Monday, November 30, 2009

WISE Snug in Its Nose Cone

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer has been wrapped in the outer nose cone, or "fairing," that will protect it during its scheduled Dec. 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The fairing will split open like a clamshell about five minutes after launch. The spacecraft will circle Earth over the poles, scanning the entire sky one-and-a-half times in nine months. The mission will uncover hidden cosmic objects, including the coolest stars, dark asteroids and the most luminous galaxies.

WISE is shown inside one-half of the nose cone, or fairing, that will protect it during launch. The spacecraft is clamped to the top of the rocket above the white conical fitting. The fairing will split open like a clamshell about five minutes after launch. Credit: United Launch Alliance/ JPL-Caltech/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages WISE for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

More information is online at and .

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Dusty Beginnings of a Star

This artist's rendering gives us a glimpse into a cosmic nursery as a star is born from the dark, swirling dust and gas of this cloud. Stars form when dark dust from the cloud begins to clump together under the influence of its own gravity. The infalling material forms a disk as it spirals inward, which feeds material onto the forming star at its center. Jets of material that shoot from the inner disk and protostar herald its birth.

Planets form out of the remnants of the disk of material that surrounds the infant star. This leads to a question that has long perplexed astronomers about the nature of brown dwarfs, objects that fall between planets and stars in terms of their temperature and mass.

Are brown dwarfs born like stars, as in this rendering, or do they form like planets orbiting another star? A study by researchers using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has led to the preliminary conclusion that they are formed much like the star you see here.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Space Shuttle Atlantis Crew Set to Land in Florida Friday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Atlantis and its seven-member crew are expected to return to Earth on Friday, Nov. 27, after an 11-day mission. The two landing opportunities at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida are at 9:44 a.m. and 11:19 a.m. EST.

NASA will evaluate weather conditions at Kennedy before permitting Atlantis and its crew to land. If bad weather prevents a return to Florida on Friday or Saturday, both Kennedy and the backup landing site at Edwards Air Force Base in California will be activated for consideration on Sunday. For recorded updates about the shuttle landing, call 321-867-2525.

Approximately two hours after landing, NASA officials will hold a briefing to discuss the mission. The participants will be:

- Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations
- Mike Moses, space shuttle launch integration manager
- Mike Leinbach, NASA shuttle launch director

After touchdown in Florida, the astronauts will undergo physical examinations and meet with their families. They are expected to make brief remarks at the runway and hold a news conference approximately six hours after landing. The news events will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency's Web site.

The Kennedy news center will open for landing activities at 5 a.m. Friday and close at 5 p.m., or one hour after the last media event.

The STS-129 media badges are in effect through landing. The media accreditation building on State Road 3 will be open Friday from 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The last bus will depart from the news center for the Shuttle Landing Facility one hour before landing.

If the landing is diverted to Edwards, reporters should call NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center public affairs office at 661-276-3449. Dryden has limited facilities available for previously accredited journalists.

The NASA News Twitter feed is updated throughout the shuttle mission and landing. To access the feed, visit:

For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

For the latest information about the STS-129 mission and accomplishments, visit:

Space Shuttle Crew Returns Home after 11-Day Mission

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts ended an 11-day journey of nearly 4.5 million miles with a 9:44 a.m. EST landing Friday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The mission, designated STS-129, included three spacewalks and the installation of two platforms to the International Space Station's truss, or backbone. The platforms hold large spare parts to sustain station operations after the shuttles are retired. The shuttle crew delivered about 30,000 pounds of replacement parts for systems that provide power to the station, keep it from overheating, and maintain a proper orientation in space.

STS-129 Commander Charlie Hobaugh was joined on Atlantis' STS-129 mission by Pilot Barry Wilmore and Mission Specialists Leland Melvin, Randy Bresnik, Mike Foreman and Bobby Satcher. Atlantis returned with station resident Nicole Stott, who spent 91 days in space. This marks the final time the shuttle is expected to rotate station crew members.

A welcome ceremony for the astronauts will be held Monday, Nov. 30, in Houston. The public is invited to attend the 4 p.m. CST event at Ellington Field's NASA Hangar 990. Highlights from the ceremony will be broadcast on NASA Television's Video File. For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

With Atlantis and its crew safely home, the stage is set for launch of shuttle Endeavour on its STS-130 mission, targeted to begin in February. Endeavour will deliver a pressurized module, known as Tranquility, which will provide room for many of the space station's life support systems. Attached to the node is a cupola, a robotic control station with six windows around its sides and another in the center that provides a 360-degree view around the station.

For more about the STS-129 mission and the upcoming STS-130 flight, visit:

STS-129 crew members Melvin, Satcher and Stott are providing mission updates on Twitter. For their Twitter feeds and other NASA social media Web sites, visit:

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Way Home

Seen over the Mediterranean Sea, near the Algerian coast, the space shuttle Atlantis is featured in this image photographed by the Expedition 21 crew on the International Space Station soon after the shuttle and station began their post-undocking separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 4:53 a.m. EST on Nov. 25, 2009.

Image Credit: NASA

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Fermi Telescope Peers Deep into Microquasar

Goddard Release No. 09-82

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope has made the first unambiguous detection of high-energy gamma-rays from an enigmatic binary system known as Cygnus X-3. The system pairs a hot, massive star with a compact object -- either a neutron star or a black hole -- that blasts twin radio-emitting jets of matter into space at more than half the speed of light.

Astronomers call these systems microquasars. Their properties -- strong emission across a broad range of wavelengths, rapid brightness changes, and radio jets -- resemble miniature versions of distant galaxies (called quasars and blazars) whose emissions are thought to be powered by enormous black holes.

In Cygnus X-3, an accretion disk surrounding a black hole or neutron star orbits close to a hot, massive star. Gamma rays (purple, in this illustration) likely arise when fast-moving electrons above and below the disk collide with the star's ultraviolet light. Fermi sees more of this emission when the disk is on the far side of its orbit. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

"Cygnus X-3 is a genuine microquasar and it's the first for which we can prove high-energy gamma-ray emission," said St├ęphane Corbel at Paris Diderot University in France.

The system, first detected in 1966 as among the sky's strongest X-ray sources, was also one of the earliest claimed gamma-ray sources. Efforts to confirm those observations helped spur the development of improved gamma-ray detectors, a legacy culminating in the Large Area Telescope (LAT) aboard Fermi.

At the center of Cygnus X-3 lies a massive Wolf-Rayet star. With a surface temperature of 180,000 degrees F, or about 17 times hotter than the sun, the star is so hot that its mass bleeds into space in the form of a powerful outflow called a stellar wind. "In just 100,000 years, this fast, dense wind removes as much mass from the Wolf-Rayet star as our sun contains," said Robin Corbet at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Brighter colors indicate greater numbers of gamma rays detected in this Fermi LAT view of a region centered on the position of Cygnus X-3 (circled). The brightest sources are pulsars. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

Every 4.8 hours, a compact companion embedded in a disk of hot gas wheels around the star. "This object is most likely a black hole, but we can't yet rule out a neutron star," Corbet noted.

Fermi's LAT detects changes in Cygnus X-3's gamma-ray output related to the companion's 4.8-hour orbital motion. The brightest gamma-ray emission occurs when the disk is on the far side of its orbit. "This suggests that the gamma rays arise from interactions between rapidly moving electrons above and below the disk and the star's ultraviolet light," Corbel explained.

When ultraviolet photons strike particles moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light, the photons gain energy and become gamma rays. "The process works best when an energetic electron already heading toward Earth suffers a head-on collision with an ultraviolet photon," added Guillaume Dubus at the Laboratory for Astrophysics in Grenoble, France. "And this occurs most often when the disk is on the far side of its orbit."

This image locates the view around Cygnus X-3 within Fermi's all-sky map. Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

Through processes not fully understood, some of the gas falling toward Cygnus X-3's compact object instead rushes outward in a pair of narrow, oppositely directed jets. Radio observations clock gas motion within these jets at more than half the speed of light.

Between Oct. 11 and Dec. 20, 2008, and again between June 8 and Aug. 2, 2009, Cygnus X-3 was unusually active. The team found that outbursts in the system's gamma-ray emission preceded flaring in the radio jet by roughly five days, strongly suggesting a relationship between the two.

The findings, published today in the electronic edition of Science, will provide new insight into how high-energy particles become accelerated and how they move through the jets.

Related Links:

› Fermi Telescope Caps First Year With Glimpse of Space-Time

› Gamma-Rays from High-Mass X-Ray Binaries

Francis Reddy
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

New Report Provides Update on Recent Climate Changes

A new global scientific synthesis report prepared by 26 of the world's top climate scientists, including JPL research scientist Eric Rignot and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center researcher Robert Bindschadler, concludes that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end of, or even beyond the expectations of just a few years ago.

View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon. Image credit: NASA

The report, "The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science," documents key findings in climate change science since December 2005. That was the cutoff for scientific inputs used to prepare the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007.

› Read the news release

› Read the full report

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Approaching 'Marquette Island'

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity took this picture of a rock informally named "Marquette Island" as the rover was approaching the rock for investigations that have suggested the rock is a stony meteorite.

Opportunity used its navigation camera to record this image during the 2,056th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's mission on Mars (Nov. 5, 2009).

The dark-toned rock stood out so prominently in more distant views on earlier sols that the rover team referred to it as "Sore Thumb" before assigning the Marquette name in accord with an informal naming convention of choosing island names for the isolated rocks that the rover is finding as it crosses a relatively barren plain on its long trek from Victoria Crater toward Endeavour Crater.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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No Wheel Stall in Diagnostic Drive

On Sol 2095 (Tuesday, Nov. 24), Spirit performed a set of diagnostic actions related to a stall of the right-rear wheel on the previous drive, three days earlier. The diagnostics showed a fully functioning wheel free of obstruction. The rover was commanded forward with 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) of wheel spin. The rover moved 2.1 millimeters (0.08 inch) forward, 1.1 millimeters (0.04 inch) to the left, and 0.3 millimeters (0.01 inch) down.

The cumulative results from Sols 2088 to 2095 (Nov. 17 to 24) are 8.1 meters (27 feet) of commanded motion, 15.7 millimeters (0.6 inch) of forward progress, 9.9 millimeters (0.4 inch) of movement to the left, and 4.8 millimeters (0.2 inch) of sinkage.

This view from the navigation camera near the top of the mast on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit shows the tracks left by the rover as it drove southward and backward, dragging its inoperable right-front wheel, to the location where the rover broke through a crust in April 2009 and became embedded in soft sand.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The plan for a drive during the long holiday weekend is another two-step drive, with each step 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) of commanded wheel spin. All wheels will be straight and run at the same speed. Results of this commanded drive will be analyzed Monday, Nov. 30.

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

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Prometheus Plays Tug of War with One of Saturn's Rings

The diminutive moon Prometheus whips gossamer ice particles out of Saturn's F ring in this image taken by the Cassini spacecraft on Aug. 21, 2009. The moon and the ring have eccentric, offset orbits, so Prometheus dips in and out of the F ring as it travels around Saturn. Its gravitational force drags the dust-sized particles at the edge of the F ring along for the ride.

Saturn's moon Prometheus, orbiting near the streamer-channels it has created in the thin F ring, casts a shadow on the A ring in this image taken a little more than a week after the planet's August 2009 equinox. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

The ability of the potato-shaped Prometheus to pull material out of the F ring was first theorized in the late 1990s and finally imaged by Cassini in 2004. But because these so-called "streamer-channels" have constantly shifted as Prometheus and the F ring have moved, the F ring has never looked the same twice. The gravitational pull of other moons on other rings has created waves in the edges, but nothing quite as extreme as the streamer-channels of Prometheus.

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Examining 'Marquette Island'

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used the wire brush of its rock abrasion tool during the rover's 2,070th Martian day, or sol (Nov. 19, 2009), to scour dust from a circular target area on a rock called "Marquette Island." The brushed target area, called "Peck Bay," is visible as a dark circle about 5 centimeters (2 inches) in diameter just below the tool turret at the end of the rover's robotic arm in this image. The image was taken later the same sol by the rover's front hazard-avoidance camera.

Opportunity is performing an extensive analysis of this rock, which initial investigation suggests may be a stony meteorite.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Big Thaw? NASA Satellites Detect Unexpected Ice Loss in East Antarctica

Using gravity measurement data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) mission, a team of scientists from the University of Texas at Austin has found that the East Antarctic ice sheet-home to about 90 percent of Earth's solid fresh water and previously considered stable-may have begun to lose ice.

The team used Grace data to estimate Antarctica's ice mass between 2002 and 2009. Their results, published Nov. 22 in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that the East Antarctic ice sheet is losing mass, mostly in coastal regions, at an estimated rate of 57 gigatonnes a year. A gigatonne is one billion metric tons, or more than 2.2 trillion pounds. The ice loss there may have begun as early as 2006. The study also confirmed previous results showing that West Antarctica is losing about 132 gigatonnes of ice per year.

Grace estimate of changes in Antarctica's ice mass, measured in centimeters of equivalent water height change per year. The study confirmed previous estimates of ice mass loss in West Antarctica, but also found ice mass loss in East Antarctica, primarily in coastal regions (depicted in light blue). Image credit: University of Texas at Austin Center for Space Research

"While we are seeing a trend of accelerating ice loss in Antarctica, we had considered East Antarctica to be inviolate," said lead author and Senior Research Scientist Jianli Chen of the university's Center for Space Research. "But if it is losing mass, as our data indicate, it may be an indication the state of East Antarctica has changed. Since it's the biggest ice sheet on Earth, ice loss there can have a large impact on global sea level rise in the future."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., developed the twin Grace satellites. The University of Texas Center for Space Research in Austin has overall Grace mission responsibility. Grace was launched in 2002.

More information on Grace is online at and

› Read the UTCSR news release

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Team Plans Uplink of Protective Files - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission Status Report

PASADENA, Calif. -- The team operating NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter plans to uplink protective files to the spacecraft next week as one step toward resuming the orbiter's research and relay activities.

Since the orbiter spontaneously rebooted its computer on Aug. 26, flight team engineers have been examining possible root causes and repercussions of that incident and three similar events this year on Feb. 23, June 3 and Aug. 6. Meanwhile, the team has kept the spacecraft in a precautionary, minimally active status called "safe mode."

The four reboots involved a device, called the "computer module interface controller," that controls which of two redundant main computers on the spacecraft is active. Still undetermined is whether trouble lies with that controller itself or with a voltage glitch elsewhere on the spacecraft. The Aug. 6 reboot, though not the other three, prompted a switch from one computer to its backup twin. More than 100 factors are under consideration as possible root causes.

Artist's concept of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Engineers' analysis of the reboots has identified a possible, though unlikely, scenario that, should it occur, could jeopardize the spacecraft. This scenario would require two computer reboots, each worse than any so far, occurring within about a minute of each other in a certain pattern. The effect would be that neither of the redundant computers would remember that the spacecraft is in orbit around Mars instead of awaiting launch. The team has developed and tested a preventive-care measure to eliminate this possibility.

The preventive care requires amending some data files in the computers' non-volatile, or "flash" memories where the computers check for default settings when they reboot. However, overwriting information in those files can entail risk, especially if the spacecraft were to experience another reboot with the process only partially completed. A process developed and tested in recent weeks to minimize that risk will take several days to implement. The team will uplink, install and verify the changes in a careful sequence.

"We plan to begin uplinking protective files next week," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This process is to bulletproof the spacecraft against a remote vulnerability that our team identified. Meanwhile, analysis of possible root causes for the four reboots this year continues as another important part of our path toward resuming science operations."

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter uses six instruments to examine Mars in detail, from subsurface layers to the top of the atmosphere. It began its investigations in 2006, has provided more data about Mars than all other missions combined, and last year completed its primary science phase. Continuing science observations are planned when the spacecraft is brought out of safe mode, but no specific date for that has been set.

"The precautionary steps we are taking are not driven by the calendar, but by our commitment to care for this valuable national resource," Erickson said. "We are all eager to have science observations resume as soon as a properly cautious process allows."

Media contacts: Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

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Craters on the dark side of the moon

When people envision a "moonscape" it probably looks something like this -- craters, craters everywhere.

There are two types of impact craters on the Moon: primary and secondary. Primary craters form as the result of an asteroid or comet (or spacecraft) impacting the Moon. Secondary impact craters formed from the impact of ejecta expelled during primary crater formation. Secondary impact craters dominate this scene, possibly from the relatively recent impact that created nearby Jackson crater (43.5 miles across), located 42 miles to the west.

Clusters of secondary craters help geologists determine the relative ages of features on the moon. Image width is nearly seven football fields across. Credit:NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University.

Geologists use small secondary craters to help unravel the stratigraphy of the lunar surface. These secondary craters reside on the floor of a 8.7 mile wilde crater. What is the age of this host crater? If these secondary craters originated from the Jackson event, then it is a fair bet the Jackson impact was more recent. If you look at the bottom of this NAC frame in the LROC Image Gallery at ASU, you can see that this crater also has a very subdued rim, in contrast to Jackson's well-defined rim, providing more evidence of it's age.

Related Link:

› LROC site at Arizona State University

Arizona State University

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Cassini Captures Ghostly Dance of Saturn's Northern Lights

PASADENA, Calif. – In the first video showing the auroras above the northern latitudes of Saturn, Cassini has spotted the tallest known "northern lights" in the solar system, flickering in shape and brightness high above the ringed planet.

The new video reveals changes in Saturn's aurora every few minutes, in high resolution, with three dimensions. The images show a previously unseen vertical profile to the auroras, which ripple in the video like tall curtains. These curtains reach more than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) above the edge of the planet's northern hemisphere.

The new video and still images are online at: , and .

Auroras occur on Earth, Jupiter, Saturn and a few other planets, and the new images will help scientists better understand how they are generated.

"The auroras have put on a dazzling show, shape-shifting rapidly and exposing curtains that we suspected were there, but hadn't seen on Saturn before," said Andrew Ingersoll of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, who is a member of the Cassini imaging team that processed the new video. "Seeing these things on another planet helps us understand them a little better when we see them on Earth."

An aurora, shining high above the northern part of Saturn, moves from the night side to the day side of the planet in this movie recorded by Cassini.Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Auroras appear mostly in the high latitudes near a planet's magnetic poles. When charged particles from the magnetosphere -- the magnetic bubble surrounding a planet -- plunge into the planet's upper atmosphere, they cause the atmosphere to glow. The curtain shapes show the paths that these charged particles take as they flow along the lines of the magnetic field between the magnetosphere and the uppermost part of the atmosphere.

The height of the curtains on Saturn exposes a key difference between Saturn's atmosphere and our own, Ingersoll said. While Earth's atmosphere has a lot of oxygen and nitrogen, Saturn's atmosphere is composed primarily of hydrogen. Because hydrogen is very light, the atmosphere and auroras reach far out from Saturn. Earth's auroras tend to flare only about 100 to 500 kilometers (60 to 300 miles) above the surface.

The speed of the auroral changes in the video is comparable to some of those on Earth, but scientists are still working to understand the processes that produce these rapid changes. The height will also help them learn how much energy is required to light up auroras.

A Cassini scientist explains the flickering "northern lights" high above Saturn, shown for the first time in a visible-light movie.Image credit: NASA/JPL/

"I was wowed when I saw these images and the curtain," said Tamas Gombosi of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who chairs Cassini's magnetosphere and plasma science working group. "Put this together with the other data Cassini has collected on the auroras so far, and you really get a new science."

Ultraviolet and infrared instruments on Cassini have captured images of and data from Saturn's auroras before, but in these latest images, Cassini's narrow-angle camera was able to capture the northern lights in the visible part of the light spectrum, in higher resolution. The movie was assembled from nearly 500 still pictures spanning 81 hours between Oct. 5 and Oct. 8, 2009. Each picture had an exposure time of two or three minutes. The camera shot pictures from the night side of Saturn.

The images were originally obtained in black and white, and the imaging team highlighted the auroras in false-color orange. The oxygen and nitrogen in Earth's upper atmosphere contribute to the colorful flashes of green, red and even purple in our auroras. But scientists are still working to determine the true color of the auroras at Saturn, whose atmosphere lacks those chemicals.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Joe Mason 720-974-5859
Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Inventors Answer Call for New Glove Designs

Two independent inventors answered NASA's call for innovative new designs for the next generation of astronaut gloves. Today's spacewalkers have to contend with bulky gloves that stiffen when pressurized, making it tough to grip and flex while completing tasks in the vacuum of space.

Peter Homer and Ted Southern put their prototypes to the test during NASA's 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge, held Nov. 19 at the Astronaut Hall of Fame in Titusville, Fla., near NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Homer, an engineer from Southwest Harbor, Maine, was awarded $250,000 after placing first. Southern, a sculpture major at New York's Pratt Institute, earned second place and $100,000.

The ultimate goal of the Astronaut Glove Challenge is to improve the current design, resulting in a stronger and more flexible glove that will reduce the hand fatigue experienced by astronauts working in space.

For the first Astronaut Glove Challenge held in 2007, competitors supplied only the inner pressure-restraining layer. The outer layer, which provides protection against extreme temperatures and micrometeoroids, was an added requirement this year. Representatives from NASA and the agency's spacesuit contractor, ILC Dover, observed and noted the gloves' performances in a series of three tests.

The competitor inserted his gloved arm and hand into a depressurized glove box for the dexterity and flexibility test, completing cycles of movements and tasks, such as gripping a handle, using tools, flexing the hand and wrist, and touching the tip of the thumb to the tip of each finger.

In the joint force test, test operators from ILC Dover sealed and pressurized each glove to 4.3 pounds per square inch (psi) of internal pressure, then tugged it through its full range of motion while measuring the amount of force each movement required.

Finally, the gloves' strength capabilities were measured in the burst test. The room quieted as test operators sealed the glove and filled it with water, slowly increasing the pressure. Competitors, judges and other spectators leaned forward, watching the glove for signs of weakness or rupture.

Image above: Inventor Peter Homer, left, participates in the dexterity and flexibility test during NASA's 2009 Astronaut Glove Challenge at the Astronaut Hall of Fame near Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The event was sponsored by Secor Strategies LLC of Titusville, Fla., and non-profit Volanz Aerospace of Owings, Md., managed the event for NASA.

"Both of you did better than the (current) Phase VI glove, and you both get a round of applause for that," said Alan Hayes, Volanz Aerospace chairman. "The test results were incredibly close."

Both Homer and Southern began working on the project in spring 2006 and competed in the first Astronaut Glove Challenge. Homer took home $200,000 after winning that event. After the 2007 challenge, Southern teamed up with former competitor Nikolay Moiseev.

Prior to the challenge, competitors were in the dark about who else would participate or what their designs might be.

"You're sort of developing in the vacuum of your own little world," Homer said. "You're hoping that you're going far enough with your design. And then there's the aspect of, 'Who am I going to be going up against?' I didn't know Ted was competing until we walked in and saw each other."

The Astronaut Glove Challenge is one of six Centennial Challenges prize competitions managed by NASA's Innovative Partnerships Program.

For more information about NASA's Centennial Challenges, visit:

Anna C. Heiney
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

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NASA Assessing New Roles for Ailing QuikScat Satellite

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA mission managers are assessing options for future operations of the venerable QuikScat satellite following the age-related failure of a mechanism that spins the scatterometer antenna. This spinning antenna had been providing near-real-time ocean- surface wind speed and direction data over 90 percent of the global ocean every day.

In recent months, the QuikScat project team has been monitoring a pattern of increasing friction in the bearings that allow the antenna to spin, leading to increased resistance and strain on the motor that turns QuikScat's rotating antenna. This degradation was fully expected, as the spin mechanism was designed to last about 5 years.

After experiencing further difficulties over the weekend, the antenna stopped spinning early today, Nov. 23. The QuikScat spacecraft and scatterometer instrument themselves remain in otherwise good health. Should engineers be unable to restart the antenna, QuikScat will be unable to continue its primary science mission, as the antenna spin is necessary to estimate wind speed and direction and form the wide data swath necessary to obtain nearly global sampling.

Artist's concept of QuickScat. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Over the coming days, NASA managers will review contingency plans for restarting the antenna and assess options for using the mission in its present degraded state to advance Earth system science in the event the antenna cannot be restarted. For example, degraded scatterometer measurements from QuikScat can still be useful for cross-calibrating the mission's climate data record with measurements from other scatterometers, including the operational EUMETSAT ASCAT instrument, India's recently launched Oceansat-2 and a planned Chinese scatterometer. Specific operational forecasting applications such as polar ice measurements and limited hurricane observations may also be supportable.

By any measure of success, the 10-year-old QuikScat mission is a unique national resource that has achieved and far surpassed its science objectives. Designed for a two-year lifetime, QuikScat has been used around the globe by the world's operational meteorological agencies to improve weather forecasts and identify the location, size and strength of hurricanes and other storms in the open ocean. The mission has also provided critical information for monitoring, modeling, forecasting and researching our atmosphere, ocean and climate. More information on QuikScat is online at:

Alan Buis 818-354-0474
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

For more information visit

Twin Brown Dwarfs Wrapped in a Blanket

This image shows two young brown dwarfs, objects that fall somewhere between planets and stars in terms of their temperature and mass. Brown dwarfs are cooler and less massive than stars, never igniting the nuclear fires that power their larger cousins, yet they are more massive (and normally warmer) than planets. When brown dwarfs are born, they heat the nearby gas and dust, which enables powerful infrared telescopes like NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope to detect their presence.

Here we see a long sought-after view of these very young objects, labeled as A and B, which appear as closely-spaced purple-blue and orange-white dots at the very center of this image. The surrounding envelope of cool dust surrounding this nursery can be seen in purple. These "twins," which were found in the region of the Taurus-Auriga star-formation complex, are the youngest of their kind ever detected. They are also helping astronomers solve a long-standing riddle about how brown dwarfs are formed - more like stars or more like planets? Based on these findings, the researchers think they have found the answer: Brown dwarfs form like stars.

This image combined data from three different telescopes on the ground and in space. Near-infrared observations collected at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain cover wavelengths of 1.3 and 2.2 microns (rendered as blue). Spitzer's infrared array camera contributed the 4.5-micron (green) and 8.0-micron (yellow) observations, and its multiband imaging photometer added the 24-micron (red) component. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory in Hawaii made the far-infrared observations at 350 microns (purple).

These observations were made before Spitzer ran out its coolant in May of 2009, officially beginning its "warm" mission.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Calar Alto Obsv./Caltech Sub. Obsv.

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Wise a Bit Closer to the Sky

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, is now perched atop its rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Santa Barbara, Calif. The mission, which will scan the whole sky in infrared light, is scheduled to blast off on Dec. 9. It was hoisted to the top of its United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket on Friday, Nov. 20.

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, is seen here being hoisted to the top of its United Launch Alliance Detla II rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The spacecraft, which will scan the whole sky in infrared light, is scheduled to blast off on Dec. 9, 2009. Image credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The mission's principal investigator, Edward Wright, is at UCLA. The mission was competitively selected under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. The science instrument was built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and the spacecraft was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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Third Extrication Drive Ends With Wheel Stall

Spirit experienced a wheel stall with the right-rear wheel during the second step of a two-step drive on Sol 2092 (Saturday, Nov. 21). This is not the same wheel that stalled on Sol 1899 (May 6), the left-middle wheel. On Sol 2092, the right-rear wheel did not experience a hard stall like what was seen on Sol 1899. Instead, it stalled because the wheel's progress fell behind the expected rotation rate.

This blink comparison aids evaluation of a drive by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit during the rover's 2,092nd Martian day, or sol (Nov. 21, 2009). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rover had completed about 4 meters (13 feet) of commanded wheel spin before the stall terminated the drive. The center of the rover moved about 4 millimeters (0.2 inch) forward, 3 millimeters (0.1 inch) to the left and about 3 millimeters (0.1 inch) down. The rover suspension stayed within the tighter limits set for the drive, and there was only a fractional change in rover tilt.

The plan ahead for today, Nov. 23, is to sequence a set of diagnostics to explore the right rear wheel stall. The diagnostics will include a rotor resistance test, a possible steering test, a small backward rotation of just the right-rear wheel and a short (about 1 meter, or 3 feet) forward commanded motion of the rover. Resumption of the extrication driving would be no sooner than Wednesday.

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

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NASA Receives Tranquility

The last major component set to be added to the International Space Station, the Node 3 module known as Tranquility, was officially transferred from the European Space Agency to NASA during a ceremony Nov. 20.

Inside the cavernous Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, officials from the two cooperating space agencies took the opportunity to reflect on the nearly completed station and its role in future space exploration.

"Station is truly a phenomenal engineering accomplishment, but as important as all that hardware is on orbit, what it really is, it’s the unity of all of us as partners," said Bob Cabana, Kennedy's director and a former astronaut who commanded the first space station construction mission. "All those different cultures coming together and working together as one for the betterment of not just our own countries, but our world, and preparing us to go beyond low Earth orbit to explore in space."

Image above: ESA's Bernardo Patti (left) and NASA's Michael Suffredini finalize the transfer of the Node 3, Tranquility, to NASA. Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The pressurized node will provide additional room for crew members and many of the space station's life support and environmental control systems already on board. These systems include air revitalization, oxygen generation and water recycling. A waste and hygiene compartment and a treadmill also will be relocated from other areas of the station.

"ISS is the first necessary step in human's exploration beyond low Earth orbit," echoed Michael Suffredini, NASA's program manager for the International Space Station. "That's what the ISS was built to start, and that's what the ISS is now ready to do."

Tranquility was built for NASA by Thales Alenia Space in Turin, Italy, under contract to the European Space Agency. The module was part of ESA's barter agreement for which NASA delivered the Columbus laboratory to the station.

"The goal of tomorrow is to use this station, this beautiful achievement, to the maximum extent," said Bernardo Patti, head of the European Space Agency's space station program. "Now the ISS is becoming a full development program and it will be used as a platform to support an exploration program. We have all the ingredients to make that a success. We have the talent, we have the experience, and we have all the passion and the ideas."

Image above: In the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an overhead crane lowers the Tranquility module, or Node 3, toward a work stand. Image credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

Spanning about 22 feet in length and 14 feet in diameter, the node arrived at Kennedy aboard an Airbus "Beluga" aircraft in May 2009, and has been undergoing processing at Kennedy ever since.

Tranquility's connection point on the station will be on the Earth-facing side of the Unity node. The new component will provide an additional docking point for space shuttles and other crew vehicles visiting the station. Attached to Tranquility will be Cupola, a unique work module with six windows on the sides and one on top.

Both Tranquility and Cupola are set for delivery to the station early next year during space shuttle Endeavour's STS-130 mission.

Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cassini Sends Back Images of Enceladus as Winter Nears

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sailed seamlessly through the Nov. 21 flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus and started transmitting uncalibrated temperature data and images of the rippling terrain. These data and images will be processed and analyzed in the coming weeks. They will help scientists create the most-detailed-yet mosaic image of the southern part of the moon's Saturn-facing hemisphere and a contiguous thermal map of one of the intriguing "tiger stripe" features, with the highest resolution to date.

"These first raw images are spectacular, and paint an even more fascinating picture of Enceladus," said Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The Cassini teams will be delving into the data to better understand the workings of this bizarre, active moon."

This unprocessed image was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its Nov. 21, 2009 flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus. It shows the moon's south polar region, where jets of water vapor and other particles spew from fissures on the surface. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Scientists are particularly interested in the tiger stripes, which are fissures in the south polar region, because they spew jets of water vapor and other particles hundreds of kilometers, or miles, from the surface. This flyby was scientists' last peek at the tiger stripes before the south pole fades into the darkness of winter for several years. The thermal imaging work focused on the tiger stripe known as Baghdad Sulcus.

The Nov. 21 encounter, which is sometimes called "E8" because it is the eighth targeted flyby of Enceladus, brought Cassini to within about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of the moon's surface, at around 82 degrees south latitude. Cassini is now cruising toward Rhea, another one of Saturn's moons, for more imaging and mapping work.

This unprocessed image was captured by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during its Nov. 21, 2009 flyby of Saturn's moon Enceladus. It shows the ridges and fractures on the surface of the icy moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

To see a full gallery of raw images, click here. For more information on the flyby, click here.

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Preflight Interview: Randy and Rebecca Bresnik

Space shuttle Atlantis Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik is a new father.

At 5:14 a.m. CST, Bresnik called Mission Control and announced the birth of his daughter. Abigail Mae Bresnik, weighing six pounds, 13 ounces and measuring 20 inches long, arrived at 11:04 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21 in Houston. He reported his wife Rebecca and baby are doing well. He also thanked the flight control team and flight surgeon for their support and assistance.

Bresnik was informed of his daughter's birth through a phone patch to Atlantis from the Mission Control Center and the hospital after he woke up. He was also tied in through the station’s IP Phone to Dr. Smith Johnston, the STS-129 Flight Surgeon following his spacewalk Saturday evening during his wife’s labor until he needed to go to bed.

Bresnik will see his daughter for the first time during a videoconference planned Sunday, Nov. 22, and photos and some video of the baby will be uplinked to Atlantis. No other information will be available until after Bresnik and the STS-129 crew return to Earth. He and Rebecca offered this final word of thanks: "We are sending a big thank you to all of the people who have supported NASA and us for this mission and our special occasion."

Rebecca and Randy Bresnik, STS-129 mission specialist, talk about having a baby anticipated to be delivered while the father is off the planet. Photo Credit: NASA

This is the second time a baby has been born to an American astronaut during his spaceflight. Mike Fincke’s daughter was born in June 2004 while he was aboard the International Space Station.

Shortly before the launch of STS-129, Randy and Rebecca Bresnik participated in the following preflight interview.

Why don’t we start by you each telling us how you feel about this unique situation of having a baby anticipated to be delivered during Randy’s mission.

Randy: I think like most parents, I would prefer to be there at the birth for sure, but we don’t pick this timing and so it’s to be a little bit disappointing not to see her in person right when she enters the world but fortunately through the wonders of modern technical advancements and our amazing communication systems on the ISS and space shuttle, hopefully I’ll be able to hear and see the pictures and be able to talk to her maybe on the IP phone and see some video shortly thereafter and be home only a few days afterwards.

Rebecca: Thanks so much Randy. I’m a little disappointed that he won’t be able to be there but understanding that we don’t choose the timing and excited for him that he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s trained one year for this mission but really he’s been here five, almost six years, and I’m just real excited for him and excited for us and just to be gone basically a week beyond her being born. So, I’m excited for him to come home safely.

Randy, you talked a little bit about how you might be able to hear about the birth or even see your new baby once she’s born on-orbit, but Rebecca can you tell us what special preparations you’re making for this unique situation?

Randy: She’s going to deliver the baby.

Rebecca: Well for the actual birth, really just trying to work his schedule along with the delivery of the baby. Due to medical reasons I’m being induced two weeks early so we’re able to play with the date a little bit. So, I’m just working with my doctors and working with Randy’s schedule to make sure that if possible that we can do it on the day where he’s not out doing an EVA and maybe have a little more communication during that day. And then also I’m sending up a support group here and I’ve got family coming into town. My sister’s coming in for the delivery, and then my mom’s actually watching her child. So, just like I said, just setting up, making sure we have, even the dog being walked.

Astronaut Randy Bresnik, STS-129 mission specialist, is pictured near a beverage container floating freely on the aft flight deck of space shuttle Atlantis during flight day two activities. Photo Credit: NASA

Randy: Family, mother and sister making sacrifices of not being able to go to the launch so they can be in position to help out Rebecca after the launch which we greatly appreciate.

Rebecca: We very much appreciate what everyone has offered to do with helping us through this.

Randy you touched on it a little bit, but from orbit once the baby’s born, what assets and resources will you have?

Randy: It depends on the timing of the launch. We know the baby’s due date plus or minus a little bit but it just depends on if we’re docked or not. Obviously if we’re just shuttle, there’s a few less assets. We don’t have the live video conference and that type of thing, but anything we have is far more than most military families get when somebody’s deployed and they’re not there for the birth. So if I can get a simple radio call that she’s entered the world safely and Rebecca’s doing great - everything above me on that is gravy. If we’re on, docked to the space station, obviously the communication assets we have there are a lot better and hopefully things will align and satellites will be up and I won’t be too busy and I’ll be able to have a chance to take a break maybe during lunch and come say hi.

Rebecca: And we’re being able to get some pictures and maybe a little video sent up after the fact.

Astronaut Randy Bresnik, STS-129 mission specialist. Photo Credit: NASA

You mentioned you already have a son. Does he have a special role in all of this?

Rebecca: Well he thinks he’s naming the baby Neemo, but [Randy: Or Stormy, our dog] he’s just ready to be a big brother. He’s excited about the baby. He’s always asking, “When’s the baby going to come out and play?”

Randy: He goes up to her belly and says, “Baby, come out!”

Rebecca: I say that too sometimes!

Randy: And the amazing thing about him is that a year ago today we hadn’t even met him yet. And actually tomorrow’s the anniversary of the first day we met him. Within 48 hours of being assigned to STS-129 we got the call saying we had a date to go to Ukraine for our adoption. And so we were over there 40 days last fall adopting him and we came back mid-December. So we’ve got this wonderfully happy and healthy little three and a half year old little boy whose life has changed completely. He’s gone from being in an orphanage on the other side of the planet to being in the space shuttle simulator here flying with his dad a couple weeks ago.

Rebecca: It’s pretty amazing. And remember after we, it must have been about a month or two after we got him and we were home with him and we had friends come over with a little baby and he goes, “Ah baby. I want baby. I want baby.” And I’m like, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you out there.” And then three months after getting home with him we’re giving him what he wants. Little miracle.

Randy: We’re fortunate enough to witness the miracle of adoption as well as the miracle of child birth all in one year. We’re just amazingly blessed.

I assume you, Rebecca, and the baby will not travel to the landing. When do you anticipate Randy will be able to see the baby for the first time?

Rebecca: No I probably won’t go to the landing. He keeps on telling me no don’t try to come to the landing.

Randy: We have such good luck at landing at KSC, I’d hate for them to make that trip and have us land somewhere else.

Rebecca: Probably be the day after you land.

Randy: As soon as possible. I will look forward to that landing and Scorch to make it nice and safe. Probably more than anybody has in the history of the space shuttle program.

Well that’s the last question I had. Anything else you want to add? Or that we didn’t cover that you would like…

Rebecca: No. Just I think we’re very appreciative of NASA and all the people here that have been so supportive and that have just really offered up help and everything from helping us out with our son to coordinating things while Randy’s up there and getting me to the launch and helping out with me at the launch and we’re just very appreciative of all that NASA has done for us too and all the people here.

Randy: With her being the hardworking NASA employee that she is, still working this week, her last day is going to be Friday and I go into quarantine on Monday so everybody that’s been here at JSC that ‘s been helping her out a lot during the pregnancy and helping her while she’s been pregnant and sick a bunch so we appreciate that too.

It’s an amazing story. Congratulations. Thanks again.

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Mystery of the Solar Tsunami—Solved

Sometimes you really can believe your eyes. That's what NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) is telling researchers about a controversial phenomenon on the sun known as the "solar tsunami."

Years ago, when solar physicists first witnessed a towering wave of hot plasma racing across the sun's surface, they doubted their senses. The scale of the wave was staggering: It rose up higher than Earth itself and rippled out from a central point in a circular pattern millions of kilometers in circumference. Skeptical observers suggested it might be a shadow of some kind—a trick of the satellite's eye—but surely not a real wave.

"Now we know," says Joe Gurman of the Solar Physics Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Solar tsunamis are real."

The twin STEREO spacecraft confirmed their reality in February 2009 when sunspot 11012 unexpectedly erupted. The blast hurled a billion-ton cloud of gas (a coronal mass ejection, or CME) into space and sent a tsunami racing along the sun's surface. STEREO recorded the wave from two positions separated by 90 degrees, giving researchers an unprecedented view of the event.

Violent events on the Sun can trigger waves much the same as earthquakes can trigger tsunamis on the Earth, as shown in this computer simulation. Credit: NASA/Walt Feimer, GSFC Conceptual Image Lab

"It was definitely a wave," says Spiros Patsourakos of George Mason University, lead author of a paper reporting the finding in Astrophysical Journal Letters. "Not a wave of water, but a giant wave of hot plasma and magnetism."

The technical name is "fast-mode magnetohydrodynamical wave," or "MHD wave" for short. The one STEREO saw reared up about 100,000 kilometers high, raced outward at 250 km/second (560,000 mph), and packed as much energy as 2400 megatons of TNT (1029 ergs).

Solar tsunamis were discovered in 1997 by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). In May of that year, a CME came blasting up from an active region on the sun's surface, and SOHO recorded a tsunami rippling away from the blast site.

"We wondered," recalls Gurman, "is that a wave, or just a shadow of the CME overhead?"

The unique orbit of STEREO's twin spacecraft allowed scientists to confirm the existence of solar tsunamis. Credit: NASA

SOHO's single point of view was not enough to answer the question—neither for that first wave nor for many similar events recorded by SOHO in years that followed.

The question remained open until after the launch of STEREO. At the time of the February 2009 eruption, STEREO-B was directly over the blast site, while STEREO-A was stationed at a right angle —"perfect geometry for cracking the mystery," says co-author Angelos Vourlidas of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.

The physical reality of the waves has been further confirmed by movies of the waves crashing into things. "We've seen the waves reflected by sunspots," says Vourlidas. "And there is a wonderful movie of a solar prominence oscillating after it gets hit by a wave. We call it the 'dancing prominence.'"

Solar tsunamis pose no direct threat to Earth, but they are important to study. "We can use them to diagnose conditions on the sun," notes Gurman. "By watching how the waves propagate and bounce off things, we can gather information about the sun's lower atmosphere available in no other way."

Scientists first spied tsunami-like waves on the surface of the sun in July 1996 with SOHO. Credit: SOHO (ESA & NASA)

"Tsunami waves can also improve our forecasting of space weather," adds Vourlidas, "Like a bull-eye, they 'mark the spot' where an eruption takes place. Pinpointing the blast site can help us anticipate when a CME or radiation storm will reach Earth."

And they're pretty entertaining, too. "The movies," he says, "are out of this world."

Related Links:

Astrophysical Journal Letters: "'Extreme Ultraviolet Waves' are Waves: First Quadrature Observations of an Extreme Ultraviolet Wave from STEREO"

Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO)

Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)

NSO Telescope Spots Solar Tsunami

"Solar Tsunami" Reflection from a Coronal Hole

Dr. Tony Phillips
NASA's Heliophysics News Team

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Before Darkness Falls: Cassini to Scan Enceladus on Winter's Cusp

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will fly by Saturn's moon Enceladus this weekend for a last peek at the intriguing "tiger stripes" before winter darkness blankets the area for several years.

Scientists are particularly interested in the tiger stripes, which are fissures in the south polar region, because they spew jets of water vapor and other particles hundreds of kilometers, or miles, from the surface.

The flyby, which is sometimes called "E8" because it is the eighth targeted flyby of Enceladus, is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 21 UTC, which is the evening of Friday, Nov. 20 in U.S. time zones. Cassini team members expect to fly the spacecraft to within about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) of the moon's surface, at around 82 degrees south latitude. This will be a more distant flyby than the one on Nov. 2, when Cassini flew about 100 kilometers (60 miles) above the surface.

An artist's concept of Cassini's Nov. 21, 2009, Enceladus flyby. Image credit: NASA/JPL

During this flyby, scientists will focus on a tiger stripe called Baghdad Sulcus and create a contiguous thermal map of the feature. The spacecraft will also be snapping high-resolution images of the southern part of the Saturn-facing hemisphere.

For more information on the flyby, click here.

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NASA Provides Venerable Hubble Hardware to Smithsonian

Two key instruments from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have a new home in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington after being returned to Earth aboard space shuttle Atlantis last May.

Astronauts brought back the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2, or WFPC-2, and the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement, or COSTAR, after more than 15 years in space. The camera returned the iconic images that now adorn posters, album covers, the Internet, classrooms and science text books worldwide.

"This was the camera that saved Hubble," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "I have looked forward for a long time to stand in front of this very instrument while on display to the public."

Galaxy NGC 4710 is tilted nearly edge-on to our view from Earth. This perspective allows astronomers to easily distinguish the central bulge of stars from its pancake-flat disk of stars, dust, and gas. Credit: NASA, ESA and P. Goudfrooij (STScI)

After Hubble's launch and deployment aboard the shuttle in 1990, scientists realized the telescope's primary mirror had a flaw, known as a spherical aberration. The outer edge of the mirror was ground too flat by a depth of 2.2 microns, roughly equal to one-fiftieth the thickness of a human hair. This tiny flaw resulted in fuzzy images because some of the light from the objects being studied was scattered.

Hubble's first servicing mission provided the telescope with hardware that basically acted as eye glasses. Launched in December 1993 aboard space shuttle Endeavour, the mission added the WFPC-2, about the size of a baby grand piano, and COSTAR, about the size of a telephone booth. The WFPC-2 had the optical fix built in, while the COSTAR provided the optical correction for other Hubble instruments.

The WFPC-2 made more than 135,000 observations of celestial objects from 1993 to 2009. The camera was the longest serving and most prolific instrument aboard Hubble.

"For years the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 has been taking pictures of the universe," said John Trauger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Today, we are taking pictures of the WFPC-2 and I guess if there was ever a camera that deserves to have its picture taken, this is it."

The Hubble instruments will be on display in the National Air and Space Museum's Space Hall through mid-December. They then will travel to Southern California to go on temporary display at several venues. In March 2010, the instruments will return to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, where they will take up permanent residency.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed and built the WFPC-2. The COSTAR instrument was built by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colo. The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. The project is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. The institute is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc., in Washington.

For more information about the Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

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