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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Cable H.,National University of Singapore | Durkin G.A.,NASA
Physical Review Letters | Year: 2010

We explore the advantages offered by twin light beams produced in parametric down-conversion for precision measurement. The symmetry of these bipartite quantum states, even under losses, suggests that monitoring correlations between the divergent beams permits a high-precision inference of any symmetry-breaking effect, e.g., fiber birefringence. We show that the quantity of entanglement is not the key feature for such an instrument. In a lossless setting, scaling of precision at the ultimate "Heisenberg" limit is possible with photon counting alone. Even as photon losses approach 100% the precision is shot-noise limited, and we identify the crossover point between quantum and classical precision as a function of detected flux. The predicted hypersensitivity is demonstrated with a Bayesian simulation. © 2010 The American Physical Society.


Durante M.,Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research | Cucinotta F.A.,NASA
Reviews of Modern Physics | Year: 2011

The health risks of space radiation are arguably the most serious challenge to space exploration, possibly preventing these missions due to safety concerns or increasing their costs to amounts beyond what would be acceptable. Radiation in space is substantially different from Earth: high-energy (E) and charge (Z) particles (HZE) provide the main contribution to the equivalent dose in deep space, whereas γ rays and low-energy α particles are major contributors on Earth. This difference causes a high uncertainty on the estimated radiation health risk (including cancer and noncancer effects), and makes protection extremely difficult. In fact, shielding is very difficult in space: the very high energy of the cosmic rays and the severe mass constraints in spaceflight represent a serious hindrance to effective shielding. Here the physical basis of space radiation protection is described, including the most recent achievements in space radiation transport codes and shielding approaches. Although deterministic and Monte Carlo transport codes can now describe well the interaction of cosmic rays with matter, more accurate double-differential nuclear cross sections are needed to improve the codes. Energy deposition in biological molecules and related effects should also be developed to achieve accurate risk models for long-term exploratory missions. Passive shielding can be effective for solar particle events; however, it is limited for galactic cosmic rays (GCR). Active shielding would have to overcome challenging technical hurdles to protect against GCR. Thus, improved risk assessment and genetic and biomedical approaches are a more likely solution to GCR radiation protection issues. © 2011 American Physical Society.


Astronomers have found a system of seven Earth-sized planets just 40 light-years away. Using ground and space telescopes, including ESO's Very Large Telescope, the planets were all detected as they passed in front of their parent star, the ultracool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. According to the paper appearing today in the journal Nature, three of the planets lie in the habitable zone and could harbour oceans of water on their surfaces, increasing the possibility that the star system could play host to life. This system has both the largest number of Earth-sized planets yet found and the largest number of worlds that could support liquid water on their surfaces. Astronomers using the TRAPPIST-South telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory, the Very Large Telescope at Paranal and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as other telescopes around the world [1], have now confirmed the existence of at least seven small planets orbiting the cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1) [2]. All the planets, labeled TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h in order of increasing distance from their parent star, have sizes similar to Earth [3]. Dips in the star's light output caused by each of the seven planets passing in front of it -- events known as transits -- allowed the astronomers to infer information about their sizes, compositions and orbits [4]. They found that at least the inner six planets are comparable in both size and temperature to the Earth. Lead author Michaël Gillon of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium is delighted by the findings: "This is an amazing planetary system -- not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to the Earth!" With just 8% the mass of the Sun, TRAPPIST-1 is very small in stellar terms -- only marginally bigger than the planet Jupiter -- and though nearby in the constellation Aquarius (The Water Carrier), it appears very dim. Astronomers expected that such dwarf stars might host many Earth-sized planets in tight orbits, making them promising targets in the hunt for extraterrestrial life, but TRAPPIST-1 is the first such system to be found. Co-author Amaury Triaud expands: "The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our Sun. Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the solar system if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1!" The team determined that all the planets in the system are similar in size to Earth and Venus in the solar system, or slightly smaller. The density measurements suggest that at least the innermost six are probably rocky in composition. The planetary orbits are not much larger than that of Jupiter's Galilean moon system , and much smaller than the orbit of Mercury in the solar system. However, TRAPPIST-1's small size and low temperature mean that the energy input to its planets is similar to that received by the inner planets in our solar system; TRAPPIST-1c, d and f receive similar amounts of energy to Venus, Earth and Mars, respectively. All seven planets discovered in the system could potentially have liquid water on their surfaces, though their orbital distances make some of them more likely candidates than others. Climate models suggest the innermost planets, TRAPPIST-1b, c and d, are probably too hot to support liquid water, except maybe on a small fraction of their surfaces. The orbital distance of the system's outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is unconfirmed, though it is likely to be too distant and cold to harbour liquid water -- assuming no alternative heating processes are occurring [5]. TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g, however, represent the holy grail for planet-hunting astronomers, as they orbit in the star's habitable zone and could host oceans of surface water [6]. These new discoveries make the TRAPPIST-1 system a very important target for future study. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is already being used to search for atmospheres around the planets and team member Emmanuël Jehin is excited about the future possibilities: "With the upcoming generation of telescopes, such as ESO's European Extremely Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope , we will soon be able to search for water and perhaps even evidence of life on these worlds." [1] As well as the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope , the team used many ground-based facilities: TRAPPIST-South at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, HAWK-I on ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, TRAPPIST-North in Morocco, the 3.8-metre UKIRT in Hawaii, the 2-metre Liverpool and 4-metre William Herschel telescopes at La Palma in the Canary Islands, and the 1-metre SAAO telescope in South Africa. [2] TRAPPIST-South (the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope-South) is a Belgian 0.6-metre robotic telescope operated from the University of Liège and based at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. It spends much of its time monitoring the light from around 60 of the nearest ultracool dwarf stars and brown dwarfs ("stars" which are not quite massive enough to initiate sustained nuclear fusion in their cores), looking for evidence of planetary transits. TRAPPIST-South, along with its twin TRAPPIST-North, are the forerunners to the SPECULOOS system, which is currently being installed at ESO's Paranal Observatory. [3] In early 2016, a team of astronomers, also led by Michaël Gillon announced the discovery of three planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. They intensified their follow-up observations of the system mainly because of a remarkable triple transit that they observed with the HAWK-I instrument on the VLT. This transit showed clearly that at least one other unknown planet was orbiting the star. And that historic light curve shows for the first time three temperate Earth-sized planets, two of them in the habitable zone, passing in front of their star at the same time! [4] This is one of the main methods that astronomers use to identify the presence of a planet around a star. They look at the light coming from the star to see if some of the light is blocked as the planet passes in front of its host star on the line of sight to Earth -- it transits the star, as astronomers say. As the planet orbits around its star, we expect to see regular small dips in the light coming from the star as the planet moves in front of it. [5] Such processes could include tidal heating , whereby the gravitational pull of TRAPPIST-1 causes the planet to repeatedly deform, leading to inner frictional forces and the generation of heat. This process drives the active volcanism on Jupiter's moon Io. If TRAPPIST-1h has also retained a primordial hydrogen-rich atmosphere, the rate of heat loss could be very low. [6] This discovery also represents the largest known chain of exoplanets orbiting in near-resonance with each other. The astronomers carefully measured how long it takes for each planet in the system to complete one orbit around TRAPPIST-1 -- known as the revolution period -- and then calculated the ratio of each planet's period and that of its next more distant neighbour. The innermost six TRAPPIST-1 planets have period ratios with their neighbours that are very close to simple ratios, such as 5:3 or 3:2. This means that the planets most likely formed together further from their star, and have since moved inwards into their current configuration. If so, they could be low-density and volatile-rich worlds, suggesting an icy surface and/or an atmosphere. "Seven Temperate Terrestrial Planets Around the Nearby Ultracool Dwarf Star TRAPPIST-1," M. Gillon et al., 2017 Feb. 23, Nature [http://www.nature.com, preprint (PDF): http://www.eso.org/public/archives/releases/sciencepapers/eso1706/eso1706a.pdf]. The team is composed of M. Gillon (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), A. H. M. J. Triaud (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, UK), B.-O. Demory (University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, UK), E. Jehin (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), E. Agol (University of Washington, Seattle, USA; NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory, Seattle, USA), K. M. Deck (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA), S. M. Lederer (NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, USA), J. de Wit (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA), A. Burdanov (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), J. G. Ingalls (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA), E. Bolmont (University of Namur, Namur, Belgium; Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/DRF -- CNRS -- Univ. Paris Diderot -- IRFU/SAp, Centre de Saclay, France), J. Leconte (Univ. Bordeaux, Pessac, France), S. N. Raymond (Univ. Bordeaux, Pessac, France), F. Selsis (Univ. Bordeaux, Pessac, France), M. Turbet (Sorbonne Universités, Paris, France), K. Barkaoui (Oukaimeden Observatory, Marrakesh, Morocco), A. Burgasser (University of California, San Diego, California, USA), M. R. Burleigh (University of Leicester, Leicester, UK), S. J. Carey (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA), A. Chaushev (University of Leicester, UK), C. M. Copperwheat (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK), L. Delrez (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium; Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, UK), C. S. Fernandes (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), D. L. Holdsworth (University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK), E. J. Kotze (South African Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa), V. Van Grootel (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), Y. Almleaky (King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Abdullah Centre for Crescent Observations and Astronomy, Makkah Clock, Saudi Arabia), Z. Benkhaldoun (Oukaimeden Observatory, Marrakesh, Morocco), P. Magain (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), and D. Queloz (Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, UK; Astronomy Department, Geneva University, Switzerland). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world's largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky." Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


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

The eclipse—during which the Sun will all but disappear as the Moon crosses its path—will be most visible in a 100-kilometre (62-mile) band cutting through Chile, Argentina, Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A so-called annular solar eclipse occurs when the Earth, Moon and Sun line up. But even when perfectly aligned, the Moon is too far from Earth to completely block out the Sun, creating instead the impression of a fiery ring. At first, it will look as if a "bite" has been taken out of the Sun, said Terry Moseley of the Irish Astronomical Association, stressing that viewers should not observe the eclipse unfold with the naked eye. "This 'bite' gradually gets bigger and bigger as the Moon—which is itself invisible—moves further and further in front of the Sun," he told AFP. "As about 90 percent of the Sun is covered, you'll notice a distinct drop in temperature and brightness, and a change in the quality of the light which is hard to describe." As the day darkens, birds and animals may enter a night-time routine, thinking sunset is nigh. At the height of the eclipse the Moon will be right in the middle of the Sun, leaving "a perfect, beautiful, symmetrical ring" of light around the edge before exiting on the other side, said Moseley. For people just outside the band of optimal viewing, the phenomenon will appear as a ring thicker on one side than the other, said Moseley—"not symmetrical, but still an amazing sight." Anyone further afield will see little or nothing. It will take about two hours for the Moon to move across the face of the Sun, but the "ring of fire" peak will last a mere minute. Starting in the southeast Pacific Ocean at sunrise, the eclipse will hit solid land at 1221 GMT in southern Chile, near the town of Coyhaique, then cut through Argentina—near Camarones Bay on the eastern coast—before hitting the South Atlantic. At sea, the eclipse peak will last 44 seconds and "only be visible to any ships that happen to be in the right place at the right time," said Moseley. It will reach Angola south of the town of Benguela around 1515 GMT, then move to Zambia and DR Congo just before the Sun sets and the light show ends. According to the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA), the eclipse can be safely observed using a basic pinhole projector. Punch a tiny hole in a piece of paper with a sharp pencil, hold it into the Sun, and project the image onto a second sheet. The gaps between tree leaves make for a similar effect on the ground, says the ASSA website, calling this "the coolest and safest way to watch a solar eclipse". To look at the Sun directly, one would need special glasses. Weather is the only potential spoiler. NASA's eclipse website recommends watching the weather forecast a day or two before the eclipse, and picking somewhere with a cloud-free prediction. "Good weather is the key to successful eclipse viewing—better to see a shorter eclipse from clear sky that a longer eclipse under clouds," it says.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A star -- as big or bigger than our sun -- in Pegasus constellation is expanding and contracting in 3 directions at once every 2.5 hours, the result of heating and cooling of hydrogen fuel burning 28 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core Astronomers are reporting a rare star as big -- or bigger -- than the Earth's sun and that is expanding and contracting in a unique pattern in three different directions. The star is one that pulsates and so is characterized by varying brightness over time. It's situated 7,000 light years away from the Earth in the constellation Pegasus, said astronomer Farley Ferrante, a member of the team that made the discovery at Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Called a variable star, this particular star is one of only seven known stars of its kind in our Milky Way galaxy. "It was challenging to identify it," Ferrante said. "This is the first time we'd encountered this rare type." The Milky Way has more than 100 billion stars. But just over 400,900 are catalogued as variable stars. Of those, a mere seven -- including the one identified at SMU -- are the rare intrinsic variable star called a Triple Mode 'high amplitude delta Scuti' (pronounced SKOO-tee) or Triple Mode HADS(B), for short. "The discovery of this object helps to flesh out the characteristics of this unique type of variable star. These and further measurements can be used to probe the way the pulsations happen," said SMU's Robert Kehoe, a professor in the Department of Physics who leads the SMU astronomy team. "Pulsating stars have also been important to improving our understanding of the expansion of the universe and its origins, which is another exciting piece of this puzzle." The star doesn't yet have a common name, only an official designation based on the telescope that recorded it and its celestial coordinates. The star can be observed through a telescope, but identifying it was much more complicated. A high school student in an SMU summer astronomy program made the initial discovery upon culling through archived star observation data recorded by the small but powerful ROTSE-I telescope formerly at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Upon verification, the star was logged into the International Variable Star Index as ROTSE1 J232056.45+345150.9 by the American Association of Variable Star Observers at https:/ . SMU's astrophysicists discovered the variable star by analyzing light curve shape, a key identifier of star type. Light curves were created from archived data procured by ROTSE-I during multiple nights in September 2000. The telescope generates images of optical light from electrical signals based on the intensity of the source. Data representing light intensity versus time is plotted on a scale to create the light curves. Plano Senior High School student Derek Hornung first discovered the object in the ROTSE-I data and prepared the initial light curves. From the light curves, the astronomers knew they had something special. It became even more challenging to determine the specific kind of variable star. Then Eric Guzman, a physics graduate from the University of Texas at Dallas, who is entering SMU's graduate program, solved the puzzle, identifying the star as pulsating. "Light curve patterns are well established, and these standard shapes correspond to different types of stars," Ferrante said. "In a particular field of the night sky under observation there may have been hundreds or even thousands of stars. So the software we use generates a light curve for each one, for one night. Then -- and here's the human part -- we use our brain's capacity for pattern recognition to find something that looks interesting and that has a variation. This allows the initial variable star candidate to be identified. From there, you look at data from several other nights. We combine all of those into one plot, as well as add data sets from other telescopes, and that's the evidence for discerning what kind of variable star it is." That was accomplished conclusively during the referee process with the Variable Star Index moderator. The work to discover and analyze this rare variable star was carried out in conjunction with analyses by eight other high school students and two other undergraduates working on other variable candidates. The high school students were supported by SMU's chapter of the Department of Energy/National Science Foundation QuarkNet program. Of the stars that vary in brightness intrinsically, a large number exhibit amazingly regular oscillations in their brightness which is a sign of some pulsation phenomenon in the star, Ferrante said. Pulsation results from expanding and contracting as the star ages and exhausts the hydrogen fuel at its core. As the hydrogen fuel burns hotter, the star expands, then cools, then gravity shrinks it back, and contraction heats it back up. "I'm speaking very generally, because there's a lot of nuance, but there's this continual struggle between thermal expansion and gravitational contraction," Ferrante said. "The star oscillates like a spring, but it always overshoots its equilibrium, doing that for many millions of years until it evolves into the next phase, where it burns helium in its core. And if it's about the size and mass of the sun -- then helium fusion and carbon is the end stage. And when helium is used up, we're left with a dying ember called a white dwarf." Within the pulsating category is a class of stars called delta Scuti, of which there are thousands. They are named for a prototype star whose characteristic features -- including short periods of pulsating on the scale of a few hours -- are typical of the entire class. Within delta Scuti is a subtype of which hundreds have been identified, called high amplitude delta Scuti, or HADS. Their brightness varies to a particularly large degree, registering more than 10 percent difference between their minimum and maximum brightness, indicating larger pulsations. Common delta Scuti pulsate along the radius in a uniform contraction like blowing up a balloon. A smaller sub-category are the HADS, which show asymmetrical-like pulsating curves. Within HADS, there's the relatively rare subtype called HADS(B) , of which there are only 114 identified. A HADS(B) is distinguished by its two modes of oscillation -- different parts of the star expanding at different rates in different directions but the ratio of those two periods is always the same. For the SMU star, two modes of oscillation weren't immediately obvious in its light curve. "But we knew there was something going on because the light curve didn't quite match known light curves of other delta Scuti's and HADS' objects we had studied. The light curves -- when laid on top of each other -- presented an asymmetry," Ferrante said. "Ultimately the HADS(B) we discovered is even more unique than that though -- it's a Triple Mode HADS(B) and there were previously only six identified in the Milky Way. So it has three modes of oscillation, all three with a distinct period, overlapping, and happening simultaneously." So rare, in fact, there's no name yet for this new category nor a separate registry designation for it. Guzman, the student researcher who analyzed and categorized the object, recalled how the mystery unfolded. "When I began the analysis of the object, we had an initial idea of what type it could be," Guzman said. "My task was to take the data and try to confirm the type by finding a second period that matched a known constant period ratio. After successfully finding the second mode, I noticed a third signal. After checking the results, I discovered the third signal coincided with what is predicted of a third pulsation mode." The SMU Triple Mode HADS(B) oscillates on a scale of 2.5 hours, so it will expand and contract 10 times in one Earth day. It and the other known six HADS(B)'s are in the same general region of the Milky Way galaxy, within a few thousand light years of one another. "I'm sure there are more out there," Ferrante said, "but they're still rare, a small fraction." SMU's Triple Mode HADS(B) is unstable and further along in its stellar evolution than our sun, which is about middle-aged and whose pulsating variations occur over a much longer period of time. SMU's Triple Mode HADS(B) core temperature, heated from the burning of hydrogen fuel, is about 15 million Kelvin or 28 million degrees Fahrenheit. Someday, millions of years from now, SMU's Triple Mode HADS(B) will deplete the hydrogen fuel at its core, and expand into a red giant. "Our sun might eventually experience this as well," Ferrante said. "But Earth will be inhospitable long before then. We won't be here to see it." Funding was through the Texas Space Grant Consortium, an affiliate of NASA; SMU Dedman College; and the Department of Energy/National Science Foundation QuarkNet program. ROTSE-I began operating in late 1997, surveying the sky all night, every clear night of the year for three years. It was decommissioned in 2001 and replaced by ROTSE-III. SMU owns the ROTSE-IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas.


News Article | February 25, 2017
Site: www.npr.org

'Ring Of Fire' Eclipse Set To Blaze In Southern Skies Consider this your semi-regular reminder that, well, space is pretty neat. If you're in the southern hemisphere and you happen to look up Sunday morning — or, for everyone else, if you happen to have Internet access — you may have the chance to see an annular solar eclipse. Unlike a total solar eclipse, this one will leave just a sliver of sunlight shining at the rim of the moon's shadow as passes between Earth and the sun. The effect is a bit like an inept hide-and-seeker standing behind a bush he's just a little too big for — or, to adopt a simile closer to Johnny Cash's heart, like a burning "ring of fire." Though the moon may slide in front of the sun, the moon will be a little too far from Earth — and thus, from our vantage point, too small — to conceal the sun entirely. The event will be visible above "parts of the Southern Hemisphere, including Chile, Argentina and Angola," NASA says. The New York Times breaks down the eclipse's timing: "It will quickly make landfall in southern Chile around 9:10 a.m. local time, and then traverse into Argentina. Sky watchers in Argentina will see approximately 97 percent of the sun covered by the moon for about a minute, according to [NASA astrophysicist C. Alex] Young. "After that, the spectacle will cross the South Atlantic into Africa. It will hit parts of Angola around 4:15 p.m. local time and make appearances in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo before the sun sets. It will last for a minute and a few seconds when it crosses over these countries." But, one might wonder, what if you happen happen to find yourself outside the path of the eclipse Sunday morning? Have no fear, dear denizens of the northern hemisphere: If you've got a decent Internet connection, you can still get a glimpse. Slooh Community Observatory, a network of telescope feeds, will be live-streaming the eclipse here starting at 7 a.m. ET. And for those lucky enough to see the event firsthand, please, protect your eyes: "You can NEVER look directly at the sun, and an annular eclipse is no exception!" NASA warns. The agency has a few tips here on how to properly view the eclipse without, you know, losing the ability to view the next one.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: news.mit.edu

When the Wright brothers accomplished their first powered flight more than a century ago, they controlled the motion of their Flyer 1 aircraft using wires and pulleys that bent and twisted the wood-and-canvas wings. This system was quite different than the separate, hinged flaps and ailerons that have performed those functions on most aircraft ever since. But now, thanks to some high-tech wizardry developed by engineers at MIT and NASA, some aircraft may be returning to their roots, with a new kind of bendable, “morphing” wing. The new wing architecture, which could greatly simplify the manufacturing process and reduce fuel consumption by improving the wing’s aerodynamics, as well as improving its agility, is based on a system of tiny, lightweight subunits that could be assembled by a team of small specialized robots, and ultimately could be used to build the entire airframe. The wing would be covered by a “skin” made of overlapping pieces that might resemble scales or feathers. The new concept is described in the journal Soft Robotics, in a paper by Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA); Benjamin Jenett, a CBA graduate student; Kenneth Cheung PhD ’12, a CBA alumnus and NASA research scientist; and four others. A test version of the deformable wing designed by the MIT and NASA researchers is shown undergoing its twisting motions, which could replace the need for separate, hinged panels for controlling a plane's motion. (Kenneth Cheung/NASA) Researchers have been trying for many years to achieve a reliable way of deforming wings as a substitute for the conventional, separate, moving surfaces, but all those efforts “have had little practical impact,” Gershenfeld says. The biggest problem was that most of these attempts relied on deforming the wing through the use of mechanical control structures within the wing, but these structures tended to be so heavy that they canceled out any efficiency advantages produced by the smoother aerodynamic surfaces. They also added complexity and reliability issues. By contrast, Gershenfeld says, “We make the whole wing the mechanism. It’s not something we put into the wing.” In the team’s new approach, the whole shape of the wing can be changed, and twisted uniformly along its length, by activating two small motors that apply a twisting pressure to each wingtip. This approach to the manufacture of aircraft, and potentially other technologies, is such a new idea that “I think we can say it is a philosophical revolution, opening the gate to disruptive innovation,” says Vincent Loubiere, a lead technologist for emerging technologies and concepts at Airbus, who was not directly involved in this research. He adds that “the perspectives and fields this approach opens are thrilling.” The basic principle behind the new concept is the use of an array of tiny, lightweight structural pieces, which Gershenfeld calls “digital materials,” that can be assembled into a virtually infinite variety of shapes, much like assembling a structure from Lego blocks. The assembly, performed by hand for this initial experiment, could be done by simple miniature robots that would crawl along or inside the structure as it took shape. The team has already developed prototypes of such robots. The individual pieces are strong and stiff, but the exact choice of the dimensions and materials used for the pieces, and the geometry of how they are assembled, allow for a precise tuning of the flexibility of the final shape. For the initial test structure, the goal was to allow the wing to twist in a precise way that would substitute for the motion of separate structural pieces (such as the small ailerons at the trailing edges of conventional wings), while providing a single, smooth aerodynamic surface. Building up a large and complex structure from an array of small, identical building blocks, which have an exceptional combination of strength, light weight, and flexibility, greatly simplifies the manufacturing process, Gershenfeld explains. While the construction of light composite wings for today’s aircraft requires large, specialized equipment for layering and hardening the material, the new modular structures could be rapidly manufactured in mass quantities and then assembled robotically in place. Gershenfeld and his team have been pursuing this approach to building complex structures for years, with many potential applications for robotic devices of various kinds. For example, this method could lead to robotic arms and legs whose shapes could bend continuously along their entire length, rather than just having a fixed number of joints. This research, says Cheung, “presents a general strategy for increasing the performance of highly compliant  — that is, ‘soft’ — robots and mechanisms,” by replacing conventional flexible materials with new cellular materials “that are much lower weight, more tunable, and can be made to dissipate energy at much lower rates” while having equivalent stiffness. While exploring possible applications of this nascent technology, Gershenfeld and his team consulted with NASA engineers and others seeking ways to improve the efficiency of aircraft manufacturing and flight. They learned that “the idea that you could continuously deform a wing shape to do pure lift and roll has been a holy grail in the field, for both efficiency and agility,” he says. Given the importance of fuel costs in both the economics of the airline industry and that sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, even small improvements in fuel efficiency could have a significant impact. Wind-tunnel tests of this structure showed that it at least matches the aerodynamic properties of a conventional wing, at about one-tenth the weight. The “skin” of the wing also enhances the structure’s performance. It’s made from overlapping strips of flexible material, layered somewhat like feathers or fish scales, allowing for the pieces to move across each other as the wing flexes, while still providing a smooth outer surface. The modular structure also provides greater ease of both assembly and disassembly: One of this system’s big advantages, in principle, Gershenfeld says, is that when it’s no longer needed, the whole structure can be taken apart into its component parts, which can then be reassembled into something completely different. Similarly, repairs could be made by simply replacing an area of damaged subunits. “An inspection robot could just find where the broken part is and replace it, and keep the aircraft 100 percent healthy at all times,” says Jenett. Following up on the successful wind tunnel tests, the team is now extending the work to tests of a flyable unpiloted aircraft, and initial tests have shown great promise, Jenett says. “The first tests were done by a certified test pilot, and he found it so responsive that he decided to do some aerobatics.” Some of the first uses of the technology may be to make small, robotic aircraft — “super-efficient long-range drones,” Gershenfeld says, that could be used in developing countries as a way of delivering medicines to remote areas. “Ultralight, tunable, aeroelastic structures and flight controls open up whole new frontiers for flight,” says Gonzalo Rey, chief technology officer for Moog Inc., a precision aircraft motion-controls company, who was not directly involved in this work, though he has collaborated with the team. “Digital materials and fabrication are a fundamentally new way to make things and enable the conventionally impossible. The digital morphing wing article demonstrates the ability to resolve in depth the engineering challenges necessary to apply the concept.” Rey adds that “The broader potential in this concept extends directly to skyscrapers, bridges, and space structures, providing not only improved performance and survivability but also a more sustainable approach by achieving the same strength while using, and reusing, substantially less raw material.” And Loubiere, from Airbus, suggests that many other technologies could also benefit from this method, including wind turbines: “Simply enabling the assembly of the windmill blades on the spot, instead of using complex and fuel-consuming transport, would enhance greatly the cost and overall performance,” he says. The research team also included graduate students Sam Calisch at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms; Daniel Cellucci at Cornell University; Nick Cramer at the University of California at Santa Cruz; and researcher Sean Swei at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The work was supported by the NASA Aeronautics Research Institute Team Seeding Program, the NASA ARMD Convergent Aeronautics Solutions Program, and the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship program.


News Article | January 15, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Top Scientific Minds You Probably Never Heard Of Have you ever dreamt of taking a voyage to the outer space? If you answered yes, then thanks to a new initiative from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, visitors will be able to experience space travel virtually. Delaware North, which operates the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, has partnered with Brand VR to create a VR headset dubbed the Space Visor which can be paired with the visitor's smartphone to recreate the experience of space travel. The Space Visor VR headset took nearly two years to create and is available for use at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. "At [the] Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex we create immersive space experiences for our visitors," says Therrin Protze the COO. He added that this device is aimed at giving visitors an unparalleled experience. The Space Visor has been designed so that a user can experience the VR world with ease. The device is compatible with most smartphones released after 2015, such as the iPhone 6s or Galaxy S6. "Space Visor immerses visitors in a virtual reality experience that takes them to restricted access areas in a virtual world that brings space artifacts to life," notes the device's description. The VR headset comes in three different variants - Astronaut, Exploration and Atlantis - and can be used with three different Android or iOS apps i.e. Space Dreams, KSC 360 Expedition and Edge of Home. This app conducts a virtual tour of the visitor complex. It gives information on all the rockets in the Rocket Garden, as well as offers a view of Atlantis, the Space Shuttle in orbit. Visitors can also explore the moon's surface by hitching a ride in the lunar rover! This app is designed to reflect a child's bedroom that has a galaxy-themed décor. With Space Dreams, visitors will not only get a peek into space, but also get information on the solar system, spacesuit and the Mars Rover. With this app, visitors will be able to experience how an astronaut sees the International Space Station (ISS). They can do so by simply taking part in an EVA activity or spacewalk, which will give them the opportunity to garner more in-depth knowledge of each module. All the three apps are free for download from the Google Play Store and the Google Play Store. However, the Space Visor VR headset needs to be purchased and will set visitors back by $60. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

A national lab and NASA are working together with X-ray and 3D visualization technologies to create materials to utilize in space. The goal of the collaboration— between NASA and a science group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—is to establish a suite of tools that includes X-ray imaging and small laboratory experiments, computer-based analysis and simulation tools, as well as large-scale high heat and wind-tunnel tests, to allow for rapid development of new materials with established performance and reliability in space. This system can heat sample materials to thousands of degrees and subject them to a mixture of different gases found in other planets’ atmospheres—with pistons stretching the materials to their breaking points— all while imagining in real time their 3D behavior at the microstructure level. For humans to explore Mars and other large-payload missions, a new type of heat shield that is flexible and can remain folded up until needed is likely required. An initial X-ray study has been deemed successful and led to a renewed interest in exploring the use of X-ray experiments to guide a better understanding of meteorite breakup. Scientists are using data from these experiments in risk analysis and aid in assessing threats posed by large asteroids. Michael Barnhardt, a senior research scientist at NASA ARC and principal investigator of the Entry Systems Modeling Project, explained that the research led to a better understanding of what was going on at the microscale. “Before this collaboration, we didn’t understand what was happening at the microscale,” Barnhardt said in a statement. “We didn’t have a way to test it. “X-rays gave us a way to peek inside the material and get a view we didn’t have before,” he added. “With this understanding, we will be able to design new materials with properties tailored to a certain mission.” According to Barnhardt, this basis will build more predictive models, reduce risk and provide more assurance about a new material’s performance even at initial stages. Researchers at Berkeley are testing several candidates for a flexible heat shield in addition to fabrics for Mars-mission parachutes that can be deployed at supersonic speeds, using Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) and with other techniques. “We are developing a system at the ALS that can simulate all material loads and stresses over the course of the atmospheric entry process,” Harold Barnard, a scientist at Berkeley Lab’s ALS who is spearheading the Lab’s X-ray work with NASA, said in a statement. A group of researchers at NASA Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) can blast materials with a giant superhot blowtorch that accelerates hot air to velocities topping 11,000 miles per hour, with temperatures exceeding that of the surface of the Sun. The scientists also test parachutes and spacecraft at their wind-tunnel facilities, which can produce supersonic wind speeds faster than 1,900 miles per hour. While it takes rocket science to launch and fly spacecraft’s, an understanding of how materials perform under extreme conditions is also needed to enter and land on planets with different atmospheres. X-ray science is also necessary in ensuring spacecrafts survive in extreme environments as they descent through otherworldly atmospheres and touch down safely on foreign surfaces. Francesco Panerai, a materials scientist with NASA contractor AMA Inc. and the X-ray experiments test lead for NASA ARC, said the aim is to modernize how scientists produce and study materials. “We need to use modern measurement techniques to improve our understanding of material response,” Panerai said in a statement. The experiments are being conducted at an ALS experimental station that captures a sequence of images as a sample is rotated in front of an X-ray beam. These images, which provide views inside the samples and can resolve details less than one micron or one millionth of a meter, can be compiled to form detailed 3D images and animations of samples.


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

Stars are ripped apart by supermassive black holes 100 times more often than previously thought Astronomers based at the University of Sheffield have found evidence that stars are ripped apart by supermassive black holes 100 times more often than previously thought. Until now, such stellar cannibalism - known as Tidal Distruption Events, or TDEs - had only been found in surveys which observed many thousands of galaxies, leading astronomers to believe they were exceptionally rare: only one event every 10,000 to 100,000 years per galaxy. However, the pioneering study conducted by leading scientists from the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy, recorded a star being destroyed by a supermassive black hole in a survey of just 15 galaxies - an extremely small sample size by astronomy standards. "Each of these 15 galaxies is undergoing a 'cosmic collision' with a neighbouring galaxy," said Dr James Mullaney, Lecturer in Astronomy and co-author of the study. "Our surprising findings show that the rate of TDEs dramatically increases when galaxies collide. This is likely due to the fact that the collisions lead to large numbers of stars being formed close to the central supermassive black holes in the two galaxies as they merge together." The supermassive black holes that lurk in the hearts of all large galaxies can be elusive. This is because they don't shine in a conventional sense due to their gravity being so strong that nothing can escape, not even light itself. However, the release of energy as stars are ripped apart when they move close to the black holes leads to dramatic flares. The galaxies' nuclei can then appear as bright as all the billions of stars in a typical galaxy combined. In this way, TDEs can be used to locate otherwise dim black holes and study their strong gravity and how they accrete matter. "Our team first observed the 15 colliding galaxies in the sample in 2005, during a previous project," said Rob Spence, University of Sheffield PhD student and co-author of the study. "However, when we observed the sample again in 2015, we noticed that one galaxy - F01004-2237 - appeared strikingly different. This led us to look at data from the Catalina Sky Survey, which monitors the brightness of objects in the sky over time. We found that in 2010, the brightness of F01004-2237 flared dramatically." The particular combination of variability and post-flare spectrum observed in F01004-2237 - which is 1.7 billion light years from Earth - was unlike any known supernova or active galactic nucleus, but characteristic of TDEs. Clive Tadhunter, Professor of Astrophysics and leader of the study, said: "Based on our results for F01004-2237, we expect that TDE events will become common in our own Milky Way galaxy when it eventually merges with the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy in about 5 billion years. "Looking towards the centre of the Milky Way at the time of the merger we'd see a flare approximately every 10 to 100 years. The flares would be visible to the naked eye and appear much brighter than any other star or planet in the night sky." The study, published today (27 February 2017) in the journal Nature Astronomy, was supported by a grant from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. The findings were based on observations made with the William Herschel Telescope, which is operated on the island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canaria. The study also used data taken with NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and the Catalina Sky Survey. Scientists at the University of Sheffield's Department of Physics and Astronomy are exploring the fundamental laws of the universe and developing pioneering technologies. They look beyond our planet to tackle global challenges - from climate change to meeting energy demands. For more information about the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy please visit https:/ With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities. A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in. Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields. Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations. For further information, please visit http://www. For further information please contact: Amy Pullan, Media Relations Officer, University of Sheffield, 0114 222 9859, a.l.pullan@sheffield.ac.uk To read other news releases about the University of Sheffield, visit http://www.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

A national lab and NASA are working together with X-ray and 3D visualization technologies to create materials to utilize in space. The goal of the collaboration— between NASA and a science group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory—is to establish a suite of tools that includes X-ray imaging and small laboratory experiments, computer-based analysis and simulation tools, as well as large-scale high heat and wind-tunnel tests, to allow for rapid development of new materials with established performance and reliability in space. This system can heat sample materials to thousands of degrees and subject them to a mixture of different gases found in other planets’ atmospheres—with pistons stretching the materials to their breaking points— all while imagining in real time their 3D behavior at the microstructure level. For humans to explore Mars and other large-payload missions, a new type of heat shield that is flexible and can remain folded up until needed is likely required. An initial X-ray study has been deemed successful and led to a renewed interest in exploring the use of X-ray experiments to guide a better understanding of meteorite breakup. Scientists are using data from these experiments in risk analysis and aid in assessing threats posed by large asteroids. Michael Barnhardt, a senior research scientist at NASA ARC and principal investigator of the Entry Systems Modeling Project, explained that the research led to a better understanding of what was going on at the microscale. “Before this collaboration, we didn’t understand what was happening at the microscale,” Barnhardt said in a statement. “We didn’t have a way to test it. “X-rays gave us a way to peek inside the material and get a view we didn’t have before,” he added. “With this understanding, we will be able to design new materials with properties tailored to a certain mission.” According to Barnhardt, this basis will build more predictive models, reduce risk and provide more assurance about a new material’s performance even at initial stages. Researchers at Berkeley are testing several candidates for a flexible heat shield in addition to fabrics for Mars-mission parachutes that can be deployed at supersonic speeds, using Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) and with other techniques. “We are developing a system at the ALS that can simulate all material loads and stresses over the course of the atmospheric entry process,” Harold Barnard, a scientist at Berkeley Lab’s ALS who is spearheading the Lab’s X-ray work with NASA, said in a statement. A group of researchers at NASA Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) can blast materials with a giant superhot blowtorch that accelerates hot air to velocities topping 11,000 miles per hour, with temperatures exceeding that of the surface of the Sun. The scientists also test parachutes and spacecraft at their wind-tunnel facilities, which can produce supersonic wind speeds faster than 1,900 miles per hour. While it takes rocket science to launch and fly spacecraft’s, an understanding of how materials perform under extreme conditions is also needed to enter and land on planets with different atmospheres. X-ray science is also necessary in ensuring spacecrafts survive in extreme environments as they descent through otherworldly atmospheres and touch down safely on foreign surfaces. Francesco Panerai, a materials scientist with NASA contractor AMA Inc. and the X-ray experiments test lead for NASA ARC, said the aim is to modernize how scientists produce and study materials. “We need to use modern measurement techniques to improve our understanding of material response,” Panerai said in a statement. The experiments are being conducted at an ALS experimental station that captures a sequence of images as a sample is rotated in front of an X-ray beam. These images, which provide views inside the samples and can resolve details less than one micron or one millionth of a meter, can be compiled to form detailed 3D images and animations of samples.


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

Inside a series of nondescript buildings in the -driest desert in North America, an entrepreneurial enclave is chasing the next frontier of commerce. Explosions are routine. The science is complex. Brain power and ambition are high, as is danger. This cluster of 17 young companies at the Mojave Air and Space Port, 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles, is shooting for the moon--and beyond. The startups there are building the components, engines, materials, and rockets that are dispatching a new generation of cell-phone-size satellites and more into space. These so-called NewSpace companies have sprung up around a former military base in the California desert. The remoteness of Mojave and the permissive attitude toward, say, detonation and flames--the airport's slogan: We eat explosions for breakfast--make it the ideal location for companies aiming to reach the heavens. "Mojave is the Silicon Valley of space exploration," says Mark B?nger, who follows the sector at Lux Research. Mojave isn't alone, as galactic entrepreneurship is also burgeoning in Seattle, Tucson, and Silicon Valley itself. Says Sunil Nagaraj of Bessemer Ventures: "2017 will be the year that NewSpace startups will hit their stride." It used to be that space projects were so daunting and expensive that only governments and their massive corporate partners could take them on. Then, in the past decade or so, a cadre of -billionaires--think Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson--entered the arena with what first seemed like eccentric pet projects. Today, in the wake of their successes, there's a third generation: minnows that service those private companies and leverage the growing economies of scale such that a startup without extraordinary resources can now contemplate a voyage to another planet. Plenty of factors are making space missions cheaper and more feasible: the miniaturization of electronics, the development of stronger and lighter materials, better engineering, and new standards that make it easier to build mini-satellites and send them up as hitchhikers on a larger launch. A traditional low-earth-orbit satellite, for instance, weighs three tons, stands two-stories tall, and costs tens of millions of dollars to build. Today there are "microsatellites" between 22 and 220 pounds and even "nanosatellites" under 22 pounds. A so-called cubesat, for example, weighs around two pounds, is about the size of a fist, and costs less than $100,000 to build. Some 60 companies now sell them, allowing small governments and companies to put a tiny probe into orbit for precision agriculture, oil spill monitoring, or security systems. Of the 115 space-related companies started in the past decade and backed by investors, 84 focus on satellites, according to the Tauri Group, which tracks space investments. Just last year, those companies launched 100 microsatellites, up from 25 in 2011. Tauri projects that 2,400 nano- and micro-satellites will launch between 2017 and 2023. Investment is starting to take off. Venture capitalists have put $8.2 billion into space companies over the past five years, according to Tauri, most of it into rockets and satellites. Mojave has become an oasis of billionaires, scientists, vendors, and service providers. Branson's Virgin Galactic has 500 people there building and testing propulsion systems and a suborbital spaceship, according to CEO George Whitesides. Paul Allen's Vulcan Aerospace is nearing completion of its massive Stratolaunch airplane. NASA officials scout Mojave for technology and commercial space partners, and rockets are launched by small companies like XCOR and Masten Space Systems, which are assembling light, reusable launch vehicles to drastically reduce the cost of spaceflight. All that activity has drawn even smaller operations, including a school for test pilots and tiny vendors that provide everything from industrial coatings to ancillary offerings like financial services and a gym. The biggest driver has been the deep pockets and confidence of Musk, Bezos, and others, including dotcom entrepreneur Naveen Jain and hotel mogul Robert Bigelow, who have been funding startups through venture investments and contests like the XPrize. Musk's SpaceX slashed tens of millions of dollars from rocket prices, helping land the company a $1.6 billion deal with NASA to fly 12 cargo missions to the International Space Station. Musk and Bezos are now, separately, planning missions to Mars. "They were the primer to the pump for this new resurgence," says Jay Gibson, CEO of XCOR. Moon Express, funded by Jain, plans its maiden voyage to the moon later this year, vying for Google's Lunar XPrize, a $20 million award to the first company to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon and accomplish several technical challenges. Once there, Moon Express plans to extract iron ore, water, minerals, and precious metals, as well as nitrogen, hydrogen, and more. Ultimately, Jain thinks, the moon could become a fuel depot where spacecraft can stop before continuing longer journeys. "Entrepreneurs have the potential to change the trajectory of how humanity lives," he says, "where the moon becomes the eighth continent and a great place to live." Needless to say, the challenges remain immense. "I sound like a curmudgeon, but people always say this will be the year," says Gary Hudson, an industry veteran and the president of the Space Studies Institute. "Everything costs more and takes longer than you think, and people die if you screw up." The difficulty hasn't curbed enthusiasm at Interorbital Systems, a 12-person operation in Mojave. Cofounders Roderick and Randa Milliron started their business two decades ago with a goal of eventually living on the moon. Interorbital sells satellite kits and says it will launch 137 satellites this year with its modular rocket, whose size can be adjusted depending on the mission. The revenue from satellite and launch sales, space-testing missions, and more should help it reach its goal of using its rocket to get to the moon this year, as part of a team competing for the Lunar XPrize. Perhaps the ultimate evidence that space technology is catching on is that it is even filtering down to hobbyists. A hacker space called Mojave Makers allows individuals to, say, build their own 3D--printed rocket motors. Says Bessemer's Nagaraj: "You now have people tinkering with space just as the previous generation tinkered with computers." A version of this article appears in the March 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “Rocket Boom in the Desert.” Here's When You Can Have Your Honeymoon on the Moon President Barack Obama: America Is Going to Mars Elon Musk Won't Be First Person to Mars for Fear of Dying How to Watch Elon Musk's Talk on Bringing Humans to Mars


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

The Hubble Space Telescope, the first major optical telescope ever hurled into space, broke down a lot. Since its launch in 1990, NASA has organized five separate missions to service the Hubble—and it was doable, even though the telescope is 300 miles away from Earth. In the final servicing mission in 2009, the Space Shuttle Atlantis carried four astronauts to the observatory for a 12-day mission, when they replaced old batteries and equipment, while adding two new instruments to expand the capabilities of the Hubble, which is still going strong. After its big brother, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), launches in 2018, those sorts of fixes-on-the-fly won't be possible. Once the gigantic telescope—which is so big it can't fit inside any of NASA's rockets, and instead has to be folded up like origami to blossom once in space—is at its destination a million miles away, it's gone. If it breaks, it's done. And that would be a shame. Hubble redefined the way we see the universe around us, and JWST—a partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency—will be Hubble on steroids. Astrophysicist Amber Straughn, who serves as the deputy project manager for the JWST Science Communications, is in Waterloo, Ontario to give an update on the telescope. Her talk from the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics can be watched here: Excitement has only grown in the past week, with the announcement of a seven-planet system around a star called TRAPPIST-1, 39 light years away. The planets orbiting the star appear to be Earth-sized and rocky; some could even be habitable, so scientists want to find out more. Because TRAPPIST-1 emits light in infrared, the telescope will be perfect for observing it. JWST will be able to study the thin atmospheres of cold planets that are dominated by carbon-based gases (like the planets of TRAPPIST-1). It'll check for water vapor, oxygen, methane, and other signs of habitability. It's taken so long to build and test the telescope because NASA wants to get it right: the $8-billion price tag and million miles are unforgiving. For the last 10 years, the observatory's parts have been put through their paces, one by one. They've now entered the most important on-Earth phase: being tested as a package under simulation of brutal launch and space conditions. "We really have to make sure we get things right on the ground," said Straughn, who is based at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Researchers are subjecting the telescope to punishing sub-zero temperatures, blasting it with sound, and banging it around to mimic its launch and deep-space solitude. "Webb is designed to answer the biggest questions in astronomy today that Hubble just can't quite answer," she told me in a phone interview before her public lecture, adding that the JWST will be one hundred times more powerful than Hubble. Beyond learning more about exoplanets like those in the TRAPPIST-1 system, "we hope to be able to see some of the first galaxies that lit up the universe right after the Big Bang," she said. That's 13.5 billion years ago, at least in theory. "Of course, they've never been able to actually observe that part of space because, though the Hubble has seen quite far, it's never gone that far," she explained. Hubble is an optical telescope, while these first galaxies are red-shifted so far that their light falls into the infrared part of the spectrum. To observe them, NASA needs an infrared observatory—the JWST. After the Hubble telescope launched in 1990, scientists started talking about the next big telescope. By 2000, a machine with JWST's abilities had been selected as the priority for astronomy, Straughn explained. Aside from being an infrared observatory, the JWST has two main differences from Hubble. The first is its size: Webb's mirrors are six-and-a-half times as big as Hubble's—the primary mirror is made of 18 individual segments—while the telescope itself is the width of a tennis court (that's the size of its massive Sun shield) and more than three stories tall. Aside from the mirror and Sun shield, the JWST is comprised of science instruments (cameras and detectors to collect data) and a "spacecraft bus" where the controls and electronics lie. While Hubble orbits the Earth, the JWST will be about a million miles away, orbiting the Sun along with the Earth. This spot is called the second Lagrange point, a "gravitationally semi-stable point." In other words, Straughn said, it's a pretty good place to park. The current environmental testing is taking place at Goddard. They've just finished vibrational testing, Straughn said. "That's where we basically shake it, to simulate the stresses it will encounter during launch." The next test, after vibration, is acoustic testing—when they put the telescope in a giant acoustics chamber and blast the JWST parts with loud noise to mimic the sound of the launch rocket. Each mirror has been through a series of cryogenics (low-temperature) tests and other examinations, to make sure it will survive the rigors of deep space. Now, the mirrors and instruments are being put together and tested as a package, Straughn said. After vibration and acoustic exams will be center of curvature tests, where scientists basically measure that the mirror hasn't been hurt by the testing. Then the pieces will be shipped—via C-5 aircrafts, the largest military planes available—to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where the gigantic thermal vacuum chambers (same ones used to test the Apollo-era spacecrafts) will run a full, end-to-end optical test at really cold temperatures. They'll then move the mirrors and instruments to Northrop Grumman, a massive aerospace contractor in California, where everything will be put together with the Sun shield and spacecraft bus. Then, more testing. Read More: This Hubble Video Shoots You to the Center of the Galaxy After that, the JWST will be transported to a launch pad in French Guiana to embark on its final journey: on an Ariane 5 rocket, to a point in space that's far, far away. According to Straughn, scientists haven't decided what they should look at first when they get there. But among the JWST's priorities will be the universe's earliest galaxies, along with distant planets, and objects in our own solar system. The JWST is designed to last at least five years, but the it'll carry enough fuel for a 10-year mission. "We have all these questions that we plan to answer, but the most exciting thing is what we haven't thought of yet," she said. "That's what always happens when we build a big, ambitious observatory like this. We discover things that we never dreamed of." Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

An artist's conception of what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about their diameters, masses, and distances from the host star. Color and other details about appearance are completely speculative. —“The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space,” Carl Sagan once said. We still don’t know if we’re alone or not, but a new discovery suggests that at least one nearby solar system makes good use of its space indeed. Seven Earth-sized planets densely populate the area around a nearby dwarf star, circling it in tight, fast ellipses, announced an international team of scientists on Wednesday. An unprecedented three of those seven planets could support oceans, making them prime candidates in the search for life, and upcoming space telescopes promise to reveal more about the fascinating system in the near future – including how much potentially deadly radiation the star TRAPPIST-1 could be unleashing on its planets. “This is an amazing planetary system – not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to the Earth!” lead author Michaël Gillon, of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium, said in a press release. Sitting at a Millennium Falcon-friendly 12 parsecs (39 light years) away, ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is relatively close to Earth, but don’t bother trying to find it in the sky tonight. It's just a little larger than Jupiter and burns about 2,000 times more dimly than our sun. Despite its unassuming stature, this mini-star is home to seven planets, all about the same mass as Earth, give or take a third. They zoom around their host at dizzying speeds, with orbits ranging from about two days to two weeks. If dropped into our solar system, the whole bunch would fit comfortably inside the orbit of Mercury. An observer on any one planet’s surface would be treated to a view of several planets hanging in the sky, each looking larger than our moon appears to us, say scientists. Inter-planetary trips would take days, rather than months or years. But what’s really turning heads is where the planets orbit relative to their host. Astronomers are especially interested in the area around a star where surface temperatures are not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist. Nicknamed “the Goldilocks zone,” this habitable band is just right for liquid water to support life as we know it. The TRAPPIST-1 system is much more compact than our solar system, but because dwarf stars emit so much less energy than our sun, that turns out to be just right for three of the seven planets. "What is significant about this system is the number of rocky, Earth-sized planets, and the number of planets in the habitable zone, both of which are unprecedented," Chris Copperwheat, one of the paper's co-authors and the head astronomer at the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool, tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. In this respect, the newly discovered system may be even more habitable than our own. "TRAPPIST-1 now holds the record for the most rocky planets in the habitable zone," says Lisa Kaltenegger, the director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, who was not part of the study. "Our solar system only has two (Earth and Mars)," she writes in an email to the Monitor. "We have other systems with up to seven planets, but we don't have a system with seven rocky ones." Even the outliers could support at least some water, depending on the amount of heat produced internally by the gravitational stretching of the worlds, a process known as tidal heating. A cosmic accident of geometry made the discovery possible. The solar system spins in such a way that, as viewed from Earth, the seven observed planets pass directly between TRAPPIST-1 and our telescopes. When these transits take place, the star dims just a little, its brightness dropping about 1 percent. Gillon’s team had already known that TRAPPIST-1 was home to exoplanets, observing three crossing simultaneously in 2015. But uncovering the rest of the family was a team effort involving data from telescopes in Chile, Morocco, Hawaii, the Canary Islands, South Africa, and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which observed the system continuously for 20 days straight. Now the question on everyone’s lips is, what about life? Scientists are a long way from answering the question conclusively, but excitement is high. "Looking for life elsewhere, this system is probably our best bet as of today," co-author Brice-Olivier Demory, a professor at the University of Bern’s Center for Space and Habitability, said in a press release. Dr. Copperwheat agrees that initial signs are promising, if scant. "I think this is a very significant discovery – certainly one of the most exciting I have been involved with in my career," he says. "This is a very interesting and complex system which will be a key future target for the search for Earth-like conditions and life." The most tantalizing targets are the three middle planets. In their paper, published in Nature on Wednesday, the researchers speculate that they might be home to a familiar feature: liquid-water oceans. "Using a one-dimensional cloud-free climate model that accounts for the low-temperature spectrum of the host star, we deduce that planets e, f and g could harbor water oceans on their surfaces, assuming Earth-like atmospheres," they wrote. In addition to their Goldilocks real estate, the planets are all less dense than the Earth, says Copperwheat, which implies dynamic compositions potentially featuring liquid water, plentiful ice, or extended atmospheres. But everything hinges on that assumption of Earth-like atmospheres, which are far from a sure bet. Remember that Mars falls in the sun’s habitable zone, too, but surface water doesn’t hang around too long, even on a nice day, before the ultra-thin atmosphere lets it boil off into space. Just how life-friendly this kind of dwarf star might be is a hot topic, since the long-lived, slow-burning stars are paradoxically much more active than our sun, constantly shooting off solar flares that may bathe these super-close planets in high levels of harsh ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. A recent paper from NASA considered just this effect, concluding that our neighboring dwarf star Proxima Centauri would likely erode any atmosphere that may exist around orbiting planet Proxima b over the course of about a hundred million years. The same process could spell trouble for anything orbiting around TRAPPIST-1. The dwarf star's X-ray emission is roughly the same as our sun's, says Copperwheat, but "these planets are a lot closer so will suffer a greater degree of irradiation." That's not necessarily a deal-breaker for life, he cautions. "The short answer is that we don't know what the long-term consequences of high-energy radiation are to the habitability of Earth-type planets," he writes. "It may strip off the atmospheres, rendering the planets inhospitable to life, but on the other hand it could actually help by just stripping off the hydrogen and helium," he explains: atmospheric ingredients that, some scientists have argued, are not conducive to life. Dr. Kaltenegger, currently in the process of publishing papers modeling atmospheric erosion of both Proxima b and the TRAPPIST-1 planets, sees plenty of potential even for environments bathed in UV radiation. She points out that planets in either system could keep their atmospheres if they have Earth-like features like a magnetic field or an ozone layer. "I would not worry too much about a complete erosion of the atmosphere, but a thinner atmosphere is definitely possible, although that would still be able to shelter an ocean," she explains. "Life is a definite possibility on these worlds... but it might look different." Kaltenegger published a paper last summer outlining one UV survival strategy, based on Earth's bioluminescent corals. Organisms on planets around a dwarf star could protect themselves from the damaging rays by absorbing the UV radiation, and then releasing it at a longer, safer wavelength, she theorized. Such an ecosystem could react to solar flares by literally lighting up the planet, a sign she proposes could be observed from Earth. With so many theories flying around, astronomers’ next task is clear: Observe the TRAPPIST-1 system and gather as much data as possible to answer some of these questions. “At the moment, theoretical work on these questions is I think somewhat inconclusive, so it's up to observers like myself to actually try and detect the atmospheres to better inform the models,” Copperwheat explains. Fortunately, they might not have to wait long. A number of next-gen planet finders will come online next year, including the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope. Scientists have high hopes in particular for the James Webb Space Telescope, which should be able to take direct measurements of the planets as they cross in front of TRAPPIST-1, revealing tell-tale signs of composition, atmosphere, and potential biosignatures like ozone. “The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s successor, will have the possibility to detect the signature of ozone if this molecule is present in the atmosphere of one of these planets,” explained Dr. Demory in a press release. “This could be an indicator for biological activity on the planet.” And the signal shouldn’t be hard to pick up. Unlike our planet, which transits the sun only once every 365 days, the near-daily frequency with which these seven planets transit TRAPPIST-1 basically guarantees good chances for observation. Kaltenegger says that finding biosignatures requires a clear view of the planet and “roughly 70 to 100 hours (of observation) as a rule of thumb.” Copperwheat is also looking forward to the data collection bonanza to come, saying the system “is going to be intensively studied for many years to come” to help determine its habitability. Even if all seven worlds turn out to be solar flare-roasted wastelands, Copperwheat suggests we’ve still learned an important lesson about our place in the cosmos: "It seems Earth-sized planets may be very common in the Universe!"


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

What you’re seeing in the video above is a 40 meter tall SpaceX rocket booster, weighing more than 20 tons, fly itself back to Earth from space and land precisely on a target at Cape Canaveral. What you may be wondering is, how did it do that? The first thing to know is that a rocket booster is in fact a large robot, steering itself back to earth without help from anyone else but its internal computers. The challenge SpaceX CEO Elon Musk set for his reusable rocket team, led by MIT-trained aerospace engineer Lars Blackmore, was to teach the rocket how to fly itself back to earth. Landing spacecraft is fundamental to exploring our solar system, as it’s the only effective way to bring heavy scientific equipment or people to a planetary surface. Scientists have been thinking about this since NASA began planning the moon landing in the 1960s. In 2007, Blackmore started working on similar problems at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, thinking about how to improve the landing ability of spacecraft being sent to explore the surface of Mars. In 2009, Blackmore and two colleagues observed in a paper (pdf) that the inability to land precisely on Mars meant that scientific exploration was taking a backseat to the realities of getting a spacecraft to land at a specific location. When planning these trips, engineers visualize landing precision as an imaginary ellipse on the surface of the planet, where the spacecraft has a 99% chance of landing. Dialing in: The landing ellipses for various Martian probes. In 1997, when NASA sent a rover called Mars Pathfinder to the red planet, it was expected to land within an ellipse 150 kilometers across its major axis, which is not exactly what you want to hear if you’re scientist with a specific destination in mind. By the time the Mars Curiosity rover landed in 2012, JPL’s engineers had the landing ellipse shrunk to 20 kilometers across. That’s still a lot of uncertainty—imagine if you were taking a plane somewhere and you were told you’d land within 20 kilometers of your destination. But SpaceX has its rockets landing within ellipses of 60- and 20-meters across, on a Cape Canaveral landing pad and on sea-going landing barges, respectively—an improvement by several orders of magnitude. A big reason for the uncertainty in most Mars rovers is the use of parachutes to land, because engineers are still learning how to use rockets to slow a spacecraft’s descent through a planet’s atmosphere at hypersonic speeds. SpaceX, in developing its reusable rocket, is the only organization to have brought a rocket back from space by actually flying it to Earth at that velocity, and it has shared its groundbreaking work on this aerodynamics problem with NASA to help scientists there plan future Martian missions. But once the physics are mastered of maneuvering a rocket-powered spacecraft in for landing, the rocket still needs to be taught to fly itself down. Using rocket thrust to control descent allows companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, whose smaller suborbital rocket has successfully landed and been reused several times, to hit their landing targets precisely by eliminating the parachute drift normally associated with spacecraft falling to earth. There aren’t human pilots on most spacecraft these days, and it can be difficult to communicate with spacecraft as they land, either because of the distances involved with planetary exploration, or on Earth, because friction with the atmosphere as a rocket flies back down can create an ionization field (a static shock on a grand scale) capable of blocking radio signals. The computing challenge is simple to describe and hard to execute: Plot the optimal path down to the target without running out of fuel. That’s complicated enough, but also consider the time constraint: The rocket’s computers need to solve this problem before they run out of fuel or crash into earth—in a “fraction of a second,” according to Blackmore. He and his colleagues developed one of the first algorithms to do this in three dimensions in that 2009 paper on Mars landings, receiving a patent on their ideas in 2013. The solution involves solving a “convex optimization problem,” a common challenge in modern machine learning. In wildly reductive layman’s terms, it involves considering all the possible answers to the question of “what’s the best way to get from here to the landing pad without running out of fuel” as a geometric shape, and uses mathematical tools developed first by John non Neumann, the father of game theory, and refined by Indian mathematician Narendra Karmarkar in the 1980s, to quickly choose the best way down from that set. A visualization of the rocket booster's path back to earth. A visualization of the rocket booster’s path back to earth. At SpaceX, Blackmore and his team have updated the landing algorithms (PDF, p. 15), using software developed by Stanford computer scientists “to generate customized flight code, which enables very high speed onboard convex optimization.”As the rocket reacts to changes in the environment that alter its course—known as “dispersions”—the on-board computers recalculate its trajectory to ensure that it will still be 99% sure to land within its target. So far, it has: SpaceX has landed eight boosters since its first successful attempt in December 2015, including its last four flights. The three failures to land in that time period were caused by hardware issues, not a failure to navigate successfully to the landing area. SpaceX executives are reluctant to say they now expect landings to succeed, preferring to keep their focus on the primary mission of launching cargo for clients, but it’s clear that reliability is improving. The company plans to fly the first of its “flight-proven” stages in a March mission for the European satellite operator SES. Should they succeed and be able to regularly fly previously-used rockets, CEO Musk has said the cost of launch could drop by 30%. Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief, our free daily newsletter with the world’s most important and interesting news. Filter bubbles are a serious problem with news, says Bill Gates The bad habits you should give up if you want to be successful


News Article | February 14, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

This artist's rendering provided by NASA shows the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. In 2012, NASA announced plans to send another Curiosity-like rover to Mars in 2020. —Nearly 20 years after Pathfinder rolled onto an ancient Martian flood plain called Ares Vallis, NASA’s four Mars rovers have only covered about 38 miles of the Red Planet. That leaves plenty of territory for the next lander, Mars 2020, to explore. At a conference last week, scientists determined three possible landing sites for the rover: Columbia Hills, Northeast Syrtis, and Jezero Crater. Orbital observations and previous rovers have found that the first two sites were likely once home to hot springs; Jezero Crater may have held a large lake. “If you find where the liquid water was,” Bruce Betts, director of science and technology for the Planetary Society, tells The Christian Science Monitor, “if there were ever life on Mars, that would be a good place to look.” This “follow the water” paradigm has guided NASA's missions to Mars since the 1990s. The Mars 2020 mission, scheduled for launch in three years, continues this approach and adds a new goal: returning samples for Earth-based study. “All of the recent landings, going back to Spirit and Opportunity, have been driven by this liquid water interest,” Dr. Betts says. With Mars 2020, he continues, “they've upped the ante a little, particularly with the collection of samples where you can bring them back to Earth and do detailed studies.” Past rovers have hammered Mars rocks, probed them with microscopes, and zapped them with lasers, but they've all been limited by the need to weigh as little as possible. Some scientific instruments, notes Betts, “are larger than you could ever hope to fly.” We also have Mars rocks that fell to Earth as meteorites after getting kicked up by ancient impacts. But those have been stripped from their geological context, Betts explains: “exactly where it came from, the layer of the rocks, how it fits into the overall history.” Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are preparing Mars 2020 to gather both samples and context. As reported by Nature’s Alexandra Witze, the rover will fill 37 14-centimeter-long titanium tubes with air, rock, and soil samples, then leave them in a cache on the planet’s surface. At some unknown future date, another vehicle will land, deploy a “fetch” rover to retrieve the cache, and return the samples to Earth. In 2013, the authors of a National Research Council report titled “Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022” labeled a sample-return mission like this as a top priority. After considering one alternative – sending more rovers – the study’s authors concluded that “sample return would have significantly higher science return and a much higher science-to-dollar ratio.” That doesn’t mean it will be cheap. A recent audit, performed by NASA’s inspector general, pegs the cost of Mars 2020 at $2.4 billion. Dr. Firouz Naderi, JPL’s associate director, estimates the total cost of sample collection and a second pickup mission at between $6 and $7 billion. By working with SpaceX, NASA might bring down the cost of that second mission. The company claims that its Red Dragon capsules could get to Mars and back for as little as $300 million. But Dr. Betts warns that “it's going to be challenging for anyone to go get the samples and return them. NASA so far is the only one who's demonstrated experience at being able to get [a Mars lander] into a relatively small location and go where they want to go.” Despite the costs and challenges of bringing back Mars rocks, the rewards could be enormous, says Timothy Goudge, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin who attended last week’s site selection meeting. “Having returned samples from a known context/location on Mars would open up a huge suite of analysis techniques that the rocks could be subjected to,” he tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. Analyzing the rocks in an Earth-based laboratory, he explains, “will allow us to understand the geologic history of the samples (e.g., age, temperature of formation, interaction with fluids and the atmosphere, etc.) in a way that we couldn’t accomplish in situ on Mars.” That bring us closer to answering the burning question of whether or not life existed on Mars, by applying our best techniques to "any potential organic matter found by the rover, and determining if that material has a biologic origin or not.” It also accomplishes all this while risking much less contamination to the Martian environment, and avoiding the costly business of keeping astronauts alive during a years-long mission in deep space. But aspiring Mark Watneys shouldn’t change their career plans just yet. “You can do human missions without a sample return," says The Planetary Society's Betts. But he points out that because such a mission would involve geological analysis, landing, and taking off from the Martian surface, a "sample return is a logical precursor to a human mission.”


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

The National Museum of the American Sailor Foundation (NMASF) has announced that Captain James A. Lovell, U.S. Navy (retired), who commanded the Apollo 13 manned moon mission, has joined the Foundation’s board of directors. NMASF is working to create the only museum dedicated exclusively to the enlisted sailor. "I am joining the board because it is time to honor the American Sailor. The enlisted sailor does much of the work in the U.S. Navy and is sometimes overlooked,” says Captain Lovell. “It is appropriate that the museum be placed next to Recruit Training Command Great Lakes, which is the only boot camp the Navy has today.” The new 40,000-square-foot museum will be immediately adjacent to the Recruit Training Command where approximately 38,000 men and women each year spend nine weeks of basic training. It will be located within the Sheridan Crossing Cultural, Hospitality and Entertainment District in the City of North Chicago. "Captain Lovell is an American Hero, and we are honored that he has agreed to join our board to make the National Museum of the American Sailor a reality," says Ken Tucker, board president. Lovell commanded Apollo 13--the third lunar landing mission. Two hundred thousand miles from earth an explosion on the spacecraft forced him to bring home the crippled spacecraft and its crew, successfully. Lovell believes that the museum can be used to educate younger citizens about the many benefits of the Navy and incorporate STEM education in real life situations. “The Navy is a good beginning for young people,” says Captain Lovell. “It helps them become confident, responsible, technologically adept, and is an incentive for kids to follow a STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics) education. And you can see the world.” Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 25, 1928, Captain Lovell grew up captivated by flight. “I grew up in the 1930s, and Charles Lindbergh was my hero,” Captain Lovell recalls. “And my uncle graduated from the Naval Academy and was an early naval aviator who flew in World War I. I’d listen to his stories when he’d visit and was fascinated by his aviation experience.” Lovell joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the University of Wisconsin where he was accepted in the Naval Aviation Holloway Plan after graduating high school. He reported for pre-flight training at Pensacola, Florida. He received an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1948 and after graduation, Captain Lovell returned to Pensacola for flight training in September 1952. Upon completion of his flight training, his first assignment was to Moffett Field California. In January 1958 Captain Lovell entered Navy Test Pilot School at Patuxent River Maryland. He finished first in his class and after graduation became the Project Manager for the Navy’s F4H jets. In October 1962, Jim Lovell was selected as one of the second group of astronauts to the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA). During the next eleven years he made four space flights and was back up on three more. On Gemini 7 with Frank Borman they set the world space flight endurance record; participated in the first rendezvous with Gemini 6 and conducted 21 medical experiments. As Commander of Gemini 12, he and Buzz Aldrin perfected spacecraft docking techniques and developed Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) procedures necessary for the later flights of the Apollo program. Captain Lovell was navigator on the historic Apollo 8 mission - man’s first flight to the moon. He was the first Naval Officer to reach the moon and successfully evaluated the navigation system while looking for suitable landing sites for future missions. His final space flight was Apollo 13. He was the first person to fly to the moon a second time. In 1994, Lovell and Jeff Kluger wrote “Lost Moon”, the story of the courageous mission of Apollo 13. In 1995, the film version of the bestseller, “Apollo 13” was released to rave reviews In total, Captain Lovell saw a total of 269 sunrises in space and logged over 715 hours. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 1973 and spent the next 18 years in private industry, retiring in 1991. He and his wife Marilyn raised four children. To learn more visit http://www.NMASF.org or go to Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nmasf.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

For the first time, astronomers from MIT and elsewhere have observed a star pulsing in response to its orbiting planet. The star, which goes by the name HAT-P-2, is about 400 light years from Earth and is circled by a gas giant measuring eight times the mass of Jupiter -- one of the most massive exoplanets known today. The planet, named HAT-P-2b, tracks its star in a highly eccentric orbit, flying extremely close to and around the star, then hurtling far out before eventually circling back around. The researchers analyzed more than 350 hours of observations of HAT-P-2 taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and found that the star's brightness appears to oscillate ever so slightly every 87 minutes. In particular, the star seems to vibrate at exact harmonics, or multiples of the planet's orbital frequency -- the rate at which the planet circles its star. The precisely timed pulsations have lead the researchers to believe that, contrary to most theoretical model-based predictions of exoplanetary behavior, HAT-P-2b may be massive enough to periodically distort its star, making the star's molten surface flare, or pulse, in response. "We thought that planets cannot really excite their stars, but we find that this one does," says Julien de Wit, a postdoc in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. "There is a physical link between the two, but at this stage, we actually can't explain it. So these are mysterious pulsations induced by the star's companion." De Wit is a lead author of a paper detailing the results, published today in Astrophysical Journal Letters. The team came upon the stellar pulsations by chance. Originally, the researchers sought to generate a precise map of an exoplanet's temperature distribution as it orbits its star. Such a map would help scientists track how energy is circulated through a planet's atmosphere, which can give clues to an atmosphere's wind patterns and composition. With this goal in mind, the team viewed HAT-P-2 as an ideal system: Because the planet has an eccentric orbit, it seesaws between temperature extremes, turning cold as it moves far away from its star, then rapidly heating as it swings extremely close. "The star dumps an enormous amount of energy onto the planet's atmosphere, and our original goal was to see how the planet's atmosphere redistributes this energy," de Wit says. The researchers obtained 350 hours of observations of HAT-P-2, taken intermittently by Spitzer's infrared telescope between July 2011 and November 2015. The dataset represents one of the largest ever taken by Spitzer, giving de Wit and his colleagues plenty of observations to allow for detecting the incredibly tiny signals required to map an exoplanet's temperature distribution. The team processed the data and focused on the window in which the planet made its closest approach, passing first in front of and then behind the star. During these periods, the researchers measured the star's brightness to determine the amount of energy, in the form of heat, transferred to the planet. Each time the planet passed behind the star, the researchers saw something unexpected: Instead of a flat line, representing a momentary drop as the planet is masked by its star, they observed tiny spikes -- oscillations in the star's light, with a period of about 90 minutes, that happened to be exact multiples of the planet's orbital frequency. "They were very tiny signals," de Wit says. "It was like picking up the buzzing of a mosquito passing by a jet engine, both miles away." Stellar pulsations can occur constantly as a star's surface naturally boils and turns over. But the tiny pulsations detected by de Wit and his colleagues seem to be in concert with the planet's orbit. The signals, they concluded, must not be due to anything in the star itself, but to either the circling planet or an effect in Spitzer's instruments. The researchers ruled out the latter after modeling all the possible instrumental effects, such as vibration, that could have affected the measurements, and finding that none of the effects could have produced the pulsations they observed. "We think these pulsations must be induced by the planet, which is surprising," de Wit says. "We've seen this in systems with two rotating stars that are supermassive, where one can really distort the other, release the distortion, and the other one vibrates. But we did not expect this to happen with a planet -- even one as massive as this." The team has some theories as to how the planet might be causing its star to pulse. For example, perhaps the planet's transient gravitational pull is disturbing the star just enough to tip it toward a self-pulsating phase. There are stars that naturally pulse, and perhaps HAT-P-2b is pushing its star toward that state, the way adding salt to a simmering pot of water can trigger it to boil over. De Wit says this is just one of several possibilities, but getting to the root of the stellar pulsations will require much more work. "It's a mystery, but it's great, because it demonstrates our understanding of how a planet affects its star is not complete," de Wit says. "So we'll have to move forward and figure out what's going on there." This research was supported, in part, by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech.


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

CLEMSON, South Carolina -- When the universe was young, a supermassive black hole -- bloated to the bursting point with stupendous power -- heaved out a jet of particle-infused energy that raced through the vastness of space at nearly the speed of light. Billions of years later, a trio of Clemson University scientists, led by College of Science astrophysicist Marco Ajello, has identified this black hole and four others similar to it that range in age from 1.4 billion to 1.9 billion years old. These objects emit copious gamma rays, light of the highest energy, that are billions of times more energetic than light that is visible to the human eye. The previously known earliest gamma-ray blazars -- a type of galaxy whose intense emission is powered by extremely powerful relativistic jets launched by monstrous black holes -- were more than 2 billion years old. Currently, the universe is estimated to be approximately 14 billion years old. "The discovery of these supermassive black holes, which launch jets that emit more energy in one second than our sun will produce in its entire lifetime, was the culmination of a yearlong research project," said Ajello, who has spent much of his career studying the evolution of distant galaxies. "Our next step is to increase our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the formation, development and activities of these amazing objects, which are the most powerful accelerators in the universe. We can't even come close to replicating such massive outputs of energy in our laboratories. The complexities we're attempting to unravel seem almost as mysterious as the black holes themselves." Ajello conducted his research in conjunction with Clemson post-doc Vaidehi Paliya and Ph.D candidate Lea Marcotulli. The trio worked closely with the Fermi-Large Area Telescope collaboration, which is an international team of scientists that includes Roopesh Ojha, an astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; and Dario Gasparrini of the Italian Space Agency. Their scientific paper titled "Gamma-Ray Blazars Within the First 2 Billion Years" was published Monday in a journal called Astrophysical Journal Letters. (Ackermann, M., et al. 2017, ApJL, 837, L5.) The Clemson team's breakthroughs were made possible by recently juiced-up software on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Telescope. The refurbished software significantly boosted the orbiting telescope's sensitivity to a level that made these latest discoveries possible. "People are calling it the cheapest refurbishment in history," Ajello said. "Normally, for the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA had to send someone up to space to physically make these kinds of improvements. But in this case, they were able to do it remotely from an Earth-bound location. And of equal importance, the improvements were retroactive, which meant that the previous six years of data were also entirely reprocessed. This helped provide us with the information we needed to complete the first step of our research and also to strive onward in the learning process." Using Fermi data, Ajello and Paliya began with a catalog of 1.4 million quasars, which are galaxies that harbor at their centers active supermassive black holes. Over the course of a year, they narrowed their search to 1,100 objects. Of these, five were finally determined to be newly discovered gamma-ray blazars that were the farthest away - and youngest - ever identified. "After using our filters and other devices, we were left with about 1,100 sources. And then we did the diagnostics for all of these and were able to narrow them down to 25 to 30 sources," Paliya said. "But we still had to confirm that what we had detected was scientifically authentic. So we performed a number of other simulations and were able to derive properties such as black hole mass and jet power. Ultimately, we confirmed that these five sources were guaranteed to be gamma-ray blazars, with the farthest one being about 1.4 billion years old from the beginning of time." Marcotulli, who joined Ajello's group as a Ph.D student in 2016, has been studying the blazars' mechanisms by using images and data delivered from another orbiting NASA telescope, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). At first, Marcotulli's role was to understand the emission mechanism of gamma-ray blazars closer to us. Now she is turning her attention toward the most distant objects in a quest to understand what makes them so powerful. "We're trying to understand the full spectrum of the energy distribution of these objects by using physical models," Marcotulli said. "We are currently able to model what's happening far more accurately than previously devised, and eventually we'll be able to better understand what processes are occurring in the jets and which particles are radiating all the energy that we see. Are they electrons? Or protons? How are they interacting with surrounding photons? All these parameters are not fully understood right now. But every day we are deepening our understanding." All galaxies have black holes at their centers - some actively feeding on the matter surrounding them, others lying relatively dormant. Our own galaxy has at its center a super-sized black hole that is currently dormant. Ajello said that only one of every 10 black holes in today's universe are active. But when the universe was much younger, it was closer to a 50-50 ratio. The supermassive black holes at the center of the five newly discovered blazar galaxies are among the largest types of black holes ever observed, on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of times the mass of our own sun. And their accompanying accretion disks - rotating swirls of matter that orbit the black holes - emit more than two trillion times the energy output of our sun. One of the most surprising elements of Ajello's research is how quickly - by cosmic measures - these supersized black holes must have grown in only 1.4 billion years. In terms of our current knowledge of how black holes grow, 1.4 billion years is barely enough time for a black hole to reach the mass of the ones discovered by Ajello's team. "How did these incomprehensibly enormous and energy-laden black holes form so quickly?" Ajello said. "Is it because one black hole ate a lot all the time for a very long time? Or maybe because it bumped into other black holes and merged into one? To be honest, we have no observations supporting either argument. There are mechanisms at work that we have yet to unravel. Puzzles that we have yet to solve. When we do eventually solve them, we will learn amazing things about how the universe was born, how it grew into what it has become, and what the distant future might hold as the universe continues to progress toward old age."


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

NASA is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space. A new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The movies highlight objects that have gradually moved across the sky. "There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed." WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth's orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed "Planet Nine." If Planet Nine -- also known as Planet X -- exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data. The search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space. "Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter," said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds." Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It's a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week. On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of "flipbooks," which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, visit: For more information about NASA's WISE mission, visit:


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

In just two years' time, a team of NASA engineers accomplished what some thought impossible: the group created a smaller, more capable "brain" for smaller spacecraft. Led by Project Manager and Chief Engineer Noosha Haghani, who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the team leveraged years of knowledge gained during the development of NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS, to design a significantly smaller electronics system. Dubbed MUSTANG, short for the Modular Unified Space Technology Avionics for Next Generation missions, the technology acts as the mission's brain and central nervous system, controlling every function needed to gather scientific data from a Small Explorer-type mission. This includes everything from spacecraft command and data handling to attitude control, power, and propulsion, to name just a few tasks. The team also developed a variation of the system -- iMUSTANG -- for instrument electronics and, like its sibling, it allows users to choose different capabilities depending on instrument needs. "Key to MUSTANG's success has been the integration of hardware and software design from day one," said Deputy Director of Goddard's Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate and former MMS Project Manager Craig Tooley, who spearheaded the effort. "It provides maximum processing performance and is highly flexible." Through their use of mix-and-match electronics cards, the two MUSTANG variations give NASA mission and instrument developers a smaller, highly modular, off-the-shelf avionics system that can be customized to meet virtually any smaller-mission requirement -- and, better yet, at a reduced cost, Haghani added. While inappropriate for some large, flagship-style spacecraft, MUSTANG suits cost-constrained, yet high-performance missions, Haghani said. "One of our goals was to create an avionics system that mission planners would not have to redesign for each mission," said Pete Spidaliere, a Goddard engineer who participated in MUSTANG's development. "We wanted to give the center a new way of doing things," Haghani added. "In the past, everyone wanted to start from scratch and develop their own avionics systems, which is expensive. By using MUSTANG and iMUSTANG, developers can focus their time and resources on their missions and instruments, not the electronics running them." Already, the two MUSTANG variations have attracted users. NASA's Pre-Aerosols Clouds and Ocean Ecosystems mission, or PACE, and the Global Ecosystems Dynamics Investigation, or GEDI, have selected MUSTANG to run their operations and are funding the development of additional capabilities that could be used in other future NASA missions. Meanwhile, one of PACE's baselined instruments, the Ocean Color Instrument, or OCI, plans to employ iMUSTANG. The effort to craft a modular avionics system began about two years ago just as Goddard engineers were putting the finishing touches on the four spacecraft that make up NASA's MMS mission. It became obvious to Tooley, who formerly served as MMS project manager, that the center could reduce the cost of spacecraft electronics -- traditionally an expensive, multi-million-dollar undertaking -- and become more competitive by offering an off-the-shelf, ala-carte avionics system that users could customize to meet their own needs. "The motivation is to keep board redesign costs to a minimum," Haghani said. Taking MMS's avionics system, the MUSTANG team reduced by half the size of the housing box and began designing and testing a core set of cards controlling vital spacecraft functions. Since then, the group created 22 lightweight, highly capable cards, including one that controls higher-speed communications of up to 1.2 gigabits per second. MUSTANG was born. "We took the MMS designs, shrunk them down, and added some powerful capabilities," Spidaliere said, adding that the team cut costs by a factor of three and crafted a system that is lighter and more robust than anything built before at Goddard. "One of the great things about this effort and Noosha's team is that they did the impossible," Spidaliere added, alluding to the effort that resulted in a wholly new avionics system in less than two years. "It never dawned on them that this couldn't be done." For more Goddard technology news, go to https:/


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

Head Not The Tail Productions (HNTT Productions) is delighted to announce that its powerful and inspiring documentary "Invisible Women: Being a Black Woman in Corporate America" has been accepted for screening at the 2017 Hollywood Black Film Festival (HBFF). The influential film, skillfully directed by Melody Shere'a and executive produced by her talented sibling Monica Simmons, is the result of a year-long research study interviewing professional black women in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. "Invisible Women" uncovers and addresses issues around racism that profoundly affects black women in the corporate workplace. In the film, several women share respective experiences of disappointment and rejection when simply trying to earn a living and compete against women of other races for a higher step on the corporate ladder. The film will screen at the Hollywood Black Film Festival on Thursday, February 23rd at 2:15 p.m., hosted at the AMC Theater Marketplace 6 in Marina del Rey, CA. View a message from the creators of Invisible Women "For the production of "Invisible Women: Being a Black Woman in Corporate America," we interviewed black women of varied professional levels who generously shared their previously untold stories and feelings around race-related issues on the job," said Shere'a, HNTT Productions founder and CEO. "In conducting the research, we found the corporate practice of discrimination to be a common harsh reality faced by countless women of color. We also interviewed experts who provide employment reports and statistical data on this topic." Continuing support of the #equality4blackwomen movement, Invisible Women director and executive producer, Shere'a and Simmons, will attend the 48th NAACP Image Awards to be held February 11th in Pasadena, CA. Shere'a said, "I am most excited to see the outstanding cast of "Hidden Figures" (Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janell Monae), who will also be presenters at the awards show." Based on a true story, the "Hidden Figures" film depicts a group of black female mathematicians who in 1961, helped NASA win the Space Race while facing extreme discrimination in the segregated NASA workplace. According to Simmons, "Black women continue to experience racism on the job. We must be open to talking about this distressing issue to move toward a resolution. Obstacles that my sister and I have faced working in Corporate America were the inspiration behind "Invisible Women: Being a Black Woman in Corporate America." Our film is meant to drive a movement for change in the workplace, especially the technology industry. " "No longer should we be silenced. We need to speak up and call it what it is," commented Shere'a. Unlike "Hidden Figures," we are no longer in the 1950's-60's era. This racial discrimination against smart, educated, and powerful black women is unacceptable. We deserve a seat at the table, and we are demanding our place to exist, no longer will we continue to remain "Invisible Women." ABOUT THE HOLLYWOOD BLACK FILM FESTIVAL: Founded in 1998 by Tanya Kersey, the Hollywood Black Film Festival (HBFF) aims to enhance the careers of emerging and established Black filmmakers through a public exhibition, competition program and industry panels. Known amongst the entertainment industry’s powerbrokers as, “The Black Sundance,” the festival brings independent works of accomplished and aspiring black filmmakers to an environment encompassing the mainstream Hollywood community and Southern California film-going audiences. The festival’s goal is to play an integral role in discovering and launching independent films and filmmakers by bringing them to the attention of the industry, press, and public. The Hollywood Black Film Festival is an annual four-day celebration of Black Cinema drawing together established filmmakers, popular film and TV stars, writers, directors, industry executives, emerging artists, and diverse audiences from Hollywood and around the world. The 14th edition of the Hollywood Black Film Festival will take place February 22-26, 2017 in Marina del Rey, CA. ABOUT HEAD NOT THE TAIL PRODUCTIONS (HNTTP): HNTT Productions, founded in 2016 by Melody Shere’a, is located in the heart of Oakland, California. The company creates, develops, produces and invests in film, television and documentary projects. The entertainment industry veteran possesses more than ten years acting, print modeling, and voice-over experience. She is a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Shere’a graduated from Cal State Hayward, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree, and later pursued an MBA in Finance at Holy Names University in Oakland. Monica Simmons is the Executive Producer of the documentary and head of production and film development for HNTT Productions. Shere'a, HNTT Productions CEO states, "For too long our stories have been left behind. It is HNTT Productions' goal is to bring forth the change needed in the entertainment industry by becoming the 'Head and Not The Tail' in this business".    HNTTProductions.com


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

Citizen scientists can join an online hunt for icy worlds, brown dwarfs and other yet-to-be-discovered objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, using a technique that’s not all that different from the method that led to Pluto’s discovery 87 years ago. “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9” could even lead to the discovery of a super-Earth that may (or may not) be hidden on the solar system’s far frontier. The icy world known as Planet Nine or Planet X is only theoretical for now, but its existence would explain some of the puzzles surrounding the weird orbits of some far-out objects. The “Backyard Worlds” website offers up millions of mini-movies that incorporate infrared imagery from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The movies show the same patch of sky at different times, going back and forth like a flipbook. The project involves getting volunteers to watch the movies and look for telltale changes in the positions of points of light between one view and the other. Promising prospects are flagged for a follow-up look by professional astronomers. Back in 1930, Lowell Observatory astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used a contraption known as a blink comparator to flip between photographic plates. The desk-sized device helped him spot a dot that turned out to be the dwarf planet Pluto. Today, computers conduct similar analyses of images much more quickly to identify dwarf planets, asteroids and the failed stars known as brown dwarfs. But sometimes the software gets tripped up by image artifacts, and sometimes human vision can pick up on the patterns that computers miss. The organizers of “Backyard Worlds” are counting on that human factor. “There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” the project’s lead researcher, Marc Kuchner of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a news release. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.” Participants will win a share of the credit in any scientific discoveries that the project brings to light. “‘Backyard Worlds: Planet 9’ has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it’s exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist,” Berkeley team member Aaron Meisner said in today’s news release. The project is a collaboration involving NASA, the University of California at Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse. Are far-out planets not your thing? There’s more to choose from: Zooniverse has pioneered lots of other online citizen science projects over the years, including Galaxy Zoo, Ancient Lives and Fossil Finder.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

FILE PHOTO: An alien world just two-thirds the size of Earth - one of the smallest on record - detected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is seen in this NASA artist's illustration released by NASA on July 18, 2012. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo LONDON (Reuters) - A newly unearthed essay by Winston Churchill shows Britain's wartime leader was uncannily prescient about the possibility of alien life on planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. The 11-page article was drafted on the eve of World War Two in 1939 and updated in the 1950s, decades before astronomers discovered the first extrasolar planets in the 1990s. Yet Churchill pinpointed issues dominating today's debate about extraterrestrial life, proving that the former prime minister "reasoned like a scientist", according to an analysis of his work published in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The hunt for life on other worlds has taken off in the last 20 years as observations have suggested the Milky Way alone may contain more than a billion Earth-size planets that could be habitable. Churchill was already thinking along similar lines nearly 80 years ago, writing that "with hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible". He also honed in on the importance of liquid water for life, saying that a suitable planet would have to be "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water". Modern scientists are busier than ever looking for signs of life in such environments, both in our own solar system and in the wider universe. So far they have found nothing. Churchill's essay was probably intended as a popular science piece for a newspaper, although it never appeared in print. The famous polymath had already written similar science articles for newspapers and magazines, including one on fusion power in 1931. The type-written essay entitled 'Are We Alone in the Universe?', was uncovered last year in the archives of the U.S. National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, and passed to astrophysicist Mario Livio for expert examination. In his analysis in Nature, Livio praised Churchill's clear thinking, as well as his support for science as a tool of government policy. Churchill was the first prime minister to employ a science adviser. "At a time when a number of today’s politicians shun science, I find it moving to recall a leader who engaged with it so profoundly," Livio wrote. Churchill's vision of life on Earth in the first half of the 20th century, however, was far from rosy. "I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time."


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: techcrunch.com

Lower airspace isn’t crowded with drones quite yet. But as drones become more pervasive, a startup called AirMap is building software and systems to help drone operators fly only where it’s safe and legal to do so. The task will prove completely different from that of managing airliners as we do today, says AirMap CEO and cofounder Ben Marcus who is also serving as the co-chair for the FAA’s Industry Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team. “There are about 10,000 airplane flights happening at once on any given day. Human beings are able to manage all the traffic. But that won’t scale to manage millions of drones and billions of flights.” There are already an estimated 100,000 drone flights taking place per day. Additionally, drones are becoming more and more autonomous. When they are technologically and legally able to fly without a human pilot monitoring them at every moment, AirMap wants to be able to feed them information about the safest routes to fly, taking into consideration not just static rules, terrain and obstacles, but shifting traffic conditions, weather, temporary flight restrictions and more. The company offers an app directly to drone users that can help them plan a safe flight. But more importantly, AirMap works with drone makers, regulators and airports who use the startup’s systems to understand where drones are flying, and to ping them or geofence and bar them from flying where it’s not safe for them to be. Marcus said 80% of the worlds’ drones are using AirMap today for geofencing and to alert operators of airspace conditions. Drone makers who have integrated AirMap’s technology into their products include Yuneec, a new investor in AirMap, industry leaders DJI, Intel, AeryonLabs and others. Today, AirMap announced that it has raised $26 million in a Series B round of venture funding led by Microsoft Ventures to build out its airspace and air traffic management platforms. Microsoft was joined by other strategic backers from across the drone industry including: Airbus Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Rakuten, Sony, and Yuneec. AirMap’s earlier backers, General Catalyst and Lux Capital, also participated. AirMap intends to use the funding to open new offices and further develop its airspace management and air traffic management systems, and to open new offices around the world. With headquarters remaining in Santa Monica, AirMap is planning specifically to open an office in Berlin, and another offices at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Airbus Ventures CEO Thomas d’Halluin said, “There’s so much congestion on roads, and the world population is growing. The organization of airspace will define the future of mobility and help solve that problem of congestion. But you cannot fly people and things without safety first. The drone industry started out with people flying their toys in their own little corner. What AirMap introduces is a flow of accurate information that lets them see and communicate about critical issues so they can fly wherever they need to. They can know don’t fly this area, you’re not the priority here please move aside, or you’re good here, fly safely.” He said investors expect AirMap to use its funding to make its systems better-known to all players in and around the drone industry. “The next stage is about showing the world we will be safer if we deploy AirMap technology, and work together to share information and regulate all these new flying objects in lower airspace.”


A University of Central Florida professor is working with NASA to figure out a way to extract metals from the Martian soil - metals that could be fed into a 3-D printer to produce the components of a human habitat, ship parts, tools and electronics. "It's essentially using additive-manufacturing techniques to make constructible blocks. UCF is collaborating with NASA to understand the science behind it," said Pegasus Professor Sudipta Seal, who is interim chair of UCF's Materials Science and Engineering program, and director of the university's Advanced Materials Processing & Analysis Center and NanoScience Technology Center. NASA and Seal will research a process called molten regolith electrolysis, a technique similar to how metal ores are refined here on Earth. Astronauts would be able to feed Martian soil - known as regolith - into a chamber. Once heated to nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the electrolysis process would produce oxygen and molten metals, both of which are vital to the success of future human space exploration. Seal's expertise also will help determine the form those metals should be in that's most suitable for commercial 3-D printers. NASA intern Kevin Grossman, a graduate student from Seal's group, is also working on the project, which is funded by a NASA grant. Grossman said he hopes future projects in similar areas can grow the current partnership between UCF and the research groups at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. NASA is already working on sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s. The agency has begun developing plans for life-support systems and other technology. NASA isn't alone. Elon Musk, billionaire founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, is working on his own plan. Mars One, a Dutch nonprofit, is touting a plan to send dozens of volunteers from around the world on a one-way trip to colonize Mars. They all agree that for sustainable Mars exploration to work, they must be able to use resources on Mars that would otherwise require costly transportation from Earth - a concept known as in situ resource utilization. That's where Seal's research comes in. "Before you go to Mars, you have to plan it out," Seal said. "I think this is extremely exciting." UCF has a long relationship with NASA, dating back to the first research grant ever received by the university, then known as Florida Technological University. Other UCF faculty members continue researching in situ resource utilization. Phil Metzger of UCF's Florida Space Institute, is working with commercial space mining company Deep Space Industries to figure out a way to make Martian soil pliable and useful for 3D printing. The same company has tapped Metzger and UCF colleague Dan Britt to develop simulated asteroid regolith that will help them develop hardware for asteroid mining.


News Article | February 28, 2017
Site: phys.org

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, on the lower slope of Mount Sharp—a layered mountain inside the crater—has begun a second campaign of investigating active sand dunes on the mountain's northwestern flank. The rover also has been observing whirlwinds carrying dust and checking how far the wind moves grains of sand in a single day's time. Gale Crater observations by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have confirmed long-term patterns and rates of wind erosion that help explain the oddity of having a layered mountain in the middle of an impact crater. "The orbiter perspective gives us the bigger picture—on all sides of Mount Sharp and the regional context for Gale Crater. We combine that with the local detail and ground-truth we get from the rover," said Mackenzie Day of the University of Texas, Austin, lead author of a research report in the journal Icarus about wind's dominant role at Gale. The combined observations show that wind patterns in the crater today differ from when winds from the north removed the material that once filled the space between Mount Sharp and the crater rim. Now, Mount Sharp itself has become a major factor in determining local wind directions. Wind shaped the mountain; now the mountain shapes the wind. The Martian atmosphere is about a hundred times thinner than Earth's, so winds on Mars exert much less force than winds on Earth. Time is the factor that makes Martian winds so dominant in shaping the landscape. Most forces that shape Earth's landscapes—water that erodes and moves sediments, tectonic activity that builds mountains and recycles the planet's crust, active volcanism—haven't influenced Mars much for billions of years. Sand transported by wind, even if infrequent, can whittle away Martian landscapes over that much time. Gale Crater was born when the impact of an asteroid or comet more than 3.6 billion years ago excavated a basin nearly 100 miles (160 kilometers) wide. Sediments including rocks, sand and silt later filled the basin, some delivered by rivers that flowed in from higher ground surrounding Gale. Curiosity has found evidence of that wet era from more than 3 billion years ago. A turning point in Gale's history—when net accumulation of sediments flipped to net removal by wind erosion—may have coincided with a key turning point in the planet's climate as Mars became drier, Day noted. Scientists first proposed in 2000 that the mound at the center of Gale Crater is a remnant from wind eroding what had been a totally filled basin. The new work calculates that the vast volume of material removed—about 15,000 cubic miles (64,000 cubic kilometers)—is consistent with orbital observations of winds' effects in and around the crater, when multiplied by a billion or more years. Other new research, using Curiosity, focuses on modern wind activity in Gale. The rover this month is investigating a type of sand dune that differs in shape from dunes the mission investigated in late 2015 and early 2016. Crescent-shaped dunes were the feature of the earlier campaign—the first ever up-close study of active sand dunes anywhere other than Earth. The mission's second dune campaign is at a group of ribbon-shaped linear dunes. "In these linear dunes, the sand is transported along the ribbon pathway, while the ribbon can oscillate back and forth, side to side," said Nathan Bridges, a Curiosity science team member at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. The season at Gale Crater is now summer, the windiest time of year. That's the other chief difference from the first dune campaign, conducted during less-windy Martian winter. "We're keeping Curiosity busy in an area with lots of sand at a season when there's plenty of wind blowing it around," said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "One aspect we want to learn more about is the wind's effect on sorting sand grains with different composition. That helps us interpret modern dunes as well as ancient sandstones." Before Curiosity heads farther up Mount Sharp, the mission will assess movement of sand particles at the linear dunes, examine ripple shapes on the surface of the dunes, and determine the composition mixture of the dune material. Images taken one day apart of the same piece of ground, including some recent pairs from the downward-looking camera that recorded the rover's landing-day descent, show small ripples of sand moving about an inch (2.5 centimeters) downwind. Meanwhile, whirlwinds called "dust devils" have been recorded moving across terrain in the crater, in sequences of afternoon images taken several seconds apart. After completing the planned dune observations and measurements, Curiosity will proceed southward and uphill toward a ridge where the mineral hematite has been identified from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observations. The Curiosity science team has decided to call this noteworthy feature the "Vera Rubin Ridge," commemorating Vera Cooper Rubin (1928-2016), whose astronomical observations provided evidence for the existence of the universe's dark matter. As Curiosity focuses on the sand dunes, rover engineers are analyzing results of diagnostic tests on the drill feed mechanism, which drives the drill bit in and out during the process of collecting sample material from a rock. One possible cause of an intermittent issue with the mechanism is that a plate for braking the movement may be obstructed, perhaps due to a small piece of debris, resisting release of the brake. The diagnostic tests are designed to be useful in planning the best way to resume use of the drill. The rover team is also investigating why the lens cover on Curiosity's arm-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) did not fully open in response to commands on Feb. 24. The arm has been raised to minimize risk of windborne sand reaching the lens while the cover is partially open. Diagnostic tests of the lens cover are planned this week. During the first year after Curiosity's 2012 landing in Gale Crater, the mission fulfilled its main goal by finding that the region once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. The conditions in long-lived ancient freshwater Martian lake environments included all of the key chemical elements needed for life as we know it, plus a chemical source of energy that is used by many microbes on Earth. The extended mission is investigating how and when the habitable ancient conditions evolved into conditions drier and less favorable for life. This sequence of images shows a dust-carrying whirlwind, called a dust devil, on lower Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater, as viewed by NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover during the summer afternoon of the rover's 1,613rd Martian day, or sol (Feb. 18, 2017). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/TAMU More information: Mackenzie Day et al. Observations of an aeolian landscape: From surface to orbit in Gale Crater, Icarus (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2015.09.042


Calling all space fans: Astronomers want you to help them hunt for a large planet that might be lurking on the outskirts of our solar system. Scientists working with a number of institutions have created a website filled with data that will allow people to hunt for previously undiscovered objects circling the sun from beyond Neptune's orbit. SEE ALSO: Scientists want you to help them find planets in this database of stars The website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, asks people to look through flipbooks of images to try to find "failed stars," known as brown dwarfs, or even the elusive "Planet 9" — a theoretical planet thought to circle the sun from the reaches of the solar system. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 should help add to the automated searches for these objects already underway. “Automated searches don’t work well in some regions of the sky, like the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, because there are too many stars, which confuses the search algorithm,” Berkeley scientist Aaron Meisner said in a statement. “Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it’s exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist,” Meisner added. The new website uses processed data from NASA's WISE telescope to allow citizen scientists to see even the dimmest objects moving out there in the solar system. For decades, scientists have wondered if there might be some kind of large object orbiting the sun past Pluto. Last year, however, astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin found indirect evidence that actually suggests this world exists. Brown and Batygin thinks the Neptune-sized world probably completes a full circuit of the sun every 15,000 years. The team of Caltech scientists think they have compelling evidence for the existence of the world because about six objects they studied in the Kuiper Belt — the icy mass of objects in Pluto's part of space — all seem to have orbits perturbed in the same way. "It's almost like having six hands on a clock all moving at different rates, and when you happen to look up, they're all in exactly the same place," Brown said in a statement in January 2016. "Basically it shouldn't happen randomly. So we thought something else must be shaping these orbits." Whether the planet is found or not, Backyard Worlds should help speed up the process in some way. The website will also help citizen scientists find any brown dwarfs that might be relatively close our sun. These "failed stars" are basically objects that are too big to be considered planets, but too small to be stars. “Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter,” team member Jackie Faherty, said in a statement. “By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds.”


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Think you can find Planet 9? A new citizen-science project lets participants search for hidden solar system objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, where a possible ninth planet may lie. The Zooniverse website enlists the public's help in performing scientific research. For example, the Planet Hunters project looked for signs of alien planets transiting their parent stars. The Zooniverse projects now span a wide range of topics, from space to literature. The newest entry in the Zooniverse space-projects list is called Backyard Worlds: Find Planet 9. You can learn more about the project at Zooniverse's Backyard Worlds website here. For this project, participants are asked to look through data collected by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and help to separate real objects from system artifacts that can look like real objects (false positives). Citizen scientists will look for spots of light that move across the sky, signaling that those points of light are objects relatively close to Earth compared to the background stars. [The Evidence for 'Planet Nine' in Images (Gallery)] Like all of the Zooniverse projects, Backyard Worlds is asking citizen scientists to do a job that can't be done by a computer. "While it's possible to process the data to find moving points of light, we can't get rid of all the noise," according to the Zooniverse website. "Spiky images of stars, especially variable stars, are everywhere. Worse, are the optical ghosts, blurry blobs of light that have been scattered around inside WISE's instruments. These can hop back and forth, or even change color. These artifacts can easily fool our image processing software. "But with your powerful human eyes, you can help us recognize real objects of interest that move among these artifacts," the description reads. "You'll be able to tell what objects are real by the way they move around differently from the artifacts." The website compares the method used in Backyard Worlds to the approach taken by Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. Tombaugh used photographic plates and a device called a blink comparator to look for moving objects in the night sky. Beyond the orbit of Neptune lies a belt of cold, icy objects called the Kuiper Belt; beyond that is a sphere of similar objects called the Oort Cloud. There are a few dwarf planets in addition to Pluto that lie in this region. Between Neptune and the nearest star to the sun, Proxima Centauri, there may be a planet about the size of Neptune, according to some recent predictions by a group of scientists at the California Institute of Technology. The research team also says the object is very likely visible with modern telescopes and could be discovered in the next year. "There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement from NASA. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light," Kuchner said. But WISE searches for infrared light, which can be emitted by objects that are too cool to emit visible light. (Even human bodies radiate infrared light.) The WISE mission scanned the entire sky in 2009 and 2010, uncovering distant galaxies, black holes and objects called brown dwarfs, which are larger than Jupiter but smaller than dwarf stars. There may be a hidden population of brown dwarfs in the region just outside the solar system, according to the Zooniverse website. The WISE spacecraft was also used to search for near-Earth asteroids. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images, said in the statement. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration among NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, according to the statement from NASA. Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: spaceref.com

Astronomers have discovered a cosmic one-two punch unlike any ever seen before. Two of the most powerful phenomena in the Universe, a supermassive black hole, and the collision of giant galaxy clusters, have combined to create a stupendous cosmic particle accelerator. By combining data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India, the NSF's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, and other telescopes, researchers have found out what happens when matter ejected by a giant black hole is swept up in the merger of two enormous galaxy clusters. "We have seen each of these spectacular phenomena separately in many places," said Reinout van Weeren of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Mass., who led the study that appears in the inaugural issue of the journal Nature Astronomy. "This is the first time, however, that we seen them clearly linked together in the same system." This cosmic double whammy is found in a pair of colliding galaxy clusters called Abell 3411 and Abell 3412 located about two billion light years from Earth. The two clusters are both very massive, each weighing about a quadrillion -- or a million billion -- times the mass of the Sun. The comet-shaped appearance of the X-rays detected by Chandra is produced by hot gas from one cluster plowing through the hot gas of the other cluster. Optical data from the Keck Observatory and Japan's Subaru telescope, both on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, detected the galaxies in each cluster. First, at least one spinning, supermassive black hole in one of the galaxy clusters produced a rotating, tightly-wound magnetic funnel. The powerful electromagnetic fields associated with this structure have accelerated some of the inflowing gas away from the vicinity of the black hole in the form of an energetic, high-speed jet. Then, these accelerated particles in the jet were accelerated again when they encountered colossal shock waves -- cosmic versions of sonic booms generated by supersonic aircraft -- produced by the collision of the massive gas clouds associated with the galaxy clusters. "It's almost like launching a rocket into low-Earth orbit and then getting shot out of the Solar System by a second rocket blast," said co-author Felipe Andrade-Santos, also of the CfA. "These particles are among the most energetic particles observed in the Universe, thanks to the double injection of energy." This discovery solves a long-standing mystery in galaxy cluster research about the origin of beautiful swirls of radio emission stretching for millions of light years, detected in Abell 3411 and Abell 3412 with the GMRT. The team determined that as the shock waves travel across the cluster for hundreds of millions of years, the doubly accelerated particles produce giant swirls of radio emission. "This result shows that a remarkable combination of powerful events generate these particle acceleration factories, which are the largest and most powerful in the Universe," said co-author William Dawson of Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, Calif. "It is a bit poetic that it took a combination of the world's biggest observatories to understand this." These results were presented at the 229th meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Grapevine, TX. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations. A labeled image, a podcast, and a video about the findings are available at: http://chandra.si.edu For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/chandra Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Researchers find that the fault has a staircase-like structure, which would result in stronger shaking and more damage during an earthquake RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- A new study by a team of researchers, including one from the University of California, Riverside, found that the fault under Ventura, Calif., would likely cause stronger shaking during an earthquake and more damage than previously suspected. The Ventura-Pitas Point fault in southern California has been the focus of a lot of recent attention because it is thought to be capable of magnitude 8 earthquakes. It underlies the city of Ventura and runs offshore, and thus may be capable of generating tsunamis. Since it was identified as an active and potentially dangerous fault in the late 1980s, there has been a controversy about its location and geometry underground, with two competing models. Originally, researchers assumed the fault was planar and steeply dipping, like a sheet of plywood positioned against a house, to a depth of about 13 miles. But a more recent study, published in 2014, suggested the fault had a "ramp-flat geometry," with a flat section between two tilting sections, similar to a portion of a staircase. In a recently published paper in Geophysical Research Letters, a team of researchers used computer modeling to test the two alternatives. In these computer models, the crust -- outermost layer of rock -- in the Ventura-Santa Barbara region is represented as a three-dimensional volume, with the surfaces of the region's faults as weaknesses within it. That volume is then "squeezed" at the rate and direction that the region is being squeezed by plate tectonics. In comparisons of the expected movement in the models with GPS data, the fault with the staircase-like structure was favored. That means more of the fault, which runs westward 60 miles from the city of Ventura, through the Santa Barbara Channel, and beneath the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta, is closer to the surface. That would likely cause stronger shaking during an earthquake and more damage. "Our models confirm that the Ventura-Pitas Point fault is a major fault, that lies flat under much of the coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara," said Gareth Funning, an associate professor of geophysics at UC Riverside, one of the authors of the study. "This means that a potential source of large earthquakes is just a few miles beneath the ground in those cities. We would expect very strong shaking if one occurred." Future research will address the consequences of there being a fault ramp under Ventura. Researchers now can run more accurate simulations based on the ramp model to predict where the shaking will be strongest, and whether they would expect a tsunami. The paper is called "Mechanical models favor a ramp geometry for the Ventura-Pitas Point fault, California." In addition to Funning, the authors are: Scott Marshall and Hannah E. Krueger, both of Appalachian State University; Susan Owen, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; and John Loveless at Smith College. The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment is now nearly 23,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

This could be the last story I ever write, if one conspiracy theory circulating online is to be believed. Late last year word began to spread that a recently spotted large asteroid, 2016 WF9, will smash into Earth as early as February 16, triggering a tsunami or destroying entire cities. But NASA says the space rock's closest approach to Earth will happen on February 25 at a distance of nearly 32 million miles (51 million kilometers). "This pass will not bring it particularly close," the space agency said in a statement in late December. "The trajectory of 2016 WF9 is well understood, and the object is not a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future." Some more dubious corners of the internet, however, insist NASA is lying about the nature of the asteroid and its apocalyptic trajectory. They commonly cite a Russian astronomer, or "Nibiru whistle-blower," named Dyomin Damir Zakharovich who says the government is covering up a larger conspiracy to hide the truth of a hidden planet Nibiru, one of the internet's original fake news stories. Problem is, there's about as much verifiable evidence that Zakharovich exists as there is for the existence of Nibiru. That is to say, it's restricted to some very sketchy sources. Much of the current chatter about 2016 WF9 that worked its way into mainstream tabloid outlets can be traced back to a site that quotes Zakharovich as claiming the asteroid was actually flung off of Nibiru and predicting it will hit New York state on Thursday. The same site appears to employ a click-bait strategy of taking whatever news story is dominating headlines at a given moment and connecting it to the Nibiru conspiracy theory. Also, astronomers aren't known to predict exactly where asteroids or meteors might hit Earth since there's no way to tell how any object might burn up in the atmosphere. So rest easy and guard yourself against the fake news onslaught, which is far more likely to do real damage to our world than an asteroid this month. Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.latimes.com

The venture capital arms of Qualcomm Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Airbus have led a $26-million investment in AirMap, the builder of drone air traffic management software announced Thursday. The Santa Monica start-up, which opened its first office in 2015, builds technology that tracks air traffic, weather and flight restrictions in real time to guide unmanned aerial vehicles. AirMap says its software supports more than 100,000 flights a day. Drones are among the hottest emerging technologies, with companies including Amazon, AT&T and a variety of start-ups betting that the vehicles will play a greater role in the economy as their technology improves and regulations allow for increased use and, eventually, autonomous flight. “Drones are proving their value today, but this is just the beginning,” AirMap co-founders Ben Marcus and Gregory McNeal said in a blog post about the investment. “We’re looking forward to quickly bringing AirMap’s airspace management platform and solutions for cybersecurity, geofencing, Unmanned aircraft Traffic Management … and more to new markets worldwide,” the co-founders said, adding that the company is opening offices in Berlin and at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Other investors in the funding round are Sony, Rakuten and Chinese drone builder Yuneec. AirMap said the funding round brought its financing to more than $43 million. Trump's promise to ramp up deportations spreads fear — among California businesses SpaceX Dragon brings supplies (and a birthday treat) to the International Space Station Mega-mansions in this L.A. suburb used to sell to Chinese buyers in days. Now they sit empty for months


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.npr.org

Some of the planets could be home to liquid water, but it remains unclear whether life could exist on such strange worlds.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)


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

Built as a backup, now the duplicate copy of the Lightning Imaging Sensor is off to a two-year mission in space to measure the "amount, rate, and optical characteristics of lightning over Earth." As a sequel to the success of the original LIS instrument launched in 1997, the backup is on its way to the International Space Station as a payload to the 10th SpaceX cargo resupply mission launched on Feb. 18. The original LIS was shut down after 17 years in collecting lightning which was part of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. The follow-on mission will "sample lightning over a wider geographical area," said Richard Blakeslee, science lead for the LIS at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. The original LIS was carried by TRMM satellite orbiting over locations on Earth between 35 degrees north latitude and 35 degrees south latitude. It generated data for the tropics but not so much toward the more temperate zones including the densely populated areas away from the equator. Unlike the first LIS, the spare LIS will be mounted on the exterior of the orbiting lab which orbital inclination will allow the LIS to observe areas in Northern and Southern hemispheres for 24 hours. Using the International Space Station for the mounting of LIS will enable to get real-time lightning data. This data can be used in weather forecasting, advisories, and warnings. The data are accessible to interested users worldwide in partnership with NASA's Short Term Prediction Research and Transition Center in Huntsville. Atmospheric scientists were convened by NASA in 1979 to explore the possibility of using space-based lightning observations as a tool to study weather and climate. It paved the way for the development of LIS and launching of TRMM as the first mission documenting the global lightning climatology from space. The LIS data will also be used in conjunction with other space-based weather instruments, such as the Geostationary Lightning Mapper, to generate date that will increase present knowledge on severe weather formation as well as in changes in lightning distributions. GLM was recently launched on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-16 satellite. "The space-based vantage point allows us to observe all forms of lightning over land and sea, 24 hours a day," said Blakeslee. The data from LIS will help explain the link between lightning and severe weather condition. Weather scientists believe that proper understanding of the relationship between lightning and the accompanying severe weather holds the key to enhanced weather forecasting that will save lives and properties not only in the U.S. but also around the world. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.businesswire.com

TUCSON, Ariz.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--World View, the stratospheric exploration company, today announced the grand opening of its new Global Headquarters campus, collocated with Spaceport Tucson. The 142,000-square-foot facility is the world’s first purpose-built commercial gateway to the Stratosphere. World View’s founder and CEO, Jane Poynter, formerly a Biosphere 2 crew member with a long and successful executive career in aerospace, lauds the moment as a major step in unlocking the untapped economic and scientific potential of the stratosphere. “World View and Spaceport Tucson are at the forefront of opening an entirely new economy in the stratosphere,” said Poynter. “For decades, trillions of dollars of commerce have been transacted in commercial airspace and in low-earth orbit, but the stratosphere has been largely ignored. With the grand opening of this facility and all the great work being done within its walls, we’re embarking on a new era of affordable and meaningful commercial access to this layer of Earth’s atmosphere.” World View made the decision to call Tucson, AZ home after a rigorous nation-wide search and negotiations with multiple state agencies. The newly constructed facility in Tucson, AZ will house the company’s stratospheric balloon manufacturing, stratocraft assembly, Stratollite and Voyager development activities, payload integration, and flight mission control. Among many of the unique features of the facility is a stratospheric balloon manufacturing table stretching over 1/10 of a mile long, a 100ft tall parafoil test and quality control tower currently housing one of the world’s largest parafoils, and a world-class mission control room overlooking the 700ft diameter launch pad that is Spaceport Tucson. World View hosted a Grand Opening ceremony led by World View co-founders Jane Poynter, Taber MacCallum, Astronaut Mark Kelly, and Dr. Alan Stern. The ceremony included remarks from Senator John McCain, NASA’s Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate Stephen Jurczyk, and the FAA’s Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Dr. George Nield, while welcoming guests from around the world that included spaceflight reservation holders, world-class researchers and scientists, Silicon Valley financiers, elected officials and others. “[Arizona] has a bright and prosperous future thanks to companies like World View that continue to push the boundaries of technology, innovation, and exploration,” said Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain. “In just a few short years, World View has made historic breakthroughs that have revolutionized the areas of disaster recovery, first response, communications, and weather forecasting. World View’s remarkable research and development will soon make possible what was previously impossible.” World View’s new remotely managed, un-crewed Stratollite vehicle, offers low-cost, long-duration (up to months at a time) persistence over customer-specified areas of interest. Among its wide variety of uses, the Stratollite will deliver a capability that will help researchers greatly advance our knowledge of planet Earth, improve our ability to identify and track severe weather, and assist first responders during natural disaster. Similar to a geo-stationary satellite (but in the stratosphere via high-altitude balloon) this new class of vehicle will offer a long sought after capability in aerospace – low-cost, continuous persistence over areas of interest. World View’s proprietary altitude-control technology allows it to harness the near-360° countervailing stratospheric winds to steer the Stratollite to and from desired locations, and loiter above them for weeks and months of time. Just this month, World View and Ball Aerospace launched a collaborative Stratollite remote sensing mission from Arizona that demonstrated the platform’s superior capability as a high-altitude imaging platform. The mission’s low-resolution test camera returned 5m resolution imagery, successfully demonstrating the platform for a wide variety of remote sensing applications. This mission was a major step on the path to the commercial offering of low-cost, real-time, high-resolution imagery data from the stratosphere. The two companies plan to build on the success of the flight with subsequent Stratollite missions that will carry high-resolution Ball Aerospace sensors for long-duration, persistent flights over desired locations. World View’s new Global HQ and Spaceport Tucson are poised to open a new economic and scientific gateway to the Stratosphere, and this grand opening represents only a beginning of great things to come. For a downloadable images and b-roll, please visit http://bit.ly/2lCq86x. Additional post-event video and imagery will be posted by 9 p.m. MT. World View’s innovative flight technologies offer a unique perspective of Earth from the edge of space. World View delivers meaningful insights to enterprises, agencies, and individuals via two primary business segments: Stratollite un-crewed flight systems and Voyager human spaceflight systems. Stratollites, in operation today, offer low-cost, long-duration, persistent high-altitude flight for enterprise and government agencies. Using advanced stratospheric balloon technology, Stratollite applications include communications, remote sensing, weather, and research. The Voyager human spaceflight experience is under development and will launch in the near future, offering private citizens a comfortable, safe, and perspective-changing voyage to the edge of space via high-altitude balloon. To learn more about World View, visit www.WorldView.space.


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

NASA's Dawn spacecraft image of the limb of dwarf planet Ceres shows a section of the northern hemisphere in this image on October 17, 2016. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout via REUTERS CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A NASA spacecraft has detected carbon-based materials, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on the Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, scientists said on Thursday. The finding puts Ceres, a rock-and-ice world about 590 miles (950 km) in diameter, on a growing list of places in the solar system of interest to scientists looking for life beyond Earth. The list includes Mars and several ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The discovery, published in the journal Science, was made by a team of researchers using NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres for nearly two years. "I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life," Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wrote in an email to Reuters. "However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further." Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is located about three times farther from the sun than Earth. The composition of Ceres is thought to reflect the material present in parts of the solar system when it was forming some 4-1/2 billion years ago. "The discovery indicates that the starting material in the solar system contained the essential elements, or the building blocks, for life," Russell said. "Ceres may have been able to take this process only so far. Perhaps to move further along the path took a larger body with more complex structure and dynamics," like Earth, Russell added. The organic material was found near a 31-mile-wide (50-km-wide) crater in Ceres' northern hemisphere. Although the exact molecular compounds in the organics could not be identified, they matched tar-like minerals, such as kerite or asphaltite, the scientists wrote. "Because Ceres is a dwarf planet that may still preserve internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean, this opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself," planetary scientist Michael Kuppers of the European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid wrote in an related essay in the journal Science. Based on the location and type of organics found on Ceres, scientists ruled out the possibility they were deposited by a crashing asteroid or comet. Lead researcher Maria Cristina De Sanctis of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics and colleagues suspect the material formed inside Ceres through hydrothermal activity, though how the organics reached the surface remains a mystery.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

An artist's conception of what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about their diameters, masses, and distances from the host star. Color and other details about appearance are completely speculative. —“The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space,” Carl Sagan once said. We still don’t know if we’re alone or not, but a new discovery suggests that at least one nearby solar system makes good use of its space indeed. Seven Earth-sized planets densely populate the area around a nearby dwarf star, circling it in tight, fast ellipses, announced an international team of scientists on Wednesday. An unprecedented three of those seven planets could support oceans, making them prime candidates in the search for life, and upcoming space telescopes promise to reveal more about the fascinating system in the near future – including how much potentially deadly radiation the star TRAPPIST-1 could be unleashing on its planets. “This is an amazing planetary system – not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to the Earth!” lead author Michaël Gillon, of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium, said in a press release. Sitting at a Millennium Falcon-friendly 12 parsecs (39 light years) away, ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 is relatively close to Earth, but don’t bother trying to find it in the sky tonight. It's just a little larger than Jupiter and burns about 2,000 times more dimly than our sun. Despite its unassuming stature, this mini-star is home to seven planets, all about the same mass as Earth, give or take a third. They zoom around their host at dizzying speeds, with orbits ranging from about two days to two weeks. If dropped into our solar system, the whole bunch would fit comfortably inside the orbit of Mercury. An observer on any one planet’s surface would be treated to a view of several planets hanging in the sky, each looking larger than our moon appears to us, say scientists. Inter-planetary trips would take days, rather than months or years. But what’s really turning heads is where the planets orbit relative to their host. Astronomers are especially interested in the area around a star where surface temperatures are not too hot and not too cold for liquid water to exist. Nicknamed “the Goldilocks zone,” this habitable band is just right for liquid water to support life as we know it. The TRAPPIST-1 system is much more compact than our solar system, but because dwarf stars emit so much less energy than our sun, that turns out to be just right for three of the seven planets. "What is significant about this system is the number of rocky, Earth-sized planets, and the number of planets in the habitable zone, both of which are unprecedented," Chris Copperwheat, one of the paper's co-authors and the head astronomer at the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool, tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. In this respect, the newly discovered system may be even more habitable than our own. "TRAPPIST-1 now holds the record for the most rocky planets in the habitable zone," says Lisa Kaltenegger, the director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University, who was not part of the study. "Our solar system only has two (Earth and Mars)," she writes in an email to the Monitor. "We have other systems with up to seven planets, but we don't have a system with seven rocky ones." Even the outliers could support at least some water, depending on the amount of heat produced internally by the gravitational stretching of the worlds, a process known as tidal heating. A cosmic accident of geometry made the discovery possible. The solar system spins in such a way that, as viewed from Earth, the seven observed planets pass directly between TRAPPIST-1 and our telescopes. When these transits take place, the star dims just a little, its brightness dropping about 1 percent. Gillon’s team had already known that TRAPPIST-1 was home to exoplanets, observing three crossing simultaneously in 2015. But uncovering the rest of the family was a team effort involving data from telescopes in Chile, Morocco, Hawaii, the Canary Islands, South Africa, and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which observed the system continuously for 20 days straight. Now the question on everyone’s lips is, what about life? Scientists are a long way from answering the question conclusively, but excitement is high. "Looking for life elsewhere, this system is probably our best bet as of today," co-author Brice-Olivier Demory, a professor at the University of Bern’s Center for Space and Habitability, said in a press release. Dr. Copperwheat agrees that initial signs are promising, if scant. "I think this is a very significant discovery – certainly one of the most exciting I have been involved with in my career," he says. "This is a very interesting and complex system which will be a key future target for the search for Earth-like conditions and life." The most tantalizing targets are the three middle planets. In their paper, published in Nature on Wednesday, the researchers speculate that they might be home to a familiar feature: liquid-water oceans. "Using a one-dimensional cloud-free climate model that accounts for the low-temperature spectrum of the host star, we deduce that planets e, f and g could harbor water oceans on their surfaces, assuming Earth-like atmospheres," they wrote. In addition to their Goldilocks real estate, the planets are all less dense than the Earth, says Copperwheat, which implies dynamic compositions potentially featuring liquid water, plentiful ice, or extended atmospheres. But everything hinges on that assumption of Earth-like atmospheres, which are far from a sure bet. Remember that Mars falls in the sun’s habitable zone, too, but surface water doesn’t hang around too long, even on a nice day, before the ultra-thin atmosphere lets it boil off into space. Just how life-friendly this kind of dwarf star might be is a hot topic, since the long-lived, slow-burning stars are paradoxically much more active than our sun, constantly shooting off solar flares that may bathe these super-close planets in high levels of harsh ultraviolet and X-ray radiation. A recent paper from NASA considered just this effect, concluding that our neighboring dwarf star Proxima Centauri would likely erode any atmosphere that may exist around orbiting planet Proxima b over the course of about a hundred million years. The same process could spell trouble for anything orbiting around TRAPPIST-1. The dwarf star's X-ray emission is roughly the same as our sun's, says Copperwheat, but "these planets are a lot closer so will suffer a greater degree of irradiation." That's not necessarily a deal-breaker for life, he cautions. "The short answer is that we don't know what the long-term consequences of high-energy radiation are to the habitability of Earth-type planets," he writes. "It may strip off the atmospheres, rendering the planets inhospitable to life, but on the other hand it could actually help by just stripping off the hydrogen and helium," he explains: atmospheric ingredients that, some scientists have argued, are not conducive to life. Dr. Kaltenegger, currently in the process of publishing papers modeling atmospheric erosion of both Proxima b and the TRAPPIST-1 planets, sees plenty of potential even for environments bathed in UV radiation. She points out that planets in either system could keep their atmospheres if they have Earth-like features like a magnetic field or an ozone layer. "I would not worry too much about a complete erosion of the atmosphere, but a thinner atmosphere is definitely possible, although that would still be able to shelter an ocean," she explains. "Life is a definite possibility on these worlds... but it might look different." Kaltenegger published a paper last summer outlining one UV survival strategy, based on Earth's bioluminescent corals. Organisms on planets around a dwarf star could protect themselves from the damaging rays by absorbing the UV radiation, and then releasing it at a longer, safer wavelength, she theorized. Such an ecosystem could react to solar flares by literally lighting up the planet, a sign she proposes could be observed from Earth. With so many theories flying around, astronomers’ next task is clear: Observe the TRAPPIST-1 system and gather as much data as possible to answer some of these questions. “At the moment, theoretical work on these questions is I think somewhat inconclusive, so it's up to observers like myself to actually try and detect the atmospheres to better inform the models,” Copperwheat explains. Fortunately, they might not have to wait long. A number of next-gen planet finders will come online next year, including the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope. Scientists have high hopes in particular for the James Webb Space Telescope, which should be able to take direct measurements of the planets as they cross in front of TRAPPIST-1, revealing tell-tale signs of composition, atmosphere, and potential biosignatures like ozone. “The James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s successor, will have the possibility to detect the signature of ozone if this molecule is present in the atmosphere of one of these planets,” explained Dr. Demory in a press release. “This could be an indicator for biological activity on the planet.” And the signal shouldn’t be hard to pick up. Unlike our planet, which transits the sun only once every 365 days, the near-daily frequency with which these seven planets transit TRAPPIST-1 basically guarantees good chances for observation. Kaltenegger says that finding biosignatures requires a clear view of the planet and “roughly 70 to 100 hours (of observation) as a rule of thumb.” Copperwheat is also looking forward to the data collection bonanza to come, saying the system “is going to be intensively studied for many years to come” to help determine its habitability. Even if all seven worlds turn out to be solar flare-roasted wastelands, Copperwheat suggests we’ve still learned an important lesson about our place in the cosmos: "It seems Earth-sized planets may be very common in the Universe!"


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

Tech billionaire Elon Musk, founder of the pioneering space transport company SpaceX, has announced a mission to fly two people to the moon next year in what would be a landmark moment for space travel. Many details about the mission, announced Monday, have yet to be revealed, including who the two "private citizens" will be, but here's what we know so far: The moon is about 240,000 miles from Earth, and the travelers will do a flyby of the lunar surface before returning to Earth. For some context, the distance from New York to Tokyo is a little less than 7,000 miles. The mission is expected to use an upgraded version of SpaceX's Dragon capsule and its Falcon Heavy rocket in development. "At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying," SpaceX said in a statement Monday. It would be the first manned mission into deep space since the end of the Apollo program in the early 1970s. Musk did not reveal the identities of the two wealthy passengers, but he said they know one another and are serious about the mission. He wouldn't reveal how much of a deposit they put down, but called it "significant." The company itself is valued in the billions, and the rockets themselves are multi-million dollar instruments, but the overall cost of this kind of personalized space mission remains unknown at this time. "This should be a really exciting mission that hopefully gets the world really excited about sending people into deep space again," Musk said about the journey, which will mark a first for the nascent industry of space tourism. NASA, which has flew 24 astronauts to the moon from 1969 to 1972, complimented SpaceX for the company's ambition. "NASA commends its industry partners for reaching higher," the government space agency said in a statement on Monday. SpaceX was the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and safely return it to Earth in 2010, and the first commercial enterprise to fly to the space station in 2012 on a supply mission. The 2018 moonshot, if successful, will mark another first for Musk's ambitious company, which has its sights on an eventual mission to Mars. This mission does not involve a lunar landing, but it still has significant risks attached to it. The passengers will undergo training, according to Musk, but without knowing who they are, it’s unclear if these two people have any experience with spaceflight. "I think they are entering this with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here," Musk told reporters about the passengers. An explosion occurred during a SpaceX fueling operation at its launch site in Florida in September, destroying a satellite that Facebook intended to use to provide internet connectivity to rural Africa. SpaceX was conducting a fueling test on Launch Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral when the incident took place, an engineer at the Kennedy Space Center told ABC News at the time. The explosion was felt around the facility, and a mushroom cloud could be seen over the launch site, the engineer said. "They're certainly not naive, and we'll do everything we can to minimize that risk," Musk said of his customers.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Scientist Andrew Baird surveys healthy reefs off the coast of Australia between Mackay and Townsville in October 2016. —More than 2 million tourists visit the Great Barrier Reef each year. Now, Australia’s government wants snorkeling visitors to help monitor it for signs of coral bleaching. “We have our rangers out in the Marine Park doing surveys,” Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Russell Reichelt said in a press release, “but we need all the information we can get from scientists and the tourism industry to help us determine priority areas for further investigation.” The Park Authority has even released an Eye on the Reef app for visitors to use, providing a focus for eco-minded tourists and activities for school groups. “Citizen-science” ventures like these have also caught on in the United States, with the Audubon Society crowdsourcing bird counts and NASA asking Americans to help find exoplanets. By asking the Great Barrier Reef’s visitors to collect data on coral bleaching, Australia hopes to better inform efforts to protect the reef from climate change. As Lonnie Shekhtman reported for The Christian Science Monitor explained last April: At the time of Ms. Shekhtman’s reporting, scientists had noticed widespread bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, after the 2015-16 El Niño had warmed the area’s waters. But according to Terry Hughes, a professor at James Cook University, properly assessing the damage took several months. "When bleaching occurs, in the 6-12-month period afterwards, the corals either survive and regain their colour, or if they don't regain their colour, they slowly die," Professor Hughes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) last November. "So that's why we've had to wait seven or eight months before resurveying these reefs." But by the end of last year, Hughes and other scientists had confirmed reports of massive bleaching. They found that the March 2016 bleaching event had killed two-thirds of coral in one 700-kilometer stretch (about 435 miles) of reef off the coast of Queensland. The news wasn’t entirely bad. Sections farther south retained most of their coral. But rising global temperatures could increase the odds of large-scale bleaching in the future. Andrew King, a climate scientist at Australia’s University of Melbourne, projects a 70 percent of ocean temperatures as warm as 2016’s in 2030, and a 97 percent chance in 2050. Higher temperatures, in turn, could make coral bleaching events more frequent – and harder for coral to recover. That could not only spell the end of a natural wonder, but also have serious implications for Australia’s economy. The Australia Institute think-tank estimates that “almost 175,000 people each year” from the US, Britain, and China “are more likely to visit a country other than Australia if bleaching persists,” costing the country $1 billion (about US$770 million) per year in tourist revenue. Scientists are clear about what needs to happen to avoid this outcome. “If we do take action, we do have some positive influence that results in a reduced chance of bleaching later in the 21st century,” Dr. King told ABC news. "We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we need to make policies that are conducive to that.” As Australia braces for another March of unusually warm temperatures, the country’s government hopes that gathering more data on the reef can deepen scientists’ knowledge on how corals are responding to rising temperatures – and build public support for the kinds of policies needed to protect it. “Despite the pressures of climate change, the Reef remains a place of great beauty and biodiversity – a very precious place on our planet that we need to continue to value and protect,” Dr. Reichelt said. With the Eyes on the Reef program participants can do as little as upload photos from their underwater explorations with an app or, for those wanting to get more involved, the Rapid Monitoring Survey offers online training and an underwater slate to record the health of the coral.


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

The new executive order, effective next week, revokes and replaces the controversial order that President Trump signed in late January and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked last month. Erin Dietrich, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is 39 weeks pregnant and re-enacted April the giraffe's livestream awaiting her birth. The investigation into the double homicide enters its fourth week, with tips pouring in and the reward surging. Plus, Amy Schumer is surprised with a message from this season's Bachelor Nick Viall. Severe storms leveled an airport in Missouri, overturned semi-trucks from Wyoming to Kansas while a large blaze near Amarillo, Texas, forced mandatory evacuations. The GOP plan dumps the ACA's individual mandate, creates a system of tax credits to provide access to care and freezes Medicaid expansion beginning in 2020. ABC News' Jon Karl reports on the White House reaction to the House Republicans' plan and obstacles the bill may face before it could become law. ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams analyzes the legality of President Trump's revised executive order and the potential legal challenges it could face. SpaceX, the space technology and exploration company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, plans to fly a pair of civilians around the moon and back to Earth in 2018, the company announced Monday. SpaceX, the space technology and exploration company founded by billionaire Elon Musk, plans to fly a pair of civilians around the moon and back to Earth in 2018, the company announced Monday. According to Musk, SpaceX was approached by the two individuals who expressed interest in the mission, which is expected to skim the moon and carry them into deep space on the company's Dragon Capsule and Falcon Heavy rocket after launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A press release from SpaceX noted that the pair "have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission." Musk declined to reveal the clients' identities. The company said that additional information about the team will be released following approval, health and fitness tests. SpaceX is planning to send an unmanned Dragon craft to the International Space Station later in the year before launching a manned mission in 2018. The company has contracted by NASA to continue missions to the space station at a rate of four per year. The trip around the moon is scheduled to take place after SpaceX has completed successful manned missions for NASA.


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

(Artist concept, interior) The Modular Supercomputing Facility (MSF) at Ames uses fan technology that consumes less than 10% of the energy used by mechanical refrigeration in traditional supercomputing centers. Credit: NASA/Marco Librero Though there's been some recent relief in California's long-standing drought, water conservation techniques continue to be a hot topic for facilities that require significant amounts of water for day-to-day operations. The task of powering up and cooling down a high-end computing facility consumes large amounts of electricity and water. NASA is adopting new conservation practices with a prototype modular supercomputing facility at the agency's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. The system, called Electra, is expected to save about 1,300,000 gallons of water and a million kilowatt-hours of energy each year, equal to the annual energy usage of about 90 households. "This is a different way for NASA to do supercomputing in a cost-effective manner," said Bill Thigpen, chief of the Advanced Computing Branch at Ames' NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility. "It makes it possible for us to be flexible and add computing resources as needed, and we can save about $35 million dollars—about half the cost of building another big facility." One of the benefits of the Electra system is its flexibility, through container modules that can be easily added or removed in sections without disrupting operations. NASA is already considering an expansion of up to 16 times the current capability of the modular environment to keep up with the requests for supercomputing time needed to support NASA researchers. Scientists and engineers around the country can log into Electra to use its high-performance computing for their research supporting NASA missions. In doing so, they will significantly reduce the impact on the environment, compared to using traditional supercomputers. "One of NASA's key science goals is to expand our knowledge of Earth systems," said Thigpen. "So we have a responsibility to do our part to lessen the impact of our technologies on the environment over the long term." The reduced use of water and energy resources does not lessen the system's capability. The Electra system will provide users an additional 280 million hours of computing time per year, according to Thigpen. It already ranks 39th in the U.S. on the TOP500 list of the most powerful computer systems. Users of the system say it's faster and easier to run jobs in the heavily utilized NAS computing environment, where time using the agency's most powerful supercomputer, Pleiades, is always in demand. The Modular Supercomputing Facility was built and installed by NASA partners SGI/CommScope and is managed by the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division at Ames.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has out-of-this-world ambitions – with expansion plans to match. Permit filings at the city of Kent, Wash., reveal plans for a 236,000-square-foot warehouse complex and 102,900 square feet of office space, southwest of Blue Origin’s current 300,000-square-foot headquarters and rocket production facility in an industrial area of the city. Last year, Blue Origin purchased a 120,000-square-foot warehouse building across the street from its headquarters to support the production of the company’s BE-3 and BE-4 rocket engines, as well as its New Shepard suborbital boosters and crew capsules. “When we go to the next step with our next rocket, we’re going to use that building as a bigger facility for production,” the Puget Sound Business Journal quoted Blue Origin’s president, Rob Meyerson, as saying. Blue Origin didn’t respond to GeekWire’s inquiries about the existing warehouse building, or the bigger project that’s under consideration. But a planner for the city of Kent, Jason Garnham, confirmed that the future project is still in the works. In an email, Garnham told GeekWire that the construction permit applications are “currently on hold, pending our request for more information regarding environmental conditions of the site.” “Meanwhile, the project is also under review by other jurisdictions such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the applicant is awaiting review and approval by those agencies before proceeding,” Garnham said. The reviews could take another two to four months, he said. The project is listed in city records as “Avenue 55 Blue Origin.” Avenue 55, a Seattle-based development management company, did not respond to GeekWire’s requests for comment. Blue Origin’s workforce is growing along with its expansion plans. Last March, the company said it had 600 employees, but the number has since risen closer to 1,000. More than 100 job openings are listed on its website. Virtually all of those jobs are in Kent, 16 miles south of Seattle, with a smattering of additional openings at Blue Origin’s West Texas suborbital launch site and at its Florida office. A 750,000-square-foot factory is currently under construction near NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it’s due to be ready to manufacture Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital rockets by the end of 2017. The end of this year is just about the time that Blue Origin hopes to start putting test astronauts on New Shepard’s suborbital spaceflights in West Texas. The New Shepard capsule, which has been tested six times over the course of the past two years, is capable of carrying up to six people to altitudes beyond 62 miles. The ride provides several minutes of weightlessness and an astronaut’s-eye view of Earth. During a recent interview published by the Welland Tribune in Ontario, newly hired Blue Origin engineer Ben Laurence said the company’s testing plan calls for three crew members to pilot the spacecraft. “The other three spots are being filled through a lottery within the company,” Laurence said. Laurence said he’d love to go. And Bezos has said paying passengers could be flying as early as 2018, although the ticket price hasn’t yet been set and reservations aren’t yet being taken. The New Shepard is powered by Blue Origin’s hydrogen-fueled BE-3 rocket engine, but the New Glenn will make use of the BE-4, a more powerful engine that burns liquefied natural gas. The BE-4 is also the current favorite for use on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket. However, Blue Origin is facing competition on that score from Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine. ULA is waiting to get the results from the first full-scale BE-4 engine firing before making its choice. That all-up static fire test is expected to take place sometime in the next few months. If the tests go the way Bezos hopes, Blue Origin aims to ramp up BE-4 operations to reach full production by 2019, either in Kent or someplace else – like Florida, for instance. In Florida, state and local officials have already set aside at least $18 million in incentives for Blue Origin’s orbital operations, and are talking about allocating $17 million more. Meanwhile, the Washington Legislature is considering a bill that would provide tax credits for Blue Origin and other companies engaged in advanced space manufacturing, as well as biotech and environmental ventures. For what it’s worth, an analysis from the Washington Department of Revenue suggests that the credits could have a fiscal impact of $30 million over the next two years. Not all of the credits would go to Blue Origin, of course. How many of Blue Origin’s big plans will turn into reality? Where and when will that happen? Figuring out the economic and policy calculations that will drive Jeff Bezos’ decisions over the next year could get as complicated as, well, rocket science.


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

The planet Proxima b orbiting the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri, the closest star to our Solar System. Some hoped Proxima b could be habitable, but a recent calculation suggests not. Kornmesser/Handout via Reuters —Not too hot, not too cold, and not too baked by high energy X-ray and ultraviolet "superflares." When it comes to finding just the right place for life, it seems like we haven't been picky enough. As such, we may have been too hopeful in thinking there was a habitable exoplanet in the solar system next door. The likelihood that red dwarf stars such as our neighbor Proxima Centauri could host planets with life has long been a hotly debated topic. But a new NASA paper says those odds are vanishing indeed. These small, cool, long-lived stars are paradoxically more active than our sun, but some had suggested a sliver of a habitable zone could exist at just the right time under just the right conditions. This new paper slams that door shut, showing that even relatively quiet dwarfs eject enough planet-frying radiation to strip off atmosphere-forming oxygen in the astronomical blink of an eye. Red dwarfs have been a tantalizing target for planet hunters because they're everywhere, accounting for 20 of the 30 nearest stars to Earth, and up to three quarters of the stars in the Milky Way. The debate heated up even further last summer when scientists announced the discovery of Proxima b, an Earth-sized rocky planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, one of the three stars in the Alpha Centauri system. The question was, how big was the red-dwarf habitable zone – i.e., the "Goldilocks zone" – and could Proxima b fall within it? The nickname "Goldilocks zone" refers to the range around a star where any orbiting planets could theoretically have liquid water on their surface, due to typical temperatures that would fall somewhere between boiling and freezing. In other words, they'd be just right, like in the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." For chilly red dwarfs, calculations based on heat and light had suggested a narrow belt 10 to 20 times closer than Earth is to the sun might just do the trick. The range was thinner than that of sun-like stars, but red dwarfs' overwhelming numbers still made them promising candidates. Plus, the newly discovered Proxima b, fondly dubbed "the pale red dot," seemed to fall precisely in this range. Reality, as is often the case, turns out to be more complicated. "Sometimes we use a loose terminology such as a 'habitable zone' or just a 'water zone' or 'super Earth' or 'mini-Neptune' that have no quantitative physics behind them. Our study is an attempt in that direction," lead author Vladimir Airapetian, a solar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, tells The Christian Science Monitor in an email. A quick look at our solar system, where Venus, with its 864 degree Fahrenheit surface temperature, shares the Goldilocks zone with Earth, is enough to show that a star's light and heat fall far short of the whole story. In the case of Proxima Centauri-style dwarf stars, the NASA team took a detailed look at the effects their radiation would have on any nearby planets. Solar flares are a cause for concern on Earth, too, but the violent eruptions that send out huge blasts of radiation and stellar material are thought to be tens to hundreds of times stronger for Proxima Centauri. Plus, they may take place as frequently as once every hour and a half, according to Dr. Airapetian. Scientists have long suspected that extreme space weather might make these dwarf stars less than hospitable, but the NASA team put numbers to those impressions, showing that even relatively "'quiet' dwarfs are more active than previously thought," he says. Specifically, they found that high energy X-ray and ultraviolet radiation would strip the planet of life-supporting elements through a process called "ion escape", where negatively charged electrons in the upper atmosphere, knocked loose by solar radiation, draw positively charged ions out into space. Previous research had shown that this phenomenon would apply to lighter elements such as hydrogen, but the new paper found the process is bad news for heavier elements like oxygen, too. The team suspects the same may be true of nitrogen, which makes up almost 80% of Earth's atmosphere. And, for life as we understand it to exist, an atmosphere is required. The upshot is that even if an exoplanet like Proxima b had all the right ingredients for life, the punishing stellar activity of its host dwarf star would blow away the atmosphere in tens or hundreds of millions of years. For comparison, life took billions of years to emerge on Earth. "We show that in most of the cases of M dwarfs [red dwarfs], habitable zones are not just narrower, but non-existent," Airapetian explains. The problem is that if there's no atmosphere, water will immediately evaporate off into space, no matter what the temperature is. The conclusion has serious consequences for how common life may be in the galaxy. In a press release, Airapetian underlined just how special our solar system seems to be: “As we learn more about what we need from a host star, it seems more and more that our sun is just one of those perfect parent stars, to have supported life on Earth.” But for those hoping we aren't alone in the galaxy, or the discovery of a second home for humanity, this report isn't all bad news. Using the new, refined understanding of the "Goldilocks zone" will only help scientists focus the search, focusing on only the most promising candidates. "These estimates are critical in our realistic assessment of promising targets for exoplanetary habitability to be observed and characterized with upcoming expensive missions, including the James Web Space Telescope," Airapetian says.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Earth has teemed with life over the course of billions of years because it is in a so-called “Goldilocks zone” – it is neither too hot nor too cold, which allows water and other precursors for life to take root. Now humanity has trained its telescopic eye on a series of far-off planets beyond our solar system which could be just the right temperature and size to hold life, according to the world’s space agencies. At least seven small planets are orbiting a dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1, some 40 light years away from us, NASA and the European Southern Observatory announced today. The conclusions were made from observations at the La Silla Observatory, the Very Large Telescope, and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope. The red dwarf star has much less energy output, according to the experts. But three of the seven planets in the target zone are similar in size to Earth and Venus, and have the right conditions for life, they added. “The energy output from sward stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our Sun,” said Amaury Triaud, of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. “Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the Solar System if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1!” The star is only slightly bigger than Jupiter – and the planet orbits are not much wider than that of the planet’s Galilean moon system. The results were published in the journal Nature today, and also announced at a NASA press conference this afternoon. The Spitzer telescope, with its infrared detection, was one of the better tools since the star system glows in that spectrum. The lens was trained on the star for an uninterrupted 500 hours in the fall of 2016, which produced the results. “This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of the NASA Spitzer Space Center at Caltech. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.” The search for extraterrestrial life has focused on the presence of exoplanets which may harbor the same ideal mix for life as the Earth. Two summers ago, NASA said it had found a nearly-identical match to Earth in the constellation Cygnus.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

What do Hillary Clinton, Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, and even President-elect Donald Trump have in common? They’ve all, at some point in their careers, experienced breathtaking failure. Each was forced to reevaluate everything they had known about leadership up until that point. Bill Treasurer, international bestselling author and top leadership consultant, says that failures and missteps can provide leaders with their most profound, transformative, and enduring leadership lessons. Years after getting fired from Apple, the company he founded, Steve Jobs said, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Treasurer’s new book, "A Leadership Kick in the Ass" released today and available on Amazon and all other major booksellers, makes the case for why a career butt-kicking is a necessity for being a great leader. When you get humbled, you get humble. According to Treasurer, the chief encouragement officer of Giant Leap Consulting, the world’s first courage-building consulting firm, the path that most leaders travel isn’t from good to great, it’s from decidedly bad to pretty good. Good leaders nearly always start out as bad leaders. Based on his in-the-trenches experiences working with thousands of leaders, Treasurer explores how startling and humiliating experiences can have a powerful impact on a leader’s development. As he puts it: “Good leadership often starts with a swift kick in the ass. Humility, a critically essential leadership attribute, is a byproduct of getting humbled.” To be most effective, Treasurer argues, leaders need to have a balanced blend of confidence and humility. If a leader is all confidence and no humility, he or she runs the risk of becoming arrogant and self-involved. If a leader is all humility and no confidence, people will take advantage of him or her. "A Leadership Kick in the Ass" shows how to balance these traits at all stages of a leader’s career so that he or she can lead with both power and grace. As Treasurer explains, there are two kinds of leaders: those who have been humbled and those who are about to be. Every leader worth his or her salt will suffer a major setback at some point. Drawing on over two decades of experience, the book is a survival guide, coach, and morale booster. It offers new and seasoned leaders practical tips on how to grow, progress, and evolve after career mess-ups. Specifically, it includes: Treasurer is the author of the international bestseller, "Courage Goes to Work," which introduced the new management practice of courage building. His other bestselling book, "Leaders Open Doors," became the #1 leadership training book on Amazon. "A Leadership Kick in the Ass" has already received rave reviews: About Bill Treasurer: Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer (CEO) of Giant Leap Consulting, Inc. He is the author of international best-seller "Courage Goes To Work," which introduced the new management practice of courage building, and "Leaders Open Doors," which became the #1 leadership training book on Amazon. All royalties from "Leaders Open Doors" are donated to programs that support kids with special needs. Bill has designed leadership and succession programs for emerging and experienced leaders for NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, UBS Bank, Walsh Construction, Spanx, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and many others. Treasurer is also a former captain of the U.S. High Diving Team, and performed over 1500 dives from heights that scaled to over 100 feet. For more information, visit billtreasurer.com, giantleapconsulting.com or leadersopendoors.com.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi will install its 342nd chapter at Methodist University today, February 16. Founded in 1897 at the University of Maine, Phi Kappa Phi is the nation’s oldest and most selective all-discipline collegiate honor society. Methodist University, founded in 1956, is located in Fayetteville, N.C. Visit http://methodist.edu. The installation of the Methodist University chapter comes after a thorough chartering process and approval from the Society’s board of directors. To be eligible, an institution must be a regionally accredited four-year college or university with an established reputation of excellence and an expressed commitment to upholding the values of the Society. “The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi is pleased to welcome Methodist University to its growing community of scholars,” said Society Executive Director Dr. Mary Todd. “The university’s motto—Engage. Enrich. Empower.—reflects Methodist’s desire to offer its students a culture of excellence, community engagement and lifelong learning.” Officers elected by the chartering group to serve the newly installed chapter include President George Hendricks, President-Elect Stacia Britton, Secretary Jasmin Brown, Treasurer Robert H. Jenkins, Public Relations Officers Kerry S. Jenkins and Brenda Jernigan, Awards & Grants Coordinator Tat Chan, and Administrative Assistant Charlene Covington. Phi Kappa Phi was founded in 1897 under the leadership of Marcus L. Urann who had a desire to create a different kind of honor society—one that recognized excellence in all academic disciplines. Today, the Society has chapters on more than 300 campuses in the United States and the Philippines and inducts approximately 30,000 new members each year. Membership is by invitation only to the top 7.5 percent of juniors and the top 10 percent of seniors and graduate students, along with faculty, professional staff and alumni who have achieved scholarly distinction. The Society’s mission is "To recognize and promote academic excellence in all fields of higher education and to engage the community of scholars in service to others." Since its founding, more than 1.25 million members have been initiated. Some of the organization's more notable members include former President Jimmy Carter, NASA astronaut Wendy Lawrence, novelist David Baldacci and YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley. The Society has awarded approximately $15 million since the inception of its awards program in 1932. Today, $1.4 million is awarded each biennium to qualifying students and members through graduate fellowships, undergraduate study abroad grants, member and chapter awards, and grants for local and national literacy initiatives. For more information about Phi Kappa Phi, visit http://www.PhiKappaPhi.org.


We used all the available XMM-Newton data, both from our recent observing campaign (Principal Investigator A.C.F.) and from the archive. The EPIC-pn data are reduced using XMM-Newton’s Science Analysis System (SAS) version 15.0.0 EPPROC (https://www.cosmos.esa.int/web/xmm-newton/download-and-install-sas) tool. The EPIC observations were made in large-window mode. We extracted source counts from a 30″-diameter circular region centred on the source coordinates, and background counts from a circular region about 60″ in diameter nearby on the same chip, avoiding contaminating sources, chip edges, and the region where the internal background due to copper is high, and filter the data for background flares. We created separate stacked spectra of the archival and new data using the ADDSPEC ftool (available as part of NASA’s high-energy astrophysics software, HEASOFT; http://heasarc.nasa.gov/lheasoft/). We extracted full band (0.3–10 keV) lightcurves for each spectrum, shown in Extended Data Fig. 1, and divided the lightcurve into low-, medium- and high-flux intervals such that each flux band contained the same total number of counts (thus the low-flux intervals are much longer than the high-flux intervals). We then extracted spectra corresponding to each flux level from each observation, and combined them using ADDSPEC. We binned all the EPIC-pn spectra to achieve a signal-to-noise ratio of 6, after background subtraction, and to oversample the spectral resolution by a factor of 3. The RGS camera consists of two similar detectors, which have high effective area and high spectral resolution between 7 Å and 38 Å. The second-order spectra cover the wavelength range 7–18 Å and provide double the spectral resolution. We corrected for contamination from soft-proton flares following the XMM-SAS standard procedures. For each exposure, we extracted the first- and second-order RGS spectra in a cross-dispersion region of 1′ width, centred on IRAS sky coordinates. We extracted background spectra by selecting photons beyond 98% of the source point spread function. The background spectra were consistent with those from blank field observations. Using the SAS task RGSCOMBINE, we stacked all RGS 1 and 2 spectra, obtaining two high-quality spectra for both the first and the second order with a total, clean exposure of 1.529 Ms each. We grouped the RGS spectra in channels equal to one-third of the point spread function, and use C-statistics, because it provides optimal spectral binning and avoids over-sampling. RGS spectral fitting is performed using the SPEX package (https://www.sron.nl/astrophysics-spex), with contributions from XSPEC, in particular for reflection models. Flux-resolved spectra are extracted using the same good-time-interval files as used for the EPIC-pn analysis. The NuSTAR data were reduced using the NuSTAR data analysis software (NuSTARDAS) version 1.6.0 and CALDB version 20160731. We extracted source counts from a 30″-diameter circular region, centred on the source, and background counts from a large circular region on the same chip. We combined all the NuSTAR data into a single spectrum, given that the count rate is very low due to the extremely soft spectrum, and binned to achieve a signal-to-noise ratio of 6 and oversampling of 3. In the high-flux intervals, the source flux is above the nominal EPIC-pn large-window-mode pile-up limit of 3 counts s−1 (ref. 23), reaching about 9 counts s−1 at times. This risks distorting the spectrum and potentially affecting the detection of the ultrafast outflow. However, the count rate of IRAS 13224−3809 is dominated by photons from below 1 keV (the count rate from 0.5 keV to 1 keV is an order of magnitude higher than the count rate from 2 keV to 3 keV), because it is an extremely soft source. This means that the effects of pile-up are strongest below 2–3 keV. We tested this by extracting the same high-flux spectrum using an annular region, instead of a circle, with an excised core of 7″, which encircles the central four piled-up pixels. Above 2 keV, we found no difference in spectral shape between the two spectra, so we conclude that our analysis (restricted to E > 3 keV) is robust to this effect. The absorption feature is still present in both the mean spectrum and the low-flux spectrum when an annular extraction region is used. We also repeated this test using only single events, and again found no difference. The low-flux spectrum and the RGS spectra are not affected by pile-up. One potential cause of a false detection of an ultrafast outflow around 8 keV is the complex of emission lines, dominated by Cu Kα, in the instrumental background26. Over-subtracting these features would result in an artificial absorption feature at the corresponding energy, which would depend on the source to background flux ratio, giving an anticorrelation between the equivalent width of the line and the source flux. The copper background is only high in the outer regions of the detector, outside the central 300″, leaving a central ‘hole’ where contamination is minimal. We were careful to avoid the region where the copper background is high when selecting background regions, which should prevent contamination (see Extended Data Fig. 2). The easiest way to show that the ultrafast-outflow line is not an artefact of background over-subtraction is simply to not subtract the background and check the line remains. Although this is not always optimal (it may remove genuine but weak lines, or introduce new features), strong absorption features should remain in the spectrum. In Extended Data Fig. 3, we show the low-flux spectrum with no background subtraction, fitted with a power law. The iron line is weaker, owing to the additional high-energy contribution from the background, but the ultrafast-outflow line is clearly still present. If the observed line were produced by over-subtraction of the background, the (negative) flux of the line should be constant, the equivalent of an additional constant (positive) line in the background. This is trivial to test, by measuring the strength of an additive line with flux, rather than the multiplicative line we use elsewhere. We find clear variability, and an anti-correlation between the line flux and source flux (Fig. 3, inset), which is impossible if the line is a background feature. Finally, we note that the lines seen in the RGS spectrum are independent of this effect. We conclude that the line is genuine, and produced by absorption in the AGN spectrum. The potential secondary feature at about 8.7 keV (observer’s frame, 9.2-keV source frame) is coincidental with the Zn Kα line, and appears as an emission feature when the background is not subtracted. We cannot therefore robustly determine whether it is a genuine spectral feature, a statistical fluctuation, or due to the background. We fitted the stacked 2016 EPIC-pn spectrum in the range 3–10 keV (outside the band where pileup effects are present, and where the spectrum is relatively simple and unambiguous), and the stacked NuSTAR spectrum in the range 3–40 keV. We modelled the spectrum with the RELXILL relativistic reflection model27. The relativistic blurring parameters are consistent with those found by previous authors10 (see Extended Data Table 1), but a strong absorption feature remains at around 8.6 keV. When we included an additional Gaussian absorption line (modelled with GABS, with σ fixed at 0.1 keV), the fit improved by Δχ2 = 26, for two additional free parameters (degrees of freedom). Parameters for both these models are given in Extended Data Table 1. We also tested allowing σ to vary, but we found no significant difference in the fit statistic and no impact on the other fitting parameters. There are some differences between this result and those found by previous authors, which probably stem from the different energy range used. In particular, the photon index, the high-energy cut-off, and the iron abundance are different. The continuum parameters are not of great importance to this work, so long as the continuum is adequately described. The steeper Γ value in archival results (about 2.7; ref. 14) is probably due to the inclusion of the soft excess, which past authors10, 14 have fitted with a two-component reflection model. This requires a steep power law to produce enough soft photons to fit the soft excess. This model is not unique, because the soft excess generally has limited spectral features owing to the lower resolution of the EPIC-pn at these energies, and other factors, such as density of the disk, may alter the parameters from such a fit28. A visual comparison of the archival data and the new data (Extended Data Fig. 4a) does not show any major changes in the structure of the iron line or ultrafast-outflow absorption. Similarly, the iron abundance is largely determined by the relative strengths of the iron line and soft excess or Compton hump. Given the steep power law in the dual-reflection model, a high iron abundance is required to produce enough flux in the iron line. This is not required here, as we did not fit the soft excess and the Compton hump is only weakly constrained. This is important, as the iron abundance is potentially degenerate with the strength of the 8.6-keV absorption feature: an increased iron abundance produces a larger iron absorption edge in the reflection spectrum. We can be confident that this is not having a significant effect on our results, because the iron abundance is free to vary in all our fits, including the fits without the absorption modelled, and the feature still remains. We have explicitly searched for degeneracies using a Markov Chain Monte Carlo, and find no degeneracy between the strength of the line and the iron abundance. Following on from this, we performed a blind line scan over the 6–10-keV band, stepping an unresolved Gaussian line (σ  = 0.01, allowed to be positive or negative) across the energy band, varying the normalization, and recording the Δχ2 at each point on this grid (Fig. 1a). We use the same underlying RELXILL model, allowing the same parameters to vary. We calculate the significance of this by taking the probability of the maximum Δχ2 for two additional free parameters, and correcting by the number of trials (that is, the number of resolution elements from 6.7 keV to 10 keV). This gives a final chance probability of 1.5 × 10−5, which corresponds to a 4.3σ detection. No other features are significant above about 1σ. We also fitted the absorption with a series of physical models—WARMABS in XSPEC (shown in Extended Data Fig. 4b), which uses grids of XSTAR photoionization models, and XABS and PION in SPEX. The three models give consistent results, with a degeneracy between two possible solutions with outflow velocities of v = 0.210 ± 0.009 and v = 0.244 ± 0.09, corresponding to Fe xxv and Fe xxvi. These solutions have different column densities and ionizations, which are summarized in Extended Data Table 2. The velocity broadening is not strongly constrained, but does not appear to affect any of the other wind parameters. We test this by fixing the broadening to lower and higher values, and find no change in the column density, velocity or ionization of the fit. The RGS spectrum is complex, showing several broad emission-like features at 15 Å and 18 Å. This spectrometer is the most sensitive to narrow (≲,000 Å) features, but higher effective area and broader energy range EPIC detectors are more efficient for determining the spectral continuum. We therefore performed an independent analysis of the RGS spectra using either a phenomenological spline continuum model fitted to the RGS spectrum or the physical reflection model provided by the best-fit reflection (RELXILL) model of the EPIC-pn stacked spectrum. When fitting the RGS spectrum, the spline is corrected for redshift and Galactic interstellar-medium absorption. We search for features in the RGS spectrum following an advanced procedure18. We include a Gaussian spanning the wavelength range 7–38 Å in increments of 0.05 Å, and assume a linewidth of 1,000 km s−1 (comparable to the RGS resolution). This broadening will also tend to strengthen the detection of any warm-absorber and ultrafast-outflow lines with respect to interstellar absorption lines, since the latter are typically narrower29 (≤200 km s−1). We take into account the absorption edges of neutral neon (14.3 Å), iron (17.5 Å), and oxygen (23.0 Å), but we exclude the corresponding 1s–2p absorption lines in order to detect and compare any spectral feature intrinsic to IRAS 13224−3809 or to the interstellar medium. The strongest non-Galactic absorption feature detected is a broad depression around 16 Å, which is also clear in the RGS stacked spectrum (see Extended Data Fig. 5). The other two putative, weaker, absorption-like features appear at 10 Å and 13 Å. Interestingly, the photoionization model of the EPIC spectrum predicts three broad (about 1,500 km s−1) ultrafast-outflow absorption lines that match the three RGS absorption features. We have tested different linewidths (from 100 km s−1 to 5,000 km s−1) without finding a major effect on their detection. The significance of the rest-frame absorption lines of Galactic O vii and O viii instead increase up to 5σ for narrower widths (<200 km s−1), confirming the results obtained with the grating spectra of the brightest X-ray binaries29. A full description of the RGS spectral modelling and the corresponding flux-resolved high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy will be discussed in a forthcoming paper. Here we provide the main result obtained with the overall spectrum and a first interpretation of the wind variability. We modelled the RGS stacked spectrum with both a spline and a reflection continuum in order to constrain the characteristics of the ultrafast outflow. The interstellar medium was modelled following the detailed multi-phase gas model constrained with the low-mass X-ray binaries29. We modelled the ultrafast-outflow absorption features in the RGS spectrum with an outflowing gas in photoionization equilibrium (XABS model in SPEX 3.02). The best fit of the RGS stacked spectrum provides the column density N  = 9.5 ± 0.5 × 1022 cm−2 (90% error) the ionization parameter logξ = 4.0 ± 0.1 erg cm s−1 and the linewidth σ  = 2,000 ± 1,000 km s−1. The RGS velocity shift v = −0.231c ± 0.007c fits between the EPIC Fe xxv (−0.244c ± 0.009c) and the Fe xxvi (−0.210c ± 0.009c) solutions, and does not fully constrain which solution is most likely, but slightly prefers the Fe xxv (−0.244c) solution, which is consistent within the 90% confidence level. We investigate a combined fit to both EPIC-pn and RGS spectra, fitting with the same absorption model but different continuum models for each spectrum (the physical reflection model for the EPIC-pn, and a spline for the RGS). We also include a photoionized emission component, modelled with the XSPEC PHOTEMIS model. The soft and hard absorption features are consistent with being from the same absorber (freeing the parameters between the two results in an improvement to the fit of only Δχ2 = 3, for four additional free parameters). The joint fit clearly prefers the Fe xxv solution, with final best-fit parameters of v = 0.236c ± 0.006c, σ  = 4,000 ± 1,000, logξ = 4.14 ± 0.13 and . The increased broadening with respect to the individual spectrum fits may be due to a small offset between the EPIC-pn and RGS spectra, which could be caused by gain shift in the EPIC-pn. However, it is consistent at the 90% level with that found from the RGS alone. The inclusion of the emission component improves the fit significantly (Δχ2 = 21, for two additional free parameters), accounting for the residuals at about 8.3 keV and other possible features. The velocity of this component is 0.213c ± 0.015c, and the luminosity is (1.1 ± 0.5) × 1041 erg s−1. If this component is genuine, it is made up of scattered emission from the wind, and can in principle be used to determine the wind geometry. However, it is likely that much of the P Cygni profile, including any redshifted emission, is obscured by the relativistic iron line, which is very strong in this source. One possible approach to take here would be to search for the emission component of the P Cygni profile in the lag spectra, as the reverberation timescale should be much longer than for the relativistic reflection component, owing to the greater distance from the source. We also fitted the three flux-resolved spectra, tying parameters we expect to be constant (such as a and i) between the different spectra. The model parameters are consistent with those given in Extended Data Table 1, with the reflection fraction inversely proportional to flux. We performed the same line scan over these spectra simultaneously, stepping the line across in energy then recording the Δχ2 for each spectrum individually. The line is only significantly detected in the low flux spectrum, with a maximum Δχ2 of 59.7, for two additional free parameters. This gives a corrected probability of 1.96 × 10−12, and a significance of 7.0σ. We also check the robustness of the low-flux line detection using a Monte Carlo test. We draw parameters from a Markov chain Monte Carlo, used to evaluate the errors and degeneracies in the best-fit parameters, and use them to simulate 10,000 fake spectra. We then fitted these spectra using the same procedure. None of the simulated spectra have higher significance features, in either emission or absorption, setting a lower limit of P > 99.99% on the significance. Given the expected fraction of 4.6 × 10−12, it is not feasible to test sufficient spectra to establish the true significance using this method. We performed a similar analysis with ten flux-resolved spectra, again with the same number of counts in each. We fitted the spectra simultaneously, using RELXILL and a Gaussian absorption line, allowing the reflection fraction, power-law index, and normalizations of the reflection and Gaussian components to vary between each spectrum. This gives a reasonable fit (χ2/d.o.f. = 966/857 = 1.13, where d.o.f. is degrees of freedom). We then recorded the equivalent width and flux of the absorption line in each spectrum, and the 3–10-keV flux. These are plotted against each other in Fig. 3, showing a strong correlation. We used Bayesian regression to perform a linear fit, which incorporates the upper limits, and draw samples from the posterior distribution to calculate the uncertainty. We calculated the probability of a stronger correlation being found from a constant absorption feature by simulating 10,000 sets of points with the same errors, assuming that the line strength is constant in each case, and performing the same analysis. In no case did we find a stronger correlation. We performed high-resolution flux-resolved X-ray spectroscopy with the RGS data, consistent with that performed with EPIC: we extracted RGS 1 and 2 first- and second-order spectra with the good time intervals defined according to the EPIC flux prescriptions. We stacked the RGS 1 and 2 spectra for each flux range, obtaining three high-quality RGS spectra with comparable statistics. As previously seen for the overall stacked spectrum, there are some non-interstellar absorption-like features (at 9.5 Å, 13 Å and 16 Å) which show evidence of variability, being both stronger and possibly bluer in the low-flux spectrum. To probe the strength of the features in each spectrum, we applied the same technique used for the stacked spectrum by fitting a Gaussian over the wavelength range 7–38 Å in increments of 0.05 Å. In Fig. 2, we show the significance of the spectral features obtained adopting the (RGS fitted) spline continuum. The three broad features were still detected at 9.5 Å, 13.0 Å and 16 Å in the low-flux spectrum. They have less significance or are undetected in the higher-flux spectra with possible evidence of slight velocity change. Their wavelengths match with the strongest lines predicted by the 0.24c ultrafast outflow model in the RGS energy band: 10.0 ± 0.5 Å (Ne x + Fe xviii–Fe xxii blend), 13.2 ± 0.5 Å (O viii Kβ + Fe xviii) and 15.8 ± 0.5 Å (O viii Kα). The strength of the absorption lines anti-correlate with the flux in agreement with the EPIC result and therefore provides strong evidence in favour of a connection between the EPIC and RGS absorbers as being part of the same extreme wind. We computed the confidence level of the three main absorption lines in the low-flux spectrum, where they are significantly detected as in EPIC. Accounting for the number of trials due to bins of 0.05 Å and an outflow-velocity range from 0c to 0.3c, we obtain 2.1σ, 2.9σ and 3.4σ for the 9.5-Å, 13-Å and 16-Å absorption lines, respectively, which—since they have the same velocity shift—gives a cumulative 5.1σ detection. We can estimate the mass outflow rate by combining the velocity and column densities3, and the mass30 of 6 × 106M (estimated using the empirical reverberation relation31): where Ω is the solid angle of the wind and R is the radius of the wind. We cannot be confident of the value of Ω, as the emission from the P Cygni profile, if there is any, is obscured by the blue horn of the iron line, which is extremely strong in this source. However, given that the absorption line is found in the stacked archival data (most of which is from 2011), this implies that the feature has been present and roughly constant (as a function of flux) for at least 5 years, which would argue for a reasonably large covering fraction, otherwise any clump along the line of sight would probably have moved away. Similarly, we do not know the radius of the wind. However, we know that it must be variable on timescales ≲5 ks, which corresponds to 170 gravitational radii (R ). Assuming a radius of 100R , we find the accretion rate  = 2 × 1023 × Ω g s−1 (0.03ΩM year−1) for Fe xxv, while the Eddington accretion rate for a black hole of this mass is 2.7 × 1024 g s−1, assuming an efficiency of 0.3 for near-maximal spin. In either case, a large fraction of the matter accreted by the disk is lost to the wind, possibly implying super-Eddington accretion at large radii (beyond R ). We can then calculate the power in the wind: For Ω = 2π, this gives a power of 4% of the Eddington luminosity L , implying that a non-negligible fraction of the accretion power must be lost into the wind. For the same assumed covering fraction, the power of the quasar PDS 456 is 15% of the Eddington luminosity3. The prevailing interpretation for highly blueshifted absorption features in the X-ray spectra of AGNs is that they are due to outflowing gas. However, it is possible that some of these features may instead be due to absorption by a diffuse absorbing surface layer on the approaching side of the accretion disk, which naturally gives relativistic velocities32. The absorption line then appears in the reflection component. Aberration means that the blue side is brighter than the red side. For a disk inclination of 60° the absorption layer needs to extend from about 5R to 10R to give an observed line at 8.2 keV. If the brighter parts of the light curve are associated with the corona rising above 10R , then reduced light bending and irradiation of the inner disk weakens both the reflection component and the absorption, consistent with observation. It is also possible that the variability is produced by a geometric effect. Previous authors have suggested that the relatively constant spectrum of the relativistic reflection component can be produced by changes in the height or extent of the X-ray corona above the disk33, and the covering fraction of a wind at a small angle to the disk could similarly depend on the size or position of the compact X-ray source. All the code used for the data reduction is available from the respective websites. XSPEC and SPEX are freely available online. Code used for generating figures, calculating flux-resolved extraction intervals, and calculating line significance, is available upon request to M.L.P. All data used in this work is publicly available. The XMM-Newton observations can be accessed from the XMM-Newton science archive (http://nxsa.esac.esa.int/nxsa-web/) and the NuSTAR data from the HEASARC archive (http://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/archive.html). Figure data are available from the authors.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Washington, DC- An international team of astronomers released the largest-ever compilation of exoplanet-detecting observations made using a technique called the radial velocity method. They demonstrated how these observations can be used to hunt for planets by detecting more than 100 potential exoplanets, including one orbiting the fourth-closest star to our own Solar System, which is about 8.1 light years away from Earth. The paper is published in The Astronomical Journal. The radial velocity method is one of the most successful techniques for finding and confirming planets. It takes advantage of the fact that in addition to a planet being influenced by the gravity of the star it orbits, the planet's gravity also affects the star. Astronomers are able to use sophisticated tools to detect the tiny wobble the planet induces as its gravity tugs on the star. The virtual mountain of data released to the public in this paper was gathered as part of a two-decade radial velocity planet-hunting program that uses a spectrometer called HIRES, mounted on the 10-meter Keck-I telescope of the W.M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The compilation includes almost 61,000 individual measurements made of more than 1,600 stars. By making the data public, the team is offering unprecedented access to one of the best exoplanet searches in the world. "HIRES was not specifically optimized to do this type of exoplanet detective work, but has turned out to be a workhorse instrument of the field", said Steve Vogt of the University of California Santa Cruz, who built the instrument. "I am very happy to contribute to science that is fundamentally changing how we view ourselves in the universe." Now as the survey moves into its third decade, the team members have decided it is time to clean house. With so much data at hand and a limited amount of time, they recognized that more exoplanets would be found by sharing their catalog with the exoplanet community. But the team is not just giving everyone the keys to their exoplanet-finder; they are also taking it out for a spin themselves. Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire led a sophisticated statistical analysis of the large data set to tease out the periodic signals most likely to be planets. "We were very conservative in this paper about what counts as an exoplanet candidate and what does not," Tuomi explained, "and even with our stringent criteria, we found over 100 new likely planet candidates." One of these probable planets is around a star called GJ 411, also known as Lalande 21185. It is the fourth-closest star to our own Sun and is only about 40 percent the mass of the Sun. The planet has a very short orbital period of just under 10 days, so it is no Earth-twin. However, the inferred planet, GJ 411b, continues a trend that has been seen in the overall population of detected exoplanets: the smallest planets are found around the smallest stars. "One of our key goals in this paper is to democratize the search for planets," explained team member Greg Laughlin of Yale. "Anyone can download the velocities published on our website and use the open source Systemic software package and try fitting planets from the data. A tutorial on how to use Systemic will be available, too." The team is hoping their decision will lead to a flurry of new science, as astronomers around the globe combine the HIRES data with their own existing observations, or mount new observing campaigns to follow up on potential signals. The catalog release is part of a growing trend in exoplanet science to broaden the audience and discovery space, which has emerged in part to handle the aftermath of follow-up discoveries by NASA's Kepler and K2 missions. "I think this paper sets a precedent for how the community can collaborate on exoplanet detection and follow-up", said team-member Johanna Teske of Carnegie's Observatories and Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. "With NASA's TESS mission on the horizon, which is expected to detect 1000+ planets orbiting bright, nearby stars, exoplanet scientists will soon have a whole new pool of planets to follow up." "The best way to advance the field and further our understanding of what these planets are made out of is to harness the abilities of a variety of precision radial velocity instruments, and deploy them in concert," added team member Jennifer Burt of MIT. "But that will require some big teams to break from tradition and start leading serious cooperative efforts." And from Carnegie's Paul Butler, the paper's lead author and the man who helped jumpstart the field of exoplanet science: "This paper and data release represents a good chunk of my life's work."


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

LIVEbe Communities, a premier multifamily property manager of Class A communities and an affiliate of Berman Enterprises, today announced the start of pre- leasing at two new luxury communities offering a combined 461 apartment homes in Maryland. The Remy, a 278-unit community in Lanham, Md., and 2Hopkins, a 183-unit high-rise in downtown Baltimore, have begun pre- leasing homes. Residents of both communities will begin moving in later this year. Berman Enterprises owns the two properties. "The future of each of these communities is tremendously bright, as there is a very limited supply of of luxury apartments in these markets and enormous pent-up demand for high-end multifamily living," said Elaine De Lude, vice president of LIVEbe Communities. "Along with that demand is an expectation to provide a level of customer service few companies can deliver. That’s why we’ve crafted a thorough recruiting strategy to assemble the most talented, experienced onsite teams in the industry, with Live Ambassadors who are passionate about exceeding our residents' high expectations. We look forward to leasing up the communities, creating high levels of resident satisfaction and renewals." Located at 7730 Harkins Road, The Remy is a transit-oriented community within a short walk of the New Carrollton Metro Station, served by the Orange Line, Amtrak, MARC and Greyhound. The station offers quick access to downtown Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. The community also is only minutes away from major employers such as the Internal Revenue Service, 2U. the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland. The eight-story Remy offers studio, one- and two-bedroom homes. The apartment homes feature stainless-steel appliances, extra sound proofing, quartz countertops, washers and dryers, walk-in closets, double-pane windows, hardwood engineered flooring, balconies, designer lighting and hardware packages, and, in select units, moveable kitchen islands. Community amenities at The Remy include a wide range of resort-style features, such as concierge service, outdoor saltwater pool, poolside cabanas, bike storage and repair area, resident lounge, beautifully landscaped courtyards, game room, movie screening room, and bocce court. The community also has a state-of-the-art fitness center and yoga studio, electric-vehicle charging stations, car washing and detailing area, package service, pet park, dog-washing stations, telecommuting spaces, which offer Wi-Fi enabled work areas for residents who work from home and parking garage. Among its most unique offerings are a rooftop lounge with ambient lighting and lounge areas. Located at 2 Hopkins Plaza in Charles Center in downtown Baltimore, the 21-story 2Hopkins is within a short distance from a number of major employers, including Johns Hopkins Hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center, Bank of America and Pandora Jewelry. The community also is close to several well-known entertainment destinations. The Inner Harbor, which includes the Port Discovery Children's Museum, the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center and numerous restaurants, is only minutes from the site. Also across the street from Royal Farm Arena and nearby is Camden Yards, M&T Stadium and the historic Fells Point neighborhood, which has more than 120 bars and pubs. Nearby schools include the University of Maryland-Baltimore, the Maryland Institute College of Art and the University of Baltimore. 2Hopkins offers studio, one- and two-bedroom units. With floor to ceiling windows the apartment homes feature expansive city views, 10-foot ceilings, electronic entry, stainless-steel ceiling fans, quartz countertops, white cabinets with one glass accent cabinet, recessed lighting, and wood engineered flooring. Community amenities include hotel-style concierge service, a resident lounge and gaming area, garage parking, telecommuting spaces, dog spa, package storage, bike storage and repair station, fitness center with free weights and machines, and a yoga studio. In addition to the start of leasing on the two communities, LIVEbe has assumed management responsibilities for Glen Oaks Apartments, a 463-unit community in Greenbelt, Md. "This is an exciting time for LIVEbe, as we begin to build our management portfolio," said Jennifer Rucker, vice president of LIVEbe Communities. "The multifamily market in the metropolitan D.C. and Baltimore areas is strong, with an underpinning of job growth that should keep demand strong." About LIVEbe Headquartered in Rockville, Md., LIVEbe was founded in 2016 and is helmed by multifamily veterans Elaine De Lude and Jennifer Rucker. LIVEbe is the multi-family division of Berman Enterprises and was established with a specific focus on fostering a sense of community by offering an unparalleled living experience for residents and employing LIVEAmbassadors who are forward thinking and passionate about providing exceptional customer service. About Berman Enterprises Berman Enterprises is a multi-generational real estate and investment company founded on the principles of honesty, integrity, hard work, hands-on management, community and philanthropy. Employing a conservative financial strategy, Berman Enterprises has experienced sustained growth since brothers Melvin J. Berman and I. Wolford Berman founded the company in 1952. Today, the Company and its affiliates own and manage more than 9 million square feet of commercial office, retail, industrial/flex and residential properties in Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The Company also owns several hundred acres of developable land representing thousands of units of residential and hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial and retail development potential.


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

The James Webb Sapce Telescope inside the acoustics chamber at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Credit: NASA Inside NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope team completed the environmental portion of vibration testing and prepared for the acoustic test on the telescope. Engineers and technicians pushed the telescope (wrapped in a clean tent) through a large set of insulated steel doors nearly a foot thick into the Acoustic Test Chamber, where the telescope will be exposed to the earsplitting noise (and resulting vibration) of launch. These photos show the telescope outside (left) and inside (right) the acoustics chamber. The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Scientist Andrew Baird surveys healthy reefs off the coast of Australia between Mackay and Townsville in October 2016. —More than 2 million tourists visit the Great Barrier Reef each year. Now, Australia’s government wants snorkeling visitors to help monitor it for signs of coral bleaching. “We have our rangers out in the Marine Park doing surveys,” Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Russell Reichelt said in a press release, “but we need all the information we can get from scientists and the tourism industry to help us determine priority areas for further investigation.” The Park Authority has even released an Eye on the Reef app for visitors to use, providing a focus for eco-minded tourists and activities for school groups. “Citizen-science” ventures like these have also caught on in the United States, with the Audubon Society crowdsourcing bird counts and NASA asking Americans to help find exoplanets. By asking the Great Barrier Reef’s visitors to collect data on coral bleaching, Australia hopes to better inform efforts to protect the reef from climate change. As Lonnie Shekhtman reported for The Christian Science Monitor explained last April: At the time of Ms. Shekhtman’s reporting, scientists had noticed widespread bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, after the 2015-16 El Niño had warmed the area’s waters. But according to Terry Hughes, a professor at James Cook University, properly assessing the damage took several months. "When bleaching occurs, in the 6-12-month period afterwards, the corals either survive and regain their colour, or if they don't regain their colour, they slowly die," Professor Hughes told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) last November. "So that's why we've had to wait seven or eight months before resurveying these reefs." But by the end of last year, Hughes and other scientists had confirmed reports of massive bleaching. They found that the March 2016 bleaching event had killed two-thirds of coral in one 700-kilometer stretch (about 435 miles) of reef off the coast of Queensland. The news wasn’t entirely bad. Sections farther south retained most of their coral. But rising global temperatures could increase the odds of large-scale bleaching in the future. Andrew King, a climate scientist at Australia’s University of Melbourne, projects a 70 percent of ocean temperatures as warm as 2016’s in 2030, and a 97 percent chance in 2050. Higher temperatures, in turn, could make coral bleaching events more frequent – and harder for coral to recover. That could not only spell the end of a natural wonder, but also have serious implications for Australia’s economy. The Australia Institute think-tank estimates that “almost 175,000 people each year” from the US, Britain, and China “are more likely to visit a country other than Australia if bleaching persists,” costing the country $1 billion (about US$770 million) per year in tourist revenue. Scientists are clear about what needs to happen to avoid this outcome. “If we do take action, we do have some positive influence that results in a reduced chance of bleaching later in the 21st century,” Dr. King told ABC news. "We need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and we need to make policies that are conducive to that.” As Australia braces for another March of unusually warm temperatures, the country’s government hopes that gathering more data on the reef can deepen scientists’ knowledge on how corals are responding to rising temperatures – and build public support for the kinds of policies needed to protect it. “Despite the pressures of climate change, the Reef remains a place of great beauty and biodiversity – a very precious place on our planet that we need to continue to value and protect,” Dr. Reichelt said. With the Eyes on the Reef program participants can do as little as upload photos from their underwater explorations with an app or, for those wanting to get more involved, the Rapid Monitoring Survey offers online training and an underwater slate to record the health of the coral.


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

This close-up view of Jupiter captures the turbulent region just west of the Great Red Spot in the South Equatorial Belt, with resolution better than any previous pictures from Earth or other spacecraft. NASA's Juno spacecraft captured this image with its JunoCam citizen science instrument when the spacecraft was a mere 5,400 miles (8,700 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloudtops on Dec. 11, 2016 at 9:14 a.m. PT (12:14 p.m. ET). Citizen scientist Sergey Dushkin produced the sublime color processing and cropped the image to draw viewers' eyes to the dynamic clouds. Explore further: Image: Crescent Jupiter with the Great Red Spot


News Article | February 20, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

A recent study published by scientists from Stanford and UC Berkeley indicates that rising temperatures from climate change will not only affect weather, but will also have a significant impact on the global economy.1,2 The optimal average temperature for robust economic activity is 55°F (13°C), with key economic indicators (such as labor supply, labor productivity and crop yield) decreasing dramatically between 68°F and 86°F (20°C to 30°C).1,2 If climate change continues unchecked, many parts of the world will simply be too hot for superlative economic growth.1,2 Study authors predict that the result of unchecked global warming will be a 23% decrease in average global income by the end of the century.1 “Experts used to believe that wealthy countries would be able to withstand the effects of climate change because they have the resources to adapt,” said Iain Milnes, founder and president of Power Knot, a leading provider of environmentally-sound products that reduce costs and carbon footprint. “On the contrary, both rich and poor nations alike will suffer from the effects of rising temperatures.” In the United States alone, a startling increase is expected in the number of days over 95°F (35°C).1 This could stall the economic activity that has historically allowed inhabitants to thrive. According to NASA, scientific consensus holds that global warming is caused by greenhouse gases that trap heat within the atmosphere.3 Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide and methane produced by the burning of fossil fuels, the clearing of land, and the anaerobic decomposition of organic waste.3 Although carbon dioxide is more prevalent, methane is by far more destructive.3,4 “As its warming potential is 86 times that of carbon dioxide,4 reducing methane production is an important step to offset the effects of climate change,” added Milnes. “Methane is produced by cattle, from agricultural production, and when food waste decomposes in a landfill. We can generate far less methane by not sending waste food to landfills.” Currently, food waste accounts for 18% of municipal solid waste; it is the second-largest category of waste after paper.4 In economic terms, food waste disposal costs $750 million per year.5 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends reducing the amount of food waste sent to the landfill through a six-tiered Food Recovery Hierarchy, which places an emphasis on reusing any waste through feed production, industrial use and composting.5 Composting and reusing food will ultimately save on disposal costs, and may even create an additional revenue stream.5 “To reduce the amount of food waste, it’s a good idea to quantify the amount of waste produced and figure out when it’s normally disposed of,” Milnes emphasized. “That way, you can develop a plan to minimize the amount of food purchased in the first place. Then, the remaining waste can be diverted from the landfill using our LFC.” The LFC® from Power Knot is a bio-digester capable of treating from 110 up to 4,000 pounds of food waste per day. As food decomposes, the LFC weighs the amount of waste and reports it in real time on a color touch screen and through the LFC Cloud, a free online service. The LFC will greatly reduce the carbon footprint of any organization that currently sends waste food to the landfill. Milnes added, “Our seven LFC models allow any kitchen to cleanly and safely break down waste food on-site. The LFC has a track record of providing continuous savings, resulting in higher profits, as well as improving the operations of the facility.” Power Knot’s LFC is sold globally to organizations that need to dispose of waste food. The LFC saves organizations the cost, mess, inconvenience, and carbon footprint of sending that organic material to a landfill. The LFC is available in seven sizes to suit a variety of users and can usually pay for itself in 24 or fewer months. The LFC can generate goodwill with the growing number of environmentally-conscious consumers, and this clean technology will continue to help advance the global movement towards sustainability and zero waste. Power Knot, with its headquarters in San Jose, Calif., provides innovative solutions for commercial, industrial, and military customers seeking to reduce their carbon footprint. The company is profitable, and designs, develops, and manufactures its products in Silicon Valley. Its LFCs (Liquid Food Composters) are high-quality, technologically-advanced bio-digesters capable of rapid digestion of most organic materials. LFCs create a safe and economical resolution for customers looking to address their carbon footprint by diverting waste food from landfills and by reducing emissions related to the transportation of waste. 1.    Rotman, David. “Climate Change Is Going to Be Very Bad for the Global Economy.” Business Insider. Business Insider, 01 Jan. 2017. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. 2.    Nuccitelli, Dana. “Global Warming Could Be More Devastating for the Economy than We Thought | Dana Nuccitelli.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. 3.    “A Blanket Around the Earth.” NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 01 Feb. 2017. 4.    Global Warming Potential, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_potential#Values 5.    “The Food Waste Alliance Best Practices & Emerging Solutions Toolkit.” 1 (2014): n. pag. Food Waste Alliance. Web. 1 Feb. 2017.


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

Since that first sighting, SN 1987A has continued to fascinate astronomers with its spectacular light show. Located in the nearby Large Magellanic Cloud, it is the nearest supernova explosion observed in hundreds of years and the best opportunity yet for astronomers to study the phases before, during, and after the death of a star. To commemorate the 30th anniversary of SN 1987A, new images, time-lapse movies, a data-based animation based on work led by Salvatore Orlando at INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo, Italy, and a three-dimensional model are being released. By combining data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, as well as the international Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), astronomers—and the public—can explore SN 1987A like never before. Hubble has repeatedly observed SN 1987A since 1990, accumulating hundreds of images, and Chandra began observing SN 1987A shortly after its deployment in 1999. ALMA, a powerful array of 66 antennas, has been gathering high-resolution millimeter and submillimeter data on SN 1987A since its inception. "The 30 years' worth of observations of SN 1987A are important because they provide insight into the last stages of stellar evolution," said Robert Kirshner of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California. The latest data from these powerful telescopes indicate that SN 1987A has passed an important threshold. The supernova shock wave is moving beyond the dense ring of gas produced late in the life of the pre-supernova star when a fast outflow or wind from the star collided with a slower wind generated in an earlier red giant phase of the star's evolution. What lies beyond the ring is poorly known at present, and depends on the details of the evolution of the star when it was a red giant. "The details of this transition will give astronomers a better understanding of the life of the doomed star, and how it ended," said Kari Frank of Penn State University who led the latest Chandra study of SN 1987A. Supernovas such as SN 1987A can stir up the surrounding gas and trigger the formation of new stars and planets. The gas from which these stars and planets form will be enriched with elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron, which are the basic components of all known life. These elements are forged inside the pre-supernova star and during the supernova explosion itself, and then dispersed into their host galaxy by expanding supernova remnants. Continued studies of SN 1987A should give unique insight into the early stages of this dispersal. Some highlights from studies involving these telescopes include: Hubble studies have revealed that the dense ring of gas around the supernova is glowing in optical light, and has a diameter of about a light-year. The ring was there at least 20,000 years before the star exploded. A flash of ultraviolet light from the explosion energized the gas in the ring, making it glow for decades. The central structure visible inside the ring in the Hubble image has now grown to roughly half a light-year across. Most noticeable are two blobs of debris in the center of the supernova remnant racing away from each other at roughly 20 million miles an hour. From 1999 until 2013, Chandra data showed an expanding ring of X-ray emission that had been steadily getting brighter. The blast wave from the original explosion has been bursting through and heating the ring of gas surrounding the supernova, producing X-ray emission. In the past few years, the ring has stopped getting brighter in X-rays. From about February 2013 until the last Chandra observation analyzed in September 2015 the total amount of low-energy X-rays has remained constant. Also, the bottom left part of the ring has started to fade. These changes provide evidence that the explosion's blast wave has moved beyond the ring into a region with less dense gas. This represents the end of an era for SN 1987A. Beginning in 2012, astronomers used ALMA to observe the glowing remains of the supernova, studying how the remnant is actually forging vast amounts of new dust from the new elements created in the progenitor star. A portion of this dust will make its way into interstellar space and may become the building blocks of future stars and planets in another system. These observations also suggest that dust in the early universe likely formed from similar supernova explosions. Astronomers also are still looking for evidence of a black hole or a neutron star left behind by the blast. They observed a flash of neutrinos from the star just as it erupted. This detection makes astronomers quite certain a compact object formed as the center of the star collapsed—either a neutron star or a black hole—but no telescope has uncovered any evidence for one yet. Astronomers combined observations from three different observatories to produce this colorful, multiwavelength image of the intricate remains of Supernova 1987A. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Hubble credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) Chandra credit: NASA/CXC/Penn State/K. Frank et al.; ALMA credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO) and R. Indebetouw (NRAO/AUI/NSF) Explore further: Space image: New supernova remnant lights up


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

FILE PHOTO: An alien world just two-thirds the size of Earth - one of the smallest on record - detected by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope is seen in this NASA artist's illustration released by NASA on July 18, 2012. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo LONDON (Reuters) - A newly unearthed essay by Winston Churchill shows Britain's wartime leader was uncannily prescient about the possibility of alien life on planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. The 11-page article was drafted on the eve of World War Two in 1939 and updated in the 1950s, decades before astronomers discovered the first extrasolar planets in the 1990s. Yet Churchill pinpointed issues dominating today's debate about extraterrestrial life, proving that the former prime minister "reasoned like a scientist", according to an analysis of his work published in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The hunt for life on other worlds has taken off in the last 20 years as observations have suggested the Milky Way alone may contain more than a billion Earth-size planets that could be habitable. Churchill was already thinking along similar lines nearly 80 years ago, writing that "with hundreds of thousands of nebulae, each containing thousands of millions of suns, the odds are enormous that there must be immense numbers which possess planets whose circumstances would not render life impossible". He also honed in on the importance of liquid water for life, saying that a suitable planet would have to be "between a few degrees of frost and the boiling point of water". Modern scientists are busier than ever looking for signs of life in such environments, both in our own solar system and in the wider universe. So far they have found nothing. Churchill's essay was probably intended as a popular science piece for a newspaper, although it never appeared in print. The famous polymath had already written similar science articles for newspapers and magazines, including one on fusion power in 1931. The type-written essay entitled 'Are We Alone in the Universe?', was uncovered last year in the archives of the U.S. National Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, and passed to astrophysicist Mario Livio for expert examination. In his analysis in Nature, Livio praised Churchill's clear thinking, as well as his support for science as a tool of government policy. Churchill was the first prime minister to employ a science adviser. "At a time when a number of today’s politicians shun science, I find it moving to recall a leader who engaged with it so profoundly," Livio wrote. Churchill's vision of life on Earth in the first half of the 20th century, however, was far from rosy. "I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilization here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe which contains living, thinking creatures, or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time."


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows an artist's conception of what the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f may look like, based on available data about its diameter, mass and distances from the host star. The planets circle tightly around a dim dwarf star called Trappist-1, barely the size of Jupiter. Three are in the so-called habitable zone, where liquid water and, possibly life, might exist. The others are right on the doorstep. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP) Scientists have spotted seven Earth-size planets around a nearby star, some or all of which could harbor water and possibly life. That's the biggest cluster of planets like this yet to be found. This star system is less than 40 light-years from Earth, or 235 trillion miles away, in the constellation Aquarius. At the hub is a small, faint star known as Trappist-1. Seven planets circle Trappist-1, with orbits ranging from 1 ½ to 20 days. If Trappist-1 were our sun, all these planets would fit inside the orbit of Mercury. That's how close they are to their star and why their orbits are so short. The planets have no real names. They're only known by letters, "b'' through "h." The letter "A" refers to the star itself. Three of the planets are smack dab in the so-called habitable zone, also known as the Goldilocks zone, where conditions are just right for water and life to flourish — not too much and not too little stellar energy. The four other planets are tantalizingly close to the Goldilocks zone— so close that they, too, could harbor water and potentially life. But just because a planet is in this sweet spot, doesn't mean life exists or ever did. If aliens were observing our solar system from the Trappist-1 network, they might be saying, "Hey, there are three habitable planets there, Venus, Earth and Mars," said Sara Seager, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrophysicist who did not take part in the study. The point is, "let's wait and see what's out there," she cautioned. Trappist-1, one of numerous ultracool dwarf stars out there in the galaxy, glows red. If you were to stand on one of the planets, the star might appear to be salmon-colored. Its planets are clumped so closely together, they would appear twice as big as our moon in the sky. The temperature could be pretty similar to Earth as well, at least on one of these planets. Scientists need to study the atmospheres of these almost assuredly rocky planets before jumping to any conclusions about water and life. The Hubble Space Telescope already is on the case. The still-under-construction James Webb Space Telescope will join in once it's launched next year. The Webb will search for gases that might be a byproduct of life: oxygen, ozone and methane. Scientists say it should take five years to get a handle on all these atmospheres, and figure out whether water — and maybe life — are present. Altogether, astronomers have confirmed close to 3,600 planets outside our solar system since the 1990s, but barely four dozen are in the potential habitable zone of their stars, and of those, just 18 are approximately the size of Earth.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

This Dec. 11, 2016 image made available by NASA shows Jupiter's northern latitudes made by the spacecraft Juno as it performed a close flyby of the gas giant planet. On Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, NASA said its the spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstaedt/John Rogers via AP) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's Jupiter-circling spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves. It currently takes Juno 53 days to fly around the solar system's biggest planet. That's almost four times longer than the intended 14-day orbit. After repeated delays, NASA decided late last week to scrap an engine firing that would have shortened the orbit. Officials said the maneuver is too risky because of the valve problem. Only the second spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, Juno has been circling the planet since July. NASA said the quality of science won't be affected and stressed that stunning pictures of Jupiter will keep coming this way. But it will take more time to gather the data, given Juno's longer loops. The mission will have to be extended at tens of millions of extra dollars if scientists are to collect everything under the original plan. It's already a billion-dollar mission. On the plus side, according to scientists, Juno now will spend less time in Jupiter's abrasive radiation belts. "The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do — preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery," NASA's Thomas Zurbuchen, the science mission associate administrator, said in a statement. He added that the pictures from Juno "are nothing short of amazing." Juno is able to peer through Jupiter's clouds to see what's going on in the atmosphere. Scientists want to better understand how the planet — the fifth from our sun, with at least 67 moons— originated and evolved. Every orbit, Juno swoops within 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter's cloud tops. The most recently completed orbit was three weeks ago; the next close flyby will come at the end of March. Whenever Juno's mission does end, the spacecraft will end up diving into Jupiter's atmosphere and burning up, meteor-style. It was launched in 2011 from Cape Canaveral.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.greentechmedia.com

California Gov. Jerry Brown gave an impassioned speech on Tuesday, rejecting many of the conservative policies championed by the Trump administration and Republicans in Washington, D.C. “California is not turning back. Not now, not ever,” said Brown during his state-of-the-state address. He focused his speech on fighting for immigrant rights, protecting healthcare and continuing to act on climate change. “Our state is known the world over for the actions we have taken to encourage renewable energy and combat climate change,” said Brown. “We cannot fall back and give in to the climate deniers,” he said. “The science is clear. The danger is real.” Many in the environmental community and cleantech industry will be looking to California, which represents the sixth-largest economy in the world, to continue leading the clean energy transition during Trump’s presidency. The new administration has already pledged to undo federal regulations on climate change and proposed budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Trump also took executive action on Tuesday to advance the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Brown’s state-of-the-state address isn’t the first time the governor has spoken out against Trump. In December, he told scientists attending the American Geophysical Union conference that he would protect University of California science labs, and if Trump plans to turn off the NASA satellites monitoring Earth’s climate, California would “launch its own damn satellite.” California has already taken major steps to act on climate, including the approval of a 50 percent renewable energy target. The only flaw with that target is that it wasn’t ambitious enough, California Senate leader Kevin de León recently told The Los Angeles Times. California is already moving toward a clean energy future faster than expected and should “explore the idea” of a 100 percent renewable energy target, he said. In addition to California’s renewable energy portfolio standard, Governor Brown has set a goal of installing 12,000 megawatts of distributed generation in the state, defined as projects under 20 megawatts. As of October 31, 2016, nearly 9,400 megawatts of distributed generation capacity was operating or installed in California, with an additional 900 megawatts pending. That total includes almost 5,100 megawatts of solar self-generation capacity, which far exceeds the state’s goal of installing 3,000 megawatts of solar energy residential and commercial sites by 2017, according to a recent report by the California Energy Commission. California’s programs to support renewable distributed generation could add another 1,800 megawatts if fully subscribed, the report states. Distributed energy resources have become an important element of California’s fight against climate change -- as well as an important part of the state's economy. To facilitate growth in the sector, state lawmakers and regulators have introduced myriad programs and policies aimed at the integration of distributed energy resources. At the same time, the private sector has come up with new technologies and business models to better manage distributed energy resources on the grid. On March 8-9 in San Francisco, Greentech Media is hosting a conference on the future of electricity in California -- one of America’s most innovative states. California’s Distributed Energy Future (CDEF) will kick off on March 8 with a pre-conference workshop in collaboration with More Than Smart. The workshop will give attendees the opportunity to review the stakeholders in California’s clean energy sector, catch up on the latest policy developments, and discuss distributed energy terms and concepts in an interactive half-day session. On March 9, GTM will host a full day of panel sessions, taking a deep dive on topics such as rate design, community-choice aggregation, electric vehicle infrastructure, and distributed energy financing. The conference will feature insights from GTM Research and industry experts, including the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison, SolarCity, Siemens and many more. California can act on clean energy and climate change on its own, and in partnership with like-minded states, said Gov. Brown in his address. “Make no mistake -- we’re going to do exactly that,” he said. Register to attend CDEF here to be a part of the conversation on the future of distributed energy resources in the Golden State.


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

United Airlines is speeding up the retirement of its Boeing 747 jumbo jets, moving its last flight from the end of 2018 to the last quarter of this year. President Scott Kirby dubbed it a “bittersweet milestone” as the 747s — fondly called the “Queen of the Skies” and have been part of the United fleet since its maiden flight between California and Hawaii in 1970 — once symbolized state-of-the-art travel in the air. “Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights,” Kirby said in a memo released Wednesday. The company promised to honor the 747 with an “unforgettable” send-off for the icon that it is, details of which will be posted in the months to come. The plan to accelerate the retirement comes on the same day the Federal Aviation Administration is projected to issue a directive that urges potentially costly fixes to older jet models, including the kind that the airline flies. The decision heralds the end of an era for U.S. airlines, which have largely relied on the 747 for mass-market air travel since its debut in the 1970. At the same time, it is a show of Boeing’s struggle as it tries to keep the -8, its latest 747 model, flying amid weakening demand for four-engine airplanes. The Chicago-based Boeing, also one of the two private space taxi providers for NASA, which sold 17 of the freighter editions in 2016, today has only 28 unfilled orders. It has expressed intention to end production if more orders do not come through. United currently flies 20 of the 747-400 passenger model, which the jetmaker produced from 1988 to 2009. Almost as much as the 747’s human capacity over vast distances can be carried by twin-engine wide-body planes such as Boeing 777 and Airbus A350, and the older jumbos consume around 20 percent more fuel per seat than the latest 777s. In addition, spare parts and special maintenance prove to be a concern, as more airlines retire the jumbo fleets. Delta Air Lines is parking the jumbo jets this year, while other operators such as Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines have put their 747-400s to rest amid the ongoing shift. While it wouldn’t reveal which aircraft would take the place of the renowned jumbo planes, United has received the first of 14 777-300ERs it ordered for long flights and has requested 35 Airbus A350-1000s. Airline pilots and flight attendants assigned to the 747s will be transitioned to other planes, according to Kirby. Many other changes and developments mark the U.S. airline industry today, with JetBlue recently announcing that all its flights within the continental United States now offer free satellite Wi-Fi for its passengers. Called Fly-Fi, the service is touted to provide speedy broadband to allow passengers to remain connected to the internet on similar data speeds they experience on the ground. Other airlines offer similar in-flight internet services, yet none are both free and available on all aircraft. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 24, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Four spacecraft are at the station including the SpaceX Dragon, the Progress 66 cargo craft, and the Soyuz MS-02 and MS-03 crew vehicles, as shown in this artist's illustration of the current docking configuration released Feb. 24, 2017. —It’s not quite Amazon Prime, but four days isn’t too bad for a shipment into space. After a delayed launch and one aborted delivery attempt, SpaceX’s caution paid off Thursday when its Dragon capsule stuffed full of food, equipment, and experiments successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS). Now on its 10th re-supply mission, the private space company has become an essential part of the supply lines supporting an increasingly intricate space operation. After a GPS error scuttled its first docking attempt Wednesday, the Dragon capsule smoothly slipped close enough to the ISS for the space station’s robotic arm to snag the craft early Thursday morning, along with the 5,500 pounds of goodies on board. In addition to a much needed food refresh, the capsule also contains more than 250 science experiments. NASA’s Lightning Imaging Sensor will record lightning strikes, which happen dozens of times per second somewhere on the planet. A crew of 40 mice will help scientists understand bone loss and the SAGE 3 ozone monitor will check in on the recovery of the planet’s ozone layer. “Dragon has now officially arrived at ISS,” European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who docked the capsule, said. “We’re very happy, indeed, to have it on-board and very much looking forward to the goodies, and the tons of science of cargo it carries.” And there’ll be no shortage of stuff to unpack because a second shipment was hot on SpaceX’s tail. Russia’s Progress-66 cargo mission, with its nearly three tons of food, clothing, fuel, and other supplies, docked with the ISS less than 24 hours later. As of Friday, the Dragon and Progress-66 capsules bring the current count of spacecraft docked with the ISS to four, according to NASA. The station’s slow and modular construction over nearly two decades may obscure the fact that it has matured significantly, becoming a bustling spaceport. Continually staffed by an international crew of six astronauts orbiting the earth 15 times a day, the station has provided a space environment that boasts more than 16 years of habitation. Those astronauts need water (about 3 gallons a day), oxygen, and food (almost 2 pounds per day) at the bare minimum, and even though water recycling and cabbage growing programs exist, the station is far from self-sufficient. Those pounds don’t come cheap. While modern launches contracted to privately held Orbital Sciences and SpaceX cost far less than the space shuttle did, their relatively modest capacities actually mean that the cost of shipping to space is on the rise, up to $30,000 to $40,000 per pound from $10,000, according to Business Insider calculations. To keep the operation functioning smoothly, the ISS relies on support from a number of organizations, including Russia’s Roscosmos agency and Japan’s JAXA in addition to Orbital Sciences and SpaceX. These collaborations build in redundancy, so that even if one shipment doesn’t make it another isn’t far behind. The result is a carefully choreographed dance of spacecraft constantly passing between Earth and the ISS. NASA lists almost a dozen operations in the past three months alone, including launches, captures, dockings, and releases. Now that all the work on the ground has paid off with a successful capture, it's time for the astronauts to leap into action. They have 30 days to unload the cargo, carry out initial experiments, and reload it with waste and samples before it undocks and departs for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. “Great job with Dragon capture, and sorry about the delays,” said astronaut Mike Hopkins from mission control in Houston as the capture was completed. “Now the real work starts.” Back on Earth, Orbital Sciences is preparing its Cygnus spacecraft for the next resupply mission, now less than a month away.


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

The recent discovery of seven Earth-sized planets around the nearby red dwarf TRAPPIST-1 bolsters the assertion that objects around these ultra-cool stars may be the best place to look for alien life. On Wednesday, NASA announced that it had found that a nearby star — TRAPPIST-1 — has seven Earth-sized planets orbiting it. In one fell swoop, the discovery made the TRAPPIST-1 a star with the largest number of Earth-sized planets around it and also one with the largest number of worlds that could support liquid water on their surfaces. “This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.” TRAPPIST-1, located just 40 light-years from Earth, is a red dwarf star. In order to confirm the presence of the exoplanets around it, astronomers used the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The finding, which significantly raises the chances of discovering life beyond our solar system, raises two key questions — what are red dwarfs and why have a vast majority of exoplanets discovered so far been found orbiting these stars? Red dwarfs are the most common class of stars in the present-day universe, with some estimates pegging their prevalence at over 70 percent. Earth’s closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, is also a red dwarf. Although the term is widely used — even within the scientific community — it is not strictly defined, and is used to refer to stars in both the K- and M-type category (both of which include stars cooler than our sun). “There is no true definition of red dwarfs,” astronomer Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège in Belgium told Space.com. “This term generally refers to dwarf stars with a spectral type ranging from K5V to M5V.” The preponderance of red dwarfs, and, by extension, the preponderance of planets around red dwarfs, is a direct result of these stars’ extremely long lifespan, which exceeds the current age of the universe (roughly 13.8 billion years). The last generation of these stars is likely to remain aglow for 10 trillion years. That is why, most of the exoplanets that scientists say hold the best promise for life as we know it orbit red dwarfs — Proxima b, Gliese 667 Cc, and now TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h. “The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our Sun,” Amaury Triaud from the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, U.K., said in a statement. “Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the Solar System if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1.”


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

Canada is a resource-rich country, but one mining executive in Sudbury, Ontario thinks we should take our mining efforts off Earth. He's petitioning the government to start taking this seriously, and has an idea about an obscure part of the Canadian tax code that could even help fund it. "Space mining is going to happen whether Canada wants it to or not," Dale Boucher, CEO of Deltion Innovations Ltd, told Motherboard in a phone interview. He thinks Canada should get in on the action before the field becomes too crowded. Although no one has successfully mined an asteroid yet, these space rocks are believed to be rich in valuable minerals like gold and platinum. And retrieving them is looking increasingly possible. The NASA OSIRIS-REx probe is getting an up-close-and-personal look at asteroids called Trojans—space rocks that could exist in a gravitationally stable location along Earth's orbit. If they're indeed there, they would be prime targets for future space mining efforts. Asteroid mining could one day be a multi-billion dollar economy. The tiny European nation of Luxembourg has invested in companies like Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, which have begun the march towards one day exploiting potentially huge amount of minerals and water found in near-Earth asteroids, Mars, and the Moon. I called the Canadian Space Agency to find out where we stand. They referred me to a 2016 interview from the agency's Gilles Leclerc, who told the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum's CIM Magazine that space-based resource extraction will play a significant role in the future. "Whoever is going to be first to exploit space resources is really going to have an advantage," he said. Boucher, the Sudbury executive, is no stranger to the industry. His mining-related robotics company was awarded $700,000 to develop a tool that can be used in many kinds of environments. PROMPT, or Percussive and Rotary Multi-Purpose Tool, is designed for tasks like drilling for scientific samples or affixing a solar panel to the surface of the Moon. I asked Boucher why he thinks Canada needs to invest in this. "Space agencies around the world have collectively determined that future missions must rely on the availability of local resources [for] support," he said. That means we'll need to retrieve materials for fuel or building structures from other bodies, instead of bringing them with us from Earth. As a way to support asteroid mining efforts in this country, Boucher points to the flow-through share. Called "Canada's quirky tax innovation" by The Financial Post, the incentive allows Canadians to invest in companies looking to find new natural resources. Read More:  How to Start an Asteroid Mining Company Without a Mine By working a pretty clever tax trick, flow-through shares shift expenses of exploration from the mining company to their investors to use against their own incomes. Ideally, everyone benefits: the company's expensive initial steps are financed, and investors get lower tax bills. Boucher believes the incentive could kickstart off-planet industries in Canada. "[Flow through shares] were what really created that huge mining exploration industry in Canada," he argued. Even with friendly tax policies, Boucher recognized that, at the end of the day, it's political willpower that would drive the creation of Canada's off-planet resource industry. "Everything starts in Ottawa," he said. "The starting point is [for Canadians] to send an email to their MP or call their office and simply pose a question: what are you doing about space mining?" Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.spie.org

In recent years, i.e., since the International Polar Year of 2007–2008, thin ice clouds (TICs) that are unique to polar regions have been revealed as standing features of the polar atmosphere during the dark season.1 Such discoveries have also been made possible by two highly successful satellites launched in April 2006—NASA's Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation2 (CALIPSO) and CloudSat3—which include active instruments (a lidar and radar, respectively) used to probe clouds and aerosols for the first time. Over the past few years, it has thus become a prime scientific objective to monitor the formation of TICs and light precipitation in the Earth's coldest regions (i.e., at high latitudes and near the tropopause). Despite this recent work, new far-IR data is still required to improve medium-range weather forecasting during the winter months, and which is essential for populations living at far-northern latitudes. In our work (as part of a collaboration between the National Optics Institute, Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency), we have thus built a new aircraft-certified far-IR radiometer (FIRR).4 Our ultimate aim is for the instrument to be a future microsatellite payload. At present, however, we have designed the FIRR for use on the Alfred Wegener Institute's (Germany) Polar 6 aircraft, i.e., for unattended airborne measurements of ice clouds over the Arctic. Our ground tests show that when used as a non-imaging radiometer, the FIRR exhibits a noise equivalent radiance in the range of 10–20mW/(m2sr). In addition, we have found that the dynamic range and detector vacuum integrity of the instrument are suited to the conditions of airborne experiments. In the design of the FIRR, we had to meet a number of specific requirements, i.e., those of a pan-arctic airborne mission. First, it is necessary that the system enables cloud radiance measurements in as many spectral channels (in the region where thermal emission of thin ice clouds is most effective) as possible. It is also mandatory that the instrument has an in-flight radiometric calibration capacity (so that adequate measurement resolution and accuracy in the specific spectral channels are achieved). In addition, we require that the instrument be operated without full-time dedicated personnel. Lastly, it is necessary for our instrument to function when it is exposed to vibrations and air turbulence, as well as ambient temperatures and pressures (i.e., in the range of 233–313K and 45–80kPa, respectively), because the FIRR operates in an unpressurized compartment of the aircraft. We therefore designed our instrument to perform far-IR radiance measurements over nine channels that are distributed across a very broad spectral range (8–50μm). Meanwhile, we have kept the volume and mass budget of the instrument within reasonable limits. In particular, we chose not to use a combination of cameras (with integrated multispectral filters in various spectral segments). Instead, we selected a configuration in which a single camera is located behind a rotating wheel of bandpass filters. This means that we can measure the scene radiance successively, i.e., in one channel after another (which is possible because the characteristics of cloud scene evolve slowly in space and time), rather than simultaneously. So that we can realize unattended calibration and acquisition of data, the FIRR instrument—see Figure 1(a)—is composed of two stand-alone units, i.e., the optomechanical device (OMD) and the instrument control device (ICD). The OMD includes the camera, bandpass filter wheel, an assembly of blackbodies, and a scene-selection mirror, all of which are mounted and optically aligned on a shared baseplate. The camera itself consists of a microbolometer array (80 × 60 vanadium oxide microbolometers, with 104μm pitch5) that is placed in the focal plane of a reflective telescope.6 In addition, we have coated the microbolometers with gold-black to maintain a relatively uniform responsivity across the broad spectral measurement range.7 With our setup—see Figure 1(b)—incoming radiation (from either a scene or a blackbody) is first filtered by one of the bandpass filters, before it reaches the telescope. We use the ICD—a structural rack of electronic apparatus—to provide control and power regulation for several of the OMD components, a user interface, and storage space for the acquired data. We designed the telescope (i.e., which routes the radiant flux to the detector) in our camera so that it provides broadband transmission and a steady optical performance over the instrument's operating temperature range (283–318K). We make use of the common two-mirror Schwarzschild design to achieve the broadband transmission. Specifically—see Figure 1(b)—we include a small-diameter primary mirror (held in position by a spider mount) and a large-diameter secondary mirror that has a center aperture. Both of these mirrors are spherical, made from aluminum, and are protected with a thin layer of gold. As part of our study, we used a Fourier transform spectrometer to measure the far-IR reflectance properties of representative samples, and to thus characterize the protected mirror surfaces. We find—in the 7–70μm spectral range—that the reflectance data exhibits a variation of less than 1% around a mean value of about 0.99. This result confirms that the protective gold on our mirrors does not have a detrimental effect on the uniformity of the mirrors' reflectance. To minimize the contribution of stray light, we have also painted the telescope barrel and the internal surfaces of the baffles with an IR black paint. Lastly, to provide relatively high-speed operation, our design features an entrance-pupil diameter and effective focal length that are both 20mm. In summary, we have designed and built a new FIRR instrument for making unattended airborne measurements of ice clouds. Our design includes a number of features that make it suitable for airborne missions. For instance, we use only a single camera with a bandpass filter wheel to realize a broad spectral range, while minimizing the mass and volume of the instrument. We have also designed the instrument to have two standalone units—the OMD and ICD—so that unsupervised, in-flight calibration and data acquisition measurements can be made. In March 2015, we successfully installed the FIRR on the Polar 6 aircraft and conducted a month-long Arctic campaign, from which we obtained valuable information pertaining to thin ice clouds. We are now in the process of using this data set to inform the design of the microsatellite version of our instrument.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

There's nothing like a little after-lunch planet-hunting, and if you have some time to spare, NASA could use your help. The agency has launched a Zooniverse website called Backyard Worlds: Planet Nine, where anyone can join in the search for undiscovered planets. It's not as glamorous as piloting a spaceship into the Final Frontier, but it's valuable work. Visitors can pore over images and videos made by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, looking for unknown objects. The big one NASA hopes to find is Planet Nine, an enormous mysterious object out beyond Neptune thought to be having a gravitational effect on distant solar system objects. But brown dwarfs, objects somewhere between the heaviest planets and the lightest stars, may also appear in some of the images as objects that move around. NASA hopes citizen researchers will find those too. "By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds," said Jackie Faherty, member of the Backyard Worlds team. There's a tutorial on the Backyard Worlds website, so head on over and click the Classify button at the top of the page to get started.


News Article | February 17, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

—NASA scientists are trying to find new planets. And they need your help. Through its new website, Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, NASA invites the average star-gazer to study grainy images of space in search of undiscovered worlds. Between 2010 and 2011, NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission scanned the entire sky to create the most complete survey of mid-infrared wavelengths to date. But the images gathered from the WISE mission still need to be studied. “There are too many images for us to search through ourselves,” NASA said in a statement. Citizen-scientists will look for real celestial objects such as brown dwarfs and low-mass stars. And if they are fortunate, participants may find one of two big-ticket discoveries: a star closer to the sun than its current neighbor Proxima Centauri, or maybe even the sun’s ninth planet. “There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.” The Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 team says that technology is not advanced enough to analyze all of WISE’s images: they need the human eye. “Automated searches don’t work well in some regions of the sky, like the plane of the Milky Way galaxy, because there are too many stars, which confuses the search algorithm,” University of California, Berkeley postdoctoral researcher Aaron Meisner, a physicist who specializes in analyzing WISE images, said in a press release. The moving pictures are full of “blurry blobs of light,” called “ghosts.” These ghosts can move around, change color, and ultimately fool NASA’s analysis software. “But with your powerful human eyes, you can help us recognize real objects of interest that move among these artifacts,” says the project’s website. “You’ll be able to tell what objects are real by the way they move around differently from the artifacts.” Through the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 website, anyone can study WISE’s images and tag moving objects that could potentially be more than a ghost. Professional astronomers will later follow-up on the tagged objects and use their expertise to see if a new discovery was made. And if any scientific publication comes of this project, the citizen-scientist will receive shared credit. By inviting the masses to comb through its data, NASA might even find the next Clyde Tombaugh. In 1930, American astronomer Mr. Tombaugh spent hours staring into a device called a “blink comparator” that tracks the movement of objects between two separate photographic plates – a strategy similar to the one employed by NASA today. And Tombaugh’s hard work paid off: after 7,000 hours of study, he discovered Pluto. Finding a ninth planet would be very difficult – but not necessarily impossible. In 2016, California Institute of Technology astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin found indirect evidence that a ninth planet could exist beyond Pluto. According to their calculations, Planet 9 would be 10 times larger than Earth and 1,000 times farther away from the sun. Just last month, a study from New Mexico State University suggested that Planet Nine could be a “rogue planet,” recently sucked in by the sun’s gravitational pull.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: motherboard.vice.com

No new planets have been spotted in our solar system since Neptune was identified in 1846 (I'm excluding Pluto, discovered in 1930, because it has been since demoted to a dwarf planet). But this doesn't necessarily mean that our solar family is complete. There may be stragglers out there we haven't found yet. Over the past year, mounting evidence suggests that a Neptune-sized world is orbiting the Sun at a distance of at least 30 billion kilometers (19 billion miles), about 200 times the orbit of the Earth around our star. The gravitational signature of this mysterious "Planet Nine," as it has been dubbed, was described in January 2016 by Caltech astronomers Konstantin Batygin and Michael Brown, but nobody has produced a firm visual yet. READ MORE: Stop Blaming Everything on Planet Nine Fortunately, that may change soon, thanks to the new NASA-funded website Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, launched on Wednesday. Though the project sounds like a mashup between an Ed Wood movie and a scifi-themed porno, it is shaping up to be a thriving space for citizen scientists looking to nab the honor of the first look at this hypothesized sibling planet, which may be a foreign visitor captured by the Sun's gravity—or perhaps an exiled reject, uprooted from the inner solar system to the far edge of the Kuiper Belt. Either way, the search is on. Here's the rundown: Backyard Worlds displays infrared images taken by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft, which specializes in spying dim objects like distant planets or failed stars known as "brown dwarfs." Site users can examine flipbook-style image sets, tag moving objects in them for classification, and share the results with the wider community. The hope is that this will lead to crowdsourced observations of the much-anticipated Planet Nine, as well as other dim objects inside and around the solar system. Though it is intended for the public, the project is a collaboration of researchers based at NASA, the American Museum of Natural History, Arizona State University, UC Berkeley, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and citizen science portal Zooniverse. It's exciting to think we may be months, weeks, or even days away from pinpointing the whereabouts of the ninth planet-sized world in the solar system—if it really does exist—and that it may not be a seasoned astronomer who seizes this milestone. It could be anyone with an internet connection. Happy hunting! Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered a surprising connection between a supermassive black hole and the galaxy where it resides. Powerful radio jets from the black hole - which normally suppress star formation - are stimulating the production of cold gas in the galaxy's extended halo of hot gas. This newly identified supply of cold, dense gas could eventually fuel future star birth as well as feed the black hole itself. The researchers used ALMA to study a galaxy at the heart of the Phoenix Cluster, an uncommonly crowded collection of galaxies about 5.7 billion light-years from Earth. The central galaxy in this cluster harbors a supermassive black hole that is in the process of devouring star-forming gas, which fuels a pair of powerful jets that erupt from the black hole in opposite directions into intergalactic space. Astronomers refer to this type of black-hole powered system as an active galactic nucleus (AGN). Earlier research with NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory revealed that the jets from this AGN are carving out a pair of giant "radio bubbles," huge cavities in the hot, diffuse plasma that surrounds the galaxy. These expanding bubbles should create conditions that are too inhospitable for the surrounding hot gas to cool and condense, which are essential steps for future star formation. The latest ALMA observations, however, reveal long filaments of cold molecular gas condensing around the outer edges of the radio bubbles. These filaments extend up to 82,000 light-years from either side of the AGN. They collectively contain enough material to make about 10 billion suns. "With ALMA we can see that there's a direct link between these radio bubbles inflated by the supermassive black hole and the future fuel for galaxy growth," said Helen Russell, an astronomer with the University of Cambridge, UK, and lead author on a paper appearing in the Astrophysical Journal. "This gives us new insights into how a black hole can regulate future star birth and how a galaxy can acquire additional material to fuel an active black hole." The new ALMA observations reveal previously unknown connections between an AGN and the abundance of cold molecular gas that fuels star birth. "To produce powerful jets, black holes must feed on the same material that the galaxy uses to make new stars," said Michael McDonald, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and coauthor on the paper. "This material powers the jets that disrupt the region and quenches star formation. This illustrates how black holes can slow the growth of their host galaxies." Without a significant source of heat, the most massive galaxies in the universe would be forming stars at extreme rates that far exceed observations. Astronomers believe that the heat, in the form of radiation and jets from an actively feeding supermassive black hole, prevents overcooling of the cluster's hot gas atmosphere, suppressing star formation. This story, however, now appears more complex. In the Phoenix Cluster, Russell and her team found an additional process that ties the galaxy and its black hole together. The radio jets that heat the core of the cluster's hot atmosphere also appear to stimulate the production of the cold gas required to sustain the AGN. "That's what makes this result so surprising," said Brian McNamara, an astronomer at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, and co-author on the paper. "This supermassive black hole is regulating the growth of the galaxy by blowing bubbles and heating the gases around it. Remarkably, it also is cooling enough gas to feed itself." This result helps astronomers understand the workings of the cosmic "thermostat" that controls the launching of radio jets from the supermassive black hole. "This could also explain how the most massive black holes were able to both suppress run-away starbursts and regulate the growth of their host galaxies over the past six billion years or so of cosmic history," noted Russell. The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), an international astronomy facility, is a partnership of ESO, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded by ESO on behalf of its Member States, by NSF in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and by NINS in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI). ALMA construction and operations are led by ESO on behalf of its Member States; by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), on behalf of North America; and by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) on behalf of East Asia. The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.marketwired.com

HOUSTON, TX--(Marketwired - February 15, 2017) - KBR, Inc. ( : KBR) announced today that U.S. Naval Test Wing Atlantic has named Greg "Squid" Williams U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS ) Instructor of the Year. Williams was recognized at an award luncheon at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland January 31st. Williams, a KBRwyle test pilot instructor, won this annual award for his role in training the U.S. and Allied nations' top pilots, flight officers, and engineers at the test pilot school. "His outstanding efforts had a positive and direct impact on the school's mission to produce the world's preeminent test pilots, flight officers and test engineers," said Capt. Brett Pierson, Commander, Naval Test Wing Atlantic. A former U.S. Air Force experimental test navigator and electronic warfare officer, Williams belongs to KBRwyle's flight test team, which is one of the world's largest independent flight test organizations. He has been a USNTPS instructor since 2011, serving as an airborne systems flight instructor, aircraft monitor, and exercise monitor. "It is satisfying to know that I am teaching critical thinking skills to the future leaders of naval aviation as well as our joint-service and international partners," said Williams. "I like teaching airborne systems flight test techniques to TPS students since these future testers have a very important job to get the best product to the warfighter as quickly as possible." As an exercise and aircraft monitor for the Airborne Systems Training and Research Support II aircraft, Williams oversaw the safe execution of 133 sorties totaling more than 350 mishap free flight hours for eight different USNTPS flight exercises in 2016. Williams also assisted in integrating unmanned airborne systems into new flight exercises for USNTPS curriculum. According to Pierson, Williams' leadership of this effort resulted in significantly reduced operating costs and exposed students to UAS flight test techniques, ensuring USNTPS remains at the forefront of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) flight test development. KBRwyle's flight operations team has more than 50 years of flight test support experience gained through partnership with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, NASA and other government and commercial customers. KBRwyle is a wholly owned subsidiary of KBR. KBR is a global provider of differentiated professional services and technologies across the asset and program life cycle within the Government Services and Hydrocarbons sectors. KBR employs over 31,000 people worldwide, with customers in more than 80 countries, and operations in 40 countries, across three synergistic global businesses: KBR is proud to work with its customers across the globe to provide technology, value-added services, integrated EPC delivery and long term operations and maintenance services to ensure consistent delivery with predictable results. At KBR, We Deliver. The statements in this press release that are not historical statements, including statements regarding future financial performance, are forward-looking statements within the meaning of the federal securities laws. These statements are subject to numerous risks and uncertainties, many of which are beyond the company's control that could cause actual results to differ materially from the results expressed or implied by the statements. These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to: the outcome of and the publicity surrounding audits and investigations by domestic and foreign government agencies and legislative bodies; potential adverse proceedings by such agencies and potential adverse results and consequences from such proceedings; the scope and enforceability of the company's indemnities from its former parent; changes in capital spending by the company's customers; the company's ability to obtain contracts from existing and new customers and perform under those contracts; structural changes in the industries in which the company operates; escalating costs associated with and the performance of fixed-fee projects and the company's ability to control its cost under its contracts; claims negotiations and contract disputes with the company's customers; changes in the demand for or price of oil and/or natural gas; protection of intellectual property rights; compliance with environmental laws; changes in government regulations and regulatory requirements; compliance with laws related to income taxes; unsettled political conditions, war and the effects of terrorism; foreign operations and foreign exchange rates and controls; the development and installation of financial systems; increased competition for employees; the ability to successfully complete and integrate acquisitions; and operations of joint ventures, including joint ventures that are not controlled by the company. KBR's most recently filed Annual Report on Form 10-K, any subsequent Form 10-Qs and 8-Ks, and other Securities and Exchange Commission filings discuss some of the important risk factors that KBR has identified that may affect the business, results of operations and financial condition. Except as required by law, KBR undertakes no obligation to revise or update publicly any forward-looking statements for any reason.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.latimes.com

Astronomers scouring the heavens for a planet home to life as we know it have found a tantalizing solar system with not one but seven Earth-sized worlds, just 39 light-years away. Measurements made by powerful space telescopes and ground-based observatories indicate that several of these exoplanets orbit in the habitable zone, where water would naturally exist in liquid form. The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, marks the first time so many terrestrial planets have been found around a single star. Although scientists believe the planets are rocky and Earth-sized, too little is known about their atmospheres and other factors to say whether they are truly Earth-like. But hopes are running high. “With the right atmospheric conditions, there could be water on any of these planets,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if but when.” Scientists are already probing the atmospheres of these planets for signs of oxygen, ozone, methane and other gasses that could be signatures of life, added Nikole Lewis, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. The TRAPPIST-1 star is an ultracool dwarf star, much smaller and roughly 200 times fainter than the sun. Indeed, if our sun were the size of a basketball, TRAPPIST-1 would be the size of a golf ball, said study leader Michaël Gillon, a researcher at the University of Liege in Belgium. Even so, ultracool dwarf stars can be pretty hot places to look for potentially life-friendly planets. In this case, that’s partly because all seven worlds orbit so close to the star’s surface, closer than Mercury is to the sun. With that kind of proximity, even the dwarf star’s dim light may provide enough warmth to support living things. On top of that, the planets’ tight orbits make them very easy for certain telescopes to find. The European Southern Observatory’s TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST for short) in Chile uses the transit method to hunt for planets. As a planet passes, or transits, in front of its host star, it blots out a little bit of starlight, causing a dip in overall brightness that scientists can measure. If such a dip happens once, it could be a fluke. If it happens three or more times at regular intervals, it’s probably an orbiting planet. If there are multiple planets, scientists can find them by looking at how they distort each other’s orbits. If a planet seems to transit a tad too early or too late, for example, it means that something else besides the star — such as a fellow planet — is tugging on it. This information also allows astronomers to make a rough calculation of the other planet’s mass. Astronomers announced the discovery of three planets around TRAPPIST-1 last year, but even then they suspected there might be a few more. So they observed the star for 20 days with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. The space telescope was an ideal choice because ultra-cool dwarf stars are quite bright in the infrared portion of the light spectrum, which Spitzer measures. However, the telescope was not designed to study exoplanets, said Sean Carey, manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. “We had to do a fair amount of engineering work” to get the precision required for the job, he said. Ultimately, Spitzer captured 34 transits of seven different planets, whose “years” ranged from 1.5 to roughly 20 days. (Because the outermost planet passed by the star only once, the scientists could not determine its exact orbit.) All seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system are probably rocky, with masses in a range of 20% less to 20% more than that of Earth, give or take, the scientists found. Among the seven planets, three orbit in a zone where any water on the surface would be stable in liquid form. These worlds are neither too hot for it to boil off, nor too cold for it to freeze. One of those planets, known as TRAPPIST-1e, receives about the same amount of light from its star as Earth does from the sun, Lewis said. Another, TRAPPIST-1f, gets about the same amount of light as Mars. Gillon said the planets probably formed farther away from the star and then migrated to their present positions. If that is indeed the case, that would increase their odds of having water, since they would have coalesced in a region with lots of ice. The dwarf star and its exoplanets have a lot in common with Jupiter and its many moons, Gillon and his colleagues said. Like the Jovian satellites, TRAPPIST-1’s planets are in such tight orbits that they are probably tidally locked. If so, that means they show the same face to the star at all times, rather like the moon does to the Earth. The seven planets also seem to be orbiting in resonance with each other. These gravitational interactions could mean that the planets are being heated by tidal forces. Whether that’s good or bad depends on what kind of world you are. For Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, a little tidal heating goes a long way, powering polar geysers more powerful than all the hot springs in Yellowstone. For Jupiter’s moon Io, tidal forces caused it to become covered in inhospitable-looking volcanoes. Of course, much more work remains to determine if any of these planets have the right conditions and chemical ingredients for life. The prospect of sending a spacecraft to the TRAPPIST-1 system is still a faraway dream. Though close by galactic standards, it would take 44 million years to get there on a jet plane. Faster modes of transportation are being worked on, but those ideas are still in very early stages of development, Zurbuchen said. Fortunately, astronomers expect to learn much more about these seven planets as powerful telescopes come online in the coming months. TESS, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is set to launch in December 2017. It will be followed in 2018 by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which will analyze these planets’ atmospheres. “Could any of the planets harbor life? We simply do not know,” astronomer Ignas Snellen of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands wrote in a commentary that accompanied the paper. “But one thing is certain: in a few billion years, when the Sun has run out of fuel and the solar system has ceased to exist, TRAPPIST-1 will still be only an infant star. It burns hydrogen so slowly that it will live for another 10 trillion years ... which is arguably enough time for life to evolve.” Follow @aminawrite and @LATkarenkaplan on Twitter for more science news and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook. Same-sex marriage laws helped reduce suicide attempts by gay, lesbian and bisexual teens, study says Can a mouse meditate? Why these researchers want to find out NASA's Juno spacecraft to remain in extra-long orbit for the rest of its time at Jupiter 1:35 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional comments and analysis from several scientists. This article was originally published at 10 a.m.


News Article | February 18, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Mario Corsalini stands near to a gypsum rosette crystal. In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both Fairyland and hell, scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old. The bizarre and ancient microbes were found dormant in caves in Naica, Mexico, and were able to exist by living on minerals such as iron and manganese. —A new find from otherworldly underground crystal caves raises hopes for finding life on, well, other worlds. During exploration of Mexico’s inhospitable Naica caves, a team of scientists managed to extract, and revive, long dormant microbes from inside the giant crystals that populate the caverns. With genetic patterns unlike most other life on earth, the critters may have been dozing for many millennia. If it holds up, the NASA-backed discovery would raise both hopes for finding life in the extreme environments of other worlds and fears of extraterrestrial contamination by hardy earthborn superbugs. Like a real life Fortress of Solitude, the surreal Naica mine of Northern Mexico is riddled with crisscrossing translucent spikes dozens of feet in length. Originally developed by miners hunting for silver and other precious metals, the site also attracted scientists interested in extremophiles – life forms that thrive in often oxygen-free intense environments of fire and ice: deep sea vents, antarctic ice, and volcanoes. Located nearly a thousand feet underground, exploring the Naica caves is not for the faint of heart. Even specially developed ice-suits equipped with ventilators piping in ice-cooled air only permitted human visitors to brave the sweltering temperatures for an hour at a time. But for the chemosynthesizing microbes that call this hot, pitch black cave home, it’s no big deal. Unlike most familiar ecosystems that ultimately derive their energy from sunlight, life forms in these dark environments break down rock minerals for food like little miners. Researchers already knew microbes lived in the caves, but no one suspected they might actually be lurking inside imperfections in crystals themselves, some of which date back millions of years. In 2008 and 2009, the team succeeded in recovering microbes holed up in small pockets of crystal encased fluid by drilling with sterilized drill bits, and then reanimated them back in the lab. Based on estimates of how fast crystals grow, the tiny time travelers could be between 10,000 and 50,000 years old. Director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute Penelope Boston announced the team’s findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Friday. “These organisms have been dormant but viable for geologically significant periods of time, and they can be released due to other geological processes,” she said. “This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolutionary history of microbial life on this planet.” Ancient life forms hibernating in salt, ice, or crystal are nothing new. “Reviving microbes from samples of 10,000 to 50,000 years is not that outlandish based on previous reports of microbial resuscitations in geological materials hundreds of thousands to millions of years old,” Brent Christner, a microbiologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told National Geographic. But such claims have typically been met with skepticism. Even hibernating organisms need some energy, and slowing their metabolism enough to permit suspension on geological timescales may be impossible. “I think that the presence of microbes trapped within fluid inclusions in Naica crystals is in principle possible. However, that they are viable after 10,000 to 50,000 years is more questionable,” said microbiologist Purificación López-García of the French National Center for Scientific Research to National Geographic. Skeptics suggest the microbes could have hitched a ride on the drill bits, making it look like they were inside the crystals the whole time. The team is in the process of publishing their results, which have not yet been peer reviewed. But Dr. Boston says her find has made her a believer. She notes that the team took great care to sterilize both their tools and the surfaces of the crystals themselves with chemicals and fire. Moreover, the genetics backs them up, according to Boston. “Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary – they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases." She also sees fingerprints of isolation in the way the microbes interact with local viruses. "Other groups have shown there are lots of viruses in these caves and what that says to me is that these are fully fledged microbial communities that have their viral load just like every other community does. So, that's another aspect of this that argues against casual contamination," she told reporters. With the building blocks of life showing up all over the solar system, the existence of these reclusive life forms makes scientists wonder if similar microbes could be alive somewhere underneath the inhospitable surfaces of other worlds, hidden from the prying eyes of orbiting probes and rolling rovers. "The astrobiological link is obvious in that any extremophile system that we're studying allows us to push the envelope of life further on Earth, and we add it to this atlas of possibilities that we can apply to different planetary settings." But the discovery also raises concerns that any extraterrestrial find could actually turn out to be terrestrial hitchhikers. “How do we ensure that life-detection missions are going to detect true Mars life or life from icy worlds rather than our life?” Boston asks. “Aspects of my work illustrate the extreme toughness of life on Earth and the restrictions that places on us.” Just launching a probe into the vacuum of space was once thought to be enough to zap any riders, but we already have direct evidence to the contrary. Boston hopes the evidence her team has gathered will be sufficient to prove their case, because returning to the caves, which she called “tear-inducingly beautiful,” is impossible. After becoming unprofitable, the mine was allowed to be flooded with groundwater, returning to its natural state. The crystals will resume their growth, perhaps trapping more microbes to puzzle scientists of the distant future.


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

A self-portrait taken by the NASA rover Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars. —Is there – or was there ever – life on Mars? NASA has spent decades investigating the question with orbiters and rovers, including its upcoming Mars 2020 rover, but at least one scientist suspects he already knows the answer. According to Gibert Levin, NASA probably detected microbial life on Mars in 1976. Dr. Levin was one of the scientists involved with the Viking lander, whose biological experiments gave conflicting results when samples tested positive for metabolism but negative for organic molecules. Scientists at the time agreed that what looked like biological signs must have resulted instead from natural processes, but after decades of follow-up research recreating the Martian experiments in hostile landscapes such as Antarctica and the Atacama Desert, combined with a better understanding of Mars as well as the durability of life on Earth, Levin has a different hypothesis: The unreliable organic molecule experiment was the one that failed, and the metabolism detection succeeded. The continued debate surrounding the interpretation of a four-decade-old experiment highlights the challenges of looking for life, or its fossilized remains, with indirect experiments conducted by robots a world away. "We're not looking for skeletons. We're looking for fossil microbes — if [Mars] life did indeed go extinct," said Ellen Stofan, then NASA’s chief scientist, at a conference last year. "And those are going to be hard to find." NASA rovers Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity have made astounding discoveries in their combined 27 years of Martian exploration, including signs of an ancient ocean, flowing water, as well as the active organic molecules that eluded Viking, but while the machines have significantly expanded experts’ understanding of Mars as a warmer, wetter world that once had the conditions for life, we are arguably no closer to finding smoking-gun evidence of microbes than Viking was in the mid-1970s. Dr. Stofan suggested conclusive proof may have to wait until someone can get actual humans, with their superior programming and higher bandwidth, out to investigate in person. "I strongly believe we will never settle this question of determining whether or not there's life on Mars unless we get human scientists down onto the surface of the Red Planet," she said. Part of the mission of Curiosity, a rover currently traipsing around Mars, is to search for organic molecules using a suite of onboard tools known collectively as SAM: the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument. SAM can take in Martian soil and rocks, vaporize them, and sniff the results for life-friendly elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Samples of mudstone from the Gale Crater did succeed in detecting the first organics on Mars, but disappointingly sparse results suggest that deep under the surface may be a more fruitful place to hunt. “‘Slim pickings’ would be a generous description of the organic results,” says Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. “These mudstones should have been dripping with organics. Apparently the combination of cosmic rays and perchlorate (probably also caused by cosmic rays) has bleached out the organics. Hence the need to get deep below the level that cosmic rays reach and look for organics there,” he explains to The Christian Science Monitor in an email. But that’s not where NASA is headed. The next-generation Mars 2020 rover, whose three finalist sites were recently announced, will carry only “in situ” experiments that study the Martian surface in a variety of ways. “[Mars] 2020 will not do onboard sample analysis such as SAM on Curiosity. This is a big step backward for science in my view,” says Dr. McKay. While NASA calls Mars 2020 “the first rover mission designed to seek signs of past microbial life,” the fact is that just like Curiosity, even if it scooped up a soil sample teeming with microbes, it might not realize it, according to McKay. “None of the instruments on Mars 2020 is capable of life detection. They are capable of organic detection for high concentrations (Earth-like) of organics,” he writes. That’s not to say that remote detection is impossible, rather it’s a complicated process currently out of reach. McKay outlines a potential five step plan for clinching the existence of life on Mars: We’re currently working on the first one, but none of the shallow samples Curiosity has accessed has had enough organic material to proceed to step two. Preparing samples for return is a potential goal of Mars 2020, but because they will be from very shallow material, McKay doubts “there will be much interest in going back to Mars to pick up these samples.” But if the goal is to scratch the surface of the Red Planet, the robots are making steady progress. Sojourner carried cameras, Spirit and Opportunity had a Rock Abrasion Tool for scraping surfaces, and NASA equipped Curiosity with a drill capable of digging down 2.5 inches into Martian rock. In this sense, it’s the 2020 European EXOMars rover, which McKay calls “a much more interesting astrobiology mission” with its 2-meter drill that may be the next lander in this spiritual line of succession. Nevertheless he’s quick to point out that there’s plenty of great science to go around, even if it isn’t necessarily biological. “Certainly [Mars 2020] will be a great technology demonstration and it will be fun to have another big rover on Mars. The pictures of rocks are priceless.” Getting boots on the ground, however, could be a game changer. When it comes to exploration, humans have a number of advantages over robots that could simplify basically every part of that five-step plan. “The biggest advantage of future astronauts in terms of astrobiology is the ability to do deep drilling. The future of life search on Mars has to be with samples from deep underground,” explains McKay. They’d also be on-site for analysis, rather than having to fly samples back to Earth. What’s more, humans are a lot more versatile, both mentally and physically. The Apollo astronauts covered dozens of miles in days on the lunar surface, a feat that took Opportunity the better part of a decade on Mars. Astronauts can also recognize promising sites quickly, improvise new on-the-spot plans, and implement them with no time lag. Of course, McKay points out that all that intelligence, speed, and flexibility comes at a price. “They eat and breathe constantly and want to come home when it’s all over. That’s expensive.” Ultimately, no matter how rich in organics or “biosignatures” a sample may be, there’s no substitute for hands-on testing, either on Mars or here at home. And if NASA has to go through all the effort of transporting something between the two planets, some suggest it might as well be people, not only for a conclusive answer to the question raised 40 years ago by the Viking experiment, but for what it would mean to humanity. Human exploration of Mars is "definitely worth it in my view, but not because of science," says McKay. "Humans are worth it because humans are what it all about in the final analysis. Science is just a preparatory tool.”


A book called "Planet X - The 2017 Arrival" claimed that the end of the world may occur in 2017. After a tumultuous year, the news of this possibility panicked conspiracy theorists to the point of apocalyptic thoughts. The book, written by David Meade, describes the cosmic scenery as part of which the dark star "Nemesis" is orbited by seven astronomical bodies. One of these, called "Nibiru", is supposedly going to collide with our planet in October 2017. The book has sparked the interest of conspiracy theorists and rumors of its veracity have already caused tremendous rumors on the aftermath of this collision. According to the book, "Nemesis" is a dark star smaller than our sun and its orbiting bodies range in dimensions, some are smaller than our planet's moon and some are bigger than our planet itself. Most of the conspiracy theorists are already very familiar with Nibiru, which is a mysterious celestial body from our solar system. However, there is no proof of this celestial body, due to the fact that it cannot be seen from our perspective. The book mentions that the reason Nibiru cannot be spotted is the angle at which it is approaching our planet, which makes it really difficult to observe. According to the book, the system is not aligned with our solar system's ecliptic one and it is getting closer to our planet from an oblique angle, toward our planet's South Pole. The book also argues that previous civilizations and forms of life, such as dinosaurs, for instance, were also exterminated because of asteroids and comets colliding with planet Earth. Despite this little inconvenience, however, the book explains in a very serious tone the effects that the collision could inflict upon our planet, urging its readership to take note of the previous catastrophes caused by cosmic phenomena. Complete destruction of human life is the most plausible hypotheses, in the event of this collision. Should this doomsday prophecy turn out to be real, it will not only endanger, but eradicate all intelligent life from planet Earth. "The evidence to support this is overwhelming. There are 40 volcanoes erupting at the same time on Earth now. Earthquakes have dramatically increased both in number and intensity. The Elite are frantically building underground "safety" bunkers. The public is being kept in the dark deliberately to avoid panic. [...] I'm just waiting for the fat lady to sing!" noted the book author in a report. The gravitational pull of Nibiru, which is documented among theorists to be a "rogue planet", was the reason for disruptions among orbits of other planets. While this phenomenon took place hundreds of years ago, the gravitational pull of this star drives Nibiru, along with its seven orbiting corpuses, toward Earth. Additionally, scientific figures deny the existence of this conspiracy planet along with its effects and possible collision. "Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an internet hoax. Obviously, it does not exist," noted NASA representatives. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

The Department of Energy has taken down its public-facing employee directory, making it far more difficult for journalists and members of the public to locate email addresses and phone numbers for agency personnel. The move, which was announced to agency contractors on Wednesday and implemented Thursday morning, was confirmed in an internal email shared with Mashable. Making federal scientists and policy makers harder to contact isn’t a trivial matter. These kinds of moves toward opacity wall off employees from the outside world and make it more likely that they won’t experience public pressure related to their taxpayer-funded work. SEE ALSO: Rick Perry regrets calling for abolishment of Energy Department It also makes it easier for public relations officers to assume more control over access to interview subjects, since journalists unfamiliar with agency sources will need to contact the central press office  to make headway on a story. The phonebook was functioning early Thursday morning but went down around 10:15 a.m. ET. This is how the page reads now: Instead of finding the Energy Department phonebook online on Thursday, visitors to the department website now are directed to a central phone number (which is 202-586-5000) and are told to contact a specific office via a web directory. The directory allowed any user to search for department employees by name and retrieve their basic contact information and office division, which was a help for journalists, civil society watchdog groups and many others seeking to penetrate the often opaque federal bureaucracy. Until this morning, you could look up Department of Energy (DOE) employees by name to find their office phone number and email addresses. Considering the fact that the department is a maze of more than 10,000 employees and contractors located around the world, that phonebook is more than convenient — it’s essential. Other federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, still have intact public phonebooks, as they did throughout the Obama administration. The Energy Department says it took down the phonebook because of internal complaints from agency personnel who didn't want their information shared anymore. "The Office of Public Affairs had received complaints from the workforce regarding the release of their direct contact information and the disruption to their operations as a result of outside personnel reaching out directly vice working through the appropriate channels," said Shelley Laver, an agency spokeswoman, in an email. "The public is still able to communicate with the department through various channels," she said. The agency's database did not provide a feasible way to allow individual employees to opt out of being listed while also maintaining the public directory, she said. The internal email sent to an agency contractor did not provide a reason why the public phonebook was removed. Given that the phonebook has been online for years, it's removal now strikes some as suspicious. Energy Department employees, contractors and watchdog groups have been on alert for changes at the department that would limit transparency and would infringe upon the agency's broad portfolio of climate science research. Maintaining the scientific integrity and independence of the agency's scientific work has been a particular concern in light of the Trump administration's denial of mainstream climate science findings. "Taking down the phonebook doesn’t make sense," said Michael Halpern, the deputy director of the center for democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental advocacy group. "This centralizes communication and makes it more difficult to get in touch with individual DOE employees without going through an approval process first," he said, using the acronym for the agency.  Halpern said the removal of the phonebook, if it is permanent, "could limit direct access to DOE scientists." By routing callers through main offices, he said, "It has the potential to add a political filter to how DOE communicates science."  Prior to stepping down at the end of former president Barack Obama's second term, then-secretary Ernest Moniz signed an agency-wide scientific integrity policy that would ostensibly protect the organization's research from political interference. "The DOE scientific integrity policy states that employees don’t need to ask for permission before publicly sharing scientific information with those who ask," Halpern said. "DOE should be doing all it can to make scientific experts more accessible to the public, and this goes in the opposite direction."  EPA scientists have already been forced to violate their integrity policy when they were told not to speak to the press or share research results with the public during the presidential transition. Under Obama, the Energy Department became a leading source of venture capital for clean energy firms, in addition to funding cutting edge climate science and energy research at its network of national labs.  The Trump administration made waves during the transition when it asked the department for the names of employees who had worked on climate programs and participated in international climate negotiations, suggesting a coming purge of staff involve in climate programs.  The Trump transition team then backed off from that questionnaire, attributing it to a "rogue" staff member. The transition team also hinted that the department is destined for an across the board 10 percent budget cut under the new administration. President Donald Trump's nominee for Energy Secretary, former Texas governor Rick Perry, has said he would work to protect scientists at the department and is still awaiting Senate confirmation. In the past, Perry has denied the existence of human-caused climate change and advocated for the elimination of the agency entirely, though he softened that stance at the opening of his confirmation hearing.  "I have learned a great deal about the important work being done every day by the outstanding men and women of the Department of Energy," Perry said.  "My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking," he said.  The disabling of the public Energy Department phonebook is similar to what the Trump administration did to the White House public contact number, when it instead asked for comments via social media or a web form.  In both cases, the ease of public access to key parts of the federal government has been limited. The White House is now essentially walled off from comment by anyone without an internet connection. If you are a federal employee, scientist or citizen scientist who sees climate science and policy shifts at federal agencies and wishes to alert the media, we want to hear from you. Please send an email from your personal email account to science@mashable.com.  You can also contact science editor Andrew Freedman via the secure messaging app Signal, with detailed information in his Twitter bio.


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

A pulsar is a spinning, magnetized neutron star that sweeps regular pulses of radiation in two symmetrical beams across the cosmos. If aligned well enough with Earth, these beams act like a lighthouse beacon—appearing to flash on and off as the pulsar rotates. Pulsars were previously massive stars that exploded in powerful supernovae, leaving behind these small, dense stellar corpses. The brightest pulsar, as reported in the journal Science, is called NGC 5907 ULX. In one second, it emits the same amount of energy as our sun does in three-and-a-half years. The European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite found the pulsar and, independently, NASA's NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) mission also detected the signal. This pulsar is 50 million light years away, which means its light dates back to a time before humans roamed Earth. It is also the farthest known neutron star. "This object is really challenging our current understanding of the accretion process for high-luminosity pulsars," said Gian Luca Israel, from INAF-Osservatorio Astronomica di Roma, Italy, lead author of the Science paper. "It is 1,000 times more luminous than the maximum thought possible for an accreting neutron star, so something else is needed in our models in order to account for the enormous amount of energy released by the object." The previous record holder for brightest pulsar was reported in October 2014. NuSTAR had identified M82 X-2, located about 12 million light-years away in the "Cigar Galaxy" galaxy Messier 82 (M82), as a pulsar rather than a black hole. The pulsar reported in Science, NGC 5907 ULX, is 10 times brighter. Another extremely bright pulsar, the third brightest known, is called NGC 7793 P13. Using a combination of XMM-Newton and NuSTAR, one group of scientists reported the discovery in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, while another used XMM-Newton to report it in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Both studies were published in October 2016. Scientists call three extremely bright pulsars "ultraluminous X-ray sources" (ULXs). Before the 2014 discovery, many scientists thought that the brightest ULXs were black holes. "They are brighter than what you would expect from an accreting black hole of 10 solar masses," said Felix Fuerst, lead author of the Astrophysical Journal Letters study based at the European Space Astronomy Center in Madrid. Fuerst did this work while at Caltech in Pasadena, California. How these objects are able to shine so brightly is a mystery. The leading theory is that these pulsars have strong, complex magnetic fields closer to their surfaces. A magnetic field would distort the flow of incoming material close to the neutron star. This would allow the neutron star to continue accreting material while still generating high levels of brightness. It could be that many more ULXs are neutron stars, scientists say. "These discoveries of 'light,' compact objects that shine so brightly, is revolutionizing the field," Israel said. Explore further: The brightest, furthest pulsar in the universe More information: For more information on NuSTAR, see http://www.nasa.gov/nustar Gian Luca Israel et al. An accreting pulsar with extreme properties drives an ultraluminous x-ray source in NGC 5907, Science (2017). DOI: 10.1126/science.aai8635


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

Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida April 14, 2010. REUTERS/Carlos Barria CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA will pay Boeing Co up to $373.5 million for rides to fly up to five astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Russian Soyuz capsules, the U.S. space agency said on Tuesday. The extra rides will allow the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to add a fourth U.S. astronaut to the six-member station crew more than a year ahead of schedule. Russia in April is reducing its crew from three to two. NASA also wants backup seats available to staff the space station in case of delays with U.S. commercial space taxis under development by Boeing and by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp, known as SpaceX. NASA’s last contract with the Russian space agency for Soyuz seats, announced in August 2015, was for six seats covering flights through 2018, at a cost of $82 million apiece. Under the Boeing contract, the price falls to $74.7 million per person. NASA hired Boeing and SpaceX to fly crew members to the station, which orbits about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth, beginning in late 2018. However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said earlier this month that both companies face technical hurdles which likely will delay their first crew ferry flights until 2019. The new agreement with Boeing provides NASA a seat for one astronaut in 2017 and one in 2018, with options for three more rides in 2019. Boeing obtained the seats as part of an unrelated settlement with Russia’s RSC Energia, which manufactures Soyuz capsules. Energia was the primary owner and Boeing’s partner in another space launch company known as Sea Launch. Since the U.S. retired the space shuttles in 2011, Russian Soyuz capsules are the only crew transportation services available.


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

The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA are teaming up for a future exploration mission that may enable astronauts to travel around the moon in the next few years. Come 2021, astronauts will be able to go around the moon. However, the space agencies do not intend for a lunar surface landing but are looking to get a craft in orbit of the moon. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the ESA revealed that in tandem with Airbus, an agreement has been reached with NASA to create a second module for a manned mission that will go around the Earth's natural satellite in five years from now. ESA and Airbus, the aerospace company, have already provided a supply module and transported a propulsion for NASA's Orion spacecraft's unmanned mission in 2018. In recent years, the farthest humans have journeyed beyond the Earth is the International Space Station (ISS). Astronauts went beyond Earth's low orbit to reach the moon way back in 1972. This was the last instance, when NASA closed its Apollo program. The new mission will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in early 2021 per reports. The manned mission will have a maximum of four astronauts, but the composition and size of the crew will be determined by NASA nearer to the launch time. Reportedly, the manned mission from NASA and ESA will see the spacecraft trail three increasingly elongating orbits, so that it can go around the moon and then come back to Earth. The purpose of the mission is for the spacecraft to re-enter to Earth quicker than any other manned mission before. Dave Parker, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight, expressed his excitement when the mission was revealed in 2016. "We are excited to be a part of this historic mission and appreciate NASA's trust in us to help extend humanity's exploration farther afield into our Solar System," said Parker, at the time. The manned mission planned for 2021 is going to be the follow up for the Orion spacecraft mission slated for 2018. The latter, however, is an unmanned mission. The new manned mission is eyeing to go around the moon come 2021, but the long term plan per reports is to use the spacecraft to ferry astronauts to Mars in the coming years. With the ESA and NASA collaborating on making the lunar mission a reality after a 50-year gap, it will be interesting to see how things pan out for the partnership in the future. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


In the 19th century, rats overran New Zealand, decimating its unique menagerie of flightless birds, proto-lizards, and other odd species (the problem has since grown to include invasive stoats and possums). Now an aggressive conservation group is working with geneticists to cultivate the first gene drive in mammals. Scientists created the drive just two months ago, in mice, and they are keen to see whether they can induce a population crash by engineering the rodents to only give birth to males. If it works, the team may attempt to carry out a test on a small, isolated island. After that, New Zealand—which has said it aims to eradicate its invasive predators by 2050—could be next. Do you need The Download? Sign up here to get it for free in your inbox. Cost of “The Wall” Going Up Is Going Up On the campaign trail, Donald Trump said the wall he wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border would cost about $12 billion dollars. Republican leaders in the House and Senate estimated the tab would be about $15 billion. We ran our own analysis and found that, actually, that figure varies a lot depending on how high and how long you want to build it. For the most part, though, we said the wall would cost a lot more than politicians were saying. And now, wouldn’t you know it, the latest estimate from the Department of Homeland Security has raised the price tag on the wall to $21.6 billion. At around 1,250 miles long, the wall is expected to take three years to complete. Construction could begin as soon as September. Taser’s name is so synonymous with the stun guns they make, you might forget that the company also makes wearable cameras. And now they own an AI company. Body cams have been adopted by police in many parts of the country, but the footage they record can be hard to interpret in chaotic situations. Buying the small firm Dextro gives Taser a computer vision and deep-learning system that makes videos searchable by their visual content. Taser also purchased a team from Fossil Group that specializes in using machine vision to speed up video and image processing—useful, because all those body cams generate tons of data. The newly acquired technology and teams will be folded into Taser’s Axon AI group. That may indeed make police videos easier to make sense of—but good luck making them any less controversial. Researchers gave two hunter-gatherer tribes Fitbit-like wristbands that recorded how they interacted with family, extended family, and friends. What they found was one of the fundamental things that makes us human. Brogan Bambrogan is back. The former SpaceX engineer who left Hyperloop One last year amid a storm of controversy has started his own hyperloop company, Arrivo. Clearly a strong believer in the technology, he says Arrivo will have a working hyperloop moving cargo for paying clients in three years. Poultry farms in China are churning out superbugs and passing them to humans (paywall). According to a new study, bacteria resistant to the “last resort” antibiotic colistin are proliferating on farms that use the drug to promote growth. Flies on farms also carried colistin-resistant bacteria, suggesting insects could explain how people were becoming infected. The spillway for America’s tallest dam has huge hole in it. Following years of drought in California, the 770-foot high Oroville Dam is now nearly at full capacity after months of torrential rains have soaked the state. Authorities don’t know how the 200-foot wide hole opened up, but they say the dam itself - and thousands of nearby residents - aren’t in any danger. Obamacare is far from perfect—but one thing it’s done is offer protection for people with pre-existing conditions. As technology allows us to generate more and more medically-relevant data about ourselves, any new law that does away with that could have a chilling effect on the science that relies on that data. The alarming decline of bees in many parts of the world has researchers wondering if drones can be used to pollinate plants. Using a small drone outfitted with a sticky gel and some horsehair, Japanese researchers tested that theory by dive-bombing a lily. Let's hope we never need it. America’s current political climate is, it turns out, bad for work. According to a survey by the software company BetterWorks, nearly a third of workers polled throughout the country said they were less productive since the election, and half said they had seen a political discussion in the workplace turn into an argument. NASA has released the first sketches of a mission that would send a lander to the surface of Europa to look for alien life. Jupiter’s moon is thought to contain a saltwater ocean beneath its icy crust, making it one of the most promising places in the solar system to look for extraterrestrials. Wind power in the U.S. now has more installed capacity than hydroelectric power. For decades, hydro has been the top producer of renewable energy in the country. And it still is: there is a big difference between capacity and how much energy is actually generated. Still, the wind industry looks to be on track to produce 10 percent of America’s energy by 2020. Here are two things you probably didn’t know: Cockroaches are magnetic. They probably use their magnetic properties to help navigate. Even weirder, though, is that their magnetic field changes when they die. "That’s the sort of thing that should never happen in a democratic country.” —Canadian polar bear researcher Ian Stirling discusses how former Prime Minister Stephen Harper forbid government scientists from speaking freely to the public, and what could happen if America follows suit.


News Article | February 28, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

Many of the country’s top healthcare executives will gather to learn and share “Pathways to Success: 21st Century Solutions to Healthcare’s Greatest Challenges,” during Intalere’s 2017 Executive Forum, taking place March 1-4, 2017, in San Diego, Calif. “Each year, the Intalere Executive Forum assembles the best and brightest healthcare leaders to exchange experiences, expertise and strategies from their provider-centric perspectives,” said Julius Heil, Intalere president and CEO. “This year, we will explore new models to sustain value and address internal and external challenges which ultimately are opportunities.” The meeting will feature a keynote session by Captain Scott Kelly, retired NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy Captain, who will share life lessons and personal stories revealing unique and valuable advice on pushing one’s own limits, and insight on the leadership and teamwork required in demanding conditions. Terry Jones, founder and former CEO of Travelocity and former chairman of Kayak.com, will also outline simple, yet powerful ideas for fostering innovation in organizations of all types and sizes, and the power of search and creativity in the digital age. Attendees will also participate in a roundtable discussion focused on Necessary Skills for Healthcare Leaders of the Future. “Over the past five years, the healthcare industry has been experiencing rapid change and a disruptive shift in risk transference,” said Heil. “This event represents an incredible opportunity to provide value through information, services and solutions that result in high value healthcare and improved operational performance.” About Intalere Intalere’s mission focuses on elevating the operational health of America’s healthcare providers by designing tailored, smart solutions that deliver optimal cost, quality and clinical outcomes. We strive to be the essential partner for operational excellence in healthcare through customized solutions that address customers’ individual needs. We assist our customers in managing their entire spend, providing innovative technologies, products and services, and leveraging the best practices of a provider-led model. As Intalere draws on the power of our owner Intermountain Healthcare’s nationally-recognized supply chain expertise and leadership in technology, process improvement, and evidence-based clinical and business best practices, we are uniquely positioned to be the innovation leader in the healthcare industry. Visit http://www.intalere.com to learn more.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Astronomers using the TRAPPIST-South telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as other telescopes around the world [1], have now confirmed the existence of at least seven small planets orbiting the cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 [2]. All the planets, labelled TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h in order of increasing distance from their parent star, have sizes similar to Earth [3]. Dips in the star's light output caused by each of the seven planets passing in front of it (astronomy) -- events known as transits -- allowed the astronomers to infer information about their sizes, compositions and orbits [4]. They found that at least the inner six planets are comparable in both size and temperature to the Earth. Lead author Michaël Gillon of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium is delighted by the findings: "This is an amazing planetary system -- not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to the Earth!" With just 8% the mass of the Sun, TRAPPIST-1 is very small in stellar terms -- only marginally bigger than the planet Jupiter -- and though nearby in the constellation Aquarius (constellation) ) (The Water Carrier), it appears very dim. Astronomers expected that such dwarf stars might host many Earth-sized planets in tight orbits, making them promising targets in the hunt for extraterrestrial life, but TRAPPIST-1 is the first such system to be found. Co-author Amaury Triaud expands: "The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our Sun. Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the Solar System if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1!" The team determined that all the planets in the system are similar in size to Earth and Venus in the Solar System, or slightly smaller. The density measurements suggest that at least the innermost six are probably rocky in composition. The planetary orbits are not much larger than that of Jupiter's Galilean moon system, and much smaller than the orbit of Mercury in the Solar System. However, TRAPPIST-1's small size and low temperature mean that the energy input to its planets is similar to that received by the inner planets in our Solar System; TRAPPIST-1c, d and f receive similar amounts of energy to Venus, Earth and Mars, respectively. All seven planets discovered in the system could potentially have liquid water on their surfaces, though their orbital distances make some of them more likely candidates than others. Climate models suggest the innermost planets, TRAPPIST-1b, c and d, are probably too hot to support liquid water, except maybe on a small fraction of their surfaces. The orbital distance of the system's outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is unconfirmed, though it is likely to be too distant and cold to harbour liquid water -- assuming no alternative heating processes are occurring [5]. TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g, however, represent the holy grail for planet-hunting astronomers, as they orbit in the star's habitable zone[6]. These new discoveries make the TRAPPIST-1 system a very important target for future study. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is already being used to search for atmospheres around the planets and team member Emmanuël Jehin is excited about the future possibilities: "With the upcoming generation of telescopes, such as ESO's European Extremely Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope , we will soon be able to search for water and perhaps even evidence of life on these worlds." [1] As well as the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope , the team used many ground-based facilities: TRAPPIST-South at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile, HAWK-I on ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile, TRAPPIST-North in Morocco, the 3.8-metre UKIRT in Hawaii, the 2-metre Liverpool and 4-metre William Herschel telescopes at La Palma in the Canary Islands, and the 1-metre SAAO telescope in South Africa. [2] TRAPPIST-South (the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope-South) is a Belgian 0.6-metre robotic telescope operated from the University of Liège and based at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. It spends much of its time monitoring the light from around 60 of the nearest ultracool dwarf stars and brown dwarfs ("stars" which are not quite massive enough to initiate sustained nuclear fusion in their cores), looking for evidence of planetary transits. TRAPPIST-South, along with its twin TRAPPIST-North, are the forerunners to the SPECULOOS system, which is currently being installed at ESO's Paranal Observatory. [3] In early 2016, a team of astronomers, also led by Michaël Gillon announced the discovery of three planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. They intensified their follow-up observations of the system mainly because of a remarkable triple transit that they observed with the HAWK-I instrument on the VLT. This transit showed clearly that at least one other unknown planet was orbiting the star. And that historic light curve shows for the first time three temperate Earth-sized planets, two of them in the habitable zone, passing in front of their star at the same time! [4] This is one of the main methods that astronomers use to identify the presence of a planet around a star. They look at the light coming from the star to see if some of the light is blocked as the planet passes in front of its host star on the line of sight to Earth -- it transits (astronomy) the star, as astronomers say. As the planet orbits around its star, we expect to see regular small dips in the light coming from the star as the planet moves in front of it. [5] Such processes could include tidal heating, whereby the gravitational pull of TRAPPIST-1 causes the planet to repeatedly deform, leading to inner frictional forces and the generation of heat. This process drives the active volcanism on Jupiter's moon Io. If TRAPPIST-1h has also retained a primordial hydrogen-rich atmosphere, the rate of heat loss could be very low. [6] This discovery also represents the largest known chain of exoplanets orbiting in near-resonance with each other. The astronomers carefully measured how long it takes for each planet in the system to complete one orbit around TRAPPIST-1 -- known as the revolution period -- and then calculated the ratio of each planet's period and that of its next more distant neighbour. The innermost six TRAPPIST-1 planets have period ratios with their neighbours that are very close to simple ratios, such as 5:3 or 3:2. This means that the planets most likely formed together further from their star, and have since moved inwards into their current configuration. If so, they could be low-density and volatile-rich worlds, suggesting an icy surface and/or an atmosphere. This research was presented in a paper entitled "Seven temperate terrestrial planets around the nearby ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1", by M. Gillon et al., to appear in the journal Nature. The team is composed of M. Gillon (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), A. H. M. J. Triaud (Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, UK), B.-O. Demory (University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, UK), E. Jehin (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), E. Agol (University of Washington, Seattle, USA; NASA Astrobiology Institute's Virtual Planetary Laboratory, Seattle, USA), K. M. Deck (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA), S. M. Lederer (NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, USA), J. de Wit (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA), A. Burdanov (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), J. G. Ingalls (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA), E. Bolmont (University of Namur, Namur, Belgium; Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/DRF - CNRS - Univ. Paris Diderot - IRFU/SAp, Centre de Saclay, France), J. Leconte (Univ. Bordeaux, Pessac, France), S. N. Raymond (Univ. Bordeaux, Pessac, France), F. Selsis (Univ. Bordeaux, Pessac, France), M. Turbet (Sorbonne Universités, Paris, France), K. Barkaoui (Oukaimeden Observatory, Marrakesh, Morocco), A. Burgasser (University of California, San Diego, California, USA), M. R. Burleigh (University of Leicester, Leicester, UK), S. J. Carey (California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA), A. Chaushev (University of Leicester, UK), C. M. Copperwheat (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK), L. Delrez (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium; Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, UK), C. S. Fernandes (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), D. L. Holdsworth (University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK), E. J. Kotze (South African Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa), V. Van Grootel (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), Y. Almleaky (King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; King Abdullah Centre for Crescent Observations and Astronomy, Makkah Clock, Saudi Arabia), Z. Benkhaldoun (Oukaimeden Observatory, Marrakesh, Morocco), P. Magain (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium), and D. Queloz (Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, UK; Astronomy Department, Geneva University, Switzerland). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe and the world's most productive ground-based astronomical observatory by far. It is supported by 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, along with the host state of Chile. ESO carries out an ambitious programme focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries. ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organising cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world's largest survey telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light. ESO is a major partner in ALMA, the largest astronomical project in existence. And on Cerro Armazones, close to Paranal, ESO is building the 39-metre European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become "the world's biggest eye on the sky".


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: spaceref.biz

World View, the stratospheric exploration company, today announced the grand opening of its new Global Headquarters campus, collocated with Spaceport Tucson. The 142,000-square-foot facility is the world's first purpose-built commercial gateway to the Stratosphere. World View's founder and CEO, Jane Poynter, formerly a Biosphere 2 crew member with a long and successful executive career in aerospace, lauds the moment as a major step in unlocking the untapped economic and scientific potential of the stratosphere. "World View and Spaceport Tucson are at the forefront of opening an entirely new economy in the stratosphere," said Poynter. "For decades, trillions of dollars of commerce have been transacted in commercial airspace and in low-earth orbit, but the stratosphere has been largely ignored. With the grand opening of this facility and all the great work being done within its walls, we're embarking on a new era of affordable and meaningful commercial access to this layer of Earth's atmosphere." World View made the decision to call Tucson, AZ home after a rigorous nation-wide search and negotiations with multiple state agencies. The newly constructed facility in Tucson, AZ will house the company's stratospheric balloon manufacturing, stratocraft assembly, Stratollite and Voyager development activities, payload integration, and flight mission control. Among many of the unique features of the facility is a stratospheric balloon manufacturing table stretching over 1/10 of a mile long, a 100ft tall parafoil test and quality control tower currently housing one of the world's largest parafoils, and a world-class mission control room overlooking the 700ft diameter launch pad that is Spaceport Tucson. World View hosted a Grand Opening ceremony led by World View co-founders Jane Poynter, Taber MacCallum, Astronaut Mark Kelly, and Dr. Alan Stern. The ceremony included remarks from Senator John McCain, NASA's Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate Stephen Jurczyk, and the FAA's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Dr. George Nield, while welcoming guests from around the world that included spaceflight reservation holders, world-class researchers and scientists, Silicon Valley financiers, elected officials and others. "[Arizona] has a bright and prosperous future thanks to companies like World View that continue to push the boundaries of technology, innovation, and exploration," said Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain. "In just a few short years, World View has made historic breakthroughs that have revolutionized the areas of disaster recovery, first response, communications, and weather forecasting. World View's remarkable research and development will soon make possible what was previously impossible." World View's new remotely managed, un-crewed Stratollite vehicle, offers low-cost, long-duration (up to months at a time) persistence over customer-specified areas of interest. Among its wide variety of uses, the Stratollite will deliver a capability that will help researchers greatly advance our knowledge of planet Earth, improve our ability to identify and track severe weather, and assist first responders during natural disaster. Similar to a geo-stationary satellite (but in the stratosphere via high-altitude balloon) this new class of vehicle will offer a long sought after capability in aerospace - low-cost, continuous persistence over areas of interest. World View's proprietary altitude-control technology allows it to harness the near-360° countervailing stratospheric winds to steer the Stratollite to and from desired locations, and loiter above them for weeks and months of time. Just this month, World View and Ball Aerospace launched a collaborative Stratollite remote sensing mission from Arizona that demonstrated the platform's superior capability as a high-altitude imaging platform. The mission's low-resolution test camera returned 5m resolution imagery, successfully demonstrating the platform for a wide variety of remote sensing applications. This mission was a major step on the path to the commercial offering of low-cost, real-time, high-resolution imagery data from the stratosphere. The two companies plan to build on the success of the flight with subsequent Stratollite missions that will carry high-resolution Ball Aerospace sensors for long-duration, persistent flights over desired locations. World View's new Global HQ and Spaceport Tucson are poised to open a new economic and scientific gateway to the Stratosphere, and this grand opening represents only a beginning of great things to come. World View's innovative flight technologies offer a unique perspective of Earth from the edge of space. World View delivers meaningful insights to enterprises, agencies, and individuals via two primary business segments: Stratollite un-crewed flight systems and Voyager human spaceflight systems. Stratollites, in operation today, offer low-cost, long-duration, persistent high-altitude flight for enterprise and government agencies. Using advanced stratospheric balloon technology, Stratollite applications include communications, remote sensing, weather, and research. The Voyager human spaceflight experience is under development and will launch in the near future, offering private citizens a comfortable, safe, and perspective-changing voyage to the edge of space via high-altitude balloon. To learn more about World View, visit www.WorldView.space. MEDIA CONTACTS Andrew Antonio 302-383-7244 andrew@worldview.space Melissa Wren Griffin Communications Group (281) 827-4269 melissa@griffincg.com Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


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

Can Pluto be brought back to an official planetary status once again? In 2006, Pluto was demoted to a dwarf planet, which excluded it from the solar system's official neighborhood. Caltech researcher Mike Brown, the same scientist who detected another Earth-like exoplanet beyond Neptune, facilitated this demotion. Now, NASA has released a new manifesto that proposes an entirely different way of defining planets. If this proposal holds true, more than 100 new planets will be added to the solar system, possibly adding the moon and Pluto. What does it take to consider a cosmic body a planet? By definition, which is taken from the International Astronomical Union, a planet is celestial body that orbits around the sun, has a nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit. All of that may soon change. A team of NASA researchers led by Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons' Pluto mission, plans to redefine what a planet is in very simple terms. For them, planets are "round objects in space that are smaller than stars." If this definition gets accepted by the IAU, it means that even the moon can potentially be classified a planet. The key point that Stern and his colleagues hope to get approved is that cosmic objects in the solar system no longer need to be orbiting around the sun to be classified a planet. The researchers say scientists should be considering the object's intrinsic physical properties, not its interaction with stars, which they believe holds more merit. They also argue that the current definition of planets is "inherently flawed." For instance, the definition only classifies cosmic objects that orbit around the sun as planets, excluding those orbiting other stars or those orbiting freely as "rogue planets." Second, the current definition requires zone-clearing, a criterion that no planet in the solar system satisfies. Stern and his colleagues explained that small cosmic objects constantly fly through planetary orbits. Lastly, the researchers argue that the zone-clearing means calculations used to confirm if a cosmic object is a planet must be dependent on distance because a neighborhood around its orbit must be cleared out. "Even an Earth-sized object in the Kuiper Belt would not clear its zone," the authors said. In 2015, Stern spoke to Business Insider and said astronomers should not be the ones deciding what can be classified as planets. He said planetary scientists should have the authority over this jurisdiction, because they know more about the subject. That same year, Stern and his team received incredible data from the New Horizons Pluto flyby. "When we look at an object like Pluto, we don't know what else to call it," he added. The team's full proposal can be read online. It has been submitted to the IAU for consideration. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: phys.org

"There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed." WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth's orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed "Planet Nine." If Planet Nine—also known as Planet X—exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data. The search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space. "Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter," said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds." Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It's a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week. On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of "flipbooks," which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project. "Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA. Explore further: NEOWISE mission spies one comet, maybe two


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.huffingtonpost.com

Of the seven rocky planets, three lie in what is known as the “Goldilocks Zone” — a habitable region around a star in which a planet is most likely to harbor water, and even life. But under the right atmospheric conditions, scientists say, all seven could potentially have liquid water. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, said these exoplanets ― planets that orbit a star other than our sun ― provide perhaps the very best opportunity for scientists to answer once and for all whether humans are alone in the universe. “The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when,” Zurbuchen said. In addition to being the first known system of seven Earth-sized planets around a single star, the discovery sets a record for the most planets found in the habitable zone of a star outside our solar system, according to NASA. Compared to our sun, TRAPPIST-1 is extremely cool. And its planets orbit much closer to their host star than planets in our solar system. In fact, all of the system’s planets are closer than Mercury is to the sun. “If you were on the surface of one of these planets, you would have a wonderful view of the other planets,” said Michael Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium. “You would not see them like you see Venus or Mars as dots of light ... You would see them really as we see the moon.” At about 39 light-years away, or 230 trillion miles, the system is relatively nearby. By comparison, Proxima Centauri, the nearest star other than our sun, is roughly 4.22 light-years from Earth. Back in May, astronomers using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile discovered what they initially believed to be three planets in the system. Upon further observation, however, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope revealed the star is home to seven. “I would have never predicted this. It’s beyond anything I could have dreamt of,” she said in a video accompanying NASA’s announcement about the “treasure trove” discovery. Wednesday’s announcement adds to a growing list of exciting exoplanet discoveries in recent years. In January 2015, NASA’s Kepler space telescope spotted eight extraterrestrial worlds in the habitable zone of a star 70 light-years from Earth. A giant exoplanet was spotted 13,000 light-years away ― among the most distant ever discovered ― later that same year.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.marketwired.com

Three Winners Selected From 5,000 Submissions From 185 Countries to Give Astronauts Better In-suit Waste Management HOUSTON, TX--(Marketwired - February 15, 2017) - NASA Johnson Space Center, in partnership with NASA Tournament Lab and online crowdsourcing platform HeroX, today announced three winners of the widely publicized Space Poop Challenge. The global crowdsourcing competition called for solutions to human waste management inside a spacesuit, while protecting the health and safety of its astronaut occupant for up to 6 days. Currently utilized solutions are designed for scenarios lasting less than 1 day. During the 60-day competition, the Space Poop Challenge broke the following crowdsourcing competition records: -- More than 5,000 proposed solutions from 19,000 individual registered competitors were submitted -- More than 150 teams from every country and continent on Earth (including Antarctica) participated -- The challenge received unprecedented attention from top-tier media outlets, including NPR, The Washington Post, The Iran Daily, Weather.com, Popular Science, ABC News, NBC News, Space.com, and Time Magazine. The Space Poop Challenge also inspired a lengthy sketch comedy bit on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah -- An especially active online community viewed the challenge video over 100,000 times, generated nearly 400 conversations on the challenge forum, and shared the challenge more than 6000 times on social media -- In just one month, the challenge website had over 300,000 page views from 2,000 unique sources from around the world (the most challenge site traffic in HeroX history) "We are very excited to have had the opportunity to partner with NASA's Johnson Space Center on this challenge," said HeroX CEO, Christian Cotichini. "The opportunity to contribute to future NASA missions by helping to protect astronaut health and safety, combined with the curiosity that surrounds performing the most basic of human bodily functions in microgravity, seemed like a perfect HeroX crowdsourcing opportunity." "The response to the Space Poop Challenge exceeded all of our expectations," said NASA Tournament Lab Deputy Director, Steve Rader. "The level of participation and interest went far beyond what we expected for such a short competition." "It was wonderful to see the global response from our crowdsourcing challenge," said Kirstyn Johnson, Space Suit Technology Engineer at NASA. "We enjoyed seeing the innovative approaches that were sent in given such a demanding scenario. Others at NASA are now thinking about ways we can leverage a crowdsourcing approach to solve some more of our spaceflight challenges." Solution: SWIMSuit - Zero Gravity Underwear for 6-Day Use With such an exceptional response to the challenge, NASA is also highlighting an additional group of semifinalists who can be found on the Space Poop Challenge page. The NASA Tournament Lab (NTL) is an online, virtual facility that facilitates the use of crowdsourcing to tackle NASA challenges. Since 2011, NASA's researchers, scientists, and engineers have launched numerous challenges through NTL, often seeking novel ideas or solutions to accelerate research and development efforts, improve algorithm performance, and seek new ideas and approaches in support of the NASA mission. NTL offers a wide variety of open innovation platforms that engage the crowdsourcing community in challenges to create the most innovative, efficient and optimized solutions for specific, real-world challenges being faced by NASA and other Federal Agencies. Founded in 2013, HeroX exists at the intersection of crowdsourcing, competition and collaboration. The HeroX crowdsourcing platform brings together global communities of problem solvers to deliver breakthrough solutions to social, economic, and strategic challenges.


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

A combination photograph shows the beginning (top L) to the end (top L to bottom R) of a total solar eclipse as seen from the beach of Ternate island, Indonesia, on March 9, 2016. —Do you want to be a filmmaking star? Or at least make a film of a star? The University of California needs your help. As the clock ticks closer to this summer’s total solar eclipse, UC Berkeley and Google are partnering to carry out what they're calling the Eclipse Megamovie Project. By combining footage from over 1,000 cameras in the path of the eclipse, they hope to create a 90-minute “megamovie” that captures the phenomenon in a way no human being could alone. When the moon passes directly between the Earth and the sun on August 21, the center of its shadow will trace out a diagonal trail from Oregon to South Carolina. Observers located at the exact center of this “path of totality” may be able to see the total eclipse for as long as 2 minutes and 40 seconds as the shadow flies over the ground at up to 1,500 miles per hour. The Eclipse Megamovie Project hopes to choose and train over 1,000 volunteers to record as much of the eclipse as they are able, after which the terabytes of video data will be stitched together to generate a complete, high-resolution record of the eclipse as viewed from the ground. “We want everyone to know about the natural wonder, scientific importance and social impact of viewing a live total solar eclipse,” Laura Peticolas, a physicist who oversees the educational component of the Eclipse Megamovie Project, said in a press release. “It is truly a transformative, life-changing experience and we want to prepare people for that.” The Eclipse Megamovie Project will also release an app this summer that will let anyone contribute to the effort with their smartphone. This footage will be used to create a second, lower resolution video. While compiling the videos themselves is exciting, the team hopes to use them to answer some scientific questions, too. Of particular interest is the corona, the wispy filaments of plasma extending far beyond the solar surface. Generally hidden against the brilliance of the sun, the corona can normally be studied using a device called a coronagraph, which physically blocks out the sun’s disk. It turns out the moon makes a great natural coronagraph. Another point of interest is what’s called “Baily’s Beads,” little twinkles that appear around the rim of the moon as the sun shines through craters and gets blocked by peaks. Cellphone footage of these bright and dark spots can help astronomers map lunar features. The team will be putting the crowdsourcing system through its paces this week during an annular eclipse in Patagonia, and those who miss their chance to participate this summer may have a second shot during the next US total solar eclipse in April 2024. The Eclipse Megamovie Project is the latest in the recent trend of using so-called “citizen astronomers,” astronomy enthusiasts with little or no formal training who help the professionals sift through their data. Modern instruments often collect far more data than scientists can handle, and when it comes to many kinds of analysis, current computer programs still can’t beat good old-fashioned eyes and human attention. NASA recently invited citizen astronomers to help comb through images of nearby interstellar space to search for dim objects, such as an undiscovered planet or dwarf star, that might trick their computer software. “There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored,” lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press release. “Because there’s so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed.” For any discoveries that lead to published work, the citizen astronomer will share credit, a point that can complicate the emerging field of collaboration between the public and scientists, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last fall: Citizen scientists interested in contributing their time and their cameras to the study of our sun and moon during this summer's eclipse can sign up for updates on the Eclipse Megavideo Project’s website.


The star is one that pulsates and so is characterized by varying brightness over time. It's situated 7,000 light years away from the Earth in the constellation Pegasus, said astronomer Farley Ferrante, a member of the team that made the discovery at Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Called a variable star, this particular star is one of only seven known stars of its kind in our Milky Way galaxy. "It was challenging to identify it," Ferrante said. "This is the first time we'd encountered this rare type." The Milky Way has more than 100 billion stars. But just over 400,900 are catalogued as variable stars. Of those, a mere seven—including the one identified at SMU—are the rare intrinsic variable star called a Triple Mode 'high amplitude delta Scuti' (pronounced SKOO-tee) or Triple Mode HADS(B), for short. "The discovery of this object helps to flesh out the characteristics of this unique type of variable star. These and further measurements can be used to probe the way the pulsations happen," said SMU's Robert Kehoe, a professor in the Department of Physics who leads the SMU astronomy team. "Pulsating stars have also been important to improving our understanding of the expansion of the universe and its origins, which is another exciting piece of this puzzle." The star doesn't yet have a common name, only an official designation based on the telescope that recorded it and its celestial coordinates. The star can be observed through a telescope, but identifying it was much more complicated. A high school student in an SMU summer astronomy program made the initial discovery upon culling through archived star observation data recorded by the small but powerful ROTSE-I telescope formerly at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Upon verification, the star was logged into the International Variable Star Index as ROTSE1 J232056.45+345150.9 by the American Association of Variable Star Observers at this link. How in the universe was it discovered? SMU's astrophysicists discovered the variable star by analyzing light curve shape, a key identifier of star type. Light curves were created from archived data procured by ROTSE-I during multiple nights in September 2000. The telescope generates images of optical light from electrical signals based on the intensity of the source. Data representing light intensity versus time is plotted on a scale to create the light curves. Plano Senior High School student Derek Hornung first discovered the object in the ROTSE-I data and prepared the initial light curves. From the light curves, the astronomers knew they had something special. It became even more challenging to determine the specific kind of variable star. Then Eric Guzman, a physics graduate from the University of Texas at Dallas, who is entering SMU's graduate program, solved the puzzle, identifying the star as pulsating. "Light curve patterns are well established, and these standard shapes correspond to different types of stars," Ferrante said. "In a particular field of the night sky under observation there may have been hundreds or even thousands of stars. So the software we use generates a light curve for each one, for one night. Then—and here's the human part—we use our brain's capacity for pattern recognition to find something that looks interesting and that has a variation. This allows the initial variable star candidate to be identified. From there, you look at data from several other nights. We combine all of those into one plot, as well as add data sets from other telescopes, and that's the evidence for discerning what kind of variable star it is." That was accomplished conclusively during the referee process with the Variable Star Index moderator. The work to discover and analyze this rare variable star was carried out in conjunction with analyses by eight other high school students and two other undergraduates working on other variable candidates. The high school students were supported by SMU's chapter of the Department of Energy/National Science Foundation QuarkNet program. Of the stars that vary in brightness intrinsically, a large number exhibit amazingly regular oscillations in their brightness which is a sign of some pulsation phenomenon in the star, Ferrante said. Pulsation results from expanding and contracting as the star ages and exhausts the hydrogen fuel at its core. As the hydrogen fuel burns hotter, the star expands, then cools, then gravity shrinks it back, and contraction heats it back up. "I'm speaking very generally, because there's a lot of nuance, but there's this continual struggle between thermal expansion and gravitational contraction," Ferrante said. "The star oscillates like a spring, but it always overshoots its equilibrium, doing that for many millions of years until it evolves into the next phase, where it burns helium in its core. And if it's about the size and mass of the sun—then helium fusion and carbon is the end stage. And when helium is used up, we're left with a dying ember called a white dwarf." Within the pulsating category is a class of stars called delta Scuti, of which there are thousands. They are named for a prototype star whose characteristic features—including short periods of pulsating on the scale of a few hours—are typical of the entire class. Within delta Scuti is a subtype of which hundreds have been identified, called high amplitude delta Scuti, or HADS. Their brightness varies to a particularly large degree, registering more than 10 percent difference between their minimum and maximum brightness, indicating larger pulsations. Common delta Scuti pulsate along the radius in a uniform contraction like blowing up a balloon. A smaller sub-category are the HADS, which show asymmetrical-like pulsating curves. Within HADS, there's the relatively rare subtype called HADS(B) , of which there are only 114 identified. A HADS(B) is distinguished by its two modes of oscillation—different parts of the star expanding at different rates in different directions but the ratio of those two periods is always the same. For the SMU star, two modes of oscillation weren't immediately obvious in its light curve. "But we knew there was something going on because the light curve didn't quite match known light curves of other delta Scuti's and HADS' objects we had studied. The light curves—when laid on top of each other—presented an asymmetry," Ferrante said. "Ultimately the HADS(B) we discovered is even more unique than that though—it's a Triple Mode HADS(B) and there were previously only six identified in the Milky Way. So it has three modes of oscillation, all three with a distinct period, overlapping, and happening simultaneously." So rare, in fact, there's no name yet for this new category nor a separate registry designation for it. Guzman, the student researcher who analyzed and categorized the object, recalled how the mystery unfolded. "When I began the analysis of the object, we had an initial idea of what type it could be," Guzman said. "My task was to take the data and try to confirm the type by finding a second period that matched a known constant period ratio. After successfully finding the second mode, I noticed a third signal. After checking the results, I discovered the third signal coincided with what is predicted of a third pulsation mode." The SMU Triple Mode HADS(B) oscillates on a scale of 2.5 hours, so it will expand and contract 10 times in one Earth day. It and the other known six HADS(B)'s are in the same general region of the Milky Way galaxy, within a few thousand light years of one another. "I'm sure there are more out there," Ferrante said, "but they're still rare, a small fraction." SMU's Triple Mode HADS(B) is unstable and further along in its stellar evolution than our sun, which is about middle-aged and whose pulsating variations occur over a much longer period of time. SMU's Triple Mode HADS(B) core temperature, heated from the burning of hydrogen fuel, is about 15 million Kelvin or 28 million degrees Fahrenheit. Someday, millions of years from now, SMU's Triple Mode HADS(B) will deplete the hydrogen fuel at its core, and expand into a red giant. "Our sun might eventually experience this as well," Ferrante said. "But Earth will be inhospitable long before then. We won't be here to see it."


News Article | February 20, 2017
Site: www.cnet.com

Update: The news has broken. Get the full story here. Our cosmic neighborhood is starting to feel a little more crowded. This week NASA will announce new findings about planets orbiting other stars that look to be the biggest exoplanet news since last year's announcement of a potentially habitable exoplanet around our closest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri. The space agency has set a news conference for 10 a.m. PT Wednesday to officially share the science. The news, which will also be published in the journal Nature, is officially embargoed until the start of the news conference. We've seen the research, and while we can't share details yet, let's just say it could very easily provide us with new settings for many future works of science fiction. NASA clearly feels that this is big news, too, because it's bringing in some heavy hitters from the world of astronomy and planetary scientist like MIT's Sara Seager, one of the rock stars of the field. NASA astronomers and lead author Michael Gillon from the University of Liege in Belgium will also be on hand, and a Reddit Ask Me Anything session with the scientists will follow at noon Wednesday. We'll have the details for you here as the news conference is kicking off live on NASA TV Wednesday. In the meantime, check out our travel guide below to begin planning travel itineraries for future generations. Solving for XX: The industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."


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

During a conference call with reporters on Monday, Elon Musk said SpaceX will launch two private investors on a roughly one-week mission around the moon. "I hope this gets people really excited about sending people into deep space again," Musk said. The two passengers aren't ready to disclose their identity or other details about their background, Musk said. However, he did say the two prospective space tourists knew each other, were private citizens — though not anyone "from Hollywood" — and were "very serious" about making the trip. "They have placed a significant deposit," Musk said. While Musk would not disclose the mission's cost, saying it was confidential, he estimated the price at a "little more" than a crewed flight to and from the International Space Station aboard a Dragon 2 spacecraft. According to a presentation given by a NASA official in May 2016, each seat aboard a Dragon 2 should cost $58 million. While the space agency plans to fly about four astronauts per ISS mission, SpaceX's ship can seat up to seven people — bringing the per-mission cost to roughly $230 million, or possibly in excess of $300 million. "There's a market for at least one or two of these per year," Musk said, adding that lunar flyby missions might eventually constitute 10% to 20% of SpaceX's revenue each year. "If NASA desires to have this mission," he said, "NASA would take priority." NASA, which has contracted SpaceX for crew and cargo flights to the ISS, told Business Insider in an emailed statement that it "commends its industry partners for reaching higher." However, NASA seemed to indicate that it plans to continue developing its own hardware for deep-space missions. "NASA is changing the way it does business through its commercial partnerships to help build a strong American space economy and free the agency to focus on developing the next-generation rocket, spacecraft, and systems to go beyond the moon and sustain deep space exploration," the statement said. The as-yet-unnamed crew will ride a fully autonomous version of the company's Dragon 2 spacecraft — apparently with no human pilot. "There will be training for emergency procedures," Musk said. SpaceX plans to launch the mission in the fourth quarter of 2018 aboard the Falcon Heavy, a new "super heavy-lift" rocket system the company hopes to debut in a maiden flight sometime in 2017. It's expected to cost about $90 million per launch. The private moon mission would depart from Launchpad 39A at Cape Canaveral — the same pad Apollo astronauts launched from in the 1960s and 1970s. From there, Musk said, they will "skim the surface of the moon" in a wide loop, go out past the moon, travel into deep space, and then return to Earth. When asked by reporters about the risk of the mission, Musk said the two-person crew was "certainly not naive." "I think they're going in with their eyes open, knowing that there is some risk here," he said. "We're doing everything we can to minimize that risk, but it's not zero." Many details about the mission have yet to be released — including the names of the tourists, the profile of their mission, what spacesuits and other equipment will be used, whether the Federal Aviation Administration will give SpaceX its go-ahead, what emergency preparations and support might be available, and so on. The immediate lack of such information made some experts uneasy. Chris Newman, an expert on space policy and law at the University of Sunderland in the UK, said in a statement emailed to Business Insider that the aggressive timeline and budget are "extremely ambitious, and it remains to be seen if the practical difficulties associated with human spaceflight can match this ambition." Others experts were more immediately optimistic about SpaceX's plans. "As we've come to expect, this is an exciting announcement from SpaceX that will move the ball forward on space exploration," Phil Larson, a former Obama administration space policy adviser and former SpaceX employee, told Business Insider in an emailed statement. "It will also act as a stepping stone for the eventual human exploration of Mars, which is everyone's ultimate goal." Larson, now an assistant dean at the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said Musk's timing is opportune "as a new administration grapples with their plans for NASA." "This goes to show that America's commercial space industry is ready to go beyond Low Earth Orbit not in 10 years, but now," he said. "It makes sense for NASA to partner more and more with these companies in innovative ways, leaving the government to focus on basic space technology research needed to lower the cost of doing business in space." Here's the full statement from SpaceX about the mission: SpaceX to Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft Beyond the Moon Next Year We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results. Most importantly, we would like to thank NASA, without whom this would not be possible. NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission. In addition, this will make use of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which was developed with internal SpaceX funding. Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket. At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying. Later this year, as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, we will launch our Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the International Space Station. This first demonstration mission will be in automatic mode, without people on board. A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018. SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew. By also flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions. Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth. Lift-off will be from Kennedy Space Center's historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral — the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions. This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them. Designed from the beginning to carry humans, the Dragon spacecraft already has a long flight heritage. These missions will build upon that heritage, extending it to deep space mission operations, an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars. This story has been updated. NOW WATCH: This Cold War-era technology could safely power the world for millions of years SpaceX is about to make an announcement — here are 6 things an industry expert says it might be about SpaceX has successfully landed 8 rockets — watch them all in 60 seconds Astronomers discovered a solar system with 7 Earth-sized planets — and it’s the perfect place to search for alien life


News Article | February 17, 2017
Site: www.scientificcomputing.com

Methane is less prevalent in the atmosphere than fellow greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO ), but it presents more difficult challenges for researchers attempting to study it. Most producers of CO  can easily estimate their carbon footprint—eliminating the need for close tracking. For example, power plants burning fossil fuels know, to a high degree of accuracy, how much CO is produced by their operations. Furthermore, the sources of CO  are easy to pin down. The CO  produced by burning coal in a furnace is spewed out the attached smokestack. Methane emissions, by contrast, are more difficult to quantify, in part because they come from sources like leaky pipelines shipping natural gas, fermenting vegetable matter inside the stomachs of cattle, and decomposing trash in landfills. These sources are considered "messy" by researchers because numerous variables govern just how much methane they will release, and where. For example, the amount of methane produced by the decomposition of trash in a landfill depends on the type of material in the landfill and local environmental conditions. Further, the source of the emissions can be difficult to pin down given the large area a landfill can cover. "Methane is particularly problematic," says Paul Wennberg, the R. Stanton Avery Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Science and Engineering at Caltech. Wennberg, who is also the director of The Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science, is working with colleagues across the Institute—scientists and engineers alike—to study methane and its effects on the globe and to pioneer tools and techniques needed to identify, track, and characterize the gas and its sources. A methane molecule is made up of one carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms. However, not all methane is created equal. Elements typically have multiple isotopic forms. Isotopes are atoms of the same element that differ in the number of neutrons in their nuclei. Carbon, for example, has three isotopes: carbon-12, carbon-13, and the radioactive carbon-14. Carbon-12, with six neutrons in addition to six protons, accounts for nearly 99 percent of carbon atoms. The far less prevalent C-13 has seven neutrons; C-14, eight. Likewise, hydrogen comes in three isotopic forms. By far the most common, accounting for 99.98 percent of hydrogen atoms, is hydrogen-1, or protium, which has just a single proton. Hydrogen-2, or deuterium, has a proton and a neutron; radioactive hydrogen-3, tritium, has a proton and two neutrons. Because neutrons have mass, each of these isotopes has a different weight. A given molecule of methane, then, can have any one of the three isotopes of carbon and various combinations of isotopes of hydrogen—giving various molecules of methane different weights. Determining this isotopic composition creates an ever-more granular description of a given methane molecule, says John Eiler, Caltech's Robert P. Sharp Professor of Geology and professor of geochemistry. "A good metaphor is a fingerprint," Eiler says. "If I'm only able to observe one or two forms of a molecule it would be as though your thumbprint had only one or two lines on it. If that were the case, no court in the world would convict you based on seeing one or two squiggly lines on something that you stole." With the hundreds of uniquely patterned lines of a full fingerprint, however, a court might think differently. Eiler's lab uses a mass spectrometer to obtain this full fingerprint, sifting out ions based on weight and then quantifying the different isotopes they find. The team uses this technique to explore a variety of topics from the cycling of hydrogen through the earth's interior to the geochemical cycles of water on planetary bodies other than the earth. With isotopic fingerprints of methane, Eiler can determine the origin of a given sample, for example by comparing the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 in parts per thousand, a figure known as the δ13C, pronounced "delta thirteen C." The lower the number, the more carbon-12—and, therefore, the lighter the sample. For example, isotopically light methane typically comes from decaying plant matter, while methane released from geological sources tends to be heavier. Understanding the sources of methane helps researchers develop a deeper knowledge of the processes that generate methane, in addition to helping to pin down methane sources in the atmosphere and track subsurface sources of combustible natural gas. Of course, to characterize methane, first you have to be able to find it. In a proof-of-concept study conducted this past summer, Christian Frankenberg, who has a joint appointment as an associate professor of environmental science and engineering at Caltech and a research scientist at JPL, led an effort to pinpoint methane plumes in the Four Corners region of the United States using low-flying aircraft. The methane hot spot in the Four Corners region was initially detected by Eric Adam Kort of the University of Michigan, along with Frankenberg and colleagues, using observations made by a European satellite, SCIAMACHY. Following up on that observation, a collaboration of researchers from JPL/NASA joined the Twin Otter Projects Defining Oil/gas Well emissioNs (TOPDOWN) campaign to probe the region with two aircraft flying one to three kilometers above the ground. The aircraft were equipped with thermal and short-wave to near-infrared spectrometers. These instruments are used to identify and quantify methane and other molecules. The spectrometers were originally developed to study the chemical and physical properties of the earth's surface (rocks, soil, and vegetation) remotely. However, they proved to be sensitive enough to pinpoint sources of methane to within three meters. "We basically misuse spectrometers for what they were never meant to do," says Frankenberg. "It's a really lucky coincidence that they work." More than 250 individual methane sources were detected in the Four Corners study. Ten percent of those sources—which turned out to be mainly pipelines leaking natural gas—were responsible for half of the emissions. Identifying and tracking down these leaks, Frankenberg says, is a win-win for both the environment and the energy industry, as curbing leaks will both decrease the emission of greenhouse gases and reduce drains on energy suppliers' profits. Frankenberg's study showed that methane plumes could be spotted via aerial scans. His work, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science on August 15, opens the door to future aerial methane surveys. "What we want going forward is improved resolution. Narrower absorption lines and tighter geographic focus," which would help pin down the location and isotopic fingerprint of methane, he says. At the forefront of spectroscopic technology is dual-comb spectroscopy. Spectroscopy relies on the fact that atoms absorb and emit light at different wavelengths. Dual-comb spectroscopy replaces conventional tools used to measure these differences, like interferometers, with two streams of optical pulses—offering users more finely detailed information than traditional spectroscopy. The key component of dual-comb systems is the device required to generate those optical pulse streams, which is currently bulky and expensive and therefore not the sort of tool that can be affordably flown on aircraft for surveys like TOPDOWN. Enter Kerry Vahala, the Ted and Ginger Jenkins Professor of Information Science and Technology and professor of applied physics, who has paved the way for the miniaturization of high-resolution spectrometers. Vahala had previously developed a circular optical resonator capable of generating and storing pulses of light called solitons—localized waves that act like particles. As solitons travel across space, they hold their shape rather than dispersing like other waves. The solitons race around the circular resonator, triggering an emitted pulse of light every time they pass a certain location on the circuit. As such, Vahala had the means to create multiple optical-pulse generators, each the size of a microchip. "Ideally, a hand-held dual-comb spectroscopy system could be field deployed. However, current systems are too large and bulky. So we replaced the traditional optical-pulse generator with a soliton-based system that can be miniaturized," he says. Vahala's new soliton-based system was unveiled in the journal Science on October 9—and is the basis for a new collaboration with Frankenberg to apply the dual-comb spectrometer to methane tracking and analysis. "This is what we do at Caltech," says Wennberg of the new project. "We unite researchers from engineering and the sciences and use their disparate expertise to tackle big problems from new angles."


News Article | January 30, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Launching rockets into space is an expensive endeavor but rocket failure could result in failed launches and even costly and potentially fatal accidents. Last December, Russia's Progress MS-04 space cargo crashed on its way to the International Space Station. The investigation later revealed issues with the Proton-M rocket prompting Russian authorities to ground the Proton space rockets for three and a half months. Rockets can make or break space missions. To improve the performance of rockets, NASA has turned to pressure-sensitive paints. NASA aerospace researchers used the high-tech paint called Unsteady PSP (pressure-sensitive paint) in a state-of-the-art aerodynamics test to measure the fluctuating pressure forces that affect aircraft and spacecraft. NASA explained that aircraft and spacecraft should both be designed to withstand the dynamic forces called buffeting. Otherwise, there is risk of being shaken into pieces. Unsteady PSP, which produces a bright crimson glow in the presence of high-pressure airflow, allowed researchers to precisely measure these fluctuating forces. The paint works by reacting with oxygen to generate light. Differences in pressure produce variations in the amount of oxygen that interacts with the painted surface causing variations in the intensity of light emitted. The changes in the paint allow researchers to visualize where the changing forces apply on the rocket as it accelerates. The different pressures are visualized as colors. Red means higher than average pressure and blue means lower than average pressures. "It's full of tiny pores that let the air flowing over the model come into contact with a greater surface area of the paint. This allows oxygen to react more quickly with the paint, yielding more accurate data on the fluctuating pressures affecting planes and rockets during flight," NASA explained in a statement. During simulated flights of a model of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in a wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center, cameras recorded images that researchers combined to know the pressure everywhere on the model vehicle. SLS is the world's most powerful rocket and is set to carry NASA's Orion spacecraft on missions to an asteroid and to planet Mars. Ensuring that the rocket works properly and efficiently would be a step closer to a successful manned mission to the Red Planet. The technology allowed researchers to capture measurements fast enough to catch up with the rapidly changing pressure load over the entirety of the model vehicle's surface. The data offered a first step in a better understanding of how the structure of a vehicle will respond to buffet in flights and minimize impacts through design. The paint, which is sprayed on in a thin layer, can also speed up and lower costs of SLS tests. "We learned from this test that this method is what you need to study buffet," said Jim Ross, an aerospace engineer in the Experimental Aero-Physics Branch at Ames. "There's a lot we don't understand about unsteady flow that this paint will help us figure out." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 18, 2017
Site: www.npr.org

Astronomers think there's an undiscovered planet lurking in the far reaches of the solar system, and they're asking the public's help to find it.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)


News Article | February 18, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Mario Corsalini stands near to a gypsum rosette crystal. In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both Fairyland and hell, scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old. The bizarre and ancient microbes were found dormant in caves in Naica, Mexico, and were able to exist by living on minerals such as iron and manganese. —A new find from otherworldly underground crystal caves raises hopes for finding life on, well, other worlds. During exploration of Mexico’s inhospitable Naica caves, a team of scientists managed to extract, and revive, long dormant microbes from inside the giant crystals that populate the caverns. With genetic patterns unlike most other life on earth, the critters may have been dozing for many millennia. If it holds up, the NASA-backed discovery would raise both hopes for finding life in the extreme environments of other worlds and fears of extraterrestrial contamination by hardy earthborn superbugs. Like a real life Fortress of Solitude, the surreal Naica mine of Northern Mexico is riddled with crisscrossing translucent spikes dozens of feet in length. Originally developed by miners hunting for silver and other precious metals, the site also attracted scientists interested in extremophiles – life forms that thrive in often oxygen-free intense environments of fire and ice: deep sea vents, antarctic ice, and volcanoes. Located nearly a thousand feet underground, exploring the Naica caves is not for the faint of heart. Even specially developed ice-suits equipped with ventilators piping in ice-cooled air only permitted human visitors to brave the sweltering temperatures for an hour at a time. But for the chemosynthesizing microbes that call this hot, pitch black cave home, it’s no big deal. Unlike most familiar ecosystems that ultimately derive their energy from sunlight, life forms in these dark environments break down rock minerals for food like little miners. Researchers already knew microbes lived in the caves, but no one suspected they might actually be lurking inside imperfections in crystals themselves, some of which date back millions of years. In 2008 and 2009, the team succeeded in recovering microbes holed up in small pockets of crystal encased fluid by drilling with sterilized drill bits, and then reanimated them back in the lab. Based on estimates of how fast crystals grow, the tiny time travelers could be between 10,000 and 50,000 years old. Director of NASA's Astrobiology Institute Penelope Boston announced the team’s findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston on Friday. “These organisms have been dormant but viable for geologically significant periods of time, and they can be released due to other geological processes,” she said. “This has profound effects on how we try to understand the evolutionary history of microbial life on this planet.” Ancient life forms hibernating in salt, ice, or crystal are nothing new. “Reviving microbes from samples of 10,000 to 50,000 years is not that outlandish based on previous reports of microbial resuscitations in geological materials hundreds of thousands to millions of years old,” Brent Christner, a microbiologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, told National Geographic. But such claims have typically been met with skepticism. Even hibernating organisms need some energy, and slowing their metabolism enough to permit suspension on geological timescales may be impossible. “I think that the presence of microbes trapped within fluid inclusions in Naica crystals is in principle possible. However, that they are viable after 10,000 to 50,000 years is more questionable,” said microbiologist Purificación López-García of the French National Center for Scientific Research to National Geographic. Skeptics suggest the microbes could have hitched a ride on the drill bits, making it look like they were inside the crystals the whole time. The team is in the process of publishing their results, which have not yet been peer reviewed. But Dr. Boston says her find has made her a believer. She notes that the team took great care to sterilize both their tools and the surfaces of the crystals themselves with chemicals and fire. Moreover, the genetics backs them up, according to Boston. “Other people have made longer-term claims for the antiquity of organisms that were still alive, but in this case these organisms are all very extraordinary – they are not very closely related to anything in the known genetic databases." She also sees fingerprints of isolation in the way the microbes interact with local viruses. "Other groups have shown there are lots of viruses in these caves and what that says to me is that these are fully fledged microbial communities that have their viral load just like every other community does. So, that's another aspect of this that argues against casual contamination," she told reporters. With the building blocks of life showing up all over the solar system, the existence of these reclusive life forms makes scientists wonder if similar microbes could be alive somewhere underneath the inhospitable surfaces of other worlds, hidden from the prying eyes of orbiting probes and rolling rovers. "The astrobiological link is obvious in that any extremophile system that we're studying allows us to push the envelope of life further on Earth, and we add it to this atlas of possibilities that we can apply to different planetary settings." But the discovery also raises concerns that any extraterrestrial find could actually turn out to be terrestrial hitchhikers. “How do we ensure that life-detection missions are going to detect true Mars life or life from icy worlds rather than our life?” Boston asks. “Aspects of my work illustrate the extreme toughness of life on Earth and the restrictions that places on us.” Just launching a probe into the vacuum of space was once thought to be enough to zap any riders, but we already have direct evidence to the contrary. Boston hopes the evidence her team has gathered will be sufficient to prove their case, because returning to the caves, which she called “tear-inducingly beautiful,” is impossible. After becoming unprofitable, the mine was allowed to be flooded with groundwater, returning to its natural state. The crystals will resume their growth, perhaps trapping more microbes to puzzle scientists of the distant future.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

NASA's Dawn spacecraft image of the limb of dwarf planet Ceres shows a section of the northern hemisphere in this image on October 17, 2016. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout via REUTERS CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A NASA spacecraft has detected carbon-based materials, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on the Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, scientists said on Thursday. The finding puts Ceres, a rock-and-ice world about 590 miles (950 km) in diameter, on a growing list of places in the solar system of interest to scientists looking for life beyond Earth. The list includes Mars and several ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The discovery, published in the journal Science, was made by a team of researchers using NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres for nearly two years. "I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life," Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wrote in an email to Reuters. "However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further." Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is located about three times farther from the sun than Earth. The composition of Ceres is thought to reflect the material present in parts of the solar system when it was forming some 4-1/2 billion years ago. "The discovery indicates that the starting material in the solar system contained the essential elements, or the building blocks, for life," Russell said. "Ceres may have been able to take this process only so far. Perhaps to move further along the path took a larger body with more complex structure and dynamics," like Earth, Russell added. The organic material was found near a 31-mile-wide (50-km-wide) crater in Ceres' northern hemisphere. Although the exact molecular compounds in the organics could not be identified, they matched tar-like minerals, such as kerite or asphaltite, the scientists wrote. "Because Ceres is a dwarf planet that may still preserve internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean, this opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself," planetary scientist Michael Kuppers of the European Space Astronomy Center in Madrid wrote in an related essay in the journal Science. Based on the location and type of organics found on Ceres, scientists ruled out the possibility they were deposited by a crashing asteroid or comet. Lead researcher Maria Cristina De Sanctis of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics and colleagues suspect the material formed inside Ceres through hydrothermal activity, though how the organics reached the surface remains a mystery.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: astrobiology.com

The search for life beyond Earth starts in habitable zones, the regions around stars where conditions could potentially allow liquid water - which is essential for life as we know it - to pool on a planet's surface. New NASA research suggests some of these zones might not actually be able to support life due to frequent stellar eruptions - which spew huge amounts of stellar material and radiation out into space - from young red dwarf stars. Now, an interdisciplinary team of NASA scientists wants to expand how habitable zones are defined, taking into account the impact of stellar activity, which can threaten an exoplanet's atmosphere with oxygen loss. This research was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Feb. 6, 2017. "If we want to find an exoplanet that can develop and sustain life, we must figure out which stars make the best parents," said Vladimir Airapetian, lead author of the paper and a solar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We're coming closer to understanding what kind of parent stars we need." To determine a star's habitable zone, scientists have traditionally considered how much heat and light the star emits. Stars more massive than our sun produce more heat and light, so the habitable zone must be farther out. Smaller, cooler stars yield close-in habitable zones. But along with heat and visible light, stars emit X-ray and ultraviolet radiation, and produce stellar eruptions such as flares and coronal mass ejections - collectively called space weather. One possible effect of this radiation is atmospheric erosion, in which high-energy particles drag atmospheric molecules - such as hydrogen and oxygen, the two ingredients for water - out into space. Airapetian and his team's new model for habitable zones now takes this effect into account. The search for habitable planets often hones in on red dwarfs, as these are the coolest, smallest and most numerous stars in the universe - and therefore relatively amenable to small planet detection. "On the downside, red dwarfs are also prone to more frequent and powerful stellar eruptions than the sun," said William Danchi, a Goddard astronomer and co-author of the paper. "To assess the habitability of planets around these stars, we need to understand how these various effects balance out." Another important habitability factor is a star's age, say the scientists, based on observations they've gathered from NASA's Kepler mission. Every day, young stars produce superflares, powerful flares and eruptions at least 10 times more powerful than those observed on the sun. On their older, matured counterparts resembling our middle-aged sun today, such superflares are only observed once every 100 years. "When we look at young red dwarfs in our galaxy, we see they're much less luminous than our sun today," Airapetian said. "By the classical definition, the habitable zone around red dwarfs must be 10 to 20 times closer-in than Earth is to the sun. Now we know these red dwarf stars generate a lot of X-ray and extreme ultraviolet emissions at the habitable zones of exoplanets through frequent flares and stellar storms." Superflares cause atmospheric erosion when high-energy X-ray and extreme ultraviolet emissions first break molecules into atoms and then ionize atmospheric gases. During ionization, radiation strikes the atoms and knocks off electrons. Electrons are much lighter than the newly formed ions, so they escape gravity's pull far more readily and race out into space. Opposites attract, so as more and more negatively charged electrons are generated, they create a powerful charge separation that lures positively charged ions out of the atmosphere in a process called ion escape. "We know oxygen ion escape happens on Earth at a smaller scale since the sun exhibits only a fraction of the activity of younger stars," said Alex Glocer, a Goddard astrophysicist and co-author of the paper. "To see how this effect scales when you get more high-energy input like you'd see from young stars, we developed a model." The model estimates the oxygen escape on planets around red dwarfs, assuming they don't compensate with volcanic activity or comet bombardment. Various earlier atmospheric erosion models indicated hydrogen is most vulnerable to ion escape. As the lightest element, hydrogen easily escapes into space, presumably leaving behind an atmosphere rich with heavier elements such as oxygen and nitrogen. But when the scientists accounted for superflares, their new model indicates the violent storms of young red dwarfs generate enough high-energy radiation to enable the escape of even oxygen and nitrogen - building blocks for life's essential molecules. "The more X-ray and extreme ultraviolet energy there is, the more electrons are generated and the stronger the ion escape effect becomes," Glocer said. "This effect is very sensitive to the amount of energy the star emits, which means it must play a strong role in determining what is and is not a habitable planet." Considering oxygen escape alone, the model estimates a young red dwarf could render a close-in exoplanet uninhabitable within a few tens to a hundred million years. The loss of both atmospheric hydrogen and oxygen would reduce and eliminate the planet's water supply before life would have a chance to develop. "The results of this work could have profound implications for the atmospheric chemistry of these worlds," said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a Goddard space scientist not involved with the study. "The team's conclusions will impact our ongoing studies of missions that would search for signs of life in the chemical composition of those atmospheres." Modeling the oxygen loss rate is the first step in the team's efforts to expand the classical definition of habitability into what they call space weather-affected habitable zones. When exoplanets orbit a mature star with a mild space weather environment, the classical definition is sufficient. When the host star exhibits X-ray and extreme ultraviolet levels greater than seven to 10 times the average emissions from our sun, then the new definition applies. The team's future work will include modeling nitrogen escape, which may be comparable to oxygen escape since nitrogen is just slightly lighter than oxygen. The new habitability model has implications for the recently discovered planet orbiting the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. Airapetian and his team applied their model to the roughly Earth-sized planet, dubbed Proxima b, which orbits Proxima Centauri 20 times closer than Earth is to the sun. Considering the host star's age and the planet's proximity to its host star, the scientists expect that Proxima b is subjected to torrents of X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation from superflares occurring roughly every two hours. They estimate oxygen would escape Proxima b's atmosphere in 10 million years. Additionally, intense magnetic activity and stellar wind - the continuous flow of charged particles from a star - exacerbate already harsh space weather conditions. The scientists concluded that it's quite unlikely Proxima b is habitable. "We have pessimistic results for planets around young red dwarfs in this study, but we also have a better understanding of which stars have good prospects for habitability," Airapetian said. "As we learn more about what we need from a host star, it seems more and more that our sun is just one of those perfect parent stars, to have supported life on Earth."


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Glowing nebula found at the heart of a huge "rotocluster' of early galaxies appears to be part of the cosmic web of filaments connecting galaxies, but what's lighting it up? Astronomers have found an enormous, glowing blob of gas in the distant universe, with no obvious source of power for the light it is emitting. Called an "enormous Lyman-alpha nebula" (ELAN), it is the brightest and among the largest of these rare objects, only a handful of which have been observed. ELANs are huge blobs of gas surrounding and extending between galaxies in the intergalactic medium. They are thought to be parts of the network of filaments connecting galaxies in a vast cosmic web. Previously discovered ELANs are likely illuminated by the intense radiation from quasars, but it's not clear what is causing the hydrogen gas in the newly discovered nebula to emit Lyman-alpha radiation (a characteristic wavelength of light absorbed and emitted by hydrogen atoms). The newly discovered nebula was found at a distance of 10 billion light years in the middle of a region with an extraordinary concentration of galaxies. Researchers found this massive overdensity of early galaxies, called a "protocluster," through a novel survey project led by Zheng Cai, a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Santa Cruz. "Our survey was not trying to find nebulae. We're looking for the most overdense environments in the early universe, the big cities where there are lots of galaxies," said Cai. "We found this enormous nebula in the middle of the protocluster, near the peak density." Cai is first author of a paper on the discovery accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal and available online at arxiv.org/abs/1609.04021. His survey project is called Mapping the Most Massive Overdensities Through Hydrogen (MAMMOTH), and the newly discovered ELAN is known as MAMMOTH-1. Coauthor J. Xavier Prochaska, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, said previously discovered ELANs have been detected in quasar surveys. In those cases, the intense radiation from a quasar illuminated hydrogen gas in the nebula, causing it to emit Lyman-alpha radiation. Prochaska's team discovered the first ELAN, dubbed the "Slug Nebula," in 2014. MAMMOTH-1 is the first one not associated with a visible quasar, he said. "It's extremely bright, and it's probably larger than the Slug Nebula, but there's nothing else visible except the faint smudge of a galaxy. So it's a terrifically energetic phenomenon without an obvious power source," Prochaska said. Equally impressive is the enormous protocluster in which it resides, he said. Protoclusters are the precursors to galaxy clusters, which consist of hundreds to thousands of galaxies bound together by gravity. Because protoclusters are spread out over a much larger area of the sky, they are much harder to find than galaxy clusters. The protocluster hosting the MAMMOTH-1 nebula is massive, with an unusually high concentration of galaxies in an area about 50 million light years across. Because it is so far away (10 billion light years), astronomers are in effect looking back in time to see the protocluster as it was 10 billion years ago, or about 3 billion years after the big bang, during the peak epoch of galaxy formation. After evolving for 10 billion more years, this protocluster would today be a mature galaxy cluster perhaps only one million light years across, having collapsed down to a much smaller area, Prochaska said. The standard cosmological model of structure formation in the universe predicts that galaxies are embedded in a cosmic web of matter, most of which is invisible dark matter. The gas that collapses to form galaxies and stars traces the distribution of dark matter and extends beyond the galaxies along the filaments of the cosmic web. The MAMMOTH-1 nebula appears to have a filamentary structure that aligns with the galaxy distribution in the large-scale structure of the protocluster, supporting the idea that ELANs are illuminated segments of the cosmic web, Cai said. "From the distribution of galaxies we can infer where the filaments of the cosmic web are, and the nebula is perfectly aligned with that structure," he said. Cai and his coauthors considered several possible mechanisms that could be powering the Lyman-alpha emission from the nebula. The most likely explanations involve radiation or outflows from an active galactic nucleus (AGN) that is strongly obscured by dust so that only a faint source can be seen associated with the nebula. An AGN is powered by a supermassive black hole actively feeding on gas in the center of a galaxy, and it is usually an extremely bright source of light (quasars being the most luminous AGNs in visible light). The intense radiation from an AGN can ionize the gas around it (called photoionization), and this may be one mechanism at work in MAMMOTH-1. When ionized hydrogen in the nebula recombines it would emit Lyman-alpha radiation. Another possible mechanism powering the Lyman-alpha emissions is shock heating by a powerful outflow of gas from the AGN. The researchers described several lines of evidence supporting the existence of a hidden AGN energizing the nebula, including the dynamics of the gas and emissions from other elements besides hydrogen, notably helium and carbon. "It has all the hallmarks of an AGN, but we don't see anything in our optical images. I expect there's a quasar that is so obscured by dust that most of its light is hidden," Prochaska said. In addition to Cai and Prochaska at UC Santa Cruz, the team includes coauthors at Steward Observatory, University of Arizona; Korea Astronomy and Space Institute; Mount Stromlo Observatory, Australia; Pontifical Catholic University of Chile; Institute for Astronomy, ETH Zurich; California Institute of Technology; Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Peking University; and National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.prnewswire.co.uk

Jiménez-Tuñón aporta 15 años liderazgo y experiencia operativa en la Industria de Telecomunicaciones y se centrará en dar soporte a la aceleración del Plan de ventas a nivel mundial NEW YORK, 22 de febrero de 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Pareteum Corporation (NYSE MKT: TEUM) ("Pareteum" o la "Compañía"), un proveedor internacional líder en servicios, plataformas digitales y software de redes móviles y de telecomunicaciones con sede en Nueva York (Estados Unidos), ha anunciado hoy el nombramiento de Luis Jiménez-Tuñón al Consejo de Administración de la Compañía, como Consejero Independiente, y con fecha de efectividad 1 de Marzo de 2017. Jiménez-Tuñón es un líder industrial reconocido, y ha sido el Director General de Vodafone Enabler España S.L. ("Vodafone Enabler") desde Julio de 2011 hasta Diciembre de 2016.  Además de su rol en Vodafone Enabler, durante su más de una década en Vodafone, Jiménez-Tuñón ha desempeñado varios cargos de liderazgo en Vodafone España, donde fue pieza clave del lanzamiento y desarrollo de negocio de Operadores Móviles Virtuales (OMVs) del Grupo, y de los negocios de Plataformas de Enabling, Roaming mayorista, Carriers interacionales y Banda ancha fija mayorista. "No hay duda de que Luis es un reconocido y exitoso líder de esta industria que aporta un conocimiento diferencial, y una experiencia y red de contactos global que contribuirá enormemente a los planes de crecimiento de nuestra compañía. Nos sentimos especialmente orgullosos de que Luis, que ha trabajado con nuestra plataforma en Vodafone, uno de nuestros socios más valiosos, haya accedido a unirse a nosotros y nos ayude a construir lo que será una de las compañías de servicios móviles y mensajería más exitosas del mundo", dijo Hal Turner, Presidente Ejecutivo de Pareteum. "Estoy ilusionado de unirme al Consejo de Administración de Pareteum, tras haber sido testigo en primera persona del potencial de disrupción y de transformación digital que la tecnología de la Compañía puede tener en la industria de las comunicaciones móviles y los servicios en la nube, siendo una parte esencial en el éxito de MVNOs como Lebara o Lowi, el operador low-cost digital de Vodafone, que continúan ganado clientes.  Estoy deseando ayudar a Pareteum a capitalizar el excelente 'momentum' alrededor de su plataforma de movilidad para la nube, aplicaciones avanzadas de mensajería y seguridad, y su contribución al desarrollo del "Internet de las Cosas", y tengo absoluta confianza en que Hal y todo su equipo están construyendo una compañía que está posicionada para materializar todo su enorme potencial de crecimiento", añadió Jiménez-Tuñón. Jiménez-Tuñón es actualmente Consejero Delegado y fundador de Red Queen Ventures S.L. (www.redqueen-ventures.com) una compañía global de inversión y consultoría estratégica y de gestión empresarial enfocada en sectores con alto componente tecnológico, y en las áreas de telecomunicaciones, transformación digital OMVs, Enablers, satélite y aeroespacial. Como Director de Vodafone Enabler, lideró el innovador modelo de negocio de esta compañía y al lanzamiento operativo de Lowi, que fue galardonado como mejor MVNO en España en 2015 y 2016. Desde 2011, y bajo su liderazgo, Vodafone Enabler disparó sus ingresos y rendimiento operativo, e internacionalizó sus servicios a otros países y a escala global. Previamente, Jiménez-Tuñón desempeño varios cargos ejecutivos en Vodafone España, incluyendo el de Vicepresidente Senior y jefe de los negocios mayoristas, donde desarrolló y gestionó cifras de negocio y beneficio de varios cientos de millones de euros anuales. Luis comenzó su carrera en la industria de las comunicaciones por satélite en 2002, como ingeniero de investigación en el Instituto Espacial Nacional de Dinamarca, y desempeñando varios cargos hasta convertirse en Director Comercial Adjunto de INSA (hoy, ISDEFE), la compañía líder por número de empleados del sector aeroespacial español a cargo de las estaciones de seguimiento satelital de la NASA y de la ESA.  Luis ha recibido varios premios profesionales y académicos a nivel internacional y nacional. Obtuvo un Executive MBA de EOI Business School, un Master de posgrado en comunicaciones satelitales por la Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, y es Ingeniero Superior de Telecomunicaciones por la Universidad de Zaragoza y en colaboración con la Universidad Técnica de Dinamarca (DTU).  Luis también ha completado el Programa de Dirección General (SEP) de la Escuela de negocios de la Universidad de Stanford, en Palo Alto, California (EEUU), de la que es Alumni vitalicio. Junto a su carrera ejecutiva, Luis ha dado charlas en conferencias internacionales y cuenta con varios artículos en publicaciones internacionales. Sobre Pareteum Corporation: Pareteum Corporation y sus subsidiarias proporcionan un Plataforma completa de servicios de movilidad en la nube (Mobile Cloud), utilizando tecnologías de mensajería y seguridad avanzadas, para mercados globales de comunicaciones Móviles, OMVs, empresas e IoT (Internet of Things) . Entre sus clientes Operadores de Red (MNOs) destacan Vodafone, el segundo operador móvil mundial por número de clientes; Zain, el cuarto mayor operador móvil del mundo en términos de presencia geográfica; y otros operadores Tier-1; Pareteum también da servicio a MVNOs como Lebara y Lowi, y cuenta con partners como Cleartech y Expeto. Para más información, por favor visite www.pareteum.com


Led by Project Manager and Chief Engineer Noosha Haghani, who works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the team leveraged years of knowledge gained during the development of NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, or MMS, to design a significantly smaller electronics system. Dubbed MUSTANG, short for the Modular Unified Space Technology Avionics for Next Generation missions, the technology acts as the mission's brain and central nervous system, controlling every function needed to gather scientific data from a Small Explorer-type mission. This includes everything from spacecraft command and data handling to attitude control, power, and propulsion, to name just a few tasks. The team also developed a variation of the system—iMUSTANG—for instrument electronics and, like its sibling, it allows users to choose different capabilities depending on instrument needs. "Key to MUSTANG's success has been the integration of hardware and software design from day one," said Deputy Director of Goddard's Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate and former MMS Project Manager Craig Tooley, who spearheaded the effort. "It provides maximum processing performance and is highly flexible." Through their use of mix-and-match electronics cards, the two MUSTANG variations give NASA mission and instrument developers a smaller, highly modular, off-the-shelf avionics system that can be customized to meet virtually any smaller-mission requirement—and, better yet, at a reduced cost, Haghani added. While inappropriate for some large, flagship-style spacecraft, MUSTANG suits cost-constrained, yet high-performance missions, Haghani said. "One of our goals was to create an avionics system that mission planners would not have to redesign for each mission," said Pete Spidaliere, a Goddard engineer who participated in MUSTANG's development. "We wanted to give the center a new way of doing things," Haghani added. "In the past, everyone wanted to start from scratch and develop their own avionics systems, which is expensive. By using MUSTANG and iMUSTANG, developers can focus their time and resources on their missions and instruments, not the electronics running them." Already, the two MUSTANG variations have attracted users. NASA's Pre-Aerosols Clouds and Ocean Ecosystems mission, or PACE, and the Global Ecosystems Dynamics Investigation, or GEDI, have selected MUSTANG to run their operations and are funding the development of additional capabilities that could be used in other future NASA missions. Meanwhile, one of PACE's baselined instruments, the Ocean Color Instrument, or OCI, plans to employ iMUSTANG. The effort to craft a modular avionics system began about two years ago just as Goddard engineers were putting the finishing touches on the four spacecraft that make up NASA's MMS mission. It became obvious to Tooley, who formerly served as MMS project manager, that the center could reduce the cost of spacecraft electronics—traditionally an expensive, multi-million-dollar undertaking—and become more competitive by offering an off-the-shelf, ala-carte avionics system that users could customize to meet their own needs. "The motivation is to keep board redesign costs to a minimum," Haghani said. Taking MMS's avionics system, the MUSTANG team reduced by half the size of the housing box and began designing and testing a core set of cards controlling vital spacecraft functions. Since then, the group created 22 lightweight, highly capable cards, including one that controls higher-speed communications of up to 1.2 gigabits per second. MUSTANG was born. "We took the MMS designs, shrunk them down, and added some powerful capabilities," Spidaliere said, adding that the team cut costs by a factor of three and crafted a system that is lighter and more robust than anything built before at Goddard. "One of the great things about this effort and Noosha's team is that they did the impossible," Spidaliere added, alluding to the effort that resulted in a wholly new avionics system in less than two years. "It never dawned on them that this couldn't be done."


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

A spectacular "ring of fire" solar eclipse Sunday will regale skygazers in South America and southern Africa. A spectacular "ring of fire" solar eclipse Sunday will regale skygazers in South America and southern Africa, with seafarers in the nearby Atlantic getting a front-row view too, astronomers say. The eclipse -- during which the Sun will all but disappear as the Moon crosses its path -- will be most visible in a 100-kilometre (62-mile) band cutting through Chile, Argentina, Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A so-called annular solar eclipse occurs when the Earth, Moon and Sun line up. But even when perfectly aligned, the Moon is too far from Earth to completely block out the Sun, creating instead the impression of a fiery ring. At first, it will look as if a "bite" has been taken out of the Sun, said Terry Moseley of the Irish Astronomical Association, stressing that viewers should not observe the eclipse unfold with the naked eye. "This 'bite' gradually gets bigger and bigger as the Moon -- which is itself invisible -- moves further and further in front of the Sun," he told AFP. "As about 90 percent of the Sun is covered, you'll notice a distinct drop in temperature and brightness, and a change in the quality of the light which is hard to describe." As the day darkens, birds and animals may enter a night-time routine, thinking sunset is nigh. At the height of the eclipse the Moon will be right in the middle of the Sun, leaving "a perfect, beautiful, symmetrical ring" of light around the edge before exiting on the other side, said Moseley. For people just outside the band of optimal viewing, the phenomenon will appear as a ring thicker on one side than the other, said Moseley -- "not symmetrical, but still an amazing sight." Anyone further afield will see little or nothing. It will take about two hours for the Moon to move across the face of the Sun, but the "ring of fire" peak will last a mere minute. Starting in the southeast Pacific Ocean at sunrise, the eclipse will hit solid land at 1221 GMT in southern Chile, near the town of Coyhaique, then cut through Argentina -- near Camarones Bay on the eastern coast -- before hitting the South Atlantic. At sea, the eclipse peak will last 44 seconds and "only be visible to any ships that happen to be in the right place at the right time," said Moseley. It will reach Angola south of the town of Benguela around 1515 GMT, then move to Zambia and DR Congo just before the Sun sets and the light show ends. According to the Astronomical Society of Southern Africa (ASSA), the eclipse can be safely observed using a basic pinhole projector. Punch a tiny hole in a piece of paper with a sharp pencil, hold it into the Sun, and project the image onto a second sheet. The gaps between tree leaves make for a similar effect on the ground, says the ASSA website, calling this "the coolest and safest way to watch a solar eclipse". To look at the Sun directly, one would need special glasses. Weather is the only potential spoiler. NASA's eclipse website recommends watching the weather forecast a day or two before the eclipse, and picking somewhere with a cloud-free prediction. "Good weather is the key to successful eclipse viewing -- better to see a shorter eclipse from clear sky that a longer eclipse under clouds," it says.


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Note: This is the first installment in a four-part series that focuses on a partnership between NASA and Berkeley Lab to explore spacecraft materials and meteorites with X-rays in microscale detail. It takes rocket science to launch and fly spacecraft to faraway planets and moons, but a deep understanding of how materials perform under extreme conditions is also needed to enter and land on planets with atmospheres. X-ray science is playing a key role, too, in ensuring future spacecraft survive in extreme environments as they descend through otherworldly atmospheres and touch down safely on the surface. Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and NASA are using X-rays to explore, via 3-D visualizations, how the microscopic structures of spacecraft heat shield and parachute materials survive extreme temperatures and pressures, including simulated atmospheric entry conditions on Mars. Human exploration of Mars and other large-payload missions may require a new type of heat shield that is flexible and can remain folded up until needed. Candidate materials for this type of flexible heat shield, in addition to fabrics for Mars-mission parachutes deployed at supersonic speeds, are being tested with X-rays at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) and with other techniques. “We are developing a system at the ALS that can simulate all material loads and stresses over the course of the atmospheric entry process,” said Harold Barnard, a scientist at Berkeley Lab’s ALS who is spearheading the Lab’s X-ray work with NASA. The success of the initial X-ray studies has also excited interest from the planetary defense scientific community looking to explore the use of X-ray experiments to guide our understanding of meteorite breakup. Data from these experiments will be used in risk analysis and aid in assessing threats posed by large asteroids. The ultimate objective of the collaboration is to establish a suite of tools that includes X-ray imaging and small laboratory experiments, computer-based analysis and simulation tools, as well as large-scale high-heat and wind-tunnel tests. These allow for the rapid development of new materials with established performance and reliability. This system can heat sample materials to thousands of degrees, subject them to a mixture of different gases found in other planets’ atmospheres, and with pistons stretch the material to its breaking point, all while imaging in real time their 3-D behavior at the microstructure level. NASA Ames Research Center (NASA ARC) in California’s Silicon Valley has traditionally used extreme heat tests at its Arc Jet Complex to simulate atmospheric entry conditions. Researchers at ARC can blast materials with a giant superhot blowtorch that accelerates hot air to velocities topping 11,000 miles per hour, with temperatures exceeding that at the surface of the sun. Scientists there also test parachutes and spacecraft at its wind-tunnel facilities, which can produce supersonic wind speeds faster than 1,900 miles per hour. Michael Barnhardt, a senior research scientist at NASA ARC and principal investigator of the Entry Systems Modeling Project, said the X-ray work opens a new window into the structure and strength properties of materials at the microscopic scale, and expands the tools and processes NASA uses to “test drive” spacecraft materials before launch. “Before this collaboration, we didn’t understand what was happening at the microscale. We didn’t have a way to test it,” Barnhardt said. “X-rays gave us a way to peak inside the material and get a view we didn’t have before. With this understanding, we will be able to design new materials with properties tailored to a certain mission.” He added, “What we’re trying to do is to build the basis for more predictive models. Rather than build and test and see if it works,” the X-ray work could reduce risk and provide more assurance about a new material’s performance even at the drawing-board stage. Francesco Panerai, a materials scientist with NASA contractor AMA Inc. and the X-ray experiments test lead for NASA ARC, said that the X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab were on samples about the size of a postage stamp. The experimental data is used to improve realistic computer simulations of heat shield and parachute systems. “We need to use modern measurement techniques to improve our understanding of material response,” Panerai said. The 3-D X-ray imaging technique and simulated planetary conditions that NASA is enlisting at the ALS provide the best pictures yet of the behavior of the internal 3-D microstructure of spacecraft materials. The experiments are being conducted at an ALS experimental station that captures a sequence of images as a sample is rotated in front of an X-ray beam. These images, which provide views inside the samples and can resolve details less than 1 micron, or 1 millionth of a meter, can be compiled to form detailed 3-D images and animations of samples. This study technique is known as X-ray microtomography. “We have started developing computational tools based on these 3-D images, and we want to try to apply this methodology to other research areas, too,” he said.


News Article | February 25, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Photo credit | NASA, ESA, and A. Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF); Hubble credit: NASA, ESA, and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) Photo credit | NASA, ESA, and R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), and P. Challis (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) Hubble is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the discovery of Supernova 1987A, a blazing stellar explosion that provided insights into the nature of supernovas. NASA released spectacular images and time-lapse videos that display the supernova’s structure. Photo credit | NASA, ESA, R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), and M. Mutchler and R. Avila (STScI) Thirty years have passed since NASA spotted one of the brightest supernovas in 400 years. Known as Supernova 1987A, the stellar explosion generated kaleidoscopic fireworks of color and glowed with the power of 100 million suns for several months after its first sighting on Feb. 23, 1987. The supernova continues to fascinate astronomers today with its incredible light show. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the Hubble Space Telescope has released a set of beautiful images and new information about SN 1987A. Prior to the discovery of SN 1987A, astronomers had little knowledge about the nature of supernovas, simply because there had been no nearby events available for observation. But on that fateful night in February three decades ago, the first light from the death of a star in the Large Magellanic Cloud reached Earth. That means a new star appeared in the Southern Hemisphere and became visible to the naked eye for months before it turned faint. SN 1987A has been the brightest supernova visible from Earth since 1604. This stellar event occurred about 166,000 light-years away from Tarantula Nebula, Milky Way's satellite galaxy called, and it offered scientists an unprecedented insight into the death of massive stars. While ground-based telescopes could spot SN 1987A as a small blob in the sky, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captured high-resolution images of the supernova in 1990. The mission revealed in detail the incredible structures that surrounded the dead star. Since then, Hubble and other telescopes such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array and the Chandra X-ray Observatory have continued to take images of the supernova. For SN 1987A's 30th birthday, the public can access time-lapse movies, images, and data-based animation on the supernova. Much of these images are based on the research of Salvatore Orlando, from Italy's INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Palermo. All these missions have shown a ring-like structure around the progenitor star of the supernova, which had been ejected from the star 20,000 years before its ending stages. These ring-like structures have been illuminated more than once. The first time happened through the light of the supernova explosion. The second time in 2001, when shock waves reached the distance of the rings. Now, these shock waves are moving beyond that very dense ring of gas, which was generated when the wind it produced later in life struck a slower wind produced in its earlier phase. "The details of this transition will give astronomers a better understanding of the life of the doomed star, and how it ended," said scientist Kari Frank, lead researcher in the Chandra research. However, what lies beyond this structure is still unknown and will depend on details of the star's evolution, scientists said. Full details can be viewed at NASA's website. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


A diagram shows seven exoplanets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. If the planets were transported to our own solar system, they’d all lie within Mercury’s orbit. (ESO Illustration) A second look at an exoplanet system 39 light-years from Earth has brought a bonanza for astronomers: not two, not three, but seven alien worlds – some of which could have acceptable conditions for life. “I think that we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there. … Before, it was indications,” said study co-author Amaury Triaud of Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy. “Now we have the right target.” That claim is debatable, but in any case, the discovery suggests that there are even more planets out there than astronomers previously thought. Which is what astronomers have been saying repeatedly for the past decade. “The solar system with its four (sub-)Earth-sized planets might be nothing out of the ordinary,” Ignas Snellen of the Leiden Observatory wrote in a commentary on the findings, published in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. The discoveries actually started last year, when the same team of astronomers reported spotting three Earth-sized planets around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1, in the constellation Aquarius. The star is only slightly bigger than Jupiter, and puts out about 0.05 percent as much light as our sun. It takes its name from the 23-inch telescope in Chile that the astronomers used to find it, known as the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope or TRAPPIST. The team, led by Michaël Gillon of Belgium’s University of Liège, conducted follow-up observations with TRAPPIST and other instruments over the months that followed. They watched for repeated dimmings of the TRAPPIST-1 star as planets passed across its disk, and worked out the sizes as well as the masses of the planets by carefully monitoring the variations in the timings of the transits. The additional data showed that the pattern of sightings they associated with the third, outermost planet was actually being caused by three separate worlds. They also detected the signatures of two farther-out planets, bringing the total to seven. The planets are known as TRAPPIST-1 b, c, d, e, f, g and h. All of them lie within what would be the orbit of Mercury in our own solar system. But because the parent star is so dim, the e, f and g planets are in the system’s habitable zone, where it’s theoretically cool enough for water to exist in abundant liquid form. All seven planets are roughly Earth-sized, and planets b through g appear to be rocky planets like our own. Planet h is still a question mark, however, because astronomers don’t yet have enough data to figure out its mass or its density. Although TRAPPIST-1 isn’t close enough to visit anytime soon, the newly published findings add some extra luster to the dim bulbs of the Milky Way. Ultracool dwarfs and red dwarfs are appealing targets because they’re the most populous classes of stars in our galaxy, and because they’re so long-lived. TRAPPIST-1 is thought to be at least a billion years old, and Gillon said it’ll probably remain stable long after our own sun has run out of gas. The same forecast applies to Proxima Centauri, the 4.8 billion-year-old red dwarf that’s only 4.2 light-years away from us and harbors at least one Earth-type planet. There are potential drawbacks, however: For one thing, the dynamics of TRAPPIST-1’s planets suggest that they present the same face to the star all the time. That could bake one side and freeze the other, unless there’s an atmosphere thick enough to even things out. For another thing, red dwarf stars occasionally unleash strong radiation flares that could blast away at a planet’s atmosphere. A study published this month suggested that the loss of oxygen due to such blasts could significant reduce the chances for habitability. Gillon downplayed the radiation threat in TRAPPIST-1’s case. “It has some flares, but they are not very strong, and it is quite rare,” he said. The key questions, then, have to do with what’s in the atmospheres of the TRAPPIST-1 planets. Triaud said the team is already trying to figure that out, using the Hubble Space Telescope and other instruments. “The first stage that we are doing at the moment is a reconnaissance stage, where we are trying to rule out that the planets have a large hydrogen envelope. This is to make sure that the planets are indeed Earthlike,” he explained. “This will then be followed by detailed observations to study the climate, and eventually, from the chemical information, trying to find if there is life over there.” He hoped to get the answer to the life question “maybe within a decade.” Reaching that goal depends on building bigger and better observatories, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope. Gillon said determining the presence of life will require not only figuring out what chemicals are in the atmosphere – such as oxygen and water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane – but also figuring out their proportions. “It’s really the combination of molecules,” he said. “Oxygen itself is not enough.” This artist’s conception paints a speculative picture showing what it might be like to stand on the surface of the planet TRAPPIST-1f. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Illustration) Although it’s unlikely that humans will ever stand on TRAPPIST-1f or the other planets in the star system, it’s intriguing to imagine what it’s like there. Because the planets are so tightly packed, you could travel from one world to another in a matter of days using conventional spaceflight technology. No warp drive required. Triaud said the days wouldn’t get much brighter than, say, a sunset on Earth. “However, you will still feel quite warm, because you still receive just about as much energy from the star, which is in the infrared. That, you will feel with your skin,” he said. It sounded as if Triaud was getting a warm glow just thinking about the scene. “The spectacle would be beautiful,” he said, “because every now and then you would see another planet, maybe about twice as big as the moon in the sky, depending on which planet you are on.” In addition to the TRAPPIST-South telescope in Chile, instruments contributing to the observations included TRAPPIST-North in Morocco, HAWK-I on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, UKIRT in Hawaii, the Liverpool and William Herschel telescopes in the Canary Islands, the SAAO telescope in South Africa and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The Nature paper, “Seven Temperate Terrestrial Planets Around the Nearby Ultracool Dwarf Star TRAPPIST-1,” lists 30 authors including Gillon and Triaud. NASA keeps its eye on a trio of potentially habitable planets just 40 light-years away Proxima’s progress: Why it’ll take years to learn what closest exoplanet is really like


News Article | February 24, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Inside NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope team completed the environmental portion of vibration testing and prepared for the acoustic test on the telescope. Engineers and technicians pushed the telescope (wrapped in a clean tent) through a large set of insulated steel doors nearly a foot thick into the Acoustic Test Chamber, where the telescope will be exposed to the earsplitting noise (and resulting vibration) of launch. These photos show the telescope outside (left) and inside (right) the acoustics chamber. The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency. For more information about the Webb telescope visit: http://www. or http://www.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.treehugger.com

Supercomputers, mega-computers located at national laboratory sites that can process calculations in a matter of nanoseconds, are currently processing information that may solve many of the biggest problems humanity faces. There are supercomputers running calculations regarding climate change, world hunger and endless scientific pursuits. NASA of course uses supercomputers for its research. A new modular supercomputing system called Electra at the Ames Research Center is helping the agency to plan its missions as well as also greatly reducing the impact of all those calculations. The Electra system uses a fan technology that uses less than 10 percent of the energy of mechanical refrigeration systems in place at other supercomputing facilities. The system will save about 1 million kWh of electricity every year -- the equivalent of 90 households -- and 1.3 million gallons of water every year. “This is a different way for NASA to do supercomputing in a cost-effective manner,” said Bill Thigpen, chief of the Advanced Computing Branch at Ames’ NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility. “It makes it possible for us to be flexible and add computing resources as needed, and we can save about $35 million dollars—about half the cost of building another big facility.” The system is made of container modules that can be added or removed depending on how much computer power is needed all without interrupting operations. The research demand for the new system has led NASA to consider adding 16 times the current capability. Scientists from around the country can log on to the system for research support and choosing this system over other older systems will result in major energy and water savings.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The number of instruments on the International Space Station dedicated to observing Earth to increase our understanding of our home planet continues to grow. Two new instruments are scheduled to make their way to the station Feb. 18 on the SpaceX Dragon capsule. The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument will monitor the condition of the ozone layer, which covers an area in the stratosphere 10 to 30 miles above Earth and protects the planet from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. Its predecessors, SAGE I and SAGE II, which were mounted to satellites, helped scientists understand the causes and effects of the Antarctic ozone hole. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 led to an eventual ban on ozone-destroying gases and to the ozone layer's recovery; SAGE III, designed to operate for no less than three years, will allow scientists to continue monitoring its recovery. The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), first launched as an instrument on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission in 1997, records the time, energy output and location of lightning events around the world, day and night. From its perch on the ISS, the new LIS will improve coverage of lightning events over the oceans and also in the northern hemisphere during its summer months. Because lightning is both a factor and a gauge for a number of atmospheric processes, NASA as well as other agencies will use the new LIS lightning data for many applications, from weather forecasting to climate modeling and air quality studies. While SAGE III and LIS are the latest Earth science instruments slated for operation aboard the ISS, they or not the first or the last. For two years, beginning in September 2014, the Rapid Scatterometer, or RapidScat, collected near-real-time data on ocean wind speed and direction. The instrument was designed as a low-cost replacement for the Quick Scatterometer, or QuikScat satellite, which experienced an age-related failure in 2009. In addition to addressing such questions as how changing winds affect sea surface temperatures during an El Niño season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Navy relied on RapidScat data for improved tracking of marine weather, leading to more optimal ship routing and hazard avoidance. The Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) was mounted to the exterior of the space station in Jan. 2015 and is in the midst of a three-year mission to measure aerosols, such as dust plumes, wildfires and volcanic ash, around the world. Built to demonstrate a low-cost, streamlined approach to ISS science payloads, the laser instrument is providing data for air quality studies, climate models and hazard warning capabilities. Over the next several years, NASA is planning to send to the space station several more instruments trained toward Earth. Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) will measure total solar irradiance and spectral solar irradiance, or the total solar radiation at the top of Earth's atmosphere and the spectral distribution of that solar radiation, respectively. The data are critical for climate modeling and atmospheric studies. TSIS-1 will continue the work of NASA's Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment satellite, which has been taking those measurements since 2003. NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program is supporting the following instruments that are currently in development. The program is managed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) instrument will monitor carbon dioxide distribution around the globe. Assembled with spare parts from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite, OCO-3 will provide insights into the greenhouse gas's role as it relates to growing urban areas and changes in fossil fuel combustion. The instrument will also measure the "glow" from growing plants (solar-induced fluorescence). Homing in on tropical and temperate forests is the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI). The lidar instrument will provide the first high-resolution observations of forest vertical structure in an effort to answer how much carbon is stored in these ecosystems and also what impacts deforestation and reforestation have on habitat diversity, the global carbon cycle and climate change. The ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment (ECOSTRESS) will also focus on vegetation by providing high-frequency, high-resolution measurements of plant temperature and plant water use. Among the data's numerous uses will be to indicate regions of plant heat and water stress and also improve drought forecasting for the benefit of farmers and water managers. Researchers will also use ECOSTRESS in concert with other data to calculate water use efficiency among plants and identify drought-resistant species and varieties. Also on the horizon is the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO) Pathfinder comprising two instruments for measuring solar irradiance: a reflected solar spectrometer and an infrared spectrometer. CLARREO will collect highly accurate climate records to test climate projections in order to improve models. NASA collects data from space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. For more information about NASA's Earth science programs, visit: Keep up with the International Space Station at:


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

NASA has agreed to fly at least two more astronauts on upcoming Russian Soyuz missions to the International Space Station, the space agency announced in a press release. The news comes in the wake of delays to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative where two American companies — SpaceX and Boeing — are being paid to create spacecraft that can ferry astronauts to the ISS. Those flights were originally supposed to happen this year, but are now estimated to take place no earlier than 2019. The additional seats are being worked into an existing contract with Boeing, which helps operate the ISS. The agreement extension covers two seats on Soyuz flights this year and next year, and includes options for seats on three Soyuz flights in 2019. Boeing acquired theses seats from Russian aerospace company RSC Energia, and has been trying to sell them to NASA since January. The total cost of all five seats is $373.5 million, or $74.7 million per seat — a touch short of the $81.7 million NASA has been paying Roscosmos. Flights with SpaceX and Boeing should be cheaper than Russia — when they happen The US hasn’t had the capability to send its own astronauts to space (or bring them back) since the Space Shuttle program was discontinued in 2011. Private US spaceflight companies were growing at a rapid pace then, so NASA decided to fund these companies so they could become a sort of space taxi service for American astronauts. The Commercial Crew Program was intended to give NASA a cheaper alternative to Russia, but the program has been hampered by delays and cost issues. The space agency is also planning to fly astronauts on its own Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS) maybe as early as 2019, but that program has also been delayed. In 2015, NASA spent $490 million on six more Soyuz seats as a hedge against the possibility that the SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft wouldn’t be ready in time. Seats on the Soyuz are typically sorted out three years in advance when dealing directly with Roscosmos. (NASA was able to book the two new seats with less time since they had already been accounted for when they were bought by RSC Energia.) It was a prescient move because Boeing delayed — twice — the first crewed flight of its spacecraft, Starliner, in 2016. And SpaceX followed suit at the end of the year, saying in December that the human-rated version of its Dragon spacecraft wouldn’t fly with a crew until at least 2018. This is not the first time NASA has extended the contract with Russia Two weeks ago, the Government Accountability Office — a federal agency that performs audits for Congress — released a report that estimated SpaceX and Boeing won’t be ready to fly humans to space until 2019. The GAO cited concerns about a particular defect in SpaceX’s engine turbines, as well as Boeing’s reliance on Russian rocket engines as some of the reasons. NASA addressed the GAO report implicitly in the press release about the contract extension with Russia. “NASA’s Commercial crew transportation providers Boeing and SpaceX have made significant progress toward returning crew launches to the US, but external review groups have recommended an option to protect for delays or problems in certification,” the agency wrote. The contract extension with Russia was actually announced a week ago, and it was first spotted by SpaceNews, which points out the curious nature of how NASA quietly published the news. The agency is currently in a transitional phase as it waits for President Donald Trump to name a new NASA administrator. NASA is waiting for Trump to name a new administrator Robert Lightfoot, who is serving as acting administrator, recently sent a memo to NASA employees explaining his interest in accelerating NASA’s plans for human spaceflight. He asked for NASA and Lockheed Martin, which makes Orion and SLS, to evaluate whether it would be possible to put a crew on the first flight of that spaceship / rocket combination in 2018 instead of 2021. It’s a bold idea for a space agency that is known for caution, but it aligns with what we know the Trump administration wants out of NASA: an increased emphasis on human spaceflight and space exploration in general. “President Trump said in his inaugural address that we will ‘unlock the mysteries of space,’” Lightfoot wrote. “The SLS and Orion missions, coupled with those promised from record levels of private investment in space, will help put NASA and America in a position to unlock those mysteries and to ensure this nation’s world preeminence in exploring the cosmos.”


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

NASA's Dawn spacecraft image of the limb of dwarf planet Ceres shows a section of the northern hemisphere in this image on October 17, 2016. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/Handout via REUTERS CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - A NASA spacecraft has detected carbon-based materials, similar to what may have been the building blocks for life on Earth, on the Texas-sized dwarf planet Ceres that orbits between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, scientists said on Thursday. The finding puts Ceres, a rock-and-ice world about 590 miles (950 km) in diameter, on a growing list of places in the solar system of interest to scientists looking for life beyond Earth. The list includes Mars and several ocean-bearing moons of Jupiter and Saturn. The discovery, published in the journal Science, was made by a team of researchers using NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting Ceres for nearly two years. "I think these organic molecules are a long way from microbial life," Dawn lead scientist Christopher Russell of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) wrote in an email to Reuters. "However, this discovery tells us that we need to explore Ceres further." Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt and is located about three times farther from the sun than Earth. The composition of Ceres is thought to reflect the material present in parts of the solar system when it was forming some 4-1/2 billion years ago. "The discovery indicates that the starting material in the solar system contained the essential elements, or the building blocks, for life," Russell said. "Ceres may have been able to take this process only so far. Perhaps to move further along the path took a larger body with more complex structure and dynamics," like Earth, Russell added. The organic material was found near a 31-mile-wide (50-km-wide) crater in Ceres' northern hemisphere. Although the exact molecular compounds in the organics could not be identified, they matched tar-like minerals, such as kerite or asphaltite, the scientists wrote. "Because Ceres is a dwarf planet that may still preserve internal heat from its formation period and may even contain a subsurface ocean, this opens the possibility that primitive life could have developed on Ceres itself," planetary scientist Michael Kuppers of the European Space Astronomy Center in Madrid wrote in an related essay in the journal Science. Based on the location and type of organics found on Ceres, scientists ruled out the possibility they were deposited by a crashing asteroid or comet. Lead researcher Maria Cristina De Sanctis of Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics and colleagues suspect the material formed inside Ceres through hydrothermal activity, though how the organics reached the surface remains a mystery.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.marketwired.com

HANOVER, MD--(Marketwired - Feb 15, 2017) - D-Wave Systems Inc., the leader in the development and delivery of quantum computing systems and software, announced the addition of two new directors to the board of D-Wave Government Inc., a subsidiary formed to provide D-Wave's quantum computing systems to the U.S. government. Joining the board are Letitia "Tish" Long, former Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the first woman to lead a major U.S. intelligence agency, and Steven M. West, D-Wave Systems Inc. board member and a 30-year veteran of the information technology marketplace. Ms. Long has had a distinguished and decorated career in government. She served as a civilian in the U.S. Navy and the Intelligence Community from 1978 to 2014, retiring as the fifth director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Her other senior executive roles included Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (Policy, Requirements and Resources), and Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence. Ms. Long is currently the Chairman of the Board of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, and sits on the boards of Raytheon Company, Urthecast Corporation, Noblis, Inc., the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs and the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. Ms. Long is the recipient of the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Civilian Service, the Presidential Rank Award of Distinguished Executive, the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive (two awards) and the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (two awards). Steven M. West is the founder and a partner in Emerging Company Partners LLC, a capital investor and a provider of advisory services to technology firms. Over the course of his career he has held many executive positions including CEO of nCUBE Corporation, a provider of on-demand media systems; president and CEO of Entera, an Internet content delivery firm (acquired by Blue Coat Systems, Inc.); CEO of Hitachi Data Systems, and Group Executive of EDS. Currently Mr. West serves on the boards of directors of Cisco Systems and D-Wave. He was formerly on the board of Autodesk, a 3D design software; Delta-Q Technologies, makers of power management and power conversion solutions; and Bycast Inc., advanced storage virtualization software for large-scale digital archives and storage clouds. "Adding such impressive executive leadership to the board of D-Wave Government Inc. speaks to the growing importance of quantum computing for government," said Robert "Bo" Ewald, president of D-Wave International. "Ms. Long's career includes nearly four decades of outstanding service to the U.S. government. Mr. West is a highly regarded technology executive and has been a valued member of the D-Wave board since 2008. We are very fortunate and appreciative that both have agreed to join the D-Wave Government board to lend their expertise to our government operations." "Quantum computing will provide an unprecedented new resource to solve important problems we face," said Ms. Long. "As the industry leader in quantum computing, D-Wave will help shape how this exciting technology will aid the defense and intelligence communities. I look forward to working with the D-Wave team to make continued progress supporting our national priorities." Long and West join current board members with deep experience at U.S. government agencies including the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and the National Science Board. These include Jeffrey K. Harris, chairman of the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation and former president of Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space; Dr. Delores Etter, who served as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Science and Technology and Assistant Secretary of the Navy; Frances Fleisch, former Executive Director of the National Security Agency and special advisor to the U.S Strategic Command; and Dr. Donald M. Kerr, former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Director of the National Reconnaissance Office. D-Wave is the leader in the development and delivery of quantum computing systems and software, and the world's only commercial supplier of quantum computers. Our mission is to unlock the power of quantum computing to solve the most challenging national defense, scientific, technical, and commercial problems. D-Wave's systems are being used by some of the world's most advanced organizations, including Lockheed Martin, Google, NASA Ames and Los Alamos National Laboratory. With headquarters near Vancouver, Canada, D-Wave's U.S. operations are based in Palo Alto, CA and Hanover, MD. D-Wave has a blue-chip investor base including Goldman Sachs, Bezos Expeditions, DFJ, In-Q-Tel, BDC Capital, Growthworks, Harris & Harris Group, International Investment and Underwriting, and Kensington Partners Limited. For more information, visit: www.dwavesys.com


BOCA RATON, Fla.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Zero Gravity Solutions, Inc. (“ZGSI” or the “Company”) (Pink Sheets: ZGSI), an agricultural biotechnology public company commercializing its technology derived from and designed for Space with significant applications for agriculture on Earth, announced that its research experiment using its BAM-FX micronutrient product was successfully delivered today to the International Space Station (ISS) on the SpaceX CRS-10 Dragon cargo resupply mission launched February 19, 2017 from historic pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. In collaboration with NASA and Intrinsyx Technologies Corporation (ITC), the BAM-FX experiments, led by two plant stress physiologists, Dr. John Freeman of ITC and Dr. David Bubenheim (NASA Biospheric Science Branch code SGE), will study the growth and nutritional effects of our patented micronutrient product BAM-FX in broccoli seedlings in microgravity. The focus of two separate, but related experiments, BAM-FX and V3PO (Vegetative Propagation of Plants in Orbit) are focused on advancing the science necessary to promote the growth of fresh, nutrient-dense food for astronauts on long-duration space missions. This experimental flight opportunity is made available by NanoRacks, LLC via its Space Act Agreement with NASA’s U.S. National Lab on the International Space Station. BAM-FX (Bio-Available Minerals-Formula X), a product manufactured and marketed by ZGSI’s wholly owned subsidiary, BAM Agricultural Solutions, is a solution of special ionic minerals, which can not only correct nutrient deficiencies, but may also increase yield, quality and nutrition with less inputs, by-products and waste. The patented platform technology was originally developed as a way to promote growth of strong plants for astronauts on long duration Space missions, but has shown dramatic results when applied to the agricultural industry here on Earth. The principal aim of the BAM-FX experiment on the ISS is to investigate the possibility to improve nutraceutical crop plant growth at zero gravity and produce large quantities of high quality Zinc bio-fortified broccoli on a space station, thereby ensuring astronauts on long mission a continuous supply of zinc enriched, fresh, anti-carcinogenic cruciferous vegetables. Zinc is important not just for plants to cope with several environmental stresses, but also for human immune system function and cancer inhibition. The V3PO project, supported by BASF, is a student research project on space farming, which will research the effects of microgravity in growing plantlet cuttings with the objective of seeing if vegetative propagation of plants is possible in space to generate fresh food for space missions without having to carry large amounts of seed. V3PO and BAM-FX will share two habitats inside a 1.5U NanoRacks facility compatible cube structure. The Intrinsyx hardware was already flown on SpX-3 named AFEx but slightly modified (introduction of second habitat) for V3PO and BAM-FX joint educational plant growth experiments. Once the BAM-FX experiment returns from the 25-30 day mission on the ISS, the BAM-FX cube with seedlings will come to NASA Ames, where it will be analyzed by Dr. John Freeman and Dr. David Bubenheim and the students involved in the experiment from the International Space Station Science Program at Valley Christian High School. Results are expected to take about a month to process. “The upcoming BAM-FX experiment on the ISS represents an opportunity to go back to our roots, literally and figuratively, to further validate this new science by significantly advancing how fresh, nutrient-dense food is grown on long-duration space missions,” stated Harvey Kaye, ZGSI’s Chairman of the Board. About Zero Gravity Solutions, Inc. Zero Gravity Solutions, Inc. (www.zerogsi.com) is an agricultural biotechnology public company commercializing its technology derived from and designed for Space with significant applications on Earth. These technologies are focused on providing valuable solutions to challenges facing world agriculture. ZGSI’s two primary categories of technologies aimed at sustainable agriculture are: 1) BAM-FX, a cost effective, ionic micronutrient delivery system for plants currently being introduced commercially into world agriculture by Zero Gravity’s wholly owned subsidiary BAM Agricultural Solutions 2) Directed Selection, utilized in the development and production, in the prolonged zero/micro gravity environment of the International Space Station, of large volumes of non-GMO, novel, patentable stem cells with unique and beneficial characteristics. Like us on Facebook This press release may contain certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Investors are cautioned that such forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, including without limitation, acceptance of the Company’s products, increased levels of competition for the Company, new products and technological changes, the Company’s dependence on third-party suppliers, and other risks detailed from time to time in the Company’s periodic reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Except as required by applicable law or regulation, Zero Gravity Solutions undertakes no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances that occur after the date on which such statements were made.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A novel air quality model will help air quality forecasters predict surface ozone levels up to 48-hours in advance and with fewer resources, according to a team of meteorologists. The method, called regression in self-organizing map (REGiS), weighs and combines statistical air quality models by pairing them with predicted weather patterns to create probabilistic ozone forecasts. Unlike current chemical transport models, REGiS can predict ozone levels up to 48 hours in advance without requiring significant computational power. Nikolay Balashov, who recently earned his doctorate in meteorology from Penn State, designed this new method by exploring the relationship between air pollutants and meteorological variables. Because ozone levels are higher in heavily populated areas, particularly on the West Coast of the U.S., the model helps air quality forecasters and decision-makers alert residents in advance and promotes mitigation methods, such as public transportation, in an effort to avoid conditions conducive to unhealthy ozone level formation. "If we can predict the level of ozone ahead of time, then it's possible that we can do something to combat it," said Balashov. "Ozone needs sunlight but it also needs other precursors to form in the atmosphere, such as chemicals found in vehicle emissions. Reducing vehicle use (on the days when the weather is conducive to the formation of unhealthy ozone concentrations) will reduce the level of emissions that contribute to higher levels of ozone pollution." This new tool for air quality forecasters allows for the evaluation of various ozone pollution scenarios and offers insight into which weather patterns may worsen surface ozone pollution episodes. For example, higher surface temperatures, dry conditions and lighter wind speeds tend to lead to higher surface ozone. The researchers published their results in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. Ozone is one of the six common air pollutants identified in the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, including COPD, chest pain and coughing, and can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma, according to the EPA. It can also cause long-term lung damage. Surface ozone is designated as a pollutant, and the EPA recently reduced the maximum daily 8-hour average threshold from 75 to 70 parts per billion by volume. That sparked a greater need for accurate and probabilistic forecasting, said Balashov.v Current models are expensive to run and are often not available in developing nations because they require precise measurements, expertise and computing power. REGiS would still work in countries that lack these resources because it is based on statistics and historical weather and air quality data. The method combines a series of existing statistical approaches to overcome the weaknesses of each, resulting in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. "REGiS shows how relatively simple artificial intelligence methods can be used to piggy-back forecasts of weather-driven phenomenon, such as air pollution, on existing and freely available global weather forecasts," said George Young, professor of meteorology, Penn State and Balashov's graduate adviser. "The statistical approach taken in REGiS -- weather-pattern recognition guiding pattern-specific statistical models -- can bring both efficiency and skill advantages in a number of forecasting applications." REGiS was evaluated in California's San Joaquin Valley and in northeastern parts of Colorado, where Balashov tested his method using standard statistical metrics. This past summer, the model was used in the Philadelphia area as an operational air-quality forecasting tool alongside existing models. During his previous research in South Africa, Balashov first became interested in studying ozone and its relationship with weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña. "I became inspired to study ozone because I saw how much of a connection there could be between weather patterns and air pollution," said Balashov. "I realized there was a really strong relationship and that we could do more to explore this connection between meteorology and air pollution, which can help to make predictions, especially in places that lack sophisticated models. With this method, you can make air quality forecasts in places such as India and China." Young and Anne M. Thompson, adjunct professor of meteorology, Penn State, and chief scientist for atmospheric chemistry at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and also Balashov's graduate adviser, were co-authors on the paper. A novel air quality model will help air quality forecasters predict surface ozone levels up to 48-hours in advance and with fewer resources, according to a team of meteorologists. The method, called regression in self-organizing map (REGiS), weighs and combines statistical air quality models by pairing them with predicted weather patterns to create probabilistic ozone forecasts. Unlike current chemical transport models, REGiS can predict ozone levels up to 48 hours in advance without requiring significant computational power. Nikolay Balashov, who recently earned his doctorate in meteorology from Penn State, designed this new method by exploring the relationship between air pollutants and meteorological variables. Because ozone levels are higher in heavily populated areas, particularly on the West Coast of the U.S., the model helps air quality forecasters and decision-makers alert residents in advance and promotes mitigation methods, such as public transportation, in an effort to avoid conditions conducive to unhealthy ozone level formation. "If we can predict the level of ozone ahead of time, then it's possible that we can do something to combat it," said Balashov. "Ozone needs sunlight but it also needs other precursors to form in the atmosphere, such as chemicals found in vehicle emissions. Reducing vehicle use (on the days when the weather is conducive to the formation of unhealthy ozone concentrations) will reduce the level of emissions that contribute to higher levels of ozone pollution." This new tool for air quality forecasters allows for the evaluation of various ozone pollution scenarios and offers insight into which weather patterns may worsen surface ozone pollution episodes. For example, higher surface temperatures, dry conditions and lighter wind speeds tend to lead to higher surface ozone. The researchers published their results in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology. Ozone is one of the six common air pollutants identified in the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Air Act. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, including COPD, chest pain and coughing, and can worsen bronchitis, emphysema and asthma, according to the EPA. It can also cause long-term lung damage. Surface ozone is designated as a pollutant, and the EPA recently reduced the maximum daily 8-hour average threshold from 75 to 70 parts per billion by volume. That sparked a greater need for accurate and probabilistic forecasting, said Balashov. Current models are expensive to run and are often not available in developing nations because they require precise measurements, expertise and computing power. REGiS would still work in countries that lack these resources because it is based on statistics and historical weather and air quality data. The method combines a series of existing statistical approaches to overcome the weaknesses of each, resulting in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. "REGiS shows how relatively simple artificial intelligence methods can be used to piggy-back forecasts of weather-driven phenomenon, such as air pollution, on existing and freely available global weather forecasts," said George Young, professor of meteorology, Penn State and Balashov's graduate adviser. "The statistical approach taken in REGiS -- weather-pattern recognition guiding pattern-specific statistical models -- can bring both efficiency and skill advantages in a number of forecasting applications." REGiS was evaluated in California's San Joaquin Valley and in northeastern parts of Colorado, where Balashov tested his method using standard statistical metrics. This past summer, the model was used in the Philadelphia area as an operational air-quality forecasting tool alongside existing models. During his previous research in South Africa, Balashov first became interested in studying ozone and its relationship with weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña. "I became inspired to study ozone because I saw how much of a connection there could be between weather patterns and air pollution," said Balashov. "I realized there was a really strong relationship and that we could do more to explore this connection between meteorology and air pollution, which can help to make predictions, especially in places that lack sophisticated models. With this method, you can make air quality forecasts in places such as India and China." Young and Anne M. Thompson, adjunct professor of meteorology, Penn State, and chief scientist for atmospheric chemistry at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center and also Balashov's graduate adviser, were co-authors on the paper. NASA, through air quality grants, supported this research.


News Article | February 27, 2017
Site: www.businesswire.com

LYNCHBURG, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: BWXT) ("BWXT" or the "Company") today reported fourth quarter 2016 revenues of $403.9 million, 11% growth compared to $363.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. GAAP earnings per share (EPS) for the fourth quarter of 2016 were $0.34 compared to $0.00 in the fourth quarter of 2015. Adjusted (non-GAAP) EPS from continuing operations for the fourth quarter of 2016 were $0.46 compared to $0.38 in the fourth quarter of 2015. A reconciliation of non-GAAP results is detailed in Exhibit 1. Unless stated otherwise, the results of operations discussed in this release are on a continuing operations basis and exclude the results of operations from our former Power Generation business, which are included as part of discontinued operations in the attached financial statements. GAAP EPS for the full year 2016, which include a $0.14 per share impact of non-cash, mark-to-market loss for pension and other post-retirement benefits, increased to $1.76 compared to $1.31 in 2015. Adjusted EPS for the full year 2016 increased 24% to $1.76 versus adjusted EPS of $1.42 in the prior year. In the fourth quarter of 2016, we adopted new stock compensation accounting rules retrospectively, which resulted in $0.02 per share of additional earnings through reduced provision for income taxes during the nine months ended September 30, 2016. "BWXT closed an outstanding 2016 with an exciting fourth quarter, successfully delivering on our commitments to our customers and our shareholders," said Mr. John A. Fees, Executive Chairman. "We completed the high-quality, strategic acquisition of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., which is now called BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada Inc. With the provincial government's strong commitment to nuclear energy and a low-carbon energy portfolio, we expect to expand the Nuclear Energy business's product and service offering to the Canadian nuclear market and we believe the Canadian refurbishment activities offer significant long-term growth opportunities to BWXT. Our Nuclear Operations business continued to produce near record results and our Nuclear Energy business achieved a 20.3% operating profit margin for the year, which was an 11.8% adjusted operating profit margin when the impact of a reversal of a $16.1 million loss contingency is excluded. Lastly, we continued to increase return to shareholders by repurchasing $293 million of BWXT stock in 2016, increasing our dividend by 50%, and outperforming the market (S&P 500) by more than 1,500 basis points.” The Company’s consolidated GAAP operating income for the fourth quarter of 2016 was $45.8 million compared to GAAP operating income of $9.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. Adjusted (non-GAAP) operating income for the fourth quarter of 2016 was $71.8 million compared to adjusted (non-GAAP) operating income of $62.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. The increase in GAAP and non-GAAP operating income compared to the prior year period was driven by increases in our Nuclear Operations and Nuclear Energy segments’ operating income. Nuclear Operations segment revenues increased approximately 10.3% to $331.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to $300.4 million in the same quarter of 2015 due to increased activity in component manufacturing. Nuclear Operations operating income was a near record $76.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2016, almost 17% higher than the $65.5 million in the prior year period. Revenues from our Nuclear Energy segment grew 18.7% to $49.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to $41.7 million in the prior year period, primarily due to higher volume in the equipment business related to the Bruce Power refurbishment activities. Nuclear Energy's operating income was $3.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2016, ahead of the prior year period operating income of $1.6 million. Technical Services segment revenues reached $25.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared to $22.4 million in the same quarter of 2015 due to increased management and operations activity at certain sites. Consistent with expectations, Technical Services operating income decreased to $1.8 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 from $2.6 million in the prior year period due to increased business development costs, finishing the year within our previously provided guidance range. "BWXT accomplished several key strategic initiatives this year and we are excited about the upcoming prospects for all of our segments as we head into 2017," said Mr. Fees. "Our Nuclear Operations business has a record backlog and several near-term organic growth opportunities related to options that the Navy is considering for expansion of their submarine and aircraft carrier fleet. Our Nuclear Energy segment is positioned for long-term growth as it supports ongoing outage work and the refurbishment activities at Ontario Power Generation and Bruce Power. Furthermore, the addition of BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada to our Canadian Nuclear Energy business is expected to open up new growth opportunities in CANDU fuel, equipment and services. We continue to invest in a robust pipeline of opportunities in the Technical Service segment, and we intend to begin restoring that business to higher levels of profitability over the next few years. Lastly, we remain committed to our balanced capital allocation approach and continue to evaluate opportunities for acquired growth and strategic investments." The Company had net cash from operating activities of $147.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared with net cash from operating activities of $96.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. At the end of the fourth quarter, the Company’s cash and investments position, net of restricted cash, was $149.2 million. As of December 31, 2016, outstanding balances under our credit facility included $285.0 million on our original term loan, $246.0 million term loans made available to us through the September amendment, and letters of credit issued under the facility totaling $154.9 million. As a result, the Company has $245.1 million of remaining availability under our credit facility, taking into account the additional capacity provided by the amendment. The remaining availability excludes the additional $250 million accordion provision. During 2016, the Company paid a total of $293 million to repurchase shares, including $200 million for an accelerated share repurchase (ASR) that we entered into during the third quarter. As of December 31, 2016, $43.0 million remained under our current $300 million share repurchase authorization. On February 24, 2017, our Board of Directors authorized the repurchase of up to $150 million of additional shares over a three year period ending on February 24, 2020. On February 24, 2017, our Board of Directors declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.09 per common share within restrictions allowed due to the recent ASR. The dividend will be payable on March 29, 2017, to shareholders of record on March 10, 2017. The Company expects to achieve consolidated revenues between $1.60 billion and $1.70 billion in 2017. Adjusted earnings per share for 2017 are expected to be between $1.85 and $1.95, which excludes mark-to-market adjustments for pension and post-retirement benefits. The Company also expects the following for 2017: Beyond 2017, we anticipate an EPS CAGR in the low double digits over the next 3-5 years based upon our robust organic growth strategy and remaining balance sheet capacity. Starting with the quarter ending March 31, 2017, we will report our results in the following three business segments: Date: Tuesday, February 28, 2017, at 8:30 a.m. EST Live Webcast: Investor Relations section of website at www.bwxt.com BWXT cautions that this release contains forward-looking statements, including, without limitation, statements relating to backlog, to the extent they may be viewed as an indicator of future revenues, anticipated benefits of the acquisition of GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., management’s plans and expectations for our Nuclear Energy segment and Canadian Nuclear Energy business, potential growth opportunities in our Nuclear Operations segment, management’s intentions for our Technical Services business, as well as our outlook and guidance for 2017. These forward-looking statements are based on management’s current expectations and involve a number of risks and uncertainties, including, among other things, our ability to execute contracts in backlog; the lack of, or adverse changes in, Federal appropriations to government programs in which we participate; the demand for and competitiveness of nuclear power; capital priorities of power generating utilities; adverse changes in the industries in which we operate and delays, changes or termination of contracts in backlog. If one or more of these risks or other risks materialize, actual results may vary materially from those expressed. For a more complete discussion of these and other risk factors, see BWXT’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including our annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2016 and subsequent quarterly reports on Form 10-Q. BWXT cautions not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this release, and undertakes no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statement, except to the extent required by applicable law. Headquartered in Lynchburg, Va., BWX Technologies, Inc. (NYSE:BWXT) is a leading supplier of nuclear components and fuel to the U.S. government; provides technical and management services to support the U.S. government in the operation of complex facilities and environmental remediation activities; and supplies precision manufactured components, services and fuel for the commercial nuclear power industry. With approximately 6,000 employees, BWXT has nine major operating sites in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, BWXT joint ventures provide management and operations at a dozen U.S. Department of Energy and two National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) facilities. Follow us on Twitter @BWXTech and learn more at www.bwxt.com.


News Article | February 23, 2017
Site: boingboing.net

Frog saliva is even stranger than scientists expected Frog tongue mechanism has been well-documented, but only recently have scientists started looking at the remarkable combo of tongue softness and frog spit's chemical makeup . Last year, MIT News editor Maya Weinstock submitted her Women of NASA minifigures design to LEGO Ideas. LEGO has just approved the idea and laster this year or early 2018 will release an official minifig set of these five inspiring women in science: Margaret Hamilton, computer scientist: While working at MIT under contract with NASA […] Psychology journal editor asked to resign for refusing to review papers unless he can see the data Psychologist Gert Storms doesn’t want to review scientific papers if their authors refuse to share with him the underlying data. The American Psychological Association (APA), which publishes the journal he edits, has asked him to resign. Nature.com’s Gautam Naik reports that the effort to force him out is a test of The Peer Reviewer’s Opennness […] Swiss Army Knives are pretty standard everyday carry items for their utilitarian bent, which has made them the standard bearer for competing EDC multi-tools. This one, however, is a little different. It’s been engineered specifically for smokers.The beauty of The High Knife is that it comes with all the tools you would expect from a Swiss Army Knife—a […] Truly wireless earbuds for greater listening, calling, and dancing flexibility These featherweight 1Voice Bluetooth Earbuds give you truly wireless flexibility – there’s no sneaky wire connecting the two buds behind your head, while an elite CSR Bluetooth 4.2 chipset provides a crisp, static-free audio stream. Even with all that low maintenance, these buds still feature active noise cancellation, a rare feature on any “wireless” in-ear buds, and […] The $500 Lyft Credit GiveawayDriving to work every day can take its toll on you, no pun intended. Take some time away from your tedious commute and get driven to work by Lyft. This $500 credit is enough to cover a $10 commute and parking for a full month. Even if you work from home, […]


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

Strategic Communications announced today it has achieved Cisco® Gold Certification. To earn Gold Certification, Strategic Communications met rigorous standards set forth by Cisco in networking competency, service, support and customer satisfaction. “The Strategic Team has been working on this effort for the past two years, we are delighted we have met our goal in achieving Cisco Gold Certification”, says Kathy Mills – Owner and CEO of Strategic Communications. “This accomplishment required hard work, diligence and sacrifice from the entire Strategic Team. Strategic Communications is looking forward to building a stronger business relationship with the Cisco Team.” The Cisco® Channel Partner Program provides a framework for partners to build the sales, technical and Cisco Lifecycle Services skills required to deliver Cisco solutions to end customers. Through the program's specializations and certifications, Cisco recognizes a partner's expertise in deploying solutions based on Cisco advanced technologies and services. Using a third-party audit process, the program validates a partner’s technology skills, business practices, customer satisfaction, presales and post-sales support capabilities, and other critical factors that customers consider when choosing a trusted partner. As a Cisco Gold Certified Partner, Strategic Communications has met the requirements for attaining the broadest range of expertise across multiple technologies by achieving Cisco advanced specializations in the four following areas: enterprise networks architecture, security architecture, collaboration architecture and data center architecture. In addition, Strategic Communications has integrated Cisco Hybrid IT, the resale of cloud and managed services, into its offerings and is required to ensure high customer satisfaction in collaboration with Cisco. Cisco Gold Certification provides Strategic Communications with access to comprehensive sales, technical, and lifecycle services training and support available from Cisco. Strategic Communications is a Women Owned Small Business technology company based in Louisville, KY. Founded in 1994, Strategic’s Federal, Commercial, SLED and Engineering Team has provided an array of Networking, Collaboration, AV/VTC, Security and Cloud solutions to resolve their customer’s business challenges. Strategic’s customer base includes The United States DOD and Civilian Agencies, and many Fortune 500 companies. Strategic was awarded a multitude of government contracts including NASA SEWP V, NITAAC CIO-CS, SPAWAR, SEAPORT-E, SOCOM, Centcom, AFRL, MCNOSC, UHUHS, GITM, NAVALWARFARE, NASPO ValuePoint, and many others. Cisco and the Cisco logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Cisco and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and other countries. A listing of Cisco's trademarks can be found at http://www.cisco.com/go/trademarks. Third-party trademarks mentioned are the property of their respective owners. The use of the word partner does not imply a partnership relationship between Cisco and any other company.


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

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted something great about 40 light-years (or about 229 trillion miles) from Earth. It's not a black hole, an exploding star, or an alien ship, but a system of seven temperate terrestrial planets revolving around a young, ultracool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1, named after The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope in Chile. The latest discovery is unprecedented. All of the planets in the system could have water, with the chances of liquid water higher on the three planets within the habitable zone. Yes, not unlike in our own solar system with one planet in the Goldilocks Zone, TRAPPIST-1 has three worlds that might have the best conditions to support life. TRAPPIST-1 is a red dwarf or M-dwarf star. Such stars outnumber and outlast yellow stars like our own sun. The multimillion-dollar telescope in Chile was glued observing the young star over 21 days to measure the drop in light as the planets around it passed in front of it. It is far from being a simple process but in English, it involved watching out for tiny specks eclipsing the 500-million-year-old star to determine their mass, sizes, and possible atmospheric properties. "The majority of stars are M-dwarfs, which are faint and small and not very luminous. So the majority of places where you would look for planets are around these cool, small stars. We are interested in the nearest stars, and the nearest stars are mostly M-dwarfs," said Martin Still, program scientist at NASA headquarters in Washington. TRAPPIST-1 is about the size of Jupiter with the planets around it roughly similar to Earth's size and mass. Below is a video by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California Institute of Technology that provides an overview of how the planets were discovered: Revolving around TRAPPIST 1 are planets simply named as TRAPPIST-1 b, c, d, e, f, g and h. Using the data obtained by Spitzer, scientists determined that the planets are likely to be rocky. Further studies are needed to determine if they could have liquid water or other secrets. The outermost planet's mass has not been determined and it might be an icy world. The planets might also be tidally locked to TRAPPIST-1. This means that one side is always facing the star. Having a perpetual day one one side and perpetual night on the other has big implications on what the weather could be like on such planets. Below is an artist's concept of how the planets might look like and a tabulation of their distances from TRAPPIST-1, radii, masses, and orbital periods as compared to Earth. Here are two more images that basically compare the alien solar system to our own, and another image about the habitable zone of TRAPPIST-1: In case you're wondering what it will be like on the surface of one these alien worlds, check out the NASA VR that puts us on the surface of TRAPPIST-1d. Enjoy the 360-degree view: With such interesting findings come the usual questions. Are there life forms on TRAPPIST-1? Have we made contact with aliens? Can we someday move and live on these planets? Whether there is life or not will remain a big question for a long time. There will be experts who will say a straight no while there will be those who will say perhaps. "We've come up with these theoretical reasons why such a planet might struggle to be habitable. Then we look at those theoretical concerns with a little bit more detail, and find out it's not that big of a concern. Then some other theoretical concern crops up," said NASA research space scientist Shawn Domagal-Goldman. TRAPPIST-1 is a very young star compared to our sun. Like other young stars, it is in its tantrum stage where it blasts nearby planets with a great amount of radiation and lethal flares. Some think that life might exist and adapt is such harsh environments. "Maybe the atmosphere can recover, and it's just fine. You have regular events, but life is used to this. It just deals with it. We certainly see life on Earth capable of hibernating for very extended periods of time. We see that life goes into a state where it shuts down, sometimes for years or decades. So I think we shouldn't, probably, rule it out, but we should put a lot of effort into studying whether this is a place where we think life could thrive," said senior scientist Tom Barclay of the NASA Ames Research Center in California. Follow-up studies are planned using Spitzer, Kepler and Hubble. A more sensitive telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, that will be operation starting 2018 will also be tapped. In combination, these equipment will help scientists get to know the planets of TRAPPIST-1 more and determine if they are really habitable. The findings of scientists about TRAPPIST-1 appear in the journal Nature. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.wired.com

You may have heard me say this before, but I firmly believe there are few topics more fundamental to study than the workings of our planet. The earth sciences aim to unravel how the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere operate—and how they operate together. It is a science of synthesis. And it’s one that needs to move forward, both because of the great service the earth sciences perform for society and the understanding of world-shaping processes that they advance. Now, earth scientists are not always the first researchers you see on TV or in articles about science, even if the topic is plainly within their realm. Since the days of Carl Sagan, the physicists have carved out a nice role as the most prominent popular science communicators. There isn’t anything wrong with that. But earth scientists are experts on the Earth—and when questions arise about climate, hazards, and resources, it makes sense to reach out to the researchers who have the most knowledge and expertise in those earthy topics. Even though physicists have the strongest voice in science communication, there are many more outlets for earth scientists to spread their knowledge. The free flow of communication from scientist-to-scientist and scientist-to-public is the key to making sure the country continues to value science: funding research across all sciences, appreciating and acting on the results, and continuing to give scientists the freedom to accumulate and interpret data to draw evidence-based conclusions. This isn’t some vast conspiracy of scientists trying to get rich, but rather people dedicated to knowing how the planet operates. If you’re excited about learning about earth science, a great way to start is to follow earth scientists and earth science organizations on Twitter. Many of us strongly value communicating with the public, mostly because we’re just that excited about what the science is doing and discovering. So I’ve created a list of people and organizations to follow to get you started in earth science. Scientists are people, so expect a lot of science but also a lot of other things that make them tick (or make them angry, or thrilled). This, by no means, is an all-inclusive list. Rather, it’s a cherry-picked list of my favorites. If you have other earth scientists who you think need a follow, leave them in the comments and I can amend the post over time—especially with international and non-English language geoTweeters. Give me a reason to add them so I can add details for people looking for science on Twitter. @drlucyjones: Dr. Lucy Jones is an earthquake expert who recently retired after years of service with the U.S. Geological Survey. She quells a lot of the crazy ideas and “predictions” people have about earthquakes, especially in California. @allochthonous and @highlyanne: This duo write Highly Allochthonous and run all-geo.org. Both faculty at Kent State University, Anne Jefferson studies water, especially in urban environments while Chris Rowan works on paleomagnetism and tectonics. Both are strong advocates for science, science communication and diversity/inclusivity in the sciences. @Tessa_M_Hill: Tessa Hill is a professor at UC Davis and an expert on climate and oceans. She is also (along with the aforementioned Anne Jefferson) an AAAS Public Engagement Fellow. @seis_matters: Christopher Jackson studies basin analysis (in other words, how sediment and tectonics creates and fills valleys and depressions on Earth) at Imperial College. He’s also about to head off on a lecture tour for the Geological Society of America. @lava_ice: Ben Edwards is a volcanologist at Dickinson College working on volcanoes in far-flung places like Iceland and Chile. He also likes to dabble in making his own volcanoes with the help of the folks at Syracuse University. @methanoJen: Jen Glass is faculty Georgia Tech and studies geobiochemistry and how microbes impact methane production. She’s a prolific tweeter and activist as well, trying to protect the freedom of speech for scientists and making science as open and accepting as possible. @PopePolar: Allen Pope studies glaciers, snow and ice using satellites. He’s an invaluable resource for keeping track of how climate change in impacting our frozen water. @janinekrippner and @alisongraeting: Together, Janine Krippner and Alison Graetinger keep track of all the volcanic events that even I have troubling keeping up with. Beyond that, they run In the Company of Volcanoes as well. @guertin: Dr. Laura Guertin is passionate about geoscience education and getting students involved in research to get them excited about earth sciences. @tuff_cookie: Jessica Ball is a volcanologist currently with the USGS and a former Geological Society of America Congressional Fellow. She also writes Magma Cum Laude on the AGU Geoblogs. @callanbentley: Callan Bentley is faculty at Northern Virginia Community College and a prolific blogger, tweeter and geologic illustrator. @davidmpyle: David Pyle is a distinguished professor at Oxford University, an author of several books on volcanoes and an important drive of Oxford Sparks and STREVA (strengthening resilience to natural hazards in volcanic areas). @TTremblingEarth: Austin Elliot is a post-doctoral researcher studying active tectonics and also writes (and tweets) about earthquakes. If you need even more (and you do), Ron Schott (@rschott) keeps an exhaustive list of geologists on Twitter. And there is also yours truly: @eruptionsblog @USGS and @USGSVolcanoes: The U.S. Geological Survey has a ton of useful Twitter accounts to shell out lots of great information. You can start with the main survey account and I, of course, recommend the Volcanoes account to keep track of all the rumblings of the volcanoes monitored by the USGS. If earthquakes interest you, try @USGSBigQuakes. @theAGU and @AGU_Eos: These two are the main account for the American Geophysical Union and the Union’s magazine, Eos. You’ll find tweets on new earth science research, posts from the great AGU blog network and statements of policy from AGU (@AGUSciPolicy), including their letter denouncing restrictions on how scientists can communicate. If you’re into volcanoes, you can also try the @AGUvgp account for the Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology group. @GlacierHub: The account for Glacier Hub, a nexus of information about glaciers and the impact that changing climate has on glaciers along with the communities impacts by glaciers. @trowelblazers: This account sends out links and information about the multitude of women who had played important roles in the history of archaeology, palaeontology & geology along with what women are doing across these fields today. @geosociety: The Geological Society of America, bringing you new earth science research and links to fascinating articles on our planet from across the internet. @EuroGeosciences and @EGU_GMPV: The European Geosciences Union, the European twin of AGU along with their section of Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Petrology, Volcanology. @STREVAProject: I mentioned the STREVA (strengthening resilience to natural hazards in volcanic areas) Project above, but it deserves it’s own listing. The Project looks to help areas in danger from volcanic activity through outreach and research. You should also check out my post on the various volcano observatories you can follow on Twitter. Journalists (again, just some of my favorite science journalists, but there are many, many more out there!) @alexwitze: Alexandra Witze writes for Nature and is the co-author of Island on Fire about the eruption of Laki in Iceland. @elakdawalla: Emily Lakdawalla writes for the Planetary Society about space exploration and extraterrestrial geology. @mikamckinnon: Mika McKinnon is a trained geophysicist and a freelance science writer (along with sci-fi science consultant) @SJVatn: Scott Johnson is science journalist for Ars Technica and science editor for Climate Feedback. @teideano: David Calvo is a member of INVOLCAN (@involcan), a volcano monitoring group in the Canary Islands and a radio/TV personality covering science. @aboutgeology: Andrew Alden has been writing about geology on the internet longer than most people and has wrote some fascinating stuff about the geology of the Bay Area (amongst many other topics). @david_bressan: David Bressan writes about geology for Forbes, tackling the long and winding history of the discipline. @earthmagazine: As the title implies, Earth magazine digs deep into the planet to cover all the news and research in geosciences. Looking at Earth (I’m a big fan of satellite views of Earth, and you should be too!) @NASAEarth: The NASA Earth Observatory has thousands of amazing images of the planet and keeps them coming on our ever-changing world. They also help us visualize the vast amount of data that can be collected by earth-observing satellites. @NASA_Landsat: This account follows all the great work done by the NASA/USGS Landsat missions that watch the planet. @Landsatbot: This automated account is great if you like random satellite views of the planet from Landsat 8. Sometimes they are an area of geologic wonder, sometimes they are “unnamed location” in the middle of the ocean or arctic. @Planetlabs: Their armada of Doves are some of the newest earth observing satellites.


ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports on the White House reaction to the House Republicans' plan and obstacles the bill may face before it could become law. Protesters marched in front of the White House on the day Trump signed a revised travel ban that removes Iraq from the list of banned majority-Muslim countries and removes the indefinite ban on Syrian refugees. ABC News chief legal analyst Dan Abrams analyzes the legality of President Trump's revised executive order and the potential legal challenges it could face. The White House says Trump has likely not spoken with FBI Director James Comey, who reportedly asked the Justice Department to knock down Trump's Twitter claims that former President Obama ordered wiretapping on him. The U.S. response came as North Korea state media said recent missile tests ordered by North Korea's Kim Jong Un were "practice" for hitting U.S. military bases in the region. Trump's tweets accusing former President Obama of ordering wiretapping on him at Trump Tower came after similar reports aired on Fox News, alt-right site Breitbart News and conservative host Mark Levin's talk show. Newsmax Media CEO Chris Ruddy tells "GMA" what he believes prompted Trump to tweet allegations that former President Obama had ordered a wiretap on him. "Missing Richard Simmons" was started by Simmons' former friend Dan Taberski after Simmons disappeared from the public eye on Feb. 15, 2014. Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA research mathematicians portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures," received a standing ovation at the Academy Awards on Sunday. Katherine Johnson, one of the NASA research mathematicians portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures," received a standing ovation at the Academy Awards on Sunday. Johnson, portrayed in the movie by Taraji P. Henson, worked for NASA as a research mathematician for more than 30 years, according to NASA's website. Appearing at the Dolby Theatre, Johnson, now 98 years old, thanked the crowd for their support. Johnson was instrumental in Alan Shepard's journey to become the first American in space and in John Glenn's mission to become the first American to orbit the Earth. She, along with the other women of color in the program, dealt with segregation in Jim Crow-era Virginia where NASA's Langley Research Center was located. Johnson didn't anticipate the success she would find at NASA, telling the Los Angeles Times that she "did what we were asked to do to the best of the ability." "I was just excited to have challenging work to do and smart people to work with," she said. Johnson has said she approves of her portrayal in the film. "Go see 'Hidden Figures,' and take a young person," she told the Los Angeles Times last month when asked how to get more women and people of color involved in STEM careers. "It will give a more positive outlook on what is possible if you work hard, do your best and are prepared."


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

Eugene Cernan, or Gene, as he was popularly known, was NASA's leading astronaut for 13 years and best known for spending three days on the moon's surface in December 1972. Recognized as the "last man to walk on the moon," Cernan's achievement is one of great value to humankind. The fact that his footprints remain, bear testament to what one can achieve if they have an undying spirit. "Even at the age of 82, Gene was passionate about sharing his desire to see the continued human exploration of space and encouraged our nation's leaders and young people to not let him remain the last man to walk on the Moon," shared the Cernan family. Cernon's final goodbye from the moon is as revered, cherished and loved as was Neil Armstrong's first sentence spoken from the moon. The details of his death were not known immediately, but Cernan's family claims it followed ongoing health issues. NASA has lost two of their prominent astronauts at rather short intervals. It is a little over a month since the death of astronaut John Glenn and the world has lost yet another man of brilliance. "Our family is heartbroken, of course, and we truly appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers. Gene, as he was known by so many, was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend," said the family. Eugene Cernan: The Man Behind The Moon Walk Eugene Cernan was born on March14, 1934, in Chicago, Illinois. He pursued Electrical Engineering from Purdue University in 1956 and received a Bachelor of Science degree on its completion. While he was pursuing his Bachelors, he received a Navy ROTC program which led to flight training upon graduation. He went on to earn a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. In October 1963, he was selected as one of the 14 astronauts for the Apollo program which aimed to send humans to the moon. Cernan also participated in NASA's second human spaceflight program - the Gemini Missions. As a result he became the second human to walk in space during the Gemini IX mission in 1966 led by pilot Thoman Stafford. In May1969, on his second stint, Cernan was the pilot of Apollo 10's comprehensive lunar-orbital qualification and verification flight test of its lunar module. This was the wonderful beginning to his journey. He was the Commander of Apollo 17, the last lunar mission and of the final Apollo flights in December, 1972. Cernan logged 566 hours and 15 minutes in space, of which 73 hours were spent on the surface of the moon, according to NASA. He retired from the Navy as well as NASA in 1976. Cernan's death leaves the world 6 astronauts who have walked the moon. He is survived by his wife Jenna, his daughter, nine grandchildren and two step daughters © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Schnittman J.D.,NASA | Schnittman J.D.,Joint Space Science Institute JSI
Physical Review Letters | Year: 2014

We present a new upper limit on the energy that may be extracted from a Kerr black hole by means of particle collisions in the ergosphere (i.e., the "collisional Penrose process"). Earlier work on this subject has focused largely on particles with critical values of angular momentum falling into an extremal Kerr black hole from infinity and colliding just outside the horizon. While these collisions are able to reach arbitrarily high center-of-mass energies, it is very difficult for the reaction products to escape back to infinity, effectively limiting the peak efficiency of such a process to roughly 130%. When we allow one of the initial particles to have impact parameter b>2M, and thus not get captured by the horizon, it is able to collide along outgoing trajectories, greatly increasing the chance that the products can escape. For equal-mass particles annihilating to photons, we find a greatly increased peak energy of Eout≈6×Ein. For Compton scattering, the efficiency can go even higher, with Eout≈14×Ein, and for repeated scattering events, photons can both be produced and escape to infinity with Planck-scale energies. © 2014 Published by the American Physical Society.


Allen S.W.,Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology | Allen S.W.,SLAC | Evrard A.E.,University of Michigan | Mantz A.B.,NASA
Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2011

Studies of galaxy clusters have proved crucial in helping to establish the standard model of cosmology, with a Universe dominated by dark matter and dark energy. A theoretical basis that describes clusters as massive, multicomponent, quasi-equilibrium systems is growing in its capability to interpret multiwavelength observations of expanding scope and sensitivity. We review current cosmological results, including contributions to fundamental physics, obtained from observations of galaxy clusters. These results are consistent with and complementary to those from other methods. We highlight several areas of opportunity for the next few years, and emphasize the need for accurate modeling of survey selection and sources of systematic error. Capitalizing on these opportunities will require a multiwavelength approach and the application of rigorous statistical frameworks, utilizing the combined strengths of observers, simulators, and theorists. © 2011 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


Corke T.C.,University of Notre Dame | Enloe C.L.,U.S. Air force | Wilkinson S.P.,NASA
Annual Review of Fluid Mechanics | Year: 2010

The term plasma actuator has now been a part of the fluid dynamics flow-control vernacular for more than a decade. A particular type of plasma actuator that has gained wide use is based on a singleâ€" dielectric barrier discharge (SDBD) mechanism that has desirable features for use in air at atmospheric pressures. For these actuators, the mechanism of flow control is through a generated body-force vector field that couples with the momentum in the external flow. The body force can be derived from first principles, and the effect of plasma actuators can be easily incorporated into flow solvers so that their placement and operation can be optimized. They have been used in a wide range of internal and external flow applications. Although initially considered useful only at low speeds, plasma actuators are effective in a number of applications at high subsonic, transonic, and supersonic Mach numbers, owing largely to more optimized actuator designs that were developed through better understanding and modeling of the actuator physics. New applications continue to appear through a growing number of programs in the United States, Germany, France, England, the Netherlands, Russia, Australia, Japan, and China. This review provides an overview of the physics and modeling of SDBD plasma actuators. It highlights some of the capabilities of plasma actuators through examples from experiments and simulations. Copyright © 2010 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


News Article | February 21, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

New research from The University of Texas at Austin reveals that the Earth's unique iron composition isn't linked to the formation of the planet's core, calling into question a prevailing theory about the events that shaped our planet during its earliest years. The research, published in Nature Communications on Feb. 20, opens the door for other competing theories about why the Earth, relative to other planets, has higher levels of heavy iron isotopes. Among them: light iron isotopes may have been vaporized into space by a large impact with another planet that formed the moon; the slow churning of the mantle as it makes and recycles the Earth's crust may preferentially incorporate heavy iron into rock; or, the composition of the raw material that formed the planet in its earliest days may have been enriched with heavy iron. An isotope is a variety of atom that has a different weight from other atoms of the same element because it has a different numbers of neutrons. "The Earth's core formation was probably the biggest event affecting Earth's history. Materials that make up the whole Earth were melted and differentiated," said Jung-Fu Lin, a professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences and one of the study's authors. "But in this study, we say that there must be other origins for Earth's iron isotope anomaly." Jin Liu, now a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, led the research while earning his Ph.D. at the Jackson School. Collaborators include scientists from The University of Chicago, Sorbonne Universities in France, Argonne National Laboratory, the Center for High Pressure Science and Advanced Technology Research in China, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rock samples from other planetary bodies and objects--ranging from the moon, to Mars, to ancient meteorites called chondrites--all share about the same ratio of heavy to light iron isotopes. In comparison to these samples from space, rocks from Earth have about 0.01 percent more heavy iron isotopes than light isotopes. That might not sound like much, but Lin said it's significant enough to make the Earth's iron composition unique among known worlds. "This 0.01 percent anomaly is very significant compared with, say, chondrites," Lin said. "This significant difference thus represents a different source or origin of our planet." Lin said that one of the most popular theories to explain the Earth's iron signature is that the relatively large size of the planet (compared with other rocky bodies in the solar system) created high pressure and high temperature conditions during core formation that made different proportions of heavy and light iron isotopes accumulate in the core and mantle. This resulted in a larger share of heavy iron isotopes bonding with elements that make up the rocky mantle, while lighter iron isotopes bonded together and with other trace metals to form the Earth's core. But when the research team used a diamond anvil to subject small samples of metal alloys and silicate rocks to core formation pressures, they not only found that the iron isotopes stayed put, but that the bonds between iron and other elements got stronger. Instead of breaking and rebonding with common mantle or core elements, the initial bond configuration got sturdier. "Our high pressure studies find that iron isotopic fractionation between silicate mantle and metal core is minimal," said Liu, the lead author. Co-author Nicolas Dauphas, a professor at the University of Chicago, emphasized that analyzing the atomic scale measurements was a feat unto itself. "One has to use sophisticated mathematical techniques to make sense of the measurements," he said. "It took a dream team to pull this off." Helen Williams, a geology lecturer at the University of Cambridge, said it's difficult to know the physical conditions of Earth's core formation, but that the high pressures in the experiment make for a more realistic simulation. "This is a really elegant study using a highly novel approach that confirms older experimental results and extends them to much higher pressures appropriate to the likely conditions of core-mantle equilibrium on Earth," Williams said. Lin said it will take more research to uncover the reason for the Earth's unique iron signature, and that experiments that approximate early conditions on Earth will play a key role because rocks from the core are impossible to attain. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research, NASA, the French National Research Agency, and the Consortium for Materials Properties Research in Earth Sciences.


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

You never see it in those lovely NASA pictures of Earth, but the space surrounding our pale blue dot is a cosmic junkyard. Debris abounds, moving at ludicrous speeds and presenting plenty of hassles for satellite operators who do business in orbit. This pollution poses an existential risk for greater commercialization of space, from the grand ambitions of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Corp. and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin LLC to other players who see promising futures for an array of space activities, from tourism, to imaging, to pharmaceutical research. In low-earth orbit, space debris travels at velocities approaching 5 miles per second—roughly 18,000 mph—which gives even the tiniest bits of junk enormous destructive energy. A 1-centimeter-wide aluminum sphere in low-earth orbit packs the kinetic equivalent of a safe moving at 60 mph. If it hits your satellite, well, that could ruin the whole day. Aggregate too much debris in certain areas, and low-earth orbit becomes an increasingly difficult and far costlier environment for commercial companies. Today, satellite operators periodically maneuver their birds to avoid object strikes just as NASA must do with the International Space Station. The key, however, is knowing what’s headed your way. “Knowing where stuff is is the first part of the problem,” said Bill Ailor, a research fellow at the Aerospace Corp., which specializes in tracking space debris. “Over the longer term we need to be getting much better [tracking] data so satellite operators don’t move unnecessarily.” To that end, some entrepreneurs see profit potential in helping to catalog better all that junk up there, the detritus of decades of unmanned and manned space flight. From launch, to operations, to disposal, satellite operators need help monitoring orbital paths and the potential for objects to stray into a collision course. One such business is LeoLabs Inc., of Menlo Park, Calif. Spun out of research center SRI International last year, the company announced Monday it raised has $4 million from a group of investors, including Airbus Ventures, the San Jose, Calif.-based venture capital fund established by Airbus Group SE two years ago. LeoLab’s radar technology, to be used to keep an eye on all those pieces of high-speed trouble, evolved from research into earth’s ionosphere at SRI. Also Monday, LeoLabs said it has opened a second radar-tracking facility, in Midland, Texas, joining one in central Alaska. Ultimately, the company aims to have a half dozen such sites. LeoLabs says its two radar centers can track 95 percent of the 13,000 larger objects in low-earth orbit that the U.S. Defense Department monitors. The company plans to track almost 250,000 objects as its radar network expands. “Commercial space in low-earth orbit is growing so rapidly we really have to run quickly to keep up,” Dan Ceperley, LeoLabs’ chief executive officer, said in an interview. The clutter in low-earth orbit has grown rapidly over the past decade. In January 2007, the Chinese government destroyed an aged weather satellite in a missile test, creating what was estimated to be 2,500 pieces of new debris. That was followed by the February 2009 collision of a defunct 1,900-pound Russian Cosmos satellite with a 1,200-pound Iridium Communications Inc. satellite 490 miles above Siberia, generating even more orbital waste. “Both of those events greatly increased the amount of debris in the near-Earth space environment, thus pushing the threat posed by orbital debris even further toward what was described more than 15 years ago as ‘on the verge of becoming significant,’” the National Research Council wrote in a 2011 report. Another potential threat lies with the European Space Agency’s Envisat earth-observation satellite, an eight-ton, 30-foot-long behemoth that ceased responding in April 2012. Envisat orbits at an altitude of 480 miles in a place where it could become a source of significant debris should it be struck. In its current state, the satellite will orbit for about 150 years before it degrades and falls into the atmosphere. Yet even though there’s plenty of junk to track, the U.S. has been generous about sharing data with its neighbors on the size of the stuff flying by and on where it is. Historically, the U.S. Department of Defense has been the most authoritative tracker in deploying technology to monitor objects that could threaten satellites, both military and civilian, and NASA missions. The U.S. military now tracks some 20,000 orbital objects via radar and maintains a public database that satellite operators and others can consult. The Air Force also alerts operators to potential collisions and has contracted with Lockheed Martin Corp. to construct a $1 billion next-generation “Space Fence” radar system capable of tracking as many as 200,000 objects. The new fence “will be able to track objects as small as a peanut M&M in low-earth orbit,” a Lockheed project manager said in November, when the Air Force and Army opened a new Air Force Space Fence Operations Center in Huntsville, Ala. The project is expected to become operational late next year. Ceperley, the LeoLabs’ CEO, says this public largesse about data sharing won’t dent business for commercial debris monitors. That’s because many operators are eager for richer automated data, greater debris detail and resolution, plus longer lead times for trajectory predictions, which would allow for better traffic management. As part of its service package, LeoLabs can also customize data to a customer’s specific needs. Low-earth orbit is likely to see even more business ventures in coming years. Earlier this month, the Indian Space Research Organization successfully launched 104 satellites for seven nations aboard a single rocket, most of them small “CubeSats” for a San Francisco-based imaging firm. These smaller satellites are far smaller and less-expensive than traditional designs, with thousands likely to be deployed over time. Moreover, an array of companies, including Airbus and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, are also exploring new ways to launch mini-satellites, moving beyond the domain of large, costly rockets. Advancements in such work would likely lead to even more objects to track for low-earth orbit operators. Space-junk expansion also raises questions about the status and pace of a “collision cascading” effect called the Kessler Syndrome, in which flying junk collides and begets new junk, which collides with more junk again, eventually making low-earth orbit commercially dubious. The effect is named after Donald Kessler, a retired NASA astrophysicist who described the scenario in a 1978 paper. Among debris researchers, a debate exists on whether this has already begun, Ailor said. This nightmarish situation was illustrated dramatically, albeit in inaccurate Hollywood fashion, by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney in the 2013 film Gravity, which depicted the Space Shuttle’s destruction by debris after Russia explodes a satellite. In a 2007 interview, even Kessler said that many people had exaggerated the worst-case outcomes of his predictions. “We’re not there yet, and I don’t want to raise this warning that the situation is spiraling out of control, because it’s just not,” Ceperley said, calling the Kessler scenario “kind of a bogeyman off on the horizon.” Ultimately, governments will likely need to  regulate “best practices” more closely for players operating in low-earth orbit, with rules mandating vehicle disposal and new funding for research into how to remove larger objects, Ailor and Ceperley said. “It’s kind of like the Wild West,” Ceperley said. “There’s this growing understanding that with more and more satellites going to space, [debris] could become a problem.” There are also few techniques for safe disposal of a satellite at the end of its life, or one that goes kaput, or a spent rocket. Researchers have begun modeling a variety of approaches, including giant mesh tethers and a 50-gram, paper-thin spacecraft that would “blanket” space trash and propel it to the atmosphere, so it can burn up. “It’s very easy to get something into orbit, and it’s the dickens to get it out,” says Ailor. Difficulty notwithstanding, the health of the commercial space business will be determined in part by the tidiness of that stretch of the final frontier reaching 1,200 miles into the sky. The more space junk there is, the more often satellites will need to be moved, and the better shielded they must be to withstand frequent plinks by space projectiles. Both of these boost operating expenses. “It’s kind of the human way,” Ailor said. “You look at the oceans or the environment or anything, and you think it’s an infinite resource—and it isn’t.”


News Article | February 18, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

Space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fl. The STS135 mission, the final shuttle flight, brought astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station in 2011. —Sunday may be one mostly routine launch for a private space company, but one symbolic leap for the US government. What was once possible for only the world’s most powerful states is becoming a standard assignment for private companies. SpaceX hopes to launch its tenth bag of goodies to the International Space Station on Sunday, ushering in a new era for the launch pad that first sent humans to the moon. Originally scheduled for Saturday, the launch was postponed to allow time to investigate the cause of a hydraulic piston’s odd behavior. If all goes according to plan, Sunday’s flight will deliver 11,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the ISS, including a light sensor for studying global lightning patterns and mice that may reveal how injuries heal in microgravity. SpaceX intends to land the reusable first stage rocket on a nearby landing pad, rather than the usual drone barge. But this elaborate song and dance is quickly becoming the norm for SpaceX, which pulled off its historic first soft landing of a booster just over a year ago. Now, reusable rockets are piling up in its warehouses, and Sunday’s mission will be company’s tenth ISS rendezvous. What makes this launch special is the milestone it represents for an often underappreciated component of spaceflight – the launch pad. Pad 39A served as the origin for a number of aeronautical landmarks, from the first lunar landing to early space shuttle flights. Its next launch will mark its first action since the last shuttle flight more than half a decade ago. "I'm a little partial to this pad, as all four of my shuttle flights lifted off from here," Bob Cabana, a former NASA astronaut and current director of NASA's Kennedy Space Center, said during a news conference at the pad on Friday. "So, it means a lot to see it in use and not wasting away in the salt air." The pad’s rebirth also underscores a renaissance in the space industry, as it undergoes a sea change from public to largely private enterprise. This piece of infrastructure, which once cost US taxpayers over $100,000 a month to keep from rusting “to the ground,” has a metaphorical new lease on life thanks to a literal lease with SpaceX for the next 20 years. Beating out competitor Blue Origin, SpaceX took over all operations and maintenance of the launch pad in 2015, starting with an extensive renovation that involved the removal of over 500,000 pounds of steel. Meanwhile, NASA maintains control of the neighboring pad 39B, from which it hopes to launch future deep space missions with the next generation Space Launch System, currently under development. This marriage of public and private signals the rapid emergence of a burgeoning new sector of the economy. In 2014, private activity accounted for just over three-quarters of the international space industry. SpaceX receives the lion’s share of the press, but dozens of companies now have launch capabilities, including Orbital Sciences Corporation, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic. Many see this flurry of activity as just the beginning. "Most new space companies (there have been dozens) are not up to the challenge" of spaceflight and will disappear, writes space policy expert Howard McCurdy of American University in an email to The Christian Science Monitor. "Yet if transportation history repeats itself, a few will emerge as dominant providers and become engines of economic growth," he says. The US government has a long history of spurring transportation innovation, from financial support of the transcontinental railroad to the research contributions NASA forerunner NACA made to aeronautics during World War II. According to Dr. McCurdy, the space revolution will be no different. “The government – NASA really – is supporting this movement in a number of ways. It is subsidizing the design of new spacecraft, promising to buy services, providing launch facilities, facilitating licenses and regulations, and helping with insurance issues. State and local governments are competing for spaceports and providing tax breaks,” he explains. According to McCurdy, the difference between federal and commercial efforts comes down to risk aversion: “When government agencies take on new tasks, they cannot afford to fail. In private markets, economic failure is the engine of progress.” The trick will be balancing the private sector’s tolerance for risk with the public’s need for safety, as SpaceX and Boeing draw closer to the first launches of their crewed capsules. "What you get is an alternative discussion led by people who stand to make a profit," Mike Griffin, NASA administrator from 2005 to 2009, told Time in 2010. "Lockheed and Boeing say NASA's goals are too strict. Well, that's fine – up until the first accident, when people say, 'Where were NASA's standards?'” But observers who are concerned that private industry’s yen for quick profits will overwhelm more cautious instincts may take heart in Saturday’s scrubbed SpaceX launch, after which CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to espouse a "better safe than sorry" philosophy:


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.nanotech-now.com

Abstract: Triboelectric nanogenerators convert mechanical energy harvested from the environment to electricity for powering small devices such as sensors or for recharging consumer electronics. Now, researchers have harnessed these devices to improve the charging of molecules in a way that dramatically boosts the sensitivity of a widely-used chemical analysis technique. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have shown that replacing conventional power supplies with TENG devices for charging the molecules being analyzed can boost the sensitivity of mass spectrometers to unprecedented levels. The improvement also allows identification to be done with smaller sample volumes, potentially conserving precious biomolecules or chemical mixtures that may be available only in minute quantities. Though the mechanism by which the enhancement takes place requires more study, the researchers believe the unique aspects of the TENG output - oscillating high voltage and controlled current - allow improvements in the ionization process, increasing the voltage applied without damaging samples or the instrument. The research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA Astrobiology Program and the Department of Energy, is reported February 27 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. "Our discovery is basically a new and very controlled way of putting charge onto molecules," said Facundo Fernández, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry who uses mass spectrometry to study everything from small drug molecules to large proteins. "We know exactly how much charge we produce using these nanogenerators, allowing us to reach sensitivity levels that are unheard-of - at the zeptomole scale. We can measure down to literally hundreds of molecules without tagging." Fernández and his research team worked with Zhong Lin Wang, a pioneer in developing the TENG technology. Wang, a Regents professor in Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering, said the TENGs provide consistent charging levels that produce quantized ion pulses of adjustable duration, polarity and frequency. "The key here is that the total charge delivered in each cycle is entirely controlled and constant regardless of the speed at which the TENG is triggered," said Wang, who holds the Hightower Chair in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. "This is a new direction for the triboelectric nanogenerators and opens a door for using the technology in the design of future instrumentation and equipment. This research demonstrates another practical impact of TENG technology." Mass spectrometry measures the mass-to-charge ratio of ions to identify and quantify molecules in both simple and complex mixtures. The technology is used across a broad range of scientific fields and applications, with molecules ranging from small drug compounds on up to large biomolecules. Mass spectrometry is used in biomedicine, food science, homeland security, systems biology, drug discovery and other areas. But in conventional electrospray mass spec techniques, as much as 99 percent of the sample can be wasted during ionization, said Fernández, who holds the Vasser Woolley Foundation Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry. That's largely because in conventional systems, the mass analysis process is pulsed or scanned, while the ionization of samples is continuous. The new TENG pulsed power source allows scientists to time the ionization to match what's happening inside the mass spectrometer, specifically within a component known as the mass analyzer. Beyond improved sensitivity and the ability to analyze very small sample quantities, the new technique also allows ion deposition on surfaces, even non-conducting ones. That's because the oscillating ionization produces a sequence of alternating positive and negative charges, producing a net neutral surface, Fernández said. Mass spectrometers require large amounts of power for creating the vacuum essential to measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of each molecule. While it's possible that future TENG devices could power an entire miniature mass spectrometer, the TENG devices are now used just to ionize samples. "The nanogenerators could eliminate a big chunk of the mass spectrometer system because they wouldn't need a more powerful device for making the ions," Fernández said. "This could be particularly applicable to conditions that are extreme and harsh, such as on a battlefield or in space, where you would need a very robust and self-contained unit." Triboelectric nanogenerators, developed by Wang in 2012, use a combination of the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to generate small amounts of electrical power from mechanical motion such as rotation, sliding or vibration. The triboelectric effect takes advantage of the fact that certain materials become electrically charged after they come into moving contact with a surface made from a different material. Wang and his research team have developed TENGs with four different working modes, including a rotating disc that may be ideal for high throughput mass spectrometry experiments. This paper is the first publication about an application of TENG to an advanced instrument. Wang's team has measured voltage levels at the mass spec ionizer of between 6,000 and 8,000 volts. Standard ionizers normally operate at less than 1,500 volts. The technology has been used with both electrospray ionization and plasma discharge ionization, with the flexibility of generating single polarity or alternating polarity ion pulses. "Because the voltage from these nanogenerators is high, we believe that the size of the sample droplets can be much smaller than with the conventional way of making ions," Fernández said. "That increases the ion generation efficiency. We are operating in a completely different electrospray regime, and it could completely change the way this technology is used." The TENG technology could be retrofitted to existing mass spectrometers, as Fernández has already done in his lab. With publication of the journal article, he hopes other labs will start exploring use of the TENG devices in mass spectrometry and other areas. "I see potential not only in analytical chemistry, but also in synthesis, electrochemistry and other areas that require a controlled way of producing electrical charges," Fernández said. The research was initiated by postdoctoral fellows in the two laboratory groups, Anyin Li and Yunlong Zi. "This project really shows how innovation can happen at the boundaries between different disciplines when scientists are free to pursue new ideas," Fernández added. ### This work was jointly supported by NSF and the NASA Astrobiology Program, under the NSF Center for Chemical Evolution, CHE-1504217. Research was also supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Sciences (Award DE-FG02-07ER46394), and the National Science Foundation (DMR-1505319). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors. For more information, please click If you have a comment, please us. Issuers of news releases, not 7th Wave, Inc. or Nanotechnology Now, are solely responsible for the accuracy of the content.


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

The Falcon 9 rocket launch of the Dragon cargo ship is scheduled for 10:01 am (1501 GMT) from Cape Canaveral's launchpad 39A, which was built and used for the US space agency's pioneering missions to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. It was also the blastoff point for sending American space shuttles into orbit, until the shuttle program came to an end in 2011. SpaceX, headed by billionaire internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, negotiated a lease with NASA for the launchpad in 2013, beating out its competitor Blue Origin, which is headed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. By the time the launch pad is completely outfitted for sending astronauts to space in 2018, the company will have spent over $100 million to adapt it for modern day spaceflights, said SpaceX chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell. "I wouldn't say we saved a bunch of money here," she told reporters, but added that the launchpad's singular place in American space lore made the price tag worthwhile. "My heart is pounding to come out here today," she told an outdoor press conference near the launchpad on Friday, recalling how she watched the Apollo 11 mission's July 1969 lunar landing on television with her father as a child. "I can tell you it is an extra special launch tomorrow, for sure. Maybe extra nerve-wracking," she added. SpaceX has endured two costly disasters in the past two years—a launchpad blast that destroyed a rocket and its satellite payload in September, and a June 2015 explosion after liftoff that obliterated a Dragon cargo ship packed with goods bound for the space station. The Hawthorne, California-based company has already made one successful return to flight in January of this year, from Vandenberg Air Force base in California. On Friday, SpaceX discovered what Shotwell described as a "very small" helium leak in the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. After engineers spent the day narrowing down the cause of the issue, Musk said on Twitter that the countdown to launch would proceed. "Looks like we are go for launch," he wrote late Friday, adding that the launch could be aborted within a minute of liftoff if signs indicated a problem with the helium in the upper stage of the rocket. Saturday's launch is meant to carry more than 5,000 pounds (2,267 kilograms) of gear into orbit. If delayed, another opportunity opens up Sunday morning. The weather forecast for both Saturday and Sunday was 70 percent favorable for liftoff, officials said Friday. Following the launch, SpaceX plans to try landing the booster on solid ground at a different part of Cape Canaveral. If successful, the upright touchdown of the Falcon 9's first stage would mark the third time SpaceX has managed to stick a landing on solid ground. Other such landings have taken place on floating ocean platforms, as the company perfects its techniques of powering costly rocket parts back to land instead of jettisoning them in the ocean after a single use. The Dragon will spend two days in orbit before arriving at the space station early Monday. The cargo resupply mission, known as CRS-10, is the 10th of up to 20 planned trips to the space station as part of a contract between SpaceX and NASA. Explore further: SpaceX set to launch again Monday


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

Triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG) convert mechanical energy harvested from the environment to electricity for powering small devices such as sensors or for recharging consumer electronics. Now, researchers have harnessed these devices to improve the charging of molecules in a way that dramatically boosts the sensitivity of a widely-used chemical analysis technique. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have shown that replacing conventional power supplies with TENG devices for charging the molecules being analyzed can boost the sensitivity of mass spectrometers to unprecedented levels. The improvement also allows identification to be done with smaller sample volumes, potentially conserving precious biomolecules or chemical mixtures that may be available only in minute quantities. Though the mechanism by which the enhancement takes place requires more study, the researchers believe the unique aspects of the TENG output - oscillating high voltage and controlled current - allow improvements in the ionization process, increasing the voltage applied without damaging samples or the instrument. The research, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA Astrobiology Program and the Department of Energy, is reported February 27 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. "Our discovery is basically a new and very controlled way of putting charge onto molecules," said Facundo Fernández, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Chemistry and Biochemistry who uses mass spectrometry to study everything from small drug molecules to large proteins. "We know exactly how much charge we produce using these nanogenerators, allowing us to reach sensitivity levels that are unheard-of - at the zeptomole scale. We can measure down to literally hundreds of molecules without tagging." Fernández and his research team worked with Zhong Lin Wang, a pioneer in developing the TENG technology. Wang, a Regents professor in Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering, said the TENGs provide consistent charging levels that produce quantized ion pulses of adjustable duration, polarity and frequency. "The key here is that the total charge delivered in each cycle is entirely controlled and constant regardless of the speed at which the TENG is triggered," said Wang, who holds the Hightower Chair in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. "This is a new direction for the triboelectric nanogenerators and opens a door for using the technology in the design of future instrumentation and equipment. This research demonstrates another practical impact of TENG technology." Mass spectrometry measures the mass-to-charge ratio of ions to identify and quantify molecules in both simple and complex mixtures. The technology is used across a broad range of scientific fields and applications, with molecules ranging from small drug compounds on up to large biomolecules. Mass spectrometry is used in biomedicine, food science, homeland security, systems biology, drug discovery and other areas. But in conventional electrospray mass spec techniques, as much as 99 percent of the sample can be wasted during ionization, said Fernández, who holds the Vasser Woolley Foundation Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry. That's largely because in conventional systems, the mass analysis process is pulsed or scanned, while the ionization of samples is continuous. The new TENG pulsed power source allows scientists to time the ionization to match what's happening inside the mass spectrometer, specifically within a component known as the mass analyzer. Beyond improved sensitivity and the ability to analyze very small sample quantities, the new technique also allows ion deposition on surfaces, even non-conducting ones. That's because the oscillating ionization produces a sequence of alternating positive and negative charges, producing a net neutral surface, Fernández said. Mass spectrometers require large amounts of power for creating the vacuum essential to measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of each molecule. While it's possible that future TENG devices could power an entire miniature mass spectrometer, the TENG devices are now used just to ionize samples. "The nanogenerators could eliminate a big chunk of the mass spectrometer system because they wouldn't need a more powerful device for making the ions," Fernández said. "This could be particularly applicable to conditions that are extreme and harsh, such as on a battlefield or in space, where you would need a very robust and self-contained unit." Triboelectric nanogenerators, developed by Wang in 2012, use a combination of the triboelectric effect and electrostatic induction to generate small amounts of electrical power from mechanical motion such as rotation, sliding or vibration. The triboelectric effect takes advantage of the fact that certain materials become electrically charged after they come into moving contact with a surface made from a different material. Wang and his research team have developed TENGs with four different working modes, including a rotating disc that may be ideal for high throughput mass spectrometry experiments. This paper is the first publication about an application of TENG to an advanced instrument. Wang's team has measured voltage levels at the mass spec ionizer of between 6,000 and 8,000 volts. Standard ionizers normally operate at less than 1,500 volts. The technology has been used with both electrospray ionization and plasma discharge ionization, with the flexibility of generating single polarity or alternating polarity ion pulses. "Because the voltage from these nanogenerators is high, we believe that the size of the sample droplets can be much smaller than with the conventional way of making ions," Fernández said. "That increases the ion generation efficiency. We are operating in a completely different electrospray regime, and it could completely change the way this technology is used." The TENG technology could be retrofitted to existing mass spectrometers, as Fernández has already done in his lab. With publication of the journal article, he hopes other labs will start exploring use of the TENG devices in mass spectrometry and other areas. "I see potential not only in analytical chemistry, but also in synthesis, electrochemistry and other areas that require a controlled way of producing electrical charges," Fernández said. The research was initiated by postdoctoral fellows in the two laboratory groups, Anyin Li and Yunlong Zi. "This project really shows how innovation can happen at the boundaries between different disciplines when scientists are free to pursue new ideas," Fernández added. This work was jointly supported by NSF and the NASA Astrobiology Program, under the NSF Center for Chemical Evolution, CHE-1504217. Research was also supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Sciences (Award DE-FG02-07ER46394), and the National Science Foundation (DMR-1505319). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors.


News Article | February 19, 2017
Site: www.greencarcongress.com

« Mobileye completes installation of collision avoidance technology across 4,500 New York City for-hire vehicles | Main | Peugeot launching Partner Tepee Electric at Geneva Motor Show » A new study, led by a team from The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) at the University of York, has found that in 2010, about 2.7 million preterm births globally—or 18% of all pre-term births—were associated with outdoor exposure to fine particulate matter (PM ).The open-access study is published in the journal Environment International. There are many known risk factors for preterm birth—from the mother’s age, to illness, to poverty and other social factors. Recent research has suggested that exposure to air pollution could also be a risk factor. The researchers combined national, population-weighted, annual average ambient PM concentration, preterm birth rate and number of livebirths to calculate the number of PM -associated preterm births in 2010 for 183 countries. Uncertainty was quantified using Monte-Carlo simulations, and analyses were undertaken to investigate the sensitivity of PM -associated preterm birth estimates to assumptions about the shape of the concentration-response function at low and high PM exposures, inclusion of provider-initiated preterm births, and exposure to indoor air pollution. This study highlights that air pollution may not just harm people who are breathing the air directly—it may also seriously affect a baby in its mother’s womb. Preterm births associated with this exposure not only contribute to infant mortality, but can have life-long health effects in survivors. —Chris Malley, a researcher in SEI at York and lead author When a baby is born preterm (at less than 37 weeks of gestation), there is an increased risk of death or long-term physical and neurological disabilities. In 2010, an estimated 14.9 million births were preterm—about 4–5% of the total in some European countries, but up to 15–18% in some African and South Asian countries. The study revealed that while many other health impacts of air pollution have been documented—most notably through the Global Burden of Disease studies—the focus has been mainly on premature deaths from heart disease and respiratory problems. The new study adds an important new consideration in measuring the health burden of air pollution and the benefits of mitigation measures, Malley said. A pregnant woman’s exposure can vary greatly depending on where she lives—in a city in China or India, for instance, she might inhale more than 10 times as much pollution as she would in rural England or France. The study did not quantify the risk in specific locations, but rather used the average ambient PM level in each country, and analyzed the results by region. India alone accounted for about 1 million of the total 2.7 million global estimate, and China for about another 500,000. Western sub-Saharan Africa and the North Africa/Middle East region also had particularly high numbers, with exposures in these regions having a large contribution from desert dust. SEI is working to support more than 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop plans to reduce emissions leading to particulate air pollution. It is important to realize that action needs to be taken on all the major sources. In a city, maybe only half the pollution comes from sources within the city itself—the rest will be transported there by the wind from other regions or even other countries. That means that often regional cooperation is needed to solve the problem. —Dr Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna, co-author of the study and SEI’s director of policy The analysis grew out of SEI’s Initiative on Low Emission Development Pathways (LED-P), which includes the development of a “benefits calculator” to help policy-makers and planners assess the potential benefits of undertaking measures that reduce air pollution. This work in LED-P is contributing to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), where SEI is working with UNEP and other partners to support more than 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to develop plans to reduce emissions leading to particulate air pollution. Global modelling and satellite data analysis were conducted by Daven Henze, co-author of the study from University of Colorado, Boulder, through his membership on the NASA Air Quality and Applied Sciences Team (AQAST). PM particles include a variety of substances, such as black carbon (soot), sulphates, nitrates and ammonium, as well as dust from soil and from industrial processes such as cement production.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.prweb.com

An enormously successful first annual Space Settlement Summit hosted by the National Space Society (NSS) occurred on January 10-11, 2017, in Santa Monica, California. Industry leaders, financial experts, scientists and engineers, and leading space activists were brought together to assess the state of the art driving space settlement. The NSS invitation-only Space Settlement Summit featured industry leaders including Josh Brost, Director of Government Business Development SpaceX, Dr. George Sowers, VP Advanced Programs ULA, Michael T. Suffredini, President Axiom Space, Steven Oldham, Senior VP MDA, Karlton Johnson, Director Information Risk Management Arconic, Jeff Manber, CEO Nanoracks, Akshay Patel, VP Strategy and Business Development Planetary Resources, and energy CEO and famous actor Harry Hamlin. Special guest Astronaut Yvonne Cagle headlined a dinner event celebrating the success of the movie HIDDEN FIGURES, speaking on recent medical advances from NASA. Key industry experts speaking included Dr. John C. Mankins on space solar power, Lt. Col. Thomas P. Schilling USAF on ultra-low cost access to space, Steve Wolfe of SpaceCom on open-source space settlement design, and Jeff Greason (XCOR founder) on funding space startups. "The resources of Earth are limited and humanity is increasingly constrained by these limits. This is particularly true when reasonable environmental considerations are taken into account," said Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee. "Fortunately, the vast majority of the resources of the solar system both in terms of energy and materials lie in space rather than on Earth. Space settlement allows us to tap into these resources, thus smashing the resource constraints of Earth. Space settlement can create a hopeful prosperous future for all of humanity." "With Elon Musk calling for the colonization of Mars, and Jeff Bezos looking forward to millions of people living and working in space, space settlement is an idea whose time has come," said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. "NSS has been developing a Roadmap for space settlement for a number of years (see http://www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap/)," added Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer. "The Space Settlement Summit will provide input that guides NSS's current updating of the Roadmap. Anyone interested in learning more about how NSS is supporting space development and settlement should attend the International Space Development Conference in St. Louis Missouri May 25-29 (http://isdc2017.nss.org/)."


Flash Physics is our daily pick of the latest need-to-know developments from the global physics community selected by Physics World's team of editors and reporters A new high-resolution map of dark matter – an invisible substance that appears to have a profound gravitational effect on galaxies and other large-scale structures in the cosmos – has been produced by an international team of astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope. The map focuses on three galaxy clusters that act as cosmic telescopes by magnifying images of the more distant universe through gravitational lensing. The degree to which this magnification occurs gives an extremely precise measurement of the dark matter within the clusters. "We have mapped all of the clumps of dark matter that the data permit us to detect, and have produced the most detailed topological map of the dark-matter landscape to date," explains Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University in the US, who led the team. An important feature of the map is that it is in close agreement with computer simulations of how cold dark matter (CDM) – a popular theoretical description of dark matter – is expected to be distributed within the galaxy clusters. The map is described in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. A hard-to-detect pigment in melanoma skin cancer can be imaged using a laser-based technique. A team at Massachusetts General Hospital's Wellman Center for Photomedicine in the US has used a form of Raman spectroscopy to identify the pheomelanin molecule. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and fair skin has a higher probability of developing the hard-to-detect variation of the disease called amelanotic melanoma. This is linked to the fact that fair skin contains a higher concentration of pheomelanin – a pigment, or melanin, within the skin. While the black-brown pigment found in most melanomas is easily observed, pheomelanin is essentially invisible. To detect the pigment, the team, led by Conor Evans, turned to a form of Raman spectroscopy called coherent anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS) microscopy. Raman spectroscopy is a well-known technique that uses lasers to measure the unique chemical vibrations within molecules and hence identify them. CARS microscopy meanwhile, is a high-resolution imaging technique. It focuses two lasers on a sample and "tunes" the energy difference to specific molecular vibrations. This means a high-resolution image can be generated. Using CARS, the researchers successfully imaged the usually invisible pheomelanin by looking for its unique chemical structure. The method could be incorporated into a brand-new tool for early cancer diagnosis. The work will be presented at the OSA Biophotonics Congress: Optics in the Life Sciences meeting on 2–5 April in San Diego, US. It has also been described in Scientific Reports. A connection between the sudden outflows of gas from a supermassive black hole and X-ray bursts has been made by astronomers using two space telescopes – NASA's NuSTAR and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton. Gas outflows are common features of supermassive black holes, which sit at the centre of large galaxies. These objects ingest vast amounts of material and the dynamics of this accretion process can lead to the ejection of gas in a burp-like ultrafast wind. The team trained the instruments on an outflow from the black hole at the centre of galaxy IRAS 13224-3809 and observed that the temperature of an outflow was changing much more rapidly than had previously been seen in other events – on a timescale of less than 1 h. According to team member Erin Kara of the University of Maryland, these fluctuations provide important clues about where the outflow was created. "Because we saw such rapid variability in the winds, we know that the emission is coming from very close to the black hole itself, and because we observed that the wind was also changing on rapid timescales, it must also be coming from very close to the black hole." The observations were made over several days and revealed that the temperature fluctuations were a response to changes in the intensity of X-rays emitted by the black hole. This information could provide important clues about where the X-rays and outflows are produced. The research is described in Nature.


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

This Feb. 17, 2017, photo shows a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft used for a NASA-led experiment called SnowEx, on an airfield at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. Instrument-laden aircraft are surveying the Colorado high country this month as scientists search for better ways to measure how much water is locked up in the world's mountain snows - water that sustains a substantial share of the global population. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) DENVER (AP) — Instrument-laden aircraft are surveying the Colorado high country this month as scientists search for better ways to measure how much water is locked up in the world's mountain snows — water that sustains a substantial share of the global population. A NASA-led experiment called SnowEx is using five aircraft to test 10 sensors that might one day be used to monitor snow from satellites. The goal: Find the ideal combination to overcome multiple obstacles, including how to analyze snow hidden beneath forest canopies. "It would be, I would say, a monumental leap in our ability to forecast water supply if we had this kind of information," said Noah Molotch, a member of the science team for the experiment. One-sixth of the world's population gets most of its fresh water from snow that melts and runs into waterways, said Ed Kim, a NASA researcher and lead scientist for SnowEx. "Right there, it's hugely important for people," he said. Snow has other consequences for society as well, including floods, droughts and even political stability when water is scarce, Kim said. The key to predicting how much water will pour out of mountain snows each spring is a measurement called snow water equivalent. The global average is 30 percent of snow depth, Kim said — 10 inches of snow melts down to 3 inches of water. But a single mountain snowbank contains multiple layers with different snow water equivalents, making measurement difficult. The layers were dropped by successive storms with different moisture contents, and then lingered under different weather conditions before the next storm covered them. A further complication: At times during the winter, some snow melts, so water will flow through the interior of the snowbank, distorting or absorbing signals from remote sensors. No single instrument can overcome all the obstacles. "We have these different sensing techniques. Each one works to a certain degree," Kim said. "What's the optimal combination?" Two SnowEx sensors will measure snow depth: Radar and LIDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging. LIDAR uses laser pulses to measure distance. Four sensors will measure snow density: three other types of radar, plus a passive microwave instrument, which detects how much of the Earth's natural microwave radiation the snow is blocking. A hyperspectral imager and a multispectral imager will measure how much sunlight the snow is reflecting, which helps determine how fast it will melt. Aircraft will take the instruments on multiple passes over two areas in western Colorado, Grand Mesa and Senator Beck Basin. Ground crews will also analyze the snow to verify how accurate the instruments are. One key technology used to predict snow runoff in the American West is the Snow Telemetry Network, or SNOTEL, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. More than 800 automated SNOTEL ground stations scattered across the West measure the depth and weight of the snow, the temperature and other data and transmit them to a central database. Federal agencies use SNOTEL to produce daily state-by-state reports and maps on how the current snow water equivalent compares to the long-term average. Water utilities, farmers, public safety agencies and wildland firefighters track the updates closely to help predict how much drinking and irrigation water will be available in the spring and whether they will face floods or fire-inducing droughts. SNOTEL collects data from individual points, but the "holy grail of mountain hydrology" is a way to estimate the distribution of snow water equivalent across broad mountain landscapes, said Molotch, who is also director of the University of Colorado's Center for Water, Earth Science and Technology. SnowEx could be a step toward that, he said. Government agencies that forecast the spring runoff say satellite data on snow water equivalent would help them, although they base their predictions on multiple sources of information, including rain, temperature and current river flows. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, one of 13 National Weather Service centers that predict floods or river shortages nationwide, uses some NASA satellite data now, hydrologist Paul Miller said. Satellite images show how much of the region has snow cover and how much dust is on the snow, he said. Dusty snow is darker, so it absorbs more heat and melts faster. Snow water equivalent data from satellites "would be another source of information that we could look toward as guidance," Miller said. "It would definitely be something we would monitor and we would explore." Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/dan%20elliott.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

According to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on historical record. Globally, the increase amounted to nearly 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. And while that might not sound like much of an increase, it could mean the difference between life and death for some bird populations. Heat waves due to climate change pose an increasing threat to wildlife in many regions of the world. During heat waves, birds are especially at risk of lethal dehydration due to scarce water resources and high rates of evaporative water loss needed for cooling their bodies. High environmental temperatures were attributed to recent mass die-offs of wild birds and poultry in Australia, South Africa, India and North America suggest that birds are sensitive to extreme heat events. With climate projections forecasting a large increase in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, researchers including Tom Albright, associate professor from the Geography Department at the University of Nevada-Reno, Professor Blair Wolf from The University of New Mexico Department of Biology, and Alexander Gerson, assistant professor, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and others mapped the potential effects of current and future heat waves on the risk of lethal dehydration for songbirds in the southwestern United States. The research, "Mapping evaporative water loss in desert passerines reveals an expanding threat of lethal hydration," was published today in PNAS. The research was funded through a three-year, $650,000 National Science Foundation grant. NASA also funded aspects of this research, and its data and products played a role in enabling the research. "Birds are susceptible to heat stress in two ways," explained Wolf. "When it's really hot, they simply can't evaporate enough water to stay cool, overheat and die of heat stroke. In other cases the high rates of evaporative water loss needed to stay cool deplete their body water pools to lethal levels and birds die of dehydration; this is the stressor we focused on in this study." "This is a neat example of the kind of science enabled by two of our great U.S. science agencies: NSF (Blair's team) and NASA (Albright's team): basically mapping what you might call physiological performance and ultimately mapping the dynamics of risk," said Albright. Using hourly temperature data and a physiological model incorporating measurements of evaporative water loss, the researchers evaluated the death by dehydration risk for five songbird species. They found that small species lose water faster than their larger counterparts, thus rendering them particularly susceptible to lethal dehydration. "During heat waves, birds that are day active suspend almost all activity and seek cool shaded microsites," said Wolf. "At high air temperatures, the rates of evaporation needed to cool the bird increase rapidly. A 2-3°C increase in air temperature can result in a doubling or tripling of rates of evaporative water loss where birds can lose 2-5 percent of body mass per hour." "By focusing on heat waves and dehydration in birds, it allows us to focus more carefully on one piece of the puzzle," said Albright. "It allowed us to use mechanistic understanding supported by actual physical measurements of evaporation from bird's bodies. In addition, given climate warming scenario of 4°C, the risk of lethal dehydration could increase four-fold in smaller species encompassing very large parts of the specie's southwest ranges by the end of this century. The increasing extent, frequency, and intensity of dehydrating conditions under a warming climate may alter daily activity patterns, geographic range limits and the conservation status of affected birds. "These estimates suggest that some regions of the desert will be uninhabitable for many species in the future and that future high temperature events could depopulate whole regions," Wolf said. "When combined with increasing drought projected for many of these regions, we could see precipitous declines in bird communities and increasingly severe stress on poultry as well." The findings illustrate that conservation strategies are needed to conserve diverse plant and animal communities that supply shelter and water to desert birds amid future climate warming. "What we were able to do here is to use individual level physiology data to inform biogeographic models so we can better understand the impact of high temperatures on these avian communities," said Gerson. "This is a big step forward to understanding local extirpation. It will raise a lot of other questions, but our contribution will help others look at how community structure might change in the future."


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The events surrounding the Big Bang were so cataclysmic that they left an indelible imprint on the fabric of the cosmos. We can detect these scars today by observing the oldest light in the universe. As it was created nearly 14 billion years ago, this light -- which exists now as weak microwave radiation and is thus named the cosmic microwave background (CMB) -- permeates the entire cosmos, filling it with detectable photons. The CMB can be used to probe the cosmos via something known as the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect, which was first observed over 30 years ago. We detect the CMB here on Earth when its constituent microwave photons travel to us through space. On their journey to us, they can pass through galaxy clusters that contain high-energy electrons. These electrons give the photons a tiny boost of energy. Detecting these boosted photons through our telescopes is challenging but important -- they can help astronomers to understand some of the fundamental properties of the universe, such as the location and distribution of dense galaxy clusters. The NASA/ESA (European Space Agency) Hubble Space Telescope observed one of most massive known galaxy clusters, RX J1347.5-1145, seen in this Picture of the Week, as part of the Cluster Lensing And Supernova survey with Hubble (CLASH). This observation of the cluster, 5 billion light-years from Earth, helped the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to study the cosmic microwave background using the thermal Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect. The observations made with ALMA are visible as the blue-purple hues.


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

Nearly 50 years after it traveled to the moon and back, the Apollo 11 command capsule is being prepped for another mission, though this time on terra firma. The capsule, Columbia, is set to leave the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum for the first time in 46 years for a traveling exhibition called, “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.” The capsule is an important part of U.S. space exploration history, as it’s the only surviving section of the spacecraft that transported the first astronauts to the moon — and back again. The cross-country exhibition will celebrate the approaching 50th anniversary of the historic moon landing, and promises to wow visitors with an array of exciting exhibits. In the Smithsonian’s own words: Through original Apollo 11-flown objects, models, videos and interactives, visitors will learn about the historic journey of the Apollo 11 crew — Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin. “Destination Moon” will include an interactive 3-D tour, created from high-resolution scans of Columbia performed at the Smithsonian in spring 2016. The interactives will allow visitors to explore the entire craft including its intricate interior, an interior that has been inaccessible to the public until now. The Apollo 11 spacecraft comprised three parts: The command module that held the astronauts and returned to Earth; the service module, which supported the command module with propulsion, electrical power, oxygen, and water; and the lunar module, nicknamed Eagle, that included a lower stage for getting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon’s surface and an upper stage that took the astronauts back to lunar orbit so they could return to Columbia. More: NASA announces the largest ever discovery of potentially habitable exoplanets Columbia’s first stop on its two-year tour to celebrate the first moon landing in 1969 will be Houston’s Space Center on October 14, 2017. Visitors will have until March 18, 2018, to marvel at the capsule before it moves on to the Saint Louis Science Center from April 14, 2018, through September 3, 2018. The following stop will be at the Senator John Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, from September 29, 2018, through February 18, 2019. Finally, Seattle’s Museum of Flight will host the Apollo 11 command capsule from March 16, 2019, through September 2, 2019. Once the road trip is over, Columbia will return to Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and take its place in a new exhibition that’s set to open in 2021.


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

Elon Musk is nothing if not ambitious. The SpaceX founder wants his company to lead the charge to build a city on Mars, and next year, the spaceflight company plans to fly its first astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA. SEE ALSO: SpaceX wants to send 2 people around the moon in 2018 So generally, SpaceX is pretty busy. But that doesn't mean it can't take on just one other little project, right? Namely, in 2018, SpaceX plans to fly a pair of (presumably rich) private citizens around the moon and bring them back home. It all sounds pretty intense, so let us break it down for you. At the moment, SpaceX isn't planning to actually land on the surface of the moon for this mission. Instead, the company is opting to use its Falcon Heavy rocket and crewed Dragon spacecraft to circumnavigate the moon before coming back home to Earth. The flight profile involves skimming the surface of the lunar body in a "long loop around the moon," Musk said during a press conference Monday. The mission should take about a week. Perhaps the most mysterious part of this whole mission is its passengers. SpaceX has said that the two space explorers have already paid a pretty hefty deposit for the chance to fly on this mission, though the company hasn't yet revealed the names of the individuals expecting to fly next year. The mission itself will cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for the hopeful space explorers, and Musk is keeping their names confidential since they haven't given the company permission to release their names. All we know for now is that they know each other and it's not Richard Garriott, a space tourist who visited the International Space Station. Musk also said that "it's nobody from Hollywood" when asked if the passengers are celebrities. No matter who they are, the two would-be space explorers will be trained before they fly to the moon. "We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year," SpaceX said in a statement. "Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results." SpaceX is planning to launch the Falcon Heavy to the moon from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This pad marked the starting point for many of NASA's Apollo missions to the moon, and SpaceX has a 20-year lease out on it now. The space company recently launched its first mission from the pad, and it plans to use it for many more in the future. The Apollo 17 moon landing in 1972 marks the last time humans flew to deep space. Since then, NASA has focused on low-Earth orbit with the building of the International Space Station, ending the space agency's lunar ambitions.  If SpaceX succeeds in launching the customers to beyond the moon for their flyaround trip, it will be the farthest afield any human has flown since Apollo 17.  SpaceX has never been shy about its desire to bring humans back to deep space.  The company's goal since it was founded in 2002 has been to make humans a multi-planet species by launching crewed missions to Mars, a plan they hope to enact in the coming decades as they drive down the cost of spaceflight by reusing rockets for more than one launch. This shouldn't be the only moon mission for SpaceX If that schedule remains in place, Musk is thinking that the company can fly at least one or two moon missions per year when they really get going. The SpaceX founder thinks these types of missions could be a good source of revenue for the company if multiple teams are interested in taking the trip.  These types of missions could also be of interest to NASA. Instead of flying straight to Mars, as was the plan under the Obama administration, it's possible that President Donald Trump's NASA will want to head back to the moon before moving on to the red planet.  Don't be surprised if SpaceX doesn't launch on time Musk's company is somewhat infamous in the space industry for its inability to keep to a schedule, and this moonshot might not be any different.  SpaceX has yet to launch a test flight of its Falcon Heavy rocket, though that is set to happen later this year, and the company hasn't yet flown people within its crewed Dragon capsule.  Both the rocket and capsule will need to fly multiple times before launching any kind of mission to the vicinity of the moon.  At the moment, SpaceX is planning to launch an uncrewed flight of its Dragon to the Space Station at the end of this year, with a crewed mission following shortly after.  We'll just have to wait and see if that schedule holds.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Imagine patterning and visualizing silicon at the atomic level, something which, if done successfully, will revolutionize the quantum and classical computing industry. A team of scientists in Edmonton, Canada has done just that, led by a world-renowned physicist and his up-and-coming protégé. University of Alberta PhD student Taleana Huff teamed up with her supervisor Robert Wolkow to channel a technique called atomic force microscopy--or AFM--to pattern and image electronic circuits at the atomic level. This is the first time the powerful technique has been applied to atom-scale fabrication and imaging of a silicon surface, notoriously difficult because the act of applying the technique risks damaging the silicon. However, the reward is worth the risk, because this level of control could stimulate the revolution of the technology industry. "It's kind of like braille," explains Huff. "You bring the atomically sharp tip really close to the sample surface to simply feel the atoms by using the forces that naturally exist among all materials." One of the problems with working at the atomic scale is the risk of perturbing the thing you are measuring by the act of measuring it. Huff, Wolkow, and their research collaborators have largely overcome those problems and as a result can now build by moving individual atoms around: most importantly, those atomically defined structures result in a new level of control over single electrons. This is the first time that the powerful AFM technique has been shown to see not only the silicon atoms but also the electronic bonds between those atoms. Central to the technique is a powerful new computational approach that analyzes and verifies the identity of the atoms and bonds seen in the images. "We couldn't have performed these new and demanding computations without the support of Compute Canada. This combined computation and measurement approach succeeds in creating a foundation for a whole new generation of both classical and quantum computing architectures," says Wolkow. He has his long-term sights set on making ultra-fast and ultra-low-power silicon-based circuits, potentially consuming ten thousand times less power than what is on the market. "Imagine instead of your phone battery lasting a day that it could last weeks at a time, because you're only using a couple of electrons per computational pattern," says Huff, who explains that the precision of the work will allow the group and potential industry investors to geometrically pattern atoms to make just about any kind of logic structure imaginable. This hands-on work was exactly what drew the self-described Canadian-by-birth American-by-personality to condensed matter physics in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Science. Following undergraduate work in astrophysics--and an internship at NASA--Huff felt the urge to get more tangible with her graduate work. (With hobbies that include power lifting and motorcycle restoration, she comes by the desire for tangibility quite honestly.) "I wanted something that I could touch, something that was going to be a physical product I could work with right away," says Huff. And in terms of who she wanted to work with, she went straight to the top, seeking out Wolkow, renowned the world over for his work with quantum dots, dangling bonds, and industry-pushing work on atomic-scale science. "He just has such passion and conviction for what he does," she continues. "With Bob, it's like, 'we're going to change the world.' I find that really inspiring," says Huff. "Taleana has the passion and the drive to get very challenging things done. She now has understanding and skills that are truly unique in the world giving us a great advantage in the field," says Wolkow. "We just need to work on her taste in music," he adds with a laugh. The group's latest research findings, "Possible observation of chemical bond contrast in AFM images of a hydrogen terminated silicon surface" were published in the February 13, 2017 issue of Nature Communications.


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

The proposed plan of SpaceX to send a robotic mission to Mars in 2018 has been changed to a new schedule. Now, the rover mission will be deferred for two years. Dubbed Red Dragon mission, the mission will take off in 2020 with due preparations, according to SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell. "We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program, so we're looking more in the 2020 time frame for that," Shotwell clarified. The Space X will use a modified Dragon V2 capsule for the mission. There is also a plan to launch a rocket every 26 months to Mars when it is aligned with Earth. The company's first manned mission to Mars will be in 2024 or 2026. According to Shotwell, the Red Dragon mission will be very exciting as SpaceX will facilitate many science experiments and payloads to the Martian surface. Red Dragon will carry equipment useful for future Mars mission crew. The NASA will spend close to $30 million in helping SpaceX launch the capsule to Mars. It will have all the functions of entry, descent, and landing (EDL). The capsule will deliver payloads of one ton (2,200 pounds) to the surface of the Red Planet without a parachute, as the use of one requires significant vehicle modifications. The aerodynamic drag will also assist the capsule to land at higher elevations with 6.2 miles of landing accuracy compared to using a parachute. Potential landing sites would be polar or mid-latitude sites with near-surface ice. Being cost effective, the Red Dragon mission will do good for NASA in obtaining Mars samples for study. It has the required systems to bring samples from Mars such as Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), hardware, and the Earth Return Vehicle (ERV). The Falcon Heavy rocket to be used for Red Dragon mission will be the largest ever launcher and can carry heavy payloads to distant parts of the solar system. Meanwhile, Space X has to gear up for transporting NASA astronauts to the International Space Station by 2018. NASA had awarded contracts to two private companies for such missions-Space X and United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. A report by the Government Accountability Office that runs investigations for congress gave an update in January about the SpaceX's progress on building a crew vehicle for NASA for the ISS missions. It said both companies are lagging behind their deadlines. The launch systems were to be certified by end of this year, but both companies are delaying the launches to 2018. SpaceX and ULA were supposed to have their launch systems ready for certification review but have delayed their launches until 2018. There is pressure on SpaceX as ISS retirement is in sight by 2024. "The longer the delay is on these commercial launch systems, the less time these companies will have to demonstrate repeated flights to the station," said Christina Chaplain, director for the GAO review. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 25, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

Still thinking that there is no other life in the universe? Chances are you got it wrong because it is no longer a sterile world out there in the universe. Scientists wax hot to launch another planet-hunting project called Search for Habitable Planets Eclipsing Ultra-cool Stars hoping to find more extrasolar planets or exoplanets possibly orbiting in 1,000 dwarf stars nearest to Earth. Next year, NASA will also seek to find thousands of worlds in space with its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite mission. A team of astronomers announced in a paper published in Nature on Feb. 22 the discovery of a total of seven exoplanets basking in the cool red light of TRAPPIST-1 that lies some 39 light-years from Earth. The discovery of the seven-planet system is not new but it is the first to have Earth-size planets, three of which orbit in the star's "habitable zone." The rest of the seven exoplanets also have the potential to support life where lakes and rivers are believed to exist on its surface. The three alien, Earth-size exoplanets were spotted as they passed in front of their host star, TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool dwarf star, the mass of which is only 8 percent that of the sun. "To have this system of seven is really incredible," Elisa Quintana, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said. It is more likely the nearby dwarf stars, numbering around 1,000, "might harbor lots and lots of planets." The discovery of these temperate, Earth-size worlds is "a giant, accelerated leap forward in the search for habitable worlds, and life on other worlds," Sara Seager, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, declared. Her assessment is not without basis. The proximity of the seven exoplanets to the Earth offers an opportunity for astronomers to study their atmospheres with greater ease that could reveal a wealth of information on the diversity of worlds not possible before. The seven-planet system is widely seen as a laboratory to better understan the evolution of small planets, University of Colorado Boulder astronomer Zachory Berta-Thompson said. Planet hunting in the past usually focused on bigger and brighter stars just like the sun, overlooking in the process the numerous dwarf stars nearby. The discovery of the exoplanets came as a sort of vindication for astronomers who trained their sights on the cool, dim stars known as M dwarfs. "These small stars had been completely overlooked," Michaël Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium, said. Gillon leads the team behind TRAPPIST 1. The team reported the first three exoplanets around the host — Jupiter-like size TRAPPIST-1 — last year. TRAPPIST-1, according to Seager, is "the most exciting one so far, but we hope to have many more of these, and lots of chances to find signs of life in the future." © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


Last week, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sought the help of the internet to name the seven newly discovered planets of the Trappist-1 solar system. The agency tweeted the request online on its official Twitter account last Feb. 25. As expected, the Twitterverse obliged with gusto. Currently, the seven Earth-sized planets, recently spotted by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, are known as Trappist-1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 1f, 1g, and 1h. The stream of tweets under the hashtag “#7NamesFor7NewPlanets?” has been a pretty interesting read. While some netizens drew inspiration from their favorite pop culture references — for example, the seven Harry Potter novels, Apple’s iPhone series, popular characters from Game of Thrones, or Friends — most of the suggestions were hilarious. People pitched in Snow White’s seven dwarves: Itchy, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Sleepy, and Bashful. Others recommended the planets’ names be about current events and call them known as Far from Trump1 to Far from Trump7. But standout comical suggestions were fired by Twitter user @idiotcracy. Some of his funniest entries were Planet McPlanetface, Moonie McMoonface, Rocky McRockface, Icy McIceface, Dusty McDustface, Gasy McGasface, and Wanda. Entertaining as they may be, there's little chance that these comical suggestions will actually be approved and used by the International Astronomical Union, or IAU, the deciding body for names of all things astronomical, for the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. Unless it's willing to go through Britain's Boaty McBoatface situation back in 2016. In 2015, the IAU conducted the NameExoWorlds contest, which invited the public to submit names for 32 extrasolar planets revolving around 15 stars. Although the agency selected a handful lovely names — including Veritate, Hypatia, and Orbitar to Dagon, Poltergeist, and Dulcinea — some critics did not appreciate the approval of some entries and questioned the IAU's credibility. Interestingly, some of the unpopular choices were from esteemed universities and observatories in the world. These include Royaldutchastro by the Royal Netherlands Association for Meteorology and Astronomy, Miguelhernández by the Student Society at Complutense University of Madrid, and Thunder Bay by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Other absurd entries that popped up but thankfully did not make the cut, were Rock 'n' Roll Star and Starry Bunnies. The Trappist-1 revelation sets a new record for the biggest number of habitable-zone planets around a single star beyond our solar system. "This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life. Answering the question 'are we alone' is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, stated. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | February 17, 2017
Site: globenewswire.com

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 17, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), today announced that Jerry Tarnacki has been appointed as the senior vice president of the company’s recently formed Space Business Unit. A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/7703b2a6-4653-4f7b-9d55-a57569e2aa8a In his new role, Tarnacki will report directly to Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. He will oversee all NASA programs, defense and commercial launch systems, advanced space and launch strategy programs, and in-space propulsion system programs supported by sites throughout the country, and will be based out of the company’s West Palm Beach, Florida, facility. Tarnacki first joined Aerojet Rocketdyne in December 2015 as vice president of Quality & Mission Assurance. Over the past 14 months, he has led efforts to stand up a new operating system across the enterprise and instill a culture of quality and metrics-driven continuous improvement throughout the organization. Prior to joining Aerojet Rocketdyne, Tarnacki garnered more than 30 years of diverse leadership experience in the aerospace and defense industry through the U.S. Air Force, General Electric Aircraft Engines, and United Technologies Corporation’s Pratt & Whitney division, where he held four different vice president positions, including leading a multi-billion dollar Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) business which consisted of 18 plants in eight countries. Tarnacki’s career began as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force (USAF), working as program manager for the Rocketdyne ATLAS MA-3 engine overhaul program and launch services contract at the Los Angeles Air Force Station, now known as the Space and Missile Systems Center. While there, he received the USAF Roland Obenland Engineering Memorial Award for top engineering performance. Tarnacki served two tours for the USAF, continued his commitment in the Air Force Reserve, and retired in 2002 as a lieutenant colonel. “After conducting an extensive internal and external search, I couldn’t be more pleased to name Jerry to this key leadership role for our company,” said Drake. “Jerry’s impressive background includes a unique variety of leadership positions in the areas of MRO, Manufacturing; Quality; Supply Chain; Environmental, Health & Safety; and Continuous Improvement. On top of that, he’s a proven team leader and strategist who is laser-focused on customer satisfaction – the perfect person to lead our Space organization in this exciting and pivotal time in Aerojet Rocketdyne’s legacy.” Aerojet Rocketdyne is an innovative company delivering solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense markets. The company is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader that provides propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. Additional information about Aerojet Rocketdyne can be obtained by visiting our websites at www.Rocket.com and www.AerojetRocketdyne.com.


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

March 1, 2017 - Under a collaborative partnership between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Energy, a new automated measurement system developed at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory will ensure quality production of plutonium-238 while reducing handling by workers. NASA has funded ORNL and other national laboratories to develop a process that will restore U.S. production capability of Pu-238 for the first time since the late 1980s when the Savannah River Plant ceased production. ORNL has produced and separated about 100 grams of the material and plans to scale up the process over the next several years to meet demand to power NASA deep space missions. "We are bringing together multiple disciplines across ORNL to achieve this automation and ramp up so that we can supply Pu-238 for NASA," said Bob Wham, who leads the project for the lab's Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division. The Pu-238 is produced from neptunium-237 feedstock provided by Idaho National Laboratory. Workers at ORNL mix neptunium oxide with aluminum and press the mixture into high-density pellets. The new automated measurement system robotically removes the Np-237 pellets from their holding tray, and measures their weight, diameter, and height. "We're excited to go from making these measurements by hand to just pressing a 'GO' button," said Jim Miller, a scientist in the Fusion & Materials for Nuclear Systems Division who is employing the new system. "About 52 Np-237 pellets can be measured per hour using the new automated measurement system," he added. Pellets meeting specifications, as determined by the new automated measurement system, are placed in a cassette that moves to another location for loading into a hollow aluminum tube that is hydrostatically compressed around the pellets. The Np-237 pellets loaded in the hollow aluminum tube later enter the High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at ORNL, where they are irradiated, creating Np-238, which quickly decays and becomes Pu-238. The irradiated pellets are then dissolved, and ORNL staff use a chemical process to separate the plutonium from any remaining neptunium. Purified plutonium is converted back to an oxide powder, packaged and shipped to Los Alamos for final processing. Plans are for initial production of 400 grams Pu-238 per year on average at ORNL and then to increase that quantity through additional automation and scale-up processes. Several ORNL researchers contributed to the automated measurement system. Alan Barker was the software architect, enhancing early work performed by others on the system and serving as technical lead to finish the project. Richard Wunderlich further developed the software to professional grade with an emphasis on making it more robust, usable and maintainable. Michelle Baldwin also provided programming expertise, including software quality assurance, verification and validation. David West was the hardware architect, overseeing configuration tasks within the glovebox and making sure the system is safe and functional in a radioactive environment. Tim McIntyre was the project manager. Project challenges included fitting the system into a glovebox that was only about 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep, and designing the system to be easy for workers to manipulate, maintain and repair, McIntyre said. In another project funded by NASA, Miller said the lab is working to automate the creation of the target neptunium/aluminum pellets. Miller also pointed to the collaborative nature of the automation development work at the lab. "I have a background in materials science, the Electrical and Electronics Systems Research Division people have the electrical and robotics background, and others like the staff in the NSITD have a chemical engineering background. None of us individually could get this done," he said. The next NASA mission planning to use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator fueled by Pu-238 is the Mars 2020 rover, scheduled for launch in July 2020. The mission will seek signs of life on Mars, test technology for human exploration, and gather samples of rocks and soil that could be returned to Earth. In the future, newly produced Pu-238 from ORNL will fuel these kinds of missions. NASA announced this week that is has accepted a small quantity of the new heat source for use on the rover. UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE's Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://science. .


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

RENO, Nev. - As the Earth warms from climate change, the risk of lethal dehydration and mass die-offs of songbirds during heat waves will increase in many areas of the world, according to a study published today in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "On a hot day, birds tend to hunker down in the shade until it cools down. But if it stays really hot for long enough during a day (hotter than a bird's body temperature - about 100 °F), they can get trapped, becoming dehydrated and unable to replenish their water in time" Tom Albright, lead author of the paper and associate professor in the Geography Department at the University of Nevada, Reno, said. With climate projections forecasting increases in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, Albright and his colleagues, professor Blair Wolf from the University of New Mexico Department of Biology and Alexander Gerson, assistant professor, Department of Biology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, found the risk continues to increase. They mapped the potential effects of current and future heat waves on the risk of lethal dehydration for five types of songbirds in the southwestern United States: They found the small species lose water faster than large, making them particularly susceptible to lethal dehydration. "Birds are susceptible to heat stress in two ways," Wolf said. "When it's really hot, they simply can't evaporate enough water to stay cool, overheat and die of heat stroke. In other cases the high rates of evaporative water loss needed to stay cool deplete their body water pools to lethal levels, and birds die of dehydration; this is the stressor we focused on in this study" Albright, whose work focuses on learning how the environment is changing and understanding how plants and animals are responding to these changes, uses tools such as remote sensing, computerized geographic information systems, and quantitative and statistical models to see how things are changing across large areas, and how different species and regions might be responding differently. "The study is a nice example of the kind of science enabled by two of our great U.S. science agencies, the National Science Foundation and NASA, basically mapping what you might call physiological performance and ultimately mapping the dynamics of risk," Albright said. According to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on historical record. Globally, the increase amounted to about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. And while that might not sound like much of an increase, it could mean the difference between life and death for some bird populations. The increasing extent, frequency, and intensity of dehydrating conditions under a warming climate may alter daily activity patterns, geographic range limits and the conservation status of affected birds. "Most animals can only tolerate water losses that result in 15 or 20 percent loss of body mass before they die," Gerson said. "So an animal experiencing peak temperatures during a hot summer day, with no access to water, isn't going to make it more than a few hours. Once we have these types of profiles for a number of different species, we can determine differential survival rates, which will then drive differences in the overall avian community structure." The findings illustrate that strategies are needed to conserve diverse plant and animal communities that supply shelter and water to desert birds amid future climate warming. "It shows that in these hot desert systems for these species, we have a potentially devastating mechanism that can lead to die-offs for some species in large regions," Albright said. "We're actually seeing these die-offs pretty regularly in Australia but they are harder to detect in the U.S. because our birds don't flock as much as Australian birds do in the summer." The authors point out that this work is part of a larger effort by this team to look at the biology of birds in the hottest places on Earth related to a real, current threat of massive avian die-offs occurring now in Australia and South Africa. The research, "Mapping evaporative water loss in desert passerines reveals an expanding threat of lethal hydration," was published in PNAS. The research was part of a three-year, $650,000 National Science Foundation grant. A 3-year, $350,000 NASA New Investigator award also funded University of Nevada, Reno-based modeling aspects of this research, and NASA's data and products played a role in enabling the research.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: spaceref.biz

In the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, thousands of pounds of supplies, equipment and scientific research materials are prepared for loading aboard a Cygnus spacecraft's pressurized cargo module (PCM) for the Orbital ATK CRS-7 mission to the International Space Station. Scheduled to launch on March 19, 2017, the commercial resupply services mission will lift off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Please follow SpaceRef on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.csmonitor.com

People watch as India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C37) carrying 104 satellites in a single mission lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, on Feb. 15, 2017. —Two years after India became the first Asian nation to send a probe to Mars, the country’s space agency can claim another record: The most satellites launched with a single rocket. At 9:28 a.m. Tuesday morning, a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) built by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the Bay of Bengal, carrying 104 satellites from seven countries. By 10 a.m., all had successfully been inserted into orbit, and India had surpassed a bar previously set by a Russian launch of 37 satellites in 2014. “This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation,” the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted. “India salutes our scientists.” In recent years, India has gained a reputation for reliable, inexpensive satellite launches; Tuesday’s launch positions it to gain an even bigger share of this fast-growing market. “India offers launch costs that are fifty percent cheaper than the rest of the world,” Pallava Bagla, a science editor with the privately run Indian TV channel NDTV, told Al Jazeera last June, so if SpaceX, Arianespace or NASA can do it at $100, India is willing to do it at $50.” If anything, that may be an understatement. On Wednesday, Moneycontrol.com’s Sidhartha Shukla reported that launching a satellite through SpaceX could cost around $60 million, but “ISRO charged an average of [$3 million] per satellite between 2013 and 2015.” ISRO’s strong position in the satellite-launch market had an inauspicious start. The first PSLV, launched in 1993, failed because of software glitches. By persevering with the program, ISRO was able to take advantage of the country’s talented, but relatively low-wage, workforce to bring launch costs down. Ramabhadran Aravamudan, former director of the ISRO Satellite Center in Bangalore, attributed India’s low launch prices to “cheaper labor costs and a state-led model that doesn't involve ‘industries with their own profit margins,’ ” CNN reported. This approach runs counter to the United State's current strategy of turning orbital spaceflight over to private firms as a means to bring costs down. But ISRO has nonetheless found plenty of customers, and managed to capitalize on another recent trend: the development of lightweight, inexpensive “CubeSats” and “SmallSats” that can be packed into a single rocket. Tuesday’s launch delivered 103 of these smaller satellites – 88 of which belonged to the San Francisco-based imaging company Planet – into orbit, along with a larger environmental satellite. Last year, private launches like these brought in 230 rupees crore (about $3.4 million) for ISRO’s commercial arm. The experience has also enabled ISRO to set more ambitious goals, on a tight budget. The country’s Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter reached the Red Planet in 2014 at a cost of $75 million – less than the budget for the 2013 Sci-Fi thriller “Gravity.” “They're not at the level of the Big 4,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told The Christian Science Monitor last May, referring to the space programs of the US, Russia, China, and Europe. ”But they’re pretty darn good.”


News Article | February 17, 2017
Site: hosted2.ap.org

(AP) — The launch pad used to send Americans to the moon and shuttle astronauts into orbit is roaring back into action. Dormant for nearly six years, NASA's Launch Complex 39A should see its first commercial flight this weekend. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will use it to hoist supplies to the International Space Station. Saturday morning's planned launch will be SpaceX's first from Florida since a devastating rocket explosion at a neighboring pad last summer. The accident prompted SpaceX to whip 39A into shape sooner than anticipated under its lease with NASA. The pad wrecked in the Sept. 1 accident remains unusable. A brief rundown on historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center: NASA built 39A, as it's commonly known, in the mid-1960s for the monstrous Saturn V moon rockets. It was first used in 1967 for an unmanned test flight, followed by another early the next year. Next came the astronauts, with Apollo 8 soaring to the moon right before Christmas 1968. SpaceX chief Elon Musk noted late last week via Instagram, "We are honored to be allowed to use it." The crescendo came on July 16, 1969, as Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins embarked on the first manned moon landing. All six Apollo moon-landings originated from here, as did close-call Apollo 13. Columbia made the first space shuttle flight from this pad on April 12, 1981, while Atlantis closed out the program from the same spot on July 8, 2011. This will be the 95th rocket launch from 39A. It was the departure point for 82 space shuttle flights and 11 Apollo missions, as well as the unmanned 1973 launch of Skylab, NASA's original space station. One flight resulted in casualties. As Columbia lifted off on Jan. 16, 2003, foam insulation from the external fuel tank broke off and gouged the left wing. Columbia and its crew were lost 16 days later during re-entry. SpaceX signed a 20-year lease with NASA in 2014, beating out another tech billionaire's rocket company, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin. Renovation work was accelerated after SpaceX's Sept. 1 rocket explosion a few miles away at Launch Complex 40 on Air Force property. The accident occurred during fueling for a prelaunch test. It is from pad 39A that SpaceX plans to launch Falcon rockets with space station-bound astronauts for NASA as early as next year. The company also might send spacecraft and, ultimately, crews to Mars from this location as well. Just a mile to the north, Launch Complex 39B is the lesser-known, lesser-used twin. Apollo 10 christened 39B in 1969. In the shuttle era, Challenger inaugurated the pad on Jan. 28, 1986. The doomed flight with schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe lasted 73 seconds. In all, 53 shuttle missions began from this pad, for a total of 59 launches of all types. It was last used in 2009 for an unmanned test flight of NASA's Ares rocket, canceled soon afterward. NASA is transforming 39B for its yet-to-fly Space Launch System megarocket, intended to send astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit.


News Article | February 16, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

A rare Trojan asteroid of Uranus has been found, following the same orbit as the planet. Its existence implies there could be many more of these companion asteroids, and that they are more common than we thought. A Trojan asteroid orbits the sun 60 degrees ahead of or behind a planet. Jupiter and Neptune have numerous Trojans, many of which have been in place for billions of years. These primordial rocks hold information about the solar system’s birth, and NASA has just announced plans to visit several of them in the 2020s and 2030s. But Saturn and Uranus live in a rougher neighbourhood: the giant planets on either side of them yank Trojans away through their gravitational pull. So Saturn has no known Trojan, and Uranus had only one. In July, though, astronomers reported a new asteroid, named 2014 YX , that shares Uranus’s orbital period of 84 years. Now computer simulations of the solar system by brothers Carlos and Raul de la Fuente Marcos at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, indicate the asteroid is a Uranus Trojan. The simulations show that the asteroid has maintained its position ahead of Uranus for thousands of years. “It is bigger, probably twice as big as the first one,” says Carlos. The new asteroid is brighter than the first, but its exact size depends on how much light its surface reflects. If it reflects half the sunlight striking it, it’s 40 kilometres across; if it reflects 5 per cent, its diameter is 120 kilometres. The new asteroid was found by accident, which Carlos says implies there should be more waiting to be discovered. He thinks its Trojans could number in the hundreds. Unlike the Trojans of Jupiter and Neptune, the simulations suggest that the two known Uranus Trojans are transient rather than permanent. Carlos suspects Uranus lacks primordial Trojans because the other giant planets kicked them away. The simulations indicate that the new asteroid was once a centaur, an object that skirts between the orbits of the giant planets. About 60,000 years ago, buffeted by their gravitational tugs, it was caught ahead of Uranus in its orbit around the sun and became a Trojan; it is likely to remain so for another 80,000 years, before eventually becoming a centaur again. Although Carlos thinks Uranus has no permanent Trojans, David Jewitt at the University of California at Los Angeles is willing to wait and see. “In the end the answer will come — as always — from observations,” he says. “People will either find permanent Uranus Trojans or not.” And Saturn? “The neighbourhood of Saturn is even more chaotic than that of Uranus,” Carlos says, due to Jupiter’s proximity. Still, he thinks Trojans of Saturn could exist. Journal references:  Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and ArXiv, arxiv.org/abs/1701.05541


NASA has funded ORNL and other national laboratories to develop a process that will restore US production capability of Pu-238 for the first time since the late 1980s when the Savannah River Plant ceased production.  ORNL has produced and separated about 100 grams of the material and plans to scale up the process over the next several years to meet demand to power NASA deep space missions. "We are bringing together multiple disciplines across ORNL to achieve this automation and ramp up so that we can supply Pu-238 for NASA," said Bob Wham, who leads the project for the lab's Nuclear Security and Isotope Technology Division. The Pu-238 is produced from neptunium-237 feedstock provided by Idaho National Laboratory. Workers at ORNL mix neptunium oxide with aluminum and press the mixture into high-density pellets. The new automated measurement system robotically removes the Np-237 pellets from their holding tray, and measures their weight, diameter, and height. "We're excited to go from making these measurements by hand to just pressing a 'GO' button," said Jim Miller, a scientist in the Fusion & Materials for Nuclear Systems Division who is employing the new system. "About 52 Np-237 pellets can be measured per hour using the new automated measurement system," Miller said. Pellets meeting specifications, as determined by the new automated measurement system, are placed in a cassette that moves to another location for loading into a hollow aluminum tube that is hydrostatically compressed around the pellets. The Np-237 pellets loaded in the hollow aluminum tube later enter the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), a Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility at ORNL, where they are irradiated, creating Np-238, which quickly decays and becomes Pu-238. The irradiated pellets are then dissolved, and ORNL staff use a chemical process to separate the plutonium from any remaining neptunium.  Purified plutonium is converted back to an oxide powder, packaged, and shipped to Los Alamos for final processing. Plans are for initial production of 400 grams Pu-238 per year on average at ORNL and then to increase that quantity through additional automation and scale-up processes. Several ORNL researchers contributed to the automated measurement system. Alan Barker was the software architect, enhancing early work performed by others on the system and serving as technical lead to finish the project. Richard Wunderlich further developed the software to professional grade with an emphasis on making it more robust, usable, and maintainable. Michelle Baldwin also provided programming expertise, including software quality assurance, verification, and validation. David West was the hardware architect, overseeing configuration tasks within the glovebox and making sure the system is safe and functional in a radioactive environment. Tim McIntyre was the project manager. Project challenges included fitting the system into a glovebox that was only about 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep, and designing the system to be easy for workers to manipulate, maintain, and repair, McIntyre said. In another project funded by NASA, Miller said the lab is working to automate the creation of the target neptunium/aluminum pellets. Miller also pointed to the collaborative nature of the automation development work at the lab. "I have a background in materials science, the EESR people have the electrical and robotics background, and others like the staff in the NSITD have a chemical engineering background. None of us individually could get this done," he said. The next NASA mission planning to use a radioisotope thermoelectric generator fueled by Pu-238 is the Mars 2020 rover, scheduled for launch in July 2020. The mission will seek signs of life on Mars, test technology for human exploration, and gather samples of rocks and soil that could be returned to Earth.  In the future, newly produced Pu-238 from ORNL will fuel these kinds of missions. NASA announced this week that is has accepted a small quantity of the new heat source for use on the rover.


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

According to the Washington Post, Donald Trump wants to make a splash in space. And he apparently wants to make that splash by orbiting the Moon. Orbiting the Moon? Merely circling it? What a comedown from America’s past high…landing twelve humans on the lunar surface. But there is a way to outdo America’s past achievements. And to accomplish this in a shorter time with a smaller budget than the Trump team imagines. It’s a way to get to the Moon and to stay there permanently. A way to begin this process immediately and to achieve moon landings in less than four years. Turn to private industry. Turn to two companies in particular—Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Robert Bigelow’s Bigelow Aerospace. Why? Because the approach that NASA’s acting administrator Robert Lightfoot is pushing won’t allow a Moon landing. Lightfoot’s problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that’s too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that’s far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon’s vicinity, they cannot land. Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk’s rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What’s more, SpaceX’s upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth’s surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready. There’s more. Within the space community, there is a wide disenchantment with “flags and footprints” missions. Flags and footprints missions are those like the Apollo landings in which astronauts land, plant a flag, hit a golf ball, then disappear for 45 years. Major segments of the space community want every future landing to add to a permanent infrastructure in the sky. And that’s within our grasp thanks to Robert Bigelow. In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow’s been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What’s more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon’s surface. Then there’s a wild card—Jeff Bezos. Bezos’ Blue Origin rockets already have a well-tested capacity to take off, land, then take off again. Which means that in the next few years Bezos’ rockets, too, could land cargoes and passengers on the Moon. If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow’s landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX’s Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations…plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials. This new Moon program could be achieved within NASA’s current budget. In fact, members of the group I run—the Space Development Steering Committee—estimate the total cost of what I’ve described (Moon landings plus a permanent moon base) at ten billion dollars. That’s just three years’ worth of the money currently being funneled into the SLS and the Orion. Also speaking in the Washington Post, President Trump says he wants to send “a clear signal to the Chinese that the U.S. intends to retain dominance in space.” Looping the loop around the moon without touching down would demonstrate only one thing: America’s fecklessness. But landing Americans on the lunar surface for long stays at an American base would send a message of a dramatically different kind. If NASA deep-sixed the Space Launch System and the Orion, then bought Moon-landing services from SpaceX, Bigelow, and, possibly, Blue Origin, America could land its citizens on the Moon in less than four years. But this time, thanks to Bigelow’s Moon Base, Americans be there to stay.


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

The Arctic has been losing sea ice over the past several decades as Earth warms. However, each year, as the sea ice starts to melt in the spring following its maximum wintertime extent, scientists still struggle to estimate exactly how much ice they expect will disappear through the melt season. Now, a new NASA forecasting model based on satellite measurements is allowing researchers to make better estimates. Forecasts of how much Arctic sea ice will shrink from spring into fall is valuable information for such communities as shipping companies and native people that depend on sea ice for hunting. Many animal and plant species are impacted directly by changes in the coverage of sea ice across the Arctic. Uncertain weather conditions through spring and summer make the forecasting of Arctic sea ice for a given year extremely challenging. With data from satellites, which have been measuring sea ice in the Arctic since 1979, scientists can easily calculate the downward trend in Arctic sea ice. To make forecasts of how the Arctic sea ice cover might behave in the upcoming year, researchers have several options. The simplest approach is to assume a continuation of the long-term trend into the current year. The problem with this approach is that it will miss outliers -- years when the sea ice cover will be a lot higher or lower than expected. Another option is to analyze the physical characteristics of the sea ice cover as the melt season develops, to try to more precisely estimate if the amount of sea ice come September will be more or less than expected from the long-term trend. "What we have shown is that we can use information collected in the spring and onwards to determine if we should see more or less ice come the end of summer than expected from the long-term decline," said Alek Petty, lead author of the new paper, which was published on February 27 in the journal Earth's Future, and a sea ice researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The study used satellite measurements of sea ice coverage and melt onset. Petty's team found that the forecasts based on melt onset -- the time at which sea ice starts to melt and open water appears in the Arctic Ocean -- were most reliable in early spring, while sea ice coverage-based predictions were more reliable from June onwards. The forecasts focus specifically on regions that historically corresponded with how much sea ice remains come the September minimum extent. The predictions become more accurate with each passing month, as the model integrates more near-real-time information about sea ice melt and the distribution of open water areas across the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas To test whether their model produced reliable forecasts, Petty's team went back in time and made predictions for each year of the satellite record, using historical data of the Arctic sea ice conditions. They then evaluated the results against both the actual minimum extent for that year and what the long-term trend would have predicted. "We found that our forecast model does much better than the linear trend at capturing what actually happened to the sea ice in any specific year," Petty said. "Our model is very good at catching the highs and the lows. The absolute values? Not exactly, but it tends to do very well at seeing when the sea ice extent is going to go up and when it's going to go down compared to what we might be expecting for that year." Petty's research also showed that models can produce reliable forecasts of sea ice not only for the whole Arctic, but for concrete regions; specifically, the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska. "The state of sea ice has a large impact on the Alaskan hunting communities," Petty said. "If they know ahead of time what the sea ice cover is going to be like that year, they might be able to infer the availability of the species they hunt." Future research will explore synthesizing different sea ice measurements into the same model to improve the reliability of the forecasts, Petty said.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite captured a night-time image of Tropical Cyclone Carlos using infrared light that showed the storm was being stretched out. Carlos is being adversely affected by the Westerlies. The Westerlies are a semi-permanent belt of prevailing westerly winds in the mid-latitudes that are found in both the temperate zones of the northern and southern hemispheres. On February 9 the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard the NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP satellite captured an infrared image of Tropical Cyclone Carlos in the Southern Indian Ocean. Infrared imagery detects heat. The VIIRS image showed the thunderstorms around the center of circulation has become more elongated from east to west. Carlos has now moved further into the Westerlies, which have caused the elongation. The winds affecting Carlos are battering the tropical cyclone at a speed between 34.5 mph (30 knots /55.5 kph) and 46 mph (40 knots/74 kph). On Feb. 10 at 1500 UTC (10 a.m. EST) Tropical Storm Carlos' maximum sustained winds were near 51.7 mph (45 knots/83.3 kph). Carlos' winds peaked on February 9. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) expects Carlos to continue weakening. Carlos was centered near 28.5 degrees south latitude and 60.8 degrees east longitude, about 502 nautical miles southeast of Port Louis, Mauritius. Carlos was moving to the southeast at 17 mph (15 knots/28 kph). JTWC forecasters expect Carlos to rapidly erode, then dissipate by Sunday, February 12 because of increasing vertical wind shear and movement over cooler sea surface temperatures.


News Article | February 28, 2017
Site: www.prnewswire.com

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Students from Hartsfield Elementary 4-H Club of the Houston Independent School District in Texas will speak with a NASA astronaut currently living and working aboard the International Space Station at 10 a.m. EST Friday, March 3. The...


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The fifth tropical cyclone of the Southern Indian Ocean season formed today, February 13 as NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of the storm. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite captured a visible image of newly developed Tropical Cyclone Dineo in the Mozambique Channel on Feb. 13, 2017. Madagascar is to the east of the storm and Mozambique lies to the west. The image revealed strong storms around the center of circulation. On Feb. 13 at 10 a.m. EST (1500 UTC), Dineo had maximum sustained winds near 46 mph (40 knots/74 mph) that are expected to strengthen over the next two days. Dineo was located about 48 nautical miles north-northwest of Europa Island. Dineo was crawling to the south-southwest at 2.3 mph (2 knots/3.7 kph). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center noted that animated multispectral satellite imagery shows "a consolidating low-level circulation center with deep convective banding (of thunderstorms) wrapping into the partially-exposed low-level center." The bulk of thunderstorms were over the eastern side of the storm. In one and a half days, atmospheric conditions are expected to allow the system to turn westward to west-northwestward where it is forecast to make landfall along the east coast of Mozambique on February 16.


News Article | February 17, 2017
Site: globenewswire.com

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 17, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), today announced that Jerry Tarnacki has been appointed as the senior vice president of the company’s recently formed Space Business Unit. A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/7703b2a6-4653-4f7b-9d55-a57569e2aa8a In his new role, Tarnacki will report directly to Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. He will oversee all NASA programs, defense and commercial launch systems, advanced space and launch strategy programs, and in-space propulsion system programs supported by sites throughout the country, and will be based out of the company’s West Palm Beach, Florida, facility. Tarnacki first joined Aerojet Rocketdyne in December 2015 as vice president of Quality & Mission Assurance. Over the past 14 months, he has led efforts to stand up a new operating system across the enterprise and instill a culture of quality and metrics-driven continuous improvement throughout the organization. Prior to joining Aerojet Rocketdyne, Tarnacki garnered more than 30 years of diverse leadership experience in the aerospace and defense industry through the U.S. Air Force, General Electric Aircraft Engines, and United Technologies Corporation’s Pratt & Whitney division, where he held four different vice president positions, including leading a multi-billion dollar Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) business which consisted of 18 plants in eight countries. Tarnacki’s career began as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force (USAF), working as program manager for the Rocketdyne ATLAS MA-3 engine overhaul program and launch services contract at the Los Angeles Air Force Station, now known as the Space and Missile Systems Center. While there, he received the USAF Roland Obenland Engineering Memorial Award for top engineering performance. Tarnacki served two tours for the USAF, continued his commitment in the Air Force Reserve, and retired in 2002 as a lieutenant colonel. “After conducting an extensive internal and external search, I couldn’t be more pleased to name Jerry to this key leadership role for our company,” said Drake. “Jerry’s impressive background includes a unique variety of leadership positions in the areas of MRO, Manufacturing; Quality; Supply Chain; Environmental, Health & Safety; and Continuous Improvement. On top of that, he’s a proven team leader and strategist who is laser-focused on customer satisfaction – the perfect person to lead our Space organization in this exciting and pivotal time in Aerojet Rocketdyne’s legacy.” Aerojet Rocketdyne is an innovative company delivering solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense markets. The company is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader that provides propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. Additional information about Aerojet Rocketdyne can be obtained by visiting our websites at www.Rocket.com and www.AerojetRocketdyne.com.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

During Earth-Trojan asteroid search operations, the PolyCam imager aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of Jupiter (center) and three of its moons, Callisto (left), Io, and Ganymede. The image, which shows the bands of Jupiter, was taken at 3:34 a.m. EST, on Feb. 12, when the spacecraft was 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) from Earth and 418 million miles (673 million kilometers) from Jupiter. PolyCam is OSIRIS-REx's longest range camera, capable of capturing images of the asteroid Bennu from a distance of two million kilometers. This image was produced by taking two copies of the same image, adjusting the brightness of Jupiter separately from the significantly dimmer moons, and compositing them back together so that all four objects are visible in the same frame. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission's observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency's New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.


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

"I'm beginning a sweater. It's with ridiculously tiny yarn, so I'm hoping it will take me the whole mission. So far, the project has been an entertaining microcosm of the way we have to work with limited resources. On Mars, it takes a village to knit a sweater." The above extract is not, as it first appears, some opening line of a blockbuster environmental space opera akin to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, but rather a dispatch from the blog of Laura Lark, currently devoting eight months of her life to living, working, and experimenting in a replica Mars habitat on Mauna Loa volcano, Hawaiʻi. "It's critically important for humans to venture beyond Earth orbit, and I hope that a journey to Mars will be one of many, many steps that humans take beyond our home planet," Lark told Motherboard in an email from inside the habitat—an email that wouldn't have arrived in my inbox until more than 20 minutes after it was sent thanks to a simulated communications delay. Lark is one of six crew members participating in the fifth HI-SEAS (Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) mission, a research effort by the University of Hawai'i, funded by NASA. The mission is designed to study human behavior and performance, helping NASA determine the individual and team requirements for long-duration space exploration missions—including travel to Mars. Lark is essentially an astronaut. She only steps outside of the HI-SEAS habitat to carry out geological research, and when she does, she must wear a mock space suit. "The other skills I picked up as a member of teams at Google and before may prove equally useful..." Lark's background isn't exactly what you might expect for a traditional astronaut, but her skills are exactly what will be needed for future space missions. Lark is a computer scientist and an ex-Google software engineer, a role typically typecast as providing essential space mission support work, but from ground control stuck firmly on Terra Firma. Lark told Motherboard that's shifting, though. "With the ISS and the prospect of other long duration missions, the skills and traits needed to go to space are definitely changing," said Lark. "My technical background has already been useful in stabilizing our communications systems with Mission Support, but the other skills I picked up as a member of teams at Google and before may prove equally useful: how to troubleshoot, creative problem-solving, how to work with a large team (especially one dispersed geographically) to accomplish something very complex." Lark's work on the mission will include generating 3D maps of the terrain surrounding the habitat that the crew will use for identifying so-called "targets of opportunity"—sites of scientific interest that they may want to visit—and for planning other trips outside of the habitat. "We need teams that can thrive for years away from home in stressful and confined situations. The fundamental goal of HI-SEAS is to figure out how to select a crew and how to support them during the mission so that the crew remains cohesive and productive during a long period in a Mars-like environment," Lark said. Yet other, equally less stereotypically-astronautical skills are needed for long-term space survival. Growing up in a small farm in Whatcom County, Washington, raising animals for eggs, wool, and milk for the family, Lark is also comfortable with getting her hands dirty. "One aspect of growing up raising plants and animals that's quite relevant to the mission is the idea that you cultivate your own ecosystem. Since the mission began, I've spent spare time starting sprouts, reactivating sourdough starter, and planting flowers and vegetables," said Lark. And even computer scientists still have to deal with space poop. "On a less appetizing topic, we have composting toilets in the hab to manage human waste and one of our hab tasks is to empty the compost and clean out the toilets. I haven't yet had the pleasure of taking my turn at it, but I'm not concerned; I cleaned up many a pile of crap as a kid," said Lark. That's probably easy for Lark to say though, just a month or so into the mission. It's not until August when HI-SEAS V will officially be over and Lark, along with the rest of crew, can reunite with families and loved ones. Motherboard asked Lark how she'd like to see the world change over her tenure on Mars. "I hope to see more cooperation," she replied. "Space exploration is, and will continue to be, a massively collaborative international effort. When humans go to Mars, there's not going to be just one flag on the rocket. We all live on the same planet and we need to start acting like it if we ever want to change that fact." Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Irvine, Calif., February 9, 2017 - Less than a year after the first research flight kicked off NASA's Oceans Melting Greenland campaign, data from the new program are providing a dramatic increase in knowledge of how Greenland's ice sheet is melting from below. Two new research papers in the journal Oceanography, including one by UCI Earth system scientist Mathieu Morlighem, use OMG observations to document how meltwater and ocean currents are interacting along Greenland's west coast and to improve seafloor maps used to predict future melting and sea level rise. OMG is a five-year campaign to study the glaciers and ocean along Greenland's 27,000-mile coastline. Its goal is to find out where and how fast seawater is melting the glacial ice. Most of the coastline and seafloor around the ice sheet had never been surveyed, so the 2016 flights expanded scientists' knowledge of Greenland significantly. Future years of data collection will reveal the rate of change around the island. The water circulating close around the Greenland Ice Sheet is like a cold river floating atop a warm, salty ocean. The top 600 feet (200 meters) of colder water is relatively fresh and comes from the Arctic. Below that is saltwater that comes from the south, 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the fresher water above. The layers don't mix much because freshwater weighs less than saltwater, so it stays afloat. If a glacier reaches the ocean where the seafloor is shallow, the ice interacts with frigid freshwater and melts slowly. Conversely, if the seafloor in front of a glacier is deep, the ice spills into the warm subsurface layer of saltwater and may melt relatively rapidly. Satellite remote sensing can't see below the surface to discern the depth of the seafloor or study the layers of water. OMG makes these measurements with shipboard and airborne instruments. In the first paper, UCI's Morlighem used the OMG surveys to improve maps of the bedrock under some of the West Coast glaciers. Glaciologists worldwide use these and other maps in modeling the rate of ice loss in Greenland and projecting future losses. A coastal glacier's response to a warming climate depends heavily not only on the depth of the seafloor in front of it, as explained above, but on the shape of the bedrock below it. Before OMG, virtually the only measurements Morlighem had of these critical landscapes were long, narrow strips of data collected along flight lines of research aircraft, sometimes tens of miles inland (upstream) from a glacier's ocean front. He has been estimating the shape of the bedrock outside of the flight lines with the help of other data such as ice flow speeds, but formerly had no good way to check how accurate his estimates are at the coastline. Morlighem noted, "OMG [data are] not only improving our knowledge of the ocean floor, they're improving our knowledge of the topography of the land, too." This is because the campaign's seafloor survey revealed features under the ocean, such as troughs cut by glaciers during the last ice age, which must continue upstream under the glacial ice. Therefore, Morlighem said, "By having OMG's measurements close to the ice front, I can tell whether what I thought about the bed topography is correct or not." Morlighem was pleasantly surprised to discover that 90 percent of the glacier depths he had estimated were within 160 feet (50 meters) of the actual depths recorded by the OMG survey. In the second paper, Ian Fenty of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and coauthors, including Morlighem, tracked water up the West Coast to see how it changed as it interacted with hundreds of melting coastal glaciers. They found that in northwest Greenland, cold and fresh water flowing into glacial fjords from the melting surface of the ice sheet is cooling the warmer subsurface water, which circulates clockwise around the island. In one instance, evidence for meltwater-cooled waters was found in fjords 100 miles (160 kilometers) downstream from its source. Fenty noted, "This is the first time we've documented glacier meltwater significantly impacting ocean temperatures so far downstream. That shows meltwater can play an important role in determining how much ocean heat ultimately reaches Greenland's glaciers." The OMG data have enough detail that researchers are beginning to pinpoint the ice-loss risk for individual glaciers along the coast, according to principal investigator Josh Willis of JPL. "Without OMG, we wouldn't be able to conclude that Upernavik Glacier is vulnerable to ocean warming, whereas Cornell Glacier is less vulnerable," he said. About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It's located in one of the world's safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County's second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit http://www. . Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

A few weeks ago, Hidden Figures, the story about African-American women who helped get Apollo astronauts to the Moon, was overtaking and holding the box office lead. This real-life story of Black history in the Space Age supplanted the science fiction space adventure Rogue One and is holding its own, which should be no surprise. But the story and its success is a surprise. Hidden Figures revealed a part of NASA history that had been left out of the story we usually tell about the Space Age. Space exploration has been about people as well as about machines, and Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson didn’t make it into the history books until recently. History books got that wrong, until now. At the same time this film was telling this eye-opening story of Black history, the Huffington Post, Yahoo!, Economic Times, and others ran stories about the first African-American International Space Station crew member, who is scheduled to launch for an extended stint aboard the station in 2018. These and other media outlets claimed that Jeanette Epps will be the first African-American sent to the space station or to board ISS. The media got that wrong. This is probably due to a misunderstanding about how ISS crew rotation works. Reporters, likely unfamiliar with space exploration, probably didn't bother to look carefully at the announcement on NASA's website, or didn't understand the difference between an Expedition crew aboard the space station and a Soyuz or Shuttle crew going to the space station. The shuttle flew to the International Space Station (ISS) for years, carrying astronauts back and forth on short missions of a week or two to deliver supplies or to help with repairs. Some members of those shuttle crews joined a space station crew to stay aboard for longer stints. These longer-term Expedition crews were formed in a carefully orchestrated scheduled of overlaps and swap-outs that’s been going on since November 2, 2000. Just as many of us are surprised to know that African-American women mathematicians were calculating spacecraft trajectories fifty years ago, we might mistakenly assume that African-Americans have not been actively contributing to space exploration as astronauts these last thirty years. Epps will fly up as part of a Soyuz crew and remain as part of an Expedition crew, and that is a terrific first. But she won’t be the first African-American to float through the hatch into ISS. African-American astronaut Stephanie Wilson flew to and boarded ISS three separate times over four years. In 2007, Wilson was part of the STS-120 shuttle crew that also included Daniel Tani. She returned to Earth Mark Hamill’s light saber from Star Wars, which had been carried aboard for the film’s thirtieth anniversary. Tani, on the other hand, became part of the space station’s sixteenth Expedition. He stayed on orbit almost four months and had no way to return home to be with his family when his mother died. That’s among the risks Epps will face in 2018: the inability to return home any time soon. To be sure, all the humans who went to the moon were white men. Even in the early days of America’s space programs, however, Ed Dwight was picked as an astronaut candidate. He faced harsh racism and, after the assassination of President Kennedy, decided not to join the astronaut corps. Though he never flew to space either, Robert Henry Lawrence Jr. became the first Black astronaut in 1967, when he joined the Manned Orbital Laboratory program, a sort of spy-in-the-sky idea. By the time that program was cancelled and some of its astronauts switched to NASA, Lawrence had died when his ejection seat malfunctioned during an aborted test flight of a supersonic aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base. In the wake of these small first steps, the astronaut group chosen in 1978 became the giant leap forward for NASA that shaped the space shuttle crews and future astronaut selection for decades to come. As NASA moved toward the first shuttle launch, this class included six women, an Asian-American man, and three African-American men: Guion Bluford Jr., Ronald McNair, and Frederick Gregory. In 1983, on the eighth shuttle mission, Bluford became the first of these three to travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere. He went on to fly four more missions. But the first Black person to travel to space wasn’t Bluford. A Cuban of African descent had done that aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft three years earlier. Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez was part of the Intercosmos program. He flew to Salyut 6 in 1980, where he and his fellow cosmonaut conducted experiments on the causes of space sickness and also on sucrose crystallization in low gravity in hopes of improving Cuba’s sugar industry. From that more inclusive NASA astronaut class of the late 1970s, McNair flew aboard the shuttle twice. He died on his second flight, on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger broke apart as the nation watched on television. Gregory watched the tragedy unfold from Mission Control, for he was the astronaut on the ground keeping track of the weather that morning. McNair left an amazing legacy in a scholarship program that helps prepare first-generation and traditionally underrepresented undergraduate students for doctoral study. In 1989, Gregory, a pilot, became the first African-American to command a spaceflight. That was his second of three missions. The increasing inclusivity of NASA’s astronaut corps, in fact, has made it an eclectic, incredibly agile group that adapted to the changing role of the space shuttle and continues to adapt to Soyuz missions and planned exploration to Mars. The first African-American woman to travel to space was not Epps or even Wilson but, rather, Mae Jemison. Jemison, a physician, served in the Peace Corps before she joined the astronaut corps in 1987. She applied to be an astronaut after she saw Sally Ride become the first American woman in space. Jemison names Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura on Star Trek, as her role model, for Uhura was the African-American woman spacefarer with whom many of us grew up. During that flight, she honored Uhura by starting each of her work shifts by saying, “Hailing frequencies open.” The 25th anniversary of Jemison’s flight aboard Endeavour occurs this year. Several African-American astronauts have visited the space station. Robert Curbeam was the first, in 2001, and Alvin Drew was the last to fly there aboard shuttle, on Discovery’s last mission in 2011. During that flight, he performed a spacewalk. Though he was the two-hundredth person to do that, he wasn’t the first African-American. That first belongs to Bernard Harris Jr., who walked in space back in 1995. Curbeam, in fact, made seven spacewalks over his NASA career, the most of any African-American. All of NASA, in fact, was headed up by an African-American astronaut. Charlie Bolden traveled to space four times before becoming NASA Administrator in 2009 and serving through the end of President Obama’s administration. The International Space Station has been continuously inhabited for more than sixteen years. Currently, six astronauts are circling overhead, onboard ISS as members of the Expedition 50 crew. Their earthly homes are Russia (three), the United States (two), and France (one), making this very much an international space station. Those of us on the planet’s surface can check to see what the crew has planned for every day they are on station. We can also see ISS traverse the night sky with your own eyes, with instructions from NASA’s Spot The Station website. To mistakenly think that Jeanette Epps would be the first African-American to visit the station shows a lack of understanding of the long-standing contributions of African-Americans to our nation’s achievements. To understand that Epps will be the first African-American to be part of an Expedition crew is to celebrate her achievement as part of the rich, ongoing history of this country in the largest sense and of spacefaring and ISS in particular. Her planned mission signals that firsts still remain to be achieved and that there’s no reason to think that a crew to Mars shouldn’t be inclusive and stronger for it. So, mark your calendar for May 2018, when Epps will be onboard ISS, zooming across the heavens inside that spark of light.


News Article | March 1, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

The first images from the Solar Ultraviolet Imager or SUVI instrument aboard NOAA's GOES-16 satellite have been successful, capturing a large coronal hole on Jan. 29, 2017. The sun's 11-year activity cycle is currently approaching solar minimum, and during this time powerful solar flares become scarce and coronal holes become the primary space weather phenomena - this one in particular initiated aurora throughout the polar regions. Coronal holes are areas where the sun's corona appears darker because the plasma has high-speed streams open to interplanetary space, resulting in a cooler and lower-density area as compared to its surroundings. SUVI is a telescope that monitors the sun in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength range. SUVI will capture full-disk solar images around-the-clock and will be able to see more of the environment around the sun than earlier NOAA geostationary satellites. The sun's upper atmosphere, or solar corona, consists of extremely hot plasma, an ionized gas. This plasma interacts with the sun's powerful magnetic field, generating bright loops of material that can be heated to millions of degrees. Outside hot coronal loops, there are cool, dark regions called filaments, which can erupt and become a key source of space weather when the sun is active. Other dark regions are called coronal holes, which occur where the sun's magnetic field allows plasma to stream away from the sun at high speed. The effects linked to coronal holes are generally milder than those of coronal mass ejections, but when the outflow of solar particles is intense - can pose risks to satellites in Earth orbit. The solar corona is so hot that it is best observed with X-ray and extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) cameras. Various elements emit light at specific EUV and X-ray wavelengths depending on their temperature, so by observing in several different wavelengths, a picture of the complete temperature structure of the corona can be made. The GOES-16 SUVI observes the sun in six EUV channels. Data from SUVI will provide an estimation of coronal plasma temperatures and emission measurements which are important to space weather forecasting. SUVI is essential to understanding active areas on the sun, solar flares and eruptions that may lead to coronal mass ejections which may impact Earth. Depending on the magnitude of a particular eruption, a geomagnetic storm can result that is powerful enough to disturb Earth's magnetic field. Such an event may impact power grids by tripping circuit breakers, disrupt communication and satellite data collection by causing short-wave radio interference and damage orbiting satellites and their electronics. SUVI will allow the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center to provide early space weather warnings to electric power companies, telecommunication providers and satellite operators. SUVI replaces the GOES Solar X-ray Imager (SXI) instrument in previous GOES satellites and represents a change in both spectral coverage and spatial resolution over SXI. NASA successfully launched GOES-R at 6:42 p.m. EST on Nov. 19, 2016, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and it was renamed GOES-16 when it achieved orbit. GOES-16 is now observing the planet from an equatorial view approximately 22,300 miles above the surface of Earth. NOAA's satellites are the backbone of its life-saving weather forecasts. GOES-16 will build upon and extend the more than 40-year legacy of satellite observations from NOAA that the American public has come to rely upon. See time-lapse of the sun: https:/ For more information about GOES-16, visit: http://www. or http://www. To learn more about the GOES-16 SUVI instrument, visit:


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.wired.com

Etna in Italy had a real quiet 2016. However, it appears that 2017 won’t follow the same path. Since January 23, the summit craters on Etna have been restless and now strombolian explosions have been rocking the South East Crater. In fact, two distinct vapor-and-ash plumes are active on the Sicilian volcano. This is the first sign of magma at the surface at Etna in over eight months (which is a long time for the nearly-constantly restless volcano). The current eruption (termed “mild” by the folks at the INGV’s Etna Observatory) first started with loud explosions and incandescent blocks on January 20. By January 23, full-fledged strombolian explosions were occurring from a vent between some of the older South East Crater vents. On top of that, glowing and a small plume was noted from the Voragine crater as well. Etna is well-known for having eruptions where multiple summit vents are active, so this isn’t too out of the ordinary. Whether this activity is a harbinger of an active new year at Etna is still unknown, but clearly the conditions are changing at the Italian volcano. When the weather is favorable, you can watch the eruptions at Etna on the webcams. In Alaska, Bogoslof continues to produce occasional big blasts that reach over 10 kilometers (33,000 feet) over the volcano. The Alaska Volcano Observatory posted some more maps showing how the island has changed since the eruptions started in mid-December 2016. Meanwhile, an energetic earthquake swarm was noticed at Takawangha. Now, if that name seems especially unfamiliar (for an Alaskan volcano), it might be because there are no known historic eruptions from the volcano in the Andreanof Islands. Its neighbor, Tanaga, erupted in 1914. The earthquake swarm that started on January 24 could suggest that magma is moving beneath the volcano, but has waned over the past three days. Currently, AVO has Takawangha on a Yellow alert status in case this swarm is a precursor to a new eruption. In Ethiopia, Erta’Ale appears to be producing the first lava flows on its slopes in a decade. The NASA Earth Observatory posted a great Landsat 8 image of the eruption showing both the summit lava lake and the flank lava flows. The volcano is famous for having an active lava lake at the summit, but eruptive activity has been confined to this area over the last 10 years. However, reports now indicate lava flows moving south from the volcano towards some areas of population. The eruption appears to be from an new fissure vent on the southeastern slopes of Erta’Ale. The lava flows are likely to move slowly enough as to not be a hazard for people’s lives, but they can easily destroy homes and infrastructure. UPDATE 2 PM EST 1/27/17: Simon Can (MTU) has added this fun fact: the Erta’Ale eruption is the largest sulfur dioxide emission ever measured (by satellite) from the volcano:


News Article | February 22, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

FILE - In this July 24, 1969 file photo, the Apollo 11 command module lands in the Pacific Ocean and the crew waits to be picked up by U.S. Navy personnel after an eight day mission to the moon. The Apollo 11 command module, which travelled more than 950,000 miles to take Americans to the moon and back in 1969, is going on a road trip, leaving the Smithsonian for the first time in more than four decades. (AP Photo, File) CHANTILLY, Va. (AP) — The Apollo 11 command module, which traveled more than 950,000 miles to take Americans to the moon and back in 1969, is going on a road trip, leaving the Smithsonian for the first time in more than four decades. The capsule, named "Columbia," went on a tour of U.S. capitals following its historic role in the mission to the moon. But it has since made its home at the Smithsonian in Washington. On Wednesday, officials announced a four-city road tour ahead of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019. The capsule will visit museums in Houston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Seattle as part of a new exhibit: "Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission." Part of the reason for the tour is that the Smithsonian is working to renovate the gallery at its National Air and Space Museum in Washington that tells the story of the Apollo missions, but that exhibit isn't scheduled to open until 2020. Smithsonian space history department curator Allan Needell says the Smithsonian didn't want to just store the capsule and instead decided that "while we're preparing for its new home we could share it with other venues and have some broader access to it." The command module is only a part of the spacecraft that blasted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on July 16, 1969, on an eight-day moon mission. The capsule, its interior about the size of a car, was the main work and living area for the three-man crew. And it was the craft astronaut Michael Collins piloted while his crewmates, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, descended to the moon's surface in the Lunar Module "Eagle." The command module was the only part of the spacecraft to return to Earth, however, and that made it an object of fascination. More than 3 million people saw it and an accompanying moon rock during a tour of U.S. state capitals in 1970 and 1971. Americans often waited hours to get inside a trailer that housed the capsule during its tour. The capsule visited every state and missed only one state capital, visiting Anchorage in Alaska rather than Juneau, before it was transferred to the Smithsonian. The Apollo 11 capsule is currently being readied for its trip at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Conservators are giving the capsule a full checkup — examining and documenting its condition before it goes on tour. One concern for Smithsonian conservator Lisa Young is the condition of the spacecraft's heat shield, which was designed to take a beating on its re-entry to Earth's atmosphere. Layers of the heat shield were designed to burn away when the craft re-entered the atmosphere and what remains will need to be stabilized before the capsule goes traveling. Visitors who go to see the capsule on tour will also get to see other objects that were used on the lunar mission, including gloves and a visor Aldrin wore on the moon and a "rock box" used to bring back the first samples of the moon. They'll also be able to explore an interactive, 3D tour of the inside and outside of the capsule. Curators think of the tour as a preview of that exhibit that will open back at the Smithsonian in 2020 and replace a moon exhibit that opened with the museum in 1976. The capsule will begin its tour in Houston in October of this year and spend about five months at each site, ending in Seattle where it will be for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing: July 20, 2019. The capsule also will visit: the Space Center Houston from Oct. 14, 2017, to March 18, 2018; the Saint Louis Science Center from April 14 to Sept. 3, 2018; the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh from Sept. 29, 2018, to Feb. 18, 2019; and The Museum of Flight in Seattle from March 16 to Sept. 2, 2019. Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jessica-gresko.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

NASA's Terra satellite saw strong thunderstorms spiraling into the heart of Tropical Cyclone Dineo on Valentine's Day as it continued to strengthen in the Mozambique Channel. On Feb. 14, 2017 at 2:45 a.m. EST (0745 UTC) the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Terra satellite captured a visible image Dineo that showed strong thunderstorms wrapping into and around the "heart" or center of the storm's low-level circulation. A thick band of powerful thunderstorms from the eastern quadrant wrapped south and west into the center. The Mozambique Channel is the body of water bordered by the island nation of Madagascar to the east and Mozambique on the mainland African continent on the west. On Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. EST (1500 UTC), Dineo had maximum sustained winds near 63 mph (55 knots/102 kph). Dineo's winds are expected to reach hurricane strength later today, February 14, and peak near 75 knots by 7 a.m. EST (1200 UTC) on February 15. Dineo was located about 78 nautical miles west of Europa Island near 22.5 degrees south latitude and 38.6 degrees east longitude. Dineo was crawling to the southwest at 3.4 mph (3 knots/5.5 kph). Residents of Mozambique should be preparing for the storm's landfall. As Dineo continues to strengthen and move toward Mozambique, residents can expect heavy rainfall, strong surf and hurricane-force winds. Dineo is forecast by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center to make landfall along the east coast of Mozambique on February 15 around 2100 UTC (4 p.m. EST) at hurricane-force. For updated forecasts from Mozambique National Institute of Meteorology, visit: http://www.


News Article | February 15, 2017
Site: phys.org

Celebrations erupted among scientists at the southern spaceport of Sriharikota as the head of India's Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced all the satellites had been ejected as planned. "My hearty congratulations to the ISRO team for this success," the agency's director Kiran Kumar told those gathered in an observatory to track the progress of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately congratulated the scientists for the successful launch which smashes a record previously held by Russia. "This remarkable feat ... is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation," Modi wrote on Twitter. The rocket took off at 9:28am (0358 GMT) and cruised at a speed of 27,000 kilometres (16,777 miles) per hour, ejecting all the 104 satellites into orbit in around 30 minutes, according to ISRO. The rocket's main cargo was a 714 kilogram (1,574 pounds) satellite for Earth observation but it was also loaded with 103 smaller "nano satellites", weighing a combined 664 kilograms. The smallest weighed only 1.1 kilogram. Nearly all of the nano satellites are from other countries, including Israel, Kazakhstan, Switzerland and 96 from the United States. Around 90 of the satellites are from a San Francisco-based company, Planet Inc. each weighing around 4.5 kilograms that will send Earth images from space. Only three satellites belonged to India. Scientists sat transfixed as they watched the progress of the rocket on monitors until the last payload was ejected, and then began punching the air in triumph and hugging each other. This was PSLV's 39th succesful mission, known as India's space workhorse. In 2015, it carried 23 satellites to space. The launch means India now holds the record for launching the most satellites in one go, surpassing Russia which launched 39 satellites in a single mission in June 2014. And it is another feather in the cap for ISRO which sent an unmanned rocket to orbit Mars in 2013 at a cost of just $73 million, compared with NASA's Maven Mars mission which had a $671 million price tag. ISRO is also mulling the idea of missions to Jupiter and Venus. The business of putting commercial satellites into space for a fee is growing as phone, Internet and other companies, as well as countries, seek greater and more high-tech communications. India has carved out a reputation as a reliable low-cost option, relying in part on its famed skill of "jugaad"—creating a cheap alternative solution. Experts say much of its credibility stems from India's successful launch of the Mars orbiter, which gave it an edge over its rivals in the space race. "India is proving to be a very viable option because of the cost and the reliability factor," said Ajay Lele, a senior fellow at the Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. "India has been doing these launches successfully and has established itself as a very reliable player." Mathieu J Weiss, a liaison officer for France's CNES national space agency who is currently in India, said ISRO had pulled off a major feat. "It's a great technical challenge to launch so many satellites at once into orbit on the right trajectory so that they don't make contact with each other," he told AFP. Weiss said India had become a major player in the space race by making itself so competitive with its low costs and by working with private companies which are space specialists. "India has become a space power in its own right in recent years," he added. Last June, India set a national record after it successfully launched a rocket carrying 20 satellites, including 13 from the US. Modi has often hailed India's budget space technology, quipping in 2014 that a rocket that launched four foreign satellites into orbit had cost less to make than Hollywood film "Gravity". Explore further: India to launch 103 satellites in record single mission


This high-resolution image was captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on its Pluto flyby in 2015, combining blue, red, and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The