Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – Although the motivation behind NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn was scientific, part of the planet’s allure has long been in its undeniable physical beauty.
Since Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004, dramatic views from the spacecraft’s imaging cameras — and other sensors that observe in infrared, ultraviolet and radio frequencies — have revealed the ringed planet and its moons in unprecedented detail for scientists to study.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – At an international workshop this week about where NASA’s next Mars rover should land, most of the information comes from a prolific spacecraft that’s been orbiting Mars since 2006.
Observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the basis for evaluating eight candidate landing sites for the Mars 2020 rover mission. The landing site workshop this week in Monrovia, California, will narrow the Mars 2020 candidate list to four or fewer sites. MRO observations have been used to identify, characterize and certify past landing sites and are also in use to assess possible sites for future human-crew missions.
Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Washington, D.C. – A report on the potential science value of a lander on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has been delivered to NASA, and the agency is now engaging the broader science community to open a discussion about its findings.
In early 2016, in response to a congressional directive, NASA’s Planetary Science Division began a pre-Phase A study to assess the science value and engineering design of a future Europa lander mission. NASA routinely conducts such studies — known as Science Definition Team (SDT) reports — long before the beginning of any mission to gain an understanding of the challenges, feasibility and science value of the potential mission.
Written by Alan Buis
Pasadena, CA – The Louisiana coastline is sinking under the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of about one football field of land every hour (about 18 square miles of land lost in a year). But within this sinking region, two river deltas are growing. The Atchafalaya River and its diversion channel, Wax Lake Outlet, are gaining about one football field of new land every 11 and 8 hours, respectively (1.5 and 2 square miles per year).
Last fall, a team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, showed that radar, lidar and spectral instruments mounted on aircraft can be used to study the growing deltas, collecting data that can help scientists better understand how coastal wetlands will respond to global sea level rise.
Written by Molly Porter
Huntsville, AL – A giant black hole ripped apart a star and then gorged on its remains for about a decade, according to astronomers. This is more than ten times longer than any observed episode of a star’s death by black hole.
Researchers made this discovery using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift satellite as well as ESA’s XMM-Newton.
The trio of orbiting X-ray telescopes found evidence for a “tidal disruption event” (TDE), wherein the tidal forces due to the intense gravity from a black hole can destroy an object – such as a star – that wanders too close.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – Mars scientists are wrestling with a problem. Ample evidence says ancient Mars was sometimes wet, with water flowing and pooling on the planet’s surface. Yet, the ancient sun was about one-third less warm and climate modelers struggle to produce scenarios that get the surface of Mars warm enough for keeping water unfrozen.
A leading theory is to have a thicker carbon-dioxide atmosphere forming a greenhouse-gas blanket, helping to warm the surface of ancient Mars. However, according to a new analysis of data from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, Mars had far too little carbon dioxide about 3.5 billion years ago to provide enough greenhouse-effect warming to thaw water ice.
Written by Eric Gillard
Hampton, VA – Brooke Thornton has devoted eight years to a project that aims to check on the atmospheric health of the Earth. Needless to say, when NASA’s Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III on the International Space Station (SAGE III on ISS) launches, she’ll be among the many cheering and working for its success in space.
“After seeing SAGE III mature from concept, to development, to assembly and testing, and preparing for mission ops … I’m excited to see it launch so we get the science we have worked so hard for,” she said.
Written by Sarah Frazier
Greenbelt, MD – The first total solar eclipse in the continental United States in nearly 40 years takes place on August 21st, 2017. Beyond providing a brilliant sight in the daytime sky, total solar eclipses provide a rare chance for scientists to collect data only available during eclipses. NASA is funding 11 scientific studies that will take advantage of this opportunity.
“When the moon blocks out the sun during a total eclipse, those regions of Earth that are in the direct path of totality become dark as night for almost three minutes,” said Steve Clarke, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “This will be one of the best-observed eclipses to date, and we plan to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn as much as we can about the sun and its effects on Earth.”
Written by Lori Keesey
Greenbelt, MD – A long-standing mystery among marine biologists is why otherwise healthy whales, dolphins, and porpoises — collectively known as cetaceans — end up getting stranded along coastal areas worldwide. Could severe solar storms, which affect Earth’s magnetic fields, be confusing their internal compasses and causing them to lose their way?
Although some have postulated this and other theories, no one has ever initiated a thorough study to determine whether a relationship exists — until now.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Juno spacecraft will make its fourth flyby over Jupiter’s mysterious cloud tops on Thursday, February 2nd, at 4:57am PST (7:57am EST, 12:57 UTC).
At the time of closest approach (called perijove), Juno will be about 2,670 miles (4,300 kilometers) above the planet’s cloud tops and traveling at a speed of about 129,000 mph (57.8 kilometers per second) relative to the gas giant. All of Juno’s eight science instruments, including the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument, will be on and collecting data during the flyby.
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