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Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: EDUCATION AND HUMAN RESOURCES | Award Amount: 415.83K | Year: 2014

This award will support the renewal the REU Site at the SETI Institute (SI), which focuses on astronomy and planetary science with a connecting theme of astrobiology. Ten student participants per year will be paired with SI scientists to conduct laboratory research at both SI and at the NASA Ames Research Center. The undergraduate students will perform detailed research into a variety of topics, including the interstellar medium, asteroids, geological activity on Mars, and spectroscopy of the outer solar system. In addition, all participants will attend tutorials by SI scientists on introductory concepts in astronomy, biology, and geology.

By offering high-quality research experiences to students at a critical stage of undergraduate education, the REU Site will contribute to increasing the nationwide pool of scientists and engineers. Participants will develop the research methods and analytical skills (mathematical, computational, and logical) necessary to process data, understand primary research, and to remain current with new developments in the field. The REU Site also has an active and highly developed plan to recruit underrepresented minorities into its program, which will expand STEM training opportunities to these groups.


Grant
Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration | Branch: | Program: STTR | Phase: Phase I | Award Amount: 124.77K | Year: 2012

The goal of this proposed research is to advance the development of biological in situ resource utilization for NASA's space exploration programs. We plan to build a foundation to use synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms to extract metals from naturally occurring extraterrestrial regolith.We propose to create a novel growth medium designed to mimic the lunar regolith ice discovered at the south pole of the moon by the LCROSS mission. We will develop a bioleaching column for this simulant to purify metals for consumable production in space. We will characterize known biomining organisms to leach this simulant. Finally we will study the biochemical processes taking place in the leaching of the regolith to be able to improve the metabolism of these organisms in the future.In addition, will produce a database of organisms involved in biomining on Earth and the geologies and substrates that they have been found on. This database can be used as a tool to find undersampled mine sites that may contain novel organisms suitable for biomining in space.We then plan to develop a conceptual bioreactor which is designed to extract metals from regolith in space. We will perform a trade study of the mass, productivity, cost and energy requirements of such a bioreactor.Later phases of the research will involve characterization of the important enzymes involved in biomining in key organisms, adding to the limited existing knowledge of these pathways and leading to creation of a synthetic biological system for efficiently engineering them, which we will use to optimize these organisms for extracting relevant substrates in relevant space-settlement-like conditions. This further research will also include growth on Mars-like simulant regoliths, as well as improvement of the bioreactor model in a series of increasingly durable and realistic prototypes that will undergo both physical and functional testing.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: STELLAR ASTRONOMY & ASTROPHYSC | Award Amount: 348.47K | Year: 2013

This collaborative project combines theoretical and observational work to study circumstellar disk winds, evolution and dispersal. They will analyze high resolution optical and infrared spectra of 55 disks around stars that are at different stages of evolution in order to constrain thermochemical and 2-D hydrodynamical models of planet formation. Most of the necessary data are in hand, and new observations are planned with large optical telescopes, such as the Multiple-Mirror Telescope, Large Binocular Telescope and other observatories.

Broader impacts training undergraduate and graduate students in research and professional development of science and math teachers. The research team will also make presentations to the public, including on an episode of the SETI Institute radio show Big Picture Science.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: | Award Amount: 96.38K | Year: 2012

In this project, Dr. Barsony and her collaborators will conduct an observational survey to search for sub-stellar or planetary-mass objects in regions of star formation. These objects, called T-dwarfs, are relatively luminous when young, and can be detected because they exhibit broad absorption features from methane in their spectra. The research team will conduct a wide-area infrared survey to find T-dwarfs by imaging at the wavelength of the methane band and at an adjacent wavelength. Objects that are faint in the methane band are likely to be T-dwarf stars.

The research activity will have a broader educational impact through the involvement of undergraduate students in the research effort. Students will be recruited at San Francisco State University and at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University), and will have the opportunity to visit the other institution in the collaboration. The detection of large numbers of T-dwarfs will help improve theories of star formation, especially in the domain between the least-massive stars and the most-massive planets.


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 bright region in the west is part of Pluto's 'heart', and is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute In 2015, in partnership with NASA's New Horizons mission and the SETI Institute, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) endorsed the Our Pluto naming campaign, which allowed the public to participate in the exploration of Pluto by proposing names for surface features on Pluto and its satellites that were still awaiting discovery. Each of the system's six worlds was designated a set of naming themes set out by the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN - https://www.iau.org/science/scientific_bodies/working_groups/98/ ). The public responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, suggesting and voting on thousands of names within these categories, as well as proposing names not fitting the approved set of themes. Working with the New Horizons team, the IAU has agreed to revised naming themes (listed below) for Pluto, and its largest moon, Charon. For its four smaller moons—Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra—the themes remain unchanged. Some of these themes build on the connection between the Roman god Pluto and the mythology of the underworld. Other themes celebrate the human spirit of exploration. Using the revised themes, the New Horizons team will now propose names for the surface features to the IAU, as the body responsible for the official naming of celestial bodies and their surface features. The IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature will then decide on the formal names. "I'm very happy with both the process and partnership that New Horizons and the IAU undertook that led to wonderful, inspiring, and engaging naming themes for surface features on Pluto and its moons," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "We look forward to the next step—submitting actual feature names for approval." Rita Schulz, Chair of IAU's WGPSN said "I am very pleased that the close collaboration of the WGPSN with the New Horizons Team led to these beautiful, inspirational categories for naming the features on Pluto and its satellites. We are ready now for receiving the proposals for names. Good things take time, but it will be worth it." Explore further: Public asked to help name features on Pluto


News Article | February 26, 2017
Site: www.npr.org

Astronomers have discovered a solar system full of potentially habitable planets. Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute, which searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.


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

In 2015, in partnership with NASA's New Horizons mission and the SETI Institute, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) endorsed the Our Pluto naming campaign, which allowed the public to participate in the exploration of Pluto by proposing names for surface features on Pluto and its satellites that were still awaiting discovery. Each of the system's six worlds was designated a set of naming themes set out by the IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN - https:/ ). The public responded with overwhelming enthusiasm, suggesting and voting on thousands of names within these categories, as well as proposing names not fitting the approved set of themes. Working with the New Horizons team, the IAU has agreed to revised naming themes (listed below) for Pluto, and its largest moon, Charon. For its four smaller moons -- Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra -- the themes remain unchanged. Some of these themes build on the connection between the Roman god Pluto and the mythology of the underworld. Other themes celebrate the human spirit of exploration. Using the revised themes, the New Horizons team will now propose names for the surface features to the IAU, as the body responsible for the official naming of celestial bodies and their surface features. The IAU's Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature will then decide on the formal names. "I'm very happy with both the process and partnership that New Horizons and the IAU undertook that led to wonderful, inspiring, and engaging naming themes for surface features on Pluto and its moons," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "We look forward to the next step--submitting actual feature names for approval." Rita Schulz, Chair of IAU's WGPSN said "I am very pleased that the close collaboration of the WGPSN with the New Horizons Team led to these beautiful, inspirational categories for naming the features on Pluto and its satellites. We are ready now for receiving the proposals for names. Good things take time, but it will be worth it." The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together more than 10 000 professional astronomers from almost 100 countries. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world's largest professional body for astronomers.


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

It’s taken a year and a half, but the International Astronomical Union and the science team behind NASA’s New Horizons mission have finally struck a deal for naming the features on Pluto and its moons. The agreement, announced today, will open the way for the already well-known “informal” names for places on Pluto, such as Tombaugh Regio and Sputnik Planum, to become formal. It also allows for features on Charon, Pluto’s biggest moon, to be officially associated with fictional characters and locales – including Mordor from “Lord of the Rings,” Mr. Spock from “Star Trek” and Princess Leia from “Star Wars.” The scheme is mostly based on names that were suggested even before New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, as part of the SETI Institute’s “Our Pluto” campaign. The IAU and the New Horizons team agreed on a few tweaks to the categories for Pluto and Charon. For example, the revised scheme allows for naming places on Pluto after pioneering space missions and spacecraft, and naming features on Charon after authors and artists associated with space exploration. Back in 2015, the IAU wasn’t willing to go along with those themes, because they were similar to themes used for Mercury, Venus and Mars. The revised scheme means that Sputnik Planum – the informal name for the bright left half of Pluto’s “heart” – and Kubrick Mons on Charon are more likely to be OK’d. Now the New Horizons team will go ahead and submit its dozens of informal names for the IAU’s approval, in accordance with the international body’s longstanding procedures. Some of the scientists on the New Horizons mission, including principal investigator Alan Stern, haven’t always gotten along with the IAU, which engineered the reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006. But today, both sides had good things to say about each other. “I’m very happy with both the process and partnership that New Horizons and the IAU undertook that led to wonderful, inspiring and engaging naming themes for surface features on Pluto and its moons,” Stern said in today’s announcement. The IAU’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature will work with Stern and his colleagues to sign off on the formal names. “I am very pleased that the close collaboration of the WGPSN with the New Horizons Team led to these beautiful, inspirational categories for naming the features on Pluto and its satellites,” said Rita Schulz, who’s in charge of the working group. “We are ready now for receiving the proposals for names. Good things take time, but it will be worth it.” Here are the naming themes that have been approved for Pluto and its moons: The agreement means that some of the thousands of names that were suggested and voted on during the “Our Pluto” campaign could soon start appearing on official planetary maps. “Imagine the thrill of seeing your name suggestion on a future map of Pluto and its moons,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Months after the Pluto flyby, the New Horizons mission continues to engage and inspire.” New Horizons is now on its way to an encounter in 2019 with yet another icy object in the Kuiper Belt, currently known as 2014 MU69. Someday, that mini-world and its features will have to be given official names as well. Any suggestions?


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

Spectacular new close-up images of Saturn’s rings from the Cassini spacecraft reveal phenomena that reinforce scientists’ theories about how planets and moons form and interact—but also some patterns and structures they can’t yet explain. One of the most interesting features visible in the images is a swarm of so-called propellers, or disturbances caused by moonlets embedded in Saturn’s A ring—the outermost of the planet’s large, bright rings. In the images the propellers appear as faint white streaks running with the apparent grain of the ring. Most of the particles comprising the rings range from marble-size to house-size—but these moonlets, also known as propeller moons, are as big as a football field, according to Matthew Tiscareno, a rings expert on the Cassini team at the SETI Institute. “We’ve not been able to observe the football-field-sized moon but what we can do is observe the disturbance, and track it and learn about it,” Tiscareno says. This up-close look at the movement of embedded moonlets is new to researchers and could help them understand how the disturbances affect the rings, which could in turn allow them to piece together a more complete picture of how fledgling planets form from smaller building blocks within protoplanetary disks around newborn stars. The propeller images were taken from the dark side of the rings. Next month Cassini is scheduled to obtain images from the sunlit side, where scientists hope the moonlets will appear in sharper detail. Cassini had an even closer glimpse of the rings once before, 13 years ago, as the craft first entered Saturn’s orbit and skimmed laterally across the rings’ surface. But those images were taken at extremely short exposures to reduce motion blur, and came out dark and noisy. One factor that makes the latest images superior is that Cassini has been in polar orbit since September, rather than circling the planet’s equator parallel to the rings. As the spacecraft plunges from one pole toward the other, the rings appear relatively more stationary in its field of view for longer periods of time. This lets researchers choreograph more deliberate, long-exposure shots to enhance brightness. “The other thing is that when we were just getting to Saturn in 2004 we had not spent 13 years studying the rings close up, so we didn’t really know where to look for the most interesting views,” Tiscareno adds. Another image captured a high-resolution view of a variegated feature called a spiral density wave within the rings, produced by motions of Saturn’s small moon, Janus. Spiral density waves are compression patterns, or pileups of mass, which can appear as the spiral arms of disk galaxies, and could offer insights into how galaxies are formed and maintained. “This spiral density wave sets itself up at the place where ring particles are going around Saturn exactly six times every time the moon Janus goes around five times,” Tiscareno says. As the orbiting moon and the ring particles regularly nudge each other gravitationally, they form rippling waves in the rings. The waves appear as dark, narrow bands where ring particles have been compressed, and wider, lighter-color bands where the particles have spread back out. The structure of the lighter bands is often referred to as “straw” due to its stringy, fibrous appearance, which researchers have not yet fully explained. A different section of the same image shows “moon wakes,” features that resemble grooves on a vinyl record, where the moon Pan has passed without the precise resonance that Janus exacts on the other section of the ring. “Instead of frequencies needing to match up, every time a moon goes by it stirs up everything,” Tiscareno says. The new set of images also includes a view of Saturn’s superdense B ring—the highest-resolution image ever taken of this ring by a factor of at least 2. The great variety in widths and textures of the bands cannot be accounted for yet. “Why is it organizing itself in this way? We are trying to figure that out,” Tiscareno says. “There are some theories about some kind of vibrations that can set themselves up in a system like this, but those should all have the same wavelength, which clearly this doesn’t.” It’s something they’ll need to study more. Cassini is now in the first of two phases of its polar orbit. The next will be the mission’s grand finale, when the craft will pass between the planet and its rings, instead of outside them, en route to a fiery final mission-ending plunge into the giant planet’s atmosphere. This will offer one last new view of the rings, plus the chance to measure the gravitational pull of the rings themselves, which it has so far been impossible to do from the outside.


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

The International Astronomical Union, tasked to oversee the naming of celestial objects and their surface features, has just approved a set of naming themes for features on Pluto along with its five moons. The themes had been proposed by the New Horizons mission of NASA, and emerged from the mission’s Our Pluto naming campaign organized back in 2015 along with the SETI Institute. The campaign sought public participation in naming the features the spacecraft was anticipated to reveal in its historic July 2015 flyby of Pluto. The revised naming themes were agreed for Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, while the four smaller moons — namely Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra — will have their name themes unchanged. Some of these continue focusing on the mythology of the underworld, which was ruled by the Roman god Pluto, while others will honor human exploration throughout history. Themes for Pluto include gods and goddesses, as well as other beings linked to mythology, folklore, and literature. There would also be names for underworld sites from different cultures worldwide, as well as heroes of the underworld, Pluto and the Kuiper Belt scientists and engineers, pioneering space missions, and pioneers in the exploration of Earth, sky, and sea. For Charon, the themes are focused on fictional space missions and narratives, fictional and mythological ships and space vessels, fictional and mythological explorers and travelers, and artists and authors linked to space exploration, particularly Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Themes for the smaller moons’ features include river gods for Styx; deities of the night for Nix; literary, historical, and mythological dogs for Kerberos; and legendary serpents and dragons for Hydra. New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern applauded the partnership and process between IAU and the mission scientists that resulted in “wonderful, inspiring, and engaging naming themes” for Pluto and its lunar features. "We look forward to the next step — submitting actual feature names for approval,” the scientist said in a statement. A new scientific paper also recently suggested that the criteria for defining a planet deserve an overhaul, arguing that the moon and even Pluto should be reclassified as planets. The paper, titled “A Geophysical Planet Definition,” was penned by a team that included Alan Stern, principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission or the one that made a memorable flyby of Pluto back in July 2015. The main argument: a celestial body’s geophysics, not just whether it orbits the sun, should determine if it deserves planetary status. The Conversation noted it didn’t sit well with Stern that in 2006, the IAU adjudged Pluto as a non-planet. By the time New Horizons reached the destination, Pluto was already relegated to “plutoid” or “trans-Uranian dwarf planet” status. According to the manifesto drawn up by NASA scientists, the moon — along with Europa and Ganymede that orbit Jupiter as well as Titan and Enceladus that orbit Saturn — have planetary features and should be upgraded as part of the entire solar system’s modernization. The same move would see Pluto recovering its earlier designation as a planet. The July 2015 flyby unmasked Pluto as an unusually active geological body marked by flowing glaciers, ice mountains, cliffs, canyons, and huge nitrogen glaciers. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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