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NASA reports International Space Station uses OPALS instrument to further laser communications research

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Ever wonder why stars seem to twinkle? This effect is caused by variations in the density of our atmosphere that cause blurring in light coming from space. It’s pretty for stargazing, but a challenge for space-to-ground communications.

A key technology called adaptive optics corrects such distortions. By combining adaptive optics with a laser communications technology aboard the International Space Station, NASA is working toward advances in space communications that could have major benefits for our data transmission needs here on Earth as well.

This artist's rendition shows OPALS operating from the International Space Station. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s rendition shows OPALS operating from the International Space Station. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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After 6 years, NASA’s Kepler space telescope has found over 1,000 planets and counting

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Kepler spacecraft began hunting for planets outside our solar system on May 12th, 2009. From the trove of data collected, we have learned that planets are common, that most sun-like stars have at least one planet and that nature makes planets with unimaginable diversity.

Kepler launched on March 6th, 2009. Its mission was to survey a portion of our galaxy to determine what fraction of stars might harbor potentially habitable, Earth-sized exoplanets, or planets that orbit other stars.

The artistic concept shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. Using publicly available data, astronomers may have confirmed K2's first discovery of star with more than one planet. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle)

The artistic concept shows NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. Using publicly available data, astronomers may have confirmed K2’s first discovery of star with more than one planet. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle)

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NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity completes Martian Marathon in 11 years

 

Written by Dr. Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – On Earth, the fastest runners can finish a marathon in hours. On Mars it takes about 11 years.

On Tuesday, March 24th 2015, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity completed its first Red Planet marathon– 26.219 miles – with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months.

“This mission isn’t about setting distance records; it’s about making scientific discoveries,” says Steve Squyres, Opportunity principal investigator at Cornell University. “Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”

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NASA experiments show Dark Material on Jupiter’s moon Europa likely Sea Salt

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA laboratory experiments suggest the dark material coating some geological features of Jupiter’s moon Europa is likely sea salt from a subsurface ocean, discolored by exposure to radiation.

The presence of sea salt on Europa’s surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor — an important consideration in determining whether the icy moon could support life.

The study is accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and is available online.

The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa looms large in this reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa looms large in this reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

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NASA reports Asteroid to pass by Earth at a distance Thursday, May 14th

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – An asteroid, designated 1999 FN53, will safely pass more than 26 times the distance of Earth to the moon on May 14th. To put it another way, at its closest point, the asteroid will get no closer than 6.3 million miles away (10 million kilometers).

It will not get closer than that for well over 100 years. And even then, (119 years from now) it will be so far away it will not affect our planet in any way, shape or form. 1999 FN53 is approximately 3,000 feet (1 kilometer) across.

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 1999 FN53, which will come no closer than 26 times the distance from Earth to the moon on May 14, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 1999 FN53, which will come no closer than 26 times the distance from Earth to the moon on May 14, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft detects Auroras around Mars

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – One day, when humans go to Mars, they might find that, occasionally, the Red Planet has green skies.

In late December 2014, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft detected evidence of widespread auroras in Mars’s northern hemisphere. The “Christmas Lights,” as researchers called them, circled the globe and descended so close to the Martian equator that, if the lights had occurred on Earth, they would have been over places like Florida and Texas.

“It really is amazing,” says Nick Schneider who leads MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument team at the University of Colorado. “Auroras on Mars appear to be more wide ranging than we ever imagined.”

A map of MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) auroral detections in December 2014 overlaid on Mars’ surface. The map shows that the aurora was widespread in the northern hemisphere, not tied to any geographic location. The aurora was detected in all observations during a 5-day period. (University of Colorado)

A map of MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) auroral detections in December 2014 overlaid on Mars’ surface. The map shows that the aurora was widespread in the northern hemisphere, not tied to any geographic location. The aurora was detected in all observations during a 5-day period. (University of Colorado)

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft takes closest images yet of Dwarf Planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The mysterious bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres are better resolved in a new sequence of images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on May 3rd and 4th, 2015. The images were taken from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers).

In this closest-yet view, the brightest spots within a crater in the northern hemisphere are revealed to be composed of many smaller spots. However, their exact nature remains unknown.

This image was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 4, 2015, from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers), in its RC3 mapping orbit. The image resolution is 0.8 mile (1.3 kilometers) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

This image was taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on May 4, 2015, from a distance of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometers), in its RC3 mapping orbit. The image resolution is 0.8 mile (1.3 kilometers) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover captures image of Sunset on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The sun dips to a Martian horizon in a blue-tinged sky in images sent home to Earth this week from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover.

Curiosity used its Mast Camera (Mastcam) to record the sunset during an evening of skywatching on April 15th, 2015.

The imaging was done between dust storms, but some dust remained suspended high in the atmosphere. The sunset observations help researchers assess the vertical distribution of dust in the atmosphere.

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover recorded this view of the sun setting at the close of the mission's 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15th, 2015), from the rover's location in Gale Crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover recorded this view of the sun setting at the close of the mission’s 956th Martian day, or sol (April 15th, 2015), from the rover’s location in Gale Crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover takes timeout to investigate Valley on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Researchers slightly detoured NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover from the mission’s planned path in recent days for a closer look at a hillside site where an ancient valley had been carved out and refilled.

The rover made observations and measurements there to address questions about how the channel formed and filled. Then it resumed driving up Mount Sharp, where the mission is studying the rock layers. The layers reveal chapters in how environmental conditions and the potential to support microbial life changed in Mars’ early history.

This April 16th, 2015, panorama from the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows a detailed view toward two areas on lower Mount Sharp chosen for close-up inspection in subsequent weeks: "Mount Shields" and "Logan Pass." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This April 16th, 2015, panorama from the Mast Camera on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a detailed view toward two areas on lower Mount Sharp chosen for close-up inspection in subsequent weeks: “Mount Shields” and “Logan Pass.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope sees Halo of Gas surrounding Andromeda Galaxy

 

Written by Rob Gutro
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that the immense halo of gas enveloping the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest massive galactic neighbor, is about six times larger and 1,000 times more massive than previously measured.

The dark, nearly invisible halo stretches about a million light-years from its host galaxy, halfway to our own Milky Way galaxy. This finding promises to tell astronomers more about the evolution and structure of majestic giant spirals, one of the most common types of galaxies in the universe.

The Andromeda galaxy, our nearest massive galactic neighbor, is about six times larger and 1,000 times more massive than previously measured. (NASA/STScI)

The Andromeda galaxy, our nearest massive galactic neighbor, is about six times larger and 1,000 times more massive than previously measured. (NASA/STScI)

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