Tag Archives: James Webb Space Telescope

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 23 June – 10 July 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’s Mars Curiosity Rover Marks First Martian Year with Mission Successes

RELEASE 14-177 (Click here for the full article) – 23 June 2014

2014july10_14_177_0_smallNASA’s Mars Curiosity rover will complete a Martian year — 687 Earth days — on June 24, having accomplished the mission’s main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

One of Curiosity’s first major findings after landing on the Red Planet in August 2012 was an ancient riverbed at its landing site. Nearby, at an area known as Yellowknife Bay, the mission met its main goal of determining whether the Martian Gale Crater ever was habitable for simple life forms. The answer, a historic “yes,” came from two mudstone slabs that the rover sampled with its drill. Analysis of these samples revealed the site was once a lakebed with mild water, the essential elemental ingredients for life, and a type of chemical energy source used by some microbes on Earth. If Mars had living organisms, this would have been a good home for them. 

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

You can follow the mission on Facebook at:
www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/marscuriosity.

Ocean on Saturn Moon Could be as Salty as the Dead Sea

RELEASE 14-185 (Click here for the full article) – 2 July 2014

2014july10_dead_sea_titan_oceanandice_main_0_smallScientists analyzing data from NASA’s Cassini mission have firm evidence the ocean inside Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, might be as salty as the Earth’s Dead Sea.

The new results come from a study of gravity and topography data collected during Cassini’s repeated flybys of Titan during the past 10 years. Using the Cassini data, researchers presented a model structure for Titan, resulting in an improved understanding of the structure of the moon’s outer ice shell. The findings are published in this week’s edition of the journal Icarus.

For more information about Cassini, visit www.nasa.gov/cassini and saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.

Testing Completed on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Backplane

RELEASE 14-178 (Click here for the full article) – 8 July 2014

2014july10_14_178_smallNASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has reached another development milestone with the completion of static load testing of its primary mirror backplane support structure (PMBSS) moving the telescope one step closer to its 2018 launch.

The PMBSS is the stable platform that holds the telescope’s science instruments and the 18 beryllium mirror-segments that form the 21-foot-diameter primary mirror nearly motionless while the telescope peers into deep space. The primary mirror is the largest mirror in the telescope — the one starlight will hit first.

For more information about NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, visit: www.nasa.gov/webb

Hubble Spots Spiral Bridge of Young Stars Linking Two Ancient Galaxies

RELEASE 14-188 (Click here for the full article) – 10 July 2014

2014july10_14_188_0_smallNASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has photographed an unusual structure 100,000 light years long, which resembles a corkscrew-shaped string of pearls and winds around the cores of two colliding galaxies.

The unique structure of the star spiral may yield new insights into the formation of stellar superclusters that result from merging galaxies and gas dynamics in this rarely seen process.

“We were surprised to find this stunning morphology. We’ve long known that the ‘beads on a string’ phenomenon is seen in the arms of spiral galaxies and in tidal bridges between interacting galaxies. However, this particular supercluster arrangement has never been seen before in giant merging elliptical galaxies,” said Grant Tremblay of the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany.

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble and hubblesite.org/news/2014/26.

To learn more about gravitational lensing, visit: go.nasa.gov/1pUWl6f

NASA Spacecraft Observes Further Evidence of Dry Ice Gullies on Mars

RELEASE 14-191 (Click here for the full article) – 10 July 2014

2014july10_14_191_0_smallRepeated high-resolution observations made by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) indicate the gullies on Mars’ surface are primarily formed by the seasonal freezing of carbon dioxide, not liquid water.

The first reports of formative gullies on Mars in 2000 generated excitement and headlines because they suggested the presence of liquid water on the Red Planet, the eroding action of which forms gullies here on Earth. Mars has water vapor and plenty of frozen water, but the presence of liquid water on the neighboring planet, a necessity for all known life, has not been confirmed. This latest report about gullies has been posted online by the journal Icarus.

For more information about HiRISE, visit: hirise.lpl.arizona.edu

Additional information about MRO is online at: www.nasa.gov/mro

For recent findings suggesting the presence of liquid water on Mars, visit: go.nasa.gov/1q1VRLS

NASA News – NASA’s Kepler Telescope Discovers First Earth-Size Planet in ‘Habitable Zone’

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Certainly NASA news worth posting! The constellation Cygnus returns to prime viewing in late Spring through the Summer and we’ll hope to have Kepler-186 found for the big Dob’s by then. Meantime, the NASA News Press Release is reproduced in its entirety below.

RELEASE 14-111 – April 17, 2014

2014april17_14_111_kepler_0_small

Caption: Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four inner planets, seen lined up in orbit around a host star that is half the size and mass of the sun. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the “habitable zone” — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.

While planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, they are all at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth and understanding their makeup is challenging. Kepler-186f is more reminiscent of Earth.

“The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind’s quest to find truly Earth-like worlds.”

Although the size of Kepler-186f is known, its mass and composition are not. Previous research, however, suggests that a planet the size of Kepler-186f is likely to be rocky.

“We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth,” said Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper published today in the journal Science. “Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”

2014april17_quintana3HR_small

Caption: The diagram compares the planets of our inner solar system to Kepler-186, a five-planet star system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The five planets of Kepler-186 orbit an M dwarf, a star that is is half the size and mass of the sun. Image Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system, about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four companion planets, which orbit a star half the size and mass of our sun. The star is classified as an M dwarf, or red dwarf, a class of stars that makes up 70 percent of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy.

“M dwarfs are the most numerous stars,” said Quintana. “The first signs of other life in the galaxy may well come from planets orbiting an M dwarf.”

Kepler-186f orbits its star once every 130-days and receives one-third the energy from its star that Earth gets from the sun, placing it nearer the outer edge of the habitable zone. On the surface of Kepler-186f, the brightness of its star at high noon is only as bright as our sun appears to us about an hour before sunset.

“Being in the habitable zone does not mean we know this planet is habitable. The temperature on the planet is strongly dependent on what kind of atmosphere the planet has,” said Thomas Barclay, research scientist at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at Ames, and co-author of the paper. “Kepler-186f can be thought of as an Earth-cousin rather than an Earth-twin. It has many properties that resemble Earth.”

The four companion planets, Kepler-186b, Kepler-186c, Kepler-186d, and Kepler-186e, whiz around their sun every four, seven, 13, and 22 days, respectively, making them too hot for life as we know it. These four inner planets all measure less than 1.5 times the size of Earth.

The next steps in the search for distant life include looking for true Earth-twins — Earth-size planets orbiting within the habitable zone of a sun-like star — and measuring the their chemical compositions. The Kepler Space Telescope, which simultaneously and continuously measured the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, is NASA’s first mission capable of detecting Earth-size planets around stars like our sun.

Ames is responsible for Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations, and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

The SETI Institute is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research, education and public outreach. The mission of the SETI Institute is to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe.

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

-end-

J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-5241
j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

Michele Johnson
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
650-604-4789
michele.johnson@nasa.gov

Karen Randall
SETI Institute
650 960-4537
krandall@seti.org

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New NEAF Announcement – Cosmos, Pluto, Webb & More! – April 12-13, 2014

Greetings fellow astrophiles!

NEAF – The Northeast Astronomy Forum (& Telescope Show) – a.k.a. THE all-in-one amateur astronomy event for those of us in the Northeast – is soon approaching. To the ever-entertaining collection of solar observers, educational talks, and equipment (let’s not forget!) has been added three great headliners composed of Neil deGrasse Tyson (‘Cosmos‘ and everywhere else), Alan Stern (on the New Horizons mission to now-demoted Pluto) and Matt Greenhouse (on the James Webb Space Telescope). Of the three, I have to admit that I’m most interested in hearing about the state of the James Webb, our successor to the great Hubble Telescope. Consider everything that the Hubble has done for astronomy in the last 24 years (desktop images aside), then think of what the James Webb will do with 7 times the light collecting power (plus all the other bells and whistles developed over the last two decades)!

And (provided the sky holds) don’t forget to pay Barlow Bob a visit during the NEAF Solar Star Party!

New announcement flyer below (click to go to the NEAF website). At least a few CNYO members are guaranteed to be in attendance!

2014mar15_neaf_announcement