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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data reveals most recent Ice Age on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Scientists using radar data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have found a record of the most recent Martian ice age recorded in the planet’s north polar ice cap.

The new results agree with previous models that indicate a glacial period ended about 400,000 years ago, as well as predictions about how much ice would have been accumulated at the poles since then.

The results, published in the May 27th issue of the journal Science, help refine models of the Red Planet’s past and future climate by allowing scientists to determine how ice moves between the poles and mid-latitudes, and in what volumes.

Climatic cycles of ice and dust build the Martian polar caps, season by season, year by year, and periodically whittle down their size when the climate changes. This image is a simulated 3-D perspective view, created from image data taken by the THEMIS instrument on NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/Arizona State University, R. Luk)

Climatic cycles of ice and dust build the Martian polar caps, season by season, year by year, and periodically whittle down their size when the climate changes. This image is a simulated 3-D perspective view, created from image data taken by the THEMIS instrument on NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/Arizona State University, R. Luk)

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NASA’s Kepler space telescope data reveals insights into Planet Migration

 

Written by Steve Koppes
University of Chicago

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationChicago, IL – The four planets of the Kepler-223 star system appeared to have little in common with the planets of our own solar system today. But a new study using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope suggests a possible commonality in the distant past.

The Kepler-223 planets orbit their star in the same configuration that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune may have had in the early history of our solar system, before migrating to their current locations.

Sean Mills (left) and Daniel Fabrycky (right), researchers at the University of Chicago, describe the complex orbital structure of the Kepler-223 system in a new study. (Nancy Wong/University of Chicago)

Sean Mills (left) and Daniel Fabrycky (right), researchers at the University of Chicago, describe the complex orbital structure of the Kepler-223 system in a new study. (Nancy Wong/University of Chicago)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope discovers biggest unnamed dwarf planet in our Solar System

 

Written by Michele Johnson
NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – Dwarf planets tend to be a mysterious bunch. With the exception of Ceres, which resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, all members of this class of minor planets in our solar system lurk in the depths beyond Neptune.

They are far from Earth – small and cold – which makes them difficult to observe, even with large telescopes. So it’s little wonder astronomers only discovered most of them in the past decade or so.

Pluto is a prime example of this elusiveness. Before NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft visited it in 2015, the largest of the dwarf planets had appeared as little more than a fuzzy blob, even to the keen-eyed Hubble Space Telescope.

New K2 results peg 2007 OR10 as the largest unnamed body in our solar system and the third largest of the current roster of about half a dozen dwarf planets. The dwarf planet Haumea has an oblong shape that is wider on its long axis than 2007 OR10, but its overall volume is smaller. (Konkoly Observatory/András Pál, Hungarian Astronomical Association/Iván Éder, NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

New K2 results peg 2007 OR10 as the largest unnamed body in our solar system and the third largest of the current roster of about half a dozen dwarf planets. The dwarf planet Haumea has an oblong shape that is wider on its long axis than 2007 OR10, but its overall volume is smaller. (Konkoly Observatory/András Pál, Hungarian Astronomical Association/Iván Éder, NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft observes Enceladus plume brighten when farther away from Saturn

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – During a recent stargazing session, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft watched a bright star pass behind the plume of gas and dust that spews from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. At first, the data from that observation had scientists scratching their heads. What they saw didn’t fit their predictions.

The observation has led to a surprising new clue about the remarkable geologic activity on Enceladus: It appears that at least some of the narrow jets that erupt from the moon’s surface blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn in its orbit.

The gravitational pull of Saturn changes the amount of particles spraying from the south pole of Saturn's active moon Enceladus at different points in its orbit. More particles make the plume appear much brighter in the infrared image at left. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Cornell/SSI)

The gravitational pull of Saturn changes the amount of particles spraying from the south pole of Saturn’s active moon Enceladus at different points in its orbit. More particles make the plume appear much brighter in the infrared image at left. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Cornell/SSI)

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NASA reports Kepler Spacecraft now stable after entering emergency safe mode

 

Written by Charlie Sobeck​, Kepler and K2 mission manager

NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – NASA mission operations engineers have successfully recovered the Kepler spacecraft from Emergency Mode (EM). On Sunday morning, the spacecraft reached a stable state with the communication antenna pointed toward Earth, enabling telemetry and historical event data to be downloaded to the ground. The spacecraft is operating in its lowest fuel-burn mode.

The mission has cancelled the spacecraft emergency, returning the Deep Space Network ground communications to normal scheduling.

Artist's concept of NASA's Kepler space telescope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist’s concept of NASA’s Kepler space telescope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft discovers former Lake of Frozen Nitrogen on Pluto

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft spied several features on Pluto that offer evidence of a time millions or billions of years ago when – thanks to much higher pressure in Pluto’s atmosphere and warmer conditions on the surface – liquids might have flowed across and pooled on the surface of the distant world.

“In addition to this possible former lake, we also see evidence of channels that may also have carried liquids in Pluto’s past,” said Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado—principal investigator of New Horizons and lead author of the scientific paper.

Former frozen lake of nitrogen found near mountain range on Pluto. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Former frozen lake of nitrogen found near mountain range on Pluto. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

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NASA’s New Horizons scientists have released papers that shed new light on the Pluto System

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – A year ago, Pluto was just a bright speck in the cameras of NASA’s approaching New Horizons spacecraft, not much different than its appearances in telescopes since Clyde Tombaugh discovered the then-ninth planet in 1930.

But this week, in the journal Science, New Horizons scientists have authored the first comprehensive set of papers describing results from last summer’s Pluto system flyby.

This image of haze layers above Pluto’s limb was taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. About 20 haze layers are seen; the layers have been found to typically extend horizontally over hundreds of kilometers, but are not strictly parallel to the surface. For example, scientists note a haze layer about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the surface (lower left area of the image), which descends to the surface at the right. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Gladstone et al./Science (2016))

This image of haze layers above Pluto’s limb was taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. About 20 haze layers are seen; the layers have been found to typically extend horizontally over hundreds of kilometers, but are not strictly parallel to the surface. For example, scientists note a haze layer about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the surface (lower left area of the image), which descends to the surface at the right. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Gladstone et al./Science (2016))

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NASA picks Researchers to take part in Curiosity Mars Rover mission

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA has selected 28 researchers as participating scientists for the Curiosity Mars rover mission, including six newcomers to the rover’s science team.

The six new additions work in Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Tennessee. Eighty-nine scientists around the world submitted research proposals for using data from Curiosity and becoming participating scientists on the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built and operates the rover.

Patches of Martian sandstone visible in the lower-left and upper portions of this March 9, 2016, view from the Mast Camera of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover have a knobbly texture due to nodules apparently more resistant to erosion than the host rock in which some are still embedded. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Patches of Martian sandstone visible in the lower-left and upper portions of this March 9, 2016, view from the Mast Camera of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover have a knobbly texture due to nodules apparently more resistant to erosion than the host rock in which some are still embedded. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA’s Kepler space telescope continues new discoveries after major malfunction

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The engineers huddled around a telemetry screen, and the mood was tense. They were watching streams of data from a crippled spacecraft more than 50 million miles away — so far that even at the speed of light, it took nearly nine minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.

It was late August 2013, and the group of about five employees at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, was waiting for NASA’s Kepler space telescope to reveal whether it would live or die. A severe malfunction had robbed the planet-hunting Kepler of its ability to stay pointed at a target without drifting off course.

In this artist's conception, a tiny rocky object vaporizes as it orbits a white dwarf star. Astronomers have detected the first planetary object transiting a white dwarf using data from the K2 mission. Slowly the object will disintegrate, leaving a dusting of metals on the surface of the star. (CfA/Mark A. Garlick)

In this artist’s conception, a tiny rocky object vaporizes as it orbits a white dwarf star. Astronomers have detected the first planetary object transiting a white dwarf using data from the K2 mission. Slowly the object will disintegrate, leaving a dusting of metals on the surface of the star. (CfA/Mark A. Garlick)

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NASA Study reveals Sierra Snow can be reduced by Atmospheric River Storms

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A new study by NASA and several partners has found that in California’s Sierra Nevada, atmospheric river storms are two-and-a-half times more likely than other types of winter storms to result in destructive “rain-on-snow” events, where rain falls on existing snowpack, causing it to melt. Those events increase flood risks in winter and reduce water availability the following summer.

The study, based on NASA satellite and ground-based data from 1998 through 2014, is the first to establish a climatological connection between atmospheric river storms and rain-on-snow events. Partnering with NASA on the study were UCLA; Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego; and the Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado.

Rain falling on snow. (Flickr user Malcolm Peacey, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Rain falling on snow. (Flickr user Malcolm Peacey, CC BY-NC 2.0)

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