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Topic: California Institute of Technology in Pasadena

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope data helps astronomers find old Planetary System with Five Small Planets

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler mission have discovered a planetary system of five small planets dating back to when the Milky Way galaxy was a youthful two billion years old.

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five planets that range in size, with the smallest comparable to the size of Mercury and the largest to Venus. All five planets orbit their sun-like star in less than 10 days, which makes their orbits much closer than Mercury’s sweltering 88-day orbit around the sun.

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disk of their parent star, as shown in this artist's conception. (Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disk of their parent star, as shown in this artist’s conception. (Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

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NASA launches Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory into orbit around Earth

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA successfully launched its first Earth satellite designed to collect global observations of the vital soil moisture hidden just beneath our feet.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, a mission with broad applications for science and society, lifted off at 6:22am PST (9:22am EST) Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory lifts off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, beginning a three-year mission to map Earth's vital moisture hidden in the soils beneath our feet. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory lifts off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, beginning a three-year mission to map Earth’s vital moisture hidden in the soils beneath our feet. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft observes Saturn’s moon Titan in the Solar Wind

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Researchers studying data from NASA’s Cassini mission have observed that Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, behaves much like Venus, Mars or a comet when exposed to the raw power of the solar wind. The observations suggest that unmagnetized bodies like Titan might interact with the solar wind in the same basic ways, regardless of their nature or distance from the sun.

Titan is large enough that it could be considered a planet if it orbited the sun on its own, and a flyby of the giant moon in December 2013 simulated that scenario, from Cassini’s vantage point.

This diagram depicts conditions observed by NASA's Cassini spacecraft during a flyby in Dec. 2013, when Saturn's magnetosphere was highly compressed, exposing Titan to the full force of the solar wind. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This diagram depicts conditions observed by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft during a flyby in Dec. 2013, when Saturn’s magnetosphere was highly compressed, exposing Titan to the full force of the solar wind. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft takes sharpest picture yet of dwarf planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the sharpest images ever seen of the dwarf planet Ceres. The images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on January 25th, and represent a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet.

“We know so little about our vast solar system, but thanks to economical missions like Dawn, those mysteries are being solved,” said Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

This animation of the dwarf planet Ceres was made by combining images taken by the Dawn spacecraft on January 25th, 2015.

This animation of the dwarf planet Ceres was made by combining images taken by the Dawn spacecraft on January 25th, 2015.

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NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover celebrates it’s 11th Anniversary on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A panorama from one of the highest elevations that NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached in its 11 years on Mars includes the U.S. flag at the summit.

The view is from the top of “Cape Tribulation,” a raised section of the rim of Endeavour Crater. The panorama spans the interior of the 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater and extends to the rim of another crater on the horizon.

Opportunity has driven 25.9 miles (41.7 kilometers) since it landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on January 25th, 2004 (Universal Time, which was January 24th, PST).

This panorama is the view NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity gained from the top of the "Cape Tribulation" segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

This panorama is the view NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity gained from the top of the “Cape Tribulation” segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.)

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft data shows evidence that Vesta may have had Water at one time

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Protoplanet Vesta, visited by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2013, was once thought to be completely dry, incapable of retaining water because of the low temperatures and pressures at its surface.

However, a new study shows evidence that Vesta may have had short-lived flows of water-mobilized material on its surface, based on data from Dawn.

“Nobody expected to find evidence of water on Vesta. The surface is very cold and there is no atmosphere, so any water on the surface evaporates,” said Jennifer Scully, postgraduate researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “However, Vesta is proving to be a very interesting and complex planetary body.”

This image shows Cornelia Crater on the large asteroid Vesta. On the right is an inset image showing an example of curved gullies, indicated by the short white arrows, and a fan-shaped deposit, indicated by long white arrows. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

This image shows Cornelia Crater on the large asteroid Vesta. On the right is an inset image showing an example of curved gullies, indicated by the short white arrows, and a fan-shaped deposit, indicated by long white arrows. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA and European Space Agency look back at the landing on Saturn’s moon Titan

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Ten years ago, an explorer from Earth parachuted into the haze of an alien moon toward an uncertain fate. After a gentle descent lasting more than two hours, it landed with a thud on a frigid floodplain, surrounded by icy cobblestones.

With this feat, the Huygens probe accomplished humanity’s first landing on a moon in the outer solar system. Huygens was safely on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.

The hardy probe not only survived the descent and landing, but continued to transmit data for more than an hour on the frigid surface of Titan, until its batteries were drained.

An artist's interpretation of the area surrounding the Huygens landing site based on images and data returned by the probe on Jan. 14, 2005. (ESA - C. Carreau)

An artist’s interpretation of the area surrounding the Huygens landing site based on images and data returned by the probe on Jan. 14, 2005. (ESA – C. Carreau)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover set to drill into Mineral Crystal Rock on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A rock target where NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is using its sample-collection drill this week may have a salty story to tell.

This target, called “Mojave,” displays copious slender features, slightly smaller than grains of rice, that appear to be mineral crystals. A chance to learn their composition prompted the Curiosity science team to choose Mojave as the next rock-drilling target for the 29-month-old mission investigating Mars’ Gale Crater. The features might be a salt mineral left behind when lakewater evaporated.

This week, Curiosity is beginning a “mini-drill” test to assess the rock’s suitability for deeper drilling, which collects a sample for onboard laboratory analysis.

This view from the wide-angle Hazard Avoidance Camera on the front of NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rover's drill in position for a mini-drill test to assess whether a rock target called "Mojave" is appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This view from the wide-angle Hazard Avoidance Camera on the front of NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover shows the rover’s drill in position for a mini-drill test to assess whether a rock target called “Mojave” is appropriate for full-depth drilling to collect a sample. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Near Earth Object Program reports Asteroid to Safely Fly By on January 26th, 2015

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – An asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, will safely pass about three times the distance of Earth to the moon on January 26th. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometers) in size.

The flyby of 2004 BL86 will be the closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027.

At the time of its closest approach on January 26th, the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth.

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the moon on Jan. 26th, 2015. Due to its orbit around the sun, the asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26th, the space rock's changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the moon on Jan. 26th, 2015. Due to its orbit around the sun, the asteroid is currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26th, the space rock’s changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA reports Saturn and it’s system of Moons mapped with high accuracy

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Scientists have paired NASA’s Cassini spacecraft with the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio-telescope system to pinpoint the position of Saturn and its family of moons to within about 2 miles (4 kilometers).

The measurement is some 50 times more precise than those provided by ground-based optical telescopes. The feat improves astronomers’ knowledge of Saturn’s orbit and benefits spacecraft navigation and basic physics research.

Researchers have determined the location of the Saturn system's center of mass to within just a couple of miles (or kilometers), a factor of 50 improvement over previous knowledge. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Researchers have determined the location of the Saturn system’s center of mass to within just a couple of miles (or kilometers), a factor of 50 improvement over previous knowledge. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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