What Happened to Early Mars’ Atmosphere? New Study Eliminates One Theory

Scientists may be closer to solving the mystery of how Mars changed from a world with surface water billions of years ago to the arid Red Planet of today. A new analysis of the largest known deposit of carbonate minerals on Mars suggests that the original Martian atmosphere may have already lost most of its carbon dioxide by the era of valley network formation. “The biggest carbonate deposit on Mars has, at most, twice as much carbon in it as the current Mars atmosphere,” said Bethany Ehlmann of the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in … Continue exploring

NASA’s New Horizons Team Selects Potential Kuiper Belt Flyby Target

This remote KBO was one of two identified as potential destinations and the one recommended to NASA by the New Horizons team.  Although NASA has selected 2014 MU69 as the target, as part of its normal review process the agency will conduct a detailed assessment before officially approving the mission extension to conduct additional science. “Even as the New Horizon’s spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer,” said … Continue exploring

Dawn Sends Sharper Scenes from Ceres

The closest-yet views of Ceres, delivered by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, show the small world’s features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres’ tall, conical mountain; crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures. “Dawn is performing flawlessly in this new orbit as it conducts its ambitious exploration. The spacecraft’s view is now three times as sharp as in its previous mapping orbit, revealing exciting new details of this intriguing dwarf planet,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. At its current orbital altitude of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers), Dawn takes 11 days to … Continue exploring

NASA Mars Rover Moves Onward After ‘Marias Pass’ Studies

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is driving toward the southwest after departing a region where for several weeks it investigated a geological contact zone and rocks that are unexpectedly high in silica and hydrogen content. The hydrogen indicates water bound to minerals in the ground. In this “Marias Pass” region, Curiosity successfully used its drill to sample a rock target called “Buckskin” and then used the camera on its robotic arm for multiple images to be stitched into a self-portrait at the drilling site. The new Curiosity selfie from a dramatically low angle is online at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=pia19808 The rover finished activities … Continue exploring

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Studies Rock-Layer Contact Zone

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is examining a valley where at least two types of bedrock meet, for clues about changes in ancient environmental conditions recorded by the rock. In addition to two rock types for which this site was chosen, the rover has found a sandstone with grains of differing shapes and color. Curiosity’s international team has resumed full operations of the car-size mobile laboratory after a period of limited activity during most of June. The operations moratorium for Curiosity and other spacecraft at Mars happens about every 26 months, when Mars passes nearly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective, … Continue exploring

Hubble Finds a Little Gem

This colorful bubble is a planetary nebula called NGC 6818, also known as the Little Gem Nebula. It is located in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), roughly 6,000 light-years away from us. The rich glow of the cloud is just over half a light-year across — humongous compared to its tiny central star — but still a little gem on a cosmic scale. When stars like the sun enter “retirement,” they shed their outer layers into space to create glowing clouds of gas called planetary nebulae. This ejection of mass is uneven, and planetary nebulae can have very complex … Continue exploring

Prof. Antonio Paris Selected for Suborbital Astronaut Program

Antonio Paris, a Professor of Astronomy at St. Petersburg College, Chief Scientist for the Center for Planetary Science, and MOSI Space Programs Manager in Tampa, FL has been selected as an Astronaut Candidate by Integrated Space Flight for Project PoSSUM (Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere). Project PoSSUM is part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program for Noctilucent Cloud Imagery and Tomography Experiments. Astronaut Candidate Paris will report for Astronaut training at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in May 2016. Training will consist of: Spacecraft Mission Simulation and Astronaut Crew Resource Management High-G and microgravity Space Physiology Decathlon Aerobatic Aircraft Training Anti-G Training High Altitude Mission Training Altitude … Continue exploring

Oxymoronic Black Hole Provides Clues to Growth

Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the 6.5-meter Clay Telescope in Chile have identified the smallest supermassive black hole ever detected in the center of a galaxy. This oxymoronic object could provide clues to how larger black holes formed along with their host galaxies 13 billion years or more in the past. Astronomers estimate this supermassive black hole is about 50,000 times the mass of the sun. This is less than half the mass of the previous smallest black hole at the center of a galaxy. “It might sound contradictory, but finding such a small, large black hole is … Continue exploring

New Online Exploring Tools Bring NASA’s Journey to Mars to New Generation

On the three-year anniversary of the Mars landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover, NASA is unveiling two new online tools that open the mysterious terrain of the Red Planet to a new generation of explorers, inviting the public to help with its journey to Mars. Mars Trek is a free, web-based application that provides high-quality, detailed visualizations of the planet using real data from 50 years of NASA exploration and allowing astronomers, citizen scientists and students to study the Red Planet’s features. Experience Curiosity allows viewers to journey along with the one-ton rover on its Martian expeditions. The program simulates Mars … Continue exploring

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot: A Swirling Mystery

The largest and most powerful hurricanes ever recorded on Earth spanned over 1,000 miles across with winds gusting up to around 200 mph. That’s wide enough to stretch across nearly all U.S. states east of Texas. But even that kind of storm is dwarfed by the Great Red Spot, a gigantic storm in Jupiter. There, gigantic means twice as wide as Earth. With tumultuous winds peaking at about 400 mph, the Great Red Spot has been swirling wildly over Jupiter’s skies for the past 150 years—maybe even much longer than that. While people saw a big spot in Jupiter as … Continue exploring

NASA’s Spitzer Confirms Closest Rocky Exoplanet

Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the nearest rocky planet outside our solar system, larger than Earth and a potential gold mine of science data. Dubbed HD 219134b, this exoplanet, which orbits too close to its star to sustain life, is a mere 21 light-years away. While the planet itself can’t be seen directly, even by telescopes, the star it orbits is visible to the naked eye in dark skies in the Cassiopeia constellation, near the North Star. HD 219134b is also the closest exoplanet to Earth to be detected transiting, or crossing in front … Continue exploring

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Inspects Unusual Bedrock

Approaching the third anniversary of its landing on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has found a target unlike anything it has studied before — bedrock with surprisingly high levels of silica. Silica is a rock-forming compound containing silicon and oxygen, commonly found on Earth as quartz. This area lies just downhill from a geological contact zone the rover has been studying near “Marias Pass” on lower Mount Sharp. In fact, the Curiosity team decided to back up the rover 46 meters (151 feet) from the geological contact zone to investigate the high-silica target dubbed “Elk.” The decision was made after … Continue exploring

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.” The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030. “On the 20th anniversary … Continue exploring

NASA’s New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto’s ‘Heart’

In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. “This terrain is not easy to explain,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. … Continue exploring

NASA’s New Horizons ‘Phones Home’ Safe after Pluto Flyby

The call everyone was waiting for is in. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft phoned home just before 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday to tell the mission team and the world it had accomplished the historic first-ever flyby of Pluto. “I know today we’ve inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “This is a historic win for science and for exploration. We’ve truly, once again raised the bar of human potential.” The preprogrammed “phone call” — a 15-minute series of status messages beamed back … Continue exploring

Opportunity Rover’s 7th Mars Winter to Include New Study Area

Operators of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity plan to drive the rover into a valley this month where Opportunity will be active through the long-lived rover’s seventh Martian winter, examining outcrops that contain clay minerals. Opportunity resumed driving on June 27 after about three weeks of reduced activity around Mars solar conjuntion, when the sun’s position between Earth and Mars disrupts communication. The rover is operating in a mode that does not store any science data overnight. It transmits the data the same day they’re collected. The rover is working about half a football field’s length away from entering the … Continue exploring

Methane Detected on Pluto

Yes, there is methane on Pluto, and, no, it doesn’t come from cows. The infrared spectrometer on NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has detected frozen methane on Pluto’s surface; Earth-based astronomers first observed the chemical compound on Pluto in 1976. “We already knew there was methane on Pluto, but these are our first detections,” said Will Grundy, the New Horizons Surface Composition team leader with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Soon we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice from one part of Pluto to another.” Methane (chemical formula CH4) is an odorless, colorless … Continue exploring

NuSTAR Stares Deep into Hidden Lairs of Black Holes

Some of the “biggest and baddest” black holes around are buried under thick blankets of gas and dust. These monsters in the middle of galaxies are actively devouring material, but their hidden nature makes observing them a challenge. NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) recently caught a glimpse of five of these secluded beasts. While hidden from view from most other telescopes, NuSTAR can spot them by detecting the highest-energy X-rays, which can penetrate through the enshrouding gas and dust. The research, led by astronomers at Durham University, United Kingdom, supports the theory that potentially millions of supermassive black holes … Continue exploring

An Unusual Mountain on Asteroid Ceres

Explanation: What created this large mountain on asteroid Ceres? No one is yet sure. As if in anticipation of today being AsteroidDay on Earth, the robotic spacecraft Dawn in orbit around Ceres took the best yet image of an unusually tall mountain on the Asteroid Belt’s largest asteroid. Visible at the top of the featured image, the exceptional mountain rises about five kilometers up from an area that otherwise appears pretty level. The image was taken about two weeks ago from about 4,400 kilometers away. Although origin hypotheses for the mountain include volcanism, impacts, and plate tectonics, clear evidence backing … Continue exploring

NASA Announces Television Coverage, Media Activities for Pluto Flyby

NASA is inviting media to cover New Horizons’ historic Pluto flyby in mid-July, including the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, site of the mission operations center. Media who wish to cover the events at APL must receive accreditation from the APL Public Affairs Office by June 30. Earlier registration is strongly encouraged, as space is very limited. To apply, and for more information, visit: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Media-Registration.php

Hubble View of a Nitrogen-Rich Nebula

This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a planetary nebula named NGC 6153, located about 4,000 light-years away in the southern constellation of Scorpius (The Scorpion). The faint blue haze across the frame shows what remains of a star like the sun after it has depleted most of its fuel. When this happens, the outer layers of the star are ejected, and get excited and ionized by the energetic ultraviolet light emitted by the bright hot core of the star, forming the nebula. NGC 6153 is a planetary nebula that is elliptical in shape, with an extremely rich network of … Continue exploring

New Horizons Approaches During Anniversary of Charon’s Discovery

Pluto was discovered in 1930, but the icy world’s large companion remained hidden for 48 more years due to the close proximity of the pair, which made them appear to blur together in observations. Charon and Pluto are separated by about 12,000 miles, with Charon measuring about 790 miles in diameter– slightly more than half Pluto’s size. Scientists sometimes refer to the objects as a “double planet” due to their sizes and close proximity. Christy noticed that Pluto looked elongated in images, as if a blur moved around the planet at a rate of about 6.4 days, the time it … Continue exploring

Bright Spots Shine in Newest Dawn Ceres Image

New images of dwarf planet Ceres, taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, show the cratered surface of this mysterious world in sharper detail than ever before. These are among the first snapshots from Dawn’s second mapping orbit, which is 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above Ceres. The region with the brightest spots is in a crater about 55 miles (90 kilometers) across. The spots consist of many individual bright points of differing sizes, with a central cluster. So far, scientists have found no obvious explanation for their observed locations or brightness levels. “The bright spots in this configuration make Ceres unique from … Continue exploring

Rosetta’s Lander Philae Wakes From Comet Nap

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta’s lander (Philae) is out of hibernation. The signals were received at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany at 22:28 local time (CEST) on June 13. Since then, more than 300 data packets have been analyzed by the teams at the Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center. “Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of minus 35 degrees centigrade and has 24 watts available,” said the German Aerospace Center’s Philae Project Manager Stephan Ulamec. “The lander is ready for operations.” For 85 seconds Philae “spoke” with its team on … Continue exploring

NASA Spacecraft Detects Impact Glass on Surface of Mars

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has detected deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars. Though formed in the searing heat of a violent impact, such deposits might provide a delicate window into the possibility of past life on the Red Planet. During the past few years, research has shown evidence about past life has been preserved in impact glass here on Earth. A 2014 study led by scientist Peter Schultz of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found organic molecules and plant matter entombed in glass formed by an impact that occurred millions of years ago in Argentina. Schultz … Continue exploring