Tag Archives: Earth

NASA Space Place – The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in April, 2015.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceFor those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter brings long, cold nights, which are often excellent for sky watchers (so long as there’s a way to keep warm!) But there’s often an added bonus that comes along when conditions are just right: the polar lights, or the Aurora Borealis around the North Pole. Here on our world, a brilliant green light often appears for observers at high northern latitudes, with occasional, dimmer reds and even blues lighting up a clear night.

We had always assumed that there was some connection between particles emitted from the Sun and the aurorae, as particularly intense displays were observed around three days after a solar storm occurred in the direction of Earth. Presumably, particles originating from the Sun—ionized electrons and atomic nuclei like protons and alpha particles—make up the vast majority of the solar wind and get funneled by the Earth’s magnetic field into a circle around its magnetic poles. They’re energetic enough to knock electrons off atoms and molecules at various layers in the upper atmosphere—particles like molecular nitrogen, oxygen and atomic hydrogen. And when the electrons fall back either onto the atoms or to lower energy levels, they emit light of varying but particular wavelengths—oxygen producing the most common green signature, with less common states of oxygen and hydrogen producing red and the occasional blue from nitrogen.

But it wasn’t until the 2000s that this picture was directly confirmed! NASA’s Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) satellite (which ceased operations in December 2005) was able to find out how the magnetosphere responded to solar wind changes, how the plasmas were energized, transported and (in some cases) lost, and many more properties of our magnetosphere. Planets without significant magnetic fields such as Venus and Mars have much smaller, weaker aurorae than we do, and gas giant planets like Saturn have aurorae that primarily shine in the ultraviolet rather than the visible. Nevertheless, the aurorae are a spectacular sight in the evening, particularly for observers in Alaska, Canada and the Scandinavian countries. But when a solar storm comes our way, keep your eyes towards the north at night; the views will be well worth braving the cold!

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

2014_12_nasa_image_earth_obs.en

Caption: Auroral overlays from the IMAGE spacecraft. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory (Goddard Space Flight Center) / Blue Marble team.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 4 March – 12 March 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 Chandra Observatory Finds Cosmic Showers Halt Galaxy Growth

RELEASE 15-028 (Click here for the full article) – 4 March 2015

2015mar14_15_028Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers have found that the growth of galaxies containing supermassive black holes can be slowed down by a phenomenon referred to as cosmic precipitation.

Cosmic precipitation is not a weather event, as we commonly associate the word — rain, sleet, or snow. Rather, it is a mechanism that allows hot gas to produce showers of cool gas clouds that fall into a galaxy. Researchers have analyzed X-rays from more than 200 galaxy clusters, and believe that this gaseous precipitation is key to understanding how giant black holes affect the growth of galaxies.

“We know that precipitation can slow us down on our way to work,” said Mark Voit of Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, lead author of the paper that appears in the latest issue of Nature. “Now we have evidence that it can also slow down star formation in galaxies with huge black holes.”

An interactive image, podcast, and video about these findings are available at: chandra.si.edu

For more Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit: www.nasa.gov/chandra

NASA Research Suggests Mars Once Had More Water Than Earth’s Arctic Ocean

RELEASE 15-032 (Click here for the full article) – 5 March 2015

2015mar14_15_032A primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean, according to NASA scientists who, using ground-based observatories, measured water signatures in the Red Planet’s atmosphere.

Scientists have been searching for answers to why this vast water supply left the surface. Details of the observations and computations appear in Thursday’s edition of Science magazine.

“Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space,” said Geronimo Villanueva, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new paper. “With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars.”

Perhaps about 4.3 billion years ago, Mars would have had enough water to cover its entire surface in a liquid layer about 450 feet (137 meters) deep. More likely, the water would have formed an ocean occupying almost half of Mars’ northern hemisphere, in some regions reaching depths greater than a mile (1.6 kilometers).

To view a video of this finding, visit: youtu.be/WH8kHncLZwM

More information about NASA’s Mars programs is online at: www.nasa.gov/mars

NASA Spacecraft Becomes First To Orbit A Dwarf Planet

RELEASE 15-034 (Click here for the full article) – 6 March 2015

2015mar14_15_034NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at about 4:39 a.m. PST (7:39 a.m. EST) Friday.

Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California received a signal from the spacecraft at 5:36 a.m. PST (8:36 a.m. EST) that Dawn was healthy and thrusting with its ion engine, the indicator Dawn had entered orbit as planned.

“Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission director at JPL. “Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres, home.”

In addition to being the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet, Dawn also has the distinction of being the first mission to orbit two extraterrestrial targets. From 2011 to 2012, the spacecraft explored the giant asteroid Vesta, delivering new insights and thousands of images from that distant world. Ceres and Vesta are the two most massive residents of our solar system’s main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

For a complete list of mission participants, visit: dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission

For more information about Dawn, visit: www.nasa.gov/dawn

Spacecraft Data Suggest Saturn Moon’s Ocean May Harbor Hydrothermal Activity

RELEASE 15-036 (Click here for the full article) – 11 March 2015

2015mar14_15_036NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.

“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the Universe.”

Hydrothermal activity occurs when seawater infiltrates and reacts with a rocky crust and emerges as a heated, mineral-laden solution, a natural occurrence in Earth’s oceans. According to two science papers, the results are the first clear indications an icy moon may have similar ongoing active processes.

More information about Cassini, visit: www.nasa.gov/cassini and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

NASA’s Hubble Observations Suggest Underground Ocean On Jupiter’s Largest Moon

RELEASE 15-033 (Click here for the full article) – 12 March 2015

2015mar14_15_033i1NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has the best evidence yet for an underground saltwater ocean on Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. The subterranean ocean is thought to have more water than all the water on Earth’s surface.

Identifying liquid water is crucial in the search for habitable worlds beyond Earth and for the search of life as we know it.

“This discovery marks a significant milestone, highlighting what only Hubble can accomplish,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “In its 25 years in orbit, Hubble has made many scientific discoveries in our own solar system. A deep ocean under the icy crust of Ganymede opens up further exciting possibilities for life beyond Earth.”

Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system and the only moon with its own magnetic field. The magnetic field causes aurorae, which are ribbons of glowing, hot electrified gas, in regions circling the north and south poles of the moon. Because Ganymede is close to Jupiter, it is also embedded in Jupiter’s magnetic field. When Jupiter’s magnetic field changes, the aurorae on Ganymede also change, “rocking” back and forth.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble and hubblesite.org/news/2015/09

NASA News Digest: Space Science (And A Remembrance) For 2 February – 3 March 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 Study Finds Carbon Emissions Could Dramatically Increase Risk Of U.S. Megadroughts

RELEASE 15-020 (Click here for the full article) – 12 February 2015

Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years, according to a new NASA study.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science Advances, is based on projections from several climate models, including one sponsored by NASA. The research found continued increases in human-produced greenhouse gas emissions drives up the risk of severe droughts in these regions.

“Natural droughts like the 1930s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less,” said Ben Cook, climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, and lead author of the study. “What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30 to 35 years.”

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

NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape To Furious Black Hole Winds

RELEASE 15-021 (Click here for the full article) – 19 February 2015

2015mar3_15_021_nustarNASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions — a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now.

This discovery has given astronomers their first opportunity to measure the strength of these ultra-fast winds and prove they are powerful enough to inhibit the host galaxy’s ability to make new stars.

“We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of the galaxies,” said Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Harrison is the principal investigator of NuSTAR and a co-author on a new paper about these results appearing in the journal Science. “Knowing the speed, shape and size of the winds, we can now figure out how powerful they are.”

For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/nustar and www.nustar.caltech.edu/

New NASA Earth Science Missions Expand View Of Our Home Planet

RELEASE 15-025 (Click here for the full article) – 26 February 2015

Four new NASA Earth-observing missions are collecting data from space – with a fifth newly in orbit – after the busiest year of NASA Earth science launches in more than a decade.

On Feb. 27, 2014, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory into space from Japan. Data from GPM and the other new missions are making observations and providing scientists with new insights into global rain and snowfall, atmospheric carbon dioxide, ocean winds, clouds, and tiny airborne particles called aerosols.

“This has been a phenomenally productive year for NASA in our mission to explore our complex planet from the unique vantage point of space,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Combined with data from our other Earth-observing spacecraft, these new missions will give us new insights into how Earth works as a system.”

Video and images of these new NASA data products are available online at: go.nasa.gov/newearthviews

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

Media Invited to See Bigelow Expandable Space Station Module Ahead Of Shipment To NASA

RELEASE 15-038 (Click here for the full article) – 3 March 2015

2015mar3_15_038NASA and Bigelow Aerospace invite media to a photo and interview opportunity at 10 a.m. PST on Thursday, March 12, at Bigelow Aerospace’s North Las Vegas facility to mark the completion of all major milestones on the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).

Reporters will have the opportunity to see and photograph the BEAM before it’s shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for launch to the International Space Station later this year. Robert Bigelow, president and founder of Bigelow Aerospace, and William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, will conduct a joint question and answer session with media.

For more information about Bigelow Aerospace, visit: www.bigelowaerospace.com

For more information about the BEAM, visit: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/news/beam_feature.html

NASA Administrator Remembers Leonard Nimoy

RELEASE 15-029 (Click here for the full article) – 27 February 2015

2015mar3_spockThe following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Leonard Nimoy:

“Leonard Nimoy was an inspiration to multiple generations of engineers, scientists, astronauts, and other space explorers. As Mr. Spock, he made science and technology important to the story, while never failing to show, by example, that it is the people around us who matter most.

“NASA was fortunate to have him as a friend and a colleague. He was much more than the Science Officer for the USS Enterprise. Leonard was a talented actor, director, philanthropist, and a gracious man dedicated to art in many forms.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and the legions of Star Trek fans around the world.”

NASA Space Place – The Heavyweight Champion Of The Cosmos

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in February, 2015.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceAs crazy as it once seemed, we once assumed that the Earth was the largest thing in all the universe. 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras was ridiculed for suggesting that the Sun might be even larger than the Peloponnesus peninsula, about 16% of modern-day Greece. Today, we know that planets are dwarfed by stars, which themselves are bound together by the billions or even trillions into galaxies.

But gravitationally bound structures extend far beyond galaxies, which themselves can bind together into massive clusters across the cosmos. While dark energy may be driving most galaxy clusters apart from one another, preventing our local group from falling into the Virgo Cluster, for example, on occasion, huge galaxy clusters can merge, forming the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe.

Take the “El Gordo” galaxy cluster, catalogued as ACT-CL J0102-4915. It’s the largest known galaxy cluster in the distant universe. A galaxy like the Milky Way might contain a few hundred billion stars and up to just over a trillion (1012) solar masses worth of matter, the El Gordo cluster has an estimated mass of 3 × 1015 solar masses, or 3,000 times as much as our own galaxy! The way we’ve figured this out is fascinating. By seeing how the shapes of background galaxies are distorted into more elliptical-than-average shapes along a particular set of axes, we can reconstruct how much mass is present in the cluster: a phenomenon known as weak gravitational lensing.

That reconstruction is shown in blue, but doesn’t match up with where the X-rays are, which are shown in pink! This is because, when galaxy clusters collide, the neutral gas inside heats up to emit X-rays, but the individual galaxies (mostly) and dark matter (completely) pass through one another, resulting in a displacement of the cluster’s mass from its center. This has been observed before in objects like the Bullet Cluster, but El Gordo is much younger and farther away. At 10 billion light-years distant, the light reaching us now was emitted more than 7 billion years ago, when the universe was less than half its present age.

It’s a good thing, too, because about 6 billion years ago, the universe began accelerating, meaning that El Gordo just might be the largest cosmic heavyweight of all. There’s still more universe left to explore, but for right now, this is the heavyweight champion of the distant universe!

Learn more about “El Gordo” here: www.nasa.gov/press/2014/april/nasa-hubble-team-finds-monster-el-gordo-galaxy-cluster-bigger-than-thought/

El Gordo is certainly huge, but what about really tiny galaxies? Kids can learn about satellite galaxies at NASA’s Space Place spaceplace.nasa.gov/satellite-galaxies/.

2015mar3_ngc3393

Image credit: NASA, ESA, J. Jee (UC Davis), J. Hughes (Rutgers U.), F. Menanteau (Rutgers U. and UIUC), C. Sifon (Leiden Observatory), R. Mandelbum (Carnegie Mellon U.), L. Barrientos (Universidad Catolica de Chile), and K. Ng (UC Davis). X-rays are shown in pink from Chandra; the overall matter density is shown in blue, from lensing derived from the Hubble space telescope. 10 billion light-years distant, El Gordo is the most massive galaxy cluster ever found.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

About NASA Space Place

The goal of the NASA Space Place is “to inform, inspire, and involve children in the excitement of science, technology, and space exploration.” More information is available at their website: http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/

First Announcement: CNYO Lecture And Observing At Liverpool Public Library, Thursday – October 16th

Greetings again, fellow astrophiles!

Our second scheduled event for Autumn, 2014 is our yearly return to Liverpool Public Library for a combination lecture/observing session at 7:00 p.m. in the Carman Community Room (event link). This time, the session will start with a lecture on the Sun (so we’ll all know what we’ll be missing the next several months).

The Sun and Earth @ 4.5 Billion Years: The Sun, Earth, and other members in the Solar system formed together from a ball of gas about 4.5 billion years ago. After a rocky gassy start, the Solar System settled into the arrangement we know today, and has been quite stable for the bulk of its history. From Aurora to Zooplankton, the story of Earth is a story of how the third planet and its inhabitants have processed the Sun’s energy. This lecture will cover this long history and will provide a preview of the next 5 billion years. If skies are clear, we will also take the session outside for some autumn stargazing.

The session will continue outdoors (weather-permitting) with some open and globular cluster viewing (Mars and Saturn will be well below the tree-line by 8 p.m. and downtown Liverpool is a bit too bright for galaxy viewing).

Also – if you didn’t already know – LPL has great starter amateur astronomy kits for loan at their front desk! The kits include 20×80 binoculars, a red flashlight, planisphere, and a book on learning the constellations. Get a feel for the sky before you spend a dime on any other equipment!

Facebook Event: www.facebook.com/events/372770389547694/
Meetup Event: www.meetup.com/observe/events/205617602/