Wednesday, June 30, 2010

NASA's TRMM Satellite Sees Heavy Rainfall in Hurricane Alex

Hurricane Alex is generating some very heavy rainfall, and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite known as TRMM has been calculating it from its orbit in space.

As predicted by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami, Florida, Alex intensified after entering the warm waters of the southwest Gulf of Mexico.

At NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., scientists created an analysis of Alex's rainfall using data captured by the TRMM satellite on June 29, 2010 at 1350 UTC (9:50 a.m. EDT). At that time the sustained winds around Alex were estimated to be 60 knots (~69 mph). Alex continued to strengthen and was classified as a hurricane early on 30 June 2010. This made Alex the first hurricane in the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season.

The rainfall analysis used TRMM Precipitation Radar (PR) data and TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI) data. The TMI data showed that a heavy band of precipitation (some areas showed rain falling at more than 2 inches per hour) was spiraling into the center of Alex's intensifying circulation. The precipitation analysis was overlaid on visible and infrared data from TRMM's Visible Infrared Scanner (VIRS). In this image a Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES East) visible image was used to fill in locations not viewed by the TRMM satellite.

The TRMM satellite's data on June 29, 2010 at 9:50 a.m. EDT showed some heavy rain (red) falling at up to 2 inches per hour, spiraling toward Hurricane Alex's center. The yellow and green areas indicate moderate rainfall between .78 to 1.57 inches per hour. Credit: NASA, Hal Pierce

Alex is expected to continue to be a large rainmaker when it makes landfall. Rainfall accumulations are expected of between 6 and 12 inches, with isolated amounts of 20 inches.

Tropical Storm-force winds are expected to reach coastal areas in the warning areas this afternoon, while hurricane-force winds will reach the coast tonight. In addition, the National Hurricane Center noted "a dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 3 to 5 feet above ground level along the immediate coast to the north of where the center makes landfall."

By 11 a.m. EDT, Alex was still a category one hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 80 mph. Alex was located about 145 miles (235 km) east of La Pesca, Mexico and 190 miles (310 km) southeast of Brownsville, Texas. That makes Alex's center near 23.8 North and 95.5 West. Alex is moving northwest at 7 mph (11 km/hr), and has a minimum central pressure near 961 millibars.

Satellite data show that Alex is a large hurricane and the hurricane force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center. Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 200 miles (325 km) primarily to the northeast of the center.

The National Hurricane Center noted today that "Given such a low minimum pressure...the current satellite presentation and a favorable environment for intensification...the winds should increase today and Alex could reach category two before landfall."

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CID-42: A Black Hole 'Slingshot'

Evidence for a recoiling black hole has been found using data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, XMM-Newton, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and several ground-based telescopes. This black hole kickback was caused either by a slingshot effect produced in a triple black hole system, or from the effects of gravitational waves produced after two supermassive black holes merged a few million years earlier.

The discovery of this object, located in this composite image, comes from a large, multi-wavelength survey, known as the Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS). This survey includes data from Chandra, HST, XMM- Newton, as well as ground-based observatories. Of the 2,600 X-ray sources found in COSMOS, only one -- named CID-42 and located in a galaxy about 3.9 billion light years away -- coincides with two very close, compact optical sources (The two sources are seen in the HST data, but they are too close for Chandra to resolve separately.) In this image, the X-ray source detected by Chandra is colored blue, while the Hubble data are seen in gold.

The galaxy's long tail suggests that a merger between galaxies has occurred relatively recently, only a few million years earlier. Data from the Very Large Telescope and the Magellan telescope give evidence that the difference in speed of the two optical sources is at least three million miles an hour.

The X-ray spectra from Chandra and XMM-Newton provide extra information about CID-42. Absorption from iron-rich gas shows that gas is moving rapidly away from us in the rest frame of the galaxy. This could be gas in the galaxy between us and one of the black holes that is falling into the black hole, or it could be gas on the far side of the black hole that is blowing away.

Taken together, these pieces of information allow for two different scenarios for what is happening in this system. In the first scenario, the researchers surmise that a triple black hole encounter was produced by a two-step process. First, a collision between two galaxies created a galaxy with a pair of black holes in a close orbit. Before these black holes could merge, another galaxy collision occurred, and another supermassive black hole spiraled toward the existing black hole pair.

The interaction among the three black holes resulted in the lightest one being ejected. In this case, the optical source in the lower left of the image is an active galactic nucleus (AGN) powered by material being pulled along by, and falling onto, the escaping supermassive black hole. The source in the upper right is an AGN containing the black hole that resulted from a merger between the two remaining black holes.

In this slingshot scenario, the high-speed X-ray absorption can be explained as a high-speed wind blowing away from the AGN in the upper right that absorbs light from the AGN in the lower left. Based on its optical spectrum, the AGN in the upper right is thought to be obscured by a torus of dust and gas. In nearly all cases a wind from such an AGN would be undetectable, but here it is illuminated by the other AGN, giving the first evidence that fast winds exist in obscured AGN.

An alternative explanation posits a merger between two supermassive black holes in the center of the galaxy. The asymmetry of the gravitational waves emitted in this process caused the merged black hole to be kicked away from the center of the galaxy. In this scenario, the ejected black hole is the point source in the lower left and a cluster of stars left behind in the center of the galaxy is in the upper right. The observed X-ray absorption would be caused by gas falling onto the recoiling black hole.

Future observations may help eliminate or further support one of these scenarios. A team of researchers led by Francesca Civano and Martin Elvis of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) will publish their work on CID-42 in the July 1st edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

The second scenario, concerning the recoil of a supermassive black hole caused by a gravitational wave kick, has recently been proposed by Peter Jonker from the Netherlands Institute for Space Research in Utrecht as a possible explanation for a source in a different galaxy. In this study, led by Peter Jonker from the Netherlands Institute for Space Research in Utrecht, a Chandra X-ray source was discovered about ten thousand light years, in projection, away from the center of a galaxy. Three possible explanations for this object are that it is an unusual type of supernova, or an ultraluminous X- ray source with a very bright optical counterpart or a recoiling supermassive black hole resulting from a gravitational wave kick.

Credits: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/F.Civano et al. Optical: NASA/STScI

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

NASA Retires TRACE Spacecraft After Highly Successful Mission

NASA's Transition Region And Coronal Explorer, known as TRACE, conducted its final observations of the sun on June 21.

Although launched on April Fools' Day, 1998, TRACE quickly proved its worth, observing – for the first time - an entire cycle of solar activity and imaging dynamic coronal phenomena.

TRACE provided images at five times the magnification of those taken by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope Instrument aboard the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

TRACE spacecraft from video

Many details of the fine structure of the corona were observed for the first time. Early in its mission, it discovered the fine-scale magnetic features where enhanced heating occurs at the footpoints of coronal loop systems in solar active regions, which later became known as "coronal moss."

In 2001, TRACE observations of astonishing coronal activity were highlighted in the IMAX movie SolarMax.

High spatial resolution observations of the solar corona are now being carried out by NASA''s newest eye on the sun, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a Goddard-built spacecraft managed by the Science Mission Directorate's Heliophysics Division. SDO's field of view is much larger than TRACE, so that the entire disk of the sun, not a small area, is imaged in every observation.

The TRACE spacecraft observes an X-ray flare over solar active region AR9906, April 21, 2002.

Lockheed-Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif., developed the TRACE instrument and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's Flight Projects Directorate designed and built this Small Explorer class spacecraft. The entire mission was accomplished for $10M under budget.

During its 12 year mission, TRACE produced millions of stunning images and contributed to more than 1,000 scientific publications.

Congratulations to TRACE mission team and numerous other scientists and engineers who contributed the mission’s outstanding success.

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NASA Mars Rover Seeing Destination in More Detail

Mars rover team members have begun informally naming features around the rim of Endeavour Crater, as they develop plans to investigate that destination when NASA's Opportunity rover arrives there after many more months of driving.

A new, super-resolution view of a portion of Endeavour's rim reveals details that were not discernible in earlier images from the rover. Several high points along the rim can be correlated with points discernible from orbit.

Super-resolution is an imaging technique combining information from multiple pictures of the same target to generate an image with a higher resolution than any of the individual images.

Since the summer of 2008, when NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity finished two years of studying Victoria Crater, the rover's long-term destination has been the much larger Endeavour Crater to the southeast. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

Endeavour has been the team's long-term destination for Opportunity since the summer of 2008, when the rover finished two years of studying Victoria Crater. By the spring of 2010, Opportunity had covered more than a third of the charted, 19-kilometer (12-mile) route from Victoria to Endeavour and reached an area with a gradual, southward slope offering a view of Endeavour's elevated rim.

After the rover team chose Endeavour as a long-term destination, the goal became even more alluring when observations with the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, found clay minerals exposed at Endeavour. Clay minerals, which form under wet conditions, have been found extensively on Mars from orbit, but have not been examined on the surface. Additional observations with that spectrometer are helping the rover team choose which part of Endeavour's rim to visit first with Opportunity.

This map of the region around NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows the relative locations of several craters, including Endeavour. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

The team is using the theme of names of places visited by British Royal Navy Capt. James Cook in his 1769-1771 Pacific voyage in command of H.M.S. Endeavour for informal names of sites at Endeavour Crater. Points visible in the super-resolution view from May 12 include "Cape Tribulation" and "Cape Dromedary."

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Voyager 2 at 12,000 Days: The Super-Marathon Continues

NASA's plucky Voyager 2 spacecraft has hit a long-haul operations milestone today (June 28) -- operating continuously for 12,000 days. For nearly 33 years, the venerable spacecraft has been returning data about the giant outer planets, and the characteristics and interaction of solar wind between and beyond the planets. Among its many findings, Voyager 2 discovered Neptune's Great Dark Spot and its 450-meter-per-second (1,000-mph) winds.

The two Voyager spacecraft have been the longest continuously operating spacecraft in deep space. Voyager 2 launched on August 20, 1977, when Jimmy Carter was president. Voyager 1 launched about two weeks later on Sept. 5. The two spacecraft are the most distant human-made objects, out at the edge of the heliosphere -- the bubble the sun creates around the solar system. Mission managers expect Voyager 1 to leave our solar system and enter interstellar space in the next five years or so, with Voyager 2 on track to enter interstellar space shortly after that.

This artist's rendering depicts NASAs Voyager 2 spacecraft as it studies the outer limits of the heliosphere - a magnetic 'bubble' around the solar system that is created by the solar wind. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Having traveled more than 21 billion kilometers (13 billion miles) on its winding path through the planets toward interstellar space, the spacecraft is now nearly 14 billion kilometers (9 billion miles) from the sun. A signal from the ground, traveling at the speed of light, takes about 12.8 hours one-way to reach Voyager 2.

This image of the official Voyager clock, taken today, June 28, 2010, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shows that NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft has been operating continuously for 12,000 days. The Voyager clock is kept at JPL. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Voyager 1 will reach this 12,000-day milestone on July 13, 2010 after traveling more than 22 billion kilometers (14 billion miles). Voyager 1 is currently more than 17 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) from the sun.

The Voyagers were built by JPL, which continues to operate both spacecraft. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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Oil Offshore of Alabama and Florida's Western Panhandle

The possibility of detecting oil slicks in photo-like satellite images depends on the slick being located in the sunglint region—the wide, washed-out strip where the mirror-like reflection of the Sun off the water is diffused by waves and currents. When the oil is located in that relatively narrow region of the scene, it can strongly influence how the water reflects light. Oil-covered water may look dramatically brighter or darker than adjacent, oil-free water.

In this image from Sunday, June 27, 2010, eastern areas of the slick are more visible than western areas, even though analysis from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates heavy concentrations of oil in the vicinity of the leaking well, which is about 75 kilometers (47 miles) southeast of the Mississippi Delta (beyond the left edge of the image). Ribbons of silvery-gray oil swirl in the waters off Alabama and Florida, while farther west—closer to the source of the leak—the reflection seems to be dominated by muddy water in the Mississippi River Delta.

Although the oil extent does change from day to day, the big difference in the appearance of oil in this image versus the previous day’s image is the location of the oil in relation to the sunglint region. In this view from June 27, the sunglint fell across an area farther east than it did in the image from June 26, and so the oil is more visible there. Image Credit: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team

Text credit: Rebecca Lindsey/NASA's Earth Observatory/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Earth to Lend Helping Hand to Comet Craft

NASA's Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft will fly past Earth this Sunday (June 27). Mission navigators have tailored this trajectory so the spacecraft can "hitch a ride" on Earth's gravity field, which will help propel the mission toward its appointment with comet Hartley 2 this fall. At time of closest approach to Earth, the spacecraft will be about 30,400 kilometers (18,900 miles) above the South Atlantic.

"Earth is a great place to pick up orbital velocity," said Tim Larson, the EPOXI project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "This flyby will give our spacecraft a 1.5-kilometer-per-second [3,470 mph] boost, setting us up to get up close and personal with comet Hartley 2."

EPOXI is an extended mission of the Deep Impact spacecraft. Its name is derived from its two tasked science investigations -- the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI) and the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EPOCh). On Nov. 4, 2010, the mission will conduct an extended flyby of Hartley 2 using all three of the spacecraft's instruments (two telescopes with digital color cameras and an infrared spectrometer).

NASA's Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft, illustrated in this artist's concept, will fly past Earth on June 27, 2010. The spacecraft has an appointment with comet Hartley 2 this fall. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The University of Maryland is the Principal Investigator institution. JPL manages EPOXI for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.

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Hydrated Minerals Exposed at Lyot, Northern Mars

Lyot Crater, pictured here, is one of at least nine craters in the northern lowlands of Mars with exposures of hydrated minerals detected from orbit, according to a June 25, 2010, report.

These minerals, including phyllosilicates, have previously been found in thousands of small outcrops in the southern highlands of Mars, but had not previously been identified in the northern lowlands, which cover nearly half of the planet. The plentiful outcrops in the south have been interpreted as evidence that early Mars -- about 4 billion years ago -- had wet conditions necessary for producing phyllosilicates and possibly conducive to life.

The exposures in some northern craters suggest these minerals are in an older layer underneath the younger surface of northern Mars and are made visible where crater-forming impacts have exposed the underlying material. The new report by John Carter of the University of Paris and co-authors in the journal Science says that the northern finds suggest the ancient, wet conditions extended globally. Their report draws upon observations by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the OMEGA spectrometer aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.

Lyot spans 236 kilometers (147 miles) in diameter, centered at 50.5 degrees north latitude, 29.3 degrees east longitude.

This view of the crater combines mapping by NASA's Project Viking with elevation information from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter instrument on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter. Annotations indicate where hydrated minerals have been identified in observations by CRISM and OMEGA.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory led the effort to build the CRISM instrument and operates CRISM in coordination with an international team of researchers from universities, government and the private sector.

The European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, operates the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission. The principal investigator for the OMEGA experiment is at the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France.

Image Credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/JHU-APL/IAS

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Friday, June 25, 2010

The Coolest Stars Come Out of the Dark

Astronomers have uncovered what appear to be 14 of the coldest stars known in our universe. These failed stars, called brown dwarfs, are so cold and faint that they'd be impossible to see with current visible-light telescopes. Spitzer's infrared vision was able to pick out their feeble glow, much as a firefighter uses infrared goggles to find hot spots buried underneath a dark forest floor.

The brown dwarfs join only a handful of similar objects previously discovered. The new objects are between the temperatures of about 450 Kelvin to 600 Kelvin (350 to 620 degrees Fahrenheit). As far as stars go, this is bitter cold -- as cold, in some cases, as planets around other stars.

These cool orbs have remained elusive for years, but will soon start coming out of the dark in droves. NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, which is up scanning the entire sky now in infrared wavelengths, is expected to find hundreds of objects of a similarly chilly disposition, if not even colder. WISE is searching a volume of space 40 times larger than that sampled in the recent Spitzer study, which concentrated on a region in the constellation Boötes. The Spitzer mission is designed to look at targeted patches of sky in detail, while WISE is combing the whole sky.

"WISE is looking everywhere, so the coolest brown dwarfs are going to pop up all around us," said Peter Eisenhardt, the WISE project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and lead author of a recent paper in the Astronomical Journal on the Spitzer discoveries. "We might even find a cool brown dwarf that is closer to us than Proxima Centauri, the closest known star."

This artist's conception shows simulated data predicting the hundreds of failed stars, or brown dwarfs, that NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is expected to add to the population of known stars in our solar neighborhood. Image credit: AMNH/UCB/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Brown dwarfs form like stars out of collapsing balls of gas and dust, but they are puny in comparison, never collecting enough mass to ignite nuclear fusion and shine with starlight. The smallest known brown dwarfs are about 5 to 10 times the mass of our planet Jupiter -- that's as massive as some known gas-giant planets around other stars. Brown dwarfs start out with a bit of internal heat left over from their formation, but with age, they cool down. The first confirmed brown dwarf was announced in 1995.

"Brown dwarfs are like planets in some ways, but they are in isolation," said astronomer Daniel Stern, co-author of the Spitzer paper at JPL. "This makes them exciting for astronomers -- they are the perfect laboratories to study bodies with planetary masses."

Most of the new brown dwarfs found by Spitzer are thought to belong to the coolest known class of brown dwarfs, called T dwarfs, which are defined as being less than about 1,500 Kelvin (2,240 degrees Fahrenheit). One of the objects appears to be so cold that it may even be a long-sought Y dwarf -- a proposed class of even colder stars. The T and Y classes are part of a larger system categorizing all stars; for example, the hottest, most massive stars are O stars; our sun is a G star.

"Models indicate there may be an entirely new class of stars out there, the Y dwarfs, that we haven't found yet," said co-author Davy Kirkpatrick, a co-author of the study and a member of the WISE science team at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. "If these elusive objects do exist, WISE will find them." Kirkpatrick is a world expert in brown dwarfs -- he came up with L, T and Y classifications for the cooler stars.

Kirkpatrick says that it's possible that WISE could find an icy, Neptune-sized or bigger object in the far reaches of our solar system -- thousands of times farther from the sun than Earth. There is some speculation amongst scientists that such a cool body, if it exists, could be a brown dwarf companion to our sun. This hypothetical object has been nicknamed "Nemesis."

"We are now calling the hypothetical brown dwarf Tyche instead, after the benevolent counterpart to Nemesis," said Kirkpatrick. "Although there is only limited evidence to suggest a large body in a wide, stable orbit around the sun, WISE should be able to find it, or rule it out altogether."

This image shows what astronomers think is one of the coldest brown dwarfs discovered so far (red dot in middle of frame). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The 14 objects found by Spitzer are hundreds of light-years away -- too far away and faint for ground-based telescopes to see and confirm with a method called spectroscopy. But their presence implies that there are a hundred or more within only 25 light-years of our sun. Because WISE is looking everywhere, it will find these missing orbs, which will be close enough to confirm with spectroscopy. It's possible that WISE will even find more brown dwarfs within 25-light years of the sun than the number of stars known to exist in this space.

"WISE is going to transform our view of the solar neighborhood," said Eisenhardt. We'll be studying these new neighbors in minute detail -- they may contain the nearest planetary system to our own."

Other authors of the Spitzer paper are Roger Griffith and Amy Mainzer of JPL; Ned Wright, A.M. Ghez and Quinn Konopacky of UCLA; Matthew Ashby and Mark Brodwin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge; Mass., Michael Brown of Monash University, Australia; R.S. Bussmann of the University of Arizona, Tucson; Arjun Dey of National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, Ariz.; Eilat Glikman of Caltech; Anthony Gonzalez and David Vollbach of the University of Florida, Gainesville; and Shelley Wright of the University of California, Berkeley.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer 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.

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Space Sim

STS-133 astronauts Michael Barratt and Nicole Stott, both mission specialists, participate in an exercise in the systems engineering simulator in the Avionics Systems Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center. The facility includes moving scenes of full-sized International Space Station components over a simulated Earth.

Image credit: NASA/JSC, June 8, 2010

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

NASA Radar Images Show How Mexico Quake Deformed Earth

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA has released the first-ever airborne radar images of the deformation in Earth's surface caused by a major earthquake -- the magnitude 7.2 temblor that rocked Mexico's state of Baja California and parts of the American Southwest on April 4.

The data reveal that in the area studied, the quake moved the Calexico, Calif., region in a downward and southerly direction up to 80 centimeters (31 inches). The maps can be seen at: .

A science team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., used the JPL-developed Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) to measure surface deformation from the quake. The radar flies at an altitude of 12.5 kilometers (41,000 feet) on a Gulfstream-III aircraft from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.

Fig. 1 - Overview of the UAVSAR interferogram of the magnitude 7.2 Baja California earthquake of April 4, 2010, overlaid atop a Google Earth image of the region. Major fault systems are shown by red lines, while recent aftershocks are denoted by yellow, orange and red dots. Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS/Google

The team used a technique that detects minute changes in the distance between the aircraft and the ground over repeated, GPS-guided flights. The team combined data from flights on Oct. 21, 2009, and April 13, 2010. The resulting maps are called interferograms.

The April 4, 2010, El Mayor-Cucapah quake was centered 52 kilometers (32 miles) south-southeast of Calexico, Calif., in northern Baja California. It occurred along a geologically complex segment of the boundary between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. The quake, the region's largest in nearly 120 years, was also felt in southern California and parts of Nevada and Arizona. It killed two, injured hundreds and caused substantial damage. There have been thousands of aftershocks, extending from near the northern tip of the Gulf of California to a few miles northwest of the U.S. border. The area northwest of the main rupture, along the trend of California's Elsinore fault, has been especially active, and was the site of a large, magnitude 5.7 aftershock on June 14.

UAVSAR has mapped California's San Andreas and other faults along the plate boundary from north of San Francisco to the Mexican border every six months since spring 2009, looking for ground motion and increased strain along faults. "The goal of the ongoing study is to understand the relative hazard of the San Andreas and faults to its west like the Elsinore and San Jacinto faults, and capture ground displacements from larger quakes," said JPL geophysicist Andrea Donnellan, principal investigator of the UAVSAR project to map and assess seismic hazard in Southern California.

Fig. 2 - Full-resolution portion of the portion of the UAVSAR interferogram where the largest deformation (up to 80 centimeters, or 31 inches) was measured. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Each UAVSAR flight serves as a baseline for subsequent quake activity. The team estimates displacement for each region, with the goal of determining how strain is partitioned between faults. When quakes do occur during the project, the team will observe their associated ground motions and assess how they may redistribute strain to other nearby faults, potentially priming them to break. Data from the Baja quake are being integrated into JPL's QuakeSim advanced computer models to better understand the fault systems that ruptured and potential impacts to nearby faults, such as the San Andreas, Elsinore and San Jacinto faults.

One figure (Figure 1) shows a UAVSAR interferogram swath measuring 110 by 20 kilometers (69 by 12.5 miles) overlaid atop a Google Earth image. Each colored contour, or fringe, of the interferogram represents 11.9 centimeters (4.7 inches) of surface displacement. Major fault lines are marked in red, and recent aftershocks are denoted by yellow, orange and red dots.

The quake's maximum ground displacements of up to 3 meters (10 feet) actually occurred well south of where the UAVSAR measurements stop at the Mexican border. However, these displacements were measured by JPL geophysicist Eric Fielding using synthetic aperture radar interferometry from European and Japanese satellites and other satellite imagery, and by mapping teams on the ground.

Scientists are still working to determine the exact northwest extent of the main fault rupture, but it is clear it came within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the UAVSAR swath, close to the point where the interferogram fringes converge. "Continued measurements of the region should tell us whether the main fault rupture has moved north over time," Donnellan said.

An enlargement of the interferogram is shown in another figure (Figure 2), focusing on the area where the largest deformation was measured. The enlargement, which covers an area measuring about 20 by 20 kilometers (12.5 by 12.5 miles), reveals many small "cuts," or discontinuities, in the fringes. These are caused by ground motions ranging from a centimeter to tens of centimeters (a few inches) on small faults. "Geologists are finding the exquisite details of the many small fault ruptures extremely interesting and valuable for understanding the faults that ruptured in the April 4th quake," said Fielding. Another figure, (Figure 3) shows a close-up of the region where the magnitude 5.7 aftershock struck.

Fig. 3 - Detail of the UAVSAR interferogram in the area of the June 14 magnitude 5.7 aftershock, showing major faults and recent aftershocks. Image credit: NASA/JPL/USGS/California Geological Survey/Google

"UAVSAR's unprecedented resolution is allowing scientists to see fine details of the Baja earthquake's fault system activated by the main quake and its aftershocks," said UAVSAR Principal Investigator Scott Hensley of JPL. "Such details aren't visible with other sensors."

UAVSAR is part of NASA's ongoing effort to apply space-based technologies, ground-based techniques and complex computer models to advance our understanding of quakes and quake processes. The radar flew over Hispaniola earlier this year to study geologic processes following January's devastating Haiti quake. The data are giving scientists a baseline set of imagery in the event of future quakes. These images can then be combined with post-quake imagery to measure ground deformation, determine how slip on faults is distributed, and learn more about fault zone properties.

UAVSAR is also serving as a flying test bed to evaluate the tools and technologies for future space-based radars, such as those planned for a NASA mission currently in formulation called the Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice, or DESDynI. That mission will study hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides, as well as global environmental change.

For more information on UAVSAR, visit: . JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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The Earth From The Moon

All cameras are susceptible to scattered light. You may have seen scattered light in pictures you have taken looking towards the Sun. Sunlight reflects off the optics and sometimes off the structure of the lens, and often appears as a gradient of brightness across the image. Attaching a baffle to your camera, like we did with the LROC Wide and Narrow Angle Cameras, can minimize this effect. More subtle effects are often present but usually you simply just don't notice artifacts because of strong color contrasts in the scene.

Since the Moon has only very small color contrasts, the LROC team must characterize even subtle scattered light effects within the 7-color Wide Angle Camera (WAC) images. Changes in composition (rock types) result in subtle differences of color, typically about 10% or less. For scientists to make accurate interpretations of WAC color maps, the amount of scattered light must be quantified (and preferably corrected). One way of measuring scattered light is imaging a bright object against a dark background. From the Moon, the Earth serves that function well.

While a series of WAC calibration images of the Earth were being acquired, the Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) was shuttered to capture this spectacular Earth view. The bottom of the Earth was clipped because the prediction of the exact time when the cameras' fields of view would cross the Earth was off by a few seconds.

The Earth as seen from the Moon! LROC NAC mosaic of images snapped on 12 June 2010 during a calibration sequence (Images E130954785L and E130954785R). Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Since the NAC acquires only one line of a picture at a time, the spacecraft had to be nodded across the Earth to build up the scene. The NAC Earth view is actually a mosaic of NAC-Left and NAC-Right images put together after calibration. The distance between the Moon and the Earth was 372,335 km when the picture was taken, with a pixel scale of about 3.7 km, and the center of this view of Earth is 25°N latitude, 114°E longitude (a few hundred kilometers north of Hong Kong).

It was a beautiful clear summer day over the North Pole. You can see ice covering most of the Arctic Ocean with a few leads of open water (dark) starting to open up. If you look very close you can follow the Lena River upstream from the Arctic Ocean all the way to Lake Baikal. Much of the Middle East was clear and you can trace spectacular swirl patterns of folded rock layers through Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. These mountains formed as the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates collided.

AP: Arabian Peninsula; CS: Caspian Sea; H: Himalayan Mountains; L: Lena River; I: Indian Ocean; A: Australia; J: Japan; P: Pacific Ocean; large yellow arrow indicates approximate position of the North Pole. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Browse the full-sized image at the LRO Camera website maintained by Arizona State University.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Earth-like Planets May Be Ready for Their Close-Up

Many scientists speculate that our galaxy could be full of places like Pandora from the movie "Avatar" -- Earth-like worlds in solar systems besides our own.

That doesn't mean such worlds have been easy to find, however. Of the 400-plus planets so far discovered, none could support life as we know it on Earth.

"The problem with finding Earth-like planets," said Stefan Martin, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., "is that their host stars can emit 10 million times more infrared light than the planet itself. And because planets like ours are small and orbit very close to their respective stars, it makes Earths almost impossible to see."

Together with A.J. Booth (formerly at JPL and now at Sigma Space Corp., Lanham, Md.), Martin may have developed a way to make this almost impossible feat a reality.

Their instrument design, called a "nulling interferometer," observes planets in infrared light, where they are easier to detect. It is designed to combine starlight captured by four different telescopes, arranging the light waves from the star in such a way that they cancel each other out. "We're able to make the star look dimmer -- basically turning it off," Martin said.

Nulling interferometry is not a new idea, but what sets the results from Martin and Booth apart is how effective it turned out to be. "Our null depth is 10 to 100 times better than previously achieved by other systems," Martin said. "This is the first time someone has cross-combined four telescopes, set up in pairs, and achieved such deep nulls. It's extreme starlight suppression."

From left to right: JPLers Felipe Santos Fregoso, Piotr Szwaykowski, Kurt Liewer and Stefan Martin with the nulling interferometer testbed at JPL, where the device is built and refined. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

That suppression could allow scientists to get a better look at exoplanets than ever before. "We're able to make the planet flash on and off so that we can detect it," Martin said. "And because this system makes the light from the star appear 100 million times fainter, we would be able to see the planet we're looking for quite clearly."

Pandora, up close and personal

Nulling interferometry isn't the only way scientists can find other Earths. NASA's Kepler mission, currently in orbit, is looking for Earth-like planets by watching the light of faraway stars dim slightly as their planets pass in front of them. Another method of observing exoplanets is coronagraphy, which uses a mask to block the optical light of a star, making its surrounding planets more easily visible. And the proposed SIM Lite mission would also be able to find nearby planets by observing the gravity-induced "wobbling" of their host stars.

However, Martin and Booth's nulling interferometer could eventually give astronomers the ability to get up close and personal with Earth-like worlds, analyzing their atmospheres for signs of habitability or even possibly life. "We expect to eventually be able to see hundreds of planets with this technique," Martin said.

The technology that they've developed could be used on a follow-up space mission to SIM Lite and Kepler. Martin is now planning to test the system in conditions that better mimic a real-life mission.

Once considered the stuff of science fiction, it may not be long before Earth-like planets, or, in the case of Pandora, Earth-like moons of giant planets, are found to exist other places besides the silver screen.

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'L2' Will be the James Webb Space Telescope's Home in Space

When you ask an astronomer about the James Webb Space Telescope's orbit, they'll tell you something that sounds like it came from a science-fiction novel. The Webb won't be orbiting the Earth –instead we will send it almost a million miles out into space to a place called "L2."

L2 is short-hand for the second Lagrange Point, a wonderful accident of gravity and orbital mechanics, and the perfect place to park the Webb telescope in space. There are five so-called "Lagrange Points" - areas where gravity from the sun and Earth balance the orbital motion of a satellite. Putting a spacecraft at any of these points allows it to stay in a fixed position relative to the Earth and sun with a minimal amount of energy needed for course correction.

The five Lagrangian points for the Sun-Earth system are shown in the diagram below. An object placed at any one of these 5 points will stay in place relative to the other two. Credit: NASA

The term L2 may sound futuristic and mysterious, but the name actually honors a Mathematician born in 1736. The Lagrange points were named after the Italian-born mathematician and astronomer Joseph-Louis Lagrange, who made important contributions to classical and celestial mechanics. Lagrange studied the "three-body problem" (so-called because three bodies are orbiting each other) for the Earth, sun, and moon in 1764, and by 1772 he had found the solution; there are five stable points at which you could put an object and have it stay fixed in place relative to the other two.

In the case of L2, this happens about 930,000 miles away from the Earth in the exact opposite direction from the sun. The Earth, as we know, orbits the sun once every year. Normally, an object almost a million miles farther out from the sun should move more slowly, taking more than a year to complete its orbit around the sun. However, at L2, exactly lined up with both the sun and Earth, the added gravity of the two large bodies pulling in the same direction gives a spacecraft an extra boost of energy, locking it into perfect unison with the Earth's yearly orbit. The Webb telescope will be placed slightly off the true balance point, in a gentle orbit around L2.

Why send the Webb telescope all the way out to L2? When astronomers began to think about where the Webb telescope should be placed in space, there were several considerations to keep in mind. To begin with, the Webb telescope will view the universe entirely in infrared light, what we commonly think of as heat radiation. To give the telescope the best chance of detecting distant, dim objects in space, the coldest temperatures possible are needed.

The James Webb Space Telescope (identified as "JWST" here) relative to the Hubble telescope's orbit around the Earth. Credit: NASA

"A huge advantage of deep space (like L2) when compared to Earth orbit is that we can radiate the heat away," said Jonathan P. Gardner, the Deputy Senior Project Scientist on the Webb Telescope mission and Chief of the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Webb works in the infrared, which is heat radiation. To see the infrared light from distant stars and galaxies, the telescope has to be cold. Webb's large sunshield will protect it from both Sunlight and Earthlight, allowing it to cool to 225 degrees below zero Celsius (minus 370 Fahrenheit)." For the sunshield to be effective, Webb will need to be an orbit where the sun and Earth are in about the same direction.

With the sun and the Earth in the same part of the sky, the Webb telescope will enjoy an open, unimpeded view of the universe. In comparison, the Hubble Space Telescope is in low-Earth orbit where it goes in and out of the Earth's shadow every 90 minutes. Hubble's view is blocked by the Earth for part of each orbit, limiting where the telescope can look at any given time.

The Spitzer Space Telescope, another infrared telescope, is in orbit around the sun and drifting away from the Earth. Spitzer is already more than 100 million kilometers (60 million miles) away from the Earth, and eventually its path will take it to the other side of the sun. Once we can no longer communicate with Spitzer that means it is at the end of its mission life.

This animation shows the Webb Telescope spacecraft orbiting far from the Earth. Credit: NASA/Chris Meaney (HTSI)

In contrast, a major perk of parking at L2 is the ease of communications. Essentially, the Webb telescope will always be at the same point in space. "We can have continuous communications with Webb through the Deep Space Network (DSN)," Gardner said. "During routine operations, we will uplink command sequences and downlink data up to twice per day, through the DSN. The observatory can perform a sequence of commands (pointing and observations) autonomously. Typically, we will upload a full week's worth of commands at a time, and make updates daily as needed."

Even before the Webb telescope, L2 has been known to astronomers as a good spot for space-based observatories. There are already several satellites in the L2 orbit, including the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, and the Herschel and Planck space observatories. But there's plenty of room for another neighbor, and the Webb telescope will be heading out to L2 in the near future.

The Webb telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for OCO-2 Mission

PASADENA, Calif. – NASA has selected Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission. The spacecraft will fly in February 2013 aboard a Taurus XL 3110 rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The total cost of the OCO-2 launch services is approximately $70 million. The estimated cost includes the task ordered launch service for a Taurus XL 3110 rocket, plus additional services under other contracts for payload processing, OCO-2 mission-unique support, launch vehicle integration, and tracking, data and telemetry support.

This is an artist’s concept of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Image credit: NASA/JPL

OCO-2 is NASA's first mission dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate. OCO-2 will provide the first complete picture of human and natural carbon dioxide sources and "sinks," the places where the gas is pulled out of the atmosphere and stored. It will map the global geographic distribution of these sources and sinks and study their changes over time. The OCO-2 spacecraft will replace OCO-1, lost during a launch vehicle failure in 2009.

The OCO-2 project is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch vehicle program management of the Taurus XL 3110 rocket.

For more information about NASA and agency missions, visit: . For more on OCO-2, visit: .

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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Seventh Graders Find a Cave on Mars

Using the camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, 16 seventh-graders at Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, Calif., found lava tubes with one pit that appears to be a skylight to a cave. Mars Odyssey has been orbiting the Red Planet since 2001, returning data and images of the Martian surface and providing relay communications service for Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

The students in Dennis Mitchell's science class were examining Martian lava tubes as their project in the Mars Student Imaging Program offered by NASA and Arizona State University. According to the university, the imaging program allows students in upper elementary grades through to college students to participate in Mars research by having them develop a geological question to answer. The students actually command a Mars-orbiting camera to take an image to answer their question. Since MSIP began in 2004, more than 50,000 students have participated.

"The students developed a research project focused on finding the most common locations of lava tubes on Mars," Mitchell said. "Do they occur most often near the summit of a volcano, on its flanks or the plains surrounding it?"

The feature, on the slope of an equatorial volcano named Pavonis Mons, appears to be a skylight in an underground lava tube. Similar 'cave skylight' features have been found elsewhere on Mars, but this is the first seen on this volcano.

Sixteen seventh-graders at Evergreen Middle School in Cottonwood, Calif., found the Martian pit feature at the center of the superimposed red square in this image. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The students subsequently submitted the site as a candidate for imaging by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE can image the surface at about 30 centimeters (12 inches) per pixel, which may allow a look inside the hole in the ground.

"It gives the students a good understanding of the way research is conducted and how that research can be important for the scientific community. This has been a wonderful experience," Mitchell said."

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Monday, June 21, 2010

NASA's ICESCAPE Journeys Into the Arctic Circle

66° 33’ N, 179° 85’ W, June 18 — Friday night, the following pipe reverberated throughout the Healy: “Now attention all hands. The cutter Healy has crossed into the Arctic Circle — the cold, icy waters of King Neptune. Welcome home, Polar Bears. All Blue Noses beware! That is all.”

"Polar Bears" are those who have already crossed the Arctic Circle and gone through initiation. "Blue Noses," on the other hand, have some surprises waiting for them. Everyone’s wondering what the secret initiation will be, including Blue Nose chief scientist Kevin Arrigo.

Immediately after the announcement, a crowd of scientists and Coasties gathered at the bow as the Healy passed through a belt of sea ice and herds of walruses. For many, it was the first sighting of both — a truly surreal night to remember.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for!” said Cedric Fichot, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)

The walrus’ scientific name, Odobenus rosmarus, means “tooth-walking sea horse” in Latin. Walrus tusks are really extended upper canine teeth that lengthen with age— up to three feet during a walrus’ lifetime. Walruses live on the sea ice edge over shallow continental shelves, and use their tusks to hoist themselves onto the ice and bore holes in it. Males also employ their tusks to threaten rivals. Walrus’ whiskers, or vibrissae, help them nuzzle and forage for shellfish on the shallow sea floor. How will climate change affect these gargantuan creatures? As Arctic sea ice melts and retreats from shallow continental shelves, walruses lose their habitat to water that’s too deep for them to dive for less abundant food. So instead they “haul out” to rest on coastal lands, and over-congregation leads to stampedes and trampling of young calves as well as stiff competition for limited resources. (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)

United States Geological Survey scientists have been tracking walruses with satellite radio-tags in order to trace their movements in the changing sea ice habitat. You can follow animations of the walrus’ paths in both the Chukchi and Bering Seas at . (Photo by Haley Smith Kingsland)

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Cassini Getting the Lowdown on Titan This Weekend

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will take its lowest dip through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan in the early morning of June 21 UTC, which is the evening of June 20 Pacific time. This weekend's flyby, which is the 71st Titan flyby of the mission even though it is known as "T70," takes Cassini 70 kilometers (43 miles) lower than it has ever been at Titan before.

Titan's atmosphere applies torque to objects flying through it, much the same way the flow of air would wiggle your hand around if you stuck it outside a moving car window. Cassini mission planners and the NASA Engineering and Safety Center in Hampton, Va., have analyzed the torque applied by the atmosphere in detail to make sure the spacecraft can fly safely at an altitude of 880 kilometers (547 miles) above the surface.

Artist's concept of Cassini's flyby of Saturn's moon Titan. The spacecraft flies to within 880 kilometers (547 miles) of Titan's surface during its 71st flyby of Titan, known as "T70," the lowest in the entire mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When engineers calculated the most stable angle for the spacecraft to fly, they found it was almost the same as the angle that would enable Cassini to point its high-gain antenna to Earth. So they cocked the spacecraft a fraction of a degree, enabling them to track the spacecraft in real-time during its closest approach. Thrusters will fire throughout the flyby to maintain pointing automatically.

But why does Cassini need to get so low? Read on for the perspective of one Cassini team scientist, César Bertucci:

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

New Flight Engineers Join Expedition 24

Three new crew members arrived at the International Space Station joining Expedition 24. Flight Engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin, Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker docked the Soyuz TMA-19 to the aft end of the Zvezda service module Thursday at 6:21 p.m. EDT.

At 8:52 p.m. the hatches were opened between the station and the Soyuz spacecraft. The new crew joined Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Mikhail Kornienko and began safety briefings and familiarization activities.

Image above: The Expedition 24 crew members, clockwise from bottom, Commander Alexander Skvortsov and Flight Engineers Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Doug Wheelock, Mikhail Kornienko, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Shannon Walker. Credit: NASA

Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats and NASA Spaceflight Administrator Bill Gerstenmaier were in Russia and offered their congratulations to the new station crew members. Family, friends and co-workers of the crew also offered their best wishes during a live video conference shortly after hatch opening.

Before the Soyuz TMA-19 arrived, the station crew shifted its sleep schedule to greet the new arrivals. The six-member crew slept in on Friday and will take a half day off on Saturday before beginning orientation activities onboard the orbiting laboratory.

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NASA's Lunar Impact Mission Honored by National Space Society

NASA has made technological breakthroughs in its efforts to reach for the stars and explore our solar system – these achievements were recently recognized by the National Space Society (NSS), which selected NASA's Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission as the 2010 recipient of the Space Pioneer Award in the Science and Engineering category.

The award was presented at the International Space Development Conference in Chicago. The five-day symposium is a gathering of leading space experts from around the globe. The LCROSS mission was selected for its science observations, especially confirming the presence of water ice and other volatiles within a permanently shadowed region of Cabeus crater near the lunar south pole; being cost-effective fast-paced and being an example of a successful risk-tolerant space mission.

"We expect that the results of LCROSS will have a significant impact on the future course of both the scientific and manned exploration programs," said John K. Strickland, Jr., chairman of the NSS Awards Committee. "The Pioneer award is very appropriate for recognizing lunar-related efforts, since it is, in fact, a silvery pewter moon globe mounted on a base and brass support with brass plaque."

John Marmie, deputy project manager of the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite Mission with the 2010 National Space Society Space Pioneer Award, which he accepted on behalf of the LCROSS mission team. Photo credit: NASA Ames

The annual Space Pioneer awards recognize individuals and teams whose accomplishments have helped to open the space frontier. The awards are divided into 13 categories with the intent of recognizing those who have made significant contributions in different fields of endeavor to "develop a space faring civilization that will establish communities beyond the Earth." Because NSS selects three Space Pioneer award recipients each year, not every category is awarded. The Indian Space Research Organization received the previous Space Pioneer award in Science and Engineering in 2009 in recognition of its successful Lunar Probe Chandrayaan-1 mission, which, with the help of NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper onboard instrument, detected water molecules on the lunar surface.

"I feel privileged to have represented the LCROSS team and partners," said John Marmie, LCROSS deputy project manager who accepted the award on behalf of the team. "Many people came up to me afterwards to express how impressed they were with what our team accomplished."

The National Space Society (NSS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a space-faring civilization. The NSS was founded in 1987 with the merger of the National Space Institute, founded in 1974, and L5 Society, founded in 1975.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jumbo Jellyfish or Massive Star?

Some might see a blood-red jellyfish in a forest of seaweed, while others might see a big, red eye or a pair of lips. In fact, the red-colored object in this new infrared image from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is a sphere of stellar innards, blown out from a humongous star.

The star (white dot in center of red ring) is one of the most massive stellar residents of our Milky Way galaxy. Objects like this are called Wolf-Rayet stars, after the astronomers who found the first few, and they make our sun look puny by comparison. Called V385 Carinae, this star is 35 times as massive as our sun, with a diameter nearly 18 times as large. It's hotter, too, and shines with more than one million times the amount of light.

Fiery candles like this burn out quickly, leading short lives of only a few million years. As they age, they blow out more and more of the heavier atoms cooking inside them -- atoms such as oxygen that are needed for life as we know it.

A cloud of material shed by a massive star can be seen in red in this new image from WISE. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

The material is puffed out into clouds like the one that glows brightly in this WISE image. In this case, the hollow sphere showed up prominently only at the longest of four infrared wavelengths detected by WISE. Astronomers speculate this infrared light comes from oxygen atoms, which have been stripped of some of their electrons by ultraviolet radiation from the star. When the electrons join up again with the oxygen atoms, light is produced that WISE can detect with its 22-micron infrared light detector. The process is similar to what happens in fluorescent light bulbs.

Infrared light detected by WISE at 12 microns is colored green, while 3.4- and 4.6-micron light is blue. The green, kelp-looking material is warm dust, and the blue dots are stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

This image mosaic is made up of about 300 overlapping frames, taken as WISE continues its survey of the entire sky - an expansive search, sure to turn up more fascinating creatures swimming in our cosmic ocean.

V385 Carinae is located in the Carina constellation, about 16,000 light-years from Earth.

JPL manages the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer 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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Deputy Administrator Garver Reaffirms in Europe the Importance of International Cooperation as Part of the President's Proposed Course for NASA

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver returned June 15 from a week-long, three-city trip to Europe that included addressing the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and signing a cooperative agreement to extend the mission of an Earth science satellite.

Garver’s visit also included discussions with key European space agency heads and senior-level officials in the German and French governments. The focus of her travel was to explain the administration’s new plans for space exploration and make clear that expanded international collaboration will be a cornerstone of NASA’s future activities.

“NASA has a long history of international cooperation,” Garver said. “Indeed, international cooperation was envisioned as a key element in the U.S. legislation that formally established NASA. We intend to broaden and deepen those relationships as we seek to implement the president’s new U.S. space exploration enterprise.”

In Germany, Garver visited the Reichstag in Berlin to meet with key members of the Air and Space Group of the Bundestag, which is the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany. Garver also had an opportunity to review NASA’s ongoing and planned cooperation with Germany with the U.S. ambassador there, Phillip Murphy.

At the Berlin Air Show, Garver and German Aerospace Center (DLR) Executive Board Chairman Johann-Dietrich Wörner signed an agreement June 10 to extend the Gravity Recovery and Climate Change (GRACE) mission through the end of its on-orbit life, which is expected in 2015.

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver poses with members of the German Bundestag and NASA representatives at the Reichstag in Berlin. Credit: NASA

GRACE tracks changes in Earth’s gravity field by noting small variations in gravitational pull from local changes in Earth’s mass. Data from the GRACE mission have been used for such diverse purposes as measuring the amount of water lost in recent years from the aquifers for California's primary agricultural region and recording losses from Greenland's ice sheet.

NASA and DLR signed the original agreement in 1998. The two agencies jointly developed the GRACE mission and have cooperated on operations since the spacecraft’s launch in March 2002.

In Paris, Garver met with several representatives from the French president’s office who had an interest in science and technology activities. She also had meetings with the director general of the European Space Agency and president of the French space agency to discuss NASA’s future plans and opportunities for potential future cooperation.

After the meetings in Berlin and Paris, Garver traveled to Vienna, Austria, where she addressed the 53rd session of the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on June 14. She explained NASA’s new plans to the gathering of international representatives.

“President Obama has laid out a bold new path for NASA to become an engine of innovation, with ambitious new programs that I believe will inspire people from around the world,” Garver said. “Under the president’s direction, the United States will pursue a more meaningful and sustainable approach to human space exploration through the development of transformative technologies and systems.”

Garver’s trip also included meetings with officials from the National Space Agency of Ukraine.

“NASA’s level of international cooperation is increasing each year,” said Al Condes, deputy associate administrator of NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations, who accompanied Garver on the trip. “The deputy administrator’s travel to Europe provided an excellent opportunity to meet with our key partners to discuss NASA’s future plans and reaffirm our strong commitment to working collaboratively on a wide variety of programs.”

For more information on NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations visit:

News media representatives seeking additional information on the trip should contact Michael Cabbage in NASA’s Office of Communication at or 202-358-1600.

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