Author: George McGinn

NASA Selects Missions to Study Our Sun, Its Effects on Space Weather

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Grey Hautaluoma / Karen Fox
NASA Headquarters, Washington
grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov / karen.c.fox@nasa.gov

 

A constant outflow of solar material streams out from the Sun, depicted here in an artist’s rendering. On June 20, 2019, NASA selected two new missions – the Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission and Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS) – to study the origins of this solar wind and how it affects Earth. Together, the missions support NASA’s mandate to protect astronauts and technology in space from such radiation. Credits: NASA


NASA has selected two new missions to advance our understanding of the Sun and its dynamic effects on space. One of the selected missions will study how the Sun drives particles and energy into the solar system and a second will study Earth’s response.

The Sun generates a vast outpouring of solar particles known as the solar wind, which can create a dynamic system of radiation in space called space weather. Near Earth, where such particles interact with our planet’s magnetic field, the space weather system can lead to profound impacts on human interests, such as astronauts’ safety, radio communications, GPS signals, and utility grids on the ground. The more we understand what drives space weather and its interaction with the Earth and lunar systems, the more we can mitigate its effects – including safeguarding astronauts and technology crucial to NASA’s Artemis program to the Moon.

 

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How NASA’s Spitzer Has Stayed Alive for So Long

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Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov 

 

Members of the Spitzer engineering team pose in the mission support area. Front row (left to right): Natalie Martinez-Vlashoff, Jose Macias, Lisa Storrie-Lombardi, Amanda Kniepkamp, Bolinda Kahr, Mariah Woody, Socorro Rangel, May Tran. Middle: Pedro Diaz-Rubin, Joseph Hunt, John Ibanez, Laura Su, Nari Hwangpo. Back row: Michael Diaz, Adam Harbison, Richard Springer, Joe Stuesser, Ken Stowers, Dave Bliss. Not pictured: Bob Lineaweaver, Jason Hitz and Walt Hoffman.

 

After nearly 16 years of exploring the cosmos in infrared light, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope will be switched off permanently on Jan. 30, 2020. By then, the spacecraft will have operated for more than 11 years beyond its prime mission, thanks to the Spitzer engineering team’s ability to address unique challenges as the telescope slips farther and farther from Earth. 

Managed and operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, Spitzer is a small but transformational observatory. It captures infrared light, which is often emitted by “warm” objects that aren’t quite hot enough to radiate visible light. Spitzer has lifted the veil on hidden objects in nearly every corner of the universe, from a new ring around Saturn to observations of some of the most distant galaxies known. It has spied stars in every stage of lifemapped our home galaxy, captured gorgeous images of nebulas and probed newly discovered planets orbiting distant stars. 

 

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Study Finds New Wrinkles on Earth’s Moon

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Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

 

New surface features of the Moon have been discovered in a region called Mare Frigoris, outlined here in teal. This image is a mosaic composed of many images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).Credit: NASA

 

Billions of years ago, Earth’s Moon formed vast basins called “mare” (pronounced MAR-ay). Scientists have long assumed these basins were dead, still places where the last geologic activity occurred long before dinosaurs roamed Earth.

But a survey of more than 12,000 images reveals that at least one lunar mare has been cracking and shifting as much as other parts of the Moon – and may even be doing so today. The study adds to a growing understanding that the Moon is an actively changing world.

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NASA Awards $106 Million to US Small Businesses for Technology Development

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Clare Skelly
Headquarters, Washington
clare.a.skelly@nasa.gov

 

This illustration depicts how important precision landing is to a successful lunar mission. The identification of level ground near scientifically important and hazardous sites is essential for the success of long-term missions. Credits: NASA


Managing pilotless aircraft and solar panels that could help humans live on the Moon and Mars are among the technologies NASA is looking to develop with small business awards totaling $106 million. In all, NASA has selected 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses from 28 states and the District of Columbia to receive Phase II contracts as part the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. 

“Small businesses play an important role in our science and exploration endeavors,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. 

 

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Why This Martian Full Moon Looks Like Candy

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Why This Martian Full Moon Looks Like Candy For the first time, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter has caught the Martian moon Phobos during a full moon phase. Each color in this new image represents a temperature range detected by Odyssey’s infrared camera, which has been studying the Martian moon since September of 2017. Looking like a rainbow-colored jawbreaker, these latest observations could help scientists understand what materials make up Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons.

Odyssey is NASA’s longest-lived Mars mission. Its heat-vision camera, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), can detect changes in surface temperature as Phobos circles Mars every seven hours. Different textures and minerals determine how much heat THEMIS detects.

“This new image is a kind of temperature bullseye – warmest in the middle and gradually cooler moving out,” said Jeffrey Plaut, Odyssey project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which leads the mission. “Each Phobos observation is done from a slightly different angle or time of day, providing a new kind of data.”

On April 24, 2019, THEMIS looked at Phobos dead-on, with the Sun behind the spacecraft. This full moon view is better for studying material composition, whereas half-moon views are better for looking at surface textures.

“With the half-moon views, we could see how rough or smooth the surface is and how it’s layered,” said Joshua Bandfield, a THEMIS co-investigator and senior research scientist at the Space Sciences Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Now we’re gathering data on what minerals are in it, including metals.”

Iron and nickel are two such metals. Depending on how abundant the metals are, and how they’re mixed with other minerals, these data could help determine whether Phobos is a captured asteroid or a pile of Mars fragments, blasted into space by a giant impact long ago.

These recent observations won’t definitively explain Phobos’ origin, Bandfield added. But Odyssey is collecting vital data on a moon scientists still know little about – one that future missions might want to visit. Human exploration of Phobos has been discussed in the space community as a distant, future possibility, and a Japanese sample-return mission to the moon is scheduled for launch in the 2020s.

“By studying the surface features, we’re learning where the rockiest spots on Phobos are and where the fine, fluffy dust is,” Bandfield said. “Identifying landing hazards and understanding the space environment could help future missions to land on the surface.”

Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001. It takes thousands of images of the Martian surface each month, many of which help scientists select landing sites for future missions. The spacecraft also serves an important role relaying data for Mars’ newest inhabitant, NASA’s InSight lander. But studying Phobos is a new chapter for the orbiter.

“I think it’s a great example of taking a spacecraft that’s been around a very long time and finding new things you can do with it,” Bandfield said. “It’s great that you can still use this tool to collect groundbreaking science.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. THEMIS was developed by Arizona State University in Tempe in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing. The THEMIS investigation is led by Philip Christensen at Arizona State University. The prime contractor for the Odyssey project, Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

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Rover Getting Set to Motor

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Rover Getting Set to Motor Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, integrate the rover motor controller assembly (RMCA) into the Mars 2020 rover’s body. The RMCA is the electrical heart of the rover’s mobility and motion systems, commanding and regulating the movement of the motors in the rover’s wheels, robotic arms, mast, drill and sample-handling functions.

The image was taken on April 29, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility’s High Bay 1 clean room at JPL.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

For more information about the mission, go to https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.

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New Clues About How Ancient Galaxies Lit up the Universe

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Calla Cofield
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov 

 

This deep-field view of the sky (center) taken by NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes is dominated by galaxies – including some very faint, very distant ones – circled in red. The bottom right inset shows the light collected from one of those galaxies during a long-duration observation.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Spitzer/P. Oesch/S. De Barros/I.Labbe

 

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed that some of the universe’s earliest galaxies were brighter than expected. The excess light is a byproduct of the galaxies releasing incredibly high amounts of ionizing radiation. The finding offers clues to the cause of the Epoch of Reionization, a major cosmic event that transformed the universe from being mostly opaque to the brilliant starscape seen today. 

In a new study (Royal Astronomical Society), researchers report on observations of some of the first galaxies to form in the universe, less than 1 billion years after the big bang (or a little more than 13 billion years ago). The data show that in a few specific wavelengths of infrared light, the galaxies are considerably brighter than scientists anticipated. The study is the first to confirm this phenomenon for a large sampling of galaxies from this period, showing that these were not special cases of excessive brightness, but that even average galaxies present at that time were much brighter in these wavelengths than galaxies we see today. 

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For InSight, Dust Cleanings Will Yield New Science

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Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

 

This is NASA InSight’s second full selfie on Mars. Since taking its first selfie, the lander has removed its heat probe and seismometer from its deck, placing them on the Martian surface; a thin coating of dust now covers the spacecraft as well.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The same winds that blanket Mars with dust can also blow that dust away. Catastrophic dust storms have the potential to end a mission, as with NASA’s Opportunity rover. But far more often, passing winds cleared off the rover’s solar panels and gave it an energy boost. Those dust clearings allowed Opportunity and its sister rover, Spirit, to survive for years beyond their 90-day expiration dates.

Dust clearings are also expected for Mars’ newest inhabitant, the InSight lander. Because of the spacecraft’s weather sensors, each clearing can provide crucial science data on these events, as well – and the mission already has a glimpse at that. 

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Now Mars 2020 Can Phone Home

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Now Mars 2020 Can Phone Home Mars 2020 engineers and technicians prepare the high-gain antenna for installation on the rover’s equipment deck. The antenna is articulated so it can point directly at Earth to uplink or downlink data.

The image was taken on April 19, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility’s High Bay 1 clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California.

JPL is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

For more information about the mission, go to:

https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA’s AIRS Images Cyclone Fani Before Landfall

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NASA’s AIRS Images Cyclone Fani Before Landfall This image shows Tropical Cyclone Fani just off the east coast of India in the Bay of Bengal. NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) collected the image at about 1 p.m. PDT (4 p.m. EDT) today, May 2. At the time, the cyclone’s wind speeds were equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 155 mph (249 kph) and gusts of up to 190 mph (306 kph), according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The cyclone is expected to make landfall on Friday, May 3.

AIRS, in conjunction with the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), senses emitted infrared and microwave radiation from Earth to provide a 3D look at weather and climate.

The infrared image shows temperatures of the clouds or surface. The large purple area indicates very cold clouds carried high into the atmosphere by deep thunderstorms. Warmer areas, including the eye of the cyclone, are shown in blue. Shallower rain clouds appear green, while the orange areas represent mostly cloud-free air moving away from the storm.

Launched into orbit in 2002, the AIRS and AMSU instruments fly onboard NASA’s Aqua spacecraft and are managed by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, under contract with NASA. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

More information about AIRS can be found at:

https://airs.jpl.nasa.gov

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