Press Release

Kepler Finds New Planets and SOFIA Sees ‘First Light’ Are Highlights in a Year of Discovery for NASA Ames

By SpaceRef Editor
December 27, 2010
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Kepler Finds New Planets and SOFIA Sees ‘First Light’ Are Highlights in a Year of Discovery for NASA Ames

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. The first planetary discoveries by NASAs Kepler space telescope, the “First Light” and first science flights by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) and construction of Ames’ first building in 30 years were among the top stories for NASAs Ames Research Center in 2010.

Kepler Continues Search for Earth-size Planets

NASAs Kepler space telescope, designed to find Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of sun-like stars, celebrated a successful first year in space. Scientists announced that Kepler had discovered its first exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, and confirmed the first planetary system with more than one planet crossing in front of, or transiting, the same star, named Kepler-9. In June, Kepler scientists released 43 days of science data on more than 156,000 stars that astronomers will use to determine if orbiting planets are responsible for variations in the brightness of hundreds of stars. The Kepler mission Science Operations Center (SOC) software system also received the 2010 NASA Software of the Year Award. Designed, developed and operated at Ames, the software system is a suite of 22 custom-designed tools for processing, analyzing and storing transit photometry and engineering data used to find Earth-size planets.

NASAs Airborne Infrared Observatory Sees ‘First Light,’ Conducts Science Flights

SOFIA, a joint NASA-German Aerospace Center program, achieved a major milestone in May with its first in-flight night observations, called “First Light.” SOFIA is a highly-modified Boeing 747SP jetliner fitted with a 100-inch diameter reflecting telescope that allows researchers to better understand a wide range of astronomical phenomena, including how stars and planets are born, how organic substances form in interstellar space, and how super-massive black holes feed and grow. During the flight, scientists used Cornell University’s Faint Object Infrared Camera to record infrared images. SOFIA also successfully completed three successful science flights.

Airborne Ames Team Studies Hayabusa Asteroid Mission as it Comes Home

In June, a group of astronomers from Ames, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and other organizations used a Douglas DC-8 airborne laboratory to fly to the other side of the world for a front row seat and a rare opportunity to study the Hayabusa spacecraft’s targeted fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere, The JAXA technology demonstrator spacecraft, which visited a near-Earth asteroid five years ago, re-entered Earth’s atmosphere over Woomera, Australia.

LCROSS Uncovers the Moons Buried Treasures, Wins Awards

Nearly a year after announcing the discovery of water molecules on the moon, scientists revealed new data uncovered by NASA’s Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). The mission found evidence that the lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials, that the moon is chemically active and has a water cycle. Scientists also confirmed the water was in the form of mostly pure ice crystals in some places. Also this year, LCROSS won Popular Mechanics magazine’s 2010 Breakthrough Award for innovation in science and technology, the National Space Society’s 2010 Space Pioneer Award in the Science and Engineering category, and the Space Foundation’s 2010 John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration.

Ames ‘Tops Out’ First Building in 30 Years

Construction at Ames continued in March on NASAs new building, Sustainability Base. As a candidate for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum-certified office building, it advances the standard for what it means to be “green.” Sustainability Base received the General Services Administration Real Property Award in the category of Green Innovation in recognition of the building’s creative and original ideas with clear potential to transform the federal community’s overall energy and environmental performance.

Other highlights of 2010 included the unveiling of the new free NASA App HD for iPad, which features live streaming video from NASA Television and interactive content; celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Ames Vertical Motion Simulator facility used for space vehicle, rotorcraft, tilt rotor, fixed-wing aircraft, train, ground vehicle and airship research; hosting a Green Aviation Summit that highlighted the agency’s work to develop environmentally responsible state-of-the-art aviation technologies; the third annual Yuris Night and Education Day and Celebration of Space, which attracted an estimated 6,000 space enthusiasts; the Instituting Science In Schools science and culture festival at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, Calif., which featured the opportunity to remotely operate a NASA rover and a holographic presentation of NASA astronaut Leland Melvin and hip hop artist Mos Def, who rapped about mathematics and science.

For more information about Ames’ 2010 highlights, visit: ml

SpaceRef staff editor.