NASA News Digest: Space Science For 16 December – 19 December 2014

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 Rover Finds Active and Ancient Organic Chemistry on Mars

RELEASE 14-432 (Click here for the full article) – 16 December 2014

2014dec27_432NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory’s drill.

“This temporary increase in methane — sharply up and then back down — tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”

Researchers used Curiosity’s onboard Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) laboratory a dozen times in a 20-month period to sniff methane in the atmosphere. During two of those months, in late 2013 and early 2014, four measurements averaged seven parts per billion. Before and after that, readings averaged only one-tenth that level.

For copies of the new Science papers about Mars methane and water, visit: go.nasa.gov/1cbk35X

For more information about Curiosity, visit: www.nasa.gov/msl and mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

Learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars at: www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars/

NASA, Planetary Scientists Find Meteoritic Evidence of Mars Water Reservoir

RELEASE 14-337 (Click here for the full article) – 18 December 2014

2014dec27_337NASA and an international team of planetary scientists have found evidence in meteorites on Earth that indicates Mars has a distinct and global reservoir of water or ice near its surface.

Though controversy still surrounds the origin, abundance and history of water on Mars, this discovery helps resolve the question of where the “missing Martian water” may have gone. Scientists continue to study the planet’s historical record, trying to understand the apparent shift from an early wet and warm climate to today’s dry and cool surface conditions.

The reservoir’s existence also may be a key to understanding climate history and the potential for life on Mars. The team’s findings are reported in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

These findings can be viewed online in their entirety at: go.nasa.gov/1zwSjTa

For more about the ARES Division at JSC, visit: ares.jsc.nasa.gov

Learn about NASA’s Journey to Mars at: www.nasa.gov/content/nasas-journey-to-mars/

NASA’s Kepler Reborn, Makes First Exoplanet Find of New Mission

RELEASE 14-335 (Click here for the full article) – 18 December 2014

2014dec27_335NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission — K2.

The discovery was made when astronomers and engineers devised an ingenious way to repurpose Kepler for the K2 mission and continue its search of the cosmos for other worlds.

“Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life.”

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

Video Gives Astronaut’s-Eye View Inside NASA’s Orion Spacecraft

RELEASE 14-206 (Click here for the full article) – 19 December 2014

New video recorded during the return of NASA’s Orion through Earth’s atmosphere this month provides a taste of the intense conditions the spacecraft and the astronauts it carries will endure when they return from deep space destinations on the journey to Mars.

Among the first data to be removed from Orion following its uncrewed Dec. 5 flight test was video recorded through windows in Orion’s crew module. Although much of the video was transmitted down to Earth and shown in real time on NASA Television, it was not available in its entirety. Also, the blackout caused by the superheated plasma surrounding the vehicle as it endured the peak temperatures of its descent prevented downlink of any information at that key point. However, the cameras were able to record the view and now the public can have an up-close look at the extreme environment a spacecraft experiences as it travels back through Earth’s environment from beyond low-Earth orbit.

The video begins 10 minutes before Orion’s 11:29 a.m. EST splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, just as the spacecraft was beginning to experience Earth’s atmosphere. Peak heating from the friction caused by the atmosphere rubbing against Orion’s heat shield comes less than two minutes later, and the footage shows the plasma created by the interaction change from white to yellow to lavender to magenta as the temperature increases.

To view the video of Orion’s re-entry, visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtWzuZ6WZ8E

For information about Orion, visit: www.nasa.gov/orion

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