vendredi 17 février 2017

NASA Selects Proposals for First-Ever Space Technology Research Institutes











NASA logo.

Feb. 17, 2017

NASA has selected proposals for the creation of two multi-disciplinary, university-led research institutes that will focus on the development of technologies critical to extending human presence deeper into our solar system.


Image above: High performance materials and structures are needed for safe and affordable next generation exploration systems such as transit vehicles, habitats, and power systems. Image Credit: NASA.

The new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) created under these proposals will bring together researchers from various disciplines and organizations to collaborate on the advancement of cutting-edge technologies in bio-manufacturing and space infrastructure, with the goal of creating and maximizing Earth-independent, self-sustaining exploration mission capabilities.

“NASA is establishing STRIs to research and exploit cutting-edge advances in technology with the potential for revolutionary impact on future aerospace capabilities," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington. "These university-led, multi-disciplinary research programs promote the synthesis of science, engineering and other disciplines to achieve specific research objectives with credible expected outcomes within five years. At the same time, these institutes will expand the U.S. talent base in areas of research and development with broader applications beyond aerospace."

Each STRI will receive up to $15 million over the five-year period of performance. The selected new institutes are:

Center for the Utilization of Biological Engineering in Space (CUBES)

As NASA shifts its focus from low-Earth orbit to deep space missions, the agency is investing in the development of technologies that will allow long-duration mission crews to manufacture the products they need, rather than relying on the current practice of resupply missions from Earth.


Image above: Advanced biological engineering techniques are rapidly emerging that can lead to innovative approaches for in situ biological manufacturing techniques using microbes and plants, and provide the means to create sustainable technologies for both future space exploration and terrestrial applications. Image Credit: NASA.

The CUBES institute will advance research into an integrated, multi-function, multi-organism bio-manufacturing system to produce fuel, materials, pharmaceuticals and food. While the research goals of the CUBES institute are to benefit deep-space planetary exploration, these goals also lend themselves to practical Earth-based applications. For example, the emphasis on using carbon dioxide as the base component for materials manufacturing has relevance to carbon dioxide management on Earth.

The CUBES team is led by Adam Arkin, principal investigator at the University of California, Berkeley, in partnership with Utah State University, the University of California, Davis, Stanford University, and industrial partners Autodesk and Physical Sciences, Inc.

Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP)

Affordable deep space exploration will require transformative materials for the manufacturing of next-generation transit vehicles, habitats, power systems, and other exploration systems. These building materials need to be lighter and stronger than those currently used in even the most advanced systems.

US-COMP aims to develop and deploy a carbon nanotube-based, ultra-high strength, lightweight aerospace structural material within five years. Success will mean a critical change to the design paradigm for space structures. Through collaboration with industry partners, it is anticipated that advances in laboratories could quickly translate to advances in manufacturing facilities that will yield sufficient amounts of advanced materials for use in NASA missions.

Results of this research will have broad societal impacts, as well. Rapid development and deployment of the advanced materials created by the institute could support an array of Earthly applications and benefit the U.S. manufacturing sector.

US-COMP is a multidisciplinary team of 22 faculty members led by Gregory Odegard, principal investigator at the Michigan Technological University, in partnership with Florida State University, University of Utah, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Florida A&M University, Johns Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado and Virginia Commonwealth University. Industrial partners include Nanocomp Technologies and Solvay, with the U.S. Air Force Research Lab as a collaborator.

These awards are funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

For more information about STMD, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spacetech

Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Gina Anderson/Karen Northon.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

A Dust Devil on Hilly Terrain & Scars of Erosion












NASA - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) logo.

Feb. 17, 2017

A Dust Devil on Hilly Terrain

There are many dust devils on Mars -- little twisters that raise dust from the surface. They have also cleaned dust off of the solar panels of the rovers Opportunity and Spirit, improving the solar power production. (Spirit became stuck in 2009 and ceased communication a year later.)

HiRISE sees many dust-devil tracks on Mars, but rarely captures an active feature because the images cover such small areas and because the typical time of day near 3 p.m. is past the peak heating and dust-devil activity. In this 2008 image in the Amazonis region, we got lucky, although not lucky enough to capture the whole swirl in the color strip.

The map is projected here at a scale of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 29.5 centimeters (11.6 inches) per pixel (with 1 x 1 binning) to 58.9 centimeters (23.2 inches) per pixel (with 2 x 2 binning)]. North is up.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Scars of Erosion

This large crescent dune in Kaiser Crater shows the scars of many types of seasonal erosional activities. Along its downwind slope are large gullies which are active during winter, when frost drives dune material downslope, carving out channels and creating fan-shaped aprons.

On the upwind slope (bottom), dust devil tracks are visible: dark lines and curliques created during the spring season by small wind vortices vacuuming up a thin layer of dust and exposing the dark dune sand.

This is a stereo pair with http://www.uahirise.org/ESP_021720_1330

Note: Both the cutout and the above image are rotated so that North is to the right.

The map is projected here at a scale of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 25.3 centimeters (10 inches) per pixel (with 1 x 1 binning); objects on the order of 76 centimeters (30 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/MRO/main/index.html

Images, Text, Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona/Tony Greicius.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Dragon Capture Training and Robonaut Power Check Today











ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

February 17, 2017

Three Expedition 50 crew members practiced today the robotic capture of the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship when it arrives at the International Space Station two days after its launch. A humanoid robot, better known as Robonaut, had its power supply checked out during a full day of troubleshooting.

Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineer Thomas Pesquet partnered up and practiced capturing the Dragon cargo ship using the Canadarm2 robotic arm. The duo will be in the cupola Monday morning to capture Dragon following its 10:01 a.m. EST Saturday launch from Kennedy Space Center. NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson will assist her crewmates and monitor Dragon’s approach and rendezvous.


Image above: Expedition 50 astronauts (from left) Peggy Whitson, Shane Kimbrough and Thomas Pesquet pose with the humanoid Robonaut. Image Credit: NASA.

Dragon is packing nearly 5,500 pounds of crew supplies, station gear and advanced science experiments. Some of the research will look at new technologies to improve space travel, observation gear to study Earth’s ozone and processes to improve how medicine works.

Whitson worked throughout the day on the robotic astronaut assistant, Robonaut. She opened up Robonaut’s torso and checked its cables and computer cards searching for an intermittent fault in its power supply. Robonaut is being tested for its ability to assist astronauts in the future with routine tasks and high risk activities.

Related links:

Robonaut: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/760.html

Resupply mission: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/orbital.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Image (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Mark Garcia.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Cabbage Patch: Fifth Crop Harvested Aboard Space Station











ISS - Expedition 50 Mission patch.

Feb. 17, 2017

After spending nearly a month tending to the International Space Station’s first crop of Chinese cabbage, astronaut Peggy Whitson harvested the leafy greens on Feb. 17.

At first, one of the six seeds of the Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage variety seemed to have been planted higher than the rest, keeping it from getting wet enough in the beginning. But the on-orbit gardener would not be deterred.


Image above: Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage leaves are shown prior to Friday’s harvest aboard the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA.

“Peggy is doing an amazing job,” said Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour. “She wouldn’t give up and she was able to get the seed in pillow D to germinate.”

While the space station crew will get to eat some of the Chinese cabbage, the rest is being saved for scientific study back at Kennedy Space Center. This is the fifth crop grown aboard the station, and the first Chinese cabbage. The crop was chosen after evaluating several leafy vegetables on a number of criteria, such as how well they grow and their nutritional value. The top four candidates were sent to Johnson Space Center’s Space Food Systems team, where they brought in volunteer tasters to sample the choices. The Tokyo Bekana turned out to be the most highly rated in all the taste categories.

Astronauts often report that their taste buds dull during spaceflight, and they frequently add hot sauce, honey or soy sauce to otherwise bland-tasting fare. One explanation for this may be that, in a reduced gravity environment, the fluid in astronauts’ bodies shifts around equally, rather than being pulled down into their legs as we're accustomed to on Earth. The fluid that fills up their faces feels similar to the congestion from a cold and reduces their ability to smell. Researchers suggest this phenomenon — combined with all the other odors aboard the confined orbiting laboratory competing with the aroma of their food — may ultimately dull their sense of taste.


Image above: Astronaut Peggy Whitson harvests Tokyo Bekana Chinese cabbage aboard the International Space Station on Feb. 17. Image Credit: NASA TV.

However, there is a backup plan to ensure the crew’s culinary delight. If the fresh Chinese cabbage they grew doesn’t awaken their taste buds on its own, packets of ranch dressing were also sent up to help them enjoy the fruits (or veggies) of their labor.

What’s up next for Veggie? Two exciting prospects are on the horizon. Later this spring, a second Veggie system will be sent up to be seated next to the current one. It will provide side-by-side comparisons for future plant experiments and will hopefully make astronauts like Whitson happy to have a bigger space garden.

“I love gardening on Earth, and it is just as fun in space ...” Whitson tweeted in early February. “I just need more room to plant more!”


Image above: At Kennedy Space Center, Veggie Project Manager Nicole Dufour instructs astronaut Peggy Whitson during the harvest of Chinese cabbage aboard the International Space Station. Image Credit: NASA.

Additionally, aboard the next resupply mission to the space station will an experiment involving Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant, and petri plates inside the Veggie facility. Arabidopsis is the genetic model of the plant world, making it a perfect sample organism for performing genetic studies. The principal Investigator is University of Florida’s Dr. Anna Lisa Paul.

“These experiments will provide a key piece of the puzzle of how plants adjust their physiology to meet the needs of growing in a place outside their evolutionary experience,” Dr. Paul said. “And the more complete our understanding, the more success we will have in future missions as we take plants with us off planet.”

Later this year, the Advanced Plant Habitat, NASA’s largest plant growth chamber, will make its way to the station, increasing the amount of scientific knowledge needed to dig deeper into long-duration food production for missions farther and farther from home.

Related links:

Veg-03: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1294.html

Resupply mission: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/orbital.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Kennedy Space Center, by Amanda Griffin/Anna Heiney.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Hubble Spotlights a Celestial Sidekick












NASA - Hubble Space Telescope patch.

Feb. 17, 2017


This image was captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), a highly efficient wide-field camera covering the optical and near-infrared parts of the spectrum. While this lovely image contains hundreds of distant stars and galaxies, one vital thing is missing — the object Hubble was actually studying at the time!

This is not because the target has disappeared. The ACS actually uses two detectors: the first captures the object being studied — in this case an open star cluster known as NGC 299 — while the other detector images the patch of space just ‘beneath’ it. This is what can be seen here.

Technically, this picture is merely a sidekick of the actual object of interest — but space is bursting with activity, and this field of bright celestial bodies offers plenty of interest on its own. It may initially seem to show just stars, but a closer look reveals many of these tiny objects to be galaxies. The spiral galaxies have arms curving out from a bright center. The fuzzier, less clearly shaped galaxies might be ellipticals. Some of these galaxies contain millions or even billions of stars, but are so distant that all of their starry residents are contained within just a small pinprick of light that appears to be the same size as a single star!

video
Hubble orbiting Earth

The bright blue dots are very hot stars, sometimes distorted into crosses by the struts supporting Hubble’s secondary mirror. The redder dots are cooler stars, possibly in the red giant phase when a dying star cools and expands.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/
http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
http://www.spacetelescope.org/

Image, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/Hubble & NASA/Text Credits: European Space Agency/NASA/ Karl Hille.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

ESA's Six-Legged Suntraker Flying on a Dragon








ESA - European Space Agency patch.

17 February 2017

Tomorrow, a Space-X Dragon cargo ferry will be launched to the International Space Station packed with supplies, experiments, tools and food for the six astronauts living and working high above Earth. In the unpressurised cargo hold is a new NASA sensor that will monitor our atmosphere with a helping hand from ESA. 

In Dragon compartment

The Space Station flies 400 km above our planet at 28 800 km/h, experiencing 16 sunrises, sunsets, moonrises and moonsets every 24 hours. This orbit is lower than most satellites and offers scientists interesting possibilities for research.

NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment, or SAGE III, will monitor aerosols, ozone and other gases in Earth’s high atmosphere by looking at the sunlight and moonlight as they pass through. Astronauts on the Space Station often remark at how thin the atmosphere appears when seen from the side.

Moonset seen from Space Station

SAGE will improve our understanding of ozone and climate change in the upper atmosphere by looking sideways at the Sun and Moon as they skim the horizon and this where ESA’s Hexapod comes in.

Swivel, tilt and turn

Hexapod’s six legs work together to track the Sun and Moon precisely in the few seconds of their setting and rising dozens of times each day.

Space sunrise

Hexapod will track the Sun until it disappears behind the horizon and then return to a starting position to repeat the process with the Moon, for years on end.

Falcon 9 launcher with Dragon spacecraft

Once Dragon arrives at the Station, Hexapod and SAGE will be moved to the Station’s main truss and installed using its robotic arm. Hexapod’s intricate machinery will be locked for the demanding g-forces and vibrations of launch, before being released on command to do its job, eliminating the need for a spacewalk.

Hexapod in clean room

Hexapod was built by OHB Italia and Thales Alenia Space Italy with Airbus Defence and Space. Following checks in orbit expected to take two weeks, ESA will hand over control to NASA for the atmospheric studies to begin. The goal is for at least three years of observations, with all measurements publicly available.

Related links:

SAGE III: http://sage.nasa.gov/

Proxima: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Human_Spaceflight/Proxima

Images, Text, Credits: ESA/NASA/Public domain.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA's Juno to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter












NASA - JUNO Mission logo.

February 17, 2017

NASA's Juno mission to Jupiter, which has been in orbit around the gas giant since July 4, 2016, will remain in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of the mission. This will allow Juno to accomplish its science goals, while avoiding the risk of a previously-planned engine firing that would have reduced the spacecraft's orbital period to 14 days.

"Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we've received are nothing short of amazing," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do -- preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery."

Juno has successfully orbited Jupiter four times since arriving at the giant planet, with the most recent orbit completed on Feb. 2. Its next close flyby of Jupiter will be March 27.


Image above: NASA's Juno spacecraft soared directly over Jupiter's south pole when JunoCam acquired this image on February 2, 2017 at 6:06 a.m. PT (9:06 a.m. ET), from an altitude of about 62,800 miles (101,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. Image Credits: NASA/JPL.

The orbital period does not affect the quality of the science collected by Juno on each flyby, since the altitude over Jupiter will be the same at the time of closest approach. In fact, the longer orbit provides new opportunities that allow further exploration of the far reaches of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field, increasing the value of Juno's research.

During each orbit, Juno soars low over Jupiter's cloud tops -- as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno probes beneath the obscuring cloud cover and studies Jupiter's auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

The original Juno flight plan envisioned the spacecraft looping around Jupiter twice in 53-day orbits, then reducing its orbital period to 14 days for the remainder of the mission. However, two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft's main engine did not operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized in October. Telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that it took several minutes for the valves to open, while it took only a few seconds during past main engine firings.

"During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit," said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The bottom line is a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno's science objectives."

Juno's larger 53-day orbit allows for "bonus science" that wasn't part of the original mission design. Juno will further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere -- the region of space dominated by Jupiter's magnetic field -- including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause. Understanding magnetospheres and how they interact with the solar wind are key science goals of NASA's Heliophysics Science Division.

"Another key advantage of the longer orbit is that Juno will spend less time within the strong radiation belts on each orbit," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "This is significant because radiation has been the main life-limiting factor for Juno."

Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter. Image Credits: NASA/JPL

Juno will continue to operate within the current budget plan through July 2018, for a total of 12 science orbits. The team can then propose to extend the mission during the next science review cycle. The review process evaluates proposed mission extensions on the merit and value of previous and anticipated science returns.

The Juno science team continues to analyze returns from previous flybys. Revelations include that Jupiter's magnetic fields and aurora are bigger and more powerful than originally thought and that the belts and zones that give the gas giant's cloud top its distinctive look extend deep into the planet's interior. Peer-reviewed papers with more in-depth science results from Juno's first three flybys are expected to be published within the next few months. In addition, the mission's JunoCam -- the first interplanetary outreach camera -- is now being guided with assistance from the public. People can participate by voting on which features on Jupiter should be imaged during each flyby.

"Juno is providing spectacular results, and we are rewriting our ideas of how giant planets work," said Bolton. "The science will be just as spectacular as with our original plan."

JPL manages the Juno mission for NASA. The mission's principal investigator is Scott Bolton at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.

More information on the Juno mission is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/juno

http://missionjuno.org

JunoCam: https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam

Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

http://www.facebook.com/NASAJuno

http://www.twitter.com/NASAJuno

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Dwayne Brown/Laurie Cantillo/JPL/DC Agle.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

An Ice World...With an Ocean?












NASA - Cassini Mission to Saturn patch.

February 17, 2017

How a puzzling sensor reading transformed NASA's Cassini Saturn mission and created a new target in the search for habitable worlds beyond Earth.


Image above: A dramatic plume sprays water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Cassini's first hint of this plume came during the spacecraft's first close flyby of the icy moon on February 17, 2005. Image Credits: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

On Feb. 17, 2005, NASA's Cassini spacecraft was making the first-ever close pass over Saturn's moon Enceladus as it worked through its detailed survey of the planet's icy satellites. Exciting, to be sure, just for the thrill of exploration. But then Cassini's magnetometer instrument noticed something odd.

Since NASA's two Voyager spacecraft made their distant flybys of Enceladus about 20 years prior, scientists had anticipated the little moon would be an interesting place to visit with Cassini. Enceladus is bright white -- the most reflective object in the solar system, in fact -- and it orbits in the middle of a faint ring of dust-sized ice particles known as Saturn's E ring. Scientists speculated ice dust was being kicked off its surface somehow. But they presumed it would be, essentially, a dead, airless ball of ice.

What Cassini saw didn't look like a frozen, airless body. Instead, it looked something like a comet that was actively emitting gas. The magnetometer detected that Saturn's magnetic field, which envelops Enceladus, was perturbed above the moon's south pole in a way that didn't make sense for an inactive world. Could it be that the moon was actively replenishing gases it was breathing into space?

video
Enceladus: Mystery of the Icy Moon

Thus began a hunt for clues that has turned out to be Cassini's most riveting detective story. "Enceladus was so exciting that, instead of just three close flybys planned for our four-year primary mission, we added 20 more, including seven that went right through the geysers at the south pole," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

By following the trail of scientific breadcrumbs, Cassini eventually found that Enceladus harbors a global ocean of salty water under its icy crust, possibly with hydrothermal vents on its seafloor. The trail of clues that began with a puzzling magnetometer reading led to an understanding that the moon -- and perhaps many small, icy moons like it throughout the cosmos -- could potentially have the ingredients needed for life.

"Half the excitement of doing science is that you sometimes find yourself going in a totally different direction than you expected, which can lead to amazing discoveries," said Spilker. "That little anomaly in Cassini's magnetometer signal was unusual enough that it eventually led us to an ocean world."

For a timeline of Cassini's Enceladus discoveries, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/2k0CRP3

Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission is currently in its final year of operations, performing weekly ring-grazing dives just past the outer edge of Saturn's rings. In April, the spacecraft will begin its Grand Finale, plunging through the gap between the rings and the planet itself, leading up to a final plunge into Saturn on September 15.


Image above: Illustration showing the bending of Saturn's magnetic field near Enceladus that was detected by Cassini's magnetometer. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons, and its vast magnetosphere. Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, besides the activity at Enceladus, including liquid methane seas on another moon, Titan.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

More information about Cassini:

http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Cassini-Huygens

Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Preston Dyches.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

Dawn Discovers Evidence for Organic Material on Ceres












NASA - Dawn Mission patch.

February 17, 2017

NASA's Dawn mission has found evidence for organic material on Ceres, a dwarf planet and the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists using the spacecraft's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) detected the material in and around a northern-hemisphere crater called Ernutet. Organic molecules are interesting to scientists because they are necessary, though not sufficient, components of life on Earth.

The discovery adds to the growing list of bodies in the solar system where organics have been found. Organic compounds have been found in certain meteorites as well as inferred from telescopic observations of several asteroids. Ceres shares many commonalities with meteorites rich in water and organics -- in particular, a meteorite group called carbonaceous chondrites. This discovery further strengthens the connection between Ceres, these meteorites and their parent bodies.


Image above: This enhanced color composite image, made with data from the framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft, shows the area around Ernutet Crater. The bright red portions appear redder with respect to the rest of Ceres. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

"This is the first clear detection of organic molecules from orbit on a main belt body," said Maria Cristina De Sanctis, lead author of the study, based at the National Institute of Astrophysics, Rome. The discovery is reported in the journal Science.

Data presented in the Science paper support the idea that the organic materials are native to Ceres. The carbonates and clays previously identified on Ceres provide evidence for chemical activity in the presence of water and heat. This raises the possibility that the organics were similarly processed in a warm water-rich environment.

Significance of organics

The organics discovery adds to Ceres' attributes associated with ingredients and conditions for life in the distant past. Previous studies have found hydrated minerals, carbonates, water ice, and ammoniated clays that must have been altered by water. Salts and sodium carbonate, such as those found in the bright areas of Occator Crater, are also thought to have been carried to the surface by liquid.


Image above: Ernutet Crater measures about 32 miles (52 kilometers) in diameter and is located in the northern hemisphere of Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

"This discovery adds to our understanding of the possible origins of water and organics on Earth," said Julie Castillo-Rogez, Dawn project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Where are the organics?

The VIR instrument was able to detect and map the locations of this material because of its special signature in near-infrared light.

The organic materials on Ceres are mainly located in an area covering approximately 400 square miles (about 1,000 square kilometers). The signature of organics is very clear on the floor of Ernutet Crater, on its southern rim and in an area just outside the crater to the southwest. Another large area with well-defined signatures is found across the northwest part of the crater rim and ejecta. There are other smaller organic-rich areas several miles (kilometers) west and east of the crater. Organics also were found in a very small area in Inamahari Crater, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) away from Ernutet.


Image above: This enhanced color composite image from Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer shows the area around Ernutet Crater on Ceres. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/ASI/INAF.

In enhanced visible color images from Dawn's framing camera, the organic material is associated with areas that appear redder with respect to the rest of Ceres. The distinct nature of these regions stands out even in low-resolution image data from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer.

"We're still working on understanding the geological context for these materials," said study co-author Carle Pieters, professor of geological sciences at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Next steps for Dawn

Having completed nearly two years of observations in orbit at Ceres, Dawn is now in a highly elliptical orbit at Ceres, going from an altitude of 4,670 miles (7,520 kilometers) up to almost 5,810 miles (9,350 kilometers). On Feb. 23, it will make its way to a new altitude of around 12,400 miles (20,000 kilometers), about the height of GPS satellites above Earth, and to a different orbital plane. This will put Dawn in a position to study Ceres in a new geometry. In late spring, Dawn will view Ceres with the sun directly behind the spacecraft, such that Ceres will appear brighter than before, and perhaps reveal more clues about its nature.

Dawn orbiting Ceres. Image Credits: NASA/JPL

The Dawn mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of mission participants, visit:

http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission

More information about Dawn is available at the following sites:

http://www.nasa.gov/dawn

http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/JPL/Elizabeth Landau.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

jeudi 16 février 2017

Sentinels warn of dangerous ice crack












European Space Agency (ESA) patch.

16 February 2017

Following the appearance of a large crack in the ice shelf close to the Halley VI research station in Antarctica, information from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites helped to decide to close the base temporarily.

Nourished by an inflow of ice from grounded glaciers and snow accumulating on its surface, Brunt Ice Shelf is a floating ice sheet in the Weddell Sea Sector of Antarctica. The floating ice moves steadily towards the ocean, where it occasionally calves off as icebergs.

Halloween Crack


Cracks often appear on shelves as the ice deforms. However, rapidly expanding cracks indicate impending calving.

Since the Halley VI base of the British Antarctic Survey was only 17 km from the crack that appeared last October, Enveo – a company that uses satellite data for cryosphere studies – and the Survey used radar images from Sentinel-1 and optical images from Sentinel-2 to monitor the situation.

Dubbed Halloween Crack, it was lengthening inland as fast as 600 m a day in November and December.

Halley was designed to be relocated if the ice becomes dangerous. In fact, it had already been moved 23 km inland during last Antarctica’s summer months because another ice chasm had begun to show signs of growth.

Recent Sentinels sequences revealed a complex picture that made it difficult to predict how the Halloween Crack would evolve, so the Survey decided to evacuate and shut the base for the coming winter as a precaution.

Relocating Halley station

Normally, around 70 people live and work at the base during the summer and fewer than 20 during the winter. However, this is the first winter that the base has been completely closed.

Thomas Nagler, Enveo CEO, said, “We get Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data shortly after acquisition so we are able extract information on the crack’s progression and deliver this information to our Survey colleagues very quickly.”

Hilmar Gudmundsson, Survey lead scientist, added, “The frequency of Sentinel-2 images and Sentinel-1 radar products allows us to follow in detail and almost in real time the development of the crack as it grows week by week.

“This also provides us with essential information for ice-deformation models, leading to a deeper understanding of such events.”

The two Sentinel missions are being used to closely monitor three main aspects: Halloween Crack, which is now growing at about 200 m a day, two other ice chasms and detect new cracks.

Shelf deformation

Since November, Sentinel-2 has been programmed to acquire images at each overflight to maximise the chances of getting cloud-free images.

Sentinel-1A and Sentinel-1B have also been continually gathering data with two crossing tracks. This allows the rifts to be mapped showing how the ice shelf deforms at the tip of the growing crack.

Mark Drinkwater, head of ESA’s Earth observation mission, added “Routine Antarctic summer observations by the combination of Copernicus Sentinel-2A and Sentinel-1A and -1B are now demonstrating their value for monitoring rapid environmental change and providing information crucial to informed decisions on matters of safety and security in Antarctica.

video
Sentinel-1 monitoring motion

“Though without direct effect on Antarctic infrastructure, similarly dramatic summer development of ice-shelf fractures is revealed around Antarctica, notably Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica and the Larsen-C and Brunt ice shelves in the Weddell Sea.”

Antarctica will soon be facing the dark winter months. Importantly, Sentinel-1’s radar will continue to provide images so that these changes can be monitored.

Related links:

Sentinel-1: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-1

Sentinel-2: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/Sentinel-2

Sentinel data access & technical information: https://sentinels.copernicus.eu/web/sentinel/home

ENVEO: http://www.enveo.at/

British Antarctic Survey: https://www.bas.ac.uk/

Halley VI Research Station: https://www.bas.ac.uk/polar-operations/sites-and-facilities/facility/halley/

Journal of Glaciology:

Five decades of strong temporal variability in the flow of Brunt Ice Shelf: https://doi.org/10.1017/jog.2016.132

Animation, Images, Video, Text, Credits: ESA/contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016–17), processed by ENVEO/British Antarctic Survey/ATG medialab.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

mercredi 15 février 2017

NASA to Launch Sequel to Successful Lightning Study Mission












ISS - International Space Station logo.

Feb. 15, 2017

A hit Hollywood film often leads to a sequel. Sometimes those movies do well, but rarely will they eclipse the original. Undaunted by those odds, NASA is set to reboot a successful study of Earth’s lightning from space -- this time from the unique vantage point of the International Space Station (ISS).

A team of Earth scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville have high hopes for a follow-up mission for the agency’s Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) first launched into space in the late-1990s. Now, an identical LIS -- built as a back-up -- is headed to the space station for a two-year mission to probe the mysteries of lightning and its connections to other atmospheric phenomena.


Image above: International Space Station crew members capture a lightning flash over the Pacific Ocean at night. Image Credit: NASA.

The LIS is a sophisticated lightning research instrument designed to measure the amount, rate and optical characteristics of lightning over Earth. Mounted externally on the station in an Earth-viewing position, the spare LIS will build on the foundation of space-based lightning observations begun by its predecessor.

The original LIS was launched in 1997 as part of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). LIS on TRMM was an outstanding success, delivering an impressive 17 years of lightning observations. But the TRMM satellite’s orbit only carried LIS over locations on Earth between 35 degrees north and 35 degrees south latitudes. So it gave lots of data for the tropics, but it could not observe far enough toward the poles to cover the more temperate zones, including more heavily populated areas away from the equator.

“The LIS used in this follow-on mission is an exact duplicate of the sensor used on TRMM,” said Richard Blakeslee, science lead for the LIS at NASA Marshall. “But it will sample lightning over a wider geographical area.”

The orbiting laboratory’s higher inclination provides the opportunity to observe farther into the Northern and Southern hemispheres -- all the area between 56 degrees north and 56 degrees south latitude.

Another advantage of using the space station for LIS observations is the capability to get lightning data downlinked in real-time and into the hands of scientists and other interested users. This data can be used for research or operational applications in data-sparse regions -- over the oceans, for example -- to provide situational awareness for weather forecasts, advisories and warnings. The real-time LIS data will be directly accessible to users around the world through a partnership with NASA’s Short Term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) Center in Huntsville.

LIS on the space station will also provide important cross-sensor calibrations, especially  for the new Geostationary Lightning Mapper, an instrument based on LIS design heritage that is flying on NOAA’s recently launched GOES-16 satellite. Cross-calibrating LIS data with other space-based lightning and weather instruments may create a longer lightning data record to improve our knowledge of severe weather formation and long-term changes in lightning distributions.

The idea for the original version of the sensor was the result of a meeting of atmospheric scientists convened by NASA in 1979. They were exploring the idea of using lightning observations from space as a remote-sensing tool to study weather and climate. TRMM was the first mission that documented a detailed global lightning climatology for the tropics from space.

International Space Station (ISS). Animation Credit: NASA

“The space-based vantage point allows us to observe all forms of lightning over land and sea, 24 hours a day,” said Blakeslee. “The orbit of the space station will allow LIS to look at lightning distributions over different times of the day, further enhancing our knowledge of the complicated dynamics of lightning.”

Data from LIS will also help scientists examine the relationship between lightning and severe weather. Understanding the processes that cause lightning and the connections between lightning and subsequent severe weather events like convective storms and tornadoes is a key to improving weather predictions and saving life and property, in this country and around the globe.

The LIS is scheduled for launch to the space station this month on the tenth SpaceX cargo resupply mission. The sensor will fly as hosted payload on the U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program-Houston 5 (STP-H5) mission. STP-H5 is integrated and flown under the management and direction of the DOD’s STP.

From the pioneering scientists who ushered in a new era of space-based lightning detection, this is one sequel that just may be scientific box-office gold.

Related links:

Science Instruments: https://www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/science-instruments/index.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Lee Mohon.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Takes Its First Image of Jupiter & OSIRIS-REx Takes Closer Image of Jupiter











NASA - OSIRIS-REx Mission patch.

Feb. 15, 2017

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Takes Its First Image of Jupiter


This magnified, cropped image showing Jupiter and three of its moons was taken by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s MapCam instrument during optical navigation testing for the mission’s Earth-Trojan Asteroid Search. The image shows Jupiter in the center, the moon Callisto to the left and the moons Io and Europa to the right. Ganymede, Jupiter’s fourth Galilean moon, is also present in the image, but is not visible as it is crossing in front of the planet. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

The image was taken at 3:38 a.m. EST on Feb. 9, 2017, when the spacecraft was 75 million miles (120 million kilometers) from Earth and 419 million miles (675 million kilometers) from Jupiter. With an exposure time of two seconds, the image renders Jupiter overexposed, but allows for enhanced detection of stars in the background.

NASA's OSIRIS-REx Takes Closer Image of Jupiter


During Earth-Trojan asteroid search operations, the PolyCam imager aboard NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft captured this image of Jupiter (center) and three of its moons, Callisto (left), Io, and Ganymede. The image, which shows the bands of Jupiter, was taken at 3:34 a.m. EST, on Feb. 12, when the spacecraft was 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) from Earth and 418 million miles (673 million kilometers) from Jupiter. PolyCam is OSIRIS-REx’s longest range camera, capable of capturing images of the asteroid Bennu from a distance of two million kilometers. Image Credits: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona.

This image was produced by taking two copies of the same image, adjusting the brightness of Jupiter separately from the significantly dimmer moons, and compositing them back together so that all four objects are visible in the same frame.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

OSIRIS-REx (Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer): http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/osiris-rex/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Karl Hille.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch

Crystal Growth, Earth Science and Tech Demo Research Launching to Orbiting Laboratory












ISS - International Space Station patch.

Feb. 15, 2017

The tenth SpaceX cargo resupply launch to the International Space Station, targeted for launch Feb. 18, will deliver investigations that study human health, Earth science and weather patterns. Here are some highlights of the research headed to the orbiting laboratory:

Crystal growth investigation could improve drug delivery, manufacturing

Monoclonal antibodies are important for fighting off a wide range of human diseases, including cancers. These antibodies work with the natural immune system to bind to certain molecules to detect, purify and block their growth. The Microgravity Growth of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Applications (CASIS PCG 5) investigation will crystallize a human monoclonal antibody, developed by Merck Research Labs, that is currently undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of immunological disease.


Image above: NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Terry Virts work within the Microgravity Science Glovebox during a previous Rodent Research investigation. Rodent Research 4 could provide a more thorough understanding of humans’ inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site and could lead to tissue regeneration efforts in space. Image Credit: NASA.

Preserving these antibodies in crystals allows researchers a glimpse into how the biological molecules are arranged, which can provide new information about how they work in the body. Thus far, Earth-grown crystalline suspensions of monoclonal antibodies have proven to be too low-quality to fully model. With the absence of gravity and convection aboard the station, larger crystals with more pure compositions and structures can grow.

The results from this investigation have the potential to improve the way monoclonal antibody treatments are administered on Earth. Crystallizing the antibodies could enable methods for large-scale delivery through injections rather than intravenously, and improve methods for long-term storage.

Understanding crystal growth in space could benefit researchers on Earth

Without proteins, the human body would be unable to repair, regulate or protect itself. Crystallizing proteins provides better views of their structure, which helps scientists to better understand how they function. Often times, proteins crystallized in microgravity are of higher quality than those crystallized on Earth. LMM Biophysics 1 explores that phenomena by examining the movement of single protein molecules in microgravity. Once scientists understand how these proteins function, they can be used to design new drugs that interact with the protein in specific ways and fight disease.

Identifying proteins that benefit from microgravity crystal growth could maximize research efficiency

Much like LMM Biophysics 1, LMM Biophysics 3 aims to use crystallography to examine molecules that are too small to be seen under a microscope, in order to best predict what types of drugs will interact best with certain kinds of proteins. LMM Biophysics 3 will look specifically into which types of crystals thrive and benefit from growth in microgravity, where Earth’s gravity won’t interfere with their formation. Currently, the success rate is poor for crystals grown even in the best of laboratories. High quality, space-grown crystals could improve research for a wide range of diseases, as well as microgravity-related problems such as radiation damage, bone loss and muscle atrophy.

X Prize-winning device seeks insight into how deadly bacteria become drug-resistant

Microgravity accelerates the growth of bacteria, making the space station an ideal environment to conduct a proof-of-concept investigation on the Gene-RADAR® device developed by Nanobiosym. This device is able to accurately detect, in real time and at the point of care, any disease that leaves a genetic fingerprint.

Nanobiosym Predictive Pathogen Mutation Study (Nanobiosym Genes) will analyze two strains of bacterial mutations aboard the station, providing data that may be helpful in refining models of drug resistance and support the development of better medicines to counteract the resistant strains.

Microgravity may hold key to scaling up stem cell cultivation for research, treatment

Stem cells are used in a variety of medical therapies, including the treatment of stroke. Currently, scientists have no way of efficiently expanding the cells, a process that may be accelerated in a microgravity environment.

During the Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation, crew members will observe cell growth and morphological characteristics in microgravity and analyze gene expression profiles of cells grown on the station. This information will provide insight into how human cancers start and spread, which aids in the development of prevention and treatment plans. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of disease and injury in space, as well as provide a way to improve stem cell production for human therapy on Earth.

Space-based lightning sensor could improve climate monitoring

Lightning flashes somewhere on Earth about 45 times per second, according to space-borne lightning detection instruments. This investigation continues those observations using a similar sensor aboard the station.


Image above: During Expedition 45, ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen captured pictures of blue jets, elusive electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere, with the most sensitive camera on the orbiting outpost to look for these brief features. Image Credits: ESA/NASA.

The Lightning Imaging Sensor (STP-H5 LIS) will measure the amount, rate and energy of lightning as it strikes around the world. Understanding the processes that cause lightning and the connections between lightning and subsequent severe weather events is a key to improving weather predictions and saving life and property. From the vantage of the station, the LIS instrument will sample lightning over a swider geographical area than any previous sensor.

Raven seeks to save resources with versatile autonomous technologies

Future robotic spacecraft will need advanced autopilot systems to help them safely navigate and rendezvous with other objects, as they will be operating thousands of miles from Earth. The Raven (STP-H5 Raven) studies a real-time spacecraft navigation system that provides the eyes and intelligence to see a target and steer toward it safely.

Raven uses a complex system to image and track the many visiting vehicles that journey to the space station each year. Equipped with three separate sensors and high-performance, reprogrammable avionics that process imagery, Raven’s algorithm converts the collected images into an accurate relative navigation solution between Raven and the other vehicle. Research from Raven can be applied toward unmanned vehicles both on Earth and in space, including potential use for systems in NASA’s future human deep space exploration.

Understanding Earth’s atmosphere health could inform policy, protection

The Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) program is one of NASA’s longest running Earth-observing programs, providing long-term data to help scientists better understand and care for Earth’s atmosphere. SAGE was first operated in 1979 following the Stratospheric Aerosol Measurement (SAM), on the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

SAGE III will measure stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere.


Image above: The SAGE III instrument integrated on the EXPRESS Pallet Adapter (ExPA) after its final sharp edge inspection before its launch on Space X 10. This investigation will measure the stratospheric ozone, aerosols, and other trace gases by locking onto the sun or moon and scanning a thin profile of the atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA.

Understanding these measurements will allow national and international leaders to make informed policy decisions regarding the protection and preservation of Earth’s ozone layer. Ozone in the atmosphere protects Earth’s inhabitants, including humans, plants and animals, from harmful radiation from the sun, which can cause long-term problems such as cataracts, cancer and reduced crop yield.

Studying tissue regeneration in space could improve injury treatment on Earth

Only a few animals, such as tadpoles and salamanders, can regrow a lost limb, but the onset of this process exists in all vertebrates. Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect (Rodent Research-4) a U.S. National Laboratory investigation sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, studies what prevents other vertebrates such as rodents and humans from re-growing lost bone and tissue, and how microgravity conditions impact the process. Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human’s inability to grow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30% of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic non-healing wounds. 

Crew members in orbit often experience reduced bone density and muscle mass, a potential consequence of microgravity-induced stress. Previous research indicates that reduced gravity can promote cell growth, making microgravity a potentially viable environment for tissue regeneration research. This investigation may be able to shed more light on why bone density decreases in microgravity and whether it may be possible to counteract it.

These investigations will join many others recurring around the clock aboard the station, all benefitting future spaceflight and life on Earth. For more information about the science happening on station, visit International Space Station Research and Technology.

Related links:

The Microgravity Growth of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Applications (CASIS PCG 5): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1972.html

LMM Biophysics 1: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2191.html

LMM Biophysics 3: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1970.html

Nanobiosym Predictive Pathogen Mutation Study (Nanobiosym Genes): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2420.html

Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1971.html

Lightning Imaging Sensor (STP-H5 LIS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2011.html

Raven (STP-H5 Raven): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1995.html

SAGE III: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/1004.html

Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect (Rodent Research-4): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experiments/2025.html

Commercial Resupply: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/index.html

Space Station Research and Technology: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/index.html

International Space Station (ISS): https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

Images (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA/Kristine Rainey/JSC/Jenny Howard International Space Station Program Science Office.

Best regards, Orbiter.ch

NASA-funded Website Lets Public Search for New Nearby Worlds











NASA - NEOWISE Mission logo.

Feb. 15, 2017

NASA is inviting the public to help search for possible undiscovered worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space. A new website, called Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, lets everyone participate in the search by viewing brief movies made from images captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission. The movies highlight objects that have gradually moved across the sky.

video
Join the Search for New Nearby World

Video above: Join the search for new worlds in the outer reaches of our solar system and in nearby interstellar space at Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Video Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab/Krystofer D.J. Kim.

"There are just over four light-years between Neptune and Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, and much of this vast territory is unexplored," said lead researcher Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "Because there's so little sunlight, even large objects in that region barely shine in visible light. But by looking in the infrared, WISE may have imaged objects we otherwise would have missed."

WISE scanned the entire sky between 2010 and 2011, producing the most comprehensive survey at mid-infrared wavelengths currently available. With the completion of its primary mission, WISE was shut down in 2011. It was then reactivated in 2013 and given a new mission assisting NASA's efforts to identify potentially hazardous near-Earth objects (NEOs), which are asteroids and comets on orbits that bring them into the vicinity of Earth’s orbit. The mission was renamed the Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE). 


Image above: This artist's concept illustrates a close-up view of a cool brown dwarf. Objects like this, drifting just beyond our solar system, have been imaged by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer and could be discovered by Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The new website uses the data to search for unknown objects in and beyond our own solar system. In 2016, astronomers at Caltech in Pasadena, California, showed that several distant solar system objects possessed orbital features indicating they were affected by the gravity of an as-yet-undetected planet, which the researchers nicknamed "Planet Nine." If Planet Nine — also known as Planet X — exists and is as bright as some predictions, it could show up in WISE data.

The search also may discover more distant objects like brown dwarfs, sometimes called failed stars, in nearby interstellar space.

"Brown dwarfs form like stars but evolve like planets, and the coldest ones are much like Jupiter," said team member Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. "By using Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, the public can help us discover more of these strange rogue worlds."


Animation above: A previously cataloged brown dwarf named WISE 0855−0714 shows up as a moving orange dot (upper left) in this loop of WISE images spanning five years. By viewing movies like this, anyone can help discover more of these objects. Animation Credits: NASA/WISE.

Unlike more distant objects, those in or closer to the solar system appear to move across the sky at different rates. The best way to discover them is through a systematic search of moving objects in WISE images. While parts of this search can be done by computers, machines are often overwhelmed by image artifacts, especially in crowded parts of the sky. These include brightness spikes associated with star images and blurry blobs caused by light scattered inside WISE's instruments.

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 relies on human eyes because we easily recognize the important moving objects while ignoring the artifacts. It's a 21st-century version of the technique astronomer Clyde Tombaugh used to find Pluto in 1930, a discovery made 87 years ago this week.

On the website, people around the world can work their way through millions of "flipbooks," which are brief animations showing how small patches of the sky changed over several years. Moving objects flagged by participants will be prioritized by the science team for follow-up observations by professional astronomers. Participants will share credit for their discoveries in any scientific publications that result from the project.

"Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 has the potential to unlock once-in-a-century discoveries, and it's exciting to think they could be spotted first by a citizen scientist," said team member Aaron Meisner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in analyzing WISE images.

NEOWISE spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a collaboration between NASA, UC Berkeley, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Arizona State University, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Zooniverse, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop and manage citizen science projects on the internet.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages and operates WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The WISE mission was selected competitively under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah. The spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colorado. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, visit: http://backyardworlds.org

For more information about NASA's WISE mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/wise

Related links:

NEOWISE: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/neowise/main/index.html

Zooniverse: https://www.zooniverse.org/

Images (mentioned), Animation (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, by Francis Reddy/Rob Garner.

Greetings, Orbiter.ch