영어과학 English science study

Number Won 2015. 10. 2. 00:34

Oct. 1, 2015

15-196

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission

NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids. 

Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses. After a detailed review and evaluation of the concept studies, NASA will make the final selections by September 2016 for continued development leading up to launch. Any selected mission will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations. 

"The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It’s an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way.”

NASA's Discovery Program requested proposals for spaceflight investigations in November 2014. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed 27 submissions. 

The planetary missions selected to pursue concept design studies are:

Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI)
DAVINCI would study the chemical composition of Venus’ atmosphere during a 63-minute descent. It would answer scientific questions that have been considered high priorities for many years, such as whether there are volcanoes active today on the surface of Venus and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet. Lori Glaze of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS)
VERITAS would produce global, high-resolution topography and imaging of Venus’ surface and produce the first maps of deformation and global surface composition. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.

Psyche
Psyche would explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche. This asteroid is likely the survivor of a violent hit-and-run with another object that stripped off the outer, rocky layers of a protoplanet. Linda Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.

Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam)
NEOCAM would discover ten times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs discovered to date. It would also begin to characterize them. Amy Mainzer of JPL is the principal investigator, and JPL would manage the project.

Lucy
Lucy would perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. The program has funded and developed 12 missions to date, including MESSENGER, Dawn, Stardust, Deep Impact, Genesis and GRAIL, and is currently completing development of InSight. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate. 

For more information about NASA’s Discovery Program, visit: 

http://discovery.nasa.gov

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Dwayne C. Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Last Updated: Oct. 1, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Sept. 26, 2015

15-193

NASA Selects Science Education Partners for STEM Agreements

NASA has selected 27 organizations from across the United States to begin negotiations for cooperative agreement awards totaling $42 million to implement a new strategic approach to more effectively engage learners of all ages on NASA science education programs and activities.

Selections were made by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington through the Science Education Cooperative Agreement Notice announced in February. Agreement awards can run up to five years, with an additional five-year option. Selectee activities will support Earth science, astrophysics, planetary science and heliophysics.

Negotiations for specific monetary awards now will begin and final awards are expected to be made by the end of this year.

Locations across the nation of the 27 Science Education Partners selected by NASA for STEM Agreements

Credits: NASA

“NASA seeks to innovate, explore, discover, and inspire and these selections build upon a legacy of excellence from our science education community,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of SMD. “STEM education is the enabler of future space exploration and these awards, together with efforts in NASA’s Office of Education and other partners, will advance STEM efforts in this country, improve U.S. scientific literacy, and help to inspire our nation.”

With a portfolio of approximately 100 science missions, NASA's commitment to education places special emphasis on increasing the effectiveness, sustainability and efficient utilization of SMD science discoveries and learning experiences. Goals also include enabling STEM education, improving U.S. scientific literacy, advancing national educational goals, and leveraging science activities through partnerships.

The agency’s Office of Education in Washington supports the work of SMD by coordinating projects for students, faculty and institutions that broaden the base of those who compete for NASA research awards. All agreements will be evaluated through NASA’s Office of Education.

“The Office of Education will assist in working with the selectees for new approaches given their capabilities and priorities,” said Donald James, associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Education. “Their efforts will help create and sustain the scientific and engineering workforce of the future.”

NASA’s education programs help inspire and support students from elementary school to college level, and beyond. The agency has provided lifelong learners around the globe the information to become science and tech-literate, a key asset being the inspiration NASA missions provide.

“It’s an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way,” said Grunsfeld. “People crave inspiration and heroes more than ever, and science reminds us of what we’re capable of achieving.”

To view a list of the 27 selected organizations, along with an introductory video from Grunsfeld, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/feature/list-of-science-education-partners-for-nasa-...

For more information on NASA’s science programs, please visit:

http://science.nasa.gov

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Dwayne Brown / Karen Northon
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1540
dwayne.brown@nasa.gov / karen.northon@nasa.gov

Last Updated: Sept. 26, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

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Enceladus

Sept. 16, 2015

15-188

Cassini Finds Global Ocean in Saturn's Moon Enceladus

Illustration of the interior of Saturn's moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Thickness of layers shown here is not to scale.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

View Unlabeled Image

A global ocean lies beneath the icy crust of Saturn's geologically active moon Enceladus, according to new research using data from NASA's Cassini mission.

Researchers found the magnitude of the moon's very slight wobble, as it orbits Saturn, can only be accounted for if its outer ice shell is not frozen solid to its interior, meaning a global ocean must be present.

The finding implies the fine spray of water vapor, icy particles and simple organic molecules Cassini has observed coming from fractures near the moon's south pole is being fed by this vast liquid water reservoir. The research is presented in a paper published online this week in the journal Icarus.

Previous analysis of Cassini data suggested the presence of a lens-shaped body of water, or sea, underlying the moon's south polar region. However, gravity data collected during the spacecraft's several close passes over the south polar region lent support to the possibility the sea might be global. The new results -- derived using an independent line of evidence based on Cassini's images -- confirm this to be the case.

"This was a hard problem that required years of observations, and calculations involving a diverse collection of disciplines, but we are confident we finally got it right," said Peter Thomas, a Cassini imaging team member at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, and lead author of the paper.

Cassini scientists analyzed more than seven years' worth of images of Enceladus taken by the spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since mid-2004. They carefully mapped the positions of features on Enceladus -- mostly craters -- across hundreds of images, in order to measure changes in the moon's rotation with extreme precision.

As a result, they found Enceladus has a tiny, but measurable wobble as it orbits Saturn. Because the icy moon is not perfectly spherical -- and because it goes slightly faster and slower during different portions of its orbit around Saturn -- the giant planet subtly rocks Enceladus back and forth as it rotates.

The team plugged their measurement of the wobble, called a libration, into different models for how Enceladus might be arranged on the inside, including ones in which the moon was frozen from surface to core.

"If the surface and core were rigidly connected, the core would provide so much dead weight the wobble would be far smaller than we observe it to be," said Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini participating scientist at the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California, and a co-author of the paper. "This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core," he said.

The mechanisms that might have prevented Enceladus' ocean from freezing remain a mystery. Thomas and his colleagues suggest a few ideas for future study that might help resolve the question, including the surprising possibility that tidal forces due to Saturn's gravity could be generating much more heat within Enceladus than previously thought.

"This is a major step beyond what we understood about this moon before, and it demonstrates the kind of deep-dive discoveries we can make with long-lived orbiter missions to other planets," said co-author Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at Space Science Institute (SSI), Boulder, Colorado, and visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. "Cassini has been exemplary in this regard."

The unfolding story of Enceladus has been one of the great triumphs of Cassini's long mission at Saturn. Scientists first detected signs of the moon's icy plume in early 2005, and followed up with a series of discoveries about the material gushing from warm fractures near its south pole. They announced strong evidence for a regional sea in 2014, and more recently, in 2015, they shared results that suggest hydrothermal activity is taking place on the ocean floor.

Cassini is scheduled to make a close flyby of Enceladus on Oct. 28, in the mission's deepest-ever dive through the moon's active plume of icy material. The spacecraft will pass a mere 30 miles (49 kilometers) above the moon's surface.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. The Cassini imaging operations center is based at Space Science Institute.

For more information about Cassini, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

and

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

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Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-7013
preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov 

Last Updated: Sept. 16, 2015

Editor: Allard Beutel

Tags:  Cassini, Enceladus, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Planets, Saturn, Solar System,

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Earth

Sept. 16, 2015

15-187

Arctic Sea Ice Summertime Minimum Is Fourth Lowest on Record

According to a NASA analysis of satellite data, the 2015 Arctic sea ice minimum extent is the fourth lowest on record since observations from space began.

This animation shows the evolution of the Arctic sea ice cover from its wintertime maximum extent, which was reached on Feb. 25, 2015, and was the lowest on record, to its apparent yearly minimum, which occurred on Sept. 11, 2015, and is the fourth lowest in the satellite era.

Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

Download this video in HD formats from NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

The 2015 Arctic sea ice summertime minimum is 699,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average, shown here as a gold line.

Credits: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio

The analysis by NASA and the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder showed the annual minimum extent was 1.70 million square miles (4.41 million square kilometers) on Sept. 11. This year’s minimum is 699,000 square miles (1.81 million square kilometers) lower than the 1981-2010 average.

Arctic sea ice cover, made of frozen seawater that floats on top of the ocean, helps regulate the planet’s temperature by reflecting solar energy back to space. The sea ice cap grows and shrinks cyclically with the seasons. Its minimum summertime extent, which occurs at the end of the melt season, has been decreasing since the late 1970s in response to warming temperatures.

In some recent years, low sea-ice minimum extent has been at least in part exacerbated by meteorological factors, but that was not the case this year.

“This year is the fourth lowest, and yet we haven’t seen any major weather event or persistent weather pattern in the Arctic this summer that helped push the extent lower as often happens,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It was a bit warmer in some areas than last year, but it was cooler in other places, too.”

In contrast, the lowest year on record, 2012, saw a powerful August cyclone that fractured the ice cover, accelerating its decline.

The sea ice decline has accelerated since 1996. The 10 lowest minimum extents in the satellite record have occurred in the last 11 years. The 2014 minimum was 1.94 million square miles (5.03 million square kilometers), the seventh lowest on record. Although the 2015 minimum appears to have been reached, there is a chance that changing winds or late-season melt could reduce the Arctic extent even further in the next few days.

“The ice cover becomes less and less resilient, and it doesn’t take as much to melt it as it used to,” Meier said. “The sea ice cap, which used to be a solid sheet of ice, now is fragmented into smaller floes that are more exposed to warm ocean waters. In the past, Arctic sea ice was like a fortress. The ocean could only attack it from the sides. Now it’s like the invaders have tunneled in from underneath and the ice pack melts from within.”

Some analyses have hinted the Arctic’s multiyear sea ice, the oldest and thickest ice that survives the summer melt season, appeared to have recuperated partially after the 2012 record low. But according to Joey Comiso, a sea ice scientist at Goddard, the recovery flattened last winter and will likely reverse after this melt season.

“The thicker ice will likely continue to decline,” Comiso said. “There might be some recoveries during some years, especially when the winter is unusually cold, but it is expected to go down again because the surface temperature in the region continues to increase.”

This year, the Arctic sea ice cover experienced relatively slow rates of melt in June, which is the month the Arctic receives the most solar energy. However, the rate of ice loss picked up during July, when the sun is still strong. Faster than normal ice loss rates continued through August, a transition month when ice loss typically begins to slow. A big “hole” appeared in August in the ice pack in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, north of Alaska, when thinner seasonal ice surrounded by thicker, older ice melted. The huge opening allowed for the ocean to absorb more solar energy, accelerating the melt.

It’s unclear whether this year’s strong El Niño event, which is a naturally occurring phenomenon that typically occurs every two to seven years where the surface water of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean warms, has had any impact on the Arctic sea ice minimum extent.

“Historically, the Arctic had a thicker, more rigid sea ice that covered more of the Arctic basin, so it was difficult to tell whether El Niño had any effect on it,” said Richard Cullather, a climate modeler at Goddard. “Although we haven’t been able to detect a strong El Niño impact on Arctic sea ice yet, now that the ice is thinner and more mobile, we should begin to see a larger response to atmospheric events from lower latitudes.”

In comparison, research has found a strong link between El Niño and the behavior of the sea ice cover around Antarctica. El Niño causes higher sea level pressure, warmer air temperature and warmer sea surface temperature in west Antarctica that affect sea ice distribution. This could explain why this year the growth of the Antarctic sea ice cover, which currently is headed toward its yearly maximum extent and was at much higher than normal levels throughout much of the first half of 2015, dipped below normal levels in mid-August.

Starting next week, NASA’s Operation IceBridge, an airborne survey of polar ice, will be carrying science flights over sea ice in the Arctic, to help validate satellite readings and provide insight into the impact of the summer melt season on land and sea ice.

NASA uses the vantage point of space 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.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earth

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Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0918
stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

Rani Gran
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-286-2483
rani.c.gran@nasa.gov

Last Updated: Sept. 16, 2015

Editor: Allard Beutel

Tags:  Climate, Earth, Ice, Water,

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SMAP

Sept. 3, 2015

15-180

NASA Soil Moisture Radar Ends Operations, Mission Science Continues

NASA’s SMAP mission, launched in January to map global soil moisture and detect whether soils are frozen or thawed, continues to produce high-quality science measurements with one of its two instruments.

Credits: NASA

A three-day composite global map of surface soil moisture as retrieved from SMAP's radiometer instrument between Aug. 25-27, 2015.

Credits: NASA

Mission managers for NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory have determined that its radar, one of the satellite’s two science instruments, can no longer return data. However, the mission, which was launched in January to map global soil moisture and detect whether soils are frozen or thawed, continues to produce high-quality science measurements supporting SMAP’s objectives with its radiometer instrument.

The SMAP mission is designed to help scientists understand the links between Earth's water, energy and carbon cycles and enhance our ability to monitor and predict natural hazards like floods and droughts. SMAP remains an important data source to aid Earth system modeling and studies. SMAP data have additional practical applications, including improved weather forecasting and crop yield predictions.

The SMAP spacecraft continues normal operations and the first data release of soil moisture products is expected in late September.

"Although some of the planned applications of SMAP data will be impacted by the loss of the radar, the SMAP mission will continue to produce valuable science for important Earth system studies," said Dara Entekhabi, SMAP Science Team lead at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Credits: NASA

On July 7, SMAP’s radar stopped transmitting due to an anomaly involving the radar's high-power amplifier (HPA). The HPA is designed to boost the power level of the radar's pulse to more than 500 watts, ensuring the energy scattered from Earth's surface can be accurately measured.

The SMAP project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, formed an anomaly team to investigate the HPA issue and determine whether normal operation could be recovered. A series of diagnostic tests and procedures was performed on both the spacecraft and on the ground using flight spare parts.

Following an unsuccessful attempt on Aug. 24 to power up the radar unit, the project had exhausted all identified possible options for recovering nominal operation of the HPA and concluded the radar is likely not recoverable.

NASA has appointed a mishap investigation board to conduct a comprehensive review of the circumstances that led to the HPA anomaly in order to determine how the anomaly occurred and how such events can be prevented on future missions. JPL also will convene a separate failure review board that will work with the NASA investigation.

SMAP was launched Jan. 31 and began its science mission in April, releasing its first global maps of soil moisture on April 21. To date, the mission has collected more than four months of science data, almost three months with the radar operating. SMAP scientists plan to release beta-quality soil moisture data products at the end of September, with validated data planned for release in April 2016.

SMAP's radar allowed the mission's soil moisture and freeze-thaw measurements to be resolved to smaller regions of Earth – about 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) for soil moisture and 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) for freeze-thaw. Without the radar, the mission's resolving power will be limited to regions of almost 25 miles (40 kilometers) for soil moisture and freeze-thaw. The mission will continue to meet its requirements for soil moisture accuracy and will produce global soil moisture maps every two to three days.

SMAP’s active radar and passive radiometer instruments are designed to complement each other and mitigate the limitations of each measurement alone. The radar enabled high-resolution measurements of up to 1.9 miles, but with lower accuracy for sensing surface soil moisture. In contrast, the microwave radiometer is more accurate in its measurements but has lower resolution of about 25 miles. By combining the active and passive measurements, SMAP was designed to estimate soil moisture at a resolution of 5.6 miles.

The nearly three months of coincident measurements by the two instruments are a first of their kind. The combined data set allows scientists to assess the benefit of this type of combined measurement approach for future missions. Scientists now are developing algorithms to produce a freeze-thaw data product at 25-mile resolution from the radiometer data. They also are evaluating whether the 25-mile radiometer soil moisture resolution can be improved.

Based on the available SMAP mission data, scientists have identified other useful science measurements that can be derived from the radiometer data, such as sea surface salinity and high winds over the ocean surface. Over the next several months, the SMAP project and NASA will work to determine how to implement these new measurements into the project's data products.

SMAP is managed for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington by JPL, with instrument hardware and science contributions made by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. JPL built the spacecraft and is responsible for project management, system engineering, radar instrumentation, mission operations and the ground data system. Goddard is responsible for the radiometer instrument and science data products.

More information on the SMAP mission is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/smap

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Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington    
202-358-0918
stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-0474
alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov

Last Updated: Sept. 3, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Earth, SMAP (Soil Moisture Active Passive),

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Meteors & Meteorites

Aug. 11, 2015

M15-122

NASA TV to Host Perseid Meteor Shower Program

Astronomer Fred Bruenjes recorded a series of many 30 second long exposures spanning about six hours on the night of Aug. 11 and early morning of Aug. 12, 2004 using a wide angle lens. Combining those frames which captured meteor flashes, he produced this dramatic view of the Perseids of summer. There are 51 Perseid meteors in the composite image, including one seen nearly head-on.

Credits: Fred Bruenjes

Thanks to a new moon, this week’s Perseid meteor shower is expected to be one of the best in years, and NASA Television will bring viewers a front row seat.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will broadcast a live program about this year’s Perseid meteor shower from 10 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 12 to 2 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 13. The event will highlight the science behind the Perseids, as well as NASA research related to meteors and comets. The program will air on NASA TV and NASA’s UStream channel.

The Perseids have been observed for at least 2,000 years and are associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years. Every August, the Earth passes through a cloud of the comet’s orbital debris. This debris field -- mostly created hundreds of years ago -- consists of bits of ice and dust shed from the comet which burn up in Earth’s atmosphere to create one of the premier meteor showers of the year. 

The best opportunity to see the Perseid meteor shower is during the dark, pre-dawn hours of Aug. 13. The Perseids streak across the sky from many directions, with theoretical rates as high as 100 per hour. The last time the Perseids peak coincided with a new moon was in 2007, making this one of the best potential viewings in years.

Special guests on the live NASA TV broadcast include meteor experts Bill Cooke, Danielle Moser and Rhiannon Blaauw, all of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, located at Marshall. They will provide on-air commentary, as well as answer questions online. Also scheduled to join the broadcast are experts from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, the American Meteor Society and others.

Anyone can join in the conversation by tweeting questions to @NASA_Marshall with the hashtag #askNASA. Social media users may also post questions to Marshall’s Facebook page by replying to the Aug. 12 Perseid Q-and-A post.

Watch a NASA ScienceCast video on the 2015 Perseid meteor shower here:

https://www.youtube.com/user/ScienceAtNASA

For more information on NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/offices/meo/home/

For the latest in “Watch the Sky” news, visit: 

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/watchtheskies/

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Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Headquarters, Washington                                                                      
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Janet Anderson
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
256-544-6162
janet.l.anderson@nasa.gov

Last Updated: Aug. 13, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Meteors & Meteorites,

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Chandra X-ray

June 24, 2015

15-137

NASA’s Chandra Captures X-Ray Echoes Pinpointing Distant Neutron Star

A light echo in X-rays detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory has provided a rare opportunity to precisely measure the distance to an object on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy. The rings exceed the field-of-view of Chandra’s detectors, resulting in a partial image of X-ray data.

Credits: NASA/CXC/U. Wisconsin/S. Heinz

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered the largest and brightest set of rings from X-ray light echoes ever observed. These extraordinary rings, produced by an intense flare from a neutron star, provide astronomers a rare chance to determine how far across the Milky Way galaxy the star is from Earth.

The rings appear as circles around Circinus X-1, a double star system in the plane of our galaxy containing a neutron star, the dense remnant of a massive star pulverized in a supernova explosion. The neutron star is in orbit with another massive star, and is shrouded by thick clouds of interstellar gas and dust. Circinus X-1 is also the source of a surprisingly powerful jet of high-energy particles.

“It’s really hard to get accurate distance measurements in astronomy and we only have a handful of methods,” said Sebastian Heinz of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who led the study. “But just as bats use sonar to triangulate their location, we can use the X-rays from Circinus X-1 to figure out exactly where it is.”

The light echo shows that Circinus X-1 is located about 30,700 light years from Earth, and settles the difference in results published in prior studies. The detection and characterization of the rings required the unique capabilities of Chandra -- the ability to detect fine details combined with sensitivity to faint signals.

Researchers determined that the rings are echoes from a burst of X-rays emitted by Circinus X-1 in late 2013. The burst reflected off intervening clouds of dust, with some reflected X-rays arriving to Earth from different angles at a time delay of about one to three months, creating the observed rings.

By comparing the Chandra data to prior images of dust clouds detected by the Mopra radio telescope in Australia, the researchers determined that each ring was created by the X-ray reflections off a different dust cloud. The radio data provides the distance to the different clouds and the X-ray echo determines the location of Circinus X-1 relative to the clouds. An analysis of the rings with the combined radio data allows researchers to use simple geometry to accurately determine the distance of Circinus X-1 from Earth.

“We like to call this system the ‘Lord of the Rings,’ but this one has nothing to do with Sauron,” said co-author Michael Burton of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. “The beautiful match between the Chandra X-ray rings and the Mopra radio images of the different clouds is really a first in astronomy.”

This new distance estimate means that Circinus X-1 is inherently much brighter in X-rays and other types of light than some scientists previously thought, and indicates that the star system has repeatedly passed a key threshold for brightness where the outward pressure from radiation by the system is balanced by the inward pull of gravity. This behavior is something astronomers generally see more often in systems containing black holes than in systems like Circinus X-1 that contain a neutron star.

The researchers also determined that the speed of the jet of high-energy particles produced by the system is at least 99.9% of the speed of light. This extreme velocity is usually associated with jets produced by a black hole.

“Circinus X-1 acts in some ways like a neutron star and in some like a black hole,” said co-author Catherine Braiding, also of the University of New South Wales. “It’s extremely unusual to find an object that has such a blend of these properties.”

Circinus X-1 is thought to have originally become an X-ray source about 2,500 years ago, as seen from Earth. This makes Circinus X-1 the youngest so-called X-ray binary known. The new Chandra data allows astronomers to make a detailed three-dimensional map of the dust clouds between Circinus X-1 and us, providing a valuable probe of the structure of the galaxy.

These results have been published in The Astrophysical Journal and are available online. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/chandra

For an interactive image, podcast, and video about these findings, visit:

http://chandra.si.edu

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Felicia Chou
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0257
felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Janet Anderson
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
256-544-6162
janet.l.anderson@nasa.gov

Megan Watzke
Chandra X-ray Center, Cambridge, Mass.
617-496-7998
mwatzke@cfa.harvard.edu

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Chandra X-Ray Observatory, Universe,

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Europa Mission

June 18, 2015

15-130

All Systems Go for NASA's Mission to Jupiter Moon Europa

Could a liquid water ocean beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa have the ingredients to support life? Here's how NASA's mission to Europa would find out.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Beyond Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of present-day life, and a new NASA mission to explore this potential is moving forward from concept review to development.

NASA’s mission concept -- to conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate its habitability -- has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase known as formulation.

“Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”

NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter in the late 1990s produced strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath its frozen crust. If proven to exist, this global ocean could hold more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa may have the ingredients needed to support simple organisms.

The mission plan calls for a spacecraft to be launched to Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving in the distant planet’s orbit after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon's icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been assigned the responsibility of managing the project. JPL has been studying the multiple-flyby mission concept, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, since 2011.

Instruments selected for the Europa mission's scientific payload were announced by NASA on May 26. Institutions supplying instruments include APL; JPL; Arizona State University, Tempe; the University of Texas at Austin; Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“It’s a great day for science,” said Joan Salute, Europa program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are thrilled to pass the first major milestone in the lifecycle of a mission that will ultimately inform us on the habitability of Europa.”

NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and the universe.

For more information about NASA's mission to Europa, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/europa

-end-

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Elizabeth Landau / Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6425/818-354-7013
elizabeth.r.landau@jpl.nasa.gov / preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Europa (Moon), Europa Mission,

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Hubble

April 23, 2015

15-066

NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Image for Hubble 25th Anniversary

The brilliant tapestry of young stars flaring to life resemble a glittering fireworks display in the 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, released to commemorate a quarter century of exploring the solar system and beyond since its launch on April 24, 1990.

“Hubble has completely transformed our view of the universe, revealing the true beauty and richness of the cosmos” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “This vista of starry fireworks and glowing gas is a fitting image for our celebration of 25 years of amazing Hubble science.”

The sparkling centerpiece of Hubble’s anniversary fireworks is a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2, named for Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund who discovered the grouping in the 1960s. The cluster resides in a raucous stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Carina.

To capture this image, Hubble’s near-infrared Wide Field Camera 3 pierced through the dusty veil shrouding the stellar nursery, giving astronomers a clear view of the nebula and the dense concentration of stars in the central cluster. The cluster measures between 6 and 13 light-years across.

The giant star cluster is about 2 million years old and contains some of our galaxy’s hottest, brightest and most massive stars. Some of its heftiest stars unleash torrents of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds of charged particles etching into the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud.

The nebula reveals a fantasy landscape of pillars, ridges and valleys. The pillars, composed of dense gas and thought to be incubators for new stars, are a few light-years tall and point to the central star cluster. Other dense regions surround the pillars, including reddish-brown filaments of gas and dust.

The brilliant stars sculpt the gaseous terrain of the nebula and help create a successive generation of baby stars. When the stellar winds hit dense walls of gas, the shockwaves may spark a new torrent of star birth along the wall of the cavity. The red dots scattered throughout the landscape are a rich population of newly-forming stars still wrapped in their gas-and-dust cocoons. These tiny, faint stars are between 1 million and 2 million years old -- relatively young stars -- that have not yet ignited the hydrogen in their cores. The brilliant blue stars seen throughout the image are mostly foreground stars.

Credits: NASA/ESA

Because the cluster is very young -- in astronomical terms -- it has not had time to disperse its stars deep into interstellar space, providing astronomers with an opportunity to gather information on how the cluster formed by studying it within its star-birthing environment.

The image’s central region, which contains the star cluster, blends visible-light data taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys with near-infrared exposures taken by the Wide Field Camera 3. The surrounding region is composed of visible-light observations taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys. Shades of red represent hydrogen and bluish-green hues are predominantly oxygen.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington.

For more information on the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

For image files and more information about Westerlund 2, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2015/12

-end-

Felicia Chou
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0257
felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
410-338-4493 / 410-338-4514
dweaver@stsci.edu / villard@stsci.edu

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, Hubble Space Telescope, Stars, Universe,

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Pluto

April 15, 2015

15-064

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Nears Historic July 14 Encounter with Pluto

This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard New Horizons on April 9, 2015, from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers). It is the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach.

Credits: NASA

More Briefing Materials

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is three months from returning to humanity the first-ever close up images and scientific observations of distant Pluto and its system of large and small moons.

"Scientific literature is filled with papers on the characteristics of Pluto and its moons from ground based and Earth orbiting space observations, but we’ve never studied Pluto up close and personal,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut, and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.  “In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto systems is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries."  

The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles – than any space mission in history to reach its primary target. Its flyby of Pluto and its system of at least five moons on July 14 will complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system. This mission also opens the door to an entirely new “third” zone of mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks in the Kuiper Belt, a large area with numerous objects beyond Neptune’s orbit.

The flyby caps a five-decade-long era of reconnaissance that began with Venus and Mars in the early 1960s, and continued through first looks at Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn in the 1970s and Uranus and Neptune in the 1980s.

Reaching this third zone of our solar system – beyond the inner, rocky planets and outer gas giants – has been a space science priority for years. In the early 2000s the National Academy of Sciences ranked the exploration of the Kuiper Belt – and particularly Pluto and its largest moon, Charon – as its top priority planetary mission for the coming decade.

New Horizons – a compact, lightweight, powerfully equipped probe packing the most advanced suite of cameras and spectrometers ever sent on a first reconnaissance mission – is NASA’s answer to that call.

“This is pure exploration; we’re going to turn points of light into a planet and a system of moons before your eyes!” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is flying to Pluto – the biggest, brightest and most complex of the dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt. This 21st century encounter is going to be an exploration bonanza unparalleled in anticipation since the storied missions of Voyager in the 1980s.”

Pluto, the largest known body in the Kuiper Belt, offers a nitrogen atmosphere, complex seasons, distinct surface markings, an ice-rock interior that may harbor an ocean, and at least five moons. Among these moons, the largest – Charon - may itself sport an atmosphere or an interior ocean, and possibly even evidence of recent surface activity.

“There’s no doubt, Charon is a rising star in terms of scientific interest, and we can’t wait to reveal it in detail in July,” said Leslie Young, deputy project scientist at SwRI.

Pluto’s smaller moons also are likely to present scientific opportunities. When New Horizons was started in 2001, it was a mission to just Pluto and Charon, before the four smaller moons were discovered.

The spacecraft’s suite of seven science instruments – which includes cameras, spectrometers, and plasma and dust detectors – will map the geology of Pluto and Charon and map their surface compositions and temperatures; examine Pluto’s atmosphere, and search for an atmosphere around Charon; study Pluto’s smaller satellites; and look for rings and additional satellites around Pluto.

Currently, even with New Horizons closer to Pluto than the Earth is to the Sun, the Pluto system resembles little more than bright dots in the distance. But teams operating the spacecraft are using these views to refine their knowledge of Pluto’s location, and skillfully navigate New Horizons toward a precise target point 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) from Pluto’s surface. That targeting is critical, since the computer commands that will orient the spacecraft and point its science instruments are based on knowing the exact time and location that New Horizons passes Pluto.

“Our team has worked hard to get to this point, and we know we have just one shot to make this work,” said Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which built and operates the spacecraft. “We’ve plotted out each step of the Pluto encounter, practiced it over and over, and we’re excited the ‘real deal’ is finally here.”

The spacecraft’s work doesn’t end with the July flyby. Because it gets one shot at its target, New Horizons is designed to gather as much data as it can, as quickly as it can, taking about 100 times as much data on close approach as it can send home before flying away. And although the spacecraft will send select, high-priority datasets home in the days just before and after close approach, the mission will continue returning the data stored in onboard memory for a full 16 months.

“New Horizons is one of the great explorations of our time,” said New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver at APL. “There’s so much we don’t know, not just about Pluto, but other worlds like it. We’re not rewriting textbooks with this historic mission – we’ll be writing them from scratch.”

APL manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern of SwRI is the principal investigator. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information on New Horizons, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

and

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
240-228-7536
michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

Maria Stothoff
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
210-522-3305
maria.stothoff@swri.org

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Dwarf Planets, New Horizons, Pluto, Solar System,

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Mars Curiosity

April 1, 2015

15-055

Curiosity Sniffs Out History of Martian Atmosphere

A Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) team member at NASA Goddard prepares the SAM testbed for an experiment. This test copy of the SAM suite of instruments is inside a chamber that, when closed, can model the pressure and temperature environment that SAM sees inside Curiosity on Mars.

Credits: NASA

NASA's Curiosity rover is using a new experiment to better understand the history of the Martian atmosphere by analyzing xenon.

While NASA's Curiosity rover concluded its detailed examination of the rock layers of the "Pahrump Hills" in Gale Crater on Mars this winter, some members of the rover team were busy analyzing the Martian atmosphere for xenon, a heavy noble gas.

Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) experiment analyzed xenon in the planet’s atmosphere. Since noble gases are chemically inert and do not react with other substances in the air or on the ground, they are excellent tracers of the history of the atmosphere. Xenon is present in the Martian atmosphere at a challengingly low quantity and can be directly measured only with on-site experiments such as SAM.

"Xenon is a fundamental measurement to make on a planet such as Mars or Venus, since it provides essential information to understand the early history of these planets and why they turned out so differently from Earth,” said Melissa Trainer, one of the scientists analyzing the SAM data.

A planetary atmosphere is made up of different gases, which are in turn made up of variants of the same chemical element called isotopes. When a planet loses its atmosphere, that process can affect the ratios of remaining isotopes.

Measuring xenon tells us more about the history of the loss of the Martian atmosphere. The special characteristics of xenon – it exists naturally in nine different isotopes, ranging in atomic mass from 124 (with 70 neutrons per atom) to 136 (with 82 neutrons per atom) – allows us to learn more about the process by which the layers of atmosphere were stripped off of Mars than using measurements of other gases.

A process removing gas from the top of the atmosphere removes lighter isotopes more readily than heavier ones leaving a ratio higher in heavier isotopes than it was originally.

The SAM measurement of the ratios of the nine xenon isotopes traces a very early period in the history of Mars when a vigorous atmospheric escape process was pulling away even the heavy xenon gas. The lighter isotopes were escaping just a bit faster than the heavy isotopes.

Those escapes affected the ratio of isotopes in the atmosphere left behind, and the ratios today are a signature retained in the atmosphere for billions of years. This signature was first inferred several decades ago from isotope measurements on small amounts of Martian atmospheric gas trapped in rocks from Mars that made their way to Earth as meteorites.

"We are seeing a remarkably close match of the in-situ data to that from bits of atmosphere captured in some of the Martian meteorites," said SAM Deputy Principal Investigator Pan Conrad.

SAM previously measured the ratio of two isotopes of a different noble gas, argon. The results pointed to continuous loss over time of much of the original atmosphere of Mars.

The xenon experiment required months of careful testing at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, using a close copy of the SAM instrument enclosed in a chamber that simulates the Mars environment. This testing was led by Goddard's Charles Malespin, who developed and optimized the sequence of instructions for SAM to carry out on Mars.

"I'm gratified that we were able to successfully execute this run on Mars and demonstrate this new capability for Curiosity," said Malespin.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to determine if life was possible on Mars and study major changes in Martian environmental conditions. NASA studies Mars to learn more about our own planet, and in preparation for future human missions to Mars. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a division of Caltech, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about SAM, visit:

http://ssed.gsfc.nasa.gov/sam/

SAM experiment data are archived in the Planetary Data System, online at:

http://pds.nasa.gov/

For more information about Curiosity, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/msl

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity

and

http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

-end-

Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Nancy Neal Jones
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-286-0039
nancy.n.jones@nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, Mars, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity), Solar System,

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NEOWISE

March 27, 2015

NASA Asteroid Hunter Spacecraft Data Available to Public

Millions of images of celestial objects, including asteroids, observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft now are available online to the public. The data was collected following the restart of the asteroid-seeking spacecraft in December 2013 after a lengthy hibernation.

The collection of millions of infrared images and billions of infrared measurements of asteroids, stars, galaxies and quasars spans data obtained between December 13, 2013, and December 13, 2014.

one of the most satisfying things about releasing these cutting-edge astronomical data to the public is seeing what other exciting and creative projects the scientific community does with them," said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California.

In the first year of the survey, NEOWISE captured 2.5 million image sets, detecting and providing data on over 10,000 solar system objects. The data revealed 129 new solar system objects, including 39 previously undiscovered near-Earth objects. Each of the images also contains a multitude of background stars, nebulae and galaxies. More than 10 billion measurements of these more distant objects are contained in the release of the NEOWISE data.

"And we're far from finished," said Mainzer. “We're only into our second year of additional science collection, and we've already added another 21 new discoveries including six new near-Earth objects."

NEOWISE is a space telescope that scans the skies for asteroids and comets. The telescope sees infrared light, which allows it to pick up the heat signature of asteroids and obtain better estimates of their true sizes. As a result, NEOWISE can see dark asteroids that are harder for visible-light surveys to find. Nearly all of the NEOWISE discoveries have been large --hundreds of yards, or meters, wide-- and very dark, similar to printer toner. When NEOWISE's infrared data on an object is combined with that of a visible-light optical telescope, it helps scientists understand the object's composition.

NEOWISE always looks in the dawn and twilight skies – the direction perpendicular to a line between Earth and the sun. This unique vantage point makes it possible for NEOWISE to spot objects that approach Earth from the direction of the sun, unlike ground-based telescopes that are only able to view the night sky.

Originally called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft was placed in hibernation in 2011 after its primary mission was completed. In September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE and assigned a new mission to assist NASA's efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects and help characterize previously known asteroids and comets to provide information about their sizes and compositions.

NASA Wednesday announced more details in its plan for its Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which in the mid-2020s will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation’s journey to Mars. The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft.

NASA also announced it has increased the detection of near-Earth Asteroids by 65 percent since launching its asteroid initiative three years ago.

"NEOWISE is a vital asset in NASA’s program to find objects that truly represent an impact hazard to Earth," said Lindley Johnson, program executive for the Near-Earth Object Observation Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The data reveals how far we’ve come to understand the danger to Earth but it will still take a concerted effort to find all of them that could do serious damage.”

In 2012, the president's NASA budget included, and Congress authorized, $20.4 million for an expanded NASA Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program, increasing the resources for this critical program from the $4 million per year it had received since the 1990s. The program was again expanded in fiscal year 2014, with a budget of $40.5 million. NASA is asking Congress for $50 million for this important work in the 2016 budget.

JPL manages the NEOWISE mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

To view the NEOWISE data, visit:

http://wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/

For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/neowise

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at available online at:

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch

For more information about the Asteroid Redirect Mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-9011
agle@jpl.nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Asteroids, NEOWISE,

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March 14, 2015

M15-046

Houston-area Conference to Feature Planetary Science Results

NASA researchers and other scientists will present early science results from the agency’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) Rosetta mission, and an exploration of the evolution of Mars’ climate and atmosphere during the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference March 16-20.

The conference will take place at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center at 1601 Lake Robbins Drive in The Woodlands, Texas, near Houston.

MAVEN successfully entered Martian orbit in September to study the planet’s upper atmosphere. Rosetta, after a three-year deep space hibernation, awoke in 2014 to carefully approach and map a comet. In November, the Rosetta probe deployed a lander, Philae, which made a historic landing on the comet. The conference also will feature presentations on other planetary science missions and projects, including a discussion on the evolution of the solar system.

The conference is presented by the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. LPI is managed by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), a national, nonprofit consortium of 105 leading research universities chartered in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences at the request of NASA. USRA operates programs and institutes focused on research and education in most of the disciplines engaged in space-related science and engineering.

Media may register to attend. For information including links to the program, media advisories and contact information, visit:

http://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2015

More information about the agenda and other activities is available online at:

http://.lpi.usra.edu

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

William Jeffs
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-483-5111
william.p.jeffs@nasa.gov

Mary Ann Hager
Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston
281-486-2136
mhager@hou.usra.edu

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

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Magnetospheric Multiscale

March 14, 2015

15-043

NASA Spacecraft in Earth’s Orbit, Preparing to Study Magnetic Reconnection

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft onboard launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, March 12, 2015, Florida.

Credits: NASA

Following a successful launch at 10:44 p.m. EDT Thursday, NASA’s four Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft are positioned in Earth’s orbit to begin the first space mission dedicated to the study of a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. This process is thought to be the catalyst for some of the most powerful explosions in our solar system.

The spacecraft, positioned one on top of the other on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. After reaching orbit, each spacecraft deployed from the rocket’s upper stage sequentially, in five-minute increments, beginning at 12:16 a.m. Friday, with the last separation occurring at 12:31 a.m. NASA scientists and engineers were able to confirm the health of all separated spacecraft at 12:40 a.m.

"I am speaking for the entire MMS team when I say we’re thrilled to see all four of our spacecraft have deployed and data indicates we have a healthy fleet,” said Craig Tooley, project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

As an Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the background, the launch can also be seen on the countdown clock at the Kennedy Space Center's Press Site. The rocket is carrying NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, spacecraft.

Credits: NASA/Frankie Martin

Over the next several weeks, NASA scientists and engineers will deploy booms and antennas on the spacecraft, and test all instruments. The observatories will later be placed into a pyramid formation in preparation for science observations, which are expected to begin in early September.

“After a decade of planning and engineering, the science team is ready to go to work,” said Jim Burch, principal investigator for the MMS instrument suite science team at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio (SwRI). “We’ve never had this type of opportunity to study this fundamental process in such detail.”

The mission will provide the first three-dimensional views of reconnection occurring in Earth's protective magnetic space environment, the magnetosphere. Magnetic reconnection occurs when magnetic fields connect, disconnect, and reconfigure explosively, releasing bursts of energy that can reach the order of billions of megatons of trinitrotoluene (commonly known as TNT). These explosions can send particles surging through space near the speed of light.

Scientists expect the mission will not only help them better understand magnetic reconnection, but also will provide insight into these powerful events, which can disrupt modern technological systems such as communications networks, GPS navigation, and electrical power grids.

By studying reconnection in this local, natural laboratory, scientists can understand the process elsewhere, such as in the atmosphere of the sun and other stars, in the vicinity of black holes and neutron stars, and at the boundary between our solar system's heliosphere and interstellar space.

Artist's concept of the MMS observatory fleet with rainbow magnetic lines.

Credits: NASA

The spacecraft will fly in a tight formation through regions of reconnection activity. Using sensors designed to measure the space environment at rates100 times faster than any previous mission.

“MMS is a crucial next step in advancing the science of magnetic reconnection – and no mission has ever observed this fundamental process with such detail,” said Jeff Newmark, interim director for NASA’s Heliophysics Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The depth and detail of our knowledge is going to grow by leaps and bounds, in ways that no one can yet predict.”

MMS is the fourth mission in the NASA Solar Terrestrial Probes Program. Goddard built, integrated and tested the four MMS spacecraft and is responsible for overall mission management and operations. The principal investigator for the MMS instrument suite science team is based at the SwRI. Science operations planning and instrument commanding are performed at the MMS Science Operations Center at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

More information about the MMS mission is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/mms

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Susan Hendrix
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
301-286-7745
susan.m.hendrix@nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Allard Beutel

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, MMS (Magnetospheric Multiscale), Solar System, Sun,

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Feb. 25, 2015

M15-031

NASA Briefing to Discuss First Spacecraft Arrival at a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will host a briefing at noon EST (9 a.m. PST) Monday, March 2, to discuss the March 6 arrival of the agency’s Dawn spacecraft at the dwarf planet Ceres. The news briefing, held at JPL’s von Karman Auditorium at 4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena, California, will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website.

Ceres, located in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is the largest unexplored world of the inner solar system. Dawn will not only be the first spacecraft to reach a dwarf planet, it will be the first spacecraft ever to orbit two different worlds in deep space.

Dawn was the first spacecraft to orbit a body in the main asteroid belt when it explored the giant asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012.

Participants in the news conference will be:

·         Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington

·         Robert Mase, Dawn project manager, JPL

·         Carol Raymond, Dawn deputy principal investigator, JPL

To arrange access to attend in person or to obtain a telephone connection, reporters must contact Gina Fontes at 818-354-5011 or georgina.d.fontes@jpl.nasa.gov no later than 3 p.m. EST (noon PST) on Friday, Feb. 27, and provide their media affiliation.

For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

The briefing will also be streamed live on Ustream at:

http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2

For information about NASA's Dawn mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/dawn

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6425
elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Agency-About NASA, Ceres,

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Water

Dec. 17, 2014

14-333

NASA Analysis: 11 Trillion Gallons to Replenish California Drought Losses

NASA GRACE satellite data reveal the severity of California’s drought on water resources across the state. This map shows the trend in water storage between September 2011 and September 2014.

Credits: NASA JPL

GRACE animation

Combining data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission and other satellite observations within a numerical model is enabling high-resolution, timely mapping of groundwater and soil wetness conditions that are a key input to the U.S. Drought Monitor maps.

Credits: NASA

See animation

It will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometers) -- around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir -- to recover from California's continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data.

The finding was part of a sobering update on the state's drought made possible by space and airborne measurements and presented by NASA scientists Dec. 16 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. Such data are giving scientists an unprecedented ability to identify key features of droughts, data that can be used to inform water management decisions.

A team of scientists led by Jay Famiglietti of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California used data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites to develop the first-ever calculation of this kind -- the volume of water required to end an episode of drought.

Earlier this year, at the peak of California's current three-year drought, the team found that water storage in the state's Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was 11 trillion gallons below normal seasonal levels. Data collected since the launch of GRACE in 2002 shows this deficit has increased steadily.

"Spaceborne and airborne measurements of Earth's changing shape, surface height and gravity field now allow us to measure and analyze key features of droughts better than ever before, including determining precisely when they begin and end and what their magnitude is at any moment in time," Famiglietti said. "That's an incredible advance and something that would be impossible using only ground-based observations."

GRACE data reveal that, since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased in volume by four trillion gallons of water each year (15 cubic kilometers). That's more water than California's 38 million residents use each year for domestic and municipal purposes. About two-thirds of the loss is due to depletion of groundwater beneath California's Central Valley.

In related results, early 2014 data from NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory indicate that snowpack in California's Sierra Nevada range was only half of previous estimates.

The observatory is providing the first-ever high-resolution observations of snow water volume in the Tuolumne River, Merced, Kings and Lakes basins of the Sierra Nevada and Uncompahgre watershed in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

To develop these calculations, the observatory measures how much water is in the snowpack and how much sunlight the snow absorbs, which influences how fast the snow melts. These data enable accurate estimates of how much water will flow out of a basin when the snow melts, which helps guide decision about reservoir filling and water allocation.

"The 2014 snowpack was one of the three lowest on record and the worst since 1977, when California's population was half what it is now," said Airborne Snow Observatory principal investigator Tom Painter of JPL. "Besides resulting in less snow water, the dramatic reduction in snow extent contributes to warming our climate by allowing the ground to absorb more sunlight. This reduces soil moisture, which makes it harder to get water from the snow into reservoirs once it does start snowing again."

New drought maps show groundwater levels across the U.S. Southwest are in the lowest two to 10 percent since 1949. The maps, developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, combine GRACE data with other satellite observations.

"Integrating GRACE data with other satellite measurements provides a more holistic view of the impact of drought on water availability, including on groundwater resources, which are typically ignored in standard drought indices," said Matt Rodell, chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at Goddard.

The scientists cautioned that while the recent California storms have been helpful in replenishing water resources, they aren't nearly enough to end the multi-year drought.

"It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it," said Famiglietti.

NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. The agency develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information on GRACE, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/grace

and

http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace

For more on the Airborne Snow Observatory, visit:

http://aso.jpl.nasa.gov/

For more information about NASA's Earth science activities, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

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Steve Cole
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0918
stephen.e.cole@nasa.gov

Alan Buis
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-0474
alan.buis@jpl.nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Benefits to You, Earth, Earth Research Findings, GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment), Water,

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Solar System and Beyond

Nov. 7, 2014

14-310

NASA Rocket Experiment Finds the Universe Brighter Than We Thought

This is a time-lapse photograph of the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment (CIBER) rocket launch, taken from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia in 2013. The image is from the last of four launches.

Credits: T. Arai/University of Tokyo

Galaxies collide to form larger structures in our universe, kicking out stars. The CIBER rocket experiments have detected what appears to be an infrared glow from these stranded stars (appearing as yellow clouds) on large scales across our sky.

Observations from CIBER have shown a surprising surplus of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies. To understand how scientists measured the amount of this mysterious light, imagine using the tips of icebergs to estimate their total volume of ice.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Full image and caption

This graphic illustrates how CIBER team measures a diffuse glow of infrared light filling the spaces between galaxies.

Full image and caption

These images from CIBER show large patches of the sky at two different infrared wavelengths (1.1 microns and 1.6 microns) after all known galaxies have been subtracted out.

Full image and caption

This plot shows data from CIBER rockets launched in 2010 and 2012.

Full image and caption

A NASA sounding rocket experiment has detected a surprising surplus of infrared light in the dark space between galaxies, a diffuse cosmic glow as bright as all known galaxies combined. The glow is thought to be from orphaned stars flung out of galaxies.

The findings redefine what scientists think of as galaxies. Galaxies may not have a set boundary of stars, but instead stretch out to great distances, forming a vast, interconnected sea of stars.

Observations from the Cosmic Infrared Background Experiment, or CIBER, are helping settle a debate on whether this background infrared light in the universe, previously detected by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, comes from these streams of stripped stars too distant to be seen individually, or alternatively from the first galaxies to form in the universe.

"We think stars are being scattered out into space during galaxy collisions," said Michael Zemcov, lead author of a new paper describing the results from the rocket project and an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "While we have previously observed cases where stars are flung from galaxies in a tidal stream, our new measurement implies this process is widespread."

Using suborbital sounding rockets, which are smaller than those that carry satellites to space and are ideal for short experiments, CIBER captured wide-field pictures of the cosmic infrared background at two infrared wavelengths shorter than those seen by Spitzer. Because our atmosphere itself glows brightly at these particular wavelengths of light, the measurements can only be done from space. 

"It is wonderfully exciting for such a small NASA rocket to make such a huge discovery," said Mike Garcia, program scientist from NASA Headquarters. “Sounding rockets are an important element in our balanced toolbox of missions from small to large.”

During the CIBER flights, the cameras launch into space, then snap pictures for about seven minutes before transmitting the data back to Earth. Scientists masked out bright stars and galaxies from the pictures and carefully ruled out any light coming from more local sources, such as our own Milky Way galaxy. What's left is a map showing fluctuations in the remaining infrared background light, with splotches that are much bigger than individual galaxies. The brightness of these fluctuations allows scientists to measure the total amount of background light.

To the surprise of the CIBER team, the maps revealed a dramatic excess of light beyond what comes from the galaxies.  The data showed that this infrared background light has a blue spectrum, which means it increases in brightness at shorter wavelengths. This is evidence the light comes from a previously undetected population of stars between galaxies. Light from the first galaxies would give a spectrum of colors that is redder than what was seen.

"The light looks too bright and too blue to be coming from the first generation of galaxies," said James Bock, principal investigator of the CIBER project from Caltech and JPL. "The simplest explanation, which best explains the measurements, is that many stars have been ripped from their galactic birthplace, and that the stripped stars emit on average about as much light as the galaxies themselves."

Future experiments can test whether stray stars are indeed the source of the infrared cosmic glow. If the stars were tossed out from their parent galaxies, they should still be located in the same vicinity. The CIBER team is working on better measurements using more infrared colors to learn how stripping of stars happened over cosmic history.

Results from two of four CIBER flights, both of which launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in 2010 and 2012, appear Friday, Nov. 7 in the journal Science.

Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The work was supported by NASA, with initial support provided by JPL's Director's Research and Development Fund. Japanese participation in CIBER was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Korean participation in CIBER was supported by the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute." 

For more information on NASA’s sounding rocket experiments, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sounding-rockets/

For more information about CIBER, visit:

http://ciber.caltech.edu/rocket.html

› Media teleconference - archived recording on Ustream and visuals

-end-

Felicia Chou
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0257
felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Whitney Clavin
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-4673
whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sonja Alexander

Tags:  Agency-About NASA, Galaxies, Sounding Rockets, Universe,

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Hubble

Oct. 16, 2014

14-283

NASA’s Hubble Finds Extremely Distant Galaxy Through Cosmic Magnifying Glass

The mammoth galaxy cluster Abell 2744 is so massive that its powerful gravity bends the light from galaxies far behind it, making these otherwise unseen background objects appear larger and brighter than they would normally.

Credits: NASA, J. Lotz, (STScI)

Peering through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a tiny, faint galaxy -- one of the farthest galaxies ever seen. The diminutive object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away.

This galaxy offers a peek back to the very early formative years of the universe and may just be the tip of the iceberg.

“This galaxy is an example of what is suspected to be an abundant, underlying population of extremely small, faint objects that existed about 500 million years after the big bang, the beginning of the universe,” explained study leader Adi Zitrin of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “The discovery is telling us galaxies as faint as this one exist, and we should continue looking for them and even fainter objects, so that we can understand how galaxies and the universe have evolved over time.”

The galaxy was detected by the Frontier Fields program, an ambitious three-year effort that teams Hubble with NASA’s other great observatories -- the Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory -- to probe the early universe by studying large galaxy clusters. These clusters are so massive their gravity deflects light passing through them, magnifying, brightening, and distorting background objects in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. These powerful lenses allow astronomers to find many dim, distant structures that otherwise might be too faint to see.

The discovery was made using the lensing power of the mammoth galaxy cluster Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster, which produced three magnified images of the same, faint galaxy. Each magnified image makes the galaxy appear 10 times larger and brighter than it would look without the zooming qualities of the cluster.

The galaxy measures merely 850 light-years across -- 500 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy-- and is estimated to have a mass of only 40 million suns. The Milky Way, in comparison, has a stellar mass of a few hundred billion suns. And the galaxy forms about one star every three years, whereas the Milky Way galaxy forms roughly one star per year. However, given its small size and low mass, Zitrin said the tiny galaxy actually is rapidly evolving and efficiently forming stars.

The astronomers believe galaxies such as this one are probably small clumps of matter that started to form stars and shine, but do not yet have a defined structure. It is possible Hubble is only detecting one bright clump magnified due to the lensing. This would explain why the object is smaller than typical field galaxies of that time.

Zitrin’s team spotted the galaxy’s gravitationally multiplied images using near-infrared and visible-light photos of the galaxy cluster taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. But they needed to measure how far away it was from Earth.

Usually, astronomers can determine an object’s distance based on how far its light has been stretched as the universe slowly expands. Astronomers can precisely measure this effect through spectroscopy, which characterizes an object’s light. But the gravitationally-lensed galaxy and other objects found at this early time period are too far away and too dim for spectroscopy, so astronomers use an object’s color to estimate its distance. The universe’s expansion reddens an object’s color in predictable ways, which scientists can measure.

Zitrin’s team performed the color-analysis technique and took advantage of the multiple images produced by the gravitational lens to independently confirm the group’s distance estimate. The astronomers measured the angular separation between the three magnified images of the galaxy in the Hubble photos. The greater the angular separation due to lensing, the farther away the object is from Earth.

To test this concept, the astronomers compared the three magnified images with the locations of several other closer, multiply-imaged background objects captured in Hubble images of Pandora’s cluster. The angular distance between the magnified images of the closer galaxies was smaller.

“These measurements imply that, given the large angular separation between the three images of our background galaxy, the object must lie very far away,” Zitrin explained. “It also matches the distance estimate we calculated, based on the color-analysis technique. So we are about 95 percent confident this object is at a remote distance, at redshift 10, a measure of the stretching of space since the big bang. The lensing takes away any doubt that this might be a heavily reddened, nearby object masquerading as a far more distant object.”

Astronomers have long debated whether such early galaxies could have provided enough radiation to warm the hydrogen that cooled soon after the big bang. This process, called reionization, is thought to have occurred 200 million to 1 billion years after the birth of the universe. Reionization made the universe transparent to light, allowing astronomers to look far back into time without running into a “fog” of cold hydrogen.

The team’s results appeared in the September online edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

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Felicia Chou

Headquarters, Washington

202-358-0257

felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Donna Weaver

Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.

410-338-4493

dweaver@stsci.edu

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sonja Alexander

Tags:  Agency-About NASA, Galaxies, Goddard Space Flight Center, Hubble Space Telescope, Universe,

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Oct. 16, 2014

14-281

NASA’s Hubble Telescope Finds Potential Kuiper Belt Targets for New Horizons Pluto Mission

This is an artist’s impression of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located on the outer rim of our solar system at a staggering distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. A HST survey uncovered three KBOs that are potentially reachable by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft after it passes by Pluto in mid-2015.

Credits: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Peering out to the dim, outer reaches of our solar system, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered three Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) the agency’s New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after it flies by Pluto in July 2015.

The KBOs were detected through a dedicated Hubble observing program by a New Horizons search team that was awarded telescope time for this purpose.

“This has been a very challenging search and it’s great that in the end Hubble could accomplish a detection – one NASA mission helping another,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission.

The Kuiper Belt is a vast rim of primordial debris encircling our solar system. KBOs belong to a unique class of solar system objects that has never been visited by spacecraft and which contain clues to the origin of our solar system.

The KBOs Hubble found are each about 10 times larger than typical comets, but only about 1-2 percent of the size of Pluto. Unlike asteroids, KBOs have not been heated by the sun and are thought to represent a pristine, well preserved deep-freeze sample of what the outer solar system was like following its birth 4.6 billion years ago. The KBOs found in the Hubble data are thought to be the building blocks of dwarf planets such as Pluto.

The New Horizons team started to look for suitable KBOs in 2011 using some of the largest ground-based telescopes on Earth. They found several dozen KBOs, but none was reachable within the fuel supply available aboard the New Horizons spacecraft.

“We started to get worried that we could not find anything suitable, even with Hubble, but in the end the space telescope came to the rescue,” said New Horizons science team member John Spencer of SwRI. “There was a huge sigh of relief when we found suitable KBOs; we are ‘over the moon’ about this detection.”

Following an initial proof of concept of the Hubble pilot observing program in June, the New Horizons Team was awarded telescope time by the Space Telescope Science Institute for a wider survey in July. When the search was completed in early September, the team identified one KBO that is considered “definitely reachable,” and two other potentially accessible KBOs that will require more tracking over several months to know whether they too are accessible by the New Horizons spacecraft.

This was a needle-in-haystack search for the New Horizons team because the elusive KBOs are extremely small, faint, and difficult to pick out against a myriad background of stars in the constellation Sagittarius, which is in the present direction of Pluto. The three KBOs identified each are a whopping 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. Two of the KBOs are estimated to be as large as 34 miles (55 kilometers) across, and the third is perhaps as small as 15 miles (25 kilometers).

The New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006 from Florida, is the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. once a NASA mission completes its prime mission, the agency conducts an extensive science and technical review to determine whether extended operations are warranted. 

The New Horizons team expects to submit such a proposal to NASA in late 2016 for an extended mission to fly by one of the newly identified KBOs. Hurtling across the solar system, the New Horizons spacecraft would reach the distance of 4 billion miles from the sun at its farthest point roughly three to four years after its July 2015 Pluto encounter. Accomplishing such a KBO flyby would substantially increase the science return from the New Horizons mission as laid out by the 2003 Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. APL also built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft.

For images of the KBOs and more information about Hubble, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

For information about the New Horizons mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

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Dwayne Brown

Headquarters, Washington

202-358-1726

dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Ray Villard

Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.

410-338-4514

Villard@stsci.edu

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Sonja Alexander

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, Hubble Space Telescope, Kuiper Belt, New Horizons, Solar System,

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Hubble

June 4, 2014

14-151

Hubble Team Unveils Most Colorful View of Universe Captured by Space Telescope

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a comprehensive picture of the evolving universe – among the most colorful deep space images ever captured by the 24-year-old telescope.

Researchers say the image, in new study called the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, provides the missing link in star formation. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014 image is a composite of separate exposures taken in 2003 to 2012 with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys and Wide Field Camera 3.

Astronomers previously studied the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) in visible and near-infrared light in a series of images captured from 2003 to 2009. The HUDF shows a small section of space in the southern-hemisphere constellation Fornax. Now, using ultraviolet light, astronomers have combined the full range of colors available to Hubble, stretching all the way from ultraviolet to near-infrared light. The resulting image -- made from 841 orbits of telescope viewing time -- contains approximately 10,000 galaxies, extending back in time to within a few hundred million years of the big bang.

Prior to the Ultraviolet Coverage of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field study of the universe, astronomers were in a curious position. Missions such as NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) observatory, which operated from 2003 to 2013, provided significant knowledge of star formation in nearby galaxies. Using Hubble's near-infrared capability, researchers also studied star birth in the most distant galaxies, which appear to us in their most primitive stages due to the significant amount of time required for the light of distant stars to travel into a visible range. But for the period in between, when most of the stars in the universe were born -- a distance extending from about 5 to 10 billion light-years -- they did not have enough data.

"The lack of information from ultraviolet light made studying galaxies in the HUDF like trying to understand the history of families without knowing about the grade-school children," said principal investigator Harry Teplitz of Caltech in Pasadena, California. "The addition of the ultraviolet fills in this missing range."

Ultraviolet light comes from the hottest, largest and youngest stars. By observing at these wavelengths, researchers get a direct look at which galaxies are forming stars and where the stars are forming within those galaxies.

Studying the ultraviolet images of galaxies in this intermediate time period enables astronomers to understand how galaxies grew in size by forming small collections of very hot stars. Because Earth's atmosphere filters most ultraviolet light, this work can only be accomplished with a space-based telescope.

"Ultraviolet surveys like this one using the unique capability of Hubble are incredibly important in planning for NASA's James Webb Space Telescope," said team member Dr. Rogier Windhorst of Arizona State University in Tempe. "Hubble provides an invaluable ultraviolet light dataset that researchers will need to combine with infrared data from Webb. This is the first really deep ultraviolet image to show the power of that combination."

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

For Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2014 images and more information about Hubble, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2014/27

and

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

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J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-5241
j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

Ann Jenkins / Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore
410-338-4488 / 410-338-4514
jenkins@stsci.edu / villard@stsci.edu

Last Updated: July 31, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Goddard Space Flight Center, Hubble Space Telescope, Universe,

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