Tag: NASA

Exoplanet Shines With Glowing Water Atmosphere

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An international team of researchers, led by the University of Exeter with contributions from the University of Maryland, made the new discovery by observing glowing water molecules in WASP-121b’s atmosphere using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Previous research spanning the past decade has indicated possible evidence for stratospheres on other exoplanets, but this is the first time that glowing water molecules have been detected – the clearest signal yet to indicate an exoplanet stratosphere.




To study the gas giant’s stratosphere, scientists used spectroscopy to analyze how the planet’s brightness changed at different wavelengths of light.

Water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere, for example, behaves in predictable ways in response to certain wavelengths of light, depending on the temperature of the water.

At cooler temperatures, water vapor blocks light from beneath it. But at higher temperatures, the water molecules glow.

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The phenomenon is similar to what happens with fireworks, which get their colors when metallic substances are heated and vaporized, moving their electrons into higher energy states.

Depending on the material, these electrons will emit light at specific wavelengths as they lose energy. For example, sodium produces orange-yellow light and strontium produces red light.

The water molecules in the atmosphere of WASP-121b similarly give off radiation as they lose energy, but it is in the form of infrared light, which the human eye is unable to detect.

The exoplanet orbits its host star every 1.3 days, and the two bodies are about as close as they can be to each other without the star’s gravity ripping the planet apart.

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This close proximity also means that the top of the atmosphere is heated to a blazing hot 2,500 degrees Celsius — the temperature at which iron exists in gas rather than solid form.

In Earth’s stratosphere, ozone traps ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which raises the temperature of this layer of atmosphere.

Other solar system bodies have stratospheres, too – methane is responsible for heating in the stratospheres of Jupiter and Saturn’s moon Titan, for example.

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In solar system planets, the change in temperature within a stratosphere is typically less than 100 degrees Celsius. However, on WASP-121b, the temperature in the stratosphere rises by 1,000 degrees Celsius.

Vanadium oxide and titanium oxide gases are candidate heat sources, as they strongly absorb starlight at visible wavelengths, much like ozone absorbs UV radiation.

These compounds are expected to be present in only the hottest of hot Jupiter, such as WASP-121b, as high temperatures are required to keep them in the gaseous state.

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Indeed, vanadium oxide and titanium oxide are commonly seen in brown dwarfs, ‘failed stars’ that have some commonalities with exoplanets.

NASA’s forthcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to follow up on the atmospheres of planets like WASP-121b with higher sensitivity than any telescope currently in space.

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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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NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe Mission To ‘Touch The Sun’

 

The first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun blast off on Saturday, on a mission to plunge into our star’s sizzling atmosphere and unlock the mysteries of the center of the solar system.

NASA’s car-sized, $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida during a 65-minute launch window that opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT).

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe’s main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun.

We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind — we believe — will be accelerating,” said NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.

Where we see huge magnetic fields that are passing by us, as coronal mass ejections make their way out into the solar system.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.




But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,” said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of Michigan.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 11.43 centimetres thick.

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star, coming within 6.16 million kilometres of the Sun’s surface.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun’s radiation on Earth.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from New York to Tokyo in one minute — some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

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Aliens May Actually Be Billion-Year-Old Robots

This could ruin a lot of good science fiction movies … and create interesting plots for the next generation of them, not to mention influencing how humans deal with space aliens when they first encounter each other.

A timely article by The Daily Galaxy reviews the study “Alien Minds” by Susan Schneider where the professor and author discusses her theory that our first meeting with an extraterrestrial will be with a billion-year-old robot. Wait, what?

“I do not believe that most advanced alien civilizations will be biological. The most sophisticated civilizations will be postbiological, forms of artificial intelligence or alien superintelligence.”

Susan Schneider is an associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy Cognitive Science Program at the University of Connecticut.

Alien Minds” has been presented at NASA and the 2016 IdeaFestival in Kentucky and was published in The Impact of Discovering Life Beyond Earth.




It is her response to the question: “How would intelligent aliens think? Would they have conscious experiences? Would it feel a certain way to be an alien?

“I actually think the first discovery of life on other planets will probably involve microbial life; I am concentrating on intelligent life in my work on this topic though. I only claim that the most advanced civilizations will likely be post biological.”

Schneider’s theory is based on three components or “observations.”

In her “short window observation,” she presents the idea that a civilization or species that can conquer long-distance space travel is already very close to moving from biological to artificially-intelligent beings.

An example of this “short window” is the relatively brief 120 years it took humans to go from the first radio signals to cell phones.

Some of those species will be much older than us, which is Schneider’s “the greater age of alien civilizations” observation – one accepted by many.

And not just a few generations older but billions of years beyond us, making them far more advanced and intelligent. How much more?

Schneider’s last observation is that any species that can travel to Earth will be intelligent enough to develop robots that they can upload their brains

to. The robots would probably be silicon-based for speed of ‘thinking’ and durability, making them nearly immortal.

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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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NASA Assigns Astronauts To First Commercial Crew Missions

NASA announced Aug. 3 the assignment of eight agency astronauts, a mix of veterans and rookies, as well as one company astronaut to fly on the first set of commercial crew missions by Boeing and SpaceX.

In a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA announced who would fly on the crewed test flights planned for next year of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, as well as the first post-certification, or operational, missions by each vehicle.

For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine at the event attended by several members of Congress and other NASA and industry officials.

The SpaceX crewed test flight, currently scheduled for April 2019, will be flown by NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. Each astronaut flew on two shuttle missions, including Hurley on the final shuttle flight, STS-135, in 2011.




They were two of the four astronauts selected by NASA in July 2015 to be trained to fly commercial crew missions.

The Boeing crewed test flight, planned for mid-2019, will carry three people, including former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, commander of STS-135 and, for the last several years, a Boeing employee working on the Starliner program.

He will be joined by Eric Boe, who flew on two shuttle missions and was another astronaut selected for commercial crew training in 2015, and Nicole Aunapu Mann, a member of the astronaut class of 2013 who will be making her first flight.

NASA officials didn’t state why a three-person crew would be flying on the Starliner test flight, but the agency announced an agreement earlier this year with Boeing to study turning that crewed test flight into an operational mission in the event of further commercial crew delays.

That would include adding a third astronaut to the mission and extending its stay on the station from two weeks to up to six months.

After announcing the crews, Bridenstine engaged in a largely lighthearted question-and-answer session with the selected astronauts, who expressed their delight in being selected and anticipation in flying on these next-generation vehicles.

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Mars Is Spectacular This Month – Here’s The Best Way To Spy The Red Planet

If you look at the sky tonight and spot a very bright star, it may well be a planet. Mars is the closest it has been to Earth for 15 years – and therefore the brightest.

Mars shines through reflected light,” says Robert Massey, the deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society.

That means that when it’s closer to the Earth it appears brighter, because its apparent size is bigger.” It won’t be this visible again until 2035.

So, how best to see it? First, make sure tall trees or buildings are not obscuring the view. Ideally, you want a clear horizon. Then, look south.




It will be obvious, because it’s bright, it doesn’t twinkle and it has a distinct reddish tinge,” says Massey, who suggests Somerset, Devon and Dorset as good locations for spotting it.

The best Mars-gazing time is 1am, but it rises earlier in the evening.

You can see Mars with the naked eye, but a pair of binoculars would help,” says Massey. “If you have a small telescope, you may be lucky to see a polar ice cap.

If you are an amateur with good equipment, the details to look out for are two polar ice caps, mountains or volcanoes, and sunken, crater-like features. Massey suggests contacting your local astronomical society about public viewing events.

Hubble’s views of Mars at two recent oppositions

When is the best time to see Mars?

According to NASA, Mars Opposition begins Friday, July 27 around midnight.

Mars will be visible between Friday, July 27 and Monday, July 30, making its closest approach — 35.8 million miles to be exact — on Tuesday, July 31 at around 4 a.m. E.T.

Mars will be at its brightest Friday night due to an opposition surge that is affected by the planet’s angle of the sun — giving you the clearest view of the Red Planet.

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Signs Of Life On Europa May Be Just Beneath The Surface

If signs of life exist on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, they might not be as hard to find as scientists had thought, a new study reports.

The 1,900-mile-wide (3,100 kilometers) Europa harbors a huge ocean beneath its icy shell.

What’s more, astronomers think this water is in contact with the moon’s rocky core, making a variety of complex and intriguing chemical reactions possible.

Researchers therefore regard Europa as one of the solar system’s best bets to harbor alien life.

Europa is also a geologically active world, so samples of the buried ocean may routinely make it to the surface—via localized upwelling of the ocean itself, for example, and/or through geyser-like outgassing, evidence of which has been spotted multiple times by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA aims to hunt for such samples in the not-too-distant future. The agency is developing a flyby mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s.

Clipper will study Europa up close during dozens of flybys, some of which might be able to zoom through the moon’s suspected water-vapor plumes.

And NASA is also working on a possible post-Clipper lander mission that would search for evidence of life at or near the Europan surface.




 

It’s unclear, however, just how deep a Europa lander would need to dig to have a chance of finding anything.

That’s because Europa orbits within Jupiter’s radiation belts and is bombarded by fast-moving charged particles, which can turn amino acids and other possible biosignatures into mush.

That’s where the new study comes in.

NASA scientist Tom Nordheim and his colleagues modeled Europa’s radiation environment in detail, laying out just how bad things get from place to place.

They then combined these results with data from laboratory experiments documenting how quickly various radiation doses carve up amino acids (a stand-in here for complex biomolecules in general).

The researchers found significant variation, with some Europan locales (equatorial regions) getting about 10 times the radiation pounding of others (middle and high latitudes).

At the most benign spots, the team determined, a lander would likely have to dig just 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) or so into the ice to find recognizable amino acids.

In the high-blast zones, the target depth would be on the order of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm).

That latter range is still quite manageable, said Nordheim, who’s based at the California Institute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both of which are in Pasadena.

That’s good news for the potential lander mission, Nordheim added: With radiation exposure seemingly not a limiting factor, planners can feel free to target the areas of Europa most likely to harbor fresh ocean deposits—the fallout zone beneath a plume, for example—wherever they may lie.

Scientists still haven’t identified any such promising touchdown areas; the Europa imagery captured to date just hasn’t been sharp enough. But Europa Clipper’s work should change things, Nordheim said.

When we get the Clipper reconnaissance, the high-resolution images—it’s just going to be a completely different picture,” he said. “That Clipper reconnaissance is really key.”

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NASA To Launch Car-Size Probe To Study The Sun In August

US space agency NASA is preparing to launch a probe in August to study the Sun closer than any human-made object ever has, revealing multiple mysteries behind the star.

The car-sized spacecraft called Parker Solar Probe is slated to lift off no earlier than August 6 on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, according to NASA, Xinhua news agency reported.

The Sun’s atmosphere constantly sends magnetized material outward, enveloping our solar system far beyond the orbit of Pluto.

Coils of magnetic energy can burst out with light and particle radiation that travel through space and create temporary disruptions in our atmosphere, sometimes garbling radio and communications signals near Earth.

Therefore, the key to understanding its origins lies in understanding the Sun itself and that’s where Parker Solar Probe comes in, according to the researchers at NASA.




The spacecraft carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and directly.

One science task is the mystery of the acceleration of the solar wind, the Sun’s constant outflow of material, and the other is the secret of the corona’s enormously high temperatures, according to NASA.

Also, Parker Solar Probe’s instruments might reveal the mechanisms at work behind the acceleration of solar energetic particles, which can reach speeds more than half as fast as the speed of light as they rocket away from the Sun.

Such particles can interfere with satellite electronics, especially for satellites outside of Earth’s magnetic field. The biggest breakthrough for the spacecraft is its cutting-edge heat shield, according to NASA.

The Thermal Protection System (the heat shield) is one of the spacecraft’s mission-enabling technologies,” said Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

“It allows the spacecraft to operate at about room temperature.

The heat shield is a sandwich of carbon-carbon composite surrounding nearly four and half inches of carbon foam, which is about 97 per cent air.

The Delta IV Heavy is one of the world’s most powerful rockets.

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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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