Archive for Outer Space

NASA camera captures stunning Earth image




A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory has captured its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.

The image, which shows North and Central America, was taken July 6, 2015 by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope. “The image was generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image,” explained NASA, in a statement.

The agency noted that the central turquoise areas in the image are shallow seas around the Caribbean islands. “This Earth image shows the effects of sunlight scattered by air molecules, giving the image a characteristic bluish tint,” it added

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Smithsonian launches crowdfunding campaign to save Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit from moonwalk


The National Air and Space Museum is launching a crowdfunding campaign to conserve the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore on the moon.

The campaign begins Monday, marking 46 years since Armstrong’s moonwalk in 1969. Conservators say spacesuits were built for short-term use with materials that break down over time.

The museum aims to raise $500,000 on Kickstarter to conserve the spacesuit, build a climate-controlled display case and digitize the spacesuit with 3D scanning.

The Smithsonian formed a partnership with Kickstarter for a series of crowdfunded projects. The spacesuit is the first.

Armstrong’s spacesuit is deteriorating and hasn’t been displayed since 2006. The museum plans to display it for the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s moonwalk. Later, the suit will be a centerpiece in “Destination Moon,” a gallery opening in 2020.

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Stunning NASA image reveals Pluto’s icy plains




In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

NASA has released more stunning images from the New Horizons spacecraft’s historic Pluto Flyby, providing a spectacular view of the dwarf planet’s icy terrain.

Scientists unveiled the first image of a wide plain dubbed “Sputnik Planum” (Sputnik Plain) Friday. Sputnik Planum is located in Pluto’s vast heart-shaped region, which scientists have named “Tombaugh Regio” after the scientist that discovered the dwarf planet.

Related: NASA releases first Pluto flyby images

“This is the frozen plains of Pluto,” explained Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team in a press conference at NASA headquarters in Washington. “We have clearly discovered a vast, craterless plain that has a story to tell.”

Named after the first artificial Earth satellite, Sputnik Planum has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of the troughs contain an unknown dark material.

NASA also noted the clumps of hills that appear to rise above the plain. “We suspect that the hills may have been pushed up from underneath,” said Moore. “Or they are erosion-resistant knobs that are standing out as erosion occurs.”

Elsewhere in the image, Pluto’s surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, according to NASA.

Other images released from Tuesday’s flyby include a shot of the dwarf planet’s satellite Nix and a composite portrait of Pluto and its moon Charon.

The New Horizons spacecraft has alsorevealed evidence of carbon monoxide ice on Pluto, scientists said.

With its Pluto flyby successfully completed, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern gave an update on the spacecraft during Friday’s press conference.

“The spacecraft is doing well, we are a little over 2 million miles on the far side of Pluto,” he said.

Scientists have so far received between 1 and 2 percent of New Horizons’ flyby data, a figure that will rise to between 5 and 6 percent next week, and increase during the coming months. “The data is really going to flow in the fall,” said Stern.

It will be October 2016 before all the data from the New Horizons mission is transmitted back to Earth.

NASA released its first closeup imageof an area near Pluto’s equator Wednesday, which contains a range of mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet above the dwarf planet’s icy surface. The agency also unveiled animage of Pluto’s largest moon Charon, which clearly shows a swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles across its surface.

Other pictures released this week include an image of Pluto’s outermost moon Hydra and a Charon closeup.

Related: New Horizons spacecraft makes historic Pluto flyby

The spacecraft’s flyby took it within 7,750 miles of Pluto’s surface, roughly the distance between New York and Mumbai.

Confirmation of the successful flyby came late Tuesday, when New Horizons contacted scientists back on Earth, 3 billion miles from Pluto.

Pluto has fascinated astronomers since 1930, when it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh using the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz. Some of Tombaugh’s ashes are aboard New Horizons.

New Horizons is the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far away from Earth, according to NASA.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Originally posted here

Spacecraft achieves flyby of Pluto, then calls home



NOW PLAYINGNASA celebrates mankind’s first up-close look at Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft got humanity’s first up-close look at Pluto on Tuesday, sending word of its triumph across 3 billion miles to scientists waiting breathlessly back home.

Confirmation of mission success came 13 hours after the actual flyby and, after a day of both jubilation and tension, allowed the New Horizons team to finally celebrate in full force.

“This is a tremendous moment in human history,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s science mission chief, said at a news conference.

Principal scientist Alan Stern asked the entire New Horizons team in the audience to stand: “We did it! Take a bow!”

The unprecedented encounter was the last stop on NASA’s grand tour of our solar system’s planets over the past half-century. New Horizons’ journey began 9 1/2 years ago, back when Pluto was still considered a full-fledged planet.

Tuesday morning, a cheering, flag-waving celebration swept over the mission operations center in Maryland at the time of closest approach. But until New Horizons phoned home Tuesday night, there was no guarantee the spacecraft had buzzed the small, icy, faraway — but no longer unknown — world.

NASA said the spacecraft the size of a baby grand piano flew by within 7,700 miles of Pluto at 31,000 mph. It was programmed to then go past the dwarf planet and begin studying its far side.

To commemorate the moment of closest approach, scientists released the best picture yet of Pluto, taken on the eve of the flyby.

Even better images will start “raining” down on Earth beginning Wednesday, promised principal scientist Alan Stern. But he had cautioned everyone to “stay tuned” until New Horizons contacted home.

It takes 4 1/2 hours for signals to travel one-way between New Horizons and Earth. The message went out late in the afternoon during a brief break in the spacecraft’s data-gathering frenzy. The New Horizons team kept up a confirmation countdown, noting via Twitter when the signal should have passed the halfway point, then Jupiter’s orbit.

The uncertainty added to the drama. “This is true exploration,” cautioned Stern, a Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist.

Among the possible dangers: cosmic debris that could destroy the mission. But with the chances of a problem considered extremely low, scientists and hundreds of others assembled at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory erupted in jubilation when closest approach occurred at 7:49 a.m. EDT. The lab is the spacecraft’s developer and manager.

The scene repeated itself a little before 9 p.m. EDT.

This time, the flight control room was packed compared with earlier, when it was empty because New Horizons was out of touch and operating on autopilot.

“We have a healthy spacecraft,” announced mission operations director Alice Bowman. She was drowned out by cheers and applause; Stern ran over to give her a hug.

Later, Grunsfeld told reporters, “The spacecraft is full of images. We can’t wait. We’ve opened up a new realm of the solar system.”

Added NASA Administrator Charles Bolden: “What a phenomenal day.”

Joining in the daylong hoopla were the two children of the American astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh. (Some of his ashes are aboard the spacecraft.) Other celestial-minded VIPs included James Christy, discoverer of Pluto’s big moon Charon, and Sylvia Kuiper des Tombe, daughter of Dutch-American Gerard Kuiper for whom the mysterious zone surrounding Pluto is named. Some Pluto children — born Jan. 19, 2006, the very day New Horizons departed Earth — also were in the audience.

Throughout the day — coincidentally the 50th anniversary of the first close-up pictures of Mars from Mariner 4 — the White House and Congress offered congratulations, and physicist Stephen Hawking was among the scientists weighing in. President Barack Obama sent his best Tuesday night with a tweet: “Pluto just had its first visitor!”

“Hey, people of the world! Are you paying attention?” planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, part of the New Horizons’ imaging team, said on Twitter. “We have reached Pluto. We are exploring the hinterlands of the solar system. Rejoice!”

The U.S. is now the only nation to visit every planet in the solar system. Pluto was No. 9 in the lineup when New Horizons left Cape Canaveral, Florida, but was demoted seven months later to dwarf status.

Scientists in charge of the $720 million mission hope the new observations will restore Pluto’s honor.

Stern and other so-called plutophiles posed for the cameras giving nine-fingers-up “Pluto Salute.” And in a nod to that other Pluto, a team member carried a yellow stuffed dog on her shoulder Tuesday night.

The picture of Pluto taken Monday showed a frozen, pockmarked world, peach-colored with a heart-shaped bright spot and darker areas around the equator. It drew oohs and aahs.

“To see Pluto be revealed just before our eyes, it’s just fantastic,” said Bowman.

The Hubble Space Telescope had offered up the best pre-New Horizons pictures of Pluto, but they were essentially pixelated blobs of light.

Flight controllers held off on having New Horizons send back flyby photos until well after the maneuver was complete; they wanted the seven science instruments to take full advantage of the encounter. After turning toward Earth to send down a snippet of engineering data acknowledging everything was fine, the spacecraft was going to get right back to science work.

New Horizons is also expected to beam back photos of Pluto’s big moon, Charon, and observe its four little moons. It will take until late 2016 for all the data to reach Earth.

New Horizons already has confirmed that Pluto is, indeed, the King of the Kuiper Belt. New measurements it made show that Pluto is 1,473 miles in diameter, or about 50 miles bigger than estimated.

That’s still puny by solar-system standards. Pluto is just two-thirds the size of Earth’s moon. But it is big enough to be the largest object in the Kuiper Belt, a zone rife with comets and tens of thousands of other small bodies.

Stern and his colleagues wasted no time pressing the U.S. Postal Service for a new stamp of Pluto.

The last one, issued in 1991, consisted of an artist’s rendering of the faraway world and the words: “Pluto Not Yet Explored.” The words “not yet” were crossed out in a poster held high Tuesday for the cameras.

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SpaceX launch ends in failure, rocket erupts


An unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying supplies and the first-of-its-kind docking port to the International Space Station broke apart Sunday shortly after liftoff. It was a severe blow to NASA, still reeling from previous failed shipments.

The accident occurred about 2 1/2 minutes into the flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic. More than 5,200 pounds of space station cargo were on board, including the first docking port designed for future commercial crew capsules.

“The vehicle has broken up,” announced NASA commentator George Diller. He said it was not clear how the disaster occurred or even when the rocket actually failed. Data stopped flowing from the rocket around 2 minutes and 19 seconds, he said. No astronauts were on board.

The California-based SpaceX was trying to figure out what happened, noting that everything appeared to go well in flight until the Falcon 9 rocket went supersonic.

It was a huge setback for NASA, which is counting on private industry to transport cargo — and eventually astronauts — to the orbiting lab. The seven previous SpaceX supply runs had gone exceedingly well.

This is the second failed station shipment in a row. In April, a Russian cargo ship spun out of control and burned up upon re-entry, along with all its precious contents. And last October, another company’s supply ship was destroyed in a launch accident.

This Dragon had been carrying replacement food, clothes and science experiments for items lost in those two mishaps.


The three space station residents are in no immediate trouble because of the latest failed delivery. Late last week, NASA’s space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, said the outpost had enough supplies on board to make it to October or so.

Russia expects to take another crack at launching supplies on Friday from Kazakhstan.

SpaceX, meanwhile, is one of two companies hired by NASA to start ferrying American astronauts to the space station as early as 2017. The other contender is Boeing.

SpaceX is led by billionaire Elon Musk, who also heads up Tesla, the electric car maker.


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Solar storm could allow parts of the US to see polar auroras


A severe solar storm slammed Earth on Monday afternoon, increasing the chances of fluctuations in the power grid and GPS. It also pushes shimmering polar auroras to places where more people can possibly see them.

Federal forecasters said the Northern Lights may be able to be seen Tuesday night as far south as Iowa or Pennsylvania.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a potent blast of magnetic plasma shot out of the sun on Sunday, travelling faster than usual, hitting Earth with the biggest solar storm since March, maybe since September 2005.

NOAA space weather physicist Doug Biesecker said there are no reports of damage, but the electrical grid and GPS probably had current fluctuations that they could handle.

He said the storm could last a day or longer.


Originally posted : here

High school student discovers alien planet


  • wasp_142_high

    This artist’s impression depicts Tom Wagg’s planet, WASP-142b, in orbit around its star, WASP-142. (David A. Hardy)

An English high school student has become perhaps the youngest person ever to discover an alien planet.

Fifteen-year-old Tom Wagg first detected the gas-giant exoplanet two years ago, while doing work-experience study at Keele University in England. Further observations have now confirmed the existence of the alien world, which lies about 1,000 light-years from Earth and is known as WASP-142b.

“I’m hugely excited to have a found a new planet, and I’m very impressed that we can find them so far away,” Wagg, now 17, said in statement.

Wagg analyzed data gathered by the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) project, looking for tiny dips in stars’ brightness caused by planets passing in front of them. This strategy, known as the transit method, is the same one used by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft, which has discovered more than half of the roughly 1,900 known exoplanets to date.

WASP-142b is a “hot Jupiter.” It’s about the same size as our solar system’s largest planet but lies extremely close to its host star, completing one orbit every two days, researchers said.

Scientists think hot Jupiters form relatively far from their parent stars, then migrate inward over time as the result of gravitational interactions with other planets. So the WASP-142 system likely harbors worlds that have eluded detection thus far, researchers said.

Wagg, a student at the Newcastle-under-Lyme School in the English county of Staffordshire, plans to study physics when he attends university. He asked to participate in the work-study program at Keele after learning that the university hosts a research group focused on exoplanets.

“Tom is keen to learn about science, so it was easy to train him to look for planets,” Coel Hellier, who heads Keele’s WASP project, said in the same statement.

Wagg’s detection of WASP-142b was confirmed by astronomers based at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and the University of Liege in Belgium, researchers said.



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What will it be like to live on Mars? Inflatable and super sustainable


An inflatable structure would be ideal for the months-long journey to Mars. (NASA)

It’s been a long day, but you take one last glance around at the ochre sky and clay-colored earth before heading inside the inflatable, windowless structure you now call home. You open the airlock doors and begin to shed your spacesuit. You’ll pass through a series of segments along the entryway, to ensure the living quarters are protected from the elements and you don’t track in any Martian dust, either. Instead of joining your crew members in the galley or using the miniature treadmill-like device set up in the training area (spending the afternoon exploring the surface of Mars with only a fraction of Earth’s gravity has been quite enough exercise for one day, thank you), you hope for a few moments alone in your room before you have to start work on the samples you’ve collected.

NASA plans to send humans to Mars in the 2030s, and it’s Larry Toups’ job to make the planet habitable once they get there. To do so, he looks to not-quite-alien environments like submarines, Antarctic research stations, and oil rigs. He also builds upon what he learned as part of the team constructing the International Space Station. The habitable satellite is a proving ground for future Mars technology, too.

As part of a team made up of fewer than 20 people, Toups is Habitation Lead for NASA’s Human Space Flight Architecture Team, working on the Evolvable Mars Campaign. “The real important work, at least for the next five to ten years, is how do we evolve from our space station, which we have in the lower earth orbit, and how do we enable exploring, going further out into the solar system and for longer periods of time,” he tells Digital Trends. “The ultimate destination with this work is Mars.” NASA, as well as some other groups like Mars One, want to establish a foothold on the Red Planet, to “pioneer it,” as Toups says.

While Toups’ background is in architecture — he has a Masters Degree in Space Architecture from the University of Houston’s Sasakawa Institute for Space Architecture — other project members are focused on food production, life-support systems, or power systems. Creating a habitat on Mars does have some similarities to building a house on earth, he says. “It’s the integration of many different disciplines that all have different expertise that, if you organize it right and everyone works as a team, you come out with a very cohesive, integrated set of solutions to some very far-out problems.”

Related: 13 awe-inspiring NASA photos of space

And making Mars livable isn’t as simple as finding a heater to make the minus-80-degrees-Fahrenheit average temperatures bearable. Getting there is half the battle, as everything needs to fit in the rockets taking the months-long journey. This includes the habitat itself, hence why the structure is inflatable: Travel light and carry an expandable building.

Just because it’s inflatable doesn’t mean it won’t be protective; it will have to be, to allow humans to survive. “On the surface of Mars, you don’t have the benefit of our atmosphere on Earth, which shields a lot of the galactic, cosmic radiation, as well as shelters you from solar flare events,” says Toups.

Because the trip back and forth is a long one (and one whose length depends on where the two planets are in their orbits), those heading to Mars will need to fend for themselves when it comes to food, water, and oxygen. “It will probably be, in my estimation, the most sustainable home that you’ll ever build,” Toups says, “because you’ll be in an environment where there is no existing, pre-integrated electrical grid.” The Mars dwellers will have to recycle as much waste water as possible. “Currently on Space Station, we have a system in place that recycles a certain percentage of the waste water, if you want to call it that: condensate, perspiration from the crew, urine, all those types of things that come into play,” says Toups. “I think our recovery rate is hovering around 90 percent.” As for food, crew members on ISS are starting to grow some small, leafy plants, though on Mars these could pull double duty converting carbon dioxide. The habitat could be put in place before the crew arrives, which is why the Evolvable team is looking at autonomous technology like smart thermostats, in case the structure needs to take care of itself.

Other areas of the habitat could include a sort of lab for experiments, a common area for the crew to eat meals together, spaces for medical and repair equipment, and a place to watch training videos to keep their skills sharp. While Toups admits the structure will be Spartan, he says it’s important to also design for the psychological aspects of the mission. The crew may be away from home for three years. In order to make the habitat feel like home, Toups and the team think about things like normalizing the pressure to feel like Earth but also providing entertainment and potentially a way to connect with those they left behind.

Toups compares it to the way people become acclimatized to the chilly, air-conditioned feel of their office buildings on hot summer days. For the temporary Martians, the harsh outdoor conditions will always be foreign and walled off; what’s inside becomes the natural environment. “The characteristic of a Mars habitat might take on, at least initially, the sense of a very safe haven that you find comforting,” says Toups. “Whatever you’re providing for that internal atmosphere is safe and secure; you don’t want to have a breach of that. That’s, as they say, a bad day at the office.”

Originally published here

Eerie comet landscape revealed by Rosetta spacecraft photos



This single-frame Rosetta navigation camera image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken on October 19, 2014, at a distance of approximately 4.9 miles (7.9 km) from the comet’s surface and released on May 28. The image looks across the ne (ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0)

A deluge of newly released photos from the Rosetta mission reveals the haunting alien landscape on the surface of a comet as it orbits the sun.

Over the last few weeks, the European Space Agency (ESA) has released over 1,700 new images of the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken by the Rosetta spacecraft during its closest approach to the 2.5-mile-wide space rock. The photos emanate an eerie stillness on the rocky, lifeless surface.

The two-lobe shape of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has drawn comparisons to a rubber duck (with a round head and larger body joined together by a narrow section). One of the new images was taken from the smaller lobe, with the larger lobe rising up like a cliff face in the distance.

The images reveal a highly varied topological landscape on the surface of the comet. In one image, the cliffs of Hathor are visible. These cliffs stretch 2952 feet high.

Rosetta traveled to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko along with the Philae lander, which touched down on the comet’s surface on Nov. 12, 2014. Philae bounced off the surface and came to rest in a shadowed region where its solar panels do not receive enough light to recharge the lander.

The swarm of newly released photos was taken around the time that Philae made its historic leap onto the comet’s surface. This video shows Rosetta’s orbital path around this time, including its release of Philae and its close approach to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

There is more information about the photo release and about the entire mission at the Rosetta blog.


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Slippery slopes on Mars send Curiosity Rover on detour



This image, captured by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on May 10, 2015, shows rough terrain on the way to an outcrop (light-colored rock in middle distance). Curiosity’s handlers decided not to traverse this terrain and took a different route inst (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has found a new route to some interesting rocks after its original path proved too difficult to traverse.

Scientists want the car-size Curiosity rover to check out a “geological contact” where two different rock units meet. Curiosity tried to reach such a contact earlier this month, but the robot’s six wheels slipped too much during three out of four drives between May 7 and May 13, NASA officials said.

“Mars can be very deceptive,” Chris Roumeliotis, Curiosity’s lead rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.

“We knew that polygonal sand ripples have caused Curiosity a lot of drive slip in the past, but there appeared to be terrain with rockier, more consolidated characteristics directly adjacent to these ripples,” Roumeliotis added. “So we drove around the sand ripples onto what we expected to be firmer terrain that would give Curiosity better traction. Unfortunately, this terrain turned out to be unconsolidated material too, which definitely surprised us and Curiosity.”

So the rover team decided to map out a new route using images captured by Curiosity and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been circling the Red Planet since 2006. This alternate path would allow Curiosity to examine a similar contact to the west.

A 72-foot drive on May 21, during which Curiosity climbed up a hill and dealt with 21-degree slopes, brought the rover close to this contact, NASA officials said.

Curiosity, which landed on Mars in August 2012, has been exploring the base of Mount Sharp since September 2014. The geological contact contains light-colored rocks similar to those that Curiosity has already studied near the mountain’s base, as well as darker material less familiar to the rover team, researchers said.

The rover’s main goal is to determine if Mars could ever have supported microbial life. Mission scientists have already answered that question in the affirmative, determining that the area near Curiosity’s landing site was a habitable lake-and-stream system billions of years ago. The rover is now climbing up Mount Sharp’s foothills, reading the rocks for clues about how the Red Planet’s climate and surface conditions have changed over time.


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