Archives

February 2013



NASA's Van Allen Probes mission has discovered a previously unknown third radiation belt around Earth, revealing the existence of unexpected structures and processes within these hazardous regions of space.

NASA's Van Allen Probes mission has discovered a previously unknown third radiation belt around Earth, revealing the existence of unexpected structures and processes within these hazardous regions of space.

Using new technology at the telescope and in laboratories, researchers have discovered an important pair of prebiotic molecules in interstellar space. The discoveries indicate that some basic chemicals that are key steps on the way to life may have formed on dusty ice grains floating between the stars.

The propeller-shaped white dashes near the bottom of this Cassini spacecraft image reveal the location of a small moonlet embedded in Saturn's A ring. The gravity of this tiny moonlet affects the orbits of nearby ring particles and creates the propeller feature, nicknamed Bleriot by imaging scientists, that Cassini sees.


The Mars rover Curiosity is this week in the midst of potentially historic discoveries as the full range of its capabilities are brought to bear for the first time on a gray powdered Martian subsurface rock sample.


This image compresses the Vela movie sequence into a single snapshot by merging pie-slice sections from eight individual frames.

This image compresses the Vela movie sequence into a single snapshot by merging pie-slice sections from eight individual frames. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration


Two X-ray space observatories, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, have teamed up to measure definitively, for the first time, the spin rate of a black hole with a mass 2 million times that of our Sun.

Two X-ray space observatories, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, have teamed up to measure definitively, for the first time, the spin rate of a black hole with a mass 2 million times that of our Sun.

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Office of Education, in cooperation with NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD), Human Exploration & Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), and Science Mission Directorates (SMD), the Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT), and NASA's ten Centers, solicits proposals for the NASA Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). Each funded NASA EPSCoR proposal is expected to establish research activities that will make significant contributions to the strategic research and technology development priorities of one or more of the Mission Directorates or the OCT and contribute to the overall research infrastructure, science and technology capabilities, higher education, and economic development of the jurisdiction. If submitted, Notices of Intent are due on March 18, 2013 and proposals are due on April 19, 2013." More


Astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope have obtained what is likely the first direct observation of a forming planet still embedded in a thick disc of gas and dust. If confirmed, this discovery will greatly improve our understanding of how planets form and allow astronomers to test the current theories against an observable target.

Astronomers using ESO's Very Large Telescope have obtained what is likely the first direct observation of a forming planet still embedded in a thick disc of gas and dust. If confirmed, this discovery will greatly improve our understanding of how planets form and allow astronomers to test the current theories against an observable target.


If Dennis Tito has his way, two people will leave our planet in January 2018 and make a trip to Mars and back. Tito will be footing much of the bill himself. This mission won't stop at Mars, but rather, will do a quick flyby.

Saturn's north polar hexagon basks in the Sun's light now that spring has come to the northern hemisphere. Many smaller storms dot the north polar region and Saturn's signature rings, which appear to disappear on account of Saturn's shadow, put in an appearance in the background.

The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft's wide-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2012 using a spectral filter sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 750 nanometers.

Early on the morning of February 22, 2013, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of heavy snow over the United States. In many towns and cities across the Great Plains, more than a foot (30 centimeters) of snow fell. Kansas bore the brunt of the storm, with as much as 22 inches (56 centimeters) falling in the town of Russell.


The Whirlpool Galaxy is a classic spiral galaxy. At only 30 million light years distant and fully 60 thousand light years across, M51, also known as NGC 5194, is one of the brightest and most picturesque galaxies on the sky.


Early on the morning of February 22, 2013, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of heavy snow over the United States.


Saturn's north polar hexagon basks in the Sun's light now that spring has come to the northern hemisphere. Many smaller storms dot the north polar region and Saturn's signature rings, which appear to disappear on account of Saturn's shadow, put in an appearance in the background.

NASA scientists report that warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation locally and regionally have altered the growth of large forest areas in the eastern United States over the past 10 years. Using NASA's Terra satellite, scientists examined the relationship between natural plant growth trends, as monitored by NASA satellite images, and variations in climate over the eastern United States from 2000 to 2010.

"I am pleased to invite Ames resident staff to drop in on the "Dark Side of the Jam" gathering in Building 3 on March 8-10, 2013. The Dark Side of the Jam is bringing together top game designers for a "satellite game jam" with the goal of developing space and science games. Dark Side of the Jam challenges gamers to not only to demonstrate their coding prowess, but help capture the public's interest in the science and technology advancements being made in aerospace exploration. Dark Side of the Jam opens with registration at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 8, and runs until 6 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, in the Building 3 Ballroom. The center director will welcome the participants, and then NASA speakers will share knowledge about NASA aeronautics, small spacecraft, robotics, and planetary exploration to ignite ideas. NASA also will provide feedback on Saturday to the game developers. The event kicks off on Friday evening at about 7:30 p.m. NASA also will provide displays and models for inspiration." More

NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Expedition 34 flight engineer, talks about life aboard the orbiting International Space Station.

The Space Telescope Science Institute provides backyard stargazers this monthly guide to the northern hemisphere's skywatching events. In March, look for the Beehive Cluster and find out how to spot Jupiter and Saturn.


Even dying stars could host planets with life -- and if such life exists, we might be able to detect it within the next decade. This encouraging result comes from a new theoretical study of Earth-like planets orbiting white dwarf stars. Researchers found that we could detect oxygen in the atmosphere of a white dwarf's planet much more easily than for an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star.

Even dying stars could host planets with life -- and if such life exists, we might be able to detect it within the next decade. This encouraging result comes from a new theoretical study of Earth-like planets orbiting white dwarf stars. Researchers found that we could detect oxygen in the atmosphere of a white dwarf's planet much more easily than for an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star.


A discussion on the end of polling to name the moons of Pluto. Moderated by Alan Boyle, with scientists Franck Marchis, and Mark Showalter.


The striking coincidences of the asteroid 2012 DA14 flying close to the Earth, and a large meteor crash in Russia's Chelyabinsk region on 15 February, showed again the need for coordinated international efforts to predict, and if necessary, mitigate such threats posed by near-Earth objects in the future.

It may look like something from The Lord of the Rings, but this fiery swirl is actually a planetary nebula known as ESO 456-67. Set against a backdrop of bright stars, the rust-coloured object lies in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), in the southern sky.

"This article describes a citizen-science project conducted by the Spanish Virtual Observatory (SVO) to improve the orbits of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) using data from astronomical archives. The list of NEAs maintained at the Minor Planet Center (MPC) is checked daily to identify new objects or changes in the orbital parameters of already catalogued objects. Using NEODyS we compute the position and magnitude of these objects at the observing epochs of the 938 046 images comprising the Eigth Data Release of the Sloan Digitised Sky Survey (SDSS). If the object lies within the image boundaries and the magnitude is brighter than the limiting magnitude, then the associated image is visually inspected by the project's collaborators (the citizens) to confirm or discard the presence of the NEA. If confirmed, accurate coordinates and, sometimes, magnitudes are submitted to the MPC." More


This image shows an object known as HH 151, a bright jet of glowing material trailed by an intricate, orange-hued plume of gas and dust. It is located some 460 light-years away in the constellation of Taurus (The Bull), near to the young, tumultuous star HL Tau.

This image shows an object known as HH 151, a bright jet of glowing material trailed by an intricate, orange-hued plume of gas and dust. It is located some 460 light-years away in the constellation of Taurus (The Bull), near to the young, tumultuous star HL Tau.


A powerful winter storm left New Englanders digging out from heavy snow in early February 2013. According to unofficial totals released by the National Weather Service, snowfall totaled up to 33.5 inches (85 centimeters) in Connecticut, 31.0 inches (79 centimeters) in Massachusetts, and 30.4 inches (77 centimeters) in New Hampshire.


Korea's Kompsat-2 satellite captured this image of southern central Romania in January. The area pictured is part of a geographic transitional region between the Southern Carpathians to the north and the lowland plains to the south.

March 1st is the targeted launch date for the next cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station. Liftoff of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft's second resupply mission to the ISS is scheduled for 10:10 a.m. Eastern from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA commercial partner Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va., successfully conducted an engine test of its Antares rocket Friday at the nation's newest launch pad.

After maintaining a low simmer for ten months, Italy's Etna volcano boiled over on February 19-20, 2013, with three outbursts in 36 hours. According to the Italian Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, each outburst (paroxysm) featured "emission of lava flows, pyroclastic flows, lahars, and an ash cloud."

Internal waves off Northern Trinidad are featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 34 crew member on the International Space Station. This photograph shows the north coast of the island of Trinidad in the southeastern Caribbean Sea, where heating of the land is setting off the growth of cumulus clouds.

On July 19, 2012, an eruption occurred on the sun that produced a moderately powerful solar flare and a dazzling magnetic display known as coronal rain. Hot plasma in the corona cooled and condensed along strong magnetic fields in the region. Magnetic fields, are invisible, but the charged plasma is forced to move along the lines, showing up brightly in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 Angstroms, and outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface. Music: "Thunderbolt" by Lars Leonhard, courtesy of artist. Credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

"As part of the Obama Administration's recognition of the critical role that space technology and innovation will play in enabling both future space missions and bettering life here on Earth, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden has announced the creation of the Space Technology Mission Directorate. The directorate will be a catalyst for the creation of technologies and innovation needed to maintain NASA leadership in space while also benefiting America's economy. The Space Technology Mission Directorate will develop the cross-cutting, advanced and pioneering new technologies needed for NASA's current and future missions, many of which also benefit America's aerospace industries, other government agencies, and address national needs. NASA will focus leadership responsibility for the existing Space Technology Program in the mission directorate, improving communication, management and accountability of critical technology investment activities across the agency." More


The JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission, JUICE, will carry a total of 11 scientific experiments to study the gas giant planet and its large ocean-bearing moons, ESA announced today.


NASA has selected key contributions to a 2022 European Space Agency (ESA) mission that will study Jupiter and three of its largest moons in unprecedented detail. The moons are thought to harbor vast water oceans beneath their icy surfaces.


The Mars rover Curiosity's team is beginning to amass enough diverse science data to actively consider whether the area around its first drilling site was potentially habitable.


A press release issued late today indicated that a new organization, Inspiration Mars Foundation, led by the first private space traveler, Dennis Tito, would make a major announcement next Wednesday, February 27th concerning a 501 day mission to Mars.

ESA's Herschel space observatory has detected a cool layer in the atmosphere of Alpha Centauri A, the first time this has been seen in a star beyond our own Sun. The finding is not only important for understanding the Sun's activity, but could also help in the quest to discover proto-planetary systems around other stars.


Located around 8000 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion), NGC 6357 -- sometimes nicknamed the Lobster Nebula [1] due to its appearance in visible-light images -- is a region filled with vast clouds of gas and tendrils of dark dust. These clouds are forming stars, including massive hot stars which glow a brilliant blue-white in visible light.


An international team of astronomers has used nearly three years of high precision data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft to make the first observations of a planet outside our solar system that's smaller than Mercury, the smallest planet orbiting our sun.


NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has relayed new images that confirm it has successfully obtained the first sample ever collected from the interior of a rock on another planet. No rover has ever has drilled into a rock beyond Earth and collected a sample from its interior.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has relayed new images that confirm it has successfully obtained the first sample ever collected from the interior of a rock on another planet. No rover has ever has drilled into a rock beyond Earth and collected a sample from its interior.

Transfer of the powdered-rock sample into an open scoop was visible for the first time in images received Wednesday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

Located around 8000 light-years away in the constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion), NGC 6357 -- sometimes nicknamed the Lobster Nebula [1] due to its appearance in visible-light images -- is a region filled with vast clouds of gas and tendrils of dark dust. These clouds are forming stars, including massive hot stars which glow a brilliant blue-white in visible light.

An international team of astronomers has used nearly three years of high precision data from NASA's Kepler spacecraft to make the first observations of a planet outside our solar system that's smaller than Mercury, the smallest planet orbiting our sun.

The planet is about the size of the Earth's moon. It is one of three planets orbiting a star designated Kepler-37 in the Cygnus-Lyra region of the Milky Way.

The bottom two black spots on the sun, known as sunspots, appeared quickly over the course of Feb. 19-20, 2013. These two sunspots are part of the same system and are over six Earths across. This image combines images from two instruments on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO): the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI), which takes pictures in visible light that show sunspots and the Advanced Imaging Assembly (AIA), which took an image in the 304 Angstrom wavelength showing the lower atmosphere of the sun, which is colorized in red. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/HMI/Goddard Space Flight Center


An initial sequence of radar images of asteroid 2012 DA14 was obtained on the night of Feb. 15/16, 2013, by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif. Each of the 72 frames required 320 seconds of data collection by the Goldstone radar.

An initial sequence of radar images of asteroid 2012 DA14 was obtained on the night of Feb. 15/16, 2013, by NASA scientists using the 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, Calif. Each of the 72 frames required 320 seconds of data collection by the Goldstone radar.

17 infrasound stations in the CTBTO's network detected the infrasonic waves from the meteor that broke up over Russia's Ural mountains.


The first firm details of the 15 February asteroid impact in Russia, the largest in more than a century, are becoming clear. ESA is carefully assessing the information as crucial input for developing the Agency's asteroid-hunting effort.

The Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, Dragon spacecraft stands inside a processing hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Teams had just installed the spacecraft's solar array fairings.

NASA and its international partners are targeting Friday, March 1, as the launch date for the next cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station by SpaceX. Launch is scheduled for 10:10 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

"University faculty and students interested in learning how to build scientific experiments for spaceflight are invited to join RockOn 2013 from June 15-20 at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. RockOn 2013 is an annual workshop held in partnership with the Colorado and Virginia Space Grant Consortia. Registration is open through May. "Now in its sixth year, this program provides the basics on building, testing and flying a science payload on a suborbital rocket," said Phil Eberspeaker, chief of the sounding rocket program office at Wallops. "This is an exciting first step for participants to gain hands-on experience in building more complex space experiments. The program provides students with a solid foundation on which to build a future aerospace career." During the program, participants will work together to build experiment payloads to fly on a NASA sounding rocket predicted to reach an altitude of 73 miles. The flight will take place June 20, the last day of the workshop, weather permitting." More


Traces of water have been detected within the crystalline structure of mineral samples from the lunar highland upper crust obtained during the Apollo missions, according to a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues.

Called the "Genesis Rock," this lunar sample of unbrecciated anorthosite collected during the Apollo 15 mission was thought to be a piece of the moon's primordial crust. In a paper published online Feb. 17 in Nature Geoscience, a University of Michigan researcher and his colleagues report that traces of water were found in the rock. Photo courtesy of NASA/Johnson Space Center.

The F ring shows off a rich variety of phenomena in this image from the Cassini spacecraft. Near the lower-right of the F ring are two ''fans'' of material radiating out of the main strand (or ''core'') of the ring. Kinks are apparent all along the core, and dark ''channels'' cut into the main strand can be seen in places, the result of a recent interaction with the shepherd moon Prometheus (which cannot be seen in this image).


During a chance encounter with an unusually strong blast of solar wind arriving at Saturn, the international Cassini spacecraft detected particles being accelerated to ultra-high energies, similar to the acceleration that takes place around supernova explosions.

Robonaut 2 is featured in this close-up image in the International Space Station's Destiny laboratory. NASA astronaut Kevin Ford (visible in the reflections of R2's helmet visor), Expedition 34 commander, powered up R2 so ground controllers could verify the humanoid robot's configuration for upcoming activities. ISS034-E-031599 (18 Jan. 2013) - high res (1.4 M) low res (97 K)

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft is assembled and is undergoing environmental testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities, near Denver, Colo. MAVEN is the next mission to Mars and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere.

This nocturnal photo of London, England was downlinked by the Expedition 34 crew from the International Space Station, flying approximately 240 miles above Earth, on Feb. 2, 2013. Expedition 34 Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield, astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency, added this footnote to his downlink: "London, on the Thames, from the city to the encircling motorway. Heathrow very visible on the (west)." North is at the bottom making west on the right in this image. It's the bright feature with dark parallel lines near the outer looping road. ISS034-E-039331 (2 Feb. 2013) - high res (1.4 M) low res (104 K)

Sakurajima Volcano in Kyushu, Japan is featured in this image photographed by an Expedition 34 crew member on the International Space Station. This photograph highlights Sakurajima, one of Japan's most active volcanoes (center).

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a requirement to launch pico-, nano-, and/or micro-satellites (CubeSats) into earth orbit. A CubeSat is a type of miniaturized space research satellite that typically uses commercial, off-the-shelf electronic components. NASA/ John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC) plans to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for CubeSat deployer hardware and integration services. The requirement includes engineering development support, deployer carrier hardware, CubeSat to deployer and deployer to launch vehicle (LV) integration, and system testing." More

"NASA/GSFC intends to purchase the training from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) NOLS is currently the only known source with the ability to meet NASA's unique expedition requirements combining leadership training customized specifically for scientist and engineering teams and simulationg the field campaign environment. NOLS offers leadership and team training in a challenging outdoor environment and has the desired level of knowledge, expertise, and experience to conduct expedition and outdoor leadership training. NOLS offers the combination of remoteness and focused leadership skill development that provides distinct synergistic learning opportunities for teams managing risk in the implementation of complex scientific missions and the conduct of scientific field campaigns in remote, stressful, and harsh environments." More

"NASA Headquarters has a requirement for support services, algorithm development, hardware development and integration, and the execution of specific Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-requested technology development and science experimentation based on the unique SPHRERES facility onboard the International Space Station (ISS). NASA Headquarters intends to purchase these services from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sole source. MIT Space Systems Laboratory is uniquely qualified to perform these supporting services, algorithm development, hardware development and integration, and to enable the execution of specific DARPA-requested technology development and science experimentation because they created the SPHERES facility and hold proprietary ownership of the date. MIT has proprietary rights to the software components of the SPHERES facility and is uniquely qualified to integrate the Universal Docking Ports (UDPs) and Robotic Arms, and to expand the software components to enable this hardware to be used both by DARPA researchers and Zero Robotics Competition." More

"Help to bring Earth observation services to the everyday user with your ideas for mobile phone applications. Following the success of last year's first ever App Camp organised by ESA, 20 app developers from all over Europe will be invited once again to ESA's ESRIN centre in Frascati, Italy, on 3-10 June. They will have the opportunity to spend the week creating mobile applications using satellite Earth observation data. Eligible applicants will need to have experience in app development on Android or iOS platforms that can be verified with links to published apps and other references. The 20 lucky developers will be selected by an expert committee involving ESRIN staff. ESA will provide Internet and access to satellite data for developing mobile applications in five defined categories. The goal is to develop mobile apps using Earth-monitoring data on smartphones, building on the possibilities offered by Europe's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme." More


A space rock a few metres across exploded in Earth's atmosphere above the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia on 15 February at about 03:15 GMT. The numerous injuries and significant damage remind us that what happens in space can affect us all.

A space rock a few metres across exploded in Earth's atmosphere above the city of Chelyabinsk, Russia today at about 03:15 GMT. The numerous injuries and significant damage remind us that what happens in space can affect us all.

While precise information on the size, mass and composition of the object are yet to be confirmed, videos show a fireball and explosion consistent with an asteroid up to a few metres in size exploding in the atmosphere, possibly several to ten kilometres above the surface.


This is an image of magnetic loops on the sun, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). It has been processed to highlight the edges of each loop to make the structure more clear.

This is an image of magnetic loops on the sun, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). It has been processed to highlight the edges of each loop to make the structure more clear.

A series of loops such as this is known as a flux rope, and these lie at the heart of eruptions on the sun known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs.) This is the first time scientists were able to discern the timing of a flux rope's formation. (Blended 131 Angstrom and 171 Angstrom images of July 19, 2012 flare and CME.)

Photo Credit: Ryan Wallace

Talk about the ultimate road trip. The primary South Pole operations Traverse (SPoT) spent nearly 100 days away from McMurdo Station during the 2012-13 season, traveling more than 3,500 miles across the Ross Ice Shelf and East Antarctica. SPoT is a tractor train that hauls supplies and fuel using sleds in lieu of aircraft. The traverse stopped twice at the South Pole Station , delivering about 140,000 gallons of fuel.