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News Article | March 4, 2016
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

Between our physical exploration of the extremes of Earth's geography and environment, the solar system, and our great astronomical devices, humans have become used to a certain intimacy with the near and far universe. But it's not always easy to pinpoint what you're looking at when pictures are shown out of context. Here's a brief challenge for you: Can you identify the following images? If so you've definitely earned your cosmic merit badge. [Answers and image credits are at the end of this post] (1) Large (over 150 micron) Martian sand-grains after sifting by the Curiosity rover. Image about an inch square. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. (2) Part of a solar filament (dark) breaking away from the Sun in 2015, seen in extreme ultraviolet light where the filament plasma appears cooler and darker. Spotted by the SOHO's C2 coronograph. Credit: NASA/SOHO. (3) Part of the image of a distant galaxy being gravitationally lensed by a foreground massive galaxy, image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA/STScI/ESA. (4) The Tartarus Dorsa mountains on Pluto, view less than 100 miles across. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI/New Horizons. (5) The Jovian moon Io - a closeup of one small region on Io's volcanically active surface (over 400 active regions at any given time) taken by the Galileo probe. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona. (6) Closeup of a cross-section of a meteorite with olivine crystal inclusions (yellow) in a nickel-iron alloy - a centimeter or so across. Credit: J. Debosscher, KU Leuven. (7) A living landscape - the surface of a Purple-striped jellyfish (you can see the original here). Credit: Sanjay Acharya, and Monterey Aquarium/Creative Commons.


News Article | November 12, 2015
Site: news.yahoo.com

By counting craters across Pluto, scientists determined that some regions of the dwarf planet are as young as 10 million years old while others are nearly as old as the 4.5-billion-year-old solar system. More NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Pluto has a surprisingly youthful heart — the smooth, round region on the dwarf planet'ssurface is no more than 10 million years old, a blink of an eye in the 4.5-billion-year lifetime of the solar system. The large,western lobe of the "heart" on Pluto's surface is also known as Sputnik Planum, and it is strikingly free of craters. Thissuggeststhat geologic processes recentlysmoothedthe region over. Researchers with NASA's New Horizons mission said this is surprising, because such processes require an internal heat source, which is often lost in small bodies like Pluto. "It's a huge finding that small planets can be active on a massive scale, billions of years after their creation," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Colorado, said on Monday (Nov. 9) at the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in National Harbor, Maryland. [See more amazing Pluto photos from New Horizons] The New Horizons team announced several major findings at the meeting. Besides age estimates for other regions of Pluto, the scientists announced new information about the dwarf planet's hazy, surprisingly small atmosphere; the discovery of what may be ice volcanoes on Pluto's surface; and evidence that Pluto's four smallest moons are spinning around the dwarf planet in "pandemonium." When NASA's New Horizons mission arrived at Pluto last July, scientists were surprised to find evidence that the dwarf planet had been resurfaced in its recent history, most likely by recent geological activity. Because the surface of a planetary body doesn't come with a birth certificate to indicate its age, astronomers rely on techniques such as crater counting to estimate how long features have been around. The more heavily cratered an area is, the older it is expected to be, because processes such as glaciers, landslides, earthquakes, wind storms and volcanism can smooth over craters, creating a newer surface layer. Like wrinkles on people, a greater number of craters can indicate a region's advancing age. One of the most surprising finds was the relatively smooth appearance of Tombaugh Regio, the "heart" of Pluto. On Monday, Stern announced that despite persistent examination, the New Horizons team hadn't found a single crater on Sputnik Planum, the western lobe of the heart. As a result, the estimated age for the area is no more than 10 million years old (and possibly even younger), scientists said. "It was born yesterday," Stern said. But just because one part of the planet has been recently refreshed doesn't mean the rest of it is just as young. Based on cratering counts, the eastern region of Tombaugh Regio is estimated to be about a billion years old, postdoctoral researcher for New Horizons Kelsi Singer, also of SWRI, said during a news briefing on Monday (Nov. 9). The region informally known as Cthulhu and the northern and midlatitudes, with their densely packed craters, are about 4 billion years old. "We see a really wide range of ages," Singer said. "This tells us there's been ongoing activity throughout the years." The higher ages also mean that Pluto itself must be at least around 4 billion years old, Stern said. Previous hypotheses suggested the dwarf planet could be a relatively new object that still had heat from its core driving its geological activity. Scientists had expected that heat to be lost if Pluto was an old object. But New Horizons revealed an active surface on an old planet, and internal heating is the best current guess for what's driving that activity — even if scientists don't quite know how that heat has lasted over 4 billion years. [How Was Pluto Formed?] "We can't appeal to a young Pluto-Charon system to explain energy sources," Stern said. The hazy atmosphere of Pluto, revealed earlier this year by New Horizons images, also surprised scientists. Now, researchers say the atmosphere surrounding the dwarf planet is colder and more compact than they had anticipated. Originally thought to billow out from the surface to create a bubble nearly seven to eight times larger than Pluto itself,  the extended atmosphere is only about 2.5 times larger than Pluto, the new observations show. That's still significant, but far more compact than was expected. "This changes our thinking of the long-term evolution of Pluto and its atmosphere and its ices," said Leslie Young,  New Horizons deputy project scientist. Randy Gladstone, a New Horizons co-investigator from SWRI, told Space.com that the layers of hazes suggest that the upper atmosphere of Pluto is "stagnant" and free of winds. However, a kilometer or two above the surface, winds could play a role in shaping the landscape, he said. Some scientists have suggested that winds could have helped to mold the puzzling "snakeskin'" terrain, which has no exact, known analogue anywhere else in the solar system. Gladstone said it is more likely that the strange appearance formed as nitrogen and methane ices in the dwarf planet's crust changed directly from a solid to a gas. However, he notes that the region vaguely resembles wind-erosion patterns seen in deserts. If the surface material was soft, then high-speed winds could have helped to erode the region, he said. "There's a lot of weird things happening near the surface that we don't understand yet," Gladstone said. Scientists can help determine how these features formed by using a variety of models to try to create them under Pluto-like conditions. "If they say the only way we can get snakeskin blades is by wind erosion or sandblasting, then it will be evidence for Pluto being different," Gladstone said. In some ways, the atmosphere of Pluto resembles that of Saturn's moon Titan, with hazes dominating both worlds. On Titan, ionized particles come together to form larger charged particles in the upper atmosphere. Gladstone said that similar things may be happening on Pluto. But while clouds on Titan rain methane, don't look for similar weather patterns on the distant dwarf planet. Gladstone said there is "no chance" of rain on Pluto, due to its thinner atmosphere. Since the July 2015 flyby, New Horizons has sent back only about 20 percent of its data to Earth. The remaining observations will continue to arrive over the next year, providing more information about the world at the outer edges of the solar system. "Once again, Pluto is giving us a new view of how small planets operate over their lifetime," Young said. Follow Nola Taylor Redd on Twitter @NolaTRedd or Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com. Pluto's 5 Moons Explained: How They Measure Up (Infographic) Photos of Pluto and Its Moons Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


News Article | October 26, 2016
Site: www.newscientist.com

Pluto may have partly cloudy skies – and those clouds are probably noxious. When the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in July 2015, it sent back images of a hazy yet nearly cloud-free world. But this March, New Scientist reported on emails between team members suggesting that the probe spotted individual clouds condensing just above the surface. Now, the New Horizons team has presented images that show seven wispy features captured by the spacecraft’s LORRI and MVIC cameras. They appear to be thick, blocking the surface below them, and are a few to a few tens of kilometres long. New Horizons has spent the past 16 months beaming back data from Pluto. The last of it is expected to arrive by this Sunday, team members told the joint meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences and the European Planetary Science Congress in Pasadena, California, on 18 October. With the rest of the data in hand, the final conclusion on the seven features is still hazy. “None of them can be confirmed as clouds,” said mission leader Alan Stern at the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “They’re quite suggestive, though.” It is unclear from the data how high above the surface these features are, or whether they are actually on the surface itself, but they seem to be at low altitudes. All seven lie near Pluto’s terminator, the dawn/dusk line of sunlight across its face. That factor supports them having a cloudy nature, said Stern, because models made by Erica Barth at SWRI suggest that the cooler conditions at dawn and dusk would make condensation more likely. But those models also suggest that the constituents of Pluto’s atmosphere that are likely to make clouds are not the abundant nitrogen, but trace ingredients such as hydrogen cyanide, acetylene and ethane. On Earth, these materials show up as poisonous liquids and flammable gases. “All of this makes a strong but not airtight case that some, or perhaps many, of these features may in fact be clouds,” Stern said.


Morbidelli A.,French National Center for Scientific Research | Nesvorny D.,SwRI
Astronomy and Astrophysics | Year: 2012

Context. Understanding the growth of the cores of giant planets is a difficult problem. Recently, Lambrechts & Johansen (2012, A&A, 544, A32, LJ12) proposed a new model in which the cores grow by the accretion of pebble-size objects, as the latter drift towards the star due to gas drag. Aims. We investigate the dynamics of pebble-size objects in the vicinity of planetary embryos of 1 and 5 Earth masses and the resulting accretion rates. Methods. We use hydrodynamical simulations, in which the embryo influences the dynamics of the gas and the pebbles suffer gas drag according to the local gas density and velocities. Results. The pebble dynamics in the vicinity of the planetary embryo is non-trivial, and it changes significantly with the pebble size. Nevertheless, the accretion rate of the embryo that we measure is within an order of magnitude of the rate estimated in LJ12 and tends to their value with increasing pebble-size. Conclusions. The model by LJ12 has the potential to explain the rapid growth of giant planet cores. The actual accretion rates however, depend on the surface density of pebble size objects in the disk, which is unknown to date. ©2012 ESO.


Encrenaz T.,LESIA | Greathouse T.K.,SWRI | Lefevre F.,French National Center for Scientific Research | Atreya S.K.,University of Michigan
Planetary and Space Science | Year: 2012

Ever since the Viking mass spectrometer failed to detect organics on the surface of Mars in 1976 (Biemann et al.; 1976), hydrogen peroxide (H 2O 2) has been suggested as a possible oxidizer of the Martian surface (Oyama and Berdahl, 1977). However, the search for H 2O 2 on Mars was unsuccessful for three decades. In 2003, hydrogen peroxide was finally detected using two ground-based independent techniques, first with submillimeter heterodyne spectroscopy (Clancy et al.; 2004) and then again with thermal infrared imaging spectroscopy (Encrenaz et al.; 2004). The latter method has been used to simultaneously monitor the abundances and spatial distributions of H 2O 2 and H 2O on Mars as a function of the seasonal cycle. Comparison with the LMD Global Climate Model (GCM) shows that the observations favor simulations taking into account heterogeneous chemistry (Lefèvre et al.; 2008). It has been suggested (Delory et al.; 2006; Atreya et al.; 2006, 2007) that large amounts of hydrogen peroxide could be generated by triboelectricity during dust storms or dust devils. This paper presents a review of the present H 2O 2 dataset and an analysis of observability of peroxide during such events using present and future means. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.


News Article | December 8, 2016
Site: www.marketwired.com

SAN ANTONIO, TX--(Marketwired - December 08, 2016) - Eight microsatellites designed and built for NASA at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) are being readied for a Dec. 12 launch. The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) constellation will "see" through thick clouds and heavy rains to measure the movement of ocean waves beneath hurricanes. The mission's goal is to accurately measure wind speeds and hurricane intensification for the first time. SwRI has a decades-long record of developing and operating NASA science instruments and missions. However, CYGNSS marks the first time SwRI has engineered and constructed complete satellites for the agency. After launch, the eight microsatellites -- each roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase when the solar arrays are stowed -- will be oriented in a pattern that allows successive satellites to pass over the same region every 12 minutes, with a median revisit time of less than three hours. Once positioned, the satellites will operate with minimal course adjustments throughout the two-year primary mission. "With CYGNSS, we're doing real science with a satellite small enough to literally sit on your desk," said CYGNSS project manager John Scherrer, program director in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. "While these satellites might be small, they provide big returns with data that we expect to one day help weather forecasters make important weather-related recommendations, such as evacuations." The radar detection instruments aboard the constellation will create mapping images representing ocean surface roughness, which is directly related to the surface wind speed. Each microsatellite produces a map image of a GPS radar reflection point at a rate of up to four images per second. Wind speeds are derived from measurements of signal reflections covering 15.5 square miles of ocean surface. Together, the eight CYGNSS satellites can produce 32 wind measurements per second. The CYGNSS constellation will be air launched from a Pegasus XL launch vehicle dropped from an L-1011 Stargazer aircraft. A chase plane will broadcast live footage of the launch. The microsatellites are expected to deploy and begin testing and operations within the first 24 hours. Full hurricane science operations will begin in January -- well in advance of the 2017 hurricane season. The CYGNSS Mission Operations Center at SwRI facilities in Boulder, Colo., will receive the microsatellites' data and route them to the Science Operations Center at the University of Michigan after initial processing. The Space Physics Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan College of Engineering leads the overall mission execution, and its Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering Department leads the science investigation. Dr. Chris Ruf of the University of Michigan serves as CYGNSS principal investigator. The Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate oversees the mission. Editors: Images to accompany this story are available at http://www.swri.org/press/2016/swri-built-hurricane-satellites-cygnss.htm. For more information about the CYGNSS mission, visit http://clasp-research.engin.umich.edu/missions/cygnss/. About SwRI: SwRI is an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas, with nearly 2,800 employees and an annual research volume of $592 million. Southwest Research Institute and SwRI are registered marks in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For more information about Southwest Research Institute, please visit newsroom.swri.org or www.swri.org.


News Article | September 14, 2016
Site: www.greencarcongress.com

« UK’s APC awards Dearman-led consortium £6M for development of Dearman Engine; clean, cold power | Main | GM commits to 100% renewable energy by 2050 » In a milestone for the low-carbon fuel project, LanzaTech has produced 1,500 gallons of jet fuel from waste industrial gases from steel mills via a fermentation process for Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech have been working together on the project since 2011. HSBC joined the partnership in 2014. The “Lanzanol” was produced in China at the RSB (Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials) certified Shougang demonstration facility. The innovative alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) process was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) with support from the US Department of Energy (DOE) and with the help of funding from HSBC. LanzaTech and Virgin Atlantic are now set to continue to work with Boeing and industry colleagues to complete the additional testing aircraft and engine manufacturers require before approving the fuel for first use in a commercial aircraft. Assuming all initial approvals are achieved, the innovative LanzaTech jet fuel could be used in a first of its kind proving flight in 2017. Following a successful proving flight, the data collected will enable the partnership to seek approval to use the fuel on routine commercial flights. This would also help pave the way for LanzaTech to fund and build their first commercial jet fuel plant to supply fuel to Virgin Atlantic and other airlines. As a UK-based partnership, it is hoped the first LanzaTech jet fuel plant would be based in the UK. The process. Steel production produces waste carbon monoxide (CO) gas, which is frequently flared (burnt off) to the atmosphere as greenhouse gas CO2 (or sometimes used less efficiently for other purposes). LanzaTech captures the waste gas from refineries and manufacturing plants and feeds the CO-rich gas to microbes that consume the gas and produce ethanol. During the second stage of the process, the ethanol is run through a PNNL-developed catalyst that converts ethanol to jet fuel by removing the oxygen and combining hydrocarbons, a process known as dehydration-oligomerization. The catalyst first removes water from the ethanol (dehydration), leaving behind ethylene. The small ethylene hydrocarbons are then combined (oligomerization) to form hydrocarbon chains large enough for jet fuel without forming aromatics that lead to sooting when burned. The fuel meets all the specifications required for use in commercial aviation Each gallon of ethanol is converted to produce ½gallon of aviation fuel. The process could be used to capture and recycle around ⅓ of the carbon that steel facilities would otherwise release into the atmosphere. Worldwide, around 1.7 billion metric tonnes of steel are produced every year; LanzaTech estimates that its process could be retrofitted to 65% of the world’s steel mills. This offers the potential to produce 30 billion gallons of ethanol worldwide, for around 15 billion gallons of jet fuel p.a. This would represent just under 19% of all aviation fuel currently used worldwide p.a. (80 billion gallon total world aviation fuel use). We can now truly imagine a world where a steel mill can not only produce the steel for the components of the plane but also recycle its gases to produce the fuel that powers the aircraft. This program illustrates that such breakthroughs are only possible through collaboration. In this case, it is governments (US DOE, FAA, DARPA), laboratories (PNNL, AFRL, SWRI, MTU, UDRI), NGOs (RSB) and industry (Virgin, HSBC, Boeing, Shougang, Airlines for America) coming together to disrupt our current global carbon trajectory. We look forward to working with colleagues past, present and future to make this pioneering new fuel a commercial reality.


Buie M.W.,SwRI | Grundy W.M.,Lowell Observatory | Young E.F.,SwRI | Young L.A.,SwRI | Stern S.A.,SwRI
Astronomical Journal | Year: 2010

We present new light-curve measurements of Pluto and Charon taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys High-resolution Camera on the Hubble Space Telescope. The observations were collected from 2002 June to 2003 June at 12 distinct sub-Earth longitudes over a range of solar phase angle 036-174 - a larger range than previously measured. The new measurements of Pluto show that the light-curve amplitude has decreased since the mutual event season in the late 1980s. We also show that the average brightness has increased in the F555W (Johnson V equivalent) passband while the brightness has decreased in the F435W (Johnson B equivalent) passband. These data thus indicate a substantial reddening of the reflected light from Pluto. We find a weighted mean (B - V) = 0.9540 ± 0.0010 that is considerably higher than the long-standing value of (B - V) = 0.868 ± 0.003 most recently measured in 1992-1993. This change in color cannot be explained by the evolving viewing geometry and provides the strongest evidence to date for temporal changes on the surface of Pluto that are expected to be linked to volatile transport processes. We also report on the discovery of a new rotational modulation of Pluto's hemispherical color that ranges from 0.92 to 0.98 with the least red color at the longitude of maximum light and most red at minimum light. The phase coefficient of Pluto is nearly the same as measured in 1992-1993 with a value of βB = 0.0392 ±0.0064 and βV = 0.0355 ± 0.0045 mag deg-1 for the F435W and F555W data, respectively. The Pluto phase curve is still very close to linear but a small but significant nonlinearity is seen in the data. In contrast, the light curve of Charon is essentially the same as in 1992/1993, albeit with much less noise. We confirm that Charon's Pluto-facing hemisphere is 8% brighter than the hemisphere facing away from Pluto. The color of Charon is independent of longitude and has a mean weighted value of (B - V) = 0.7315 ± 0.0013. The phase curve for Charon is now shown to be strongly nonlinear and wavelength dependent. We present results for both Pluto and Charon that better constrain the single-particle scattering parameters from the Hapke scattering theory. © 2010. The American Astronomical Society.


Buie M.W.,SwRI | Grundy W.M.,Lowell Observatory | Young E.F.,SwRI | Young L.A.,SwRI | Stern S.A.,SwRI
Astronomical Journal | Year: 2010

We present new imaging of the surface of Pluto and Charon obtained during 2002-2003 with the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) instrument. Using these data, we construct two-color albedo maps for the surfaces of both Pluto and Charon. Similar mapping techniques are used to re-process HST/Faint Object Camera (FOC) images taken in 1994. The FOC data provide information in the ultraviolet and blue wavelengths that show a marked trend of UV-bright material toward the sunlit pole. The ACS data are taken at two optical wavelengths and show widespread albedo and color variegation on the surface of Pluto and hint at a latitudinal albedo trend on Charon. The ACS data also provide evidence for a decreasing albedo for Pluto at blue (435 nm) wavelengths, while the green (555 nm) data are consistent with a static surface over the one-year period of data collection. We use the two maps to synthesize a true visual color map of Pluto's surface and investigate trends in color. The mid- to high-latitude region on the sunlit pole is, on average, more neutral in color and generally higher albedo than the rest of the surface. Brighter surfaces also tend to be more neutral in color and show minimal color variations. The darker regions show considerable color diversity arguing that there must be a range of compositional units in the dark regions. Color variations are weak when sorted by longitude. These data are also used to constrain astrometric corrections that enable more accurate orbit fitting, both for the heliocentric orbit of the barycenter and the orbit of Pluto and Charon about their barycenter. © 2010. The American Astronomical Society.


News Article | October 28, 2016
Site: www.marketwired.com

SAN ANTONIO, TX--(Marketwired - October 25, 2016) - Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) was awarded a contract valued at up to $39 million over the next five years to support the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD). "NSWCDD is an extremely important customer for SwRI," said Errol Brigance, a director in SwRI's Applied Physics Division. "We have served this client over the past eight years and remain committed to providing effective technical solutions that meet contractual, schedule, and customer satisfaction requirements." An example of previous NSWCDD developments includes a device that projects an eye-safe laser beam up to several kilometers. SwRI has also developed biometric technology to collect various physiological characteristics and rapidly identify or screen individuals for comparisons to watch lists. Staff members will perform research, development, technical, and test activities under this contract. SwRI will address emerging needs in tactical and non-tactical systems associated with homeland security, anti-terrorism, mission assurance, force protection, unmanned systems, and related programs. This indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract allows SwRI to provide flexible and innovative solutions for complex problems. SwRI will apply the breadth and depth of resources and expertise to solve technical challenges put forth by NSWCDD. SwRI is an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas, with nearly 2,800 employees and an annual research volume of $592 million. Southwest Research Institute and SwRI are registered marks in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For more information about Southwest Research Institute, please visit newsroom.swri.org or www.swri.org.

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