Tag: earth

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Is Headed To The Sun. So, What’s Next?

After decades of scientific brainstorming and years of construction, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is safely on its way to flying seven times closer to the sun than any mission has before.

Now that the spacecraft is finally off the ground, it won’t be long before scientists can start digging into its data — and that data will keep coming for seven years.

There’s definitely a coiled-spring feeling,” project scientist Nicola Fox, a solar scientist at Johns Hopkins University, told Space.com earlier this week, before the launch. “We’re just ready for her to leave this planet.

And now, the spacecraft has finally left Earth. Here’s where the journey will take it.

The $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe needed a ton of speed to escape Earth’s orbit, hence the total of three rocket stages that fired during the launch.

That will carry it to the neighborhood of Venus in just six weeks, arriving by late September.

On Sept. 28, the spacecraft will need to pull off a careful maneuver designed to gently slow it down and begin its calculated dance with the sun.




That maneuver, called a gravity assist, will pass a little of the spacecraft’s acceleration to the planet and edge the probe a little closer to the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe will then begin its first of 24 orbits around the sun, with its first close approach, or perihelion, coming on Nov. 1.

Each orbit will be petal-shaped, skimming over the sun closely and then flying out farther into space to close out the orbit.

The bulk of the probe’s science work will come when it is within a quarter of the distance between Earth and the sun — although the team is hoping that the instruments can be turned on for as much of the mission as possible.

The early orbits, while remaining farther away from the sun, will be special because the spacecraft will spend its time close to the sun in essentially the equivalent of geosynchronous orbit, hovering over the same region.

Not a lot of people appreciate how entertaining these periods are going to be,” Justin Kasper, a physicist at the University of Michigan and principal investigator for one of the probe’s instruments said.

During these periods, which scientists call fast radial scans, the spacecraft will swoop in at a speed that closely matches the sun’s speed of rotation, and then swoop out again.

While the spacecraft keeps pace with the sun’s rotation, it will be able to watch how the same region of the sun behaves over a period of about 10 days.

That means there’s plenty of science to look forward to years before the spacecraft completes its closest approach to the sun near the end of the mission.

It might take us five years to get to our closest orbit, but we should have some amazing insights into our sun just this winter,” Kasper said.

We’re going to have some amazing observations this November with that first perihelion.”

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What Does Our Planet Look Like Once You’ve Seen It From Space?

For the bulk of human history, it’s been impossible to put Earth in cosmic perspective.

Bound by gravity and biology, we can’t easily step outside it, above it, or away from it. For most of us, Earth is inescapably larger than life.

Even now, after nearly six decades of human spaceflight, precious few people have rocketed into orbit and seen the sun peeking out from behind that curved horizon. Since 1961, a mere 556 people have had this rarefied experience.

Fewer, just 24, have watched Earth shrink in the distance, growing smaller and smaller until it was no larger than the face of a wristwatch.

And only six have been completely alone behind the far side of the moon, cut off from a view of our planet as they sailed in an endlessly deep, star-studded sea.




What Does Our Planet Look Like Once You’ve Seen It From Space?  -Here’s What Some Astronauts Have to Say:

Mike Massimino

It’s an inherently unnatural thing, spaceflight. After all, our physiology evolved specifically to succeed on this planet, not above it.

Perhaps that’s why it can be difficult for astronauts to describe the experience of seeing Earth from space.

Italian space traveler Luca Parmitano says that we haven’t yet developed the words to truly convey the realities of spaceflight.

The building blocks of modern human communication, words are necessarily constrained by meaning and connotation, no matter which language you choose (Parmitano speaks five).

And until the mid-20th century, there was no need to express what it means to see our planet in the fiercely primeval essence of space. “We just don’t think in terms of spaceflight,” he says.

Karen Nyberg

Seeing Earth from space can change a person’s worldview. U.S. astronaut Nicole Stott flew twice on the space shuttle Discovery and returned with a new drive for creating artwork depicting the view.

Canadian spacefarer Chris Hadfield says that while orbiting Earth, he felt more connected to the people on the planet than ever before.

Kathy Sullivan, who in 1984 became the first American woman to perform a space walk, returned with an abiding awe for the intricate systems that come together to make Earth an improbable oasis.

The thing that grew in me over these flights was a real motivation and desire … to not just enjoy these sights and take these pictures,” she says, “but to make it matter.

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The Mystery Of Blue Diamonds And Where They Come From Finally Solved

They are the world’s most expensive diamonds, with some stones valued at £100 million.

But until now nobody has known how rare blue diamonds are made or where they come from.

Now scientists have discovered that they are formed 400 miles down in the Earth, around four times as deep as clear diamonds, where the element boron combines with carbon in such extreme pressure and heat that it crystallizes into the world’s most precious stone.

And because boron is mostly found on the Earth’s surface, scientists believe that it must have travelled down into the mantle when tectonic plates slipped beneath each other.

Eventually volcanic action brought the diamonds up closer to the surface.




The study, published in the journal Nature, suggests blue diamonds are even rarer than first thought.

We now know that the finest gem-quality diamonds come from the farthest down in our planet.”  said Steven Shirey, of the Carnegie Institution of Science.

Blue diamonds have always held a special intrigue. The world’s most famous jewel, the Hope Diamond, which was once owned by Louis XIV, Marie-Antoninette, and George IV was said to be cursed with many of its owners and their families coming to a sticky – and often headless – end.

The postman who delivered the Hope Diamond to its current location in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC had his leg crushed in a lorry accident shortly after and then his house burned down.

But the value and rarity of blue diamonds makes them difficult to study and researchers at the Carnegie Institution have spent two years tracking down and studying 46 blue diamonds from collections around the world.

And they were looking for the rarest of blue diamonds, those which include tiny mineral traces called inclusions which hint at their origins.

These so-called type IIb diamonds are tremendously valuable, making them hard to get access to for scientific research purposes,” said lead author Evan Smith of the Gemological Institute of America, adding,

“And it is very rare to find one that contains inclusions, which are tiny mineral crystals trapped inside the diamond.”

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Blue Meteorite Crystals Reveal The Sun’s Wild Youth

A tiny hibonite crystal from the Murchison meteorite.

Ancient and rare blue crystals from the dawn of the solar system help confirm that the newborn sun was violently active, a new study reports.

Astronomers previously found that stars are typically incredibly energetic very early in their evolution. Scientists had suspected the same was true of the sun after it was born about 4.6 billion years ago.

The sun was very active in its early life — it had more eruptions and gave off a more intense stream of charged particles,” study co-author Philipp Heck, a curator at The Field Museum in Chicago, said in a statement.

“I think of my son — he’s three; he’s very active, too.”

However, proving this “early active sun hypothesis” is challenging because it is difficult to find material that recorded what the early sun was like and that also survived billions of years unscathed.+




Almost nothing in the solar system is old enough to really confirm the early sun’s activity,” Heck said in the statement.

To hunt for such evidence, the researchers analyzed samples from the Murchison meteorite, which crashed in 1969 near the town of Murchison, in the Australian state of Victoria.

This meteorite, which is kept at The Field Museum in Chicago, dates to the early solar system and is renowned in the scientific community for its abundance of organic molecules.

As the giant disk of gas and dust that surrounded the early sun cooled down about 4.5 billion years ago, the earliest minerals began to form — microscopic, ice-blue crystals named hibonites, the largest of which were only a few times the diameter of a human hair.

Lead author Levke Kööp at work in the lab.

They are likely among the first minerals that formed in the solar system,” study lead author Levke Kööp, a cosmochemist at the University of Chicago said.

If the early sun spewed out lots of energetic particles, some of these should have struck calcium and aluminum in the crystals, splitting those atoms into smaller atoms of neon and helium.

This evidence of an early active sun could have remained trapped unscathed within the crystals for billions of years and been incorporated into rocks that eventually fell to Earth for scientists to study.

The scientists analyzed the crystals using a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer in Switzerland — a garage-sized machine that can determine an object’s chemical makeup.

A tiny hibonite crystal from the Murchison meteorite.

A laser melted tiny grains of hibonite crystals, and the mass spectrometer then analyzed its contents.

The mass spectrometer was specifically designed to look for traces of noble gases, such as helium and neon. The researchers found a surprisingly large signal clearly showing the presence of helium and neon.

This may be the first concrete evidence of the sun’s long-suspected early activity, the researchers said.

Future research on ancient meteorite crystals might help reveal details about the protoplanetary disk of gas and dust around the sun that ultimately gave rise to the planets, such as how hot or cold different parts of this disk were.

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NASA Is Planning To Make Water And Oxygen On The Moon And Mars By 2020

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins works with a Nitrogen/Oxygen Recharge System tank aboard the International Space Station.

NASA is forging ahead with plans to make water, oxygen, and hydrogen on the surface of the Moon and Mars.

If we ever want to colonize other planets, it is vital that we find a way of extracting these vital gases and liquids from moons and planets, rather than transporting them from Earth.

The current plan is to land a rover on the Moon in 2018 that will try to extract hydrogen, water, and oxygen — and then hopefully, Curiosity’s successor will try to convert the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen in 2020 when it lands on Mars.

In 2018, NASA hopes to put a rover on the Moon that will carry the RESOLVE (Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen & Lunar Volatile Extraction) science payload.

RESOLVE will contain the various tools necessary to carry out in-situ resource utilization (ISRU).




Basically, RESOLVE will sift through the Moon’s regolith (loose surface soil) and heat them up, looking for traces of hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be combined to make water.

There is also some evidence that there’s water ice on the surface of the Moon — RESOLVE will find out for certain by heating the soil and seeing of water vapor emerges.

A similar payload would be attached to Curiosity’s successor, which is currently being specced out by NASA and will hopefully launch in 2020.

This second IRSU experiment will probably suck in carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere, filter out the dust, and then process the CO2 into oxygen.

If either tech demonstration works as planned, future missions might include large-scale ISRU devices that are capable of producing significant amounts of hydrogen, oxygen, and water on the Moon or Mars.

This would probably be the most important advance since we first landed on the Moon in the ’60s. Basically, as it stands, space travel needs lots of hydrogen and oxygen and water.

Water has the unfortunate characteristic of being both heavy and incompressible, meaning it’s very difficult and expensive to lift large amounts of it into space (gravity can be really annoying sometimes).

Likewise, unless we come up with some other way of powering our spacecraft, it’s infeasible to carry the rocket fuel that we’d need for exploration from Earth.

In short, if we want to colonize space, we really, really need some kind of base outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, preferably on the Moon — but Mars would be good, too.

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Astronomers Might Have Finally Detected Where Mysterious, Extra-Galactic Neutrinos Are Coming From

Just over three years ago, physicists working in Antarctica announced they’d detected the first evidence of mysterious subatomic particles, known as neutrinos, coming from outside our galaxy.

It was a huge moment for astrophysics, but since then, no one’s quite been able to figure out where those particles are coming from, and what’s sending them hurtling our way.

Until now, that is – a team of astronomers has just identified the possible source of one these extragalactic visitors, and it appears that it started its journey to us nearly 10 billion years ago, when a massive explosion erupted in a galaxy far, far away.

Let’s step back for a second here though and explain why this is a big deal. Neutrinos are arguably the weirdest of the fundamental subatomic particles.

They don’t have any mass, they’re incredibly fast, and they’re pretty much invisible, because they hardly ever interact with matter.




Like tiny ghosts, billions of neutrinos per second are constantly flowing through us, and we never even know about it.

In order to detect them, researchers have step up extravagant labs, like the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole, where they wait patiently to capture glimpses of neutrinos streaking through the planet, and measure how energetic they are, to try to work out where they came from.

Usually that source is radioactive decay here on Earth or inside the Sun, or maybe from the black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

But in 2013, the IceCube researchers announced they’d detected a couple of neutrinos so unimaginably energetic, they knew they must have come from outside our galaxy.

These neutrinos were named ‘Bert’ and ‘Ernie‘ (seriously) and they were the first evidence of extragalactic neutrinos.

Their discovery was followed by the detection of a couple of dozen more, slightly less energetic, extragalactic neutrinos over the coming months.

Then at the end of 2012, they spotted ‘Big Bird‘.

At the time it was the most energetic neutrino ever detected, with energy exceeding 2 quadrillion electron volts – that’s more than a million million times greater than the energy of a dental X-ray.

Not bad for a massless ghost particle.

Since then, teams across the world have been working to figure out where the hell this anomaly had come from. And now we might finally have a suspect.

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A Brief History Of The Future

The history of the universe is mind-blowing. But the future of the universe – and how it ends – is even more so.

From the end of the human race to the fate of planet Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, and beyond, in today’s video, we talk about the far, far future and what it holds for everything.

Exoplanet Kepler-186f: Earth-Size World Could Support Oceans And Life (Infographic)

Astronomers have discovered a planet about the size of Earth, orbiting its star in the zone where oceans of liquid water would be possible.

A study of the newly-found planet indicates it could have an Earth-like atmosphere and water at its surface. The planet Kepler-186f is the fifth planet of the star Kepler-186, 490 light-years away.




The planet has 1.11 times the Earth’s mass. Its radius is 1.1 times that of Earth. Kepler-186f orbits at 32.5 million miles (52.4 million kilometers) from its parent star. Its year is 130 Earth days.

The planet orbits Kepler-186, an M-type dwarf star less than half as massive as the sun.

Because the star is cooler than the sun, the planet receives solar energy less intense than that received by Mars in our solar system, despite the fact that Kepler-186f orbits much closer to its star.

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Gecko-Inspired Robot Has Grippers That Help Could Clean Up Space Debris

robot

In space, grabbing onto things is hard. A new robot that uses grippers inspired by gecko feet could solve that problem, helping clear up the mess of debris that orbits Earth.

The toaster-sized device can grip, hold onto and move around even large, smooth surfaces in microgravity, on both flat and curved objects.




To do this, it uses a “dry adhesive” material created by Hao Jiang at Stanford University in California and his colleagues.

In an environment where an accidental nudge can send something flying and space debris can be travelling faster than the speed of sound, agility is key.

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How Aliens We’ve Never Met Could Help Humanity Escape Self-Destruction

Humans have had such a dramatic impact on Earth that some scientists say we’ve kickstarted a new geological era known as the Anthropocene.

A fascinating new paper theorizes that alien civilizations could do the same thing, reshaping their homeworlds in predictable and potentially detectable ways.

The authors are proposing a new classification scheme that measures the degree to which planets been modified by intelligent hosts.

Whenever a distant exoplanet is discovered, astronomers categorize it according to its most obvious physical features and orbital characteristics.

Examples include hot-Jupiters, Earth-like terrestrial planets, and brown dwarfs.

With ongoing advances in telescope technology, the day is coming when astronomers will be able to expand on these simple characterizations, classifying a planet according to other features, including atmospheric or chemical composition.

But as a new study led by University of Rochester astrophysicist Adam Frank points out, we may eventually be able to place exoplanets within an astrobiological context, too.




In addition to taking the usual physical measures into account, Frank and his colleagues are proposing that astronomers take the influence of a hypothetical planet’s biosphere into account—including the impacts of an advanced extraterrestrial civilization.

Frank’s hypothetical planets, ranked from Class I through to Class V, range from dead, rocky worlds through to planets in which a host intelligence has solved the problems caused by its own existence, like excessive use of resources and climate change.

Moreover, as Frank explained, this paper presents more than just a planetary classification scheme—it’s a potential roadmap to an environmentally viable future.

If we discover signs of an advanced alien civilization—and that’s a big if—we may learn a thing or two about how we might be able to survive into the far future.

Indeed, we’re at a critical juncture in our history, one in which we’re crafting the planet according to our will—and so far, we’re not doing a very good job of it.

There’s ongoing debate as to whether or not our planet has crossed into the Anthropocene epoch, a new geologic chapter in which we’ve become the primary driver of planetary change.

Some scientists point to the fact that half of the planet’s land surface has been claimed for human use, or that Earth’s biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus have been radically altered on account of agriculture and fertilizer use, as evidence that we have.

While the technical debate over what constitutes evidence of a geologic shift continues, it’s clear humanity is altering Earth in some rather profound ways.

So much so, says Frank, that we need to place our planet, and the Anthropocene itself, within an astrobiological context. What’s happening here on Earth, says Frank, is likely happening elsewhere in the Galaxy.

Though we may be inclined to think that our situation is somehow special or unique, we have no good reason to believe that’s really the case.

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