NASA News Digest: Space Science For 17 July – 24 July 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these news announcements directly from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to:

hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA’s New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains In The Heart Of Pluto’s ‘Heart’

RELEASE 15-154 (Click here for the full article) – 17 July 2015

2015july27_pluto_heart_of_the_heart_03In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

“This terrain is not easy to explain,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations.”

This fascinating icy plains region — resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth — has been informally named “Sputnik Planum” (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth’s first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates are also available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and new images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

NASA Satellite Camera Provides “EPIC” View Of Earth

RELEASE 15-151 (Click here for the full article) – 20 July 2015

2015july27_187_1003705_americas_dxmA NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.

The color images of Earth from NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) are generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters — from ultraviolet to near infrared — to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these Earth images.

“This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “As a former astronaut who’s been privileged to view the Earth from orbit, I want everyone to be able to see and appreciate our planet as an integrated, interacting system. DSCOVR’s observations of Earth, as well as its measurements and early warnings of space weather events caused by the sun, will help every person to monitor the ever-changing Earth, and to understand how our planet fits into its neighborhood in the solar system.”

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit: www.nasa.gov/earth

For more information about DSCOVR, visit: www.nesdis.noaa.gov/DSCOVR/

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin To Earth

RELEASE 15-156 (Click here for the full article) – 23 July 2015

2015july27_452b_system_comparisonNASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/kepler

A related feature story about other potentially habitable planets is online at: www.nasa.gov/jpl/finding-another-earth

NASA’s New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice On Pluto

RELEASE 15-158 (Click here for the full article) – 24 July 2015

2015july27_nh_01_stern_05_pluto_hazenewFlowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.

“We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now — 10 days after closest approach — we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling.”

Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze — one about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 kilometers).

“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries — it brings incredible beauty.”

View a simulated flyover using New Horizons’ close-approach images of Sputnik Planum and Pluto’s newly-discovered mountain range, informally named Hillary Montes, in the video below: go.nasa.gov/1MMEdTb

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

Free Astronomy Magazine – July-August 2015 Issue Available For Reading And Download

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

2015july18_freeastro_coverThe most recent issue of Free Astronomy Magazine (July-August, 2015) is available for your reading and downloading pleasure at www.astropublishing.com (click the link to go directly to the issue).

Free Astronomy Magazine was featured as the first of a (to be) series of articles on great free online content for amateur astronomers (see A Universe Of Free Resources Part 1) and the May-June issue announcement was also posted recently on the CNYO website.

The content, as usual, is varied and well-presented. From our own backyard (Dawn @ Ceres), out to the neighbor’s place (51 Pegasi B), to all the way into the next town (the gigantic halo discovered around the Andromeda Galaxy), the issue is full of great, highly informative articles (the same kinds of informative and science-filled articles you’d expect from… more expensive providers).

The web browser-readable version of the magazine can be found here:

www.astropublishing.com/FreeAstronomyMagazine_JulAug2015/index.html

For those who want to jump right to the PDF download (50 MB), Click HERE.

For those wanting a quick look at what this issue has to offer, the Table of Contents is reproduced below.

2015july18_freeastro_toc

Maine Astronomy Retreat – Email Announcement And Update From The Organizers

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The following email came across the internets yesterday announcing updates to the Maine Astronomy Retreat, yet another excellent Star Party placed reasonably close to Central New York. For those interested, check out the email and embedded links for more information.

We are reaching out to inform you of an update about the Maine Astronomy Retreat at Medomak Retreat Center in Washington, Maine – a vacation for you and your telescope!

2015july16_Ringler1

We are pleased to announce that Babak A. Tafreshi has been added to our team of instructors. Tafreshi is the founder of The World at Night or TWAN program and a photographer for the National Geographic image collection, specialized in nightscape imaging, connecting the Earth and sky, bridging art and science. He is also a science journalist and astronomy communicator. He is a board member of Astronomers without Borders and a contributing photographer for Sky & Telescope. You can explore his photography in the links listed below:

* Personal website: http://dreamview.net
* The World at Night: http://twanight.org/tafreshi
* National Geographic: http://natgeocreative.com/photography/tafreshi
* Timelapse Motions: https://vimeo.com/btafreshi/videos

We would love if you would pass on this information to your group members or include it in your newsletter and calendar of events.

Please see our website, http://www.astronomyretreat.com, for more details, and to register. If you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call at 1-866-MEDOMAK.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

David Brunner
Director, Medomak
Summer Camp for Families & Retreat Center for Adults
www.medomakcamp.com
www.medomakretreatcenter.com