Written by Mara Johnson-Groh
Greenbelt, MD – The movements of the stars and the planets have almost no impact on life on Earth, but a few times per year, the alignment of celestial bodies has a visible effect.
One of these geometric events — the spring equinox — is just around the corner, and another major alignment — a total solar eclipse — will be visible across America on August 21st, with a fleet of NASA satellites viewing it from space and providing images of the event.
To understand the basics of celestial alignments, here is information on equinoxes, solstices, full moons, eclipses and transits:
Written by Alan Buis
Pasadena, CA – The first global, long-term satellite study of airborne ammonia gas has revealed “hotspots” of the pollutant over four of the world’s most productive agricultural regions.
The results of the study, conducted using data from NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite, could inform the development of strategies to control pollution from ammonia and ammonia byproducts in Earth’s agricultural areas.
A University of Maryland-led team discovered steadily increasing ammonia concentrations from 2002 to 2016 over agricultural centers in the United States, Europe, China and India. Increased concentrations of atmospheric ammonia are linked to poor air and water quality.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – A recent NASA-funded study has shown how the hydrocarbon lakes and seas of Saturn’s moon Titan might occasionally erupt with dramatic patches of bubbles.
For the study, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, simulated the frigid surface conditions on Titan, finding that significant amounts of nitrogen can be dissolved in the extremely cold liquid methane that rains from the skies and collects in rivers, lakes and seas.
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 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 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.
Written by Nancy Neal Jones
Greenbelt, MD – NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft performed a previously unscheduled maneuver this week to avoid a collision in the near future with Mars’ moon Phobos.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft has been orbiting Mars for just over two years, studying the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. On Tuesday, February 28th, the spacecraft carried out a rocket motor burn that boosted its velocity by 0.4 meters per second (less than 1 mile per hour).
Written by Ann Jenkins / Ray Villard
Baltimore, MD – For the first time, scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have witnessed a massive object with the makeup of a comet being ripped apart and scattered in the atmosphere of a white dwarf, the burned-out remains of a compact star.
The object has a chemical composition similar to Halley’s Comet, but it is 100,000 times more massive and has a much higher amount of water. It is also rich in the elements essential for life, including nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and sulfur.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – On Mars, wind rules. Wind has been shaping the Red Planet’s landscapes for billions of years and continues to do so today. Studies using both a NASA orbiter and a rover reveal its effects on scales grand to tiny on the strangely structured landscapes within Gale Crater.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, on the lower slope of Mount Sharp — a layered mountain inside the crater — has begun a second campaign of investigating active sand dunes on the mountain’s northwestern flank. The rover also has been observing whirlwinds carrying dust and checking how far the wind moves grains of sand in a single day’s time.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – A bumper crop of Earth-size planets huddled around an ultra-cool, red dwarf star could be little more than chunks of rock blasted by radiation, or cloud-covered worlds as broiling hot as Venus.
Or they could harbor exotic lifeforms, thriving under skies of ruddy twilight.
Scientists are pondering the possibilities after this week’s announcement: the discovery of seven worlds orbiting a small, cool star some 40 light-years away, all of them in the ballpark of our home planet in terms of their heft (mass) and size (diameter). Three of the planets reside in the “habitable zone” around their star, TRAPPIST-1, where calculations suggest that conditions might be right for liquid water to exist on their surfaces—though follow-up observations are needed to be sure.
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