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NASA reports Astronomers now using Machines to learn about Stars

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers are enlisting the help of machines to sort through thousands of stars in our galaxy and learn their sizes, compositions and other basic traits.

The research is part of the growing field of machine learning, in which computers learn from large data sets, finding patterns that humans might not otherwise see. Machine learning is in everything from media-streaming services that predict what you want to watch, to the post office, where computers automatically read handwritten addresses and direct mail to the correct zip codes.

Astronomers have turned to a method called "machine learning" to help them understand the properties of large numbers of stars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Astronomers have turned to a method called “machine learning” to help them understand the properties of large numbers of stars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s SMAP instrument ready to measure Earth’s Soil Moisture

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A new NASA satellite that will peer into the topmost layer of Earth’s soils to measure the hidden waters that influence our weather and climate is in final preparations for a January 29th dawn launch from California.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will take the pulse of a key measure of our water planet: how freshwater cycles over Earth’s land surfaces in the form of soil moisture.

The mission will produce the most accurate, highest-resolution global maps ever obtained from space of the moisture present in the top 2 inches (5 centimeters) of Earth’s soils.

Artist's rendering of the SMAP instrument. (NASA)

Artist’s rendering of the SMAP instrument. (NASA)

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NASA reports Saturn and it’s system of Moons mapped with high accuracy

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Scientists have paired NASA’s Cassini spacecraft with the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio-telescope system to pinpoint the position of Saturn and its family of moons to within about 2 miles (4 kilometers).

The measurement is some 50 times more precise than those provided by ground-based optical telescopes. The feat improves astronomers’ knowledge of Saturn’s orbit and benefits spacecraft navigation and basic physics research.

Researchers have determined the location of the Saturn system's center of mass to within just a couple of miles (or kilometers), a factor of 50 improvement over previous knowledge. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Researchers have determined the location of the Saturn system’s center of mass to within just a couple of miles (or kilometers), a factor of 50 improvement over previous knowledge. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover reaches highest point of it’s career on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – After completing two drives this week, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has paused to photograph the panoramic vista from the highest point the rover has reached during its 40 months of exploring the western rim of Mars’ Endeavour Crater.

The view is one of the grandest in Opportunity’s Martian career of nearly 11 years and more than 25.8 miles (41.6 kilometers).

The rover has been having trouble with a section of its flash memory, the type of memory that can store data even when power is switched off.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this view of the summit of "Cape Tribulation," on the western rim of Endeavour Crater on the day before the rover drove to the top. This crest is about 440 feet higher in elevation than the plain surrounding the crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this view of the summit of “Cape Tribulation,” on the western rim of Endeavour Crater on the day before the rover drove to the top. This crest is about 440 feet higher in elevation than the plain surrounding the crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope takes image of Pillars of Creation that shows possible destructive side

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Although NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has taken many breathtaking images of the universe, one snapshot stands out from the rest: the iconic view of the so-called “Pillars of Creation.”

The jaw-dropping photo, taken in 1995, revealed never-before-seen details of three giant columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching ultraviolet light from a cluster of young, massive stars in a small region of the Eagle Nebula, or M16.

In celebration of its upcoming 25th anniversary in April, Hubble has revisited the famous pillars, providing astronomers with a sharper and wider view. Although the original image was dubbed the Pillars of Creation, the new image hints that they are also “pillars of destruction.”

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a bigger and sharper photograph of the iconic Eagle Nebula's "Pillars of Creation".  (NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State U.))

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have assembled a bigger and sharper photograph of the iconic Eagle Nebula’s “Pillars of Creation”. (NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)/J. Hester, P. Scowen (Arizona State U.))

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NASA reports possible Black Hole Merger

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The central regions of many glittering galaxies, our own Milky Way included, harbor cores of impenetrable darkness — black holes with masses equivalent to millions, or even billions, of suns.

What’s more, these supermassive black holes and their host galaxies appear to develop together, or “co-evolve.” Theory predicts that as galaxies collide and merge, growing ever more massive, so too do their dark hearts.

An artist's conception of a black hole binary in a heart of a quasar, with the data showing the periodic variability superposed. (Santiago Lombeyda, Center for Data-Driven Discovery, Caltech)

An artist’s conception of a black hole binary in a heart of a quasar, with the data showing the periodic variability superposed. (Santiago Lombeyda, Center for Data-Driven Discovery, Caltech)

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NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) data analyzed by Volunteer Disk Detectives finds possible Planetary Habitats

 

Written by Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – A NASA-sponsored website designed to crowdsource analysis of data from the agency’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission has reached an impressive milestone.

In less than a year, citizen scientists using DiskDetective.org have logged 1 million classifications of potential debris disks and disks surrounding young stellar objects (YSO). This data will help provide a crucial set of targets for future planet-hunting missions.

The marked asymmetry of the debris disk around the star HD 181327 suggests it may have formed as a result of the collision of two small bodies. The Disk Detective project aims to discover many other stellar disks using volunteer classifications of data from NASA's WISE mission. (NASA/ESA/Univ. of Arizona/HST/GO 12228 Team)

The marked asymmetry of the debris disk around the star HD 181327 suggests it may have formed as a result of the collision of two small bodies. The Disk Detective project aims to discover many other stellar disks using volunteer classifications of data from NASA’s WISE mission. (NASA/ESA/Univ. of Arizona/HST/GO 12228 Team)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope discovers it’s 1,000th Exoplanet

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study — the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets. The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.

Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA's Kepler, eight are less than twice Earth-size and in their stars' habitable zone. All eight orbit stars cooler and smaller than our sun. The search continues for Earth-size habitable zone worlds around sun-like stars. (NASA Ames/W Stenzel)

Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA’s Kepler, eight are less than twice Earth-size and in their stars’ habitable zone. All eight orbit stars cooler and smaller than our sun. The search continues for Earth-size habitable zone worlds around sun-like stars. (NASA Ames/W Stenzel)

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NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory sees Milky Way’s Black Hole emit Record-Breaking X-ray flare

 

Written by Felicia Chou
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Astronomers have observed the largest X-ray flare ever detected from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This event, detected by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, raises questions about the behavior of this giant black hole and its surrounding environment.

The supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*, is estimated to contain about 4.5 million times the mass of our sun.

Astronomers have detected the largest X-ray flare ever from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This event was 400 times brighter than the usual X-ray output from the black hole. (NASA/CXC/Northwestern Univ/D.Haggard et al. NASA/CXC/Stanford/I. Zhuravleva et al.)

Astronomers have detected the largest X-ray flare ever from the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This event was 400 times brighter than the usual X-ray output from the black hole. (NASA/CXC/Northwestern Univ/D.Haggard et al.
NASA/CXC/Stanford/I. Zhuravleva et al.)

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NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope data reveals more Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes occur than previously thought

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Each day, thunderstorms around the world produce about a thousand quick bursts of gamma rays, some of the highest-energy light naturally found on Earth.

By merging records of events seen by NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope with data from ground-based radar and lightning detectors, scientists have completed the most detailed analysis to date of the types of thunderstorms involved.

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