Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – Since its launch five years ago, there have been three forces tugging at NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it speeds through the solar system. The sun, Earth and Jupiter have all been influential — a gravitational trifecta of sorts. At times, Earth was close enough to be the frontrunner.
More recently, the sun has had the most clout when it comes to Juno’s trajectory. Today, it can be reported that Jupiter is now in the gravitational driver’s seat, and the basketball court-sized spacecraft is not looking back.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, 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.
Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
Greenbelt, MD – On September 8th, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to launch for terra incognita: the unknown surface of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. Like expeditions of old, OSIRIS-REx’s mission includes mapping the exotic terrain it explores.
Bennu is part of the debris left over from the formation of the solar system and is pristine enough to hold clues to that very early history. OSIRIS-REx – which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer – will study Bennu in detail and collect a sample to send to Earth for in-depth analysis. The mission also will investigate how pressure from sunlight influences the path of this traveling asteroid.
Written by Nancy Neal Jones
Greenbelt, MD – NASA’s first spacecraft designed to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth arrived Friday, May 20th, at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and has begun final preparations in advance of its September launch.
The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will undergo final testing and fueling prior to being moved to its launch pad. The mission has a 34-day launch period beginning on September 8th.
After launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and retrieve at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of pristine surface material and return it to Earth for study.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD – New findings based on a year’s worth of observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes have revealed that the ring current – an electrical current carried by energetic ions that encircles our planet – behaves in a much different way than previously understood.
The ring current has long been thought to wax and wane over time, but the new observations show that this is true of only some of the particles, while other particles are present consistently.
Using data gathered by the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment, or RBSPICE, on one of the Van Allen Probes, researchers have determined that the high-energy protons in the ring current change in a completely different way from the current’s low-energy protons.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – A new NASA study modeling conditions in the ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa suggests that the necessary balance of chemical energy for life could exist there, even if the moon lacks volcanic hydrothermal activity.
Europa is strongly believed to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath its icy shell. Whether the Jovian moon has the raw materials and chemical energy in the right proportions to support biology is a topic of intense scientific interest.
The answer may hinge on whether Europa has environments where chemicals are matched in the right proportions to power biological processes. Life on Earth exploits such niches.
Written by Steve Koppes
Chicago, 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.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – New Orleans and surrounding areas continue to sink at highly variable rates due to a combination of natural geologic and human-induced processes, finds a new NASA/university study using NASA airborne radar.
The observed rates of sinking, otherwise known as subsidence, were generally consistent with, but somewhat higher than, previous studies conducted using different radar data.
The research was the most spatially-extensive, high-resolution study to date of regional subsidence in and around New Orleans, measuring its effects and examining its causes.
Written by Karen C. Fox
Greenbelt, MD – Like sending sensors up into a hurricane, NASA has flown four spacecraft through an invisible maelstrom in space, called magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnection is one of the prime drivers of space radiation and so it is a key factor in the quest to learn more about our space environment and protect our spacecraft and astronauts as we explore farther and farther from our home planet.
Space is a better vacuum than any we can create on Earth, but it does contain some particles — and it’s bustling with activity. It overflows with energy and a complex system of magnetic fields.
Written by Audrey Haar
Greenbelt, MD – A volcano erupting and spewing ash into the sky can cover nearby areas under a thick coating of ash and can also have consequences for aviation safety. Airline traffic changes due to a recent volcanic eruption can rack up unanticipated expenses to flight cancellations, lengthy diversions and additional fuel costs from rerouting.
Airlines are prudently cautious, because volcanic ash is especially dangerous to airplanes, as ash can melt within an operating aircraft engine, resulting in possible engine failure.
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