteroids larger than one kilometre," he added. "The frequency with which they could hit us is once every 500,000 years, so we are facing a risk that is very low." Many sizeable asteroids have crashed into Earth or exploded in our atmosphere, leaving behind massive craters -- and clues as to their composition. More than 60,000 years ago, a 30-metre (98-foot) rock crashed into what is today Arizona. And 65 million years ago, an even bigger asteroid slammed into Earth a little further south, leading to the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs. A one-kilometre asteroid hitting our planet today would be like "a million Hiroshima bombs," Michel said, and trigger the extinction of roughly a quarter of all species. "A 10-kilometre object... would provoke the extinction of our species," he added. - What can be done? - To prevent such a catastrophe, a team of astronomers from NASA and the European Space Agency have drawn up plans for a live test in space: deviating a potentially deadly asteroid. An self-guided 400-kilo satellite -- hurtling at six kilometres per second -- would target an approaching asteroid. The objective would not be to destroy the object, but to deflect it, since fragments could then crash into Earth. A target has been selected. So far, however, funding has not been approved.


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

New research suggests that life could jump from one planet to another in the closely-packed TRAPPIST system in as little as 10 years (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) Back in February, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting the nearby red dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1. With three of those planets orbiting within the star's Habitable Zone (HZ), the system is one of our best bets for finding life beyond Earth, and new research from the University of Chicago suggests that if it is there, life could jump between the tightly-packed planets in a matter of decades. At a distance of 40 light-years away, the TRAPPIST-1 system's planets aren't our closest possible homes-away-from-home – that honor goes to Proxima b, a galactic stone's throw away at just four light-years. But what makes TRAPPIST-1 such an attractive prospect for extraterrestrial life is the fact that all seven planets are in extremely close proximity to each other, so if life arises on one planet, it could spread to the others relatively quickly. "Frequent material exchange between adjacent planets in the tightly packed TRAPPIST-1 system appears likely," says Sebastiaan Krijt, lead author of the study. "If any of those materials contained life, it's possible they could inoculate another planet with life." While Earth is the only planet we know for sure is home to life, it didn't necessarily start here. The seeds of life, in the form of microscopic organisms, may have been brought to our planet by asteroids or comets – a hypothesis known as panspermia. On the other hand there's lithopanspermia, the idea that chunks of rock carrying tiny organisms could be thrown into space by these cosmic collisions, spreading that life to other planets. But for this to work, a few factors need to be considered. The pieces of rock ejected into space would need to be large enough to protect the organisms from cosmic radiation, and even then, the journey to their new home would need to be relatively short, to keep the space travellers alive. And the speed at which the rocks are flung into space also needs to be just right: too fast and the lifeforms wouldn't survive the trip, too slow and the rocks would fall back to the planet's surface. Running a series of simulations on these events, the researchers set out to determine how likely the scenario could be in the TRAPPIST system. The team found that rocks large enough to protect any hitchhiking organisms during space travel and re-entry would also tend to leave their home planet at a speed just above the minimum required to break free. Given how close together the system's planets are, the researchers concluded that this process could take place pretty quickly, seeding life from one world to another in as little as 10 years. "Given that tightly packed planetary systems are being detected more frequently, this research will make us rethink what we expect to find in terms of habitable planets and the transfer of life — not only in the TRAPPIST-1 system, but elsewhere," says Fred Ciesla, co-author of the study. "We should be thinking in terms of systems of planets as a whole, and how they interact, rather than in terms of individual planets." The research was published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.


On April 26, NASA's Cassini spacecraft shot between Saturn and its innermost ring, going where no human-made object has gone before. Cassini has already made some new discoveries thanks to its dive through the ring plane. One of those insights is that the area between the planet and its rings "sounds" different than other parts of space surrounding Saturn. SEE ALSO: The Cassini spacecraft dove between Saturn and its rings: Here are the photos to prove it According to new audio files released by NASA, the 1,500-mile-wide gap between Saturn and its distinctive rings actually sounds pretty empty. Other parts of space around Saturn are filled with particles of dust that can be heard by Cassini's plasma detector. This instrument picks up the signal from dust that vaporizes as it hits the fast-moving spacecraft. But the gap between Saturn and its rings is comparitively, and unexpectedly, silent. "The region between the rings and Saturn is 'the big empty,' apparently," Cassini project manager Earl Maize said in a statement. "Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected." Scientists compared data picked up from Cassini's ring dive and a previous pass through a faint ring of dust and debris on Dec. 18, 2016. The 2016 data sounds crackly, with a high number of plasma pops heard as Cassini passed through the ring itself. The data taken by the instrument late last month, however, sounds very different. Instead of crackly pops, the April data sounds more like static from a TV screen punctuated by a high whistling noise that, according to NASA, is a type of plasma wave that scientists are planning to investigate further. "It was a bit disorienting — we weren't hearing what we expected to hear," Cassini scientist William Kurth said in the statement. "I've listened to our data from the first dive several times and I can probably count on my hands the number of dust particle impacts I hear." During that first ring dive, the bits of debris Cassini ran into were only about the size of the particles found in smoke, NASA said.  Cassini is now in the last phase of its mission at Saturn.  The spacecraft will continue to make dives through the gap between Saturn and its rings until the planned end of its mission in September, when it will make its death dive into the world's thick atmosphere.  WATCH: Watch clouds move above Saturn's largest moon in new NASA video


News Article | March 16, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA's Vallen Allen probe's latest updates suggest that Earth's inner radiation belt emits less radiation than expected. The reason for this conclusion was the detected presence of a fewer number of superfast electrons, which are also known as relativistic electrons. This must cheer space agencies and spacecraft flying in the region. Discovered 50 years ago, radiation belts are still under study for understanding their behavior patterns. The observations affirm that the super electrons in the inner radiation belt are not that prominent as had been thought earlier. This concrete finding stemmed from the new capability attained by the mission to identify super electrons distinctly. The findings have been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The new finding was enabled by the capability achieved by scientists from the Magnetic Electron and Ion Spectrometer (MagEIS) instrument that is attached to the mission for distinctly identifying high-energy protons and super electrons reigning the inner radiation belt. "We've known for a long time that there are these really energetic protons in there, which can contaminate the measurements, but we've never had a good way to remove them from the measurements until now," noted Seth Claudepierre, lead author and Van Allen Probes scientist with the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California. The study has offered rare insights on the inner belt and belied the notion that it was relatively static compared to the outer belt. A strong geomagnetic storm in June 2015 had pushed down relativistic electrons into the inner belt, but the finding has added surprise that such super fast electrons are few in the inner belt contrary to what was expected by the scientists. Among the two radiation belts, the outer belt has been considered a violent one. It pulsates dramatically, expands, and shrinks in response to the pressure from solar particles and magnetic field in the context of geomagnetic storms when charged particles sweep down from the sun throughout the solar system. The finding that there are lower levels of radiation will positively help spacecraft flying in the region. Advance knowledge of radiation levels can help in developing lighter and cost-effective satellites that can face moderate radiation. Earlier, Van Allen Probes were known by the name Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) deputed to study the twin regions of space called Van Allen Radiation Belts that surround the Earth. The name comes as a tribute to the discoverer, James Van Allen. The concentric radiation belts are packed with high-energy particles that bounce and drift in the region. Occasionally, they also seep down to the atmosphere of Earth, and the particles also push into space. The Van Allen Probes is NASA's second mission under the "Living with a Star Program" and one of the several heliophysics missions studying the near-Earth environment. The mission takes vital data by plunging through the radiation belts multiple times a day at its elliptical orbit with the spacecraft's capacity to assess the physical processes that are adding and deleting electrons. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 6, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA's Cassini spacecraft was launched in 1997 and has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. However, the space agency is now planning the final few missions with the spacecraft. According to NASA's website, it will begin preparing the Cassini craft for its final run on April 26. During its final mission, Cassini will perform a series of 22 dives in the region between Saturn and its rings. The spacecraft reached Saturn 13 years ago in July. It has since explored the planet, as well as its 62 moons, including Titan. Scientists believe Titan bears many similarities to early Earth. During its voyages, Cassini has successfully shed light on liquid methane seas on Titan's surface. Cassini also explored an ocean-bearing moon known as Enceladus, which showed signs of hydrothermal activity. This led scientists to believe that it may be able to support life. However, NASA says that after 20 years of its launch, the spacecraft is now low on fuel. Therefore, the space agency has decided to terminate the mission by plunging Cassini into Saturn's surface. NASA asserted that this decision was taken to protect and preserve the planet's moon for future exploration. Before its comes to rest, Cassini will go through the 1,500-mile gap between Saturn and its rings several times, to present new data to scientists back on Earth. Scientists are particularly interested in learning whether Saturn's rings are as old as the planet itself, or if they were formed at a later stage. "This planned conclusion for Cassini's journey was far and away the preferred choice for the mission's scientists," confirmed Linda Spilker, a scientist involved with the project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. NASA officials revealed that in September, the spacecraft would have a close encounter with Titan. Following this encounter, Cassini's course will be modified. The spacecraft would then make its final plunge towards Saturn's surface. Before the crash, scheduled for Sept. 15, 2017, scientists will attempt to learn as much as possible about the planet's surface, before the signal is lost forever. "It's a thrilling final chapter for our intrepid spacecraft, and so scientifically rich that it was the clear and obvious choice for how to end the mission," Spilker added. However, scientists caution that due to high speeds of around 70,000 miles per hour, even the smallest particles on Saturn's ring could pose great risk to the spacecraft. This may potentially result in the mission ending prematurely. NASA released an illustrative video, which showcases the exact nature of the final mission. Check it out below. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 14, 2017
Site: boingboing.net

Wernquist's signature animation style uses real images from space missions as a starting point, which gives the resulting animations an uncanny authenticity. In addition, the vistas he creates have an uncommonly powerful sense of scale that conveys the vastness of the planetary locales NASA spacecraft have visited. NASA's JPL is counting down the days to the scheduled end of Cassini's mission in September. Erik Wernquist created this awe-inspiring overview of Cassini's final months of existence. Watch a crushed Life Saver emit light at 28,000 frames per second Destin from Smarter Every Day just polted a cool video on his alt channel: a demonstration of triboluminescence that occurs when a Wint-O-Green Life Saver candy is crushed. The New York Times’ new columnist, Bret Stephens, is an everyday conservative: he thinks institutional racism is imaginary, that campus rape is a big lie, and that the “Arab Mind” is “diseased”. But these are just opinions, and common ones on the right. It is his anti-science positions, on display in his first fact-mangled column […] The true color of Saturn's north pole is a stunning blue Astroparticle physicist Sophia Nasr posted a gorgeous photo of Saturn’s north pole, processed to account for a luminance layer. Instead of a reddish hue, it is a breathtaking cerulean blue. Jason Major replicated the results. This floating speaker is the perfect summer companion Many wireless speakers claim to be “rugged,” or “waterproof,” but few can match the sonic power and durability of the G-Project’s G-DROP. Named one of iLounge’s favorite speakers of 2015, this powerful, compact speaker has an IPX7 waterproof rating making it submersible up to three feet. Not that music will sound good when the speaker is three […] This coding bundle is the ultimate coding bundle You are probably very good at your job, and may not feel the need to learn how to code. That’s perfectly okay. But it’s possible that learning programming could be an interesting and fiscally rewarding way to enrich your life and advance your career. In that case, take a look at The Ultimate Learn to Code […] Airbnb has made lodging arrangements much easier for budget-conscious, impulsive (or not-so-impulsive) travelers across the globe. Instead of staying in an expensive hotel, braving the elements in a campground or guilting your friend into putting you up on a couch, why not just borrow a trustworthy stranger’s room for a night or two? Couch surfing is totally […]


News Article | April 20, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

To infinity… and beyond beautiful skin. For skincare companies, finding new places to harvest rare and exotic ingredients is like a beauty version of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? It's not uncommon for beauty brands to look to far-flung locales for inspiration, but the latest trend in sourcing is about as out of the way as you can get: space. Sounds like a total marketing gimmick, right? Turns out that there’s a lot the beauty industry can learn from astronauts. So much so that NASA itself created a research program, the imaginatively named SkinCare, in 2008 to investigate the effects that microgravity has on the skin. The study focused on just one astronaut, but scientists were able to track notable decreases in the skin’s hydration, elasticity, and barrier function. These manifested themselves as an increase in dryness, sagging, and wrinkles. Also, itchiness. So much itchiness. Christine Falsetti, the co-founder of C2 California Clean Skincare (more on them later) and former internet program manager at NASA, spent over 10 years working closely with the agency’s space and life scientists. In the ’80s she helped with Spacelab, a habitable lab on shuttles that allowed scientists to experiment with everything from the Earth’s atmosphere to growing crystals to microgravity’s effect on its own crew. “What was interesting was that microgravity acts as an accelerator on everything from bone density to skin elasticity,” she notes. Meaning the longer they were up there, the faster the astronauts’ bodies aged. Kind of makes me glad I skipped out on Space Camp. “But Megan,” I hear you saying, “I’m not planning a Star Trek expedition anytime soon. What’s this got to do with me?” Well, my earthbound friends, these findings mean plenty for your skincare routine. You see, what happens in the cosmos at an accelerated level happens here on terra firma over a longer period of time. So any ingredients that can help an astronaut fight skin damage in microgravity is going to do a bang-up job on those of us stuck in regular old gravity. You’d be forgiven for thinking that NASA used some type of next-generation, Mars-mined gemstones to counteract that aging acceleration of the astronaut in their study. The reality is bit less far-fetched. The answer was plain old hydration. Scientists noted that by applying a simple emulsion, their subject’s skin had markedly improved hydration and moisture retention. Proof positive that slapping on some moisturizer really does have a quantifiable effect on the skin. Falsetti, along with her pharmacist co-founder Clarissa Shetler, used that research to inform the creation of their own skincare line, the aforementioned C2. Their research-backed approach led them to same conclusion as NASA: “Skin needs healthy, clean hydration,” says Falsetti. To that end, they looked to hydration staples like hyaluronic acid and squalane. These ingredients are “bioactive and already in your own tissue,” she says, “so your body doesn’t fight it.” Another facet of space aging involves wound healing. In normal situations, the body stimulates its fibroblasts to produce collagen that will help the skin repair itself. In microgravity situations, that collagen production is actually inhibited. “Here on Earth, when you get a paper cut, it usually heals in a few days,” says Falsetti. “In space, it could take a month.” And since collagen is an integral part of skin's structure — i.e., it keeps wrinkles at bay — this inhibited production spells trouble for skin. That’s what led UK-based plastic surgeon Yannis Alexandrides to create his 111Skin line. The good doctor had a happenstance meeting with some former Soviet space program scientists and successfully inspired them to create a custom molecule. “They took the knowledge they had from protecting astronauts from sun damage and healing wounds on soldiers to create the NAC Y2 molecule,” says Alexandrides. The molecule is the foundation of his luxury products. “If you are accentuating the skin's own healing mechanism, you keep the skin younger,” he says. “[If] you keep the skin healing every day a little bit, it will never potentially grow old.” That’s a bit of a stretch, but the science is sound — the slower your skin barrier and collagen production decrease, the longer you can stave off wrinkles and droopiness. While the above brands focus on earthly ingredients that are informed by space data, men’s grooming brand Lab Series takes it one step further by using ingredients that are actually from space. For its ultra-luxe Maxellence collection, the brand took extracts of calcium and magnesium from meteorites, ground them up into a powder, filtered and sterilized them, then popped them into a liquid solution and added it to its Dual Concentrate and Singular Cream. “We have a sample of a meteorite and we were able to identify the source, we know where it landed, we know how big the crop is, we know how old the crop is,” says Matt Teri, Lab Series’ vice president of global product development. “The meteorite is rocky in appearance, but like all rocks from earth, it has a really high essential mineral content.” Both calcium and magnesium are already used frequently in skincare products, so it is worth noting that there is currently no research that supports the theory that outer-space minerals are more beneficial for skin than rocks found on our own planet. But Lab Series doesn’t stop there. The products contain yeast, another proven skincare ingredient — in this case, a superhydrator. However, it’s the way the brand fermented the yeast that makes the difference. Lab Series used a bioreactor, a vessel created by NASA to simulate microgravity, to create a more potent extract. “It’s a specialized environment that actually keeps the material in a free-fall suspension,” says Teri. The claim is that by keeping it in this suspension, its actives become more concentrated, resulting in a more effective product. If these advances are any indication, there are many chapters to come in the beauty industry’s romance with all things intergalactic. “There’s definitely an attraction to what’s happening in the sky,” says Teri. He expects more companies to jump on this bioreactor method to create a host of ultra-powerful extracts. “Space has become a medical laboratory of the aging of the body and skin,” notes Dr. Alexandrides, who believes that observations from space agencies will only continue to inform us on how to take care of our skin. Falsetti agrees, noting that there is so much more that can be learned from NASA. Her bets for the next big thing? “There's some research that's been done that says using lightwaves, particularly in the red and blue spectrum, can have great anti-aging effects without having to be invasive,” she says. “There are some home versions where we're trying to see how effective they are.” She also notes that NASA has developed small sensors that she sees as having the ability to measure everything from wrinkle depth to hydration levels, allowing people to track their skin health and determine how well their skincare products are working. (This technology is actually already starting to roll out. Next month, a popular skincare brand is debuting an at-home sensor device that allows you to track your hydration levels through an app.) “One of the biggest learnings that I had from NASA was that collaborative science leads to powerful innovation,” says Falsetti. Ball’s in your court, beauty experts — let’s see where infinity and beyond takes you.


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

When we look up and see planets from Earth, they appear as pinpoints of light. NASA's Cassini spacecraft peered between the rings of Saturn, gazed back at its home planet and captured a poignant image of Earth from 870 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away. From that distance, Earth appears as a glowing dot standing out in the darkness. Cassini snapped the image on April 12. "Although far too small to be visible in the image, the part of Earth facing Cassini at the time was the southern Atlantic Ocean," NASA says. The space agency also released a closer-up, cropped version of the photo in which the moon is visible as a fainter speck of light. We have to enjoy these new Cassini images while we can. The spacecraft is destined to destroy itself in Saturn's atmosphere later this year after a productive mission spent studying the ringed planet and its many moons. Cassini, a joint project from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, launched back in 1997. Its unique perspective on our solar system will be missed.


News Article | April 30, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Protesters carry signs during the Peoples Climate March at the White House in Washington. (Photo: Ben Adler for Yahoo News) WASHINGTON — Although these are dark days for environmentalists, the Peoples Climate March had a cheerful air Saturday afternoon as it took over the streets surrounding the federal government in Washington, D.C. According to the event’s organizers, more than 200,000 people came from across the country to gather in the swamp’s humidity. (Apropos of the day’s event, the temperature soared past 90°F.) More than 400 official buses brought attendees to D.C., and there were some 300 satellite marches around the country. Marchers started in front of the Capitol Building, filled out the length of Pennsylvania Avenue, and marched down to the White House. There they split in two, symbolically surrounding the White House and the longtime climate-science denier who occupies it. Then they filtered down to the National Mall. Splayed in front of the Washington Monument, they listened to speeches from front-line environmental justice activists hailing from Brooklyn to San Francisco and points halfway in between, such as the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. Giant orbs rolled along representing Earth, and lighthearted signs made reference to the planet with slogans such as “Respect your mother.” Some posters mocked President Trump with slightly dark wisecracks such as “Mar-a-Lago elevation: 3 feet. It’s not all bad.” Some, such as those warning that “There is no Planet B,” were darker still. Others were meant to inspire with slogans such as “The seas are rising but so are we.” The number of comedic political T-shirts rivaled sincere ones. Yahoo News spotted only one Hillary 2016 shirt, but three representing joke candidates for 2020: Stewart/Colbert, the Big Lebowski and Kanye West. Slideshow: People’s Climate March across the U.S. >>> Borrowing from the playbook of conservative Tea Party activists, Harold Fuller-Bennett of Takoma Park, Md., dressed up in Revolutionary War garb. Standing along Pennsylvania Avenue blowing his horn, Fuller-Bennett explained that he was Paul Revere, there to warn the citizens about climate change. His sign helpfully hinted at Revere’s famous ride with the phrase “One if by land, two if by sea,” and Fuller-Bennett consistently issued two honks of the horn to reference the rising seas. Compared to the March for Science a week earlier, Saturday’s demonstration was more overtly political. When marchers passed the Trump International D.C. hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, they started shouting, “Shame, shame” and “Check out.” Many had posters and even puppets depicting Trump in various evil poses, such as holding the Earth on a string like a yo-yo. Only a small number of the messages called for specific policy decisions, but this is perhaps unsurprising given Trump’s hostility toward climate science and environmental regulation. The massive cuts in Trump’s proposed budget to environmental regulation and scientific research did come up, though. And a former Environmental Protection Agency official spoke at the rally on the importance of the bureau’s work. Some marchers chanted “Save the EPA,” “No Keystone,” and carried anti-Trump signs such as “Keep your tiny hands off NASA’s climate research.” Rather than attracting stereotypical gray-ponytailed Birkenstock-shod tree-huggers, this event reflecting the organizers’ emphasis on diversity and environmental and economic justice. Participants were racially diverse, often quite young, with contingents hailing from across the coalition that co-sponsors the Peoples Climate Movement, which includes a range of labor unions, social and racial justice groups, and environmental advocacy organizations. But the political context for these activists is daunting. Just the day before, Trump issued an executive order to the Department of Interior that may result in opening up parts of the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans to offshore oil and gas drilling. In March, Trump began the process of repealing the Clean Power Plan that would have limited carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. And the world anxiously awaits the Trump administration’s decision on whether it will pull the U.S., the world’s largest cumulative greenhouse-gas emitter and largest economy, out of the Paris climate agreement.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

For the first time, NASA will livestream a rocket launch in 360 degrees, giving you a view as if you were standing on the pad. The launch, which is happening in coordination with United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK, is targeted for Tuesday during a 30-minute window that opens at 8:11 a.m. PT/11:11 am ET. It can be viewed on the NASA Television YouTube channel starting 10 minutes prior to liftoff. The Orbital ATK's Cygnus spacecraft is heading out on a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. The livestream from the Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida can be viewed on YouTube or the YouTube app. Although this livestream is a first for NASA, the agency is not new to 360-degree video. Last month it shared a hot-fire engine test. And immersive views from NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover have been posted regularly over the past year to its Jet Propulsion Laboratory YouTube channel.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Some think the only way for humans to survive in space is to genetically modify them. The future of space travel is no longer limited to NASA, private citizens like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are exploring space travel as well. With more people working on advancing the technology of space travel it’s not much of a surprise that genetic engineering would be considered, especially with plans for longer missions like the mission to Mars. Read: Blue Origin Rocket: Jeff Bezos Says No Bathroom Breaks Allowed On Flights To Space NASA is planning on sending humans to Mars sometime in the next 20 to 30 years, a plan that’s already underway. The mission is set to be a one-way trip, but what information NASA gathers from the trip could help researchers learn how to better prepare humans for future trips. A member of the department of Physiology and Biophysics at Cornell, Christopher Mason, is creating a plan for human space travel, according to MIT Technology Review. Mason has a 500-year plan for the colonization of Mars that includes genetic engineering to alter humans to better live on Mars. But Mason is still trying to figure out which parts of DNA can be altered and which shouldn’t be touched. NASA has only ventured into this type of research in studying twins, one here on Earth and one in space. The research is set to be released later in 2017 and will detail the differences NASA discovers between the genetically identical men exposed to different environments for a full year. NASA calls the research “a stepping stone towards long duration space exploration such as journeys to Mars.” Mason hopes to find a way to make humans more resistant to radiation, according to MIT Tech Review. The conditions both in space and on other planets like Mars that lack the atmosphere Earth has are enough to harm and kill humans as is, even with protective gear. Genetic editing is already in the works, but for health purposes like eliminating a dangerous disease from the genes of an embryo, not for creating babies for space travel or “designer babies.” The industry has also been wrapped up in legal battles with the patent battle over CRISPR technology. Astronauts are already a rare people who can keep calm in situations most people wouldn’t be able to, solve problems quickly and have the physical and mental capacity to handle and process space travel and exploration. All traits that can be hard to come by in one person, that’s why it’s so hard to become an astronaut, at least for now.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

If you're a space nerd, there's never been a better time to get back into Lego, especially with a new, towering (literally) set about to hit shelves. SEE ALSO: The real stories of the NASA women celebrated in Lego form Following the huge buzz around the Women of NASA set announced earlier this year, Lego has announced the release date from another user-submitted idea: a Lego set of the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket. Standing at 39-inches high ("approximately 1:110 scale," per LEGO), the rocket is the tallest Lego Ideas set made yet, and it has the most "elements" of any Lego Ideas project, with a whooping 1,969 pieces. (Naturally, since the Apollo 11 mission happened in 1969. We see you, Lego.) Besides the HYUGE Saturn V rocket, the set also includes an Apollo Command Module and Lunar Lander with three new astronaut micro-figs. It also comes with three stands so that you can display your built Saturn V rocket in a horizontal position in its three stages (which is how the three remaining rockets are displayed in museums, including the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama). The set was first proposed nearly three years ago by Felix Stiessen (saabfan) and Valérie Roche (whatsuptoday). The original proposal differs greatly from the Lego-approved version but the final product still hues close to the real thing, making it a fantastic addition. Best of all, it's relatively affordable at $120. The set hits shelves on June 1, 2017, in plenty of time for you to buy and build before hitting up that Apollo 11 50th anniversary tour which kicks off in Texas in October 2017.


—Early Monday morning, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson set a new record for the longest time in space for any US astronaut, hitting a landmark 534 cumulative days in orbit. Fellow astronaut Jeff Williams set the previous record only last year. Dr. Whitson will continue to extend the new record for the duration of her stay as current commander on the International Space Station, ultimately to more than 650 cumulative days, setting a high bar for those looking to break her record. This is not the first time Whitson has made NASA history, however. The astronaut and biochemist also became the first woman commander of the ISS in 2007 and the first woman to command the station twice, earlier this year. She is also the oldest US woman to have completed a spacewalk, and has done more spacewalks than any other female NASA astronaut. To many, Whitson's many accomplishments are striking examples of what women can accomplish in a space-related field. But her many firsts also stand as reminders of what still needs to be done to support women in STEM fields, allowing women to break new ground alongside men on the forefront of space technology and exploration. Women have been a part of NASA history from the start. The early space program employed women in a number of on-the-ground capacities serving as administrative officials, medical personnel, mathematicians, and engineers. But from the outset of the program, there was a clear preference to place men in top positions, with women often taking up lower-rung tasks despite equal or superior ability and educational background. The problem was particularly stark for potential astronauts; while a number female astronaut candidates tested well for potential space missions as far back as the Mercury program, it was decades before a woman was to actually be launched into space from US soil. These potential astronauts faced many obstacles, including a 1958 policy that required all astronauts to be military test pilots, which effectively banned American women from going to space until the mid-1960s, since the military employed no female pilots at the time. In the Soviet Union, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, but the superpower did not send another woman into orbit until 1982. Even after the end NASA's military-pilots-only policy, a female American astronaut would not launch into space until 1983, when Sally Ride entered orbit on the space shuttle Challenger. Since then, women have become an increasingly visible part of NASA's space program, and have recently gained even greater recognition in popular culture, thanks to the award-winning film "Hidden Figures" about female African-American mathematicians at NASA in the late 1960s, and the recently approved "Women of NASA" Lego set. "Women have played critical roles throughout the history of the U.S. space program, a.k.a. NASA or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Yet in many cases, their contributions are unknown or under-appreciated – especially as women have historically struggled to gain acceptance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)," wrote science writer Maia Weinstock in the Lego set proposal. This kind of encouragement and positive representation is especially important for young girls, noted Whitman in a video conference between the White House and the ISS on Monday with President Trump, Ivanka Trump, and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins. "I don't really think [being an astronaut] became a goal until I graduated from high school, when the first female astronauts were selected," Whitson said. She also said that traveling to Mars could be a real possibility in the coming decades and urged young students to focus on their studies in order to be a part of it. "I want all the young people out there to recognize that the real steps [of traveling to Mars] are going to be taken in a few years. And so by studying math, science, engineering, any kind of technology, you're going to have a part in that. And that will be very exciting," Whitson added. Examples of success can be an important part of encouraging girls to pursue projects and careers in more complex fields of study, especially in STEM fields, which are still largely dominated by men. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in October 2016: Between 1901 and 2015, only 49 out of 870 Nobel prizes for individuals have been awarded to women. One explanation is that there are simply fewer women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) jobs, as the US Census Bureau data shows. But it leads to a question that many have been asking: Why aren't more women participating in STEM fields? The answer, some experts say, may lie in working environment and gender biases that discourage women from progressing across scientific fields and sometimes entering it in the first place. "What we're seeing is there is still very slow progress and a lot of attrition," Beth Mitchneck, professor of geography at the University of Arizona, tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "Women leave the field to a higher degree than men – and academic or leadership positions, they're not getting [those]." Of course, not everyone can be an astronaut. But astronauts have long held a special place in the heart of the American public, and their visibility often makes them role models for young people who are just beginning to consider the possibility of entering a STEM field. And breaking a record in space is a great way to encourage the next generation to work together to break even more records. "It's actually a huge honor to break a record like this," Whitson said during the livestream. "It's an honor for me, basically to be representing all the folks at NASA who make space flight possible and who make me setting this record feasible." Whitson is expected to return to Earth in September 2017.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

A mysterious flash of X-rays has been discovered by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in the deepest X-ray image ever obtained. This source likely comes from some sort of destructive event, but it may be of a variety that scientists have never seen before.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

At inaugural science, technology, engineering and math event, "A Day In Space," plenary speakers include former NASA astronauts José Hernández and Mark Kelly; Diana Trujillo, Mars Curiosity Mission Lead-NASA JPL and Will Pomerantz, Vice-President Special Projects, Virgin Galactic; Emcee, Kim Baldanado, NBC4 Southern California, plus breakout sessions and interactive space fair. WHO: Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera will launch its inaugural “A Day In Space” event to promote the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). “Last year when Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera hosted NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez as a guest speaker, you could hear a pin drop in the school auditorium because students' ears were hanging on to Jose’s inspirational story of how he rose ‘to the stars’ through his studies and dedication to get into NASA,” said Jacki Cisneros, president and founder of Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera. “When we saw this intense interest from our Pico Rivera students, we knew we had to continue the momentum of inspiring them to explore engineering and the aerospace industry. This time we wanted to bring something to the community that would captivate even the youngest Pico Rivera resident.” The FREE community event will take place on Saturday, April 22, 2017 in Pico Rivera, California and will invite and engage local students and families, age 0-100, to participate in a fun, inspiring, interactive and educational event to learn about the importance of science, technology, engineering and math and its application to careers in aerospace. --Touch, feel and take a closer look at astromaterials from space, as well as a full-scale inflatable display by NASA JPL. --Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math activities for early preK learners by Los Angeles Universal Preschool. --Test your rocket science at Cal State Fullerton’s Aerospace Society table hosting an interactive and educational display. --Build your very own Cubesat (i.e. miniature satellite) complete with an Arduino microcontroller and space sensor board at the Northrop Grumman booth. Then use the luminosity sensor to learn how astronomers detect exoplanets using the transiting planet method. --Learn more about Play-Well TEKnologies and their Lego®-inspired engineering classes for grades K-8. --Giveaways for the first 500 attendees! Keeping with Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera’s mission of one college degree for every Pico Rivera household, the Fair will also host a college row of University and Cal State booths with representatives from their engineering programs. WHY: The event is designed to inspire each student—from the preschooler pretending to “blast off” into space to students eager to learn more about centripetal force and gravity—to walk away from “A Day In Space” eager to build their own educational road map to reach the career of their dreams. ABOUT: Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera’s mission is to help provide support services for students at El Rancho High School, in the hopes that one day every child has the opportunity to obtain a college degree. Our nonprofit provides seven different university-focused preparation programs to help students become better prepared for a higher education. For more information about Generation 1st Degree-Pico Rivera, please visit: http://g1dpicorivera.org/


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: phys.org

Cassini will make its final close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on April 21 (PDT), using its radar to reveal the moon's surface lakes and seas one last time. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make its final close flyby of Saturn's haze-enshrouded moon Titan this weekend. The flyby marks the mission's final opportunity for up-close observations of the lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons that spread across the moon's northern polar region, and the last chance to use its powerful radar to pierce the haze and make detailed images of the surface. Closest approach to Titan is planned for 11:08 p.m. PDT on April 21 (2:08 a.m. EDT April 22). During the encounter, Cassini will pass as close as 608 miles (979 kilometers) above Titan's surface at a speed of about 13,000 mph (21,000 kph). The flyby is also the gateway to Cassini's Grand Finale—a final set of 22 orbits that pass between the planet and its rings, ending with a plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15 that will end the mission. During the close pass on April 21, Titan's gravity will bend Cassini's orbit around Saturn, shrinking it slightly, so that instead of passing just outside the rings, the spacecraft will begin its finale dives which pass just inside the rings. The flyby is Cassini's 127th targeted encounter with Titan. A targeted flyby is one for which the spacecraft uses its rocket engine or thrusters to accurately aim toward the encounter. Cassini's radar instrument will look for changes in Titan's methane lakes and seas, and attempt for the first (and last) time to study the depth and composition of Titan's smaller lakes. The radar instrument will also search a final time for Titan's "magic island," a mysterious feature in one of the moon's seas that changed in appearance over the course of several flybys. Scientists hope to gain additional insights to help them determine whether the feature is waves, bubbles, floating debris, or something else entirely. Explore further: Cassini mission prepares for 'grand finale' at Saturn


News Article | April 20, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

This Hubble image, marking the 27th anniversary of the space telescope’s launch, features the edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 4302 and the tilted galaxy NGC 4298. (STScI / NASA / ESA Photo / M. Mutchler) It’s traditional for the team behind the Hubble Space Telescope to release a jaw-dropping picture to celebrate the anniversary of the observatory’s launch in April 1990, and this year’s image might well rate a double jaw drop. The science team’s greeting card for Hubble’s 27th birthday features side-by-side views of two spiral galaxies much like our own Milky Way galaxy, seen from two angles. The edge-on galaxy at left, NGC 4302, is about 60 percent of the Milky Way’s size and contains about 10 percent of our home galaxy’s mass, the Hubble team says in today’s image advisory. The galaxy at right, NGC 4298, is tilted about 70 degrees as seen from Earth, and measures about a third as wide as the Milky Way. It weighs in at 17 billion solar masses, which is less than 2 percent of the Milky Way’s 1 trillion solar masses. The two galaxies share more than their spiral shape. They’re both about 55 million light-years away, both part of the Virgo Cluster in the constellation Coma Berenices. At their closest points, the two galaxies are separated by a mere 7,000 light-years. (In comparison, the Milky Way’s nearest spiral neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, is 2.3 million light-years away.) Both galaxies were discovered in 1784 by English astronomer William Herschel. Both have been the focus of photographs more numerous than the galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. Nevertheless, winning a spot on a Hubble birthday card puts NGC 4302 and NGC 4298 in a special spotlight. This view was captured by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 in three visible-light bands, during three weeks’ worth of picture-taking sessions in January. Hubble was launched into orbit aboard the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1990, and has been through five astronaut servicing missions since then. Twenty-seven is a ripe old age for a space mission, but scientists are hoping that Hubble will still be kicking long after next year’s scheduled launch of the next-generation James Webb Space Telescope.


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: www.futurity.org

Scientists have published the most detailed geological history to date for a region of Mars known as Northeast Syrtis Major. The spot is high on NASA’s list of potential landing sites for its next Mars rover, which will launch in 2020. The region is home to a striking mineral diversity, including deposits that indicate a variety of past environments that could have hosted life. Using the highest resolution images available from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the study maps the extent of those key mineral deposits across the surface and places them within the region’s larger geological context. “When we look at this in high resolution, we can see complicated geomorphic patterns and a diversity of minerals at the surface that I think is unlike anything we’ve ever seen on Mars,” says Mike Bramble, a PhD student at Brown University who led the study in the journal Icarus. “Within a few kilometers, there’s a huge spectrum of things you can see and they change very quickly.” If NASA ultimately decides to land at Northeast Syrtis, the new history would help provide a roadmap for the rover’s journey. “This is a foundational paper for considering this part of the planet as a potential landing site for the Mars2020 rover,” says Jack Mustard, a professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences and a coauthor of the paper. “This represents an exceptional amount of work on Mike’s part, really going into the key morphologic and spectroscopic datasets we need in order to understand what this region can tell us about the history of Mars if we explore it with a rover.” Northeast Syrtis sits between two giant Martian landforms—an impact crater 2,000 kilometers in diameter called the Isidis Basin, and a large volcano called Syrtis Major. The impact basin formed about 3.96 billion years ago, while lava flow from the volcano came later, about 3.7 billion years ago. Northeast Syrtis preserves the geological activity that occurred in the 250 million years between those two events. Billions of years of erosion, mostly from winds howling across the region into the Isidis lowlands, have exposed that history on the surface. Within Northeast Syrtis are the mineral signatures of four distinct types of watery and potentially habitable past environments. Those minerals had been detected by prior research, but the new map shows in detail how they are distributed within the region’s larger geological context. That helps constrain the mechanisms that may have formed them, and shows when they formed relative to each other. The lowest and the oldest layer exposed at Northeast Syrtis has the kind of clay minerals formed when rocks interact with water that has a fairly neutral pH. Next in the sequence are rocks containing kaolinite, a mineral formed by water percolating through soil. The next layer up contains spots where the mineral olivine has been altered to carbonate—an aqueous reaction that, on Earth, is known to provide chemical energy for bacterial colonies. The upper layers contain sulfate minerals, another sign of a watery, potentially life-sustaining environment. Understanding the relative timing of these environments is critical, Mustard says. They occurred around the transition between the Noachian and Hesperian epochs—a time of profound environmental change on Mars. “We know that these environments existed near this major pivot point in Mars history, and in mapping their context we know what came first, what came next and what came last,” Mustard says. “So now if we’re able to go there with a rover, we can sample rock on either side of that pivot point, which could help us understand the changes that occurred at that time, and test different hypotheses for the possibility of past life.” And finding signs of past life is the primary mission of the Mars2020 rover. NASA has held three workshops in which scientists debated the merits of various landing targets for the rover. Northeast Syrtis has come out near the top of the list at each workshop. Last February, NASA announced that the site is one of the final three under consideration. Mustard and Bramble hope this latest work might inform NASA’s decision, and ultimately help in planning the Mars2020 mission. “As we turn our eyes to the next target for in situ exploration on the Martian surface,” the researchers say, “no location offers better access of the gamut of geological processes active at Mars than Northeast Syrtis Major.”


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.treehugger.com

It's been a couple of years since NASA outlined its Journey to Mars program that, with many milestones along the way, ultimately envisions humans landing on Mars in the 2030s. Tackling that huge feat will require scientists to come up with solutions to far more problems than landing on the moon ever required. The much longer journey means astronauts will need ways to grow their own food, build their own shelters and handle repairs because cargo space will be limited. In 2013, NASA started looking into ways to use 3D printers for manufacturing items in space like tools and repair parts, and even experimenting with moon rocks as a material. Now, Northwestern University has demonstrated that extraterrestrial materials are suitable for tool making and much more. A team of researchers was able to print structural objects like tools and building blocks using synthetic lunar and Martian dust. They did this by using a special 3D printing technique developed by engineer Ramille Shah, called 3D painting which uses ink-like materials in the additive manufacturing process. “For places like other planets and moons, where resources are limited, people would need to use what is available on that planet in order to live,” said Shah, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and of surgery in the Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our 3D paints really open up the ability to print different functional or structural objects to make habitats beyond Earth.” The dusts are NASA-approved simulants of lunar and Martian dust that are similar to the real thing in composition and particle shape and size. The team used the dusts to make the 3D paints by combining them with some simple solvents and polymers. The resulting ink is still 90 percent dust by weight and can be extruded by a 3D printer. The printed material, unlike moon or Martian rock, is flexible, elastic and tough – making it an even more durable material. The material can be bent, rolled and cut if needed. The team is now working on firing objects printed with this material in a furnace, which transforms them into hard, ceramic-like pieces.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Among the big threats to our civilization such as nuclear war or disease outbreak is one possible catastrophe fewer people have heard of: a solar storm. Solar storms are giant ejections of solar plasma that could potentially fry electronics both in space and on the ground. A large enough solar storm could disable the entire electrical grid, destroy our communications satellites, and cripple the planet. This is why it's so crucial we be able to predict when these solar storms occur. But the sun is a complicated thing, and it's currently impossible to predict solar storms before they happen. Scientists are still struggling to understand the reasons why solar storms occur. One team of scientists believes they have finally cracked the puzzle. Scientists from Durham University in the UK and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have developed a computer simulation that shows solar storms are caused by a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnection is a process where magnetic fields can spontaneously shift and realign, releasing tremendous amounts of energy. Previous observations have indicated that magnetic reconnection could be responsible for larger solar storms, and this computer simulation provides a confirmation to that idea. More importantly, the simulation suggests magnetic reconnection is also responsible for the smaller solar storms, something that astronomers hadn't suspected. If the simulations are supported by future observations, this discovery could be key in understanding and predicting solar storms. Understanding solar storms is only one part of the equation, however. We'd also need the ability to see and predict the sun's magnetic fields, which is still difficult. Scientists will have to wait for upcoming solar missions like NASA's Solar Probe Plus, which is scheduled to launch next year. You Might Also Like


On March 13, the National Weather Service announced a blizzard as well as winter storm alert in Boston and parts of coastal Massachusetts. A day later, on March 14, the National Weather Service has sounded an alert for a severe blizzard in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and also Vermont. the latest reports shared by the National Weather Service reveal that a low pressure system will be crossing the Midwest states, and the Ohio Valley will be colliding with another low pressure system that has developed in the southern coast of U.S. A video captured by NASA's GOES-16 satellite shows the storm and its direction. According to the forecasters, the low pressure will result in the formation of a huge nor'easter, which will originate near the coast. This in turn can lead to snowstorm originating from the Central Appalachians to New England. Residents of Southern New Jersey to the Carolinas, may experience heavy rainfall, as predicted by the forecasters. However, NASA's Aqua satellite, has managed to capture both the heat data as well as the infrared data of the storm, showing both the cloud tops and also the ground temperatures. The Aqua satellite which flew over the eastern U.S. recorded that part of Arkansas, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, experienced temperatures equal to -63 degree Fahrenheit. However, based on the satellite's recordings, it is expected that the temperature may further drop down to 26 degrees Fahrenheit. President Donald Trump in his Twitter account, alerted the people along the east coast about the weather updates. The massive snowstorm is expected to continue till Wednesday bringing snow between 10 inches to 16 inches. A state of emergency has been declared by Mayor Bill de Blasio and also the Government Andrew M.Cuomo, alerting New Yorkers to stay inside homes. Based on the recent reports, the snow is expected to fall between 2 inches to 4 inches an hour. All the trains above the ground have been called off, with the underground trains kept open. Metro North won't be running after noon, but the Long Island Rail Road is expected to run normally. Roadways, highways have been blocked due to heavy snowfall as well as poor visibility due to the same. Commuters traveling via the Staten Island ferries need not worry, as they are expected to run normally, whereas the Seastreak and East River services have been canceled. Coming to the airways, around or more than 5,000 flights which were scheduled with the U.S. for March 14 have been canceled. Around 85 percent of the flights in three of the major New York City airports have been canceled. Many of the schools in areas like Providence, R.I., and several other public schools around Massachusetts, will remain closed on Tuesday. Several schools in ,many Connecticut cities like Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, including few of the classes at the University of Connecticut have also been canceled. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Evolution and creationism taught side-by-side. Climate change presented as a controversial hypothesis. If these proposed bills in Florida pass before the end the legislative session next month, the fate of science education in some school districts would be threatened. Two new bills—one passed in the house (HB 989), and one making its way through the senate (SB 1210)—give anyone, not just parents, the ability to question teaching materials in a school district and receive a public hearing with an "unbiased and qualified hearing officer." This is hardly odd in a state where politicians once banned mention of man-made climate change in the government. The bills are framed in as way to give communities power, but they are among 11 pieces of legislation debated in state houses this year deemed anti-science by critics, and which seek to change the way science is taught in US schools. The Florida bills don't explicitly target climate change and evolution education, but Port Orange, Fla. science teacher Brandon Haught is worried nonetheless. "With this bill, we're giving a citizen—who can't believe evolution is being taught—more power and more weight, equalling out someone who actually knows what they're talking about," Haught told me. Haught is the quintessential subject matter expert. He's written a book on the battle over teaching evolution in Florida schools, and he's also a co-founder of the non-profit Florida Citizens for Science, which has been pushing to kill the bills. Haught worries the requirement to hold a public hearing over complaints could drag out the time-sensitive process of buying new texts for the school year. That could possibly even lead people with religious agendas or anti-evidence beliefs to "bully" a school board to include texts that cast doubt on climate change, for example, just to meet the deadline, he added. The bills were created by Florida Citizens' Alliance, a conservative advocacy organization which has lobbied heavily to see them passed. It collected affidavits with residents' complaints about textbooks and compiled a list of "objectionable materials"—both of which mention climate change and evolution. One world history text is charged with "religious indoctrination" for teaching "children that we descended from apes." Similarly, Collier County resident Deirdre Clemons complained that "evolution is now taught as fact"—part of what she called "globalist brainwashing in public schools." "I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality," Mary Ellen Cash, also from Collier County, wrote in her affidavit. "Now that it is colder and the country is experiencing repeated Cold Waves, the new term is Climate Change. When parents question these theories, they are ignored." Keith Flaugh, co-director of the Florida Citizens' Alliance, a libertarian advocacy group, argued the bills are about transparency and giving communities greater say in school materials, which he said are currently being chosen by "politicized" school districts and "establishment" textbook companies. "The science here is not proven on either side," Flaugh said. "There are lots of scientists on both sides of that equation: Creationism versus the theory of evolution. They're both theories. And all we're asking for is both sides of the discussion in a balanced way be put in front of the students." For Haught, that's the kind of argument that raises red flags. "Theory," as a scientific term, is not the same as "theory" in common usage, he said: It denotes "a well-supported observation" offering "the highest level of understanding in science." Both climate change and evolution are indeed widely viewed as settled, fact-based science within the scientific community, including NASA. But controversy endures on the margins, especially in states like Florida that are largely Christian and conservative. The National Science Teachers Association, which advocates for both climate change and evolution education, found in a 2011 survey that 82 per cent of teachers encountered students who were skeptical of climate change, and 54 per cent encountered that skepticism from parents. Read More: Floridians Wonder How President Trump Will Deal With Their Rising Seas Those views funnel up into state politics. The National Center for Science Education has become a defacto national tracker of the Florida bill and others taking aim at evolution and climate change in schools. Deputy director Glenn Branch expects about a half dozen to a dozen such bills a year. With 11 bills thus far, 2017 is off to a busy, but not unprecedented start, he said. And it's not clear having a climate skeptic in the White House has had an impact, he added. And while some—like one Arkansas bill aimed at allowing creationism education—have died in committees, the Florida bills look likely to become law, Haught said. Florida Citizens for Science could still lobby Republican Florida governor Rick Scott to veto the bills, assuming the senate bill passes—an unlikely last-ditch effort. "After that, it's building a network willing to stand up on a local level," Haught said. "Now it's up to you to keep an eye on your local school board." Subscribe to Science Solved It , Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.


Tech Times reported on April 6 that NASA is already preparing for the final stages of the Cassini-Huygens Mission, even as the Cassini spacecraft continues to capture photos and send data. The Space agency has also explained why the termination of the mission has something to do with preventing the Cassini spacecraft from contaminating Saturn's moons. Now, NASA released details on how the Saturn probe will spend its last hours in a sad, stunning, and educational "Grand Finale." According to NASA, the Cassini-Huygens Mission is entering its final chapter beginning April until the spacecraft's final day on Sept. 15, 2017. From this time period, the Cassini spacecraft will undertake a series of 22 dives between the planet Saturn and its icy rings. The space agency says Cassini's final mission is the first of its kind, despite ending with a final plunge to become part of Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft will also continue to collect and send data back to Earth until its final "breath" for the sake of gathering new science. "What we learn from these final orbits will help to improve our understanding of how giant planets - and planetary systems everywhere - form and evolve," NASA writes. NASA is definitely focusing on the "Grand" aspect of Cassini's finale. The final chapter of the Cassini-Huygens Mission begins with the Cassini spacecraft's 127th and final pass by Titan early on April 22. During this time, Titan's gravity will pull Cassini and end its orbit enough to change its course from the outer ring to the inner rings. The first orbit of the inner rings will begin on April 23 and will have its first pass through the gap between Saturn and its rings by April 26. The first orbit is expected to conclude on April 29, where it will begin the second dive. During these daring dives, Cassini is expected to retrieve detailed map and information about Saturn's gravity and magnetic fields in order to determine the planet's internal structure. It will also determine how much material is in the rings, collect samples of ring particles, and capture ultra-close photos of the giant planet's rings and clouds. On the early hours of Sept. 15, the mission team will gather to celebrate the 20-year Cassini-Huygens Mission and watch the spacecraft enter Saturn's atmosphere and burn out like a meteor. Watch the animated video below explaining aspects of Cassini's "Grand Finale." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 24, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

On Monday, Arpil 24, 2017, President Trump speaks to record breaking astronaut Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA currently in space on the International Space Station.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

As the weather warms, so does the use of air conditioners. But running these devices requires power plants to ratchet up electricity production, causing air polluting emissions to rise. An analysis of 27 states found that, on average, summer emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) go up by hundreds to thousands of metric tons per degree Celsius increase. The report appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology. A large body of research has investigated the influence of weather and climate on atmospheric chemistry. But few studies have examined the specific effects of climate on electricity emissions and air quality. Although overall emissions have dropped due to pollution control devices and a drop in coal use, regional and seasonal increases in power plant pollution could affect people's health and the environment. SO2 and NOx -- both of which are regulated in the U.S. -- can cause respiratory problems, particularly in children, people with asthma and the elderly. CO2 is a primary greenhouse gas targeted by power plant regulations. Tracey Holloway, David Abel and colleagues wanted to quantify the historical relationship between summertime air temperature and the power plant emissions of these three gases. Using data collected between 2003 and 2014, the researchers crunched the numbers on electricity emissions in 27 states, mostly in the Eastern U.S. From this analysis, they observed that power plants released 3.35 percent more SO2 on average per degree Celsius increase in temperature, and NOx and CO2 rose by 3.60 percent and 3.32 percent, respectively. States with more coal power plants such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana released the most electricity-related SO2 emissions in the summer at more than 1,300 metric tons per day, per state. However, New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont power plants released very little SO2. States like Texas with a large power demand showed high emissions of all pollutants, but smaller changes in emissions per degree Celsius. Overall, the calculations showed that hotter outdoor temperatures correlated with 140,000 metric tons more CO2 emissions. The researchers say that making buildings more energy efficient, especially on hot days, could play an important role in lowering power-plant emissions and improving air quality in the future. The authors acknowledge funding from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the National Institutes of Health and NASA. The paper's abstract will be available on May 3 here: http://pubs. The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact newsroom@acs.org.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

A new study found a link between climate change and physical activity, suggesting that rising temperatures may inspire people to get off the couch. The research explores how human activity evolves in an increasingly warmer environment and sheds new light into how climate change impacts human health. Study lead author Nick Obradovich, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center, first got the idea to investigate how temperature fluctuations influence the degree of physical activity in given areas after a heat wave in San Diego interfered with his daily run routine. His study, featured April 24 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, documents how global warming may alter people's willingness to exercise by analyzing "the relationship between meteorological conditions, physical activity and future climate change." "It's a small little tiny silver lining amid a series of very bad, very unfortunate events that are likely to occur," said Obradovich, who also studies the social impacts of climate change at MIT. Initially, Obradovich assumed warming temperatures would keep Americans confined indoors, glued to their air conditioning systems. In a surprising turn of events, data revealed quite the opposite. Inviting temperatures between 82 and 84 degrees Fahrenheit inspired people to go out more, translating into an increase in outdoor physical activity. However, excessively hot temperatures of more than 95 degrees Fahrenheit led to a decline in exercise, particularly in people aged over 65 or those who are clinically obese. This proves there is such a thing as an optimal temperature for exercise, and when it's too hot outside, people become less active. "Using data on reported participation in recreational physical activity from over 1.9 million U.S. survey respondents between 2002 and 2012, coupled with daily meteorological data, we show that both cold and acutely hot temperatures, as well as precipitation days, reduce physical activity," Obradovich and his colleague James Fowler, from the University of California, state in their paper's abstract. "I don't want to imply at all that warming the climate global warming is a good way of increasing physical activity," Obradovich said in a statement, adding that "it is probably the worst strategy to get people more physically active." The researchers emphasizes that any overall benefit will probably be far outweighed by the many other ways climate change negatively affects health. "Most of the climate impacts are going to be acutely negative and very costly. Anytime you look at the effect of a complex system change like climate change on other complex systems like human behavior, you're going to see a distribution of effects — and in this case, there's some very small positive," explained Obradovich. By consulting the NASA Earth Exchange and accessing the projected average monthly maximum temperatures for 2050 and 2099, Obradovich and Fowler were able to combine their "historical estimates with output from 21 climate models and project the possible physical activity effects of future climatic changes." According to the study, both location and season will play a crucial role in influencing outdoor exercise among Americans in the context of future global warming. "Our projection indicates that warming over the course of this century may increase net recreational physical activity in the United States," show the authors in their paper, adding that physical activity "may increase most during the winter in northern states and decline most during the summer in southern states." Regional climates characterized by less chilly winters will increase the likelihood of Americans spending more time outdoors, leading to a 2.5 percent boost in exercise by the end of the century amid residents of the cooler, northern states. The research points out the most likely candidates for a dramatic increase in physical activity are the northern areas, such as North Dakota, Minnesota, and Maine. Conversely, southern states are more likely to witness the steepest drop in outdoor activity by the year 2099, due to hotter summers. Places such as Arizona, southern Nevada, and southeastern California have the most chances of recording a decrease in exercise among their residents. By the end of the century, July, August, and September will mark the months with the least outdoor exercise throughout the United States, whereas the year 2099 is expected to bring a boom in activity during November, December, January, February, March, and even April. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

NASA's SOFIA aircraft, a 747 loaded with a 2.5-meter telescope in the back and stripped of most creature comforts in the front, took a big U-turn over the Pacific west of Mexico. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft was just beginning the second half of an overnight mission on Jan. 28, 2015. It turned north for a flight all the way to western Oregon, then back home to NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California. Along the way, pilots steered the plane to aim the telescope at a nearby star. Iowa State University's Massimo Marengo and other astronomers were on board to observe the mission and collect infrared data about the star. That star is called epsilon Eridani. It's about 10 light years away from the sun. It's similar to our sun, but one-fifth the age. And astronomers believe it can tell them a lot about the development of our solar system. Marengo, an Iowa State associate professor of physics and astronomy, and other astronomers have been studying the star and its planetary system since 2004. In a 2009 scientific paper, the astronomers used data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to describe the star's disk of fine dust and debris left over from the formation of planets and the collisions of asteroids and comets. They reported the disk contained separate belts of asteroids, similar to the asteroid and Kuiper belts of our solar system. Subsequent studies by other astronomers questioned that finding. A new scientific paper, just published online by The Astronomical Journal, uses SOFIA and Spitzer data to confirm there are separate inner and outer disk structures. The astronomers report further studies will have to determine if the inner disk includes one or two debris belts. Kate Su, an associate astronomer at the University of Arizona and the university's Steward Observatory, is the paper's lead author. Marengo is one of the paper's nine co-authors. Marengo said the findings are important because they confirm epsilon Eridani is a good model of the early days of our solar system and can provide hints at how our solar system evolved. "This star hosts a planetary system currently undergoing the same cataclysmic processes that happened to the solar system in its youth, at the time in which the moon gained most of its craters, Earth acquired the water in its oceans, and the conditions favorable for life on our planet were set," Marengo wrote in a summary of the project. A major contributor to the new findings was data taken during that January 2015 flight of SOFIA. Marengo joined Su on the cold and noisy flight at 45,000 feet, above nearly all of the atmospheric water vapor that absorbs the infrared light that astronomers need to see planets and planetary debris. Determining the structure of the disk was a complex effort that took several years and detailed computer modeling. The astronomers had to separate the faint emission of the disk from the much brighter light coming from the star. "But we can now say with great confidence that there is a separation between the star's inner and outer belts," Marengo said. "There is a gap most likely created by planets. We haven't detected them yet, but I would be surprised if they are not there. Seeing them will require using the next-generation instrumentation, perhaps NASA's 6.5-meter James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in October 2018." That's a lot of time and attention on one nearby star and its debris disk. But Marengo said it really is taking astronomers back in time. "The prize at the end of this road is to understand the true structure of epsilon Eridani's out-of-this-world disk, and its interactions with the cohort of planets likely inhabiting its system," Marengo wrote in a newsletter story about the project. "SOFIA, by its unique ability of capturing infrared light in the dry stratospheric sky, is the closest we have to a time machine, revealing a glimpse of Earth's ancient past by observing the present of a nearby young sun."


News Article | April 20, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

This stunning cosmic pairing of the two very different looking spiral galaxies NGC 4302 and NGC 4298 was imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The image brilliantly captures their warm stellar glow and brown, mottled patterns of dust. As a perfect demonstration of Hubble's capabilities, this spectacular view has been released as part of the telescope's 27th anniversary celebrations. Since its launch on 24 April 1990, Hubble has been nothing short of a revolution in astronomy. The first orbiting facility of its kind, for 27 years the telescope has been exploring the wonders of the cosmos. Astronomers and the public alike have witnessed what no other humans in history have before. In addition to revealing the beauty of the cosmos, Hubble has proved itself to be a treasure chest of scientific data that astronomers can access. ESA and NASA celebrate Hubble's birthday each year with a spectacular image. This year's anniversary image features a pair of spiral galaxies known as NGC 4302 -- seen edge-on -- and NGC 4298, both located 55 million light-years away in the northern constellation of Coma Berenices (Berenice's Hair). The pair, discovered by astronomer William Herschel in 1784, form part of the Virgo Cluster, a gravitationally bound collection of nearly 2000 individual galaxies. The edge-on NGC 4302 is a bit smaller than our own Milky Way Galaxy. The tilted NGC 4298 is even smaller: only half the size of its companion. At their closest points, the galaxies are separated from each other in projection by only around 7000 light-years. Given this very close arrangement, astronomers are intrigued by the galaxies' apparent lack of any significant gravitational interaction; only a faint bridge of neutral hydrogen gas -- not visible in this image -- appears to stretch between them. The long tidal tails and deformations in their structure that are typical of galaxies lying so close to each other are missing completely. Astronomers have found very faint tails of gas streaming from the two galaxies, pointing in roughly the same direction -- away from the centre of the Virgo Cluster. They have proposed that the galactic double is a recent arrival to the cluster, and is currently falling in towards the cluster centre and the galaxy Messier 87 lurking there -- one of the most massive galaxies known. On their travels, the two galaxies are encountering hot gas -- the intracluster medium -- that acts like a strong wind, stripping layers of gas and dust from the galaxies to form the streaming tails. Even in its 27th year of operation, Hubble continues to provide truly spectacular images of the cosmos, and even as the launch date of its companion -- the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope -- draws closer, Hubble does not slow down. Instead, the telescope keeps raising the bar, showing it still has plenty of observing left to do for many more years to come. In fact, astronomers are looking forward to have Hubble and James Webb operational at the same time and use their combined capabilities to explore the Universe. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


In the wake of the 2014 JO25 asteroid that will approach Earth next week and is expected to fly past our home planet as close as 1.1 million miles away — or 4.6 times the distance from us to the moon — astronomers are weighing the possibility and outcome of a potential critical collision in the future. The April 19 event marks the asteroid's closest fly-by in at least 400 years, and its calculated trajectory poses no threat of the celestial body colliding with our planet. Although we are not in any immediate danger, researchers are wondering what would happen if a large-sized asteroid not only flew close to Earth but also actually crashed into the planet's surface. The majority of asteroids in our solar system fly in a simple circular orbit between Mars and Jupiter. Occasionally, their path is disturbed either by each other or more frequently by Jupiter's activity, sending them on trajectories that cross that of Mars or even Earth. Thousands of minuscule debris particles rain down on our planet every day, but the Earth's surface is shielded from any minor impact thanks to air friction. In fact, most asteroids up to 10 meters (or around 33 feet) in diameter are destroyed upon contact with the Earth's atmosphere. On rare occasions, some asteroid fragments reach the ground, accounting for damaged property. Such was the case of the 27-pound stony meteorite that fell in New York in 1992, jabbing a hole in a parked car. According to NASA, 33-feet celestial bodies falling from the sky typically have "the kinetic energy of about five nuclear warheads of the size dropped on Hiroshima." This means the created shock wave can do sizeable damage even if only small fragments reach the ground. In the case of same-sized iron meteoroids, even more fragments are likely to survive the atmospheric contact and land on the surface. The effect of larger pieces falling on the ground would be equivalent to "having a car suddenly drop in at supersonic speeds," NASA states. This happens almost once every ten years, but the events are seldom recorded since they usually occur at sea or in remote, unpopulated areas like Antarctica. Things begin to change when one considers a potential collision with a higher-class asteroid. Once or twice in 1,000 years, a celestial with a 100-meter diameters (or about 330 feet) falls on Earth with the potential to create serious damage. NASA cites the famous Tunguska (Russia) event in 1908, as well as the asteroid impact in northern Arizona, which left behind a 4,000 feet wide crater — made by a nickel-iron meteorite with a presumed diameter of slightly less than 200 feet. The chances of an even higher-class asteroid or comet hitting Earth are once in a million years. The most notable example is the 15-miles-wide Ries Crater in Bavaria, which harbors the city of Nordlingen in its center. This crater was created 15 million years ago, when a 5,000-feet celestial body crashed on our planet's surface. By comparison, the asteroid that is expected to fly past us on April 19 is only 2,000 feet in size. The largest crater ever discovered is the one at Chicxulub, Mexico, produce by a massive celestial body which brought forth the dinosaur extinction. This type of collision is likely to happen once every 50 to 100 million years — the Chicxulub crater is 65 million years old. Researchers at NASA Ames Research Center are monitoring the activity of large-sized asteroids and investigating the likelihood of one of them hitting Earth. Their estimates indicate the presence of 2,100 asteroids wider than 3,300 feet and suggest there may be up to 320,000 other asteroids in the solar system with a diameter exceeding 330 feet — like the ones that caused the Tunguska and Arizona craters. "An impact by one of these larger meteors in the wrong place would be a catastrophe, but it would not threaten civilization," reports NASA. In the even an asteroid wider than 1 or 2 kilometers (3,300 to 6,560 feet) collided with Earth, it could potentially create a worldwide calamity. Impact with such a large-scale body could deteriorate the global climate and place the entire population of the planet in jeopardy. Widespread crop failure would ensue, as well as loss of life. The risk of such a catastrophic event comes around a few times every million years. Mass extinction is a possibility only if our planet collides with an even larger object, five to 10 times this size. A 33,000-feet asteroid crashing down on us would vaporize "a large amount of the Earth's crust, creating a crater more than one hundred kilometers across," reports Cornell University. As per the scenario the university's astronomer team imagines, the displaced rocks would be projected into the atmosphere, heating it up, triggering forest fires, and blocking the sunlight. In the absence of light, Earth's vegetation would fade, leading to the demise of many animal species — including humanity, which would succumb "either in the initial catastrophe, or in the ensuing years due to lack of food and the general devastation of the environment." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Until recently, it seemed that we would be able to manage global warming-induced sea level rise through the end of the century. It would be problematic, of course, but manageable, particularly in industrialized nations like the U.S. However, troubling indications from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets show that melting is taking place faster than previously thought and that entire glaciers — if not portions of the ice sheets themselves — are destabilizing. This has scientists increasingly worried that the consensus sea level rise estimates are too conservative. With sea level rise, as with other climate impacts, the uncertainties tend to skew toward the more severe end of the scale. So, it's time to consider some worst-case scenarios. SEE ALSO: Trump White House reveals it's 'not familiar' with well-studied costs of global warming Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published an extreme high-end sea level rise scenario, showing 10 to 12 feet of sea level rise by 2100 around the U.S., compared to the previously published global average — which is closer to 8 feet — in that time period. The research and journalism group Climate Central took this projection and plotted out the stark ramifications in painstaking, and  terrifying, detail. "By the end of the century, oceans could submerge land [that's] home to more than 12 million Americans and $2 trillion in property," according to Ben Strauss, who leads the sea level rise program at Climate Central. Here's what major cities would look like with so much sea level rise: In an online report, Climate Central states that the impacts of such a high amount of sea level rise "would be devastating."  For example, Cape Canaveral, which is a crown jewel for NASA and now the private sector space industry, would be swallowed up by the Atlantic. Major universities, including MIT, would be underwater, as would President Trump's "southern White House" of Mar-a-Lago. In the West, San Francisco would be hard-hit, with San Francisco International Airport completely submerged. "More than 99 percent of today’s population in 252 coastal towns and cities would have their homes submerged, and property of more than half the population in 479 additional communities would also be underwater," the analysis, which has not been peer-reviewed, found.  In New York City, the average high tide would be a staggering 2 feet higher than the flood level experienced during Hurricane Sandy. More than 800,000 people would be flooded out of New York City alone.  Although the findings pertain to sea level rise through the end of the century, in reality sea levels would keep rising long after that, with a total increase of about 30 feet by 2200 for all coastal states, Climate Central found.  As for how likely this extreme scenario really is, here's what the report says:  "The extreme scenario is considered unlikely, but it is plausible. NOAA’s report and Antarctic research suggest that deep and rapid cuts to heat-trapping pollution would greatly reduce its chances."  More specifically, the NOAA projection says this high-end outlook has just a 0.1 percent chance of occurring under a scenario in which we keep emitting greenhouse gases at about the current rate. While a 1-in-1,000 chance outcome might seem nearly impossible to occur, recent events suggest otherwise.  For example, Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Mid-Atlantic in 2012 while following a track that was virtually unprecedented in storm history. In addition, California is estimated to have had just a 1 percent chance of climbing out of its deep drought in a one to two-year period, and it did just that this winter.  Robert Kopp, a sea level rise researcher at Rutgers University, whose projections formed the basis of the NOAA scenarios, said it's difficult to put exact odds on the extreme scenario.  "I would say that our knowledge about marine ice-sheet instability is too deeply uncertain for us to answer that question right now," Kopp said in an email. "We can come up with a physically plausible pathway that gets us to 2.5 meters [or 8.2 feet], we know it is more likely under higher emissions, but we don't have a good way of putting a probability on it." A paper published in the journal Nature in March found that if emissions of global warming pollutants peak in the next few years and are then reduced quickly thereafter, then there is a good chance that the melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet would be drastically curtailed.  However, with the U.S., which is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, backing away from making significant cuts under the Paris Climate Agreement, adhering to such an ambitious timetable is looking less realistic.  In order for NOAA's extreme scenario, and therefore Climate Central's maps, to turn into reality, there would need to be decades more of sustained high emissions of greenhouse gases plus more melting from Antarctica than is currently anticipated.  However, recent studies have raised questions about Antarctica's stability, as mild ocean waters eat away at floating ice shelves from below, freeing up glaciers well inland to flow faster into the sea.  "What's new is that we used to think 6- to 7 feet was the max *plausible* or *possible* sea level rise this century, and now we've roughly doubled that," Strauss said in an email. "The new Antarctic science says it's plausible."  "If you were to survey ice sheet experts today, instead of something like 5 to 10 years ago, I suspect you'd get a significantly higher probability than 0.1 percent," he said.  A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change last week found that sea level rise could prompt a wave of internal migration within the U.S., especially as people move from the hardest-hit states such as Florida, Louisiana and New York. It's long been known that Florida is ground zero for sea level rise impacts, but the Climate Central projections are even more pessimistic. The report shows that a whopping 5.6 million Floridians would be at risk before the end of the century under an extreme sea level rise scenario, about double the amount simulated in the study last week.


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

Following a 173-day mission in space, three astronauts from Expedition 50 returned home on Monday morning (April 10). The trio who made it safely back to Earth from the International Space Station are NASA's Shane Kimbrough — expedition commander — and Roscosmos' Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko. After a journey of about three hours and 20 minutes in a Russian Soyuz MS-02 spacecraft, the astronauts landed in Kazakhstan, near the town of Dzhezkazgan, at 7:21 a.m. EDT (5:21 p.m. Kazakhstan time). According to the schedule posted by NASA, the capsule closed hatch at 12:40 a.m. and undocked three hours later, at 3:57 a.m. Deorbit burn took place at 6:28 a.m., the agency informs. Undocking and landing activities were streamed live by NASA TV, which started broadcasting the event as early as 3:30 a.m. On April 11, the channel is set to cover a post-landing interview with Kimbrough in Kazakhstan. Expedition 50 was launched Oct. 19, 2016 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew spent 171 days aboard an orbiting laboratory on the ISS, engaging in hundreds of experiments in the fields of biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science. The capsule that brought the astronauts home is only the second MS variant of the Soyuz to return to Earth, after the veteran spacecraft underwent a series of upgrades. The MS Soyuz was fitted with "more efficient solar panels, a new Kurs NA approach and docking system weighing less than half that of its predecessor, additional micro-meteoroid debris shielding, and a modified docking and attitude control engine," NASA states. On April 9, Kimbrough handed over the command of ISS to NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, who will continue working on the space station as leader of Expedition 51. Her flight engineers — Oleg Novitskiy from Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency — are expecting the upcoming arrival of Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikin and NASA's Jack Fischer, whose departure from Earth is scheduled on April 20. Expedition 51 will only have five crew members due to Russia's decision to reduce the number of participating cosmonauts in 2017. This means Whitson, who holds the record for the most spacewalks by a woman, will remain aboard the ISS through Expedition 52 as well, to ensure the six-member crew prerequisite. The highly experienced spacewoman went to the ISS in November 2016 and was due to journey back to Earth in June this year. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 29, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

SpaceX has been reusing its Falcon 9 rocket for many of its missions and launches. On Sunday, April 30, the rocket will once again journey into space. This time though — unlike previous missions — the Elon Musk-owned company is not publicizing the launch. The agency decided to launch the rocket quietly primarily because this time, the Falcon 9 will carry a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO. The NRO is tasked with creating intelligence or spy satellites for the United States. Come Sunday, SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 with the spy satellite dubbed NROL-76, atop the rocket. The rocket will launch from Kennedy Space Center's historic launch pad 39A. The launch window starts at 7 a.m. EDT on April 30, while a backup launch window will initiate at 7 a.m. on Monday, May 1. Once the initial stages of the rocket disengage, SpaceX will try to land the first stage booster at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In March, the company became the first-ever to reuse an older first stage booster to send a commercial payload off to space. However, for this launch, a brand new booster would be used. SpaceX has remained tight lipped about any details regarding the NRO launch. This could be because of the strict confidentiality clauses in such contracts. Usually, Hawthorne-based SpaceX is quite forthcoming in sharing the details of its launches. However, officials have maintained the secrecy regarding the payload that the Falcon 9 will carry for the NRO launch. The agency did not confirm the time it would take to deploy the payload, as well as what orbit it would reach. It is quite possible that this is not the first time that the space agency is assisting NRO in launching an intelligence satellite. In December 2010, it was rumored that SpaceX launched a similar payload for the NRO as part of a NASA demo flight. In 2015, SpaceX received certification to launch security satellites. Since then, the company has received two contracts from the U.S. Air Force to launch GPS satellites. This forced United Launch Alliance, a collaboration between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., to reassess things as it no longer held the monopoly for launching national security satellites. The launch for NRO on April 30 would be immensely important for SpaceX. A successful lift-off without any glitches would prove that it can handle such launches with discretion. This would help SpaceX win the trust of intelligence agencies in the country. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

An image taken by the Mars Curiosity Rover of NASA has got an entirely new interpretation after the video posted by a group claimed it was an ancient tree stump on the Red Planet and a proof that life existed on Mars. In a video, Paranormal Crucible speculated that the image is absolutely that of the "petrified remains" of a Martian tree. The image was taken by the Curiosity Rover's Mastcam on March 25, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Object is around 3 feet in height, and with numerous discoveries of plant and animal life on mars, it would be logical to assume, that a variety of tree either existed or still exists on this enigmatic planet," the video's caption explained. According to UFO Sightings Daily, there is some substance in the claim by Paranormal Crucible that the image is an ancient tree stump. To support the contention, it pointed to the statements by NASA that Mars had Earth-like features until a solar explosion exhausted the planet's life-sustaining conditions. Many viewers of the video also reacted with comments saying they are not convinced that the image is a tree stump. A similar controversy erupted in 2015 when UFO hunters claimed that a Martian image looks like a mysterious woman. The picture was taken by NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover. Meanwhile, the contribution of NASA Curiosity rover in augmenting the search for life-supporting factors in Mars has been hailed by a scientist. The rover landed on the Red Planet in August 2012. Scientist Nina Lanza was associated with the assembly of rover's sensitive ChemCam. She noted the impetus rover gave to the search for life on Mars. Rover is equipped with laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument and Remote Micro-Imager to analyze the composition of Martian rocks and soil. When ChemCam targets an object it vaporizes part of the material. Thus Martian rocks focused by ChemCam are heated up to a higher temperature equivalent to sun's surface temperature. The resulting light emitted from the object helps scientists in studying the composition of Martian rocks and soils. Noting that all Martian dust is hydrated, Lanza explained that the dusty nature of Mars establishes that water is present on the planet, giving credence to the theory that water was abundant on ancient Mars. The evidence of past life on Mars is also supported by some unique markers that indicated biological activity. A major marker could be manganese minerals that Curiosity discovered in rocks at Kimberley. In a phone call with a team of U.S. astronauts at the International Space Station, President Trump stressed the need for conducting early Mars mission with astronauts on board. He hailed NASA's work and praised the ISS station commander Peggy Whitson for completing 534 consecutive days in space. "This is a very special day in the glorious history of American space flight," Trump said during the conversation lasting for about 20 minutes. Hailing NASA, Trump said he would like to see a human mission to Mars "during my first term or, at worst, during my second term." "We are absolutely ready to go to Mars," Whitson replied. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

On Saturday, April 15, Tropical Cyclone 1B formed in the Northern Indian Ocean and it made landfall in Burma (Myanmar) on April 16. NASA's Terra satellite captured an image of the storm as if formed quickly and strengthened into a tropical storm that was renamed "Maarutha." Tropical Cyclone 01B formed early on April 15 in the Bay of Bengal as NASA's Terra satellite passed overhead at 04:45 UTC (12:45 a.m. EDT). The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer captured a visible image of the storm that showed bands of thunderstorms were wrapping into the low-level center of circulation from the north and east. By 1500 UTC (11 a.m. EST) Maarutha had maximum sustained winds near 46 mph (40 knots/74 kph). It was located about 564 nautical miles south of Dhaka, Bangladesh, has tracked northeastward at 15 mph (13 knots/24.8 kph). At the time, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center said "Animated multispectral satellite imagery depicts a rapidly consolidating system with formative banding (of thunderstorms) wrapping into the low level circulation center." On April 16 at 2100 UTC (5 p.m. EST), the Joint Typhoon Warning Center issued their final warning on Maarutha. By that time, the storm had made landfall on Myanmar's Rakhine coast and was moving further inland to the north-northeast at 16 mph (14 knots/26 kph). It had maximum sustained winds near 40 mph (35 knots/62 kph) at that time. It was centered about 188 nautical miles (216 miles/348 km) northwest of Yangon at the time. Maarutha dropped high rainfall totals in south central Myanmar. The Myanmar Meteorological Agency noted that accumulated rainfall for the 24 hours before April 17 at 9:30 a.m. local time totaled 3.7 inches (96 mm) for Bago. Bago is a city and the capital of the Bago Region in Myanmar. It is located 91 kilometers (57 miles) north-east of Yangon. Also in the Bago region, the town of Pyay received 5.4 inches (139 mm). In the Rahkine Region, the city of Kyauckpyu received 4.6 inches (119 mm) of rainfall in a 24 hour period. In the Mon State, Thaton, a town in in southern Myanmar received 4.3 inches (111 mm) of rainfall from Maarutha. Maarutha is the first named tropical cyclone in the Northern Indian Ocean this season. On April 17 Maarutha's remnants were dissipating over land.


Although Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has been among the biggest proponents of withdrawing America from the Paris climate agreement (using bogus ‘blame China’ arguments to make his case), climate deniers have been unhappy with him. That’s because Pruitt doesn’t want to challenge EPA’s carbon pollution endangerment finding – he thinks it would be a lost cause. A group of contrarian scientists released a white paper trying to pressure him to attack the finding anyway. Briefly, the endangerment finding stemmed from a 2007 Supreme Court decision in which 12 states sued the EPA, calling on the agency to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of those states, ordering EPA to determine if greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. After considering the scientific evidence, including the latest IPCC report, national climate science assessments, etc., the EPA issued its endangerment finding correctly concluding that carbon pollution clearly endangers public health and welfare via its climate change impacts. As a result, the EPA is legally required to regulate carbon pollution. The Obama EPA followed that legal requirement by crafting the Clean Power Plan. Early in his presidency, Trump signed an anti-climate executive order calling on EPA to review and revise the Clean Power Plan. In effect, it’s currently on hold. However, that review process takes years, and in 2020 the next president’s EPA could make the carbon pollution regulations even more aggressive. As long as the endangerment finding is in place, there is a legal requirement for the EPA to regulate carbon pollution. Fossil fuel-loving deniers thus hate the endangerment finding. The problem is that it’s based on overwhelming scientific evidence. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt frequently sued the EPA and lost nearly every time, so he knows a losing case when he sees one. The judicial system evaluates all available scientific evidence and listens to scientific experts. That’s why climate deniers keep losing in court, and Pruitt doesn’t want to waste his time on another sure loser. But the endangerment finding is so important, many deniers think trying to take it down is worth a shot. Enter a white paper published by a number of contrarian scientists, including a few of the less than 3% of climate scientists who reject or minimize human-caused global warming. The white paper tries to make the case that the EPA endangerment finding is wrong. Not surprisingly, aside from being poorly written, the arguments in the white paper are astonishingly bad. The white paper focuses on what its authors call the “tropical hot spot” (THS), which refers to the fact that as a result of global warming, scientists expect to see a particularly hot area in the lower atmosphere above the Earth’s tropics. As the white paper describes it: Nearly a decade ago, current NASA Goddard director Gavin Schmidt provided this figure showing a climate model simulation with that hot spot signature: But there’s one big problem. In that simulation, the hot spot resulted from a 2% increase in solar activity. As Schmidt said in 2007: So the fundamental claim in the white paper that the hot spot is a fingerprint of human-caused global warming is entirely false, as climate scientists (and my colleagues and I) have been pointing out for a decade. That basic error by itself is enough to toss the denier paper into the recycle bin, but it gets even worse, claiming: I encourage everyone to read the EPA endangerment finding technical support document. The document does discuss some of the many actual fingerprints of human-caused global warming that scientists have observed, but its only mention of the tropical hot spot is to note that it may or may not represent one inconsistency between models and observations: As noted at the end of that quote, the latest research finds evidence that the hot spot is there, but measuring temperature profiles in the atmosphere is a challenge. In short, the best case this group of contrarian scientists could make against the endangerment finding is a physically-incorrect strawman that ignores the latest research, as well as 99.9% of the scientific evidence summarized in the endangerment finding. It’s no wonder Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to waste his time tilting at this windmill.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Kendra Kuhl dreams of large reactors. That may sound odd, but the 36-year-old technologist is working toward a future where we can extract the globe-warming carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and turn it into useful products Kuhl is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Opus 12, a startup launched in 2014 to pursue electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction (the company launched under the name Obtainium, but changed it in 2015). The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has been rising steadily every year, so a technology that can reduce or at least stabilize those levels (so we don't revert back to Triassic-period conditions and die) would be really helpful. Kuhl's team developed a prototype, a cube the size of a bedside alarm clock, that can achieve just that. In 2016, MIT Technology Review listed Kuhl as one of the top 35 innovators under 35, naming her among the people who are "building the stuff of the future." "I wanted to do something beneficial to help the environment." "I wanted to do something beneficial to help the environment," Kuhl told me recently, adding that the she's been studying the science behind the reactor since she was a graduate student at Stanford University (where she got her PhD in chemistry in 2013). Opus 12 has won the Department of Energy's Transformational Award and several grants from organizations like NASA. The technology, she explained, "would enable us to turn what is now a waste product into something useable." Read More: Monster Icebergs Crowding Canada's Coast Are Likely Harbingers of Climate Change Kuhl's reactor can turn carbon dioxide into products such as ethanol and methane. Those products themselves could potentially contribute to greenhouse gases. But the whole idea, Kuhl said, is to recycle CO2 "that otherwise would have gone into the atmosphere." The process begins with water, electricity and carbon dioxide. Basically, she explained, the reactor has two sides to it. "On one side, we're putting in water. When we apply voltage across the two sides, the water gets oxidized to make oxygen, and that releases protons and electrons," Kuhl said. Those particles travel through a membrane to the other side of the reactor, where the scientists put in carbon dioxide, which mixes with the particles on the surface of a catalyst, she added. "Depending on the identity of the catalyst and the reactor conditions, that determines what products we make," Kuhl said. According to Kuhl, the technology can scale to make kilograms of products, or tonnes of it. Right now, she spends most of her time transitioning the proof-of-concept testing that resulted in the Opus 12 prototype into a commercial small-scale reactor. "Converting all US stationary CO2 emissions into liquid fuels would produce enough carbon-neutral fuel to replace the nation's gasoline demand twice over," the Opus 12 website reads. "Our ultimate vision is that we can create a way to recycle carbon dioxide back into materials and fuels that we use every day." This is a grand dream for the future, where reactors big enough could have global impacts. "Our ultimate vision is that we can create a way to recycle carbon dioxide back into materials and fuels that we use every day," she said. "But it's not like tomorrow we're going to have this reactor." So, I asked her, how many large reactors would it take to reduce or at least stabilize the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere? "There's a lot of CO2," Kuhl said, "Think about all the cars and power plants in the world." Given that you need water and electricity to make the reactor function, the greatest challenge Opus 12 faces is energy—big reactors with big effects would need massive sources of electricity. Aside from being bitterly ironic, burning fossil fuels to run the reactors (and clean up the abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere) would ultimately be counterproductive, so alternative energy sources would be needed. "I think we need to start somewhere," Kuhl said. "This is certainly not a technology that alone is going to solve the problem." Subscribe to Science Solved It , Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Future Martians may live in brick buildings made of Martian soil thanks to research from a team of engineers at the University of California, San Diego. The new technique would allow astronauts to cut back on the amount of cargo they carry by leaving raw materials and most construction machinery behind. For years, NASA has sought proposals for using lunar and Martian soil (regolith) to build habitats. It is expensive to launch stuff into space, so by using resources found along the way (a principle called in situ resource utilization), agencies can cut back on transportation costs. Although previous proposals managed to create bricks out of regolith, they required kilns and complex chemistry to transform the soil into construction material. The new technique, on the other hand, needs little more than a hammer. The engineers created the bricks out of a NASA-certified Martian soil simulant. While attempting to reduce the amount of binding polymers needed to shape the simulant into strong enough bricks, they realized the soil itself had a unique property that enabled it to be easily formed with minimal force. “[It was] the strong bonding among the iron oxide,” Yu Qiao, a structural engineer who led the study, told Digital Trends. “The very same component in Martian soil that gives it the reddish color.” Thanks to iron oxide’s strong bonding properties, all that was needed to turn the regolith into bricks was a flexible container and pressure equal to someone dropping a 10-pound hammer from a few feet up. No kiln or additives were required. This “no-bake” process is important because, as Qiao said, “It does not demand extensive heating, so [it] needs [a] simpler setup to produce and consumes less energy.” The new method creates small, round pellets that can then be shaped into bricks. Even without rebar, the researchers found the bricks to be stronger than steel-reinforced concrete. A paper detailing the study was published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.


News Article | April 25, 2017
Site: www.techradar.com

Uber's next big venture will be taking off sooner than you might think, both literally and figuratively. The ridesharing service company kicked off its Elevate Summit today, where it detailed Uber Elevate — its long-term vision for getting around using vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft in place of standard road vehicles. Not only is Uber betting big on flying cars, but it appears it will have a working demonstration ready for the public in time for the 2020 World Expo in Dubai, according to Engadget. The Elevate Summit, which is taking place in Dallas, TX from April 25-27, features keynote presentations from a variety of speakers discussing the steps Uber needs to take and the hurdles it sees ahead in making the currently fantastical Uber Elevate a reality. The speakers feature an entire Rolodex's worth of executives and researchers from various aeronautical firms and tech groups — to include NASA — discussing the technical aspects of Uber Elevate, while representatives from regulatory agencies such as the US Federal Aviation Authority are also present to round out logistic and legal concerns about the project. While "flying cars" are the exact kind of sci-fi goodness that gets us giddy, we're watching Uber's claims closely over the next few days. Though it carries the potential to cut down on commute times and reduce transit fatalities, it's clear from Uber's own admitted concerns that Elevate is a massive undertaking. Working with legislation, keeping costs down, reducing noise for public consideration, and building the infrastructure for an entirely novel mode of transport is no small feat — especially if it's expected to have tangible results within the next three years. Also, given that Uber's latest high-tech experiment with autonomous cars was marred with lawsuits, permit issues, and a reportedly embarrassing driver intervention record, it may be worth the company's time to consider the phrase, "gotta walk before you run" before taking to the skies.


This unprocessed image shows features in Saturn's atmosphere from closer than ever before. The view was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its first Grand Finale dive past the planet on April 26, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute NASA's Cassini spacecraft is back in contact with Earth after its successful first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. The spacecraft is in the process of beaming back science and engineering data collected during its passage, via NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California's Mojave Desert. The DSN acquired Cassini's signal at 11:56 p.m. PDT on April 26, 2017 (2:56 a.m. EDT on April 27) and data began flowing at 12:01 a.m. PDT (3:01 a.m. EDT) on April 27. "In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. As it dove through the gap, Cassini came within about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) of Saturn's cloud tops (where the air pressure is 1 bar—comparable to the atmospheric pressure of Earth at sea level) and within about 200 miles (300 kilometers) of the innermost visible edge of the rings. While mission managers were confident Cassini would pass through the gap successfully, they took extra precautions with this first dive, as the region had never been explored. "No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn's other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like," said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape." The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn's atmosphere is about 1,500 miles (2,000 kilometers) wide. The best models for the region suggested that if there were ring particles in the area where Cassini crossed the ring plane, they would be tiny, on the scale of smoke particles. The spacecraft zipped through this region at speeds of about 77,000 mph (124,000 kph) relative to the planet, so small particles hitting a sensitive area could potentially have disabled the spacecraft. As a protective measure, the spacecraft used its large, dish-shaped high-gain antenna (13 feet or 4 meters across) as a shield, orienting it in the direction of oncoming ring particles. This meant that the spacecraft was out of contact with Earth during the ring-plane crossing, which took place at 2 a.m. PDT (5 a.m. EDT) on April 26. Cassini was programmed to collect science data while close to the planet and turn toward Earth to make contact about 20 hours after the crossing. Cassini's next dive through the gap is scheduled for May 2. Launched in 1997, Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004. Following its last close flyby of the large moon Titan on April 21 PDT (April 22 EDT), Cassini began what mission planners are calling its "Grand Finale." During this final chapter, Cassini loops Saturn approximately once per week, making a total of 22 dives between the rings and the planet. Data from this first dive will help engineers understand if and how they will need to protect the spacecraft on its future ring-plane crossings. The spacecraft is on a trajectory that will eventually plunge into Saturn's atmosphere—and end Cassini's mission—on Sept. 15, 2017. Explore further: Spacecraft flies between Saturn and rings in historic first


Reversing the aging process and finding a cure for "incurable" diseases such as cancer are two concerns that scientists problematize. Now, with new research into human DNA, science could possibly accomplish both. Tech Times reported on March 24 that a research team from the Erasmus University Medical Center found that removing senescent cells from human DNA could help fight off aging. Now, a joint study published by researchers from the University of New South Wales and Harvard Medical School revealed a scientific breakthrough that could lead to the development of an authentic anti-aging drug. Published in Science on March 24, the study found what is most likely the most crucial factor with regard to how human DNA repairs itself: the decline of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) as we age. NAD+ are metabolites or metabolic molecules that are present in every cell in our bodies, which is necessary for DNA repair. As humans age, NAD+ are not able to do their job properly, leading to all the signs of aging and our body's inability to heal itself properly and quickly. This is where our aging problems begin. However, Professor David Sinclair, Dr. Lindsay Wu, and their research team from the UNSW and Harvard Medical School discovered why exactly the NAD+ become ineffective when humans age: NAD+ levels start dropping and molecules don't interact as well as they used to. In order for our molecules to properly repair itself, NAD+ has to bind with poly(adenosine diphosphate-ribose) polymerase (PARP1) to begin the repair process. However, as we age, the molecule deleted in breast cancer 1 (DBC1) hinders NAD+ from binding with PARP1, leading to decreased ability for cell repair. Prof. Sinclair is not new in the study of DNA's role in the aging process and he was already successful with muscle regeneration in mice using NMN, a NAD precursor. The research team wanted to go further. "We thought if there is a connection between SIRT1 and DBC1, on one hand, and between SIRT1 and PARP1 on the other, then maybe PARP1 and DBC1 were also engaged in some sort of intracellular game," study co-author Jun Li said. In order to test this, the team injected old mice with NMN and observed the results. They found that, after only a week of observation, NMN boosted the old mice's ability to repair radiation and aging damage in its cells. "The cells of the old mice were indistinguishable from the young mice, after just one week of treatment," Prof. Sinclair said. The team also tested the same experiment on human kidney cells in their laboratory and achieved similar results. Prof. Sinclair and his team are convinced that their breakthrough discovery would help change the face of medicine since it will impact human health and longevity. This is also good news for cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy since it will be able to reverse the damage from the radiation in their bodies and prevent chronic illnesses as they age. Likewise, it is also good news for astronauts who could experience accelerated aging from cosmic rays while in space. In fact, NASA has already shown interest in the study. "This is the closest we are to a safe and effective anti-ageing drug that's perhaps only three to five years away from being on the market if the trials go well," Sinclair said. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.cemag.us

Tiny, individual crystals on the underside of a Mexican butterfly’s wings give the insect a distinctive green color that allows it to hide from predators. Researchers at the University of Fribourg’s Adolphe Merkle Institute (AMI), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany, and Murdoch University in Western Australia, have shown for the first time how these crystals might grow. The scientists investigated the nanostructure on the wing scales of the green Hairstreak butterfly. What they found on each wing scale were structured nanocrystals that were surprisingly not interconnected. Rather they were a series of regularly spaced points where so-called gyroid photonic structures had grown. Gyroids are labyrinth-like three-dimensional structures first described by NASA scientist Allan Schoen. These structures, which are partially pigmented, are responsible for the butterfly’s green color. According to the researchers, the repetition of these nanostructures is similar to the wavelength of visible light which explains its peculiar optical property of producing a green color without any pigment. This was the first time this pattern was observed in butterflies, which are known for their particularly diverse wing scale structures. These structures are important to the insects for multiple functions such as signaling and water repellency. How the complex structures develop remains to this day largely unknown since it is impossible to observe on living specimens. The researchers were however able to infer that the structure they observed, using electron and x-ray microscopy, grew in a multistep process. In a first stage, an enveloping casing or mold develops. Then it is filled by a biopolymeric gyroid structure with a different chemical composition. This growth pattern contradicts previous theories. “Previous theories lacked the sampling and/or time resolution needed for the investigation,” explains Bodo Wilts, the lead AMI researcher on the project. “The unique structure found in these scales looks like it is still ‘growing’. Theories so far were based on single time points of the development. With our dataset, we are able to infer whether these are correct.” The results give insights into how butterfly wing cells develop, but could also provide inspiration for new nanoscale assembly techniques. The structures are not only precisely formed, but also developed under normal temperature and pressure conditions. “With optics and photovoltaics, we have taken inspiration from nature in terms of what structures we can copy and adapt. But we seem to neglect that we can also learn from the mechanisms nature employs to make these structures,” says Murdoch University’s Gerd Schroeder-Turk, one of the study’s co-authors. “Efficiencies and innovations are sure to be revealed if we can unpick these processes.” The results have been published in Science Advances, an open-access journal.


While you were sleeping this morning, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft dove between Saturn and its rings — getting closer to the planet than it’s ever been before. The little space probe has been exploring the Saturn system for the last 13 years, but now it’s entering its final orbital path around the planet, what’s being called the Grand Finale. This morning’s ring pass is just the first of 22 dives that Cassini will do while on this orbit, before plunging into Saturn and burning up in mid-September. The pass occurred at around 5AM ET this morning, but it’ll be a while before we know if the trip was successful. During the plunge, Cassini was gathering as much data as possible, as well as using its antenna as a shield to protect the vehicle against any potentially dangerous particles. The spacecraft won’t send word that it’s okay until later today, and NASA won’t get that message until 3AM ET tomorrow, April 27th. But while we wait, you can enjoy today’s Google Doodle which depicts the spacecraft’s first trip between Saturn and its rings this morning. Saturn gives Cassini a big grin as the vehicle passes by snapping pictures. Hopefully this morning’s pass happened as smoothly as shown in this doodle, smiling planet and all.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

Two veteran NASA missions are providing new details about icy, ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn, further heightening the scientific interest of these and other "ocean worlds" in our solar system and beyond. Scientists announce that a form of chemical energy that life can feed on appears to exist on Saturn's moon Enceladus, and researchers also report additional evidence of plumes erupting from Jupiter's moon Europa.


News Article | May 2, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The Cassini spacecraft has already dived between Saturn and its rings to analyze what lies in between the two. Cassini's first dive was on April 26 and the spacecraft is scheduled to perform more dives before it finally crashes into the planet's surface. Even as scientists plan Cassini's second dive, the analysis of the data recovered from the first dive has bewildered them. The scientists were puzzled to learn that the region between the rings and Saturn's surface is quite dust-free. This absence of dust in the region is not what scientists had expected since the rings itself are primarily composed of dust particles. "The region between the rings and Saturn is 'the big empty,' apparently. Cassini will stay the course, while the scientists work on the mystery of why the dust level is much lower than expected," Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory remarked. Comprehending the presence of immense dust in the area, scientists had specially built Cassini's saucer-shaped antenna. This feature was supposed to protect the spacecraft from the dust. Scientists noted that the presence of dust would have severely restricted Cassini's ability to observe. Nearly 21 more dives are planned with the spacecraft out of which, 4 will pass via the inner fringes of Saturn's rings. During these four dives, the saucer-shaped antenna is likely to come in handy and will shield Cassini. The antenna is fitted with a Radio and Plasma Wave Science or RPWS sensor, which is able to detect particles that come into contact with the sensor. During the first dive, the antenna detected many hits while Cassini swerved through the ring's edge. However, in the region between Saturn and its rings, the sensor only picked up a few collisions. Scientists monitoring the sensor's audio output expected to hear a lot of pops and cracks during the dive on April 26, but were surprised to hear very few of these. Following the first-ever exploration between the rings and Saturn's surface in human history, Cassini engineers will again maneuver the spacecraft between the two. The second dive is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, May 2, at 3.38 p.m. EDT. According to NASA, this dive will take place in the vicinity of the first dive region. To calibrate the magnetometer, engineers have rotated the spacecraft faster than ever before. During the close approach to Saturn, Cassini will be unable to send data and, therefore, will share its findings on Wednesday, May 3. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Lego is no stranger to space toys. The company first released its Space line of sets in 1978, and since then, fans have built hundreds of different spaceships, real and fictional. Today, Lego announced a new set that looks like it’ll be the best of them all: a Saturn V rocket. We’re already itching to get our hands on it. This NASA Apollo Saturn V set looks amazing because it’s not just the rocket: it’s an entire Apollo mission in a box. The Saturn V splits into its three stages, while the Command and Lunar Modules are nestled at the top. There’s even parts for the Command Capsule to land in the ocean, although you’re on your own if you want an aircraft carrier to pick up your crew. Fittingly, the set is made up of 1,969 individual pieces (the year the US first landed on the Moon), and it’s the tallest toy the company’s ever made, standing at a meter tall, or 110th the size of the original Saturn V rocket. This project comes out of the company’s Ideas program, where Lego builders submit concepts to the company and the larger fan community for kits that they want to see made. The set is scheduled for release on June 1st, and will retail for $119.99 in the US (€119.99 in Europe and £109.99 in the UK).


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

While NASA's Cassini spacecraft is busy diving between Saturn and its rings to snap some pictures, Google is honoring it with an animated doodle. The doodle shows Cassini, camera in hand, shooting away as it passes by the planet. And then-- because who could resist-- taking a quick selfie. Cassini has been collecting data on Saturn and its moons for 13 years. Now it's starting its Grand Finale, which involves making those dives between the planet and its rings before taking a plunge on September 15, 2017. That's the closest to Saturn a spacecraft's ever gotten. Cassini was first launched in 1997.


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Now that NASA and SpaceX have set their sights on Mars as the next destination for human exploration, one of the most pressing problems is how astronauts will go about living on the Red Planet once they get there. To this end, researchers around the globe are working on everything from space farming to the interplanetary internet, but some of the most exciting developments are happening in Martian home design. So far, all the ideas for Martian habitats have been pretty unremarkable, generally adopting some variation of the 'tin can' or 'bounce house' design. But a recent wave of innovation has opened up the possibility of Martian houses that are made from far more exotic and easily sourced materials, such as 3D printed bricks of ice, compressed Martian regolith, microbial cement, and even mushrooms. Most recently, a team of materials scientists based at UC San Diego forged bricks out of JSC Mars-1a soil, a popular simulation of Martian regolith with approximately the same chemical composition found on the Red Planet. The work represents a key step toward "Martian masonry," in which habitats are crafted from onsite resources, which would save future missions the cost and space of schlepping Earth materials to another planet. At the moment, only small regolith bricks have been created in USCD's laboratory, but the long-term goal is to manufacture bricks with practical sizes and applications. "Our current work is focused inch-sized small samples, for materials study," study author Yu Qiao told me over email. "Scaling up to the structural level will be the next step." Qiao and his colleagues created their samples by compressing Mars-1a soil at ambient temperatures, without treating the material with any additives. They found that nanoparticulate iron oxides and oxyhydroxides (npOx), the elements in Martian regolith that give the soil its reddish hue, also act as powerful bonding agents. When compacted, the oven-dried simulant had "flexural strengths exceeding that of typical steel-reinforced concrete," according to the paper. While you are free to start scouting out Google Mars for a good spot to build your Martian hacienda, Qiao and his colleagues need more lead time to devise the best method for manufacturing bricks and cinderblocks on another world. "There are various directions that we'd like to study to make large parts, from drop towers (like a piling system) to soil compaction system," Qiao told me, "but we have not had time to do the work yet." In the meantime, Lynn Rothschild, an astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research Center, is working on figuring out how to build Martian mansions from microbes and synthetic biomaterials. During her presentation at the recent Astrobiology Science Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, Rothschild encouraged the assembled astrobiologists to think of "biology as technology" when it comes to designing blueprints for the Red Planet. For example, Rothschild cited microbial calcite precipitation, which is basically a fancy way of describing a technique for using microbes to create a binding agent that could turn Martian regolith into a natural cement. Astronauts could take a leak on a mixture of microbes and Martian regolith to make cement This approach to architecture has already been well-tested on Earth, and according to Rothschild, the microbes involved could be bioengineered in order to do their thing in the harsh Martian environment. Moreover, it is possible to facilitate this process using microbes that live on urea, an organic compound found in urine, meaning that astronauts could take a leak on a mixture of microbes and Martian regolith to make cement. But according to Rothschild, in the Martian economy, urine has far more valuable uses than just making bricks. "It's a waste of pee," she said with a laugh. "I can't believe I just said that." If microbial masons aren't your thing, Rothschild is also exploring how 3D printing biomaterials could literally lay the foundations for future Martian homesteaders. For example, she considered how bioprinting could would be used to artificially recreate bone, which Rothschild considers to be an ideal for homebuilding due to its inherent strength, limited flexibility, and ability to restructure. Both of these biological approaches to construction are pretty wild, but they don't hold a candle mycotecture, a way of building houses out of the root-like structure of mushrooms called mycelium. This would work by essentially taking some mushroom spores, putting them in a container that is the desired shape, and then adding some water and a growth medium such as sawdust or flour. Within days, this mixture will have created a building material that is as durable as a piece of plywood, in the shape of the original container. Mycotecture has a number of advantages over the other approaches to Martian architecture, particularly when it comes to its ability to grow incredibly quickly, take any shape, and self-repair. Rothschild imagines a scenario in which future Martians overlay a skeleton structure with a double-layered plastic bag which is used to grow mycelium—kind of like pitching a mushroom tent.  Moreover, any damage to this structure could be easily repaired by growing more mycelium. And if the Martians really wanted to get fancy, they could genetically engineer the mycelium using colored proteins that are attached to genetic markers so that the cell changes color when that gene with the attached protein is activated (a common lab technique called reporting). If that gene in the mycelium becomes activated in response to drops in pressure, the walls of a Martian myco-home would change colors when the pressure in the structure dropped, warning the Martians that repairs were needed and ideally preventing suffocation. Read More: What Happens When We Find Unknown Life? When I spoke with Rothschild at the conference, her excitement about mycotecture was palpable. She gained notoriety a few years ago for a biodegradable drone (also made from mycelium) that she and her colleagues had developed as a tool for exploring Mars. By applying these techniques to Martian living, she hopes to overcome the biggest challenge facing interplanetary travel: the "mass problem" that results from having to schlep so much stuff from Earth to the Red Planet. "Brick, printing ice, mycotecture, they're not mutually exclusive," Rothschild told me. "Let's get creative and think about biology as technology, rather than something that technology has to be applied to." Subscribe to Science Solved It, Motherboard's new show about the greatest mysteries that were solved by science.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Last month, while setting a record for the most spacewalks by a women, astronaut Peggy Whitson lost her debris shield. Although initially concerned, NASA soon determined that the blanket had floated far enough away from the International Space Station to not pose any immediate danger. Instead, it went on to join the very debris it was intended to protect against. In the grand scheme of things, Whitson’s shield is insignificant, but it ironically showcases the growing mass of space debris orbiting our planet. In under 25 years, the amount of junk big enough to destroy a spacecraft has more than doubled, the Agence France-Presse reports from the seventh European Conference on Space Debris in Germany this week. “We are very much concerned,” said Rolf Densing, who heads operations at the European Space Agency (ESA). The big concern is that accumulating space debris may lead to something called the Kessler syndrome, a chain reaction of collisions that exponentially increases the amount of junk. A collision between two satellites may make thousands of smaller objects. Those thousands of objects could collide into millions more objects, and so on. The end result is an impenetrable cloud of debris that would make space travel treacherous. But this isn’t science fiction. The amount of space debris is already in the hundreds of millions, according to experts. “Today, we find in space roughly 5,000 objects with sizes larger than one meter (3.25 feet), roughly 20,000 objects with sizes over ten centimeters,” said Holger Krag, who heads ESA’s space debris office, “and 750,000 ‘flying bullets’ of around one centimeter.” “For objects larger than one millimeter (0.04 inch), 150 million is our model estimate for that,” he added. “The growth in the number of fragments has deviated from the linear trend in the past and has entered into the more feared exponential trend.” Krag told the conference that ESA receive a collision alert on its ten satellites about every week, and each has to shift position to avoid collision about once or twice a year. Over the past few years, organizations like ESA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have been researching methods to clean up space debris, including corralling the debris with massive nets and attracting junk with magnets. Unfortunately, JAXA failed in its attempt earlier this year. The scientists will spend the next few days discussing the problem and reviewing tentative solutions.


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

We have an obsession with looking at ourselves from space. So it should come as no surprise that we continue to turn our far-flung spacecraft homeward to see what we look like from way out in the solar system. SEE ALSO: Extraterrestrial Oceans Could Host Life A new photo taken by the Cassini spacecraft near Saturn shows Earth as a small speck of light, framed and dwarfed by Saturn's famous rings. Cassini was 870 million miles away from Earth when it snapped this photo on April 12, according to NASA. "Although far too small to be visible in the image, the part of Earth facing Cassini at the time was the southern Atlantic Ocean," NASA said in a statement. Astronauts who fly to the International Space Station talk about how they spend their precious free time looking down at our home planet. And yes, while the view from the Space Station is incredible, there's also something deeper about our love for it. Living above the Earth can actually shift your perspective of it. Called the "overview effect" by some, looking down at our planet from far away helps you understand how tiny, fragile, and immensely important it is. Only about 500 people have been to space and afforded this kind of view in person, but photos like the one taken from Saturn are, at least in some way, designed to bring that overview effect down to a wider number of people. This isn't Cassini's first photo of Earth from Saturn. In 2013, the spacecraft snapped an incredible view of our home alongside our moon. Other spacecraft have also taken photos like this from far-off parts of the solar system. Perhaps the most famous of these photos is the "pale blue dot" image taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. That image shows Earth as a tiny fleck on a beam of sunlight from more than 4 billion miles away. Mission controllers actually turned off Voyager's camera soon after the pale blue dot image was taken, shutting its eye on the solar system as it sped away from us toward interstellar space.  The new faraway Earth image is something of a goodbye for Cassini as well.  The mission — which launched from Earth in 1997 — is coming to an end in September when it makes a planned dive into Saturn's atmosphere, burning up in the process.  Before that happens, however, the spacecraft will navigate between Saturn and its inner-most rings, snapping photos all the way down and giving us a new look at an alien world not all that far from home.  WATCH: NASA has discovered a water world in our solar system capable of sustaining life


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

I am an artist devoted to communicating issues of climate change through my practice. For the past decade, I’ve been documenting the dramatic disappearance of glaciers in large-scale series of paintings and photographs developed in close collaboration with glaciologists. It’s a symbiotic relationship: I want my work to accurately reflect the science and the urgency of climate change, and they want me to help them explain their science to the public through my art. I didn’t begin my career with such a goal. Instead, I just wanted to experience and depict the natural wonder of our world. As a New Yorker, growing up in apartment buildings, the landscape’s open spaces and monumental geological phenomenon were particularly attractive. But expressing the beauty of our environment eventfully wasn’t enough. By the turn of this century I felt compelled to do more, to make my creativity to contribute to saving our planet. Now my goal is to seduce through the magic of the image, while at the same time introducing visual elements to elicit/motivate awareness. I want the viewer to confront, and comprehend the dramatic pace of ecological change and share with me the urgency I feel. At the outset, I collaborated with scientists who generously provided their archival material, such as chronological records of glacial degradation (repeats), and visual material mapping glacial recession, as well as Landsat imagery from USGS, NASA and NOA. Eventually I needed to participate directly - so finally, I decided to “bear witness” to the three largest ice fields in the world. In 2013, I explored Svalbard and Ny-Alesund, and Antarctica’s Peninsula; in 2014, Greenland’s Jakobshavn and Ilulissat Glaciers; and in 2015 I returned to Antarctica as well as Argentina’s Patagonian ice fields. I have just returned from a two-month journey to Australia and New Zealand’s fast melting Southern Alps. This on-site experience enriches and informs my work leading to exhibitions that begin a dialog with audiences not initially interested in science. My exhibition, Shifting Glaciers, Changing Perspectives: Bearing Witness to Climate Change, will be on display the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas from May 4 to September 30, 2017, in conjunction with Artosphere, an annual regionsl festival that celebrates artists influenced by nature. An exquisitely designed book, including with three essays, documents highlights from the last decade of my practice. Here are some examples from this show:


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.gizmag.com

The system, Roscosmos says, will monitor the location, route and flight parameters of thousands of drones flying through Russian airspace (Credit: NewNow/Depositphotos ) If all the companies vying to get drone services into the air are even halfway successful, there stands to one day be quite a few unmanned vehicles buzzing about overhead. Russia is taking steps to manage all that potential new traffic, with its space agency announcing plans to test a nationwide monitoring network for drones. Russia's drone traffic-management system will make use of GLONASS, the country's own version of GPS, along with new purpose-built ground infrastructure developed by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. This infrastructure includes a so-called "Navigation Application Platform," which handles the route-planning for individual drones and a "Geoinformation System," which is integrated with government and industry information systems and keeps track of no-fly zones. This system, Roscosmos says, will monitor the location, route and flight parameters of thousands of drones flying through Russian airspace, automatically generating flight paths for operators at their request. Data will be transmitted over existing cellular communication and satellite systems, along with VHF transmitters. NASA too has a similar project in the works, which would designate certain corridors of US airspace for different types of drones. The deployment of such a system is still years away, but it too is aimed at ushering in an era of safe and widespread use of drones. Roscosmos hopes that its system will cut the cost of drone use by eliminating risk and therefore encouraging the creation of new industries. It will begin practical testing this year.


News Article | April 13, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

NASA unveiled evidence of “ocean worlds” on moons of Saturn and Jupiter today. The observations - that Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus emits a hydrogen plume, and Jupiter’s moon Europa shows a similar phenomenon – mean life may just exist in our solar system other than on Earth, said the NASA experts. The Enceladus findings of the Cassini spacecraft, published in the journal Science, came from detailed observations of the potential chemical energy source that could power small life on the seafloor deep below an icy crust. “It could support… microbes with energy,” said Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, during a press conference today. Although life cannot be confirmed, the clues from Enceladus all indicate the conditions for life exist on the oceans of Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon of Saturn. “This is the closest we’ve come, so far, to identifying a place with some of the ingredients needed for a habitable environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator for NASA’s Science Missing Directorate. “These results demonstrate the interconnected nature of NASA’s science missions that are getting us closer to answering whether we are indeed alone or not.” The plumes from Enceladus indicate the microbes could mix hydrogen with carbon dioxide within the water to undergo methanogenesis to produce energy and a methane byproduct. The Cassini mission’s deepest dive into the plume took place on Oct. 28, 2015 – and found its composition to be 98 percent water, one percent hydrogen, and a mixture of other molecules including carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia. “Although we can’t detect life, we’ve found that there’s a food source there for it,” said Hunter Waite, lead author of the Cassini study. “It would be like a candy store for microbes.” The second study of Europa is based on observations by the Hubble Space Telescope, and is published in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters. The plume that was first observed in 2014 on the sixth-closest moon to the largest planet indicates that it rises 62 miles over the moon’s surface, over an unusually warm part of the body which could show cracks in the moon’s icy crust. The thermal similarities between the two moons will need to be investigated further – especially with more observations of Europa, said William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science institute in Baltimore, who led the Hubble work. “We discovered that Europa’s plume candidate is sitting right on the thermal anomaly,” said Sparks. “The plumes on Enceladus are associated with hotter regions, so after Hubble imaged this new plume-like feature on Europa, we looked at that location on the Galileo thermal map.” The pendulum has swung from caution to optimism about thinking there could be conditions for life, added Sparks. “We’re pushing the frontiers – we’re finding new environments,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.


News Article | April 7, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA's Cassini probe studying the planet Saturn will move into its final journey in a few days prior to the mid-September demise at Saturn's atmosphere. The U.S. space agency officials announced at a press conference that they are killing the spacecraft in the "Grand Finale," which will start on April 23. In the final maneuver, Cassini will be on a collision course with the atmosphere of Saturn. NASA has said the spacecraft is facing a fuel crunch and the mission will be wound up by the probe's crash. The last day of $3.26 billion Cassini will be Sept. 15, when the spacecraft will "break apart, melt, vaporize, and become a part of the very planet it left Earth 20 years ago to explore," stated Cassini project manager Earl Maize. Even the last leg of Cassini's journey will be unique. Flying over 76,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft will steer through the gap between Saturn and its rings where no spacecraft has hitherto flown. Before ending life at Saturn, Cassini will complete 22 laps in the region. Cassini's crash demise at Saturn has been planned by NASA to avoid any contamination of the nearby moon, which might be harboring alien life. However, before the robot perishes at Saturn, Cassini will be gleaning valued data with its flyby between Saturn and its rings. "It's a thrilling final chapter for our intrepid spacecraft, and so scientifically rich that it was the clear and obvious choice for how to end the mission," noted Linda Spilker, NASA's scientist involved in the Cassini project at California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There had been concerns over chances of Cassini's accidental landing on the moons of Saturn. The decision to kill the spacecraft at Saturn was tactical to avoid infestation by any alien organisms. By burning to death, Cassini can be free of hitchhikers. Cassini's last mission will take it to a final pass by Titan to be slingshot into a new orbit assisted by the moon's gravity. The new orbit will take Cassini into the 1,200-mile gap between the edge of Saturn's atmosphere and innermost rings. In case any ring particle hits Cassini, the mission will come to a premature end, as the spacecraft will be traveling at a massive speed of more than 70,000 miles per hour. "At those speeds, even a tiny particle can do damage," noted flight engineer Joan Stupik at Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA. Scientists are looking for new information to ascertain whether Saturn's rings were as old as the planet, which is 4.6 billion years old, or the rings were formed by the shredding of any comet or moon by the planet's tremendous gravity. Cassini, the nuclear-powered spacecraft with the name Cassini-Huygens, came into Saturn's orbit in July 2004 after being launched in October 1997. Since then, it has been surveying the planet's plethora of moons. Overall, Cassini mission is considered very productive given the high-value study of Saturn, its rings, and its moons. The images sent by Cassini showcased Enceladus's geysers, hinting an ocean underneath, and Saturn's Earth-like moon, Titan. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


When NASA announced in February the discovery of TRAPPIST-1, a planetary system comprising seven exoplanets, it said three were potentially habitable and all the seven planets are closely knit with a shorter distance between the planets. This has led to researchers working on the topic whether life forms from one planet can seed life in other planets, especially in planetary systems where interplanetary distances are too short. The study led by Sebastiaan Krijt, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago, along with other scientists analyzed whether life forms from one planet can inject life in other planets as well. They argue that organisms of a planet are likely to take a hitch ride on space debris if an event like asteroid impact takes place, which will fling rocks and other stuff far and wide. "Frequent material exchange between adjacent planets in the tightly packed TRAPPIST-1 system appears likely," said Krijt, the lead author. He affirmed that any material containing life offers the likelihood of inoculating life in other planets as well. The closeness of the planets in TRAPPIST-1 has been described by NASA. "If a person were standing on one of the planet's surface, they could gaze up and see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would appear larger than the moon in Earth's sky." NASA estimated that the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets are at a distance of 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth yet closer to Earth and they are part of the Aquarius constellation. The study has been published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Simulations for TRAPPIST-1 conducted by the researchers gave the indication that debris led material transfer to other planets could occur at a shorter period of 10 years. In an asteroid impact scenario, large rocks and other material are flung into space and they will keep floating until the nearby planet's gravitational force takes over and start dragging them to the surface. Such a journey can help bacteria and other unicellular organisms to take a hitch ride on the debris and enter other planets. For TRAPPIST-1, the probability is too high. Compared to the average 100 years taken for transferring 10 percent of the material from one planet to another habitable planet, Trappist-1 planets will need just 10 years to conduct the transfer of material given their closeness. "Transport between planets f and g stands out as being particularly fast and effective, with some material being transferred within 10 years of being released," the team said. Fred Ciesla, the study's coauthor highlighted the study's significance in the context of tightly packed planetary systems being discovered too frequently. Scientists are hopeful that planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system might be harboring life-supporting conditions. Given that TRAPPIST-1 planets are showcased as most habitable exoplanets, NASA will intensify the focus on them with the upcoming James Webb Telescope to identify the atmospheres to draw definite conclusions on alien life in distant worlds. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


President Trump held a video conference with NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station on Monday, in part to congratulate Commander Peggy Whitson on her record-setting 535th day in space. Briefly, however, the conversation turned to a less dignified topic. Trump, flanked by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and his daughter Ivanka, was speaking from the Oval Office to Whitson and Colonel Jack Fischer about the conditions in space. Whitson gave an example of one of the ways in which astronauts are able to “close the life support system.” “Water is such a precious resource up here that we also are cleaning up our urine and making it drinkable,” Whitson revealed. “And it’s really not as bad as it sounds.” “Well, that’s good,” Trump, a self-proclaimed germophobe, responded. “I’m glad to hear that. Better you than me.” The president seemed eager to abandon that particular subject, and was far more amenable to discussing sending humans to Mars. Told that it would be at least 2030 until such a mission would be feasible, Trump encouraged the astronauts to make haste. “Well, we want to try and do it during my first term, or at worst during my second term,” Trump responded. “So we’ll have to speed that up a little, okay?” • Pelosi, Schumer urge Trump to butt out of budget negotiations • Photos: March for Science events around the globe


News Article | March 22, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

A new research has thrown fresh insight into the tiny moons of Mars — Phobos and Deimos — with regard to their origin and the supposed ring-like structure of Mars in the past just like Saturn. A NASA-funded study by scholars at the Purdue University claimed that Mars will regain the rings when one of the moons disintegrates. According to a new model offered in the study, Purdue scholar Andrew Hesselbrock said the debris strewn into space from an asteroid collision with Mars, around 4.3 billion years ago, has been the starting point of moon formation in the Red Planet. Hesselbrock's simulations concluded that Mar's moons were actually remnants of a bigger moon that broke away millions of years ago. Formation of the big moon was caused by a gigantic impact experienced by Mars billions of years ago. Though it led to the formation of a giant moon, it was unstable and splintered into a larger ring. It also kickstarted the cycle of spatial residue alternating between two structures — a planetary ring and a moon form resulting from the clumping. "My argument is that Phobos ... was not produced in an impact," said study author Hesselbrock. To buttress their theory of impact on Mars surface, the authors point to the large Borealis Basin on Mars surface, covering a broad swath of the ejected debris into space. The study has been published in Nature. The researcher's model also suggests that small moon formation from the ring was also accompanied by the drifting of the planet to form the moon. When rings coalesce to form smaller moons, the remaining residue is thrown into Mars surface or pushed into space. The exercise is a recurring one, with small moons breaking into rings and later clumping into moons. In another parallel process, the moon also edges toward Mars under the pull of gravity. The drift will culminate when it hits the Roche limit as tidal forces of Mars turn intense enough to rip apart the celestial body. According to the model, Phobos is now going closer to Mars, and it may break apart when it reaches the nadir of Roche limit. New rings will be due in a span of millions of years. In the past also, based on the intensity of Roche limit, the cycle might have played out several times in the billions of years that has passed. What is interesting is that the moon, when it takes rebirth from a ring, would diminish in size at least five times the previous size. The debris falling on Mars is in evidence at the sedimentary deposits seen at the equator of Mars. "You could have had kilometer-thick piles of moon sediment raining down on Mars in the early parts of the planet's history, and there are enigmatic sedimentary deposits on Mars with no explanation as to how they got there," coauthor David Minton said. Unlike the disintegration threat faced by Phobos, the other moon Deimos is safe, as it too far to be a part of the regenerative cycle. Being too far means the effects of Martian tidal forces will not affect its orbit, and it will keep increasing the distance from Mars. The Purdue model is good at the simulation stage and is yet to be proved, though it remains a big possibility. To verify the model against the moons' origin, the way out is collecting samples from the moons and Mars for an analysis. If they match, Hesselbrock's theory may come true. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | March 20, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Dragon, the reusable spacecraft developed by SpaceX, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean On Sunday, March 19 as anticipated. The space capsule carrying over 5,400 lbs of cargo from NASA, which included supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) and research items, had taken off on Feb. 19 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch of the resupply mission to the ISS was SpaceX's first from NASA's iconic LC-39A pad, which had been used for the Apollo mission to moon in 1969. However, the unmanned Dragon capsule encountered a glitch on its way to the ISS, but finally docked at the ISS on Feb. 24 after the delay. The Dragon has now journeyed back to Earth, splashing into the Pacific Ocean in the process. The cargo craft splashed down off the coast of Baja California. The space capsule was retrieved easily from there by a recovery team. The capsule had left the ISS early on Sunday morning. It was released by astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet via a robotic arm. The Dragon's splashdown occurred at 10:48 AM EDT and SpaceX confirmed the capsule's arrival via Twitter post. Some of the materials inside the Dragon will be removed and delivered to NASA immediately. The capsule will head back to McGregor, Texas where SpaceX's research facility is located. Here, the rest of the cargo from the spacecraft will be recovered. Innumerable types of space research are being conducted on the ISS. Some of the material sent back to Earth via the Dragon will undoubtedly shed light on the progress of these important studies. "Everything from stem cells that could help us understand how human cancers start and spread after being exposed to near zero-gravity, to equipment that is paving the way toward servicing and refueling satellites while they're in orbit will be on board," stated NASA officials. Some of the biological studies which are underway as the ISS, and whose data the spacecraft has brought back, include research on the effect of microgravity on the stem cells. This study will help in future space explorations. It will also offer an insight into the spread of cancer in the body and ways to treat it. The other vital study is that the scientists are persevering to decode how tissue can be regenerated and the impact of microgravity on the process. The results of this research may lead to methods of re-growing lost limbs in humans in the near future. The Dragon was SpaceX's tenth cargo delivery mission for NASA under the terms of the contract. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | March 29, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

An illustration depicts the capsule that Blue Origin plans to use to take tourists into space. —Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has released photos of the interior of its New Shepard spacecraft, which Mr. Bezos hopes will bring tourists into space as early as 2018. The New Shepard, named after the first American in space, Alan Shepard, has already been successfully launched and landed five times in uncrewed test flights. Blue Origin intends for the capsule to eventually be used to take passengers to the frontier of space, allowing them to experience weightlessness and enjoy the view of their home planet more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) below them. “Every seat’s a window seat, the largest windows ever in space,” Bezos wrote in an email update about the spacecraft, according to The Verge. The new images reveal a sleek, futuristic 530-cubic-foot interior with six seats. In the center of the cabin is a capsule that houses an escape motor designed to kick in in the event of an emergency at launch, pushing the passengers away from an exploding booster engine. “Our New Shepard flight test program is focused on demonstrating the performance and robustness of the system,” Bezos said in the email release. “In parallel, we’ve been designing the capsule interior with an eye toward precision engineering, safety, and comfort.” The new photos are a tantalizing glimpse at the futuristic world of commercial space travel, often touted by companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX as inevitable. But while space tourism has captured the public imagination since before the first manned rockets took off from Earth’s surface in the 20th century, that future has faced delays recently, despite assurances that regular space tourism is not far off. As The Christian Science Monitor’s Eva Botkin-Kowacki reported in February: Two private citizens have booked a trip around the moon scheduled for 2018, according to a SpaceX announcement Monday afternoon.  Yes, you read that right. The commercial spaceflight company that has yet to fly any crewed missions into space plans to send two non-astronauts beyond Earth's orbit next year. Is that really possible? "My guess is that 2020 is more realistic," Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, says in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.... This criticism came after one of SpaceX's semi-reusable rockets exploded during a routine test. [Scott Pace, a former NASA official and director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University] expressed concern that people working for the company might be run ragged by the demands, leading to human errors. That's a significant concern when talking about sending millions of dollars of equipment up to the International Space Station, but the stakes become much higher with humans, especially non-astronaut humans, on board. But despite delays and the necessity for further safety testing, both SpaceX and Blue Origin have been moving forward with their ambitious space tourism projects. The latter has already announced plans for the next generation of spacecraft after New Shepard: New Glenn, which the company is already considering selling tickets for, despite the design still being in development. Blue Origin is also focusing on another money-maker, ferrying satellites into orbit for commercial companies, a common strategy for corporate entities breaking into private space flight. Blue Origin was recently contracted by French telecom firm Eutelsat to send a communications satellite into orbit on its New Glenn rocket, scheduled for completion in 2020. But until then, Blue Origin continues to paint a dramatic picture of what that future commercial trip into space could look like, distant or not: “Sitting atop a 60-foot-tall rocket in a capsule designed for six people, you’ll feel the engine ignite and rumble under you as you climb through the atmosphere,” proclaims the company’s official site. “Accelerating at more than 3 Gs to faster than Mach 3, you will count yourself as one of the few who have gone these speeds and crossed into space.”


News Article | April 12, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

With the Earth Day coming up on April 22, NASA is offering an innovative plan to celebrate the event by showing a greater sense of belonging and love for the planet. Calling people to adopt a piece of the planet, the space agency has showcased 64,000 spots on the Earth as seen from space. People can visit NASA website and add their name to make it virtually their own. NASA will also supply the relevant science data of the spot including temperature, humidity, and other information, Once these spots are claimed for adoption, the process of giving away the plots will be through by April 22. The plot may be a random location or it can be a place loaded with nostalgic value — a hometown. The NASA's Earth adoption website is open for prospective adopters who only need to type his or her name to claim a piece of land for adoption. NASA will offer sumptuous scientific data on the land with aerial shots that show data of carbon monoxide, sea ice, relative humidity, and other information. The space agency plan weighs with symbolism as an opportunity to shower the affection to the mother Earth. With the adoption process being a virtual exercise, there is no question of any legal rights to the spot during adoption. NASA is also encouraging users to print certificates from any part of the world using an interactive world map. It is hoping that all the spots will be claimed by April 22, so that people can celebrate the event with focus on a specific corner of the Earth. Meanwhile, the Earth Day network has set the event's theme as "Environmental & Climate Literacy." The focus aims to enhance climate change literacy and education of the public on the risks of climate change. "We need to build a global citizenry fluent in the concepts of climate change and aware of its unprecedented threat to our planet," said an Earth Day Network official. Environmental literacy is aiming to promote knowledge on environmental laws and green technologies so that public can contribute to the cause of Earth Day. The Earth Day Network envisages greater involvement of local communities for traction in global climate and environmental literacy by 2020. Meanwhile, the annual VegWeek campaign for a meat-free eating will be observed from April 17-23 with thousands taking the VegPledge to explore the joys of plant-based eating. VegWeek celebrations highlight the positive effects of plant diet as a tribute to the Earth Day. Heavy celebrity participation has been assured from persons like Alicia Silverstone, actress Emily Deschanel, musician Moby, singer-songwriter Belinda Carlisle, TV personality Daisy Fuentes and actor Richie Kul for the campaign. Companies such as Herbivorous Butcher, Beyond Meat, and Follow Your Heart are offering impressive deals and discounts. According to the Food & Agriculture Organization animal food is responsible for 14.5 percent of human-made greenhouse gas emissions. "VegWeek is a free, fun, and flavorful way to explore the many benefits of vegan eating," said Erica Meier, Executive Director of Compassion Over Killing. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | March 20, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

NASA wants to investigate the habitability of Jupiter's moon Europa, and sending probes to this icy world may reveal if it can indeed support life. Among the planets and natural satellites in the Solar System, Europa is among the few worlds that scientists suspect having an environment that can support life. Missions that would conduct close proximity study of the moon may hold answers to questions of its habitability. Two missions to this world have so far been considered by the U.S. space agency. A mission to fly by the icy world dubbed the Europa Clipper is set for launch in 2020. The spacecraft would fly by Europa up to 45 times to image its surface at high resolution and gather data about the moon's composition and the structure of its icy shell and interior. Another proposed Europa mission involves sending a lander to the moon that could determine if it harbors life. In a report submitted last February, the NASA-employed Science Definition Team proposed a mission that would involve drilling toward the moon's subterranean ocean to find signs of life. The moon hosts a large global ocean protected by hard ice. The plan was to send a robotic probe similar to those on the surface of planet Mars to drill on the icy surface and sample the subsurface ocean of the Galilean moon. Analysis could provide information about the chemicals found in the waters or even indicate signs of life. The mission could be launched by 2030, but the budget cut is putting an end to the Europa lander project. President Donald Trump's 2018 federal budget blueprint, which was released on March 16, would axe the proposed mission to send a life-hunting lander on the surface of the ocean-harboring moon. "To preserve the balance of NASA's science portfolio and maintain flexibility to conduct missions that were determined to be more important by the science community, the Budget provides no funding for a multi-billion-dollar mission to land on Europa," the document reads. It does not mean the end for Europa studies, though, since the blueprint mentioned an allocated fund that would support the continued development of the Europa Clipper mission. Despite the proposal to cut the space agency's budget, NASA's Planetary Science division, which is involved in studies of planets, satellites, and smaller bodies found in the Solar System, could receive a 20.1 percent increase in funding from the previous budget. The proposed budget is also not yet final since members of the House and the Senate will still examine it, possibly make some changes, and send it back to be signed. "Overall science funding is stable, although some missions in development will not go forward and others will see increases," said NASA acting administrator Robert Lightfoot in response to the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 NASA budget proposal. "We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us — a budget not far from where we have been in recent years, and which enables our wide ranging science work on many fronts." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: phys.org

The Prototype Lunar/Mars Greenhouse Project (PLMGP) is all about growing vegetables for astronauts during extended stays on the moon, on Mars, or anywhere they can't be resupplied from Earth. Beyond growing food, the Project aims to understand how food-growing systems can also be a part of life-support systems. We're working with a team of scientists, engineers and small businesses at the University of Arizona to develop a closed-loop system. The approach uses plants to scrub carbon dioxide, while providing food and oxygen," said Dr. Ray Wheeler, lead scientist in Kennedy Advanced Life Support Research. The prototype itself is an inflatable, deployable system that researchers call a bioregenerative life support system. As crops are grown, the system recycles, water, recycles waste, and revitalizes the air. The system is hydroponic, so no soil is needed. Water that is either brought along on missions or gathered in situ—on the moon or at Mars for example—is enriched with nutrient salts, and flows continuously through plant root systems. Air in the system is recycled too. Astronauts exhale carbon dioxide, which plants absorb. Through photosynthesis, the plants produce oxygen for the astronauts. "We're mimicking what the plants would have if they were on Earth and make use of these processes for life support," said Dr. Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center at the University of Arizona. "The entire system of the lunar greenhouse does represent, in a small way, the biological systems that are here on Earth." A key part of a system like this is knowing what astronauts will have to bring with them, and what resources they can find at their destination. This includes which type of plants and seeds will be needed, as well as how much water might be available once astronauts reach their destination. Methods of extracting water on Mars or the moon are also being researched and developed. Even if the necessary water can be found in situ on Mars and the moon, that hardly means those are easy places to grow food. Astronauts have to be protected from radiation, and so will crops. These greenhouse chambers would have to buried underground, which means specialized lighting systems are also required. "We've been successful in using electric LED (light emitting diode) lighting to grow plants," Dr. Wheeler said. "We also have tested hybrids using both natural and artificial lighting." Solar light could be captured with light concentrators that track the sun and then convey the light to the chamber using fiber optic bundles. These systems are not NASA's first experience at growing crops in space. Experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have been an important part of the research into crop production in non-terrestrial environments. The Veggie Plant Growth System was NASA's first attempt, and astronauts successfully harvested lettuce from that system. Earth has well-established systems for sustaining life, and this project is all about taking some of that to distant destinations in space. "I think it's interesting to consider that we're taking our terrestrial companions with us," Wheeler said. "While there may be ways to engineer around it in terms of stowage and resupply, it wouldn't be as sustainable. The greenhouses provide a more autonomous approach to long-term exploration on the moon, Mars and beyond." Explore further: How plants are grown beyond Earth?


News Article | March 31, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Mars may have all the elements that could support life billions of years ago but something catastrophic happened that transformed it into a lump of wasteland in space. It was found that the Martian atmosphere, as thick as the Earth's, evaporated into space due to radiation and solar wind. "We've determined that most of the gas ever present in the Mars atmosphere has been lost to space," Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said. Jakosky, also the lead author of the study, added that about 65 percent of argon present in the atmosphere has been lost to space. The research was published in the journal Science on March 31. The thin Martian atmosphere, with a density less than 1 percent of Earth's, makes it vulnerable to sudden daily changes of temperatures. Previous studies have shown that Mars had the characteristics similar to Earth. The dry riverbeds and mineral formations pointed to one probable explanation — water was present on the planet. The early Mars, as the presence of water suggests, was once covered with thick layer of gases enough to nurture life. It has been a mystery for most what really happened through time. NASA launched in 2013 a robotic probe dubbed as MAVEN to help solve the mystery of the Red Planet. The spacecraft began its orbit around Mars a year after its launching and had accomplished over 4,000 orbits skimming some 100 miles off the surface of the planet. MAVEN had generated ample data for scientists to analyze. The study led researchers to focus on argon, a very stable element. By looking into two types of argon isotopes — the lighter argon (Ar-36) and the heavier argon (Ar-38) — the scientists have found that Argon-36 was more abundant on a higher altitude, which led to being scraped by solar radiation and solar wind. The team said the presence of two isotopes of argon at the different layers of Mars atmosphere could mean that some 66 percent of its argon had been evaporated to space since the planet's existence. "The escape of gas to space might have played a major role...in changing the climate of Mars over time," Jakosky said. Researchers focused on argon because, as a "noble gas", it can only be scraped by the solar wind through sputtering. Sputtering happens when the particles picked up by the streams of protons and electrons from the sun would crash at high speed on Mars knocking the gas in the atmosphere in the process. By determining how much argon was lost, the scientists could also determine the number of atoms and molecules in the atmosphere lost by sputtering. "This discovery is a significant step toward unraveling the mystery of Mar's past environments," MAVEN program scientist Elsayed Talaat at NASA Headquarters, said. This finding, Talaat said, could help explain not only what had caused the changes in Mars but also the "processes that can change a planet's habitability over time." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

NASA scientists have found a new planet that may add to the understanding of the types of planetary systems that exist beyond the solar system. The planet—OGLE-2016-BLG-1195lb—has roughly the same mass as Earth and is orbiting a star at the same distance that the Earth orbits the sun. However, because the star is so faint, NASA has concluded that the ‘iceball’ planet is likely too cold to be habitable for life. “This 'iceball' planet is the lowest-mass planet ever found through microlensing,” Yossi Shvartzvald, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and lead author of the study, said in a statement. The scientists used microlensing—a technique that facilitates the discovery of distant objects by using background stars as flashlights where a star crosses precisely in front of a bright star in the background and the gravity of the foreground star focuses the light of the background star, making it appear brighter. Also a planet orbiting the foreground object can cause an additional blip in the star’s brightness and for the ‘iceball’ planet—the blip lasted only a few hours but allowed NASA to view the distant exoplanet. The discovery is expected to assist scientists in understanding the distribution of planets in our galaxy and answering whether there is a difference in the frequency of planets in the Milky Way’s central bulge compared to its disk. The iceball planet, as well as two additional planets detected through microlensing by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, are located in the disk. “Although we only have a handful of planetary systems with well-determined distances that are this far outside our solar system, the lack of Spitzer detections in the bulge suggests that planets may be less common toward the center of our galaxy than in the disk,” Geoff Bryden, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the study, said in the statement. The new exoplanet is about 13,000 light-years away and orbits a star significantly smaller than the sun. In fact, the star is so minuscule the scientists can’t say for sure that it is even a star as it is only 7.8 percent the mass of the Sun—placing it on the border of being classified a star and not being a star. One theory is that the star is actually an ultra-cool dwarf star—similar to TRAPPIST-1—the host star to seven exoplanets discovered earlier this year.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: www.futurity.org

Methane-making microbes may have battled “rust-breathing” microbes for dominance in early Earth’s oceans—and kept those oceans from freezing under an ancient, dimmer sun in the process, new research suggests. For much of its first two billion years, Earth was a very different place: oxygen was scarce, microbial life ruled, and the sun was significantly dimmer than it is today. Yet the rock record shows that vast seas covered much of the early Earth under the faint young sun. Scientists have long debated what kept those seas from freezing. A popular theory is that potent gases such as methane—with many times more warming power than carbon dioxide—created a thicker greenhouse atmosphere than required to keep water liquid today. In the absence of oxygen, iron built up in ancient oceans. Under the right chemical and biological processes, this iron rusted out of seawater and cycled many times through a complex loop, or “ferrous wheel.” Some microbes could “breathe” this rust in order to outcompete others, such as those that made methane. When rust was plentiful, an “iron curtain” may have suppressed methane emissions. “The ancestors of modern methane-making and rust-breathing microbes may have long battled for dominance in habitats largely governed by iron chemistry,” says Marcus Bray, a biology doctoral candidate in the laboratory of Jennifer Glass, assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Using mud pulled from the bottom of a tropical lake, the researchers gained a new grasp of how ancient microbes made methane despite this “iron curtain.” Collaborator Sean Crowe, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, collected mud from the depths of Indonesia’s Lake Matano, an anoxic iron-rich ecosystem that uniquely mimics early oceans. Bray placed the mud into tiny incubators simulating early Earth conditions, and tracked microbial diversity and methane emissions over a period of 500 days. Minimal methane was formed when rust was added; without rust, microbes kept making methane through multiple dilutions. Extrapolating these findings to the past, the team concluded that methane production could have persisted in rust-free patches of ancient seas. Unlike the situation in today’s well-aerated oceans, where most natural gas produced on the seafloor is consumed before it can reach the surface, most of this ancient methane would have escaped to the atmosphere to trap heat from the early sun. Glass was principal investigator of the study in Geobiology. Additional members of the research team are from Georgia Tech, the University of British Columbia, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, and the University of Kansas. A grant from NASA Exobiology funded the work. The Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations and the NASA Astrobiology Institute also provided support. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring organizations.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

There is much surprise from the results of NASA Cassini spacecraft's fist dive into the gap between Saturn and its rings. Details of the orbiter's debut dive on April 26 are showing that the region is bereft of charged particles, contrary to all expectations. In fact, an eerie silence exists between the space of Saturn and its rings with surprisingly little dust and debris. The lack of impacts is obvious in the new NASA sound video of the first dive. In the words of Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize, the gap is a "big empty." The soundscape generated has reinforced the emptiness more intensely with freaky sounds all around. "The region between the rings and Saturn is 'the big empty,' apparently," he said. The data of the mission into the "big empty" was made into a soundtrack. which was picked up by the Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument of the spacecraft. The converted RPWS data into audio files give the sounds resembling white noise. To safeguard against the particles during the first dive, Cassini had raised a large antenna as a shield at the front. However, that is looking unwarranted as the spacecraft encountered very few particles, and none were larger than 1 micron across, according to NASA. Maize said scientists are going to analyze the mystery in the gap contrary to expectations. Prior to dive, RPWS had "detected hundreds of ring particles hitting per second" with the particles being vaporized into electrically-excited gas outside the rings of the planet. Earlier images by Cassini had given the impression that ring particles will be in abundance at the approximately 1,200-mile-wide region between Saturn and the rings. There was also the likelihood of the spacecraft facing challenges from them. Though Cassini engineers are delighted at the apparent lack of particles, ring scientists are puzzled by the region's apparent dust-free nature. Considering the fact that it is the first time a spacecraft is venturing into the region, Cassini engineers had oriented the spacecraft in such a way that its 13-foot-wide antenna is pointing to the direction of incoming ring particles to shield the sensitive instruments. In the audio files, audible pops and cracks are the sounds of dust particles hitting the instrument's antenna. They are engulfing the normal whistles and squeaks. Obviously, the swooping Cassini at the gap between Saturn and the innermost ring was tuning into radio waves and plasma waves, around Saturn. The whistles and squeaks represent the waves in the environment of charged particles. "It was a bit disorienting - we weren't hearing what we expected to hear," said William Kurth, the instrument's team lead at the University of Iowa. The new data are of immense use to scientists. According to NASA, the sound data will offer new insights into Saturn's relationship with its moons and rings as well as its interaction with the solar wind. The dives are part of Cassini spacecraft's 'grand finale' with the epic journey ending on Sept. 15. After taking 20 more dives, Cassini will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere and mark the mission's end. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

The spacecraft Cassini’s swan song is making history today. The “Grand Finale,” as it’s being called by NASA, is to cut a path between Saturn and its rings – a narrow gap 1,500 miles wide at a speed of roughly 76,806 mph. The first pass threading this needle close to Saturn began at 5 a.m. today, and although Cassini is not currently in contact with the Earth – 870 million miles distant – it will continue collecting data on its way toward its ultimate destruction in the atmosphere of the gas giant’s planet. No spacecraft has ever explored this reach of space, so Cassini will use it 13-foot-wide dish-shaped antenna as a protective shield for matter it may encounter. NASA does not expect mass larger than smoke particles, they said. Images from the final dive will be available starting on 3:30 a.m., officials said. Cassini has already sent back a picture of a pinpoint of light that is our Earth, with moon visible, that was taken on April 12. The information it is expected to return will extend “far beyond the mission’s original plan” – measurements of Saturn’s gravitational and magnetic fields, readings of the mass of the planet’s rings, samples of the atmosphere and ionosphere, and some final views of Enceladus. Cassini thus completes its two-decade mission to the middle of our solar system. Launched in October 1997, it reached the planet in 2004. The first four-year exploration of the system was completed in 2008. It has since finished further missions to better understand Saturn and its moons. Cassini dropped the probe Huygens on the moon Titan in 2005, which was considered a success. More recently, its findings on the moon Enceladus – notably a hydrogen plume erupting from the surface of the moon – have some scientists proposing that life may exist deep within “ocean worlds” below an ice crust there, as well as on Jupiter’s moon Europa.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.nature.com

Physicist Andrew Zwicker was the underdog in a New Jersey state-assembly race in late 2015. But the head of science education at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory took a step familiar to scientists — he used data to inform his strategy. Zwicker's campaign team mapped the registered voters in the district and created a model to identify those who would be most likely to respond to his message of 'evidence-based decision-making'. His team carefully crafted every piece of communication to draw that group to the polls to vote for him. Meanwhile, political pundits sneered. “The party insiders ignored me; the pollsters said I had no chance,” he says. Yet he was elected — with a margin of just 78 votes — to represent one of the state's legislative districts. The first physicist in the history of the state's legislature now straddles two worlds: half-time assemblyman, half-time academic. It wasn't Zwicker's first election: in 2014, he ran in a primary race for a Democratic congressional seat in New Jersey. He believed that policymaking could benefit from more-analytical thinking to combat the increase in the use of 'alternative facts' — purposeful confusion tactics — along with attacks on science. In the wake of the election of a US president who has questioned whether climate change is real and backed the debunked notion that vaccines cause autism, US scientists are increasingly exploring ways to get politically involved. On 22 April, at least 428 cities in 44 countries will host a March for Science (see ). High-profile scientists such as Jon Foley, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, are calling on researchers to forego their long-standing reluctance to engage in political discussions and to stand up for facts. More than 3,000 scientists have now expressed interest in exploring the world of politics — and 150 of them will attend a training event this month on the basics of running for office. The event, which will be posted online later as a webinar, is organized by 314 Action, a non-profit political action committee that formed in Washington DC last year to encourage scientists to run for office at state and national levels, and to support them in their endeavours. At least three scientists are intending to announce this month that they will be running for congressional office in 2018. Candidates have a lot to consider before mounting a political campaign. It's a risky endeavour from a financial standpoint, and high salaries and career flexibility might explain why lawyers have tended to dominate US congressional positions. But the tide is slowly turning: in 2015, lawyers made up around one-third of the US Congress, down from 80% in 1850. Educators hold 12% of the posts and medical professionals and agriculturalists collectively hold 10%. Scientists have long shied away from politics. Many fear that they will lose their credibility if they defend science that has become politicized, observed Harvard University science historian Naomi Oreskes in her plenary talk at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in February. Foley argues that a 'war on science' is under way, and that scientists are the ones best placed to fight this war, by demonstrating how science affects daily life and by questioning sceptics' motivations. But, he cautions, there is a stark difference between engaging in political discourse and becoming a partisan candidate. “If scientists want to run for office, they had better be prepared to leave their scientific careers behind,” he says. And leaving the bench has clear knock-on effects for the numerous students and staff researchers the labs support, so it helps to prepare for that eventuality. If that's too big a step, however, there may be more leeway for balancing political and scientific careers at the state and local level. Even if scientists end up deciding that running for a political position isn't an option, they can still influence politics by forging relationships as trusted advisers to politicians, for example, or working for a non-governmental organization (NGO). Many would-be politicians get their feet wet at the local level — often in part-time posts such as on a city council or a school board. It's a way to keep a day job while building up name recognition in political circles. But a national run can be tempting for those who want to add their scientific voice to issues of national importance — such as energy or public health. Nuclear engineer Brian Johnson contacted 314 Action, keen to have a voice on issues that could be tackled only at the congressional level, such as climate change and net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers and governments all regulate online data in the same way. But he realized that he would probably need to give up his job as head of risk assessment at TerraPower, a nuclear-reactor design company in Bellevue, Washington, to put together a solid candidacy. He asked himself a series of questions (see 'Political checklist') to assess his readiness for a campaign and whether it would be worth the risk to his career, which required a narrowly defined skill set in a nascent sector. Ultimately, he decided against it. He's not alone. Leaving behind a scientific career is a significant concern for many of the scientists who have contacted 314 Action. One of the first questions that people ask is, “Can I work full-time and run?”, says executive director Josh Morrow. The answer, he says, is no — at least not in election year. And in the run-up to election year, potential candidates should determine whether selling themselves as a scientist would be a net positive. “We polled that question carefully,” says Bob Foster (Republican, Illinois), the only PhD physicist in Congress, “because I was worried that 'scientist' would give an elitist impression among the electorate.” That wasn't the case for him, but it's a region-specific question that potential candidates should explore. “Scientists need to realize that science doesn't dictate all policy and it never will,” says Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who has served as president of the AAAS and was administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under former president Barack Obama. “But,” she adds, “we're all better off if it's at the table.” Academics such as palaeoecologist Jacquelyn Gill at the University of Maine in Orono find that timing is a hurdle. Gill considered running for office, but decided to shelve those pursuits for now. She may reconsider once she has progressed beyond processing grants and mentoring graduate students. “For most of us on the tenure track, it is not a very flexible timeline,” she says. The typical model for getting into politics looked like this, she says: do good science, become a strong communicator, get tapped to serve as a US National Science Foundation (NSF) officer. There's just one problem with that model, she adds: “When there is an explicitly anti-science administration, you won't get tapped.” Morrow points out that entering politics can open career doors through the expansion of networks. 314 Action, for example, has tens of thousands of scientists in its network, including Nobel prizewinners. “Scientists will form relationships that might further their career, even if they are not successful in a run for office,” he says. 314 Action has established more than 50 campus chapters and 25 state coordinators to help organize people to advocate on science-specific issues. For would-be candidates who are eager to get their scientific message out, it is crucial to listen, says Foster. “Spend a while listening to people in your district to make sure you understand how they are served well in government,” he says, “and how they could be served better.” Zwicker is a good example of someone who is successfully managing to combine scientific and political careers. He still has a lab, although he is rarely there and he stopped doing straight research in 2003. His half-time split means that he can continue in science education, but it's not an easy transition. Politics is “the hardest thing” he's ever done, he says. “Instead of teaching around 100 people, I represent around 155,000 people,” he says. He's sponsored or co-sponsored more than 100 bills in his first year, but fundraising is different and needs strong communication skills. Scientists, he says, typically stick to facts and figures — a strategy that failed to resonate with constituents early in his political career. Perhaps the biggest difference between science and politics, says Lubchenco, is that data and facts aren't the only factors in political decision-making. The most effective individuals have relationships across the political spectrum, not just with obvious allies. “Developing and cultivating those relationships is much of the way politics happens,” she notes. There are, of course, other ways to be politically active that don't involve running for office. Natalia Sanchez, who immigrated to the United States from Colombia when she was 14, has forged that path herself. She arrived in the United States with one goal: to become a rocket scientist. Since 2008, she has worked at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where she has served on teams that sent spacecraft to both Mars and Jupiter and has been involved in planetary-science research on Earth. After last year's presidential election, she felt that the stakes were high enough to alter her career path. She contemplated running for a school-board position in California, but ended up becoming a field director for Tracy Van Houten, a fellow JPL rocket scientist who is one of 23 candidates running to represent California's 34th congressional district. Sanchez helps Van Houten to engage her voters and to shape her platform on immigration. “Whether or not I eventually run, I've made the switch to politics,” she says. “I can help solve problems.” Scientists can also offer advice to established politicians. Having led three different scientific societies, Lubchenco knew more than 30 members of Congress quite well and had testified in Congress multiple times before she led NOAA. She encourages scientists to offer their expertise to US representatives and senators. For example, when the gene-editing tool CRISPR–Cas9 became a scientific reality a few years ago, Foster started receiving urgent requests for meetings from high-profile scientists who wanted Congress to begin grappling with the societal impacts of human genetic engineering — such as the ethical considerations of designer babies. The best way to offer advice, Foster says, is to set up an in-person meeting in your home state. “You will not be mistaken for a random lobbyist, you will be a constituent,” he points out. And a home meeting precludes the possibility that any group of scientists coming to speak to Congress would be seen as just another special-interest group, he adds. Lubchenco says that scientists can also consider doing sabbaticals in which they work with members of Congress, federal agencies or the White House. And another option is serving on an advisory committee or board of directors for a foundation or NGO. “Many NGOs are politically very savvy,” she says, but “they often need help with the science”. Foster notes that scientists should consider serving in the government's scientific management operations, such as the NSF, US Department of Energy or in oversight of military research. Key budget decisions are often made in private meetings, and it's essential to have the best scientific expertise there, he says. Scientists may find they already have skills they didn't realize would be applicable to politics. “When I went to NOAA, I would joke with students that I was ready for the political fray because I already knew how to swim with sharks,” Lubchenco says. They laughed, she adds, but there was truth to that — animal behavioural science is about reading body language accurately so that you can tell whether a shark is going to pass by or is about to eat you. “The same,” she says, “is true in politics.”


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

MADISON, Wis. -- When summer temperatures rise and people turn to their air conditioners to stay cool, something else also increases: air pollution. A new study published Wednesday (May 3, 2017) in the journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that the electricity production associated with air conditioning causes emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide to increase by hundreds to thousands of metric tons, or 3 to 4 percent per degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). "The hottest days of the summer typically coincide with the days of highest air pollution," says study lead author David Abel, a graduate student in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We quantified the relationship between daily temperature and power plant emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide on a state-by-state basis in a comprehensive manner that hasn't been done before." Increased emissions of these gases can affect not only the environment but also people's health. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides -- both of which are regulated in the U.S. -- can cause respiratory problems, particularly in children, people with asthma and the elderly. Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas targeted by power plant regulations. "We show that increased electricity demand may play a key role in high levels of ozone, particulate matter and other pollutants, so efforts to reduce peak demand could be beneficial to public health," Abel explains. Scientists have long known that air pollution is highest on hot days but few studies have looked at the specific effects of electricity emissions on the hottest days and what they contribute to air pollution. The report's state-specific findings provide valuable data for policymakers and other local stakeholders, who can see how emissions in their region respond to temperature. "Most of the research on climate and air pollution has focused on other emission sources, chemical reactions in the air, and how weather patterns can trap pollution," says Tracey Holloway, who led the study. Holloway is a professor of environmental studies at the Nelson Institute and in the UW-Madison Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. She says the study carries the discussion a step further: "We showed that hot summer days also have higher emissions from power plants." The study team included scientists at Seventhwave, a Madison-based nonprofit, and Paul Meier, an engineer at Blumont/International Relief and Development who was with the Wisconsin Energy Institute at UW-Madison when he completed the work. Using data collected between 2003 and 2014, the team crunched the numbers on electricity emissions in 26 states in the eastern U.S., along with Texas. They showed that power plants released 3.35 percent more sulfur dioxide on average per degree Celsius increase in temperature, and that nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide rose by 3.60 percent and 3.32 percent, respectively. Although overall emissions dropped in the study period -- primarily due to increased use of emissions-control devices and a decrease in coal use -- the analysis showed large regional variability. The researchers were surprised to find that states with lower overall emissions in the Northeast show the highest sensitivity to temperature. This, they say, highlights the importance of peak electricity generation on hot days and the role of older or less regulated facilities that may only be turned on when people blast their air conditioners. These are often the days when pollution control is most important to protect public health. Abel says a large portion of the U.S. population continues to regularly encounter air pollution. The researchers plan to continue studying the impacts and interactions of increases in emissions on hot summer days with other processes that affect concentrations of ozone, particulates, and other forms of air pollution. "Our next step is to compare the impact of electricity emissions with other factors affecting pollution formation - especially chemistry, natural emissions, and wind patterns," notes Holloway. "We'd like to be able to say how these processes interact. For example, relative to other factors controlling pollution formation, how important is the response of emissions from power plants?" The study was funded by UW-Madison, the National Institutes of Health and NASA. Adapted from a release by Christine Suh at the American Chemical Society.


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

Astronauts of the 1969 Apollo 11 manned mission planted six American flags as a monument of pride on the lunar surface. However, with the passage of time, the flags have lost their authentic red, white, and blue colors because of the harsh environment. Now, after 48 years, the flags stand bleached sporting a bone-white facade in place of those vibrant colors. The image of the bleached flags was first taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter of NASA in 2012. The captured images showed five out of the six bleached flags still standing on the moon. One of the most probable reasons behind the flags getting bleached could be the lack of atmosphere in the moon. Earth's satellite also has a lack of shaded areas, other than the craters on the lunar surface. Therefore, it can be assumed that the flags the Apollo astronauts planted were exposed to unfiltered rays of the sun and solar radiation for long periods, more specifically two-week stretches at once. For the unfamiliar, a moon day is equivalent to 28 Earth days. Therefore, constant exposure to heavy solar radiation and gleaming sunlight may have led to the flags getting bleached to the bone-white color. "For forty-odd years, the flags have been exposed to the full fury of the Moon's environment - alternating 14 days of searing sunlight and 100° C heat with 14 days of numbing-cold -150° C darkness. But even more damaging is the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the pure unfiltered sunlight on the cloth (modal) from which the Apollo flags were made," explained Paul D. Spudis, a lunar scientist, in an article he wrote for Air & Space. Spudis stated that this incident is not isolated to the lunar surface alone as even on Earth, a flag's cloth is subjected to wear and tear after being exposed to sunlight. A flag on Earth also fades after a span of time and needs to be replaced. Therefore, it is but natural for the "symbols of American achievement" to turn white, thanks to the intense radiation they have been subjected to for over four decades. The flags planted on the moon were manufactured by Dennis Lacarruba's New Jersey-based company Annin. The flags were woven out of nylon and back in the day, cost $5.50. This comes to roughly $33 per piece in 2012. However, even Lacarruba did not expect the flags to withstand the extreme environmental conditions of outer space. He remarked that the flags may have turned to ash and opined that nothing would be left on the lunar surface. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Venus is the closest planet to our own, both literally—it's the nearest—and in terms of its size and mass, earning it the nickname "Earth's twin." But given that our sister world experiences average temperatures of 462 degrees Celsius (864 degrees Fahrenheit), crushing 90-bar pressures, and suffocating clouds of carbon dioxide laced with sulfuric acid rain, it's no wonder that Venus has not inspired the same frontier spirit as say, Mars. Indeed, proposed Venus missions have been repeatedly snubbed in favor of others to the red planet, asteroids, and less wholly nightmarish worlds. Now, NASA and the Russian Academy of Sciences' Space Research Institute (IKI) are teaming up on a project called Venera-D, which makes the case that Venus is as valuable an exploration target as any alien world, perhaps more so because the planet's runaway greenhouse gas effect, which generates its harsh conditions, can inform our efforts to prevent a similar problem on Earth. I visited IKI in Moscow on March 1 to learn more about Venera-D and many other ongoing projects. Though IKI is on track to land on Mars, with the ExoMars 2020 rover, long before Venera-D is projected to land on Venus, there was still much enthusiasm for pursuing a new mission to our sister world. Two weeks after my visit, representatives of NASA, IKI, and the Russian space agency Roscosmos convened there to discuss further collaboration on Venera-D, which was first proposed by Russian planetary scientist Vasily Moroz in 2003. This Russian/American partnership, formed in 2015, is called the Venera-D Joint Science Definition Team (JSDT). In January 2017, it released a thorough report of the two nations' shared objectives on Venus, which include extended observations of the surface environment over a period of months, precise measurements of atmospheric aerosols and composition, and a solution to the longstanding mystery of atmospheric superrotation, a phenomenon in which wind speeds on Venus outpace the planet's rotation by a factor of 60. "Right now, [Venera-D] is in a concept phase," said NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist David Senske, the US co-chair of the Venera-D JSDT, in a phone interview with Motherboard. "It's not a mission yet. We're working on proof of concept, and seeing where we can fit in the 'sweet spot' science." "The next phase will focus on refining the science, refining how you might capture that science in terms of instruments, and the Russians will be working more in terms of refining what a mission concept looks like," he said. To that end, IKI planetary scientist Ludmila Zasova, the Russian co-chair of the JSDT, called the March meeting "very successful." "Venus is like your oven at home on autoclean mode" "The decision to sponsor the work for the next two years (2017-18) was taken both by NASA and by Roscosmos," Zasova told me over email. "Our efforts were highly appreciated, so we hope that we made one step in the direction of the mission being realized." At the moment, the earliest possible launch date would be in 2026, Zasova said. Venera-D would resume the Soviet Venera program that ran from 1961 to 1984, and remains the only spaceflight series to have successfully transmitted pictures and information from the surface of Venus. It would also build on the Soviet Vega twin missions of the mid-1980s, which included atmospheric balloons and lander components. Russia's rich history of Venus exploration is brought to life in IKI's museum with mockups of its iconic landers and balloons used in past missions. This latest incarnation is designed to outlast its predecessors by integrating cutting-edge, durable technology into a spacecraft platform that could survive for months, or even years, in the orbital, atmospheric, and surface environment of Venus. In fact, the "D" in Venera-D stands for "Dolgozhivuschaya," meaning "long-lived." The baseline mission would be an orbiter and a lander, but additional elements might include "an aerial platform with solar batteries flying in the clouds, small long-lived stations (with several months' lifetime) on the surface, and a sub-satellite in orbit," Zasova told me. This potential aerial platform is called the Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP), and is currently being developed by the aerospace company Northrop Grumman. VAMP would be able to spend up to a year gliding above Venus at altitudes of 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) where conditions are surprisingly Earthlike, in contrast to the inferno that lies below. All this is a welcome change for the Venera-D project, which has suffered repeated delays over the last decade. The team's report notes that the mission was held up by reduced availability of high-temperature electronics that could survive the punishing surroundings on Venus. These systems were in development during the Soviet period, but their production in Russia had lapsed by the time Venera-D was pitched to the Russian Academy of Sciences in the early 2000s. "Venus is a tough nut to crack," Senske said. "It's like your oven at home on autoclean mode. It really is tough to get down there. It's easier, say for Mars, to do technology for extreme cold, but extreme heat has been a slower evolution over time." Designing rovers like Opportunity or Curiosity, which can rumble along for years at a time in Mars' chilly weather, is a much easier task than building a robot that can withstand the lead-melting temperatures of Venus any longer than the runtime of a standard feature film. Tibor Kremic, an electrical engineer at NASA's Glenn Research Center, is helping to bridge this particular technological divide. As the lead scientist on Venera-D's Long-Life Station lander, Kremic is working out the kinks of heat-resistant electronic systems that could endure Venus's surface for at least two months—though he said in theory, these stations could operate indefinitely. "Our goals for Venera D are to try to get at least 60 days because that would allow us to capture one of the day-to-night transitions, and see how conditions may change for the measurements we're making at that time," Kremic told me over the phone. "The orbiter is intended to last for about three years, so if we can get to that, it'd be awesome." "Could the uncontrolled greenhouse effect transform Earth's climate to a Venus-like one?" "But anything more than a couple hours is a step forward," he added, referring to the record set by Venera 13, which landed on Venus in 1982, transmitting images and data back to Earth for 127 minutes before perishing from the planet's brutal onslaught of heat, pressure, and toxicity. The Long-Life Station concept relies on robust silicon carbide as "the backbone of its electronics," Kremic said, as opposed to the silicon systems of the original landers. Early versions of these modules have already been road-tested in Venus simulators at Glenn, with favorable results. "We've shown that the basic elements last for thousands of hours and we're in the process of developing the more complicated ones, where you can actually take the measurements, process the data, and communicate it," Kremic said. It's hard to overstate the scientific potential of such extended robotic lifetimes on Venus. Some of the most persistent mysteries in planetary science are hidden behind this world's thick veil of atmospheric cover. Examples include the identity of the so-called "unknown ultraviolet absorber" that eats up UV light in the atmosphere, or the mechanisms governing Venus's aforementioned superrotation effect. The planet's extremely long day period—equal to 243 Earth days—also requires long-lived modules just to watch one full day go by. Read More: Venus Is a Nightmarish Hellscape, Which Is Exactly Why We Should Study It The Venera-D team also hopes to understand the planet's enigmatic past, including its potential to have hosted liquid water in its infant years. It may even have been the first life-bearing world in the solar system, and could be a key model for assessing Earth's future habitability, according to Zasova. "Curiously, the sister-twin planets, Earth and Venus, obtained a similar composition of protoplanetary material at their formation," she told me, "but nevertheless they have a very different atmospheres and surface conditions now. Indeed, we have a comfortable climate for life on Earth and a 'hellish' one on Venus. Could the uncontrolled greenhouse effect transform Earth's climate to a Venus-like one?" Senske is also intrigued by Venus as a powerful analog to Earth. "The big question is: Why isn't Venus [like] the Earth?" he said. "In order to understand how solar systems form and evolve—and what makes a zone habitable in solar systems—Venus is a key piece of the puzzle." After years of being passed over in favor of Mars and other missions, "Venus is coming back around," Senske predicted. Motherboard is nominated for three Webby Awards for Best Science YouTube Channel , Best Drama , Best Tech/Science Podcast . Please vote for us!


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: www.huffingtonpost.com

As NASA’s amazing Cassini spacecraft takes on technological death-defying feats months before it goes into a final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, it continues to transmit images back to Earth of things never seen before so close to a giant planet. This week, Cassini flew through the relatively short 1,500-mile gap that separates Saturn’s enormously intricate ring system from the top of the planet’s atmosphere, transmitting precious data back to Earthbound scientists. Cassini also this month beamed home ― through Saturn’s icy rings ― a unique image of Earth, 870 million miles away, as seen above. That very tiny dot in space represents everything we are, our continents and oceans ― everything about where we are in the cosmos. And if you need to strain your eyes to see both Earth and our moon, here’s a zoomed-in version of us with the moon to our left: It offers an interesting perspective on our place in our little neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy. And while this is the most recent photograph of Earth from very far away, it’s not the first and not necessarily the most dramatic. We’ve gathered some incredible images here to show how, from someone else’s perspective ― if they happen to live on a world that isn’t part of our solar system and if their technology discovered us in the cosmos ― they could easily refer to Earth as, well, an exoplanet. From the following pictures, it’s not easy to tell how many billions of people live here, or to be able to make out any actual signs of technology. We are just one dot, among billions and billions (probably trillions) of other dots. Maybe someone out there is looking in our direction and wondering if there’s any life on this exoplanet dot known locally as Earth.


News Article | April 24, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Have you ever found yourself running late, and absolutely needed to cut across a body of water to get there on time? Enter the Kitty Hawk Flyer, an all-electric aircraft backed by Google co-founder Larry Page. This is the "future of society" Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun says he wants to create. Apparently, that society involves hovercraft for moving quickly over freshwater. The company hasn't announced a retail price yet, but it is offering a $2,000 discount to those who sign up for $100, three-year memberships (which also include behind-the-scenes perks and access to a "passionate community of like-minded people"). The company says in its product FAQ that flyers will begin to go on sale in 2017, but we've heard this before many times. "Mark my words: a combination airplane and motorcar is coming," Henry Ford said in 1940, over 10 years after his own failed foray into personal aviation with the "Model T of the Air." In recent memory, a few more disappointments stand out. Zee.Aero, Page's other flying vehicle startup, remains mysteriously vague, but there are rumors that it's been spotted in the wild as recently as last year. It applied for patent in 2013. Terrafugia announced its "Transition" vehicle in February 2014 but claimed it saw "successful testing" since 2012. The company promised to start shipping in 2015, but here it is 2017 and where's my flying car? In October 2014, Slovakia-based AeroMobil also revealed plans for its flying car. At the time, CCO Stefan Vadocz told Motherboard that it would be "irresponsible" to announce a shipping date. But it continued to dangle the carrot with an announcement this week that the flying roadster will cost at least $1.3 million. The Volocopter, which barely qualifies for the title "flying car" but is more like a drone in which two brave humans can ride, was announced in April 2016. It hasn't even announced pre-sale window yet, but it is pursuing its own aviation category and is taking names for potential prospective buyers, eventually, so it can get started early, at a later date, in some form. Any mention of flying car disappointments would be remiss to exclude the Moller M400 Skycar, a spectacular example of personal aviation gone awry. Moller International revealed plans as early as 2002, with the added edge of help from NASA alumni. It's perpetually in the "operational prototype" stage, but even that is questionable, as it's never achieved non-tethered flight. It did, however, go on auction on eBay and attempted an Indiegogo fundraising campaign. Founder Paul Moller claims he has no idea where one might get the money to do this sort of thing. Would flying personal vehicles, if well-executed, be an incredible development in transportation technology? Hell yeah. Will we see them come to fruition anytime soon? To be determined.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: phys.org

NASA commissioned Purdue University researchers to develop a scaled-down version of an extruder that could be used to process various grains, including soybeans, during a mission on Mars. Many puffed cereals and snacks, as well as pastas and pet foods are made through extrusion. Purdue's device uses friction to heat and cook the soybeans, and then separates oil from the soybeans, creating a rope-like substance that can be dried to make flour or combined with other products to make pastas and snacks. The soybean oil can be used for salad dressings or for other cooking needs. "NASA wanted a way to process food on Mars because it is so expensive to ship food there, something like $200,000 per kilogram," said Martin Okos, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering and one of the project's leaders. "The biggest challenge we faced was scaling down, but we developed an extruder that is down to about 60 pounds per hour. NASA would like an extruder to be 100 times smaller, however more research is needed to reach that goal." Before the extruder makes its debut on the red planet, however, it is being used to improve food production capacity in Niger, Senegal and Kenya. After working on the NASA prototype, Okos and graduate student Amudhan Ponrajan modified the extruder to work with other types of grains, including pearl millet, teff, corn, rice, wheat, sorghum, chickpeas and lentils, which are more widely grown in developing countries. Those grains can be milled/ground, mixed with water and pushed through the extruder, which uses a screw to force the product through a channel where friction heats and cooks the grain. The rope-like product that results, can be dried and ground into flour that, when mixed with water, results in an instant porridge. Many traditional African porridges made from those grains can be labor-intensive to make. In urban areas, consumers are looking for more convenient alternatives, and the only ones in market are imported and expensive. The extruded grain products can be dried and packaged as "just-add-water" versions of traditional meals. "The processors have a big demand for these products, but they cannot meet the demand," said Moustapha Moussa, a Purdue doctoral student in food science who is one of the leaders of the effort to introduce this technology to African markets. "With this equipment, we think it is going to scale up that production significantly. The product will be available for consumers who need it, and for the producers who have more efficiency to meet the demand." In West African urban areas, labor-intensive efforts to make products like couscous could be drastically shortened. It can take a crew of 10 women in Niger an entire day to create 30 kilograms of couscous using current methods. With the extruder, the same crew could make 300 kilograms in a day. The modified extruder for Africa was designed to be relatively inexpensive. Large-scale extruders in U.S. production facilities today cost up to $200,000 and can process hundreds of kilograms per hour. The Purdue-modified extruder can produce 35 kilograms per hour, but it costs only $20,000. In addition to cost reductions, the extruder had to be modified to work with various grains grown by African farmers. The speed and size of the screw components in the device determine how much heat is created through friction. Soybeans are high in oil content, so they need more friction to cook them. Millet, sorghum and maize are low in oil, so the same amount of friction would burn the grains. "You want to make sure you're cooking the product, but at the same time you want to make sure you're not burning the product," Ponrajan said. "There are formulations now for grains grown in Ethiopia, Ghana and Pakistan." Moussa, Ponrajan, and Bruce R. Hamaker, distinguished professor of food science at Purdue, are working with entrepreneurs in those countries and others, including Senegal, Niger and Kenya, to teach them how to use the device and secure funding to purchase them. They also are testing the market, which so far indicates that consumers are willing to accept the porridges and other products that come from the extruder. They also may be willing to pay more for it when compared to traditional porridges, though the extruded products would cost less than imported instant products. More market research is needed, and researchers are working to identify formulations that will allow the extruder to be used with more grains. The device meant to feed astronauts on years-long journeys to Mars may one day set off into space, but its impact will likely be felt on Earth much sooner. "The overarching goal is to improve markets for local farmers growing traditional grains and meeting the changing demands of consumers," Hamaker said. "This has the potential to improve the lives of entrepreneurs and expand the market for healthy cereal grains." Explore further: Is a grain-free diet healthier for my dogs and cats?


NASA officials have released a new and improved plan for how the federal space agency will get astronauts to deep space and Mars by the 2030s. The strategy, unveiled last week by NASA's associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier, brings a few important changes from the previous three-phase plan. The agency is now aiming to use the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System to further explore the moon and learn more about space travel before making the jump to Mars. Firstly, the agency is preparing to build a Deep Space Gateway or DSG — essentially a small space station orbiting the Moon, which is to be assembled with the help of the SLS, in three separate flights of the gigantic rocket. According to a NASA news release, the DSG will be operated by a crew of four and will equipped with a habitation module, an airlock for spacewalks, and a propulsion module to allow maintenance services on the space station. The DSG is intended to function as spaceport or launching pad for lunar landing missions, in an effort to extend space operations farther from Earth than before. "Building the deep space gateway will allow engineers to develop new skills and test new technologies that have evolved since the assembly of the International Space Station," state NASA officials. Between missions, the Orion is set to dock on the space station, which can support the four-member crew for up to 42 days, according to the release. The designs Gerstenmaier unveiled to the NASA Advisory Council are expected to be completed by 2025. Secondly, the agency announced its ambitious aspiration to build a deep space transport (DST) spacecraft — a reusable transport ship, which is to be resupplied and refurbished at the lunar space station, and will ultimately carry astronauts to Mars and back. Designed to support a crew of four for about 1,000 days at a time and weighing about 41 metric tons, the deep space transporter will be launched into space aboard the SLS in 2027. For this purpose, the SLS is essential, as this is the only rocket powerful enough to transport the enormous vehicle into orbit. After its one-mission trip into the lunar orbit, the DST is expected to make three journeys to the Red Planet and back to Earth. What the agency is planning to achieve is the validation that "long-duration, distant human missions can be safely conducted with independence from Earth." "Through the efforts to build this deep space infrastructure, this phase will enable explorers to identify and pioneer innovative solutions to technical and human challenges discovered or engineered in deep space," shows the NASA news release. One of the hurdles of space travel is protecting the astronauts from ultraviolet radiation, including the cosmic and gamma rays from the sun and outer space, which puts them at risk for cancer and death. To counteract the potentially lethal effects of space radiation, Israeli company StemRad has developed a radiation vest, customized for each astronaut and designed to shield vital human tissue, such as reproductive organs, lungs, and stem cells, from radiation exposure. The lightweight vest is called the AstroRad Radiation Shield and, according to some sources, could be tested as early as next year, when the Orion will be making its first trip around the moon. This safety measure will reportedly offer the same amount of protection as the other radiation-proof idea NASA is planning to use: a shielded "safe room" installed aboard the Orion. Essentially a storm shelter, this cabin will safely house the astronauts in the event of a solar flare storm. Other options include anti-radiation drugs which could be administered to reverse some of the effects of severe radiation exposure. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

NASA scientists have found a new planet that may add to the understanding of the types of planetary systems that exist beyond the solar system. The planet—OGLE-2016-BLG-1195lb—has roughly the same mass as Earth and is orbiting a star at the same distance that the Earth orbits the sun. However, because the star is so faint, NASA has concluded that the ‘iceball’ planet is likely too cold to be habitable for life. “This 'iceball' planet is the lowest-mass planet ever found through microlensing,” Yossi Shvartzvald, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and lead author of the study, said in a statement. The scientists used microlensing—a technique that facilitates the discovery of distant objects by using background stars as flashlights where a star crosses precisely in front of a bright star in the background and the gravity of the foreground star focuses the light of the background star, making it appear brighter. Also a planet orbiting the foreground object can cause an additional blip in the star’s brightness and for the ‘iceball’ planet—the blip lasted only a few hours but allowed NASA to view the distant exoplanet. The discovery is expected to assist scientists in understanding the distribution of planets in our galaxy and answering whether there is a difference in the frequency of planets in the Milky Way’s central bulge compared to its disk. The iceball planet, as well as two additional planets detected through microlensing by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, are located in the disk. “Although we only have a handful of planetary systems with well-determined distances that are this far outside our solar system, the lack of Spitzer detections in the bulge suggests that planets may be less common toward the center of our galaxy than in the disk,” Geoff Bryden, an astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and co-author of the study, said in the statement. The new exoplanet is about 13,000 light-years away and orbits a star significantly smaller than the sun. In fact, the star is so minuscule the scientists can’t say for sure that it is even a star as it is only 7.8 percent the mass of the Sun—placing it on the border of being classified a star and not being a star. One theory is that the star is actually an ultra-cool dwarf star—similar to TRAPPIST-1—the host star to seven exoplanets discovered earlier this year.


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: www.huffingtonpost.com

April 18 (Reuters) - An asteroid more than a quarter mile (400 meters) wide will pass close to Earth on Wednesday, zooming by at a distance of just over a million miles (1.8 million km), but with no chance of impact, according to NASA scientists. Smaller asteroids routinely make closer passes to Earth, but 2014 J025, discovered in May 2014, will be the largest asteroid to come this near to the planet since 2004, flying by at only about 4.6 times the distance from the Earth to the Moon, 1.1 million miles (1.8 million km). “We know the time that the object is going to be closest within seconds, and the distance is known within hundreds of kilometers (miles),” Davide Farnocchia, a mathematician at NASA’s Near-Earth Object program, said by telephone on Tuesday. Having several years of data on the asteroid’s trajectory gives scientists the ability to predict its path very confidently, he added. The asteroid, estimated to be between one-quarter and three-quarters of a mile (600-1,400 meters) wide and twice as reflective as the Moon, won’t be visible to the naked eye, but sky watchers should be able to view it with home telescopes for one or two nights starting on Wednesday. The approach of J025 will be the asteroid’s closest for at least the next 500 years. In 2004, the 3.1-mile (5-km) wide asteroid Toutatis passed about four lunar distances, or just under a million miles (1.6 million km) from Earth. Amateur astronomers may be watching J025’s journey, but Farnocchia said he and his colleagues have moved on to tracking even closer encounters, such as asteroid 1999 AN10, a half-mile (800-meter) wide rock predicted to pass only 236,000 miles (380,000 km) from Earth, or slightly less than the distance to the Moon, in 2027.


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

This image made available by NASA in April 2017 shows a still from the short film "Cassini's Grand Finale," with the spacecraft diving between Saturn and the planet's innermost ring. Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Cassini’s fuel tank is almost empty, so NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's Cassini spacecraft faces one last perilous adventure around Saturn. "That last kiss goodbye," as project manager Earl Maize calls it, will push Cassini onto a path no spacecraft has gone before — into the gap between Saturn and its rings. It's treacherous territory. A particle from the rings — even as small as a speck of sand — could cripple Cassini, given its velocity. Cassini will make its first pass through the relatively narrow gap Wednesday. Twenty-two crossings are planned, about one a week, until September, when Cassini goes in and never comes out, vaporizing in Saturn's atmosphere. Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Its European traveling companion, Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005. Cassini's fuel tank is practically empty, so with little left to lose, NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale. "What a spectacular end to a spectacular mission," said Jim Green, NASA's planetary science division director. "I feel a little sad in many ways that Cassini's discoveries will end. But I'm also quite optimistic that we're going to discover some new and really exciting science as we probe the region we've never probed before." There's no turning back once Cassini flies past Titan, Maize said. The spacecraft on Wednesday will hurtle through the 1,200-mile-wide gap (1,900 kilometers) between Saturn's atmosphere and its rings, at a breakneck 70,000-plus mph (113,000 kph). From a navigation standpoint, "this is an easy shot," Maize said. The operation will be run from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The concern is whether computer models of Saturn's rings are accurate. On a few of the crossings, Cassini is "kind of flirting with the edge of where we think it's safe," he noted. For at least the first trip through the gap, Cassini's big dish antenna will face forward to shield the science instruments from any ring particles that might be lurking there. A couple instruments will provide a quick rundown on the dust situation. Scientists anticipate lots of lightweight impacts, since the spacecraft will be going through extremely small material, more like smoke than distinct particles. Material from the innermost D ring — which is slowly extending into Saturn — should be diffuse enough "that we should be fine," Maize said. If the models are wrong and Cassini is clobbered by BB-size material, it still will end up exactly where NASA is aiming for on Sept. 15 — at Saturn. The space agency wants to keep the 22-foot-high, 13-foot-wide spacecraft away from Titan and its lakes of liquid methane and from the ice-encrusted moon Enceladus and its underground ocean and spouting geysers. It doesn't want to shower contaminating wreckage onto these worlds that might harbor life. This last leg of Cassini's 20-year, $3.27 billion voyage should allow scientists to measure the mass of the multiple rings — shedding light on how old they are and how they formed — and also to determine the composition of the countless ring particles. First spotted by Galileo in 1610, the rings are believed to be 99 percent ice; the remaining 1 percent is a mystery, said project scientist Linda Spilker. A cosmic dust analyzer on Cassini will scoop up ring particles and analyze them. "Imagine the pictures we're going to get back of Saturn's rings," Spilker said. Cassini will have the best views ever of Saturn's poles, as it skims its surface. Near mission's end, Spilker said, "we're actually going to dip our toe" into Saturn's atmosphere, sending back measurements until the last possible moment. All this is on top of a science mission that already has rewritten the textbooks on the Saturnian system. "But the best is still yet to come — perhaps," Maize said at a news conference in early April. "But we are certainly going to provide more excitement."


News Article | March 13, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Unique images captured by NASA reveal a new Antarctic wonder and this one is visible from outer space. Last week, the Landsat 8 satellite recorded rare footage of Antarctica — particularly the region called Granite Harbor, a cove in the proximity of the Ross Sea. The photos, taken on March 5 with the Operational Land Imager aboard the satellite, show eerie green ice formations that scientists have later attributed to microscopic marine plants, also called microalgae. The ice discoloration is believed to be caused by photosynthetic plankton normally present at the water's surface and which is now undergoing an unusual blooming period. NASA's Earth Observatory released the rare images on March 9, along with other snapshots of ice and water which offer a beautiful comparative view of this amazing phenomenon, only possible in certain environmental conditions. According to marine glaciologist Jan Lieser, from Australia's Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center, phytoplankton and algae can be seen all around Antarctica during the austral spring and summer, lasting until February. Microalgae require specific circumstances to flourish and thrive, needing a warmer climate and plenty of sunlight to grow. Summer winds and the receding ice make way for phytoplankton to expand, and reach the nutrients that sustain it. However, it appears offshore winds and fast ice — ice that anchors to the shoreline and provides seeding grounds for phytoplankton — have enabled these resilient microscopic plants to also prosper during autumn, and survive in large enough quantities to color the freshly-forming sea ice in a mesmerizing green hue. The late-blooming phytoplankton seems to be caught in the slushy ice and scientists are setting to examine whether the microalgae is trapped within the ice formation or beneath it. Phytoplankton stands at the cornerstone of aquatic ecosystems as the major food source for zooplankton, fish species and other marine wildlife. Any changes in its presence and timeline of existence are consequently of extreme importance for the oceans's ecology. To find out why microalgae have prolonged their bloom season and how this will impact phytoplankton in the next spring, researchers have scheduled a study expedition and plan to visit Granite Harbor in April. "Do these kinds of late-season 'blooms' provide the seeding conditions for the next spring's bloom?" wonders Lieser, who also wants to uncover what happens to these microscopic plants "if the algae get incorporated into the sea ice and remain more or less dormant during the winter." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Building on the ability to sequence DNA in space and previous investigations, Genes in Space-3 is a collaboration to prepare, sequence and identify unknown organisms, entirely from space Building on the ability to sequence DNA in space and previous investigations, Genes in Space-3 is a collaboration to prepare, sequence and identify unknown organisms, entirely from space. When NASA astronaut Kate Rubins sequenced DNA aboard the International Space Station in 2016, it was a game changer. That first-ever sequencing of DNA in space was part of the Biomolecule Sequencer investigation. Although it's not as exciting as a science fiction movie may depict, the walls and surfaces of the space station do experience microbial growth from time to time. Currently, the only way to identify contaminants is to take a sample and send it back to Earth. "We have had contamination in parts of the station where fungi was seen growing or biomaterial has been pulled out of a clogged waterline, but we have no idea what it is until the sample gets back down to the lab," said Sarah Wallace, NASA microbiologist and the project's principal investigator at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "On the ISS, we can regularly resupply disinfectants, but as we move beyond low-Earth orbit where the ability for resupply is less frequent, knowing what to disinfect or not becomes very important," said Wallace. Developed in partnership by NASA's Johnson Space Center and Boeing, this ISS National Lab sponsored investigation will marry two pieces of existing spaceflight technology, miniPCR and the MinION, to change that process, allowing for the first unknown biological samples to be prepared, sequenced and then identified in space. The miniPCR (polymerase chain reaction) device was first used aboard the station during the Genes in Space-1, and, soon to be Genes in Space-2 investigations, student-designed experiments in the Genes in Space program. Genes in Space-1 successfully demonstrated the device could be used in microgravity to amplify DNA, a process used to create thousands of copies of specific sections of DNA. The second investigation arrived at the space station on April 22, and will be tested this summer. Next came the Biomolecule Sequencer investigation, which successfully tested the MinION's ability to sequence strands of Earth-prepared DNA in an orbiting laboratory. "What the coupling of these different devices is doing is allowing us to take the lab to the samples, instead of us having to bring the samples to the lab," said Aaron Burton, NASA biochemist and Genes in Space-3 co-investigator. Crew members will collect a sample from within the space station to be cultured aboard the orbiting laboratory. The sample will then be prepared for sequencing, in a process similar to the one used during the Genes in Space-1 investigation, using the miniPCR and finally, sequenced and identified using the MinION device. "The ISS is very clean," said Sarah Stahl, microbiologist and project scientist. "We find a lot of human-associated microorganisms - a lot of common bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Bacillus and different types of familiar fungi like Aspergillus and Penicillium." In addition to identifying microbes in space, this technology could be used to diagnose crew member wounds or illnesses in real time, help identify DNA-based life on other planets and help with other investigations aboard the station. "The Genes in Space-3 process will increase the scientific capacity of the ISS by facilitating state-of-the-art molecular biology research for both current and next generation ISS researchers," said Kristen John, NASA aerospace engineer and Genes in Space-3 project engineer. "The team has put a strong focus on generating a spaceflight-certified catalog of general laboratory items and reagents, and developing common methods and easily customizable reaction conditions for miniPCR and the MinION to enable other ISS researchers to use this technology." This process will give scientists on the ground real-time access to the experiments going on in space, allowing for more accuracy and a more efficient use of the time on the space station. "If you could get a snapshot of the molecular signatures of your research as it was occurring on the ISS, how would you change your experiment?" said Wallace. "Would you change your time points? Provide a different nutrient? Alter growth conditions? You can imagine how, if you had that data, you could adjust your experiment to enhance the insight being gained." Closer to home, this process can be used to provide real-time diagnosis of viruses in areas of the world where access to a laboratory may not be possible. The ISS National Laboratory is managed by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). For more information about research happening aboard the space station, follow @ISS_Research.


News Article | April 30, 2017
Site: www.npr.org

After years, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will soon begin its final act — a plunge into Saturn. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Dr. Carolyn Porco, head of the imaging team, about the mission's legacy.


News Article | April 28, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

NASA seems to be running out of space suits for astronauts, according to a new report by the space agency‘s auditor, NASA's Office of Inspector General (OIG). In spite of NASA having spent close to $200 million on developing new space suits, the report says the space agency is still years away from having flight-ready suits. “As different missions require different designs, the lack of a formal plan and specific destinations for future missions has complicated spacesuit development” the report says. “Moreover, the Agency has reduced the funding dedicated to spacesuit development in favor of other priorities such as an in-space habitat.” Functioning spacesuits needed for missions are also running low, says the OIG, which worries that there won’t be enough suits to last through the end of the ISS program, scheduled to be in 2024. “Only 11 of the 18 original EMU Primary Life Support System units--a backpack-like structure that performs a variety of functions required to keep an astronaut alive during a spacewalk--are still in use,” the report says. “Raising concerns that the inventory may not be adequate to last through the planned retirement of the ISS.”


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The remnants of former Tropical Depression 02W still lingered in the South China Sea when NASA's Terra satellite passed overhead on April 17. Tropical Depression 02W made landfall along the east coast of the eastern Visayas around 1500 UTC/11 a.m. EST) on Saturday, April 15, 2017. At 0900 UTC (5 a.m. EST) Tropical Depression 02W had maximum sustained winds near 25 knots as it neared the eastern Philippines. At that time, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center issued their final bulletin on the storm and said that satellite imagery showed weak development of thunderstorms and that bands of thunderstorms were diminishing. It was centered near 11.4 degrees north latitude and 125.9 degrees east longitude, about 373 nautical miles east-southeast of Manila, Philippines, was moving to the west-northwest and moved in that direction over the central Philippines The depression weakened to a remnant low pressure area as it passed over Eastern Visayas, Bikol and Mimiropa regions of the Philippines and exited into the South China Sea. On Monday, April 17, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured a visible image of the clouds associated with the remnant low pressure area. The image showed an elongated area of clouds over the South China Sea. On April 17 at 1700 UTC (1 p.m. EST) the center of the remnant low pressure area was located near 14.9 degrees north latitude and 116.9 degrees east longitude, about 230 nautical miles west of Manila, Philippines. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) noted that it has a compact closed circulation moving to the west. JTWC noted that wind shear and drier air are expected to prevent re-intensification.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

360 Designs has unveiled the Flying Eye, the world's first broadcast quality, live streaming virtual reality drone. The drone, which will come with a price tag of $75,000, will be made available starting at the 2017 NAB Show on April 22. The Flying Eye will have the power to stream live 360-degree video in 6K quality over a range of up to 6 miles, allowing to earn the title as the most advanced live-streaming drone that will be available in the market. The drone will be powered by Breeze, the custom wireless transmission system exclusively developed by 360 Designs. The technology will allow the Flying Eye to share live VR streams to anywhere in the world through YouTube, Facebook, or virtual reality headsets, all of which would be in 6K quality. "This allows your viewers to 'fly like a bird', live, in fully immersive virtual reality video!" stated the drone's description on its official product page. "We wanted to create a broadcast-quality live 360 drone platform for professionals, so they can create stunning live VR productions, with or without the drone in shot," said 360 Designs CEO Alx Klive, who added that "the sky is no longer the limit" for broadcasts. The Flying Eye comes with the Mini EYE 3 360-degree camera and can be outfitted to use other content capture devices. The drone also comes with automated live stitching, so bringing together the captured images and videos can be done immediately. In addition, only one person is needed to operate the Flying Eye due to there being no controls for the camera positioning, as the 360-degree camera will cover everything. The drone is based on the Matrice 600 Pro platform by DJI and also features its own 360-degree camera stabilization system. The footage that it takes can also be recorded instead of broadcast live, with the Flying Eye having a flying time between battery charges of 10 minutes to 12 minutes from a charge of 20 percent. 360 Designs will be demonstrating the drone at its booth in the upcoming NAB Show, put together annually by the National Association of Broadcasters, in Las Vegas. The drone can be customized depending on the customer's requirements and is available as an outright purchase, rental, or service. The development of the Flying Eye highlights the growing importance of 360 video among viewers, as such content takes on a bigger role in news, entertainment, and other forms of media. The Flying Eye, which promises the best quality available for live streams captured by a drone and a system that is easy to integrate, will likely herald the arrival of more drones specifically focused for broadcasters. The Flying Eye also further expands the applications of drone technology in the modern world. Drones have been tapped for uses such as cloud seeding, which is dangerous for normal manned aircraft, and emergency response operations as part of the special Land Rover Discovery SUV. NASA is also planning to utilize drones for the unmanned exploration of locations on Mars that are difficult to reach. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Au cours de la dernière année, eXplorance a augmenté ses effectifs de plus de 50 %. La compagnie a également acquis une société de logiciels spécialisée dans les applications d'entreprise avec un accent particulier sur les solutions infonuagiques et d’intelligence d’affaires. « La croissance d'entreprise est un défi multidisciplinaire », explique Samer Saab, PDG d'eXplorance. « En plus de diriger la compagnie vers la direction souhaitée, de gérer judicieusement le flux de trésorerie et de s’assurer d'avoir les compétences nécessaires pour croître, vous devez constamment remettre en cause le statu quo tout en soutenant votre culture d’entreprise », ajoute M. Saab. L'entreprise favorise une culture d'amélioration continue. Les employés d'eXplorance demeurent engagés puisqu’ils sont fiers de pouvoir poursuivre l'excellence personnelle en maintenant à la fois l'intégrité, la responsabilité sociale et le respect mutuel. L’entreprise est très diversifiée et voit une grande valeur à investir dans ce qui est « différent », innovateur ou non conventionnel. eXplorance s'efforce d'offrir une valeur ajoutée à toutes les parties prenantes, qu'il s'agisse de clients, de partenaires, de fournisseurs, d'entrepreneurs ou, plus important encore, de ses employés et de leurs familles. eXplorance a été classé 22e dans la catégorie des meilleurs lieux de travail au Canada de taille moyenne. Cette reconnaissance est un témoignage de l'engagement d'eXplorance en amélioration continue dans son milieu de travail. Cette liste des « meilleurs lieux où il fait bon travailler au Canada » est compilée par l’Institut Great Place to Work®. Le processus de sélection repose sur deux critères : une note fournie par un sondage auprès d’employés désignés au hasard et une note tirée d'un examen approfondi sur la culture de l'organisation, incluant une évaluation des politiques et des procédures des ressources humaines. Cela offre une représentation rigoureuse de l'organisation du point de vue d’un employé et un portrait global de la culture du lieu de travail. Ensemble, ces éléments fournissent des données cruciales relatives aux cinq dimensions de la confiance qui existent dans un lieu où il fait bon travailler : la crédibilité, le respect, l'équité, la fierté et la camaraderie. eXplorance, fournisseur de solutions de gestion de l'expérience de formation, permet aux organisations qui offrent de la formation ou de l’enseignement de prendre les bonnes décisions fondées sur les faits, en se servant de données relatives à l'analyse de l’apprentissage. Les solutions d’eXplorance BlueMD et BluepulseMD aident les organisations à instaurer une culture d’amélioration continue en mesurant, à travers des évaluations de cours, des sondages institutionnels, des évaluations 360 et des évaluations par des conseillers pédagogiques, et en analysant et en améliorant les besoins, les attentes, les habiletés, les connaissances et les compétences des parties prenantes. Fondée en 2003, eXplorance est une entreprise privée basée à Montréal, au Canada, qui compte des bureaux en région Asie-Pacifique, en Europe et en Amérique latine. La compagnie est considérée comme étant l’un des « meilleurs lieux où il fait bon travailler au Canada » par l’Institut Great Place to Work®, ayant obtenu ce titre pendant quatre années consécutives. Les clients d’eXplorance comprennent des universités telles que University of Melbourne, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, Zayed University, Del Mar College, Bowdoin College, IESE Business School, Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, UDLAP et Liverpool John Moores University ainsi que des organisations telles qu’Aramco, la Banque Nationale du Canada et la NASA.


News Article | April 24, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson is smashing records left and right. Whitson, 57, broke the record for the most cumulative time in space by an American astronaut early Monday, streaking past the 534-day record previously held by Jeff Williams. The 879-day global record, held by Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, still stands. By the time Whitson returns to Earth in September, she will have spent 666 days in space. She hopes she won't hold the title for long. "I'm not here because of the record," Whitson told ABC News' David Kerley via video teleconference from aboard the International Space Station earlier this month. "I'm definitely here for conducting the science." Whitson said the research she's doing is "a really important stepping stone" to sending astronauts on even longer missions to Mars -- "the sooner the better." "We still have some critical questions to answer," she told Kerley, including around the medical complications that come with living in zero gravity, like effects on bone density and muscle constriction, she told Kerley. "I think the biggest hurdle probably for the human body is going to be the radiation ... and probably the easiest solution is to get there faster so that you take less risk along the way." she said. Whitson, an Iowa native, is no stranger to shattering records. In 2008, she became the first woman to command the ISS, and just last month -- during her eighth spacewalk -- Whitson surpassed NASA's Sunita Williams for the woman with the most cumulative "extra-vehicular activity" time. Her journey hasn't always been smooth sailing. During re-entry following her second mission in 2008, her Soyuez capsule experienced a technical glitch, sending it hurtling into a violent dive and exposing the crew to forces eight times more powerful than the earth's gravity for more than a minute. Nevertheless, her time in space is "one of those rides you hope never ends," Whitson tweeted Sunday. "I am so grateful for all those who helped me on each of my missions." President Trump and first daughter Ivanka Trump called into the ISS from the Oval Office to congratulate Whitson on her achievement Monday morning. "This is a very special day in the glorious history of American space flight...That's an incredible record to break," President Trump said. "And on behalf of our nation, and frankly, on behalf of the world, I'd like to congratulate you. That is really something." Whitson said it was an huge honor to break this record and to represent everyone at NASA "who make this space flight possible and who make me setting this record feasible." She also said the International Space Station is providing "a key bridge from us living on earth to going somewhere in deep space," and it is crucial to the Mars mission. President Trump asked about a timeline for sending Americans to Mars, to which Whitson responded, "It will approximately be in the 2030s." Trump then said he hopes to make that happen in his first or second term, "So we'll have to speed that up a little bit, OK?" Trump said. "We'll do our best," said Whitson, laughing. ABC News' Gina Sunseri and Jeffrey Cook contributed to this report.


News Article | May 2, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

Gobbling gas from a neighbour should make neutron stars spin faster, but sometimes the exact opposite happens. Now there might be an explanation: the gas arrives “backwards”. Neutron stars are dense, fast-spinning stellar corpses that can pull material from a smaller orbiting star, spooling it into a disc before gobbling it up. This material carries momentum, which is why the neutron star should end up spinning faster. But when Demos Kazanas at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and his colleagues looked at 18 years’ worth of X-ray observations of neutron stars in binary systems in the Small Magellanic Cloud, they found that half were slowing down. “That’s harder to understand, because you’d think that they’d be tending to spin up if our current understanding of their evolution is correct,” says Tim Kallman, also at NASA Goddard, who wasn’t involved in the work. Even stranger, the rate of their slowdowns seemed to be the same as the rate at which the others were accelerating. “The two distributions are really very similar, which means that the process by which the spin up and spin down [happen] could be the same,” says Kazanas. The team have put forward an explanation for the slowdowns: they happen when the swallowed gas is spooling around the neutron star in the opposite direction to the star’s spin. If borne out by future observations, this idea could alter the commonly accepted view of the evolution of neutron stars in such binary systems, which is that they will keep spinning faster and faster until the end of their companion stars’ lives. Kazanas and his colleagues speculate instead that neutron stars can repeatedly speed up, slow down and switch direction. It could also have surprising implications for the neutron stars’ less exotic partners as their gas is stripped away. “We understand those normal stars somewhat,” Kallman says. “It’s surprising that it would change [their] character so dramatically.” It’s not yet clear whether backwards-spinning gas is the right explanation – or how that would even work. “Their explanation is charmingly simple, that it’s the same phenomenon in the opposite direction,” says Anne Archibald at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “But there are other ways [to account for the slowdown].”


News Article | April 26, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

As NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson looks on, crewmate Jack Fischer jokes that “you can probably see into my pores” during the first’ever live 4K UHD video feed from the International Space Station. (NASA via YouTube) NASA and AWS Elemental showed off something completely different from the International Space Station today: the first live video in ultra-high-definition 4K detail beamed down from space. The technical achievement was as important as what the audience at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual Las Vegas expo saw on the big screen – and what internet users around the world could see on 4K UHD devices. “My thought was, ‘Wow, am I glad all this was working,'” Rodney Grubbs, program manager for NASA Imagery Experts, said afterward during an NAB panel. NASA has put plenty of 4K UHD videos online, but this was the first time it did live video streaming in 4K UHD. The hookup took advantage of a UHD-ready RED Epic Dragon digital camera as well as a space-certified, UHD-capable video encoder from AWS Elemental, the Portland-based video processing venture that Amazon acquired in 2015 for almost $300 million. AWS Elemental CEO Sam Blackman presided over the proceedings in Las Vegas, but the stars of the show were NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, the space station’s commander, and NASA crewmate Jack Fischer. Both astronauts said they expected UHD video, which offers frame resolutions of 4096 by 2160 pixels, to add to the inspirational value of being in space. “4K and ultra-high-def actually make you feel like you’re there,” Fischer said over the video link. “I mean, if you look really close, you can probably see into my pores right now. Granted, nobody wants to see there, but everybody wants to see the Earth from this vantage point. And by looking down at the Earth with this amazing new technology, we’re able to inspire an entire new generation of explorers.” Whitson, 57, said that she was inspired to become an astronaut by watching the grainy black-and-white video sent back from Apollo missions. Ultra-high-definition views from space may well do something similar for Mars explorers a decade or more from now. She pointed out that UHD video also has present-day benefits for documenting the experiments conducted inside the space station. “Being able to capture a lot of data is very important for us scientifically,” Whitson said. Fischer agreed. “With these new cameras and new technologies, we’re able to get higher resolution, higher frame rates to capture different science for some of our experiments – ultra-slow motion for some of the effects that are very short-lived, yet very important,” he said. The astronauts showed off some simple experiments during the chat, including a ping pong game that they played with a floating ball of water. As they batted the ball around, it broke up into glistening pearls of water that ricocheted out of the video frame (or into Fischer’s mouth). The crowd oohed and ahhed as the astronauts added a fizzy Alka-Seltzer tablet and food colorings to another glob of water and a swirling thin film of water in zero-G. It took a few seconds going each way for the UHD video to run its course through all the gizmos required to encode, transmit and process the signal. Between time-delayed questions, the astronauts let their microphone slowly twirl in midair. “We can watch that microphone spin for a long time,” AWS Elemental’s Blackman joked. Not all the questions were about high-definition video: Early on, Blackman asked Fischer about his favorite space movies. Fischer’s answer? “The Right Stuff” as a serious choice, and “Spaceballs” for less serious fare. “Because we’re basically flying at ‘Ludicrous Speed’ right now,” he added. (For the record, the space station circles earth at roughly 17,000 mph, not two steps up from light speed.) The transmission began as the space station was above Baja California, and by the time it ended, the astronauts were zooming over Africa. After the signal was cut off, Khawaja Shams, AWS Elemental’s vice president of engineering, reflected on the bottom line for 4K UHD video. “I found my own passion for space being invigorated,” Shams said. “And I realized that the video is just the vehicle. It’s the content that I’m most excited about.”


News Article | March 27, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

The discovery of the gravitational wave is hailed as among the most important breakthroughs of 2016 not only because it validated Albert Einstein's prediction. It also launched a new branch of science that offers scientists a new way to study and unveil the mysteries of the universe. Astronomers in particular can now investigate the objects and phenomena that are cloaked from view because of the discovery of gravitational waves. It appears that scientists are not disappointed by how gravitational waves can shed more light on the events that happen in the cosmos. Just over a year after researchers from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory publicly announced that they had made their first observations of gravitational waves, astronomers found another evidence of the power of the phenomenon in influencing events in the universe. On March 24, NASA revealed that scientists have found a supermassive black hole that was kicked out of the center of a distant galaxy. Researchers think that a gravitational wave is behind the phenomenon. Researchers estimate the the energy needed to expel the black hole from the center of its galactic home is equivalent to 100 million supernovas simultaneously exploding. Scientists think that the most plausible explanation for this amount of energy produced is that the black hole was pushed by gravitational waves unleashed when two hefty black holes merged at the center of the host galaxy. Based on visible evidence and theoretical work, researchers came up with a possible scenario of how the black hole was expelled from its home. The researchers' theory posits that as the two galaxies merged, their black holes settled into the central region of the newly formed elliptical galaxy. Gravitational waves were flung out as the black holes swirled around each other and as the two objects got closer to each other over time, these objects radiated away gravitational energy. If the two black holes do not have the same rotation rate and mass, the emitted gravitational waves would move strongly along one direction. The objects would stop producing gravitational waves once they merge, but the newly fused black hole recoiled in the opposite direction of the strongest gravitational waves and then got jettisoned. Not all black hole mergers produce imbalanced gravitational waves that can propel a black hole in the opposite direction. Scientists think it is fortunate that NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured this event. If the interpretation of the researchers is proven correct, the observation could offer strong evidence that supermassive black holes can merge. It also backs up the optimistic idea that gravitational waves can shed light on mysterious events in the universe. "The gravitational waves that are detectible by LIGO will be caused by some of the most energetic events in the universe - colliding black holes, exploding stars, and even the birth of the universe itself," LIGO said. "Detecting and analyzing the information carried by gravitational waves will allow us to observe the universe in a way never before possible." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A huge new crack has appeared on the Petermann Glacier, a large ice shelf in northern Greenland. NASA images show the rift has opened up at the center of the floating ice shelf and, should it continue to grow, it could break off into a large iceberg and float away. NASA took the aerial images of the glacier on April 14 as part of its Operation IceBridge mission. This aims to better understand how the polar regions are connected to the global climate system. Researchers chart changes in the thickness of sea ice, ice sheets and glaciers, as well as looking at how the Earth’s poles respond to climate change. Normally, cracks in ice shelves appear near the edges, where the ice is thinner. The location of the new crack at the center of the Petermann Glacier makes it of particular concern. It means another process must be causing the ice shelf to thin. Scientists believe there could be warm water sitting beneath the ice shelf, but say they will need to undertake further research to confirm this. NASA also highlighted another, older rift on the ice shelf near the new one. This, scientists say, “may exert a stagnating effect on the propagation of the new rift toward the older one,” meaning that the two rifts could join together to form one huge crack. However, scientists can’t tell yet whether or not this will result in a giant chunk of ice breaking away from the ice shelf—known as a calving event. Don't miss: The U.S. Is Building a Nuclear Missile That's More Accurate Than Ever The Petermann Glacier has undergone two major calving events within the last decade. In 2010, an iceberg measuring 97 square miles broke away. Dubbed an ice island, at the time it was the largest iceberg to form in the Arctic in almost 50 years. In 2012, another iceberg measuring 50 square miles broke away from the ice shelf. At the time, Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement: “The floating extension is breaking apart. It is not a collapse but it is certainly a significant event.”


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: www.fastcompany.com

It seems like everything is tracked and measured these days. Order a pizza, and you get a notification when it’s put in the oven. Curious about how many times an NBA player (any player) dribbles per possession? That information is neatly presented on the league’s official site. Even dreams are being produced, collected, and analyzed as part of our “quantified self” data. One startup is working on tracking something more ambitious: the planet. Instead of measuring basic heart rate or blood pressure, Descartes Labs is applying machine learning to both public and private satellite imagery to determine rates of deforestation, forecast food supplies, identify where new wind farms are being constructed, and more. The company, which spun out of Los Alamos National Lab, has access to a massive archive of satellite imagery sourced from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and other “commercial constellations.” The archive goes back decades and grows larger every day–currently, it houses five petabytes of data (that’s 5 million gigabytes). “It’s really an inherently good data set. It’s hard to imagine that the data we’re generating, like deforestation data, can be used for some sort of nefarious purpose, right? At some point, everybody ought to know this data, because it’s just data about the world we live in,” CEO and cofounder Mark Johnson tells Fast Company. Every day, Descartes Labs’ AI reads and processes nearly five terabytes of new data, including weather readings and the latest imagery from satellites orbiting the planet. Analyzing quadrillions of pixels at a time, and comparing it to past data, its fully automated algorithms can determine, for example, whether a field is growing corn, or soy, or something else like turnips, as well as how much of it has already sprouted. Infrared readings allow the AI to determine the health of a given crop, too. Johnson says this allows his team to accurately peer into the future of the planet. For example, Descartes Labs AI says it can predict the yield of America’s 3 million square kilometers of cornfields with 99% accuracy. “Investors always ask, ‘What’s the secret sauce on your corn model?” says Johnson. “And I always tell them, ‘You won’t like this, but there’s no secret algorithm.’ It’s really that we’ve taken more data than anyone else, cleaned it up better than anyone else, and ran more iterations on it than anyone else.” That tool has obvious applications outside U.S. borders, too, for both governments and private companies. With the aid of a just-awarded $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Descartes Labs is now using its technology to anticipate food shortages and predict hot zones of sociopolitical conflict in the Middle East and North Africa. “This is the kind of work we wanted to do as a company as we founded it,” says Johnson. “We have 40-plus years of imagery on the planet. We can start to see, even without weather effects, how the climate has changed based on what’s growing there and what’s not. Drought and famine precede and oftentimes are big drivers in political instability. Better understanding those patterns is key.” Better understanding those patterns right now is critical. As many as 20 million people around world are already on the brink of famine, and we’ll have to feed as many as 2 billion more people over the next three decades. “It’s much cheaper to send in humanitarian resources than troops. And nipping [causes of conflict] in the bud is not only good for the people on the ground, because they’re happier and healthier, and child mortality rates goes down, but also you avoid future problems.” At the same time, Descartes Labs is trying to democratize its data, putting its tools in the hands of both humanitarian organizations that can intervene early enough to save lives, as well as leaders at every level of government so that they can make better decisions about how to allocate resources. But Johnson made it clear that he wants this information to be accessible to everyone, not just people with PhDs in machine learning or elected representatives, so his 30-person team is investing in artificial intelligence that can better classify and categorize new satellite imagery as it comes in, and make it easier to read. “What we’re focusing on is making it easy for people from the ‘outside world’ to use the infrastructure we’ve built,” he says. “ESA and NASA are both putting up lots of really interesting Earth observation satellites–tons of data is being generated. And that’s not to mention all the potential sensor data we’ll be getting from combines, tractors, cars, boats, barges, trains, ships, grain silo. Everything is going to have sensors on it, so making sense of all that data is the sort of challenge we’re aiming toward.” Descartes Labs isn’t trying to tackle this challenge alone. As part of their push to “open up the platform,” the team was part of a hackathon with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), where they made the platform available to participants to explore how geospatial analysis can be used to study food security. There are 150 million square kilometers of dry land on earth; more than twice that area is covered by water. Greater awareness of how both land and sea are managed, Johnson hopes, will foster a more symbiotic relationship, even intimacy, between human and planet. In practice, the work of Descartes Labs–and that of other companies like marine data analytics company Windward–might encourage businesses to restructure their value chains and even guide our global village toward new approaches to climate action. “Why the hell don’t we know exactly how many trees have been cut down over the past 40 years? This is this is something where we have the data to answer that question,” says Johnson. “To me, this is critical for our future on the planet right. Decisions we make now could have massive repercussions for generations to come. And I want to be armed with a massive amount of data. I want to know where we should marshal our resources to be most effective in protecting the resiliency of humanity.”


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

"Data obtained from flight tests like this one with TVA and NASA, combined with testing at different atmospheric compositions, allows us to build design tools with higher confidence for entry into other planetary atmospheres such as Venus, Mars or Titan," he continued. "Partnering with a small business to get flight data for a developmental material is a very inexpensive way of achieving multiple goals." The TPS Venkatapathy and his team are designing uses newly emerging materials called conformal PICA (C-PICA) and conformal SIRCA (C-SIRCA), short for Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator and Silicone Impregnated Reusable Ceramic Ablator, respectively. The probe is essentially a hard aeroshell covered with the TPS and outfitted with sensors called thermocouples. To measure temperature during atmospheric entry, the thermocouples are embedded within the heat shield's C-PICA and the back shell's C-SIRCA to capture data for understanding how the materials behave in an actual entry environment. With funding through STMD/GCD, NASA's Ames Research Center led the work providing conformal ablative materials and TPS instrumentation installed on Terminal Velocity's probes. Terminal Velocity is also working with NASA's Johnson Space Center with funding from STMD's Small Business Innovation Research program for miniaturizing and improving the data acquisition and transmission system as well as providing support for ISS flight certification. Through the ISS Exploration Flight Project Initiative, Johnson certified three TVA probes for flight. One probe uses the conformal ablative materials, another has the Orion heat-shield material and the third probe uses shuttle tile material for reference. TVA delivered the assembled probes to the Cargo Mission Contract group for this flight. After Orbital ATK's resupply services launch arrives at the ISS, the probes will remain on the cargo ship awaiting their opportunity to go to work. Projected to be released from the ISS in June, once the cargo ship reenters Earth's atmosphere and breaks up, the probes will deploy and then begin capturing data through the thermocouples embedded in the TPS. "The probes are designed to be released from the metallic shell and once they are released, they start to get heated. The thermal response data are collected from the various locations where thermocouples are embedded within the TPS," explains Robin Beck, technical lead for the conformal TPS development. "The probe includes an antenna that allows it to communicate with an Iridium satellite. As the probe descends into the atmosphere and slows to the speed of sound, the data are collected and stored, then transmitted to the Iridium satellite above, which in turn transmits the data to researchers on the ground." Once the flight test's data are collected, TVA's probe is allowed to fall into the ocean and is not recovered; however, these tiny spacecraft will contribute in a very big way to ensure the predictive models developed based on testing in ground facilities are valid and applicable in space. "There are known and unknown risks, but both NASA and TVA are motivated to be successful as the benefits also translate to the larger community that wants to have on-demand access to space," says Venkatapathy. "This technology has the potential to lower the cost of access to space for small payloads while making it attractive for universities and the non-aerospace community who may be novices to flight testing—a challenge in and of itself and not risk free." Because there is no backup for a spacecraft's TPS, it is critical to understand and develop prediction capabilities that allow safe, robust entry system design. A successful flight test at this scale will increase confidence in the conformal ablator and allow mission planners to consider C-PICA and C-SIRCA for use in future programs such as New Frontiers or Orion.


News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: phys.org

"Although there is no possibility for the asteroid to collide with our planet, this will be a very close approach for an asteroid this size," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. Dubbed 2014-JO25, the asteroid will come within 1.8 million kilometres (1.1 million miles) of Earth, less than five times the distance to the Moon. It will pass closest to our planet after having looped around the Sun. 2014-JO25 will then continue on past Jupiter before heading back toward the centre of our Solar System. Smaller asteroids whizz by Earth several times a week. But the last time one at least this size came as close was in 2004, when Toutatis—five kilometres (3.1 miles) across—passed within four lunar distances. The next scheduled close encounter with a big rock will not happen before 2027, when the 800-metre (half-mile) wide asteroid 199-AN10 will fly by at just one lunar distance, about 380,000 km (236,000 miles). The last time 2014-JO25 was in our immediate neighbourhood was 400 years ago, and its next brush with Earth won't happen until sometime after 2600. The April 19 flyby is an "outstanding opportunity" for astronomers and amateur stargazers, NASA said. "Astronomers plan to observe it with telescopes around the world to learn as much about it as possible," the US space agency said. Besides its size and trajectory, scientists also know that its surface is twice as reflective as that of the Moon. It should be visible with a small optical telescope for one or two nights before moving out of range. 2014-JO25 was discovered in May 2014 by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey near Tucson, Arizona. Also on Wednesday, a comet known as PanSTARRS will make its closest approach to Earth at a "very safe" distance of 175 million km (109 million miles), according to NASA. The comet has brightened recently and should be visible in the dawn sky with binoculars or a small telescope. Asteroids are composed of rocky and metallic material, whereas comets—generally smaller—are more typically made of ice, dust and rocky stuff. Both were formed early in the history of the Solar System some 4.5 billion years ago. Explore further: Large asteroid to hurtle past Earth on April 19


News Article | April 25, 2017
Site: www.sciencedaily.com

How lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries behave under short-circuit conditions can now be examined using a new approach developed by a UCL-led team to help improve reliability and safety. The use of high energy density Li-ion batteries is ubiquitous -- from powering portable electronics to providing grid-scale storage -- but defects can lead to overheating and explosions. Although catastrophic failure is extremely rare, recent high-profile cases including the recall of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 smartphone line and the grounding of an aircraft fleet highlight why it's important to understand battery failure. "In previous work, we've tracked Li-ion battery failure caused by extreme heat in 3D and real-time, but this is the first time we've tracked what happens to the temperature and structure of cells when we short circuit the battery in a controlled way at an internal location of our choosing, initiating a series of potentially dangerous events," explained first author, Dr Donal Finegan (UCL, NASA and NREL). "This is of particular interest, as short-circuiting is thought to be responsible for a number of high-profile, real world failures. Knowing when and where the cell will fail has allowed us to characterise what happens during catastrophic failure in-depth using high-speed X-ray imaging. This provides us with new insights to help guide the design and development of safer and more reliable Li-ion batteries." The study published today in Energy and Environmental Science involved researchers from UCL, NASA-Johnson Space Center (USA), the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, USA), WMG University of Warwick, Diamond Light Source (UK), The European Synchrotron (ESRF, France) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL, UK). To induce failure, the team inserted a device capable of generating an internal short circuit on-demand and at a pre-determined location into commercially available Li-ion batteries, which are commonly used to power portable electronics and electric vehicles. Designed and patented by U.S. researchers Dr Eric Darcy (NASA) and Matthew Keyser (NREL), the temperature-activated device allows researchers to mimic hidden defects that can occur during the battery manufacturing processes, leading to a dangerous chain reaction of heat generation and battery failure. The team used the device to gain insight into cell design vulnerabilities by causing cell walls to rupture or cells to burst open. Using high-speed X-ray imaging, researchers monitored what happened to the structure of the cells in real-time, as the short circuit drove the catastrophic failure process which propagated through cells and modules. Individual cells, as well as small cell modules, were tested under conditions that represented a worst-case battery failure scenario. Short circuits were initiated inside the batteries at ~60 degrees C. During the failure process, cell temperatures reached in excess of 1085 degrees C. From analysing the high-speed imaging frame by frame, the team looked at the effects of gas pockets forming, venting and increasing temperatures on the layers inside two distinct commercial Li-ion batteries and identified consistent failure mechanisms. Corresponding author, Dr Paul Shearing (UCL) explained: "It is fascinating to see how quickly the process of thermal runaway can spread throughout these cells, which went from being completely intact to being completely destroyed within around one second. "This investigation provides the first description of how short-circuit failure propagates inside a cell in real time, this was only possible by combining the novel short-circuiting devices developed by NASA and NREL with ultra high-speed X-ray imaging. We were surprised to learn how susceptible neighbouring cells are to propagation of thermal runaway. This demonstrates the importance of isolating failing cells within larger battery packs and modules, which may be found in a range of applications from space suits to electric vehicles." The team now plans to examine how these new insights can be used to improve the safety of commercial battery and module designs. For example, researchers will study how the rupture of the highest energy density commercial cells can be prevented and how to reduce the risk of cell-to-cell propagation.


News Article | April 14, 2017
Site: www.sciencenews.org

Earthquake-powered shifts along the seafloor that push water forward, not just up, could help supersize tsunamis. By combining laboratory experiments, computer simulations and real-world observations, researchers discovered that the horizontal movement of sloped seafloor during an underwater earthquake can give tsunamis a critical boost. Scientists previously assumed that vertical movement alone contributed most of a tsunami’s energy. More than half of the energy for the unexpectedly large tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011 (SN Online: 6/16/11) originated from the horizontal movement of the seafloor, the researchers estimate. Accounting for this lateral motion could explain why some earthquakes generate large tsunamis while others don’t, the researchers report in a paper to be published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans. “For the last 30 years, we’ve been moving in the wrong direction to do a good job predicting tsunamis,” says study coauthor Tony Song, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “This new theory will lead to a better predictive approach than we have now.” The largest tsunamis form following earthquakes that occur along tectonic boundaries where an oceanic plate sinks below a continental plate. That movement isn’t always smooth; sections of the two plates can stick together. As the bottom oceanic plate sinks, it bends the top continental plate downward like a weighed-down diving board. Eventually, the pent-up stress becomes too much and the plates abruptly unstick, causing the overlying plate to snap upward and triggering an earthquake. That upward movement lifts the seafloor, displacing huge volumes of water that pile up on the sea surface and spread outward as a tsunami. These deep-sea earthquakes shift the seafloor sideways, too. The earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011, for instance, not only lifted the ocean floor three to five meters; it also caused up to 58 meters of horizontal movement. Such lateral motion, however big, is mostly ignored in tsunami science, largely because of a 1982 laboratory study that found no connection between horizontal ground motion and wave height. The experiment used in that study, Song argues, wasn’t a properly sized-down model of the dimensions of the seafloor and overlying ocean. If lateral motion takes place on a sloped segment of the seafloor, he thought, then the shift can push large volumes of water sideways and add momentum to the budding tsunami. Using two wave-making machines at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Song and colleagues revisited the decades-old experiment. Oarlike paddles pushed water upward and outward in some tests and just upward in others. Adding horizontal motion caused higher waves than vertical motion alone, the researchers found. By combining the experimental results with a new tsunami computer simulation that incorporates lateral movement, the researchers could account for the unusual size of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. That tsunami, one of the worst natural disasters on record, was bigger than uplift alone can explain. Using GPS sensors to measure the horizontal movement of the seafloor during an earthquake will enable more accurate tsunami forecasts before the wave is spotted by ocean buoys, Song proposes. The new work makes a convincing case that horizontal motion contributes to tsunami generation, says Eddie Bernard, a tsunami scientist emeritus at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Tsunami Research in Seattle. But just how much that movement contributes to a tsunami’s overall height is unclear. It could be much less than Song and colleagues predict, he says. Other seafloor events that can follow a large earthquake — such as huge numbers of water-displacing landslides — could also boost a tsunami’s size. Until all of the factors are known, Bernard says, tsunami forecasters will probably be best off doing what they do now: waiting for a tsunami to form after an earthquake before predicting the wave’s size and trajectory.


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: phys.org

Noting how, "The search for life in the Universe has been transformed from speculation to a data-driven science," speakers like Stanford physicist Peter Michelson offered detailed plans for finding life on exoplanets. Over the course of two days on April 20-21, dozens of scientists attending the Breakthrough Discuss Conference contemplated options for exploring planets in other star systems. These option included using a new generation of powerful telescopes for long distance observations, as well as advancing a first-of-its-kind technology to visit other star systems—all within the next generation. What these strategies had in common was a focus on observing habitable zone planets in our local stellar neighborhood. In this neighborhood alone, within 30 light-years or so of our solar system, astrobiologists have already identified several Earth-like exoplanets and dozens of systems that may harbor Earth-like worlds. These exoplanets, identified by the effect they have on their parent star, are rocky and roughly the same size and density as Earth. They orbit their stars at a distance that would allow liquid water to exist on the surface. There is, however, at least one major difference between our planet and these potentially-habitable exoplanets. That is, they aren't circling stars like our sun. On the spectrum of stars, our sun is what's know as a yellow dwarf. It's bright, and not terribly large compared to the largest stars in our galaxy. Yet, even middling stars like our Sun aren't all that common. Our local stellar neighborhood -— and probably in the Universe as a whole -— is filled with many more low-mass stars. There are 20 yellow dwarf stars like our sun nearby and 250 M-dwarfs, a variety of star so small and dim that, despite their abundance, can't be seen with the naked eye. Over the last three-to-four years, every single low-mass star we've studied appears to have at least one planet. Usually, they have more than one. "How common are planets orbiting low-mass stars? Very common indeed," explained Courtney Dressing, an astronomer at UC Berkeley to the assembled group. "For a typical M-Dwarf, there tends to be 2.5 planets. One-in-four of the stars has a planet the same size and temperature as Earth in the habitable zone." Dressing's point was that given the number of M-dwarfs in the local region, there should be at least 60 potentially Earth-like planets in habitable zones within 32 or so light-years from here, and perhaps many more. To date, most of our exoplanet data comes from the Kepler spacecraft. The Kepler spacecraft has focused its search for planets on large M-dwarf stars. In the near future, when the small and medium-sized M-dwarfs are studied, we may discover that closer to one-in-three stars have an Earth-like planet in the habitable zone. Apart from just being more abundant, studying the potentially-habitable exoplanets around these low mass stars comes with other advantages. These exoplanets have tight orbits around their stars because the habitable zones are close in, giving scientists opportunities to view their transits every few weeks. It is during these transits, when the exoplanets pass in front of their stars, that we have the best opportunity to study their atmospheres for signs of life. Many conference attendees, including Mercedes López-Morales from the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, explained how we will be surveying the atmospheres of the closest habitable zone planets for signs of life dwelling on the surface or in an ocean. "We're going to look for oxygen," she said. Because the rise of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere corresponded with the appearance of life, we frequently use that particular molecule as a marker for the presence of life elsewhere. Also, oxygen likes to interact with other chemicals. If we discover a planet where oxygen is still hanging around in the atmosphere, something, possibly life, is actively making it. So, the search for life will focus on elements and molecules like hydrogen, oxygen, and methane. However, as López-Morales explained, there is a downside to this approach. "A planet's atmosphere is only 1 percent the size of the planet. The size of the signal is tiny. You need to collect at least one trillion photons to be very certain that you are truly looking at oxygen." The good news is that a new generation of telescopes designed for planetary exploration and astrobiology will be coming online to help us gather those photons. Around this time next year, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will be readying for launch. During its two-year mission, TESS will survey 200,000 stars, including the brighter ones in our local systems. The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in Chile, slated to be operational by 2022, will have a resolving power 10 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT will feature a device called the G-CLEF spectrograph, which will be able to see molecules like oxygen in far-off planetary atmospheres. Finally, when the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) opens in 2024, it will have more light-gathering-power than of Earth's current 8 to 10 meter telescopes combined. Astrobiologists are counting on these large telescopes coming online between now and 2024 to identify the prime candidates to look for oxygen and life in our stellar neighborhood. Even as we anticipate a treasure trove of atmospheric data from these missions, scientists are discovering species that live quite happily without oxygen, light, and other features that we used to believe were required for life. These discoveries highlight how atmospheric bio-signatures like oxygen are an imperfect, if tantalizing, way to look for life from afar. The question then becomes: Could there be there another way to look for extraterrestrial life beyond studying exoplanet atmospheres? Ideally, to definitively identify life on other worlds, we would visit nearby planets like Proxima b, only 4 light-years away, either in person or with a spacecraft. This is the goal of the Breakthrough's Starshot initiative. Announced a little more than a year ago, Starshot's goal, according to its founder, is to "literally reach the stars in our lifetimes." The plan to accomplish this feat involves launching a fleet of very small spacecraft. Starshot will then accelerate those craft to as close to lightspeed as possible. By aiming high-powered lasers at these gram-sized cameras in space we may be able to cut down the time, cost, and weight required to gain an up- close look at planets around other stars. "The goal is to fly a probe very close to a planet and figure out if it has life," said Avi Loeb, a physicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "What is the color of the planet? Is it green? Does it have vegetation? Is it blue, are there oceans? Or is it desert-like?" At the conference, NASA engineer Ruslan Belikov premiered simulations of what an exoplanet might look like from Starshot's point of view. Even if the craft were moving at 90 percent the speed of light, the onboard cameras should still be able to pick up signs of large oceans, clouds, and land masses that an exoplanet might have. The hope is that someday, by combining laser acceleration of these very small craft with cameras and other sensors, we might finally be able to take a firsthand look at habitable-zone-planets circling nearby stars, and in doing, perhaps definitively find life elsewhere in the Universe. Combining data from our new generation of very large telescopes with atmospheric observations of nearby exoplanets around M-dwarfs may help us choose the best targets for small Starshot craft flyby. "We are going to be the generation that is remembered for finding exoplanets. That's a fact," said López-Morales. "Are we going to be also the generation that will be remembered as the first ones who found life on those planets?" That, indeed, would be the breakthrough of a lifetime. Explore further: The space weather forecast for Proxima Centauri B


News Article | January 19, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

This story was originally published on January 19th and has been updated to include video. Over the past few weeks, we’ve gotten notes from Verge Science readers wondering why news from the incoming Trump administration has seeped into our science coverage. I wasn’t surprised: it’s tempting to believe that science is apolitical. But science and politics are plainly related: science is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge is power, and power is politics. The scientific method consists of generating a hypothesis, attempting to disprove the hypothesis through testing, and accumulating those tests to come up with shared knowledge. And that method also contains ideology: our observed, shared world is the real world. This ideology even has a name: empiricism. An incoming president who clearly picks and chooses facts to suit his own version of the world changes the relationship between science and culture, in potentially destructive ways. Science is the pursuit of knowledge, knowledge is power, and power is politics Surrounding the scientific method is a more obviously political arena: money. Much of American basic science — the kind of stuff that leads to advances like CRISPR — is funded by the government. Entities such as the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation are the biggest funders of science in the US; all use public money. Decisions about funding allocation are made by politicians. We may choose to spend more money on defense instead of cancer, for instance, or choose to fund addiction research rather than a new NASA mission. Deciding what science we find valuable is not a scientific decision. It’s a political one. The very idea that the US government should support American science by funding research at all is deeply political. We’ve also made political decisions about what research we won’t do, because although they might increase knowledge, we’ve deemed them harmful. That’s why institutional review boards exist: to protect patients from unethical experimentation. There was a time when this idea was not widely accepted, and it led, in America, to unethical experimentation on vulnerable citizens. Henrietta Lacks’ cells — the famous HeLa cells that were used to develop the polio vaccine — were unethically gathered and studied. The Tuskegee syphilis research denied black men adequate treatment for the disease, though it was available, under the guise of learning more about the long-term effects of syphilis. These Americans were used as test subjects without their informed consent — something we no longer allow. And these ethical decisions sometimes change with elections: George W. Bush created the President’s Council on Bioethics and tightly restricted stem cell research, while Barack Obama dissolved the group and lifted those restrictions. Then there’s the matter of what to do with scientific results, which is often a political decision. The Environmental Protection Agency — frequently demonized by politicians — came into existence in part because of a series of conflicts about how land and water were used. Companies once dumped their waste so freely into our watersheds that the Cuyahoga River actually caught fire several times. In the era before emissions control, the 1966 New York Smog killed 168 people. Once scientific data linked pollution to poorer quality of life, politicians acted to make citizens safer. This was a bipartisan issue: Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency as part of that response to pollution data. (And arguably, the real problem with the EPA is that it’s not effective enough: ask anyone in Flint, Michigan who’s gone more than a year without clean water, or anyone who lived downstream from DuPont in West Virginia.) At first blush, Donald Trump’s positions on science seem like familiar conservative refrains: denying climate change was also a hallmark of the George W. Bush administration, and vaccination has been controversial since its advent as a public health measure. Environmental regulation has always been disliked by massive corporations; Ronald Reagan attempted to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, an endeavor at which he failed. Ignoring epidemiologists is also a proud Reagan legacy, and one of the reasons for the AIDS crisis’ devastating toll was his continual refusal to address the problem. Those are all familiar politics, with familiar boundaries, in a familiar system. But the Trump administration adds something new: Trump and his advisors have already signaled an unwillingness to hear facts they don’t like, both on vaccine safety and climate change. Trump has characterized climate change as a Chinese hoax, which is unlikely to help the people in areas already experiencing higher tides or increasingly strange weather. According to the Department of Defense, not only is climate change real, but it is likely to drive future conflicts between nations and perhaps bears some responsibility for fueling conflicts in Syria. Challenging the science of climate change is one thing; it is what the scientific method is designed to do. Denying the shared reality — the real reality — measured by hundreds of independent scientists is another. If the DoD is right, addressing climate change is also a national security issue. Trump has already signaled an unwillingness to hear facts he doesn’t like Trump has met with Andrew Wakefield, the discredited doctor who manufactured a link between autism and vaccines through research fraud. He’s asked anti-vaccine propagandist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. to head a new commission — on what, though, isn’t entirely clear. According to Kennedy, it’s a commission on vaccine safety and on scientific integrity, though Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in a statement that the president-elect is “exploring the possibility of forming a commission on Autism.” The link between vaccines and autism has been thoroughly debunked at this point. Spending more time and money on it not only ensures that time and money won’t be spent researching something productive, but also wrongly suggests to the average citizen that vaccines are unsafe. Should Trump follow through with this ill-advised commission, it is a political maneuver likely to impact reality in unpleasant ways. Outbreaks of preventable illness have already occurred thanks to vaccine-denying parents; it is possible more people will suffer these diseases as a result of the continual sowing of doubt about vaccine safety and efficacy. Arguably, the scientific establishment has a duty to protect the taxpayers that have supported research for so long. But scientists sometimes shirk their moral duty to the populace in order to continue their research. Wernher von Braun has mostly been sidelined in the official history of NASA despite the pivotal role he played in publicizing space travel and building our country’s early rockets. That’s because he also collaborated with Nazis and built rockets using slave labor from concentration camp victims. Somewhat more forgivable is Ivan Pavlov — the one with the dogs and the saliva — who stopped openly opposing Joseph Stalin at the end of his life in the hopes of protecting the scientists in his lab; as a result, his lab flourished during Stalin’s purges. Both men will always have asterisks next to their legacies, not because of their scientific work but because of the political alliances they formed in the course of that work. Pavlov’s example hints at something else. Scientists have office politics, too, and prominent members of the field can blackball younger researchers, preventing them from getting jobs or funding. This environment is part of what’s contributed to a series of sexual harassment scandals over the last few years, across several areas of research. Science provides us with facts — what we do with those facts is deeply political The politics of the highest offices may also affect interpersonal relationships throughout the science community. The Trump administration rewards loyalists and punishes dissenters. Trump has also already signaled a willingness to go after researchers in specific fields, recently asking the Energy Department for a list of employees who have worked on climate change. And it’s unclear what will happen to scientists who experience sexual harassment under a man who has himself been accused of sexual harassment by a number of women. Science is a way of seeing that provides us with facts. What we do with those facts is deeply political. Determining whether pollution harms people is a matter of scientific inquiry, but deciding what to do in response to that data is politics. Who uses the water and land, and how? Those aren’t scientific questions — they’re political ones. Do we value the safety of our citizens or the profits of our corporations? What’s the balance between the two? Those are also political questions. No one can predict exactly how Trump will deal with the scientific community once he’s in office. But the signals his administration has sent so far indicate that the relationship between science and politics is about to become more obvious — and more controversial — than ever before. We expect to cover this relationship closely.


News Article | May 3, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

SCIENCE has dodged a bullet, for now. US government science spending will stay mostly unchanged for the rest of 2017 despite extreme cuts proposed by Donald Trump earlier this year. Last week, the US Congress announced a $1 trillion deal to fund the government until the end of September. The National Institutes of Health budget will rise by $2 billion. NASA will get $19.7 billion, including $1.9 billion each for Earth science research and planetary science, a 2 per cent rise on last year. Funding for the National Science Foundation will remain at $7.5 billion. Even agencies subject to budget cuts may be able to breathe a brief sigh of relief. The Environmental Protection Agency, whose funding Trump has proposed to cut by 31 per cent in the 2018 fiscal year, will be getting $8.1 billion, a decrease of 10 per cent. When President Trump released his budget proposal for 2018 in March, it included major funding cuts for climate science, medical research and energy projects across government. Congress is likely to approve this budget in a future vote. So the present deal marks a respite, but not necessarily an escape from those cuts. This article appeared in print under the headline “US science reprieve”


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

The Dawn spacecraft observing Ceres lost the function of one of its reaction wheels. A NASA spacecraft lost the use of a third wheel that was critical to its functionality and ability to reposition in space, the space agency said. The Dawn spacecraft, which set out for exploration in the asteroid belt in 2007, lost operation of the wheel Sunday afternoon. Experts at NASA realized the craft had lost the wheel during routine communications Monday. Upon learning of the wheel malfunction NASA returned the craft to regular flight configuration and safe mode. This is the third wheel Dawn has lost since it launched. Read: Photos Between Saturn And Its Rings: NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Dives For Science Dawn set off to observe the protoplanet Vesta in 2007. Vesta is the largest protoplanet still in existence and sits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Protoplanet Ceres also sits in this part of the solar system. The two are the largest objects in the asteroid belt. After completing two years of observations of Vesta the craft made its way to Ceres. The third wheel malfunctioned Sunday while the craft was repositioning to complete an observation of the Occator Crater. The first wheel malfunctioned in 2010 and the second in 2012 while the craft was finishing up its study of Vesta. Researchers were prepared for the third wheel to fail at some point. One more wheel remains operable. The craft has been relying on hydrazine propellant for repositioning amid the wheel failures. The propellant comes from small jets, and as it is used up, Dawn's ability to navigate is diminished. NASA says the malfunctioning wheel won't significantly impact the rest of Dawn's extended mission.


Imagine the Earth's atmosphere some 2.4 billion years ago, when it was completely uninhabitable and filled with toxic gases, which increased the surface temperatures abnormally. A new research from the University of St. Andrews, the University of Leeds, University of Maryland, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as well as the Blue Marble Space Institute of science suggests that millions of years ago, our planet's atmosphere was filled with a haze rich in methane. As a result of this, a larger amount of hydrogen was driven from the atmosphere by the methane-haze, thus making the way for Oxygen that filled up the air. It was due to this phenomenon that an atmosphere supporting the life forms on Earth was created. The final result of the research generated a new analysis to the Great Oxidation Episode, occurring 2.4 billion years ago, as a result of the increased oxygen concentration in our planet's atmosphere . "The transformation of Earth's air from a toxic mix to a more welcoming, oxygen-rich atmosphere happened in a geological instant," says James Farquharm, co-author of the study. Farquharm also noted that thanks to the above research, one can get insight on the complete scenario of how the above-mentioned processes occurred due to the methane-haze. To recreate the atmospheric procedure before the Great Oxidation episode, the researchers required many of the comprehensive chemical records as well as atmospheric models. According to the analysis, the single life form on Earth present during that time was the ancient bacteria, which resulted in the formation of methane. This methane further filled up the atmosphere with thick haze, which looks similar to Titan, Saturn's moon. However, though many of the early studies conducted by various other researchers spotted many such hazes, this research focuses on how fast they began and the time they lasted for. The methane-haze was there in the Earth's atmosphere for around more than a million years. It was only after that a great amount of hydrogen left the planet's atmosphere. There was the right kind of chemical condition which resulted in the creation of all types of life forms. One of the main points of the research was the finding of strange patterns of sulfur isotopes found in the geochemical records during those times. However, sulfur isotopes were generally used for proxy for recreating older atmospheric conditions. The scientists surmised that the recreation of the atmospheric chemistry was the primary aim for all geochemical researchers. The research was published on March 13, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | April 24, 2017
Site: www.fastcompany.com

Flying cars still seem like one of those futuristic technologies that only exists for now in the realm of science fiction and old episodes of The Jetsons. But Uber is taking the technology seriously and this week it takes another step forward with a summit meeting that lays out its vision. In October, the ride-hailing giant published a 97-page white paper laying out all the challenges for setting up an urban flying taxi system to link with its on-demand car service. Since then, it’s hired NASA veteran Mark Moore as director of aviation engineering for its Uber Elevate initiative. Moore headed the space agency’s research on electric propulsion, autonomous control, and personal craft until February. On Tuesday, Uber is convening its three-day Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas to lay out its plans for urban air travel. Given that the San Francisco-based company is flying everyone out to the Texan city, there’s a good chance that Dallas will be one of the cities with which Uber has promised to announce “collaborations.” “What were looking at is, in the next several years, being able to bring experimental aircraft into and test them in the relevant environment of the city,” says Moore. Uber will provide a live stream of the event from the conference home page, beginning Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern time. Uber will also announce the companies that will supply these electric taxi planes. Note the word “planes.” Several companies, such as Germany’s E-Volo and China’s EHang, have introduced electric copters—known as VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) craft that look a bit like upscale toy drones. (EHang, in fact is, a drone maker). But that’s not the way Uber is going, says Moore. (Dubai’s transport agency will start a flying taxi program using EHang’s copters this summer.) Related link: Airbus Is About To Build A Self-Flying Robo-Taxi Instead, Uber plans to use electric VTOL planes that briefly tilt their wings and propellers up to take off vertically like drones, then tilt them forward to fly forward. Such planes—as well as electric propeller systems—were being developed by Moore before he left NASA. He isn’t saying yet what companies will make planes for Uber, but Airbus provides a good example with its Vahana autonomous electric plane, announced in February and set for flight tests in the fall. What other craft might Uber fly? Also in attendance at the conference will be Slovenian electric plane maker Pipistrel and German “electric jet startup” Lilium (it actually uses small, high-speed propellers). Big aviation players such as Embraer and Bell Helicopter will also attend. Airbus Vahana concept. Image: courtesy of Airbus Keeping Quiet Noise is one major reason why Uber is going with planes instead of helicopters or oversize quadcopter drones like EHang’s. “One of the reasons helicopters haven’t gained traction in cities as a transportation solution is because they are so noisy,” says Moore. “They have a low-pitched noise characteristic that just travels forever, and it’s quite annoying.” Brien Seeley, founder of the Sustainable Aviation Foundation, agrees. I spoke with him over the weekend at the organization’s 2017 SA Symposium. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you think you are going to come into to a quite residential, serene community and land close by the houses, with a noisy helicopter rotor downwash vehicle, you’re crazy,” he says. (Seeley isn’t affiliated with Uber.) Moore claims the sound from Uber’s planes will be higher-pitched, as well, blending into the hum of car traffic in cities rather than rumbling on over a longer distance and rattling windows. Switching from piston engines or turbines to electric motors cuts down noise, but what really makes a difference is that plane propellers can spin slower. Moore gives an example of a plane’s propeller tips slicing through the air at half the speed of a helicopter’s. Based on the physics of flight, that makes the plane propeller as much as 32 times quieter. “That’s where the magic happens,” says Moore. In case you’re wondering why, it’s in part because helicopter blades are essentially spinning wings. The faster air flows over a wing the more lift it generates. As a blade swings forward toward the front of a helicopter, it’s moving in the same direction the helicopter is traveling. Airflow speed is a combination of how fast the rotor is turning, plus how fast the helicopter is moving forward. It’s kind of like walking up an escalator that’s already heading up. As the same blade spins toward the back, it’s heading in the opposite direction the helicopter is flying—like trying to walk down that same “up” escalator—hitting the air more slowly and generating a lot less lift. Adjusting the tilt of the blades and spinning the rotors very fast are the tricks helicopters use to even out lift, but faster-spinning rotors make more noise. Related link: Here’s Why South America Is Getting Helicopter Ride-Sharing Before The U.S. Outsiders say Uber may be understating the noise challenge. “Noise is going to be a big issue, that I don’t think anyone’s addressing appropriately,” says Tyler MacCready, the CEO of Apium, which is developing swarm technologies so that craft like drones and sky taxis can fly in tight formation. “And that’s one that even Uber in their Elevate report—they say hey, don’t worry this is going to be quiet. That’s wrong,” says MacCready. Brien Seeley reckons that the sound of a plane or helicopter has to be below 50 decibels, about the volume of a conversation at home, at a distance of 40 meters from its landing area at a small airport. (Here’s a good decibel guide to the noise level of different real-life sounds.) Otherwise either the noise will annoy neighbors or the airport will have to be too big to create a buffer. About VTOL, Seeley says that, “It’s appealing because of its perceived small landing pad; however, again, its noise signature will dictate the true acreage and thereby its proximity.” He’s proposed an XPrize competition to develop air taxis that meet the 50-dB at 40 meters target, which he calls a “Herculean challenge.” Uber talks about putting its mini-airports, called vertiports (complete with fast battery charging), on top of buildings to minimize the noise. “You would think so,” says Seeley, “but those people going out of the skyscrapers want to go to their suburban McMansions, whose serene community won’t allow them to land there.” Dallas, for instance, is a very flat city. The type of craft is very important to noise, says Seeley. He agrees that planes are better than helicopters, but the type of plane matters. A tilt-wing craft is essentially a helicopter when it’s taking off. Also, Moore is a longtime advocate and developer of what’s called distributed electric propulsion—spreading a bunch of small motors and propellers across the airplane wing. One of Moore’s last projects at NASA was the X-57, a research plane with 14 electric motors and propellers. Covering the wing in small propellers is more efficient than using a few large props, but it’s generally a lot noisier, as they have to spin faster. Perhaps this won’t be as noisy as a helicopter, but it could still be too loud. “The great spectrum that pushes and pulls against itself is, extremely tiny little rotors, and 30 of them, all blowing; and they’re screaming like banshees,” Seeley says, “or one extremely large propeller, slow-turning like a Danish windmill that moves the same amount of air silently.” Sky Gridlock? Even if robo-taxi planes are virtually silent, how will people feel about a sky full of them? “You’re never going to blacken the skies,” says Moore. “It’s never going to look like Star Wars.” Even with a thousand air taxis per city, Moore says someone would see only “a couple aircraft” when they look up. Others tend to agree, saying that the promised reduction in street traffic will be worth it. “There’s a lot more room in the sky. I think we’re way off from the day when the skies get too crowded,” says Tyler MacCready. (He recommends using systems like his to help aircraft fly in tight formation so that traffic is kept to minimal areas.) One reason the skies will stay clear, says Moore, is because Uber will use planes and not helicopters. To keep noise manageable, electric choppers would have to fly slower—around 50 miles per hour. (E-Volo projects a max speed of 100 kilometers per hour, about 62 mph. EHang lists an average cruising speed of 60km/hour, about 37mph.) Moore says that Uber’s taxis will fly at around 150mph. “So they get to where they’re going very quickly. They don’t stay up there,” he says.


News Article | April 20, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

Despite all our efforts, Betsy DeVos is the Secretary of Education. She's been on the job for several weeks now, and we've got a good idea of where she's taking America's public schools. In short: it's nowhere good. So what has she been up to since she was confirmed? She erased student debt protections against high fees charged to borrowers by guaranty agencies. She installed a white woman as head of the department's Office for Civil Rights whose only real experience with civil rights law is 1) claiming she was discriminated against because she couldn't join a class section reserved for minorities and 2) writing an op-ed for the campus newspaper whining about affirmative action. Also, she apparently thinks women are only telling the truth about being sexually assaulted if they accuse a liberal man of attacking them. She talked the talk about protecting trans students, but hasn't walked the walk. It's nice that she got language about LGBT students deserving protection from bullying, but it would've been nicer if she'd insisted they be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. (You can join Laverne Cox's postcard writing campaign here.) She's a huge proponent of the voucher programs that pour public money into private religious schools (yes, even the ones that use a terrible curriculum like ACE) – and this after it's been shown that voucher students "have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools." Also, too, voucher programs are a great way to enable unscrupulous people to line their pockets with federal and state taxpayer money. She paraded around at a STEM education event without mentioning the fact that Trump wants to eliminate NASA's education office, and the deep cuts his administration wants to make to her own Department of Education. She blew off the concerns of undocumented students worried about Trump's anti-immigrant policies. She reassured them that Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelley had said rounding up DREAMers wasn't a priority. Of course, "not a priority" doesn't mean "won't ever happen," and DREAMers are, in fact, being deported by this administration at an ever-increasing rate. So we can see exactly what her assurances are worth. She's all aboard with a proposed budget that devastates successful public school programs while funneling public funds to vastly inferior private and for-profit schools. She's deluded enough to claim that this budget "protects 'the nation's most vulnerable populations.'" I don't think she understands what vulnerable populations are or what they actually need. She's displayed more of her penny-wise-pound-foolish tendencies by scrapping Obama administration plans to streamline federal student loan management – meaning companies that have already screwed borrowers over can continue to do so, and many former students will end up not being told of all their options when they fall on hard times. She thinks kids are lacking in "values and character development" education – a judgement most often wielded against minority and disadvantaged/disabled students, resulting in excessive and disproportionate discipline that can compromise or end their schooling. She's sure that all of us who have been protesting her appointment aren't genuine. We're all supposedly shills sicced on her by her enemies. That's so precious. She's excessively keen on making education a state and local affair – to the extent she'd prefer to eliminate the department she was confirmed to run. She has family and financial ties to an organization that wants to abolish the Department of Education, reducing it to an advisory council. They also want the Ten Commandments to be displayed and Bible classes taught in all public schools, "promote instruction 'from a Judeo-Christian perspective,'" and envision a "gradual, voluntary return at all levels to free-market private schools, church schools, and home schools as the normative American practice." Comprehensive public education propelled us to the status of a world superpower, but these people want to return us to colonial times. She founded (and provided much of the funding for) a group dedicated to promoting charter schools in Michigan, whose head thinks it's appropriate to talk about shaking the female state official who challenged him, just like he claims to do to his wife. And she managed to insult dedicated public school teachers from the beginning. Great work, Secretary DeVos. Really first class. For unaccountable private school values of "first class." We have a lot of work to do in order to protect the free and comprehensive education every child in this country is entitled to. Our public schools are too precious to lose. Please let your representatives on the local, state, and federal levels know that you're watching, and you will hold them accountable for the decisions they make. And watch this space for ways to oppose Secretary DeVos's misguided mismanagement of our nation's schools.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

UPDATE: April 18, 2017, 11:18 a.m. EDT Well, NASA live 360 degree feed of the rocket launch cut out right as the Atlas V took flight. We'll keep an eye out in case NASA uploads a backup view of the launch in 360 degrees. For now, the rocket and spacecraft appear to be in good health as the Cygnus heads to the International Space Station. On Tuesday morning, NASA will broadcast its first-ever rocket launch livestream in 360-degree video, providing an unprecedented vantage point that will make viewers feel as if they are standing on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The launch of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket—aimed at transporting supplies to the International Space Station—is scheduled for a 30-minute window beginning at 11:11 a.m. ET. SEE ALSO: West Antarctic Glaciers Speeding Toward the Sea, Study Finds The 360-degree livestream will be accessible on the NASA Television YouTube channel starting 10 minutes prior to liftoff or in the window embedded below. While the minimum safe viewing distance is typically miles away from the launch pad, this livestream promises viewers a much closer look at a powerful rocket launch, or what NASA is calling a "pads-eye view." The rocket will be carrying a Cygnus spacecraft made by Orbital ATK, with more than 7,600 pounds of scientific research, crew supplies, and other materials destined for the orbiting laboratory. Make sure your virtual reality headset is handy; people who have them will be able to "look around and experience the view as if they were actually standing on the launch pad," NASA said in a press release.


News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

Millions of individual bits of space debris hit Earth every day. Most are little more than dust particles, yet occasionally we encounter something serious. A “superbolide” is the loosely defined term for a shooting star that creates a flash more than twice as bright as the full moon. But sometimes they get even bigger than that. What exactly happened on 30 June 1908 over the Tunguska River in central Siberia is a century-old mystery. There was certainly an explosion: 200 square kilometres of trees were flattened, and the indigenous Evenki people who live in the area reported that their animals were thrown into the air by a shockwave. We also know that there was a bright flash of light visible in London. So the prevailing theory is that a massive space rock caused the blast. Yet we haven’t found convincing evidence of the meteorite. Neither is there an obvious crater – unless you accept the problematic theory that nearby Lake Cheko is it. An alternative idea is that the explosion came from a sudden huge belch of subterranean gas. The lights that appeared in 2013 over Chelyabinsk, a city in southwest Russia, certainly were caused by a superbolide – it was caught on film by numerous people (see video below). Particularly strange was that astronomers were expecting a large meteoroid called 2012 DA14 to pass close to Earth that very day. About 16 hours before it did, the Chelyabinsk rock came down – seemingly by pure coincidence. More than 1000 people were injured by flying glass blown out by the shockwave. And this time we did find fragments of the rock, revealing that it was a chondrite, a non-metallic meteorite, that was originally 19 metres across. It’s the most famous cataclysm ever, the meteorite that probably snuffed out the dinosaurs (along with three-quarters of all life on Earth) when it smashed into our planet 65 million years ago. The crater it left behind is actually one of the youngest and most accessible in the solar system. Last year, a research team drilled down more than a kilometre to reach the rocks that bear witness to the impact. The Earth’s crust flowed like liquid in the wake of the event, lifting and then collapsing mountains 25 kilometres high in 3 minutes. But one surprise finding is that the rocks didn’t actually melt – they seem to have been pushed around like a fluid by the force of the impact alone. That suggests that visiting impact craters elsewhere in the solar system might allow us a sneak peek into the what lies below the surface without any need to drill. In its early history, Earth was bombarded with large chunks of space debris. But unlike those on the moon, most of Earth’s craters have been eroded away. One of the oldest we know of is the Vredefort Dome in South Africa, which is some 2 billion years old. At 300 kilometres across, it’s also one of the largest, created by a rock that could have been 10 kilometres wide. Morokweng is another huge and ancient crater in South Africa, this time on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. It has been weathered away so much that it was only discovered by means of circular magnetic anomalies in the rock, which were found by mineral prospectors in the 1990s. But in 2006 it gained notoriety. Researchers were drilling deep into crater when, about 770 metres down, they found a 25-centimetre fragment of the meteorite. That was quite a shock: the crater is 70 kilometres wide, and it was previously assumed that any impact big enough to produce such a hole would melt the meteorite beyond recognition. This lump of rock made an impact not because of its huge size – it only weighed about 176 grams – but because it contained signs of alien life. At least, that was the idea aired by NASA scientists in 1996 – a claim so bold that even then US President Bill Clinton gave a press conference about it on the day of the discovery. The rock was blown from the surface of Mars about 15 million years ago by a huge asteroid impact and eventually fell in Antarctica about 13,000 years ago. The researchers who analysed it spotted what they thought were the outlines of tiny cells, organic molecules and iron-containing deposits similar to those produced by some bacteria on Earth. Since then, however, natural mechanisms that can explain each of those things have been identified. These days, its only claim to fame is more modest: it is the oldest piece of Mars on Earth.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.nature.com

After 13 years exploring Saturn and its moons, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has just 5 months left to live. But it will go out with a scientific bang. On 22 April, Cassini will slingshot past Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, for the last time. Four days later, the probe will hurtle into the unexplored region between the giant planet and its rings. Cassini will thread that 2,400-kilometre-wide gap 22 times before its kamikaze dive into Saturn’s atmosphere on 15 September. This unprecedented journey promises to yield fresh discoveries for the venerable spacecraft. “It will be like a whole new mission,” says Linda Spilker, Cassini’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “There are fundamental new scientific measurements to make.” Those include the first direct tastes of particles in Saturn’s rings, and of its upper atmosphere; the best measurements yet of the planet’s magnetic and gravitational fields, which could answer long-standing questions such as how fast the planet rotates and how old its rings are; and the sharpest look yet at the inner rings. It all begins with the spacecraft’s final fly-by of Titan, the 127th such close encounter. Cassini will scan the moon’s methane lakes one last time, looking for waves, bubbles or other phenomena roiling the surface. Earlier fly-bys have revealed changes in the lakes over time, and the final pass is the last chance to look for seasonal shifts, says Sarah Hörst, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Titan’s gravitational pull will fling Cassini into its ‘grand finale’ orbits, plunging between Saturn’s innermost ring and the planet’s cloud tops (see ‘Cassini: the final frontier’). The spacecraft will turn its main antenna forward, to act as a protective shield against any errant ring particles as it whizzes along at 110,000 kilometres per hour. Since November, the probe has been climbing higher relative to Saturn’s equatorial plane, providing a new vantage point on the planet’s outer rings. The upcoming inner dives will also reveal spectacular new details, says Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who leads the mission’s imaging team. High-resolution photographs have captured mysterious propeller-shaped gaps that ripple through some of the farther-out rings, probably formed by unseen moonlets. “The rings really are changing before our eyes,” says Jeffrey Cuzzi, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Cassini’s remote-sensing instruments will get their closest look