Tag Archives: Jpl

NASA Space Place – Comet Campaign: Amateurs Wanted

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 January, 2017.

By Marcus Woo

2013february2_spaceplaceIn a cosmic coincidence, three comets will soon be approaching Earth—and astronomers want you to help study them. This global campaign, which will begin at the end of January when the first comet is bright enough, will enlist amateur astronomers to help researchers continuously monitor how the comets change over time and, ultimately, learn what these ancient ice chunks reveal about the origins of the solar system.

Over the last few years, spacecraft like NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI or ESA’s Rosetta (of which NASA played a part) discovered that comets are more dynamic than anyone realized. The missions found that dust and gas burst from a comet’s nucleus every few days or weeks—fleeting phenomena that would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the constant and nearby observations. But space missions are expensive, so for three upcoming cometary visits, researchers are instead recruiting the combined efforts of telescopes from around the world.

“This is a way that we hope can get the same sorts of observations: by harnessing the power of the masses from various amateurs,” says Matthew Knight, an astronomer at the University of Maryland.

By observing the gas and dust in the coma (the comet’s atmosphere of gas and dust), and tracking outbursts, amateurs will help professional researchers measure the properties of the comet’s nucleus, such as its composition, rotation speed, and how well it holds together.

The observations may also help NASA scout out future destinations. The three targets are so-called Jupiter family comets, with relatively short periods just over five years—and orbits that are accessible to spacecraft. “The better understood a comet is,” Knight says, “the better NASA can plan for a mission and figure out what the environment is going to be like, and what specifications the spacecraft will need to ensure that it will be successful.”

The first comet to arrive is 41P/Tuttle–Giacobini–Kresák, whose prime window runs from the end of January to the end of July. Comet 45P/Honda–Mrkos–Pajdušáková will be most visible between mid-February and mid-March. The third target, comet 46P/Wirtanen won’t arrive until 2018.

Still, the opportunity to observe three relatively bright comets within roughly 18 months is rare. “We’re talking 20 or more years since we’ve had anything remotely resembling this,” Knight says. “Telescope technology and our knowledge of comets are just totally different now than the last time any of these were good for observing.”

For more information about how to participate in the campaign, visit www.psi.edu/41P45P46P.

Want to teach kids about the anatomy of a comet? Go to the NASA Space Place and use Comet on a Stick activity! spaceplace.nasa.gov/comet-stick/

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

Caption: An orbit diagram of comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak on February 8, 2017—a day that falls during the comet’s prime visibility window. The planets orbits are white curves and the comet’s orbit is a blue curve. The brighter lines indicate the portion of the orbit that is above the ecliptic plane defined by Earth’s orbital plane and the darker portions are below the ecliptic plane. This image was created with the Orbit Viewer applet, provided by the Osamu Ajiki (AstroArts) and modified by Ron Baalke (Solar System Dynamics group, JPL). ssd.jpl.nasa.gov/sbdb.cgi?orb=1;sstr=41P

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 4 February – 19 February 2016

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 announcements from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to: hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Primary Mirror Fully Assembled

RELEASE 16-013 (Click here for the full article) – 4 February 2016

2016feb19_16-013bThe 18th and final primary mirror segment is installed on what will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever launched. The final mirror installation Wednesday at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland marks an important milestone in the assembly of the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope.

“Scientists and engineers have been working tirelessly to install these incredible, nearly perfect mirrors that will focus light from previously hidden realms of planetary atmospheres, star forming regions and the very beginnings of the Universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the Universe.”

Using a robotic arm reminiscent of a claw machine, the team meticulously installed all of Webb’s primary mirror segments onto the telescope structure. Each of the hexagonal-shaped mirror segments measures just over 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across — about the size of a coffee table — and weighs approximately 88 pounds (40 kilograms). Once in space and fully deployed, the 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3-foot diameter (6.5-meter) mirror.

To watch the Webb telescope being built at Goddard, visit the “Webb-cam” page at: www.jwst.nasa.gov/webcam.html

NASA Administrator Remembers Apollo-Era Astronaut Edgar Mitchell

RELEASE 16-014 (Click here for the full article) – 5 February 2016

2016feb19_edgar_mitchell_portraitThe following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell:

“On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell. As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe.

“Edgar spoke poetically about seeing our home planet from the moon saying: ‘Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth … home.’

“He believed in exploration, having been drawn to NASA by President Kennedy’s call to send humans to the moon. He is one of the pioneers in space exploration on whose shoulders we now stand.”

For more information about Mitchell’s NASA career, and his agency biography, visit:

www.nasa.gov/feature/apollo-astronaut-edgar-mitchell-dies-at-age-85

NASA, University Study Shows Rising Seas Slowed by Increasing Water on Land

RELEASE 16-015 (Click here for the full article) – 11 February 2016

2016feb19_16-015New measurements from a NASA satellite have allowed researchers to identify and quantify, for the first time, how climate-driven increases of liquid water storage on land have affected the rate of sea level rise.

A new study by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and the University of California, Irvine, shows that while ice sheets and glaciers continue to melt, changes in weather and climate over the past decade have caused Earth’s continents to soak up and store an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, temporarily slowing the rate of sea level rise by about 20 percent.

The water gains over land were spread globally, but taken together they equal the volume of Lake Huron, the world’s seventh largest lake. The study is published in the Feb. 12 issue of the journal Science.

For more on NASA’s sea level rise research: sealevel.nasa.gov

More information on the GRACE mission can be found at: grace.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/grace/

For more on how NASA studies Earth: science.nasa.gov/earth-science/

Record Number of Americans Apply to #BeAnAstronaut at NASA

RELEASE 16-018 (Click here for the full article) – 19 February 2016

2016feb19_16-018_0More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

Applications opened Dec. 14, and closed Thursday, but that is just the beginning of an 18-month process that will end with the selection of 8-14 individuals for the opportunity to become astronaut candidates. NASA expects to announce its selections in mid-2017.

For more information about NASA astronauts, visit: www.nasa.gov/astronauts

For information about other NASA job opportunities, visit: www.nasa.gov/about/career

NASA Invites Public to Send Artwork to an Asteroid

RELEASE 16-019 (Click here for the full article) – 19 February 2016

2016feb19_16-019NASA is calling all space enthusiasts to send their artistic endeavors on a journey aboard NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. This will be the first U.S. mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth for study.

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in September and travel to the asteroid Bennu. The #WeTheExplorers campaign invites the public to take part in this mission by expressing, through art, how the mission’s spirit of exploration is reflected in their own lives. Submitted works of art will be saved on a chip on the spacecraft. The spacecraft already carries a chip with more than 442,000 names submitted through the 2014 “Messages to Bennu” campaign.

“The development of the spacecraft and instruments has been a hugely creative process, where ultimately the canvas is the machined metal and composites preparing for launch in September,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It is fitting that this endeavor can inspire the public to express their creativity to be carried by OSIRIS-REx into space.”

For details on how to include your submission on the mission to Bennu, go to: www.asteroidmission.org/WeTheExplorers

For more information on OSIRIS-Rex, visit: www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

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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