News Article | March 28, 2017
There is a new focus at NASA on small satellite missions as forerunners for larger missions of the Solar System. The NASA program, Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat Studies gives a window for projects with small satellites to study Solar System's celestial bodies. In the latest step, NASA has awarded $3.6 million to ten projects for concept planning awaiting their roll out after a few months. Generally, small satellites weigh less than 400 pounds. Among the 10 projects selected, two are Venus centric with a focus on noble gasses and isotopes. One CubeSat project will be looking at ultraviolet absorption and atmosphere's nightglow emissions. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will be sending a 12-unit CubeSat to investigate the hydrogen cycle of the moon. The small satellite from Johns Hopkins University will target an asteroid with a seismometer to examine its surface and interiors. Another CubeSat from Purdue University will image Phobos and Deimos — the Martian moons. NASA Ames will deploy a CubeSat to Mars focusing on climate studies. The probe of Hampton University will be on Uranus and its atmosphere. The magnetosphere of Jupiter will be the core area of investigation for the project of Southwest Research Institute. Basically, SmallSats handle the delivery of preliminary data for upcoming bigger projects. The cost of launching SmallSats is also nominal. "These small but mighty satellites have the potential to enable transformational science. They guide NASA's development of small spacecraft technologies for deep space science investigation," noted Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. Green added that the agency is investing in SmallSats after being convinced of their utility for cutting edge scientific investigations. A range of merits justify SmallSats such as deployment from bigger spacecraft to target-specific investigations to back main missions. The Mars mission of NASA will use this approach by despatching two small satellites for advanced data. NASA is also buoyed by the 2016 report by the US National Academies that said SmallSats technology has come of age to provide high-value science. There are many cost benefits from the use of SmallSats. They also offer the flexibility to operate in constellations. "What we're seeing is a capability that we haven't really seen before in terms of small satellites that can do pretty good science at a much-reduced cost compared to the big missions," said Steve Mackwell from the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Maryland. Mackwell said miniaturization helps in deploying SmallSats where larger missions had been thought about. It is an unprecedented opportunity in using them to explore inner Solar System bodies like the Venus and Moon. Green noted that miniature satellites had posed challenges in the past with problems like difficulties around power and communication. Mackwell, however, points that there a change and critical advances have been made in their functioning. An example is compact propulsion systems to reach places where they can ride and maneuver to the ultimate destination. Also, innovations have come up to incorporate solar panels into SmallSats to boost capabilities. More progress is being made on the technology front. An example is engineers at Nasa's Glenn Research Center demonstrating printed electronics suitable for operating in the harsh conditions at Venus. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | May 16, 2017
BURNABY, BC--(Marketwired - May 16, 2017) - D-Wave Systems Inc., the leader in quantum computing systems and software, today announced that it has received new capital in the form of convertible notes from the Public Sector Pension Investment Board ("PSP Investments"). PSP Investments funded US$30 million at closing, with an additional US$20 million available at D-Wave's option upon the achievement of certain milestones. This facility brings D-Wave's total funding to approximately US$200 million. The new capital is expected to enable D-Wave to deploy its next-generation quantum computing system with more densely-connected qubits, as well as platforms and products for machine learning applications. "This commitment from PSP Investments is a strong validation of D-Wave's leadership in quantum computing," said Vern Brownell, CEO of D-Wave. "While other organizations are researching quantum computing and building small prototypes in the lab, the support of our customers and investors enables us to deliver quantum computing technology for real-world applications today. In fact, we've already demonstrated practical uses of quantum computing with innovative companies like Volkswagen. This new investment provides a solid base as we build the next generation of our technology." This latest funding comes on the heels of significant momentum for D-Wave. Milestones achieved so far in 2017 include: About D-Wave Systems Inc. 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 for the world. We believe that quantum computing will enable solutions to 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, USRA, USC, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Temporal Defense Systems. 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 PSP Investments, Goldman Sachs, Bezos Expeditions, DFJ, In-Q-Tel, BDC Capital, Growthworks, 180 Degree Capital Corp., International Investment and Underwriting, and Kensington Partners Limited. For more information, visit: www.dwavesys.com.
News Article | June 1, 2017
Jeff Isaacson, President and CEO of USRA stated, "We are delighted to integrate the activities of STEMaction Inc. under USRA, and are committed to growing USRA's role as an innovation hub hosting an expanding array of inspiring and accessible STEM workforce development programs. By building on the great successes of STEMaction and its many dedicated volunteers, USRA hopes to foster a thriving technical workforce for our region and our country. We are especially grateful to Bill Duncan, STEMaction's Executive Director, for his effective leadership of the organization since 2009." Vince DeFrancisci, USRA Vice President, Corporate Strategy and Development said, "USRA's role in enabling and developing hands-on K-12 STEM education programs will help prepare the next generation of students to fill the pipeline of STEM professional and vocational career opportunities. We are excited to play a part in educating our community's young people, and to further Maryland's attractiveness for innovation and future leadership in STEM. USRA looks forward to building upon the programs initiated by STEMaction, Inc." Located at USRA headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, the newly created USRA STEMaction Center will expand its reach throughout Maryland and the greater Washington DC region. It will amalgamate several programs under its umbrella, including programs that were previously under STEMaction Inc.—the FIRST Tech Challenge, the First Lego League Junior, and the Maryland STEM Festival. About USRA Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, USRA is a nonprofit chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs, under Federal funding. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/universities-space-research-association-expands-science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics-stem-education-activities-with-the-acquisition-of-stemaction-inc-300466572.html
News Article | June 2, 2017
While the SAFFIRE III experiment is being remotely controlled from the Orbital ATK Control Center in Dulles, VA, the NASA/USRA/CWRU research team will be viewing images and telemetry data in real time at NASA GRC in Cleveland, OH. According to USRA's Dr. Paul Ferkul, member of the SAFFIRE science team, "SAFFIRE III will provide important data on how air flow speed affects flammability and flame spread in microgravity. It has significant implications both for fundamental understanding of flame spread as well as practical implications for spacecraft fire safety." With this knowledge NASA can create the safest environment possible for all astronauts during crewed missions, work toward preventing spacecraft fires, and validate operational protocols for dealing with fire emergencies in space. The SAFFIRE flight experiments are sponsored by the Advanced Exploration Systems Division in NASA's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. In addition, the experiments are also supported by numerous international space agencies, including JAXA, European Space Agency, RSA, CNES, DLR, and the Russian Academy of Sciences. The SAFFIRE units are built at NASA GRC with contributions from NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, and the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, NM. About USRA Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs, under Federal funding. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at www.usra.edu. About NASA Glenn Research Center The NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio designs and develops innovative technology to advance NASA's missions in aeronautics and space exploration. It is focused on researching and testing game-changing technology in propulsion, aeronautics, materials and structures, communications, power and energy storage, and biomedical sciences. To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/how-does-fire-burn-in-space-universities-space-research-association-and-the-research-team-to-study-behavior-of-fire-as-nasa-prepares-to-ignite-third-saffire-experiment-300468025.html
News Article | May 23, 2017
Applications for intensive one-year program open now through July 24 BURNABY, BC--(Marketwired - May 23, 2017) - Today D-Wave Systems Inc., the leader in quantum computing systems and software, announced a new initiative with the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. D-Wave will work with CDL, as a CDL Partner, to create a new track to foster startups focused on quantum machine learning. The new track will complement CDL's successful existing track in machine learning. Applicants selected for the intensive one-year program will go through an introductory boot camp led by Dr. Peter Wittek, author of Quantum Machine Learning: What Quantum Computing means to Data Mining, with instruction and technical support from D-Wave experts, access to a D-Wave 2000Q™ quantum computer, and the opportunity to use a D-Wave sampling service to enable machine learning computations and applications. D-Wave staff will be a part of the committee selecting up to 40 individuals for the program, which begins in September 2017. "Helping to build an ecosystem of quantum AI and machine learning startups who develop applications speaks directly to D-Wave's vision: bringing quantum computing out of the research lab and into the real world," said Vern Brownell, CEO of D-Wave. "The convergence of quantum computing and machine learning will drive significant value to businesses and the world. We're proud to join with CDL and use their proven approach to facilitate the creation of early-stage companies who share that vision, and to help them use D-Wave's technology to jumpstart their businesses." "We are thrilled to have D-Wave as a CDL partner and for our companies to have access not only to their quantum computing and sampling technologies, but also to their world-class team of quantum machine learning experts," said Rachel Harris, Director of CDL. "Access to D-Wave systems will not only help strengthen learning from the theoretical and applied concepts taught in the boot camp, it will also create an environment of experimentation and exploration of new approaches, and technologies, which lies at the very core of what we do at the Lab." Applications for the training program will be accepted in three rounds with dates set for May 29, June 26, and July 24. International applicants are encouraged to apply as early as possible. The program will be provided free to successful candidates, who will also be offered equity financing upon meeting specific launch criteria. D-Wave will provide a specified level of access to its quantum system and sampling service to each participant chosen by CDL. Each startup that fully leverages the D-Wave platform may procure additional access from D-Wave in exchange for equity or cash. More information is available at www.creativedestructionlab.com/quantum or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. About D-Wave Systems Inc. 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 for the world. We believe that quantum computing will enable solutions to 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, USRA, USC, 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, 180 Degree Capital Corp., International Investment and Underwriting, and Kensington Partners Limited. For more information, visit: www.dwavesys.com. About the Creative Destruction Lab The Creative Destruction Lab is a seed-stage program for massively scalable, science based ventures. It was launched in 2012 and employs a unique, objectives-focused coaching process to help founders commercialize advances in science and technology. Graduates include Thalmic Labs (Waterloo), Atomwise (San Francisco), Deep Genomics (Toronto), Nymi (Toronto), Automat (Montreal), Kyndi (Palo Alto), and Heuritech (Paris). For more information, visit: www.creativedestructionlab.com.
News Article | May 12, 2017
Results of data analysis and application development will be presented at the AQC 2017 conference in June PALO ALTO, CA--(Marketwired - May 12, 2017) - D-Wave Systems Inc., the leader in quantum computing systems and software, and Recruit Communications Co., Ltd. of Japan today announced a collaboration to apply quantum computing to marketing, advertising, and communications optimization. Together with D-Wave, Recruit Communications is now working on research and system development for the practical utilization of quantum computers in a set of marketing and web applications. Recruit Communications is responsible for marketing and communications for the Recruit Group, from customer acquisition solutions to Web marketing and media creation and promotion. An important area of focus for Recruit Communications is the research and development of marketing technology, such as optimizing the distribution of advertising to maximize marketing effectiveness. "Our joint effort with Recruit Communications is the latest example of a project using D-Wave's quantum computer to find a new approach to an important real-world application," said Robert "Bo" Ewald, president of D-Wave International. "Recruit Communications brings deep expertise in marketing and communications to this effort and we look forward to seeing positive results from this innovative work." Recruit Communications' work includes developing a theory and implementing a program for a method of quantum annealing data analysis. According to Recruit Communications, "By studying the application of this method to real data, we are making progress in the further optimization of marketing and communications." Recruit Communications is currently working on multiple research projects, including research to optimize the efficiency of matching advertisements to customers in the web advertising field, and research aimed at improving the accuracy of machine learning methods as typified by recommendation systems. The results of this research will be published at AQC2017 (http://www.smapip.is.tohoku.ac.jp/~aqc2017/), to be held in Tokyo over four days from June 26th to June 29th. About D-Wave Systems Inc. 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 for the world. We believe that quantum computing will enable solutions to 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, USRA, USC, 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, 180 Degree Capital Corp., International Investment and Underwriting, and Kensington Partners Limited. For more information, visit: www.dwavesys.com. About Recruit Communications Co., Ltd. Recruit Communications provides a wide range of solutions for all business categories covered by the Recruit Group including HR, housing, bridal, higher education, and lifestyle information. For our clients, we provide IT-based web marketing services as well as communication and product production services that help these businesses attract customers. For products and services offered by the Recruit Group, we provide solutions that expand contact with our users through advertising and distribution. Additionally, our CS services help build stronger relationships with users, providing thorough and complete support for marketing communication activities that connect clients with users. We are made up of a group of professionals from a wide variety of specialties including planners, creators, marketers, and engineers. Our aim is to deliver the information and services offered by the Recruit Group to more users while also creating many new chances to "Opportunities for Life." As communication specialists, we are committed to further growth.
News Article | February 15, 2017
The microscopic size of phytoplankton, the plant-like organisms that live in the sunlit upper ocean, belies their importance in the global environment. They provide the food source for the zooplankton that ultimately feed larger animals ranging from small fish to whales. And like plants on land, phytoplankton use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow and thrive through photosynthesis, which ultimately releases oxygen into the ocean and atmosphere. Phytoplankton also play a large role in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere: A recent study found that phytoplankton take in about 24 percent of this greenhouse gas. When they die and sink to great depths in the ocean, phytoplankton also move carbon dioxide out of contact with atmosphere. Among the most pressing questions scientists are investigating is how much of that carbon is being stored in the ocean over the long term. Another question is how rising carbon dioxide levels and associated changes in the ocean environment are affecting phytoplankton communities. To tackle those questions, on Jan. 26 scientists from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, along with researchers from across the country embarked on 27-day seaborne campaign from Hawaii to Portland, Oregon, to categorize and observe phytoplankton populations and their environment. The team is working aboard the R/V Falkor, a research vessel owned and operated by the non-profit Schmidt Ocean Institute, which grants scientists use of the ship to advance oceanographic research. Where carbon dioxide, once taken up, ends up in the global carbon cycle depends on the species of phytoplankton, said Goddard/USRA oceanographer Ivona Cetinic, the campaign's chief scientist. "Their size as well as their shape and color determine the role that they play," she said. "By knowing who's there, you can predict what's going to happen to that carbon." For instance, the interactions between smaller phytoplankton and the organisms that eat them are mostly confined to the ocean's surface layer. The carbon they take up remains at the surface or eventually escapes back into the atmosphere. But organisms that eat larger types of phytoplankton, along with their waste, are more likely to sink deeper into the ocean. Uneaten, dead phytoplankton may also sink as they decompose. "When phytoplankton pass below the surface layer and reach the deepest portions of the ocean, they sink out," Cetinic said. "That's key, because the carbon they have sequestered is removed from contact with the atmosphere." Physical processes also play a role in phytoplankton diversity and carbon transport. A complex interplay of different water masses, often visible in ocean color imagery, allow for the formation of pockets of highly specific ecosystems. Furthermore, processes such as subduction, or mixing, present another pathway for carbon deposition into the deep ocean. Ocean color is also an important indicator of phytoplankton health and activity, and so from above the water an instrument is collecting hyperspectral measurements (ocean reflectance greater than 100 colors), from the ultraviolet to the shortwave infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. The data collected will inform NASA's current and planned ocean color satellite instruments, including the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission scheduled for launch in 2022. Fourteen researchers are deploying a range of instruments to track phytoplankton communities as the R/V Falkor traverses the northern Pacific Ocean. They are continuously measuring phytoplankton diversity through either microscopic imagery, pigments analysis or analysis of their genomic material. For the first time, they are testing new NASA-funded technology that will allow them to collect measurements of particle size. Similar measurements will be taken from deeper portions of the ocean using an apparatus called a rosette, which comprises a cluster of bottles that captures water at different depths and instruments to measure salinity, temperature, and oxygen. Such physical measurements give clues about environmental conditions that support specific phytoplankton types. These types will be additionally recognized using images collected by a holographic camera, which will then be reconstructed in virtual reality space. An autonomous platform called a wirewalker will help to assess the physical environment as well as the flux of particles into the deep ocean. The wirewalker allows for a package of instruments to travel along a wire to as far down as 100 meters measuring temperature, salinity, oxygen, as well as phytoplankton biomarkers such as chlorophyll. An autonomous float will hover at the 100-meter depth and collect settling particles as they sink from the upper ocean. Ocean color satellites afford a global view of phytoplankton, but PACE will be the agency's first hyperspectral (high spectral resolution) satellite and an improvement over its predecessors in that it will be able to distinguish between different kinds. All of the research on this seaborne campaign will enable improved satellite data product validation and development of unprecedented data products. PACE project scientist Jeremy Werdell, who is co-investigator on the proposal for ship time on the R/V Falkor, said, "The goal of the cruise is to collect data that will help us better understand the imagery collected by ocean color satellites. Studying ocean color can tell us a lot about the ocean." NASA uses the vantage point of space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.
News Article | November 30, 2016
A team led by UA astronomer Vishnu Reddy has characterized the smallest known asteroid using Earth-based telescopes: Asteroid 2015 TC25 measures just 6 feet across Astronomers have obtained observations of the smallest asteroid ever characterized in detail. At 2 meters (6 feet) in diameter, the tiny space rock is small enough to be straddled by a person in a hypothetical space-themed sequel to the iconic bomb-riding scene in the movie "Dr. Strangelove." Interestingly, the asteroid, named 2015 TC25, is also one of the brightest near-Earth asteroids ever discovered. Using data from four different telescopes, a team of astronomers led by Vishnu Reddy, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, reports that 2015 TC25 reflects about 60 percent of the sunlight that falls on it. Discovered by the UA's Catalina Sky Survey last October, 2015 TC25 was studied extensively by Earth-based telescopes during a close flyby that saw the micro world sailing past Earth at 128,000 kilometers, a mere third of the distance to the moon. In a paper published in The Astronomical Journal, Reddy argues that new observations from the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility and Arecibo Planetary Radar show that the surface of 2015 TC25 is similar to a rare type of highly reflective meteorite called an aubrite. Aubrites consist of very bright minerals, mostly silicates, that formed in an oxygen-free, basaltic environment at very high temperatures. Only one out of every 1,000 meteorites that fall on Earth belong to this class. "This is the first time we have optical, infrared and radar data on such a small asteroid, which is essentially a meteoroid," Reddy said. "You can think of it as a meteorite floating in space that hasn't hit the atmosphere and made it to the ground -- yet." Small near-Earth asteroids such as 2015 TC25 are in the same size range as meteorites that fall on Earth. Astronomers discover them frequently, but not very much is known about them as they are difficult to characterize. By studying such objects in more detail, astronomers hope to better understand the parent bodies from which these meteorites originate. Asteroids are remaining fragments from the formation of the solar system that mostly orbit the sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter today. Near-Earth asteroids are a subset that cross Earth's path. So far, more than 15,000 near-Earth asteroids have been discovered. Scientists are interested in meteoroids because they are the precursors to meteorites impacting Earth, Reddy said. "If we can discover and characterize asteroids and meteoroids this small, then we can understand the population of objects from which they originate: large asteroids, which have a much smaller likelihood of impacting Earth," he said. "In the case of 2015 TC25, the likelihood of impacting Earth is fairly small." The discovery also is the first evidence for an asteroid lacking the typical dust blanket -- called regolith -- of most larger asteroids. Instead, 2015 TC25 consists essentially of bare rock. The team also discovered that it is one of the fastest-spinning near-Earth asteroids ever observed, completing a rotation every two minutes. Probably, 2015 TC25 is what planetary scientists call monolithic, meaning it is more similar to a "solid rock" type of object than a "rubble pile" type of object like many large asteroids, which often consist of many types of rocks held together by gravity and friction. Bennu, the object of the UA-led OSIRIS-REx sample return mission, is believed to be the latter type. As far as the little asteroid's origin is concerned, Reddy believes it probably was chipped off by another impacting rock from its parent, 44 Nysa, a main-belt asteroid large enough to cover most of Los Angeles. "Being able to observe small asteroids like this one is like looking at samples in space before they hit the atmosphere and make it to the ground," Reddy say. "It also gives us a first look at their surfaces in pristine condition before they fall through the atmosphere." The telescope consortium used in this project includes University of Hawaii/NASA IRTF, USRA/Arecibo Planetary Radar, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology/Magdalena Ridge Observatory, Northern Arizona University and Lowell Observatory/Discovery Channel Telescope. Reddy's research on 2015 TC25 is funded by NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations program. "Physical Characterization of ~2-Meter Diameter Near-Earth Asteroid 2015 TC25: A Possible Boulder from E-type Asteroid (44) Nysa" by Vishnu Reddy et al, 2016, The Astronomical Journal http://aj. . The paper is online at http://tinyurl.
News Article | February 16, 2017
Gif composed of thirteen delay-Doppler images of Comet 45P/HMP after 2 hours of observation. Credit: Universities Space Research Association Though not visible to the naked eye or even with binoculars, the green-tailed Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (HMP) did not escape the gaze of the world-renowned Arecibo Observatory. Scientists from the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) at Arecibo Observatory have been studying the comet with radar to better understand its solid nucleus and the dusty coma that surrounds it. "Comets are remnants of the planet forming process and are part of a group of objects made of water ice and rocky material that formed beyond Neptune," noted Dr. Ellen Howell, Scientist at LPL and the leader of the observing campaign at Arecibo. "Studying these objects gives us an idea of how the outer reaches of our Solar System formed and evolved over time." Studying the comet with radar not only very precisely determines its orbit, allowing scientists to better predict its location in the future, but also gives a glimpse of the typically unseen part, the comet's nucleus, which is usually hidden behind the cloud of gas and dust that makes up the its coma and tail. "The Arecibo Observatory planetary radar system can pierce through the comet's coma and allows us to study the surface properties, size, shape, rotation, and geology of the comet nucleus," said Dr. Patrick Taylor, USRA Scientist and Group Lead for Planetary Radar at Arecibo. "We gain roughly the same amount of knowledge from a radar observation as a spacecraft flyby of the same object, but at considerably less cost." In fact, the new radar observations have revealed Comet 45P/HMP to be somewhat larger than previously estimated. The radar images suggest a size of about 1.3 km (0.8 mi) and that it rotates about once every 7.6 hours. "We see complex structures and bright regions on the comet and have been able to investigate the coma with radar," indicated Cassandra Lejoly, graduate student at the University of Arizona. This comet is only the seventh imaged using radar because comets rarely come close enough to the Earth to get such detailed radar images. In fact, though 45P/HMP has an orbital period of about 5.3 years, it rarely passes close to Earth, as it is doing now. Comet 45P is one of a group of comets called Jupiter family comets (JFCs), whose orbits are controlled by Jupiter's gravity and typically orbit the sun about every 6 years. Comet 45P/HMP, which is passing by Earth at a speed of about 23 km/s (relative to Earth) and a close approach of about 32 Earth-Moon distances, will be observed widely at different wavelengths to characterize the gas and dust emanating from the nucleus that forms the coma. As comets orbit the sun, the ices sublime from solids to gases and escape the nucleus. The nucleus gradually shrinks and will disappear completely within in less than a million years. Radar observations at Arecibo of Comet 45P/HMP began on February 9, 2017 and will continue through February 17, 2017. Explore further: Comet's trip past Earth offers first in a trio of opportunities
News Article | February 22, 2017
Needless to say, the definition they adopted resulted in fair degree of controversy from the astronomical community. For this reason, a team of planetary scientists – which includes famed "Pluto defender" Alan Stern – have come together to propose a new meaning for the term "planet". Based on their geophysical definition, the term would apply to over 100 bodies in the solar system, including the moon itself. The current IAU definition (known as Resolution 5A) states that a planet is defined based on the following criteria: "(1) A "planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit. (2) A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape , (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite. (3) All other objects , except satellites, orbiting the sun shall be referred to collectively as "small solar-system bodies" Because of these qualifiers, Pluto was no longer considered a planet, and became known alternately as a "dwarf planet", Plutiod, Plutino, Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO), or Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). In addition, bodies like Ceres, and newly discovered TNOs like Eris, Haumea, Makemake and the like, were also designated as "dwarf planets". Naturally, this definition did not sit right with some, not the least of which are planetary geologists. Led by Kirby Runyon – a final year PhD student from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University – this team includes scientists from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado; the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tuscon, Arizona; the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona; and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at George Mason University. Their study – titled "A Geophysical Planet Definition", which was recently made available on the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) website – addresses what the team sees as a need for a new definition that takes into account a planet's geophysical properties. In other words, they believe a planet should be so-designated based on its intrinsic properties, rather than its orbital or extrinsic properties. From this more basic set of parameters, Runyon and his colleagues have suggested the following definition: "A planet is a sub-stellar mass body that has never undergone nuclear fusion and that has sufficient self-gravitation to assume a spheroidal shape adequately described by a triaxial ellipsoid regardless of its orbital parameters." As Runyon told Universe Today in a phone interview, this definition is an attempt to establish something that is useful for all those involved in the study of planetary science, which has always included geologists: "The IAU definition is useful to planetary astronomers concerned with the orbital properties of bodies in the solar system, and may capture the essence of what a 'planet' is to them. The definition is not useful to planetary geologists. I study landscapes and how landscapes evolve. It also kind of irked me that the IAU took upon itself to define something that geologists use too. "The way our brain has evolved, we make sense of the universe by classifying things. Nature exists in a continuum, not in discrete boxes. Nevertheless, we as humans need to classify things in order to bring order out of chaos. Having a definition of the word planet that expresses what we think a planet ought to be, is concordant with this desire to bring order out of chaos and understand the universe." The new definition also attempts to tackle many of the more sticky aspects of the definition adopted by the IAU. For example, it addresses the issue of whether or not a body orbits the sun – which does apply to those found orbiting other stars (i.e. exoplanets). In addition, in accordance with this definition, rogue planets that have been ejected from their solar systems are technically not planets as well. And then there's the troublesome issue of "neighborhood clearance". As has been emphasized by many who reject the IAU's definition, planets like Earth do not satisfy this qualification since new small bodies are constantly injected into planet-crossing orbits – i..e near-Earth objects (NEOs). On top of that, this proposed definition seeks to resolve what is arguably one of the most regrettable aspects of the IAU's 2006 resolution. "The largest motivation for me personally is: every time I talk about this to the general public, the very next thing people talk about is 'Pluto is not a planet anymore'," said Runyon. "People's interest in a body seems tied to whether or not it has the name 'planet' labelled on it. I want to set straight in the mind of the public what a planet is. The IAU definition doesn't jive with my intuition and I find it doesn't jive with other people's intuition." The study was prepared for the upcoming 48th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. This annual conference – which will be taking place this year from March 20th-24th at the Universities Space Research Association in Houston, Texas – will involve specialists from all over the worlds coming together to share the latest research findings in planetary science. Here, Runyon and his colleagues hope to present it as part of the Education and Public Engagement Event. It is his hope that through an oversized poster, which is a common education tool at Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, they can show how this new definition will facilitate the study of the solar system's many bodies in a way that is more intuitive and inclusive. "We have chosen to post this in a section of the conference dedicated to education," he said. "Specifically, I want to influence elementary school teachers, grades K-6, on the definitions that they can teach their students. This is not the first time someone has proposed a definition other than the one proposed by the IAU. But few people have talked about education. They talk among their peers and little progress is made. I wanted to post this in a section to reach teachers." Naturally, there are those who would raise concerns about how this definition could lead to too many planets. If intrinsic property of hydrostatic equilibrium is the only real qualifier, then large bodies like Ganymede, Europa, and the moon would also be considered planets. Given that this definition would result in a solar system with 110 "planets", one has to wonder if perhaps it is too inclusive. However, Runyon is not concerned by these numbers. "Fifty states is a lot to memorize, 88 constellations is a lot to memorize," he said. "How many stars are in the sky? Why do we need a memorable number? How does that play into the definition? If you understand the periodic table to be organized based on the number of protons, you don't need to memorize all the atomic elements. There's no logic to the IAU definition when they throw around the argument that there are too many planets in the solar system." Since its publication, Runyon has also been asked many times if he intends to submit this proposal to the IAU for official sanction. To this, Runyon has replied simply: "No. Because the assumption there is that the IAU has a corner on the market on what a definition is. We in the planetary science field don't need the IAU definition. The definition of words is based partly on how they are used. If [the geophysical definition] is the definition that people use and what teachers teach, it will become the de facto definition, regardless of how the IAU votes in Prague." Regardless of where people fall on the IAU's definition of planet (or the one proposed by Runyon and his colleagues) it is clear that the debate is far from over. Prior to 2006, there was no working definition of the term planet; and new astronomical bodies are being discovered all the time that put our notions of what constitutes a planet to the test. In the end, it is the process of discovery which drives classification schemes, and not the other way around. Explore further: UCLA professor proposes simpler way to define what makes a planet