Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s upcoming mission to investigate the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa now has a formal name: Europa Clipper.
The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around the globe.
In the grand tradition of these classic ships, the Europa Clipper spacecraft would sail past Europa at a rapid cadence, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – Finding derelict spacecraft and space debris in Earth’s orbit can be a technological challenge. Detecting these objects in orbit around Earth’s moon is even more difficult. Optical telescopes are unable to search for small objects hidden in the bright glare of the moon.
However, a new technological application of interplanetary radar pioneered by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has successfully located spacecraft orbiting the moon — one active, and one dormant. This new technique could assist planners of future moon missions.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – A regional dust storm currently swelling on Mars follows unusually closely on one that blossomed less than two weeks earlier and is now dissipating, as seen in daily global weather monitoring by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Images from the orbiter’s wide-angle Mars Color Imager (MARCI) show each storm growing in the Acidalia area of northern Mars, then blowing southward and exploding to sizes bigger than the United States after reaching the southern hemisphere.
Written by Michele Johnson
Washington, D.C. – On February 22nd, astronomers announced that the ultra-cool dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, hosts a total of seven Earth-size planets that are likely rocky, a discovery made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in combination with ground-based telescopes.
NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also has been observing this star since December 2016. Today these additional data about TRAPPIST-1 from Kepler are available to the scientific community.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – The bright central area of Ceres’ Occator Crater, known as Cerealia Facula, is approximately 30 million years younger than the crater in which it lies, according to a new study in the Astronomical Journal. Scientists used data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to analyze Occator’s central dome in detail, concluding that this intriguing bright feature on the dwarf planet is only about 4 million years old — quite recent in terms of geological history.
Researchers led by Andreas Nathues at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Gottingen, Germany, analyzed data from two instruments on board NASA’s Dawn spacecraft: the framing camera, and the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer.
Written by Michelle Smith
Silver Spring, MD – Detecting and predicting lightning just got a lot easier. The first images from a new instrument onboard NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite are giving NOAA National Weather Service forecasters richer information about lightning that will help them alert the public to dangerous weather.
The first lightning detector in a geostationary orbit, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), is transmitting data never before available to forecasters. The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather.
Written by Andrew Good
Pasadena, CA – This summer, an ice chest-sized box will fly to the International Space Station, where it will create the coolest spot in the universe.
Inside that box, lasers, a vacuum chamber and an electromagnetic “knife” will be used to cancel out the energy of gas particles, slowing them until they’re almost motionless. This suite of instruments is called the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL), and was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. CAL is in the final stages of assembly at JPL, ahead of a ride to space this August on SpaceX CRS-12.
Its instruments are designed to freeze gas atoms to a mere billionth of a degree above absolute zero. That’s more than 100 million times colder than the depths of space.
Written by Laura Betz
Greenbelt, MD – With the discovery of seven earth-sized planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star 40 light years away, astronomers are looking to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to help us find out if any of these planets could possibly support life.
“If these planets have atmospheres, the James Webb Space Telescope will be the key to unlocking their secrets,” said Doug Hudgins, Exoplanet Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In the meantime, NASA’s missions like Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler are following up on these planets.”
Written by Alan Buis
Pasadena, CA – Since the 1920s, excessive pumping of groundwater at thousands of wells in California’s San Joaquin Valley has caused land in sections of the valley to subside, or sink, by as much as 28 feet (8.5 meters). This subsidence is exacerbated during droughts, when farmers rely heavily on groundwater to sustain one of the most productive agricultural regions in the nation.
Long-term subsidence is a serious and challenging concern for California’s water managers, putting state and federal aqueducts, levees, bridges and roads at risk of damage. Already, land subsidence has damaged thousands of public and private groundwater wells throughout the San Joaquin Valley.
Written by Keith Koehler
Wallops Island, VA – Three NASA rockets carrying instruments into active auroras over Alaska to aid scientists studying the northern lights and the interactions of the solar wind with Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere were launched within a nearly two-hour period March 2nd, 2017.
The instruments were successfully carried on Black IX sounding rockets from the Poker Flat Research Range north of Fairbanks. The first two rockets were launched nearly simultaneously at 12:41am and 12:42:30am EST as part of the Neutral Jets in Auroral Arcs mission.
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