Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA – A star called KIC 8462852 has been in the news recently for unexplained and bizarre behavior. NASA’s Kepler mission had monitored the star for four years, observing two unusual incidents, in 2011 and 2013, when the star’s light dimmed in dramatic, never-before-seen ways. Something had passed in front of the star and blocked its light, but what?
Scientists first reported the findings in September, suggesting a family of comets as the most likely explanation. Other cited causes included fragments of planets and asteroids.
NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft continues hunting asteroids long past its planned lifetime
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – The NEOWISE mission hunts for near-Earth objects (NEOs) using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. Funded by NASA’s NEO Observations Program, the NEOWISE mission uses images taken by the spacecraft to look for asteroids and comets, providing a rich source of measurements of solar system objects at infrared wavelengths.
These measurements include wavelengths that are difficult or impossible to detect directly from the ground.
NEOWISE is one of 54 ongoing projects supported by the NEO Observations Program in fiscal year 2015. NASA-funded survey projects have found 98 percent of the known catalogue of more than 13,000 NEOs. NASA-funded surveys are currently finding NEOs at a rate of about 1,500 per year.
Written by Bill Steigerwald
Greenbelt, MD – Comet Lovejoy lived up to its name by releasing large amounts of alcohol as well as a type of sugar into space, according to new observations by an international team. The discovery marks the first time ethyl alcohol, the same type in alcoholic beverages, has been observed in a comet.
The finding adds to the evidence that comets could have been a source of the complex organic molecules necessary for the emergence of life.
Written by Joshua Buck
Washington, D.C. – NASA and The Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, California, have received confirmation the Optical Communications and Sensor Demonstration (OCSD) CubeSat spacecraft is in orbit and operational. OCSD launched aboard an Atlas V rocket Thursday from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
OCSD is the first in a new series of six NASA-managed technology demonstration missions set to launch during the coming months using CubeSats to test technologies that can enable new uses for these miniature satellites, which measure 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm (about 4 inches per side).
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. Three of those chosen have ties to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids.
Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses. After a detailed review and evaluation of the concept studies, NASA will make the final selections by September 2016 for continued development leading up to launch.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Catching a ride from one solar system body to another isn’t easy. You have to figure out how to land your spacecraft safely and then get it on its way to the next destination. The landing part is especially tricky for asteroids and comets, which have low gravitational pull.
A concept called Comet Hitchhiker, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, puts forth a new way to get into orbit and land on comets and asteroids, using the kinetic energy — the energy of motion — of these small bodies. Masahiro Ono, the principal investigator based at JPL, had “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” in mind when dreaming up the idea.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) telescope studies Odd group of Asteroids
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – High above the plane of our solar system, near the asteroid-rich abyss between Mars and Jupiter, scientists have found a unique family of space rocks.
These interplanetary oddballs are the Euphrosyne (pronounced you-FROH-seh-nee) asteroids, and by any measure they have been distant, dark and mysterious — until now.
Distributed at the outer edge of the asteroid belt, the Euphrosynes have an unusual orbital path that juts well above the ecliptic, the equator of the solar system. The asteroid after which they are named, Euphrosyne — for an ancient Greek goddess of mirth — is about 156 miles (260 kilometers) across and is one of the 10 largest asteroids in the main belt.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – As NASA missions explore our solar system and search for new worlds, they are finding water in surprising places. Water is but one piece of our search for habitable planets and life beyond Earth, yet it links many seemingly unrelated worlds in surprising ways.
“NASA science activities have provided a wave of amazing findings related to water in recent years that inspire us to continue investigating our origins and the fascinating possibilities for other worlds, and life, in the universe,” said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for the agency. “In our lifetime, we may very well finally answer whether we are alone in the solar system and beyond.”
NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) data analyzed by Volunteer Disk Detectives finds possible Planetary Habitats
Written by Francis Reddy
Greenbelt, 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.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory CubeSat program provides big satellite performance in a small package
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – Any way you slice it, space exploration — done right — requires an inordinate range of technical expertise.
From designing the spacecraft, the mission proposal and the circuit boards to testing the flight software and putting together budgets, sending something, anything, into the cosmos depends on good people who know their job.
“Although significantly smaller in size, CubeSats contain analogous payloads and subsystems to larger satellites and require similar technical knowledge and resources to traditional flight projects,” said Shannon Statham, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The training and experience gained by working on CubeSats are directly applicable to larger missions.”
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