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Dark Stars in the Early Universe. Planet Hunter TESS. Opportunity Rover 5,000.

April 12, 2018


 Dark Stars in the Early Universe. Planet Hunter TESS. Opportunity Rover 5,000.
Types of dark stars could have existed in the early universe that contained a high concentration of neutrolino dark matter. These dark stars had a say on how stars would later form in the later universe. A little talk about gravity assists and NASA's gravity assist podcasts. TESS NASA's planet hunter has been launched. TESS stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and it will hunt for exoplanets by surveying the sky in a new way. TESS will divide the sky into 26 sections each 24 degrees by 96 degrees across. TESS's cameras will look at each sector for 27 days. TESS will study stars that are 30 - 100 times brighter than the stars that were studied by the Kepler Space telescope and cover a sky area 400 times larger than that monitored by Kepler.. Opportunity rover recently celebrated its 5,000 sol on Mars. A sol is a Martian day, and Opportunity was only built to last for about 90 days. Opportunity is now studying stripes in the Perseverance Valley. PV also holds rocks that were affected by Mars' winds. Opportunity is studying this valley for ancient signs of life on Mars. The powerful cameras on the spacecraft will stare at each sector for at least 27 days, looking at the brightest stars at a two-minute cadence. From Earth, the Moon occupies half a degree, which is less than 1/9,000th the size of the TESS tiles.The stars TESS will study are 30 to 100 times brighter than those the Kepler mission 

Van Allen Belts, the Penguin and The Egg, 300 Million Billion Suns

February 5, 2018


NASA is celebrating the 60 year anniversary of the discovery of the Van  Allen radiation belts with 3 satellites now in orbit, studying the  belts. They are 2012 launch of the twin Van Allen Probes, and the  subsequent launch of  THEMIS, and Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS,  missions. It is vital to understand space  radiation because it can affect  spacecraft, satellites, and humans in space. Hubble and the Spitzer  Space Telescope are also revealing interesting things. A galaxy merger  is being viewed in NGC 2336. One galaxy looks like a penguin, and the  other like an egg, so the pair is being called, The Penguin and the Egg.  The egg is distorting the other galaxy, making it resemble a penguin.  The 2 galaxies are 23 million light-years away. The image of the 2 galaxies is a blend of a visible image from Hubble, and an infrared  image from Spitzer. Hubble is also showing us another galaxy, NGC 7331,  45 million LYs away. A supernova is prominent in the middle of 7331. SN 2014C is surprising us, because within the last year, it  went from a supernova that contained little hydrogen, to one that is now  hydrogen-rich. NGC 7331 is similar to the Milky Way in all but one  respect: it does not have a central bar, like the Milky Way does. Hubble  is also viewing a cartwheel shaped galaxy, the Cartwheel Galaxy, 500 million LYs away, toward Pegasus. A smaller galaxy passed right  through the Cartwheel, sending a blue colored shockwave out from the  center of Cartwheel. Cartwheel is known as a ringed-type galaxy.  Finally, Hubble is weighing in on 300 million billion suns. ACT-CLJ0102-4915, or EL Gordo, is a group of galaxy clusters that  weighs more than 300,000,000,000,000,000 suns. El Gordo is actually 2  galaxy clusters that are colliding and merging, at a speed of 1 million kph. 2014 measurements show that gas and dust is being  is being torn from El Gordo by dark matter. Scientists believe that  visible matter and dark matter are colliding in the merger. The normal  matter is slowing down, but the dark matter is not. 

Water and Electronegativity, Superworms? Orbital Dance of Icy Worlds

December 7, 2017


https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/9-12/features/F_Worms_in_Space.html
 

Electronegativity of Water. Worms in Space.  C. elegans (worm) is often  used in biomedical research, to help learn more about human development,  genetics, aging and disease. Tests are being done on the worms to  understand how their biological processes can be affected in a  micro-gravity, or zero gravity environment. Researchers hope to use what  they learn about the effect on the worms to hypothesize, or build  models, on how spaceflight might affect humans. This knowledge can then  hopefully be used to prepare humans for the long flight to Mars.  Although the worm's biology is very simple in comparison to the complex  biology of a human, worms and humans share many of the same biological  processes. Another advantage of studying the worms is that their  lifespan is about  2 -3 weeks, so scientists can get an idea on  the affects of micro-gravity on the whole lifetime of a creature. All 959 cells of a  worm are visible through a microscope, and worms have a nervous system, a  brain, muscles and a gut. It exhibits behavior and is capable of  rudimentary learning. It produces sperm and eggs, and reproduces,  although normally as a hermaphrodite. After reproduction, the worm  gradually ages, loses vigor and finally dies. All these characteristics,  which are similar to humans, make the worm an ideal candidate for study  in space. The mid and far-reaches of our solar system are populated by many icy  worlds, both planet and moon. Liquid water may not have a chance to  exist here, but, on icy moons like Enceladus, the gravitational tug or  pull of its home planet, Saturn, may provide the heat necessary to  heat Enceladus' sub-surface ocean in a liquid state. When talking about  TNO's, Trans-Neptunian Objects, well then, water would have an even more  difficult probability of being found, especially with typical  temperatures of -200 deg C out there. But traces of sub-surface water,  crystalline ice, and sub-surface ammonia hydrates have been found on  some of these TNOs. The analysis was done by reflecting light onto the  surface of these TNOs. Sicentists believe the water may have come  to the surface through a process known as "Cryovolcanism". Many of the  moons, or TNOs, are thought to have been formed through collisions. When a TNO  orbits stabilize and achieves a stable orbit with its  parent, then frictional hearing, or tidal heating, from gravitational interaction, can then create enough heat to allow water or other  compounds to exist. Without the frictional  heating, the water could only exist as a very hard ice.  With water and other compounds comes the possibility that life could  evolve way out yonder in the outer reaches of the Solar System. 

  

Astronomers Track the Birth of a Super-Earth

July 13, 2017

 

Researchers at Arizona's Steward Observatory and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, are tracking the formation of a super-Earth, an exoplanet anywhere from the mass of the Earth, to the mass of Neptune (~ 14 Earth masses). The features of this exoplanet, and of other similar-sized exoplanets, did not match the model for most exoplanets found in the Milky Way. The features observed with this exo-planet were thought to require more massive planets, in the size range of Jupiter, or even bigger. These astronomers were observing a super-Earth carving out a disk in the gas that surrounds its Sun, in a scenario similar to how the rings in Saturn are carved out. Previous models assumed this could only occur with Jupiter-sized exoplanets. This particular exoplanet was in a much younger stage of its formation, different than many of the other older exoplanets in our Solar System, which orbit stars that are billions of years old. When astronomers previously studied these senior citizens , they had no way of knowing how these planets were born. In studying this particular super-Earth, scientists are now getting a first-hand look at the younger stages of star and planet formation. In essence, they are getting the chance to study a younger proto-planetary disk, in the younger, or "baby" stages of its formation. Seeing an actual planet forming in a proto-planetary disk is not such an easy thing to do, so the scientists are relying on being able to see the gaps and tracks these planets make as they travel through the gas and dust that surrounds the proto-star. The gaps and their relative positions are posing questions, as scientists try to reconcile their previous models from what they are now seeing.

Cassini and Astronomer Trina Ray

June 29, 2017


 Ms. Trina Ray is a scientist working on the Cassini Mission, which is winding down its operations in its orbit around the Saturn. Listen to Trina talk about Saturn's Moon Titan, the remarkable composition of Titan's atmosphere, and about the planned crash landing of Cassini into Saturn's atmosphere, which will take place in summer/fall 2017. Also, listen to Trina talk about her involvement in the Voyager program. Voyager I & II are 2 spacecraft launched in 1977, and both spacecraft are still operational. Voyager I has left the Solar System, and Voyager II will also leave the Solar System, and enter Interplanetary Space, in the near future. 

Juno Mission for Jupiter

May 25, 2017


Juno blasted off from Earth in August 5, 2011, and entered the orbit in the Jovian system on July 5, 2016. In its long, elliptical orbits around Jupiter, Juno is conducting various experiments. First data show cyclones at the poles of this turbulent world, that can be as big as the Earth, and that can travel at great speeds. The atmospheric content of ammonia on the planet can vary, and the magnetic filed surround Jupiter is bigger and more irregular than previously thought. Juno gets its closest to Jupiter every 53 days, as it approaches the gas giant in line with its north pole. The science coming in is endless and surprising. The Juno mission to Jupiter is being overseen by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. Stay tuned for more.

 

Earhart Propellor in Saturn`s A Ring

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April 27, 2017


On March 22, 2017, NASA`s Cassini Spacecraft took close up pictures of something called an Èarhart Propellor``, in Saturn`s A Ring. This is the second time NASA has targeted an individula propellor in a ring in Saturn. The first such propellor tarteted was the Santos-Dumont (PIA21433) propellor, one month earlier. Moonlets are sometimes thought to form in Saturn`s rings, and when they do, objects called ``Porpellors`form as well. Prpellors are disturbances in a ring, that are caused by the formation, or presence, of a moonlet. Earhart is brighter than Santos-Dumont, and the third propellor which will be flimed in the near future,"Bleriot," will be imaged in April 2017. Earhart is close the Encke Gap, which is 200 miles wide. The Encke gap is thought to be held open by the moon Pan. Pan is 100os of times more massive than Earhart, so it can open up a gap that extends all the way around the ring it inhabits. The mass of the ring itself closes off the gap made by Earhart, before the gap can extend too far. Wave features are also seen to the left of Earhart. These are caused by the moons, Promehteus, Pandora and Pan.

 April 2

Enceladus, Mars Images from MRO, HIRISE and MAVEN

April 13, 2017

 

Cassini is showing off: well, just a little. NASA is revealing details of info gleamed from a Cassini dive through vapor plumes in Enceladus' atmosphere. Enceladus is an icy moon of Saturn. A sub-surface ocean exists on Enceladus, heightening the possibility life could exist there. For life to exist (as we know it) 3 ingredients are necessary: liquid water, the right chemical ingredients, and an energy source for metabloism. Enceladus is thought to have all of these. Article describing this:"NASA Missions Provide New Insights into 'Ocean Worlds' in Our Solar System", dated April 13, 2017. Also, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is exploring a region called, "Noctis Labyrinthus". MRO has captured a striking image of a mesa, just one of several in the region known as Valles Marineris. The mesa is ~ 0.4 km wide, probably composed of sedimentary deposits that are also eroding. The magnificent image can be found on https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/jpl/pia21585/a-mesa-in-noctis-labyrinthus. Another image from MRO shows a hill on Mars, on the South Pole layered deposits. The hill protects the icy layers from erosion, so the image shows the hill with beautiful spiral patterns. Also from MRO, over 500 new impact events have been exposed from before and after images of the Southern Middle Latitudes. The new images show shallow sheets of ice that have interested scientists, because ice has not been previously detected on Mars at these latitudes. The scientists hope to better map the ice distribution on Mars, with help from this new data. NASA is also using the MAVEN spacecraft (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) to examine the charged metal atoms that exist high in Mars' whismy ionosphere, the first direct detection of atoms like these in a planet other than Earth. Metallic ions have long lifetimes, so studying them can help scientists infer the motion of Mars' ionosphere. It is then hoped scientists can better understand how Mars lost most of its atmosphere, making it the dry, dusty world it is today. Scientists believe that ions exist in the atmospheres of other planets in our Solar System. When other spacecraft have tried to send signals to Earth from locations from planets such as Jupiter or Saturn, parts of these signals have sometimes been blocked. Scientists have inferred the presence of metal ions in the ionospheres of these planets have been responsible for the signal blockage, but no direct proof of this has been offered. Another curious find on Mars was that the metal ions in Mars' ionosphere behave differently than the ions in Earth's ionosphere. This could be due to the presence of a magnetosphere on Earth, and a lack of one on Mars. Scientists with MAVEN are also trying to learn about the formation of high altitude clouds on Earth and Mars, and what role the ions in the ionospheres have on this phenomenon.

 

New Horizons and Cassini Missions

April 6, 2017


On April 17, 2016, the New Horizons spacecraft (NH) will have reached its halfway point on its flight from Pluto, to its next target in the Kuiper Belt, 2014 MU69 (486.19 million miles from Pluto). When NH does reach 2014 NMU69, it will become the most distant world ever explored in our Solar System. NH is actually slowly down slightly due to the gravitational pull of the Sun. It will therefore reach its midpoint in distance 5 days before it reaches its midpoint in time. And, to add more intrigue to this unfolding drama, NH will also be asleep on April 7, before it reaches the midpoint. This will be done to preserve the systems on the spacecraft. The spacedraft will be put in hibernation for 157 days, but it needs the time off. NH would have been "awake" for 1 and 1/2 years, since December 2014. In that time period, NH flew by Pluto, relayed data back to Earth for 16 months, and also studied a dozen other Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs). The busy little spacecraft has also studied the outer reaches of the heliosphere (the Sun's atmosphere), and the Kuiper Belt's dusty, ionicly charged environment. Another interesting fact: a signal sent between NH and Earth takes 5 hours and 20 minutes (at the speed of light) to travel the 3.5 billion mile distance between Earth and the New Horizons spacecraft. Now, off to Saturn. Cassini is preparing for its Grand Finale at Saturn, where it will dive between Saturn and its rings, then burn up in Saturn's atmosphere. It will actually go through a total of 22 dives before its grand finale. Cassini has been in the Saturn system for 13 years, and since then it has learned much about things like the moon Enceldus, its icy surface, and its sub-surface ocean, and also about the moon Titan, and its liquid methane seas. With the ocean of information it has gained in this 13 years, mission scientists are using all this information to make the final dive very purposeful. During the final plunge, Cassini will sample Saturn`s atmosphere, sample particles from the rings, and relay back to Earth the closest ever pictures of Saturn, its clouds, and its inner rings. The duties that the robotic probe on Cassini will be assinged to undertake will be downloaded to the probe in what is called a sequence, on April 11. Cassini will study the moon Titan one last time, on April 22, then will carry out other experiments, all in anticipation for its grand finale dive on September 15. This will truly be the end of something special, as Cassini has given the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), anc citizen astronomers, more than they could have ever hoped for.

 

Glutinous Star and Planets

March 9, 2017


The young star FU Orionis suddenly began devouring material from the gas and dust surrounding it, in 1936. Over a 3 month super-binge, the star flared up 100 times brighter, and its termperature rose to 7,000 degrees Kelvin. Since 1936, FU Ornionis has continued to gobble up surrounding gas, but not at quite the same rate. The star is roughly the size of our Sun, and to this point, FU Ornionis has reached the point of being the brightest young star ever seen, for a star the size of our Sun. Scientists are now trying to figure out what the implications of this sudde4n heating is for how planets form. The chemistry of FU Orionis is thought to have changed with its heating, so the material in the disk that would make up planets also changed. Scientists believe this look at FU Orionis is just like looking back at the younger, formative, or baby years of the formation of our solar system. The intense baking of the star's surrounding disk likely changed its chemistry, permanently altering material that could one day turn into planets. Our solar system could have gone through a similar brightening change when it was forming. Scientists will now turn to studying FU Orionis at infrared wavelengths, to gather more data about this Sun-like star. Over the past years, FU O has devoured or eaten the equivalent weight of 80 Jupiters (or about 8,000 Earths). Scientists estimate that FU O will continue to snack on surrounding gas and dust for a few hundred more years, before it returns to its pre-1936 brightening level. The amount of visible and infrred light energy coming from FU O has decreased by 13% over the past 1 2 years. The dimming is thought to have occurred at shorter infrared wavelengths, not at longer wavelengths. This implies that 13% of the hotter material material has disappeared, while colder material remains, so it seems that only the inner part of the proto-lanetary disk has been eaten by FU O. The colder outer part has remained intact. This could have tremendous implications for how planets closer of farther from a star, like Earth or Mars, could have formed, or could have been influenced. The heating of the disk, and the changing of its chemical compositon at certain distances out from a star, could help explain the relative abundance of certain elements on Earth as opposed to Mars, or vice versa. FU Orionis is 1,500 light years from Earth, in the constellation of Orion. 

Gravity, Pluto, Saturn and Monster Black Holes

January 19, 2017


A discussion about gravity. Do earthquakes occur more often when the Moon is in its nearest orbit to the Earth? Some scientists think so. When the Moon is closest to the Earth, its gravity is 20 % stronger than when it is at its furthest point from the Earth. Some scientists believe when the Moon is at its closest to Earth, it tugs on fault lines and initiates earthquakes. Some scientists are also speculate that if an asteroid or meteor were captured, and then put in orbit around Earth, it could tug Earth further away from the Sun. This would be useful when the Sun expands, and then makes it too hot to live on Earth. Einstein's analysis of gravity and space time is also discussed. All these three topics have to do with gravity. New images of Pluto keep coming in, adding more data to Pluto's file. In the picture discussed, Pluto's surface resembles that of the Moon, with craters, uplands and valleys. A stunning picture of Saturn is also discussed. Scientists could never get this type of shot of Saturn's rings. It is taken from the Cassini spacecraft now in orbit around Saturn. The photo was taken with Cassini's Wide Angle Camera on October 28, 2016, in violet light. The photo is on the dim, sunlit side of Saturn, at a ring angle of about 25 degrees. A previously hidden black hole in NGC 1448 in an active galactic nuclei AGN is also featured. Gas and dust would usually hide this image, but this black hole gives itself away by emitting X-rays. The rays come from the black hole feeding on material behind the cloak of the gas and dust. The NUStar Telescope is able to detect the x-rays coming from area around this black hole. This black hole is super massive, weighing in at million times the mass of the Sun. An AGN is super bright, emitting light across the full electromagnetic spectrum. IC 3639, a galaxy with another sumpermassive black hole, is also being examined by these astronomers. Its light is detected beyond its obscuring gas and dust with NUStar. Both these galaxies are described as monsters or ogres under our bed, because we cannot see them, unless we use NUStar, of course. 

A New Home on Mars

December 29, 2016


NASA ran a contest for scientists to design a futuristic home on Mars for astronauts to live in. Instead of digging a hole in the ground and living beneath the surface, a revolutionary design, called a Ice Home, took home the prize. When astronauts do eventually set foot on Mars, one of the most important considerations will be, where will they live? A novel, new design of an ice home is now being talked about. Guarding against space radiation will be critical, because Mars' atmosphere is practically non-existent. To guard against space radiation, which Earth's atmosphere does for us here on Earth, astronauts must live in a radiative protective environment. The Ice Home can provide this environment. The Ice Home is envisioned as a large inflatable torus, that would be surrounded by a shell of water ice. Another shell of carbon dioxide gas would be placed inside the layer of water ice, to provide the necessary heat. The water ice shell would serve as a good protector against space radiation, because water, naturally, contains hydrogen, and hydrogen does an excellent job of protecting against cosmic rays. And both water and carbon dioxide are readily available on Mars. The Ice Home has several advantages. Water can be let out, so it can be easily deflated, and then moved. Water that is extracted from the Ice Home can then be converted to rocket fuel. The Ice Home therefore looks promising.
Hubble also keeps doing its magnificent work by letting us look at a Cosmic Megamaser, in a galaxy that is 370 million light years away. Instead of the typical visible laser light that we know here on Earth, the Galaxy IRAS 16399 is emitting microwave type light, hence the name maser. The galaxy has a double nucleus, and one of the nuclei sport a black hole that weighs in at 100 million times the mass of the Sun. The megamaser galaxy is extremely bright, so the galaxy is essentially acting as an astronomical laser that beams out microwave emission. Lasers are set so that a majority of the excited radiation exists above its ground state energy, and can thus be made to oscillate in unison, and then be amplified. The gas clouds in this galaxy are essentially replicating this process, but with microwave radiation, rather than visible light. Hence the name maser, or megamaser. 

Blankets for Space

December 22, 2016


Meet Liem Pham, a spacecraft dressmaker for NASA. Pham makes the blankets that must cover every NASA vehicle before it is launched. Pham started at NASA 19 years ago, putting cables in the Cassini spacecraft. After 3 years of this, she was hired on to make the blankets that must cover every NASA vehicle before it is launched. Pham is part of the Flight Technician Services group, a group that contributes to all stages of spacecraft assembly. Pham constructs blankets from different materials, for all kinds of different uses. Blankets can be made a carbon type material called Kapton, which is used for a charged environment, to dissipate the charge on a space vehicle. She also makes blankets with materials such as Teflon, or Mylar netting with Dacron films. Work done by Pham is just another example of an integral part of the process of getting spaceships off the ground. Interstellar travel, or interstellar space exploration, is occupying the minds of many scientists. Voyager 1 is now in interstellar space, but it took 36 years to get there. Voyager 1 is so low on energy though, so it does not have the capacity to do much science while in interstellar space. The faint signal that scientists on Earth receive from Voyager has the power of a refrigerator light bulb, or about 20 watts. Scientists hope they can develop technology where they can get probes to interstellar space in a 10 year time frame, and then have the probes "live" in interstellar space so that they could do some science while there. Scientists also hope that these probes can visit some Kuiper Belt objects, like dwarf planets, on their way to interstellar space. Scientists are also dreaming up ideas of sending humans to interstellar space, or even to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, which is 4.3 light-years away. Hibernation experiments are being dreamt up, where humans would be put into a state of hibernation on these long voyages. To do all these things, humans would have to develop exotic technology, because our present chemical-jet-fuel based propulsion systems can get us nowhere near to interstellar space or the next star system, because they do not have the ability to propel a spacecraft anywhere near a fraction of the speed of light that would be required to get us there. Exotic, futuristic telescope systems are also being thought up. These would use the gravitational lensing properties of the Sun to magnify a distant star or planet, to the point that we could make out surface features on these objects. Pretty heady stuff. 

Are We Alone? John Glenn

October 13, 2016


NASA's Mars Opportunity Rover is  about to drive down into a large gully to look for signs of water. No space vehicle has driven down a gully on Mars before. The gully lies in the Bitterroot Valley, on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, a basin which was thought to have been excavated by a meteor impact billions of years ago. Opportunity never previously  drove down into the craters before. The water in the crater is thought to be below the surface. If it wasn't beneath the surface, it would have already evaporated into the thin Martian atmosphere. The gully is the length of 2 football fields, and scientists are confident they will find signs of water in it. In other news, a lot of consideration needs to be given to many factors in travelling to Mars. When humans went to the Moon, for example, the spacecrafts did not travel very fast: in relative terms, that is. When travelling to Mars, the spacecrafts will have to travel at a far greater speed, because Mars is so much farther from Earth than is the Moon. Since the spacecraft's speeds will be much higher, a lot more of something will be needed to brake the spacecraft and slow it down enough so it can begin to orbit Mars. Can the firing of rockets brake the spacecraft enough? Maybe not, because that would require too much fuel, and these spacecrafts cannot carry endless supplies of fuel. So NASA is working with a new type of fuel called a scudaradite. These materials can conduct electricity like a metal, heat up like a glass, and generate size-able voltages. Materials such as this new thermo-electrical material is hard to come by. This material is being designed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scudaradites are composed of heavy atoms like Antimony. They can be used as thermocouples, which generate voltage due to the difference in temperature between its components. Thermocouples made of scudaradites need a lot less of a difference in temperature to produce a useful amount of power, so they are more efficient at generating power. This would be very advantageous on a long term mission to Mars. An RTG generator, which is now being tested, contains 768 thermocouples all facing in the same direction. The scudaradite material would replace the now used Teluride in the RTG generator, and would provide better heat generation. 

Food in Space

December 8, 2016


NASA is working with food scientists like Takiyah Simons and Jessica Vos to develop breakfast bars that are nutritious and filling, but also light enough so that they will not burden a space craft with too much weight on any potential long flight mission to Mars. Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) have a great choice from among 200 foods, but on long flight missions, astronauts cannot count on resupply ships coming to their rescue to bring them this great selection of food. Orion has limited room inside it to accommodate the supplies and food astronauts will need during their missions. Because flights to deep space cannot rely on resupply spacecraft to deliver what astronauts need, and to dispose of trash, the Orion crew will have to take everything they need with them and bring it all back home. Given the distances Orion will travel, teams also must limit Orion’s mass, since a heavier spacecraft requires more fuel and energy to propel it to its ultimate destination. The Orion spacecraft, which will be counted on to deliver astronauts to Mars, will carry great tasting food bars, with flavours including organge cranberry, for breakfast. Lunch and dinner meals will have more selection, and astros will have a food warmer to heat the food. Still, carrying food for a year long mission on a smallish spacecraft is a challenge NASA is looking to conquer. 

Space Food Bars, A Stellar Cycle of Life

December 1, 2016


 NASA is designing breakfast food bars for astronauts for potential long distance space voyages in the future. NASA's Orion spacecraft has limited storage capacity, so it cannot carry all the food supplies astronauts would need on a long voyage. So to save space, NASA is creating nutritious, delicious breakfasts, with an eye toward saving storage space on long space flights. NASA will definitely have to figure out how to grow food for lunch or breakfast on such long range missions.
NASA scientists are also viewing a cloud of dust and gas located 24,000 light years from Earth in Cygnus X-3. The Chandra X-ray telescope is receiving x-ray transmissions from the cloud, and believe the x-rays are coming from a neutron star, or a black hole, consuming a large star. The cloud is acting like a mirror and is reflecting some of the x-rays toward Earth. Because of this, the cloud has been nicknamed the LITTLE FRIEND. The Little Friend is allowing NASA to more accurately make the distance measurement, but they don't know why the Little Friend is reflecting the x-rays. Most stars are now being formed in the spiral arms of our galaxy, but Cygnus X-3 is not in the spiral arms. It is odd, then, to have star formation in these region. NASA is studying the Little Friend's properties to determine why they are seeing what they are seeing. 

Mercury, Arctic Ice and Saturn's Watercolours

November 17, 2016


Mercury is shrinking. A newly discovered valley on Mercury, close to  Rembrandt Basin, is being studied by NASA. The valley, which is 620 miles long, (longer than the Grand Canyon) was made by Mercury'sl contraction. On Earth, similar valleys are often formed by the pulling apart of lithospheric plates by plate tectonics.  Mercury's great valley is thought to have formed from long-wavelength buckling of the planet's outermost shell, in response to Mercury's contraction. Valley formation on Earth is well-known process, but this may the first evidence of similar processes occurring on Mercury. NASA is also monitoring conditions on Earth from satellites. The Goddard Institute for Spaces Studies in New York has data that the past 3 Octobers, 2014, 2015 & 2016, have seen the highest global temperatures on record for that month. Global temperatures have been monitored for 136 years, and October 2016 was the second warmest October on Earth for the past 136 years, the warmest being October 2015. The 10 warmest Octobers on record have also been recorded after 2,000. Goddard scientists also suggest the study of trends are more important than just year-to-year data. So data after 2,000 suggest Earth is warming up. Perhaps tied in with these findings are findings relating to a cyclone in the Arctic. In monitoring our planet, NASA has detected the damage done to the ice pack in the Arctic by a cyclone that passed through there in late December 2015. The cyclone brought a lot of humidity and an increase in air temperature of 10 degrees F to the air over the Arctic. The warm air thinned and shrank the sea ice cover in the Arctic, at a time when ice there should have been growing stronger and thicker. The warm air from the storm, and the storm itself, compacted the ice pack, pushing it further North. More evidence indicates Earth is warming up, leading to more ice loss in the polar regions. NASA also released more images from Saturn, showing a kaleidoscope of water swirl colors painted on Saturn's North pole. The hexagon shape is again noted in the images, but the main highlight is the colorful representation of latitudinal bands, which come about from air flowing at different speeds, and at different heights, in Saturn's atmosphere. Many eddies and swirls are also noted where the separate bands meet. 

Sequencing DNA Aboard the International Space Station

November 3, 2016


For the first time ever, a NASA scientist, Kate Reubens, has carried out an experiment for sequencing DNA in space, on the International Space Station. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for research in the biological and medical communities. DNA in human cells contains instructions that scientists believe they can now manipulate. The ability to humanly manipulate this sequencing of DNA, which is now being done in space, can possibly help scientists learn how to control DNA, supposedly for human benefit.
Scientists, up till now, have found it difficult to get a precise measurement of the length of a day on the planet Saturn. One of the problems in getting this measurement is the inability, so far, to get a precise measurement of the rotation rate of Saturn. The notion of a day has to do with motion (???????) or so say NASA Scientists. When we think of a day on Earth, we think of the motion of the Sun across the sky, where it rises, and where it sets. person does not have to be on Earth to measure the length of an Earth day. For Saturn, this is more difficult, because the gaseous surface (surface?) of Mars lies beneath 1,000s of miles of gaseous atmosphere. The poles also spin at different rates than the equator. So determining the precise length of a Saturnian day is not an easy task. Saturn has swirling gas clouds that move at different rates, so it is next to impossible to get anything resembling an accurate measurement from measuring the rotation rate of clouds or parcels of the atmosphere circling high above Saturn. Scientists can use the magnetic fields of Saturn, and the radio wave emissions from the planet, to get a much more accurate measurement on the rotation rate of Saturn. Saturn's magnetic field wobbles like a hula hoop does, and since the magnetic field is generated from deep within the planet, then 1 wobble in the magnetic filed is equal to the exact rotation rate of the planet Saturn. This, then, helps scientists determine the length of a day on Saturn.

Citizen Scientist

October 20, 2016


Citizen scientist are helping NASA big time. New formations on Mars, known as "SPIDERS", are receiving the once-over from 10,000 citizen scientists. 10,000 citizen scientists, or citizen volunteers, are pouring over data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to help identify the spiders. The spiders are long cracks or lines on the surface of Mars caused by CO2 gas, which escapes from under the surface of Mars, when slabs of sub-surface ice melts, producing the CO2 ice. NASA could not hope to do the work that the 10,000 citizen scientists do, so NASA is obviously very thankful to have this volunteer workforce aid it in its work.   

Work done by citizen scientists is also aiding NASA scientists doing work on Jupiter. NASA has released images from the JUNO mission with its JunoCam public outreach camera on the JunoCam website www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam. JunoCam apparently has a small operations team, but no image processing team, so the public is being invited to process the image data into final image products. JunoCam is the first outreach camera to venture beyond the asteroid belt. So says Candy Hansen, JunoCam imaging scientist from the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona. “All sorts of people are coming to the JunoCam site and providing their own aesthetic. We have volunteers from all over the world, and they are doing beautiful work. So far all our expectations for JunoCam have not only been met but are being exceeded, and we’re just getting started.”  

There are other citizen scientist ventures ongoing, and probably the most important one from Vancouver was the marvelous work done by Michelle Kunimoto of UBC. Michelle identified 4 new planets from data from NASA, so congratulations again Michelle.  

2 links for citizen scientist participation are: http://terrains.planetfour.org and https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu/junocam. 

Mars Opportunity Rover

October 13, 2016


NASA's Mars Opportunity Rover is  about to drive down into a large gully to look for signs of water. No space vehicle has driven down a gully on Mars before. The gully lies in the Bitterroot Valley, on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, a basin which was thought to have been excavated by a meteor impact billions of years ago. Opportunity never previously  drove down into the craters before. The water in the crater is thought to be below the surface. If it wasn't beneath the surface, it would have already evaporated into the thin Martian atmosphere. The gully is the length of 2 football fields, and scientists are confident they will find signs of water in it. In other news, a lot of consideration needs to be given to many factors in travelling to Mars. When humans went to the Moon, for example, the spacecrafts did not travel very fast: in relative terms, that is. When travelling to Mars, the spacecrafts will have to travel at a far greater speed, because Mars is so much farther from Earth than is the Moon. Since the spacecraft's speeds will be much higher, a lot more of something will be needed to brake the spacecraft and slow it down enough so it can begin to orbit Mars. Can the firing of rockets brake the spacecraft enough? Maybe not, because that would require too much fuel, and these spacecrafts cannot carry endless supplies of fuel. So NASA is working with a new type of fuel called a scudaradite. These materials can conduct electricity like a metal, heat up like a glass, and generate size-able voltages. Materials such as this new thermo-electrical material is hard to come by. This material is being designed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scudaradites are composed of heavy atoms like Antimony. They can be used as thermocouples, which generate voltage due to the difference in temperature between its components. Thermocouples made of scudaradites need a lot less of a difference in temperature to produce a useful amount of power, so they are more efficient at generating power. This would be very advantageous on a long term mission to Mars. An RTG generator, which is now being tested, contains 768 thermocouples all facing in the same direction. The scudaradite material would replace the now used Teluride in the RTG generator, and would provide better heat generation. 

Hurricane Matthew

October 6, 2016


Hurricane Matthew is the news story these days. The big hurricane, which began off the coast of Africa, has moved across the Atlantic, where it has brought devastating winds and heavy rainfall to the Caribbean. NASA has been tracking the storms with its numerous satellites, providing much needed data on the progression of the storm. NASA maps show Matthew moving West through much of the Caribbean, and then inexplicably heading directly North, where it hit Haiti and many other Caribbean islands. The storm is a category 4 storm, on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The strongest hurricane is a category 5 on this scale. For parts of its journey, the storm has been clocked as a category 5. Through most of its journey, the storm has been the strongest at the eye of the hurricane. There are times though, when a combination of the cyclonic counter-clockwise rotation of the storm, in combination with how this wind reacts with the topography of any particular area, causes the rainfall and winds to be higher just off the eastern edge of the eye. Matthew has caused devastation as it has made its rounds. Much of the eastern coast of Florida and South Carolina has been evacuated as Americans await the awful wrath of Matthew to hit their shores. Also, we touch on a lovely photo of the Saturn ring system, taken by the Cassini spacecraft. In the photo, the tiny moon Atlas, which is farther out in its orbit than the tiny Pan, is slowly being overtaken in its orbit by Pan. 

Lost Planet the Size of Neptune, Exoplanets Kepler A B C D E, and a Caldera on the Moon

March 30, 2017


Astronomers at Yale have discovered a lost planet about the size of Neptune, in a solar system 3,000 light-years away. Kepler-150 was overlooked for several years, probably because of its long orbit. The planet takes 637 Earth days to make 1 orbit around its star. This is probably the longest orbit of any planet that is in a 5 (or more) planet system. The other planets in the system, Kepler A B C & D were identified several years ago. Their orbits are much shorter. Kepler 150's orbit was harder to tease out, because it was hiding in the orbits of its sister planets. The oribtal signatures of the other 4 planets had to be subtracted out before Kepler 150's orbit could be nailed down. Switching to our beloved Moon now. Scientists at Brown University are studying the suignature of the aftermath of a volacno on the Moon called Ina. Previously, the eruption was thought to have taken place within the past 100 million years, 1 Billion years after volcanic activity on the Moon was thought to have ended. A caldera the sicentists are studying is testing everyone's theories. The caldera is much lighter than the surrounding area in which it lies, leading some scientists to speculate that this caldera is much younger than its surroundings. Because the caldera is much lighter, there is specualtion that it has not had as much time to collect the surrounding regolith, which is the layer of darker rock that accumulates over time. The 80 or so smooth rocks inside of Ina also confuses the issue. The lack of iimpact craters on these smooth hills also suggest Ina is younger the surrounding area, which has many more signs of impact. In their science, other astronomers used the amount of impact cratering in Ina to estimagte that the area saw volcanic activity 50 - 100 million years ago. But the scientists at Brown dispute these ideas. They compared Ina to Hawaii's Kilauea volcano in Hawai, and the aftermaths there from a 1959 eruption. In the Kilauea volcano, lava from the eruption solidified, then created a highly porous rock layer. This same process was thought to occur inside Ina's caldera, and it is this highly porous rock layer the Brown scientists say is responsible for hiding the amount of regolith in Ina. The porosity of the rock layer throws off the count of the craters, and is responsible for the caldera's relatively light color. 

August 21 Total Solar Eclipse Dead Galaxy MACS2129-1

June 22, 2017


NASA is preparing the public for the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. NASA has also found a "dead" galaxy, that stopped making stars only a few billion years after the Big Bang. The galaxy was thought to have originally been a Milky Way type galaxy, but then it evolved into a giant elliptical-type galaxy. It is also noteworthy because is now considered a "dead galaxy", one that stopped forming stars only a few billion years after the Big Bang. This type of galaxy not only changed its structure but also the motions of its stars, to make a shape of an elliptical galaxy. The findings are making scientists rethink their earlier theories on how galaxies can burn out. Scientists now wonder whether this particular galaxy may not have fit the earlier models, simply because scientists were unable to image it. This was therefore the first time that this type of galaxy evolution has been imaged. 


Brown Dwarfs

July 20, 2017


Rosa Castro is an amateur astronomer by night. She is involved in the Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 citizen science project. NASA is using the WISE Space Telescope (Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) to scour the sky for a 9th planet that supposedly lurks somewhere beyond Pluto. But they are also wise enough to use WISE to search for Brown Dwarfs (BD). A BD is essentially a failed sun, or a failed star. It is bigger than Jupiter, roughly 13 - 80 Jupiter masses, but a BD dose not have enough mass to force itself to begin the process of nuclear fusion. Rosa Castro found 1 such BD, WISEA J110125.95+540052.8, when she was combing through some data provided by NASA. Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 is a citizen science project, where ordinary citizens comb through data from WISE, that NASA has provided for the public to examine. Planet 9 has identified 117 potential BDs. BDs were first discovered roughly 20 years ago. Because BDs do not have the necessary mass to sustain nuclear fusion, they are intrinsically dim, so their temperatures are relatively low. This makes them hard to spot. The WISE telescope was designed to observe cold objects that emit light at long wavelengths. 

Penguins in the Antarctic

October 27, 2016


Another citizen scientist topic. NASA is studying penguin habitats in the Antarctic using the Mapping Application for Penguin Populations and Projected Dynamics (MAPPPD) satellite. Website: www.penguinmap.com. Citizens can  access info to learn how environmental change, fishing, and tourism are affecting the penguins. Population estimates for the birds, for example, are done by tracking the guana stains female penguins leave behind when they incubate their nests. The article does not make it clear what things citizen scientists are doing, or can do, to help NASA. Centauri b is a planet orbiting the White Dwarf star in the triple-star Centauri system, the closest star system to Earth. There is still more to discover about this planet, but it does not transit its host star, so information is limited. It is known that C b orbits its host star at 0.05 AU. It is also approximately 1.3 times the mass of Earth. More research is needed before scientists can learn more about this exoplanet. 

Mercury and Elon Musk

September 29, 2016


The Messenger spacecraft has sent back some more data about tectonic activity on the planet Mercury. In article titled, The Shrinking Mercury is Active After All, the authors suggest that Mercury is shrinking, due to the cooling of the planet, which causes the appearance of scarps on its surface. As the planet contracts, the surface crust breaks, and small scarps, or fault lines, appear on the surface. The small scarps had to be very young, because due to the constant bombardment of Mercury by meteors, the scarps will not stay there for long. Earth and Mercury are the only 2 tectonically active planets in our Solar System. Also discussed was Elon Musk's ambitious plan to send spacecrafts full of humans to live on Mars by 2030. In an article on gizmodo.com, Maddie Stone argues that Musks' plan was long on hyperbole and promise, but Musk did not explain how it would be done, or who would pay for his ambitous plan. Still, you have to had to Musk: he is an ambitious dude.  

Star Trek 50th Aniiversary

September 8, 2016


 

Today is 50th anniversary of the 1st episode of the TV show Star Trek. Fittingly, on this anniversary, NASA has imaged 2 nebulas in the Infrared that look a lot like the startrek entrprise spaceships that were captained by Captain Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard. The nebulas, dubbed the Enterprise Nebula, falls within the disk of the Milky Way galaxy, displaying 2 two regions that feature a lot of star formation, but that are hidden behind a haze of dust when viewed in visible light. A young magnetar whose rotation period, 66.7 hours, has also been discovered. This is the 30th magnetar ever discovered, and its rotation period is also the slowest ever discovered for a magnetar. The OSIRIS-Rex asteroid retrieval mission is also being launched today, Thursday, September 8, 2016. This mission will be the 1st ever to fly to an asteroid, and then retrieve a sample, which it will bring back to Earth in 2023. OSIRIS-Rex will reach Bennu in 2018.

Blah

The Messenger spacecraft has sent 

Space Shuttle Challenger

June 28, 2016


30 years ago, on January 28, 1986 NASA experienced a tragedy when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in ruins, only 73 seconds after lift-off. A faulty O-Ring was determined to be at fault, but engineers had warned NASA of safety concerns with the O-Rings. Challenger was also launched when the outside temperature was 41 degrees F, 9 degrees below the established safe operating temperature of 50 degrees. Engineers had issued warnings about the dangers of operating below 50 degrees, but these warnings, like the warnings about the O-Rings, were not passed on to top NASA officials. The Challenger disaster grounded the space shuttle program for 32 months. Human space flight was more common in the last quarter of the 21st century, and even though humankind is now experiencing a golden age in Astronomy, nothing could match the excitement of the human space missions of the last century. After the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas upon re-entry on a February 1, 2003 flight, the Space Shuttle program was grounded again. Even though NASA suffered setbacks on these 2 Space Shuttle missions, the Space Shuttle program operated 135 missions from 1981 - 2011, and returned some of the best science of our time. This show talks about how the projected benefits of operating a reusable low-Earth orbit space vehicle clashed with the realities of how difficult it became to maintain the fleet of 5 space shuttles. During each launch, 1 million things had to go right, but only 1 thing, like underestimating the problems that could be caused by 1 faulty O-Ring, could lead to disasters like Challenger and Columbia. The Space Shuttle program was still one of NASA's finest accomplishments, and from them, a myriad of astronomy buffs grew out of the skies.

 

Pluto

June 23, 2016


 Pluto and it moons. Canyons in the Pluto system are deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon on Earth. New Horizons, the spacecraft which flew by Pluto on July 14, 2015, continues to send back data and pictures of the mysterious Pluto system, such as how Pluto interacts with the Solar Wind. Listen to this, and all other mysteries Pluto continues to reveal to us. 

Water on Mars

October 8, 2015


 Water on Mars may be easy to detect, well, not really so easy, but finding where the water comes from is going to be much harder. Spelunkers or hikers may need to search out where the water comes from. So it may be much, much harder to find the source of the water, than it was to actually say that WE HAVE WATER ON MARS!!! A Canadian, Arthur B. McDonald, from the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Collaboration and Queen’s University, is this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics. Dr. McDonald is sharing the prize with Takaaki Kajita, from the Super-Kamiokande Collaboration, University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Japan. The prize was awarded for the pair's research in neutrino research. Neutrinos are tiny particles that are produced in the cores of stars. They are also produced in abundance when a star explodes in a supernova explosion. 99% of the energy from a supernova explosion is thought to be carried away by neutrinos. According to the Standard Model of Particle Physics, it was assumed that neutrinos have zero mass.The Standard Model has worked very well in providing excellent descriptions for the behavior of nearly all elementary particles, but it seems to have failed for the neutrino. Dr. McDonald and Kajita have shown that neutrinos oscillate. If they oscillate, then they must have mass. This discovery will surely affect our view of the universe. Will the Standard Model have to be revised after these finding on neutrinos? Finally, photos from the New Horizons Spacecraft were discussed. New Horizons whizzed by the dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, 2015, coming within 7,800 kilomteres of the dwarf planet. On September 5, New Horizons began sending back data and pictures on its close encounter with Pluto. All the data will take approximately 1 year to be intercepted and downloaded on Earth. Today, some of the findings from the pictures were discussed. More pictures on the encounter can be seen at www. nasa. gov. 

Planets of the Solar Sytem

September 24, 2015


Have 

COMETS

November 27, 2014


Listen to hear all you want to know (and need to know) about our friendly??? neighbours in our Solar System, those comets.