NASA’s SDO Sees Two Coronal Holes

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, captured this solar image on March 16, 2015, which clearly shows two dark patches, known as coronal holes. The larger coronal hole of the two, near the southern pole, covers an estimated 6- to 8-percent of the total solar surface. While that may not sound significant, it is one of the largest polar holes scientists have observed in decades. The smaller coronal hole, towards the opposite pole, is long and narrow. It covers about 3.8 billion square miles on the sun – only about 0.16-percent of the solar surface. Coronal holes are lower density … Continue exploring

NASA’s LRO Spacecraft Finds March 17, 2013 Impact Crater

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) acquired images of the lunar surface before and after the largest recorded explosion occurred on the surface. On March 17, 2013, an object the size of a small boulder hit the surface in Mare Imbrium and exploded in a flash of light nearly 10 times as bright as anything ever recorded before. This bright flash was recorded by researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville with coordinates 20.6°N, 336.1°E. The Lunar Reconnaissance Camera (LROC) scientists were able to obtain observations before and after the impact. Comparing the actual size of the crater to … Continue exploring

Rover Arm Delivers Rock Powder Sample

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its robotic arm Wednesday, March 11, to sieve and deliver a rock-powder sample to an onboard instrument. The sample was collected last month before the team temporarily suspended rover arm movement pending analysis of a short circuit. The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) analytical instrument inside the rover received the sample powder. This sample comes from a rock target called “Telegraph Peak,” the third target drilled during about six months of investigating the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop on Mount Sharp. With this delivery completed, the rover team plans to drive Curiosity away from Pahrump Hills in coming … Continue exploring

Launch Begins MMS Mission in Spectacular Fashion

Four octagonal disc-shaped spacecraft are flying in a loose formation above Earth following a brilliant, thundering launch from Florida that lit up the Cape Canaveral region for miles late Thursday night. The spacecraft make up the Magnetospheric MultiScale mission which is set to decipher interactions within magnetic fields that cause tremendous amounts of energy to be released when the fields reconnect. A United Launch Alliance Atlas V lifted the four spacecraft into orbit with the help of solid-fueled boosters that joined with the RD-180 main engine on the first stage to produce 1.5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. The … Continue exploring

Spacecraft Data Suggest Saturn Moon’s Ocean May Harbor Hydrothermal Activity

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities. “These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life … Continue exploring

Planet ‘Reared’ by Four Parent Stars

  Growing up as a planet with more than one parent star has its challenges. Though the planets in our solar system circle just one star — our sun — other more distant planets, called exoplanets, can be reared in families with two or more stars. Researchers wanting to know more about the complex influences of multiple stars on planets have come up with two new case studies: a planet found to have three parents, and another with four. The discoveries were made using instruments fitted to telescopes at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego: the Robo-AO adaptive optics system, … Continue exploring

NASA’s Chandra Observatory Finds Cosmic Showers Halt Galaxy Growth

This galaxy cluster comes from a sample of over 200 that were studied to determine how giant black holes at their centers affect the growth and evolution of their host galaxy, as reported in our latest press release [link to PR.] This study revealed that an unusual form of cosmic precipitation enables a feedback loop of cooling and heating, stifling star formation in the middle of these galaxy clusters. Abell 2597, shown here, is a galaxy cluster located about one billion light years from Earth. This image contains X-rays from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue), optical data from the Hubble … Continue exploring

Rover Examining Odd Mars Rocks at Valley Overlook

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity climbed last month to an overlook for surveying “Marathon Valley,” a science destination chosen because spectrometer observations from orbit indicate exposures of clay minerals. Near the overlook, it found blocky rocks so unlike any previously examined on Mars that the rover team has delayed other activities to provide time for a thorough investigation. “We drove to the edge of a plateau to look down in the valley, and we found these big, dark-gray blocks along the ridgeline,” said Opportunity Project Scientist Matt Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “We checked one and found … Continue exploring

NASA-Funded Study Finds Two Solar Wind Jets in the Heliosphere

New NASA-funded research now suggests that the heliosphere is actually dominated by two giant jets of material shooting backwards over the north and south poles of the sun, which are confined by the interaction of the sun’s magnetic field with the interstellar magnetic field. These curve around in two—relatively short – tails toward the back. The end result is a heliosphere without that long tail; a heliosphere that looks a lot more like a crescent moon than a comet. What’s more, the two jets are similar to other astrophysical jets seen in space, so studying them locally could open doors … Continue exploring

MOSI Selects Prof. Antonio Paris to Lead Space Program

The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Tampa, FL has selected Professor Antonio Paris as Manager of Space Programs and Planetarium. Paris, a Professor of Astronomy at St. Petersburg College, will direct the day-to-day operations of the planetarium, NASA’s Mission: Moonbase, Starlab, and MOSI’s telescope program. Additionally, he will serve as the on-air Space Science Expert for MOSI and will develop new lectures on astronomy, space exploration and other topics of scientific interest. MOSI, the largest science center in the Southeast U.S., is a non-profit, community-based institution and educational resource that is dedicated to advancing public interest, knowledge and understanding of … Continue exploring

NASA’s Orion Flight Test Yields Critical Data as Engineers Improve Spacecraft for Next Mission

NASA’s Orion spacecraft continues on the agency’s journey to Mars as engineers analyze data from the spacecraft’s December flight test and make progress developing and building the spacecraft for its first mission atop NASA Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. On future missions, Orion will send astronauts to an asteroid and onward toward the Red Planet. At machine houses across the country, elements of the primary structure for the next Orion to fly in space are coming together. Avionics components are being built and simulators for the ESA (European Space Agency)-built service module that will house the spacecraft’s propulsion and … Continue exploring

NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and ESA’s (European Space Agency) XMM-Newton telescope are showing that  fierce winds from a supermassive black hole blow outward in all directions — a phenomenon that had been suspected, but difficult to prove until now. This discovery has given astronomers their first opportunity to measure the strength of these ultra-fast winds and prove they are powerful enough to inhibit the host galaxy’s ability to make new stars. “We know black holes in the centers of galaxies can feed on matter, and this process can produce winds. This is thought to regulate the growth of … Continue exploring

Dawn Captures Sharper Images of Ceres

Craters and mysterious bright spots are beginning to pop out in the latest images of Ceres from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. These images, taken Feb. 12 at a distance of 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet, pose intriguing questions for the science team to explore as the spacecraft nears its destination. The image is available at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA19056 “As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at UCLA. “We expected to … Continue exploring

Black Hole Candidate Discovered

Searching for Black Holes: Black Holes emit jets of radio emissions detectible through radio telescopes. Below are two images. The first is an artist impression of what a black hole would look like. The second set of images were collected by the WISE Infrared Telescope and radio data from the Very Large Array in New Mexico. By combining the data from both image sets, a black hole candidate has been identified for galaxy J134831.4+094528. The candidate black hole was discovered  by Prof. Antonio Paris, Chief Scientist at the Center for Planetary Science.        

Pale Blue Dot’ Images Turn 25

Valentine’s Day is special for NASA’s Voyager mission. It was on Feb. 14, 1990, that the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back at our solar system and snapped the first-ever pictures of the planets from its perch at that time beyond Neptune. This “family portrait” captures Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus from Voyager 1’s unique vantage point. A few key members did not make it in: Mars had little sunlight, Mercury was too close to the sun, and dwarf planet Pluto turned out too dim. Taking these images was not part of the original plan, but the late Carl … Continue exploring

The View from New Horizons: A Full Day on Pluto-Charon

This time-lapse “movie” of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was recently shot at record-setting distances with the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The movie was made over about a week, from Jan. 25-31, 2015. It was taken as part of the mission’s second optical navigation (“OpNav”) campaign to better refine the locations of Pluto and Charon in preparation for the spacecraft’s close encounter with the small planet and its five moons on July 14, 2015. Pluto and Charon were observed for an entire rotation of each body; a “day” on Pluto and Charon is 6.4 … Continue exploring

NASA’s Curiosity Analyzing Sample of Martian Mountain

The second bite of a Martian mountain taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover hints at long-ago effects of water that was more acidic than any evidenced in the rover’s first taste of Mount Sharp, a layered rock record of ancient Martian environments. The rover used a new, low-percussion-level drilling technique to collect sample powder last week from a rock target called “Mojave 2.” Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp five months ago after two years of examining other sites inside Gale Crater and driving toward the mountain at the crater’s center. The first sample of the mountain’s base layer … Continue exploring

Gravitational Waves from Early Universe Remain Elusive

A joint analysis of data from the Planck space mission and the ground-based experiment BICEP2 has found no conclusive evidence of gravitational waves from the birth of our universe, despite earlier reports of a possible detection. The collaboration between the teams has resulted in the most precise knowledge yet of what signals from the ancient gravitational waves should look like, aiding future searches. Planck is a European Space Agency mission with significant NASA contributions. BICEP2 and its sister project, the Keck Array, are based at the South Pole and funded by the National Science Foundation, also with NASA contributions. “By … Continue exploring

Cassini Catches Titan Naked in the Solar Wind

Researchers studying data from NASA’s Cassini mission have observed that Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, behaves much like Venus, Mars or a comet when exposed to the raw power of the solar wind. The observations suggest that unmagnetized bodies like Titan might interact with the solar wind in the same basic ways, regardless of their nature or distance from the sun. Titan is large enough that it could be considered a planet if it orbited the sun on its own, and a flyby of the giant moon in Dec. 2013 simulated that scenario, from Cassini’s vantage point. The encounter was unique … Continue exploring

Astronomers Discover Ancient System with Five Small Planets

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler mission have discovered a planetary system of five small planets dating back to when the Milky Way galaxy was a youthful two billion years old. The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five planets that range in size, the smallest comparable to the size of Mercury and the largest to Venus. All five planets orbit their sun-like star in less than ten days, which makes their orbits much closer than Mercury’s sweltering 88-day orbit around the sun. “While this star formed a long time ago, in fact before most of the stars in … Continue exploring

Radar Image of Asteroid 2004 BL86 Released

Scientists working with NASA’s 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released the first radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86. The images show the asteroid, which made its closest approach today (Jan. 26, 2015) at 8:19 a.m. PST (11:19 a.m. EST) at a distance of about 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers, or 3.1 times the distance from Earth to the moon), has its own small moon. The 20 individual images used in the movie were generated from data collected at Goldstone on Jan. 26, 2015. They show the primary body is approximately 1,100 feet (325 meters) across … Continue exploring

Asteroid to Fly By Earth Safely on January 26

An asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, will safely pass about three times the distance of Earth to the moon on January 26. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometers) in size. The flyby of 2004 BL86 will be the closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027. At the time of its closest approach on January 26, the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth. “Monday, January 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get … Continue exploring

Rosetta Comet ‘Pouring’ More Water Into Space

There has been a significant increase in the amount of water “pouring” out of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet on which the Rosetta mission’s Philae lander touched down in November 2014. The 2.5-mile-wide (4-kilometer) comet was releasing the earthly equivalent of 40 ounces (1.2 liters) of water into space every second at the end of August 2014. The observations were made by NASA’s Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO), aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft.  Science results from the MIRO team were released today as part of a special Rosetta-related issue of the journal Science. “In observations over a period … Continue exploring

Gullies on Vesta Suggest Past Water-Mobilized Flows

Protoplanet Vesta, visited by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2013, was once thought to be completely dry, incapable of retaining water because of the low temperatures and pressures at its surface. However, a new study shows evidence that Vesta may have had short-lived flows of water-mobilized material on its surface, based on data from Dawn. “Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates,” said Jennifer Scully, postgraduate researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “However, Vesta is proving to be … Continue exploring

Dawn Delivers New Image of Ceres

As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft closes in on Ceres, new images show the dwarf planet at 27 pixels across, about three times better than the calibration images taken in early December. These are the first in a series of images that will be taken for navigation purposes during the approach to Ceres. Over the next several weeks, Dawn will deliver increasingly better and better images of the dwarf planet, leading up to the spacecraft’s capture into orbit around Ceres on March 6. The images will continue to improve as the spacecraft spirals closer to the surface during its 16-month study of … Continue exploring