Tag Archives: Pluto

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 12 October – 16 October 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:


NASA Mission Finds Widespread Evidence of Young Lunar Volcanism

RELEASE 14-284 (Click here for the full article) – 12 October 2014

2014oct20_14_284NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has provided researchers strong evidence the moon’s volcanic activity slowed gradually instead of stopping abruptly a billion years ago.

Scores of distinctive rock deposits observed by LRO are estimated to be less than 100 million years old. This time period corresponds to Earth’s Cretaceous period, the heyday of dinosaurs. Some areas may be less than 50 million years old. Details of the study are published online in Sunday’s edition of Nature Geoscience.

“This finding is the kind of science that is literally going to make geologists rewrite the textbooks about the moon,” said John Keller, LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

To access the complete collection of LROC images, visit: lroc.sese.asu.edu/

For more information about LRO, visit: www.nasa.gov/lro

NASA Mission Provides Its First Look at Martian Upper Atmosphere

RELEASE 14-285 (Click here for the full article) – 14 October 2014

2014oct20_14_285NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has provided scientists their first look at a storm of energetic solar particles at Mars, produced unprecedented ultraviolet images of the tenuous oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon coronas surrounding the Red Planet, and yielded a comprehensive map of highly-variable ozone in the atmosphere underlying the coronas.

The spacecraft, which entered Mars’ orbit Sept. 21, now is lowering its orbit and testing its instruments. MAVEN was launched to Mars in November 2013, to help solve the mystery of how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere.

“All the instruments are showing data quality that is better than anticipated at this early stage of the mission,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN Principal Investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “All instruments have now been turned on — although not yet fully checked out — and are functioning nominally. It’s turning out to be an easy and straightforward spacecraft to fly, at least so far. It really looks as if we’re headed for an exciting science mission.”

For more about MAVEN, visit: www.nasa.gov/maven

NASA’s Hubble Telescope Finds Potential Kuiper Belt Targets for New Horizons Pluto Mission

RELEASE 14-281 (Click here for the full article) – 15 October 2014

2014oct20_14_281Peering out to the dim, outer reaches of our solar system, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered three Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) the agency’s New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after it flies by Pluto in July 2015.

The KBOs were detected through a dedicated Hubble observing program by a New Horizons search team that was awarded telescope time for this purpose.

“This has been a very challenging search and it’s great that in the end Hubble could accomplish a detection – one NASA mission helping another,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission.

The Kuiper Belt is a vast rim of primordial debris encircling our solar system. KBOs belong to a unique class of solar system objects that has never been visited by spacecraft and which contain clues to the origin of our solar system.

For images of the KBOs and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble

For information about the New Horizons mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

NASA’s Hubble Finds Extremely Distant Galaxy through Cosmic Magnifying Glass

RELEASE 14-283 (Click here for the full article) – 16 October 2014

2014oct20_14_283Peering through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a tiny, faint galaxy — one of the farthest galaxies ever seen. The diminutive object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away.

This galaxy offers a peek back to the very early formative years of the universe and may just be the tip of the iceberg.

“This galaxy is an example of what is suspected to be an abundant, underlying population of extremely small, faint objects that existed about 500 million years after the big bang, the beginning of the universe,” explained study leader Adi Zitrin of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “The discovery is telling us galaxies as faint as this one exist, and we should continue looking for them and even fainter objects, so that we can understand how galaxies and the universe have evolved over time.”

For images and more information about Hubble, visit: www.nasa.gov/hubble

NASA Spacecraft Provides New Information About Sun’s Atmosphere

RELEASE 14-288 (Click here for the full article) – 16 Ocrober 2014

2014oct20_14_288NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) has provided scientists with five new findings into how the sun’s atmosphere, or corona, is heated far hotter than its surface, what causes the sun’s constant outflow of particles called the solar wind, and what mechanisms accelerate particles that power solar flares.

The new information will help researchers better understand how our nearest star transfers energy through its atmosphere and track the dynamic solar activity that can impact technological infrastructure in space and on Earth. Details of the findings appear in the current edition of Science.

“These findings reveal a region of the sun more complicated than previously thought,” said Jeff Newmark, interim director for the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Combining IRIS data with observations from other Heliophysics missions is enabling breakthroughs in our understanding of the sun and its interactions with the solar system.”

For more information about IRIS, visit: www.nasa.gov/iris

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!


NASA Space Place – Doing Science with a Spacecraft’s Signal

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 October, 2012.

By David Doody

2013february2_spaceplaceMariner 2 to Venus, the first interplanetary flight, was launched August 27 fifty years ago. This was a time when scientists were first learning that Venus might not harbor jungles under its thick atmosphere after all. A Russian scientist had discovered that atmosphere during the rare Venus transit of 1761, because of the effects of sunlight from behind.

Mariner 2 proved interplanetary flight was possible, and our ability to take close-up images of other planets would be richly rewarding in scientific return. But it also meant we could use the spacecraft itself as a “light” source, planting it behind an object of our choosing and making direct measurements.

Mariner 4 did the first occultation experiment of this sort when it passed behind Mars as seen from Earth in July 1965. But, instead of visible light from the Sun, this occultation experiment used the spacecraft’s approximately 2-GHz radio signal.

The Mariner 4 experiment revealed Mars’ thin atmosphere. Since then, successful radio science occultation experiments have been conducted at every planet and many large moons. And another one is on schedule to investigate Pluto and its companion Charon, when the New Horizons spacecraft flies by in July 2015. Also, during that flyby, a different kind of radio science experiment will investigate the gravitational field.

The most recent radio science occultation experiment took place September 2, 2012, when the Cassini spacecraft carried its three transmitters behind Saturn. These three different frequencies are all kept precisely “in tune” with one another, based on a reference frequency sent from Earth. Compared to observations of the free space for calibration just before ingress to occultation, the experiment makes it possible to tease out a wide variety of components in Saturn’s ionosphere and atmosphere.

Occultation experiments comprise only one of many categories of radio science experiments. Others include tests of General Relativity, studying the solar corona, mapping gravity fields, determining mass, and more. They all rely on NASA’s Deep Space Network to capture the signals, which are then archived and studied.

Find out more about spacecraft science experiments in “Basics of Space Flight,” a website and book by this author, www2.jpl.nasa.gov/basics. Kids can learn all about NASA’s Deep Space Network by playing the “Uplink-Downlink” game at spaceplace.nasa.gov/dsn-game.


Caption: In this poster art of Mariner 4, you can see the parabolic reflector atop the spacecraft bus. Like the reflector inside a flashlight, it sends a beam of electromagnetic energy in a particular direction. Credit: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste. Click to see full-size version.

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/