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NASA’s Psyche Mission utilizes Photons to increase Space Communications Performance and Efficiency

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – A spacecraft destined to explore a unique asteroid will also test new communication hardware that uses lasers instead of radio waves.

The Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) package aboard NASA’s Psyche mission utilizes photons — the fundamental particle of visible light — to transmit more data in a given amount of time. The DSOC goal is to increase spacecraft communications performance and efficiency by 10 to 100 times over conventional means, all without increasing the mission burden in mass, volume, power and/or spectrum.

Artist's concept of the Psyche spacecraft, which will conduct a direct exploration of an asteroid thought to be a stripped planetary core. (SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist’s concept of the Psyche spacecraft, which will conduct a direct exploration of an asteroid thought to be a stripped planetary core. (SSL/ASU/P. Rubin/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA Sounding Rocket finds signatures of Tiny Solar Flares

 

Written by Sarah Frazier
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – Like most solar sounding rockets, the second flight of the FOXSI instrument – short for Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager – lasted 15 minutes, with just six minutes of data collection. But in that short time, the cutting-edge instrument found the best evidence to date of a phenomenon scientists have been seeking for years: signatures of tiny solar flares that could help explain the mysterious extreme heating of the Sun’s outer atmosphere. 

FOXSI detected a type of light called hard X-rays – whose wavelengths are much shorter than the light humans can see – which is a signature of extremely hot solar material, around 18 million degrees Fahrenheit.

The NASA-funded FOXSI instrument captured new evidence of small solar flares, called nanoflares, during its December 2014 flight on a suborbital sounding rocket. Nanoflares could help explain why the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, is so much hotter than the surface. Here, FOXSI’s observations of hard X-rays are shown in blue, superimposed over a soft X-ray image of the Sun from JAXA and NASA’s Hinode solar-observing satellite. (JAXA/NASA/Hinode/FOXSI)

The NASA-funded FOXSI instrument captured new evidence of small solar flares, called nanoflares, during its December 2014 flight on a suborbital sounding rocket. Nanoflares could help explain why the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona, is so much hotter than the surface. Here, FOXSI’s observations of hard X-rays are shown in blue, superimposed over a soft X-ray image of the Sun from JAXA and NASA’s Hinode solar-observing satellite. (JAXA/NASA/Hinode/FOXSI)

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NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite data reveals reasons for Earth’s Carbon Dioxide Rise

 

Written by Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – A new NASA study provides space-based evidence that Earth’s tropical regions were the cause of the largest annual increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration seen in at least 2,000 years.

Scientists suspected the 2015-16 El Nino — one of the largest on record — was responsible, but exactly how has been a subject of ongoing research. Analyzing the first 28 months of data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite, researchers conclude impacts of El Nino-related heat and drought occurring in tropical regions of South America, Africa and Indonesia were responsible for the record spike in global carbon dioxide.

The last El Nino in 2015-16 impacted the amount of carbon dioxide that Earth's tropical regions released into the atmosphere, leading to Earth's recent record spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The effects of the El Nino were different in each region. (NASA-JPL/Caltech)

The last El Nino in 2015-16 impacted the amount of carbon dioxide that Earth’s tropical regions released into the atmosphere, leading to Earth’s recent record spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The effects of the El Nino were different in each region. (NASA-JPL/Caltech)

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NASA looks back at Cassini spacecraft’s dive into Saturn

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – As NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its fateful dive into the upper atmosphere of Saturn on September 15th, 2017, the spacecraft was live-streaming data from eight of its science instruments, along with readings from a variety of engineering systems.

While analysis of science data from the final plunge will take some time, Cassini engineers already have a pretty clear understanding of how the spacecraft itself behaved as it went in.

The data are useful for evaluating models of Saturn’s atmosphere the team used to predict the spacecraft’s behavior at mission’s end, and they help provide a baseline for planning future missions to Saturn.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is shown during its Sept. 15, 2017, plunge into Saturn's atmosphere in this artist's depiction. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is shown during its Sept. 15, 2017, plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere in this artist’s depiction. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA reports small Asteroid to pass close but safely past Earth

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – On October 12th EDT (October 11th PDT), a small asteroid designated 2012 TC4 will safely pass by Earth at a distance of approximately 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers). This is a little over one tenth the distance to the Moon and just above the orbital altitude of communications satellites.

This encounter with TC4 is being used by asteroid trackers around the world to test their ability to operate as a coordinated international asteroid warning network.

2012 TC4 is estimated to be 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters) in size. Orbit prediction experts say the asteroid poses no risk of impact with Earth.

This image depicts the safe flyby of small asteroid 2012 TC4 as it passes under Earth on Oct. 12, 2017. While scientists cannot yet predict exactly how close the 50 to 100 foot (15 to 30 meter) wide space rock will approach, they are certain it will come no closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from Earth's surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image depicts the safe flyby of small asteroid 2012 TC4 as it passes under Earth on Oct. 12, 2017. While scientists cannot yet predict exactly how close the 50 to 100 foot (15 to 30 meter) wide space rock will approach, they are certain it will come no closer than 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) from Earth’s surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data reveals Hydrothermal Conditions for Life may have existed on Mars

 

Written by Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – The discovery of evidence for ancient sea-floor hydrothermal deposits on Mars identifies an area on the planet that may offer clues about the origin of life on Earth.

A recent international report examines observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) of massive deposits in a basin on southern Mars. The authors interpret the data as evidence that these deposits were formed by heated water from a volcanically active part of the planet’s crust entering the bottom of a large sea long ago.

This view of a portion of the Eridania region of Mars shows blocks of deep-basin deposits that have been surrounded and partially buried by younger volcanic deposits. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

This view of a portion of the Eridania region of Mars shows blocks of deep-basin deposits that have been surrounded and partially buried by younger volcanic deposits. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA says there is evidence of Planet Nine in our Solar System

 

Written by Pat Brennan
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – It might be lingering bashfully on the icy outer edges of our solar system, hiding in the dark, but subtly pulling strings behind the scenes: stretching out the orbits of distant bodies, perhaps even tilting the entire solar system to one side.

If a planet is there, it’s extremely distant and will stay that way (with no chance — in case you’re wondering — of ever colliding with Earth, or bringing “days of darkness”). It is a possible “Planet Nine” — a world perhaps 10 times the mass of Earth and 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune. The signs so far are indirect, mainly its gravitational footprints, but that adds up to a compelling case nonetheless.

An artist's illustration of a possible ninth planet in our solar system, hovering at the edge of our solar system. Neptune's orbit is shown as a bright ring around the Sun. (ESO/Tom Ruen/nagualdesign)

An artist’s illustration of a possible ninth planet in our solar system, hovering at the edge of our solar system. Neptune’s orbit is shown as a bright ring around the Sun. (ESO/Tom Ruen/nagualdesign)

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NASA’s MESSENGER Spacecraft data shows how Micrometeoroids effect Mercury’s Atmosphere

 

Written by Kathryn DuFresne
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – Mercury, our smallest planetary neighbor, has very little to call an atmosphere, but it does have a strange weather pattern: morning micro-meteor showers.

Recent modeling along with previously published results from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft — short for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging, a mission that observed Mercury from 2011 to 2015 — has shed new light on how certain types of comets influence the lopsided bombardment of Mercury’s surface by tiny dust particles called micrometeoroids. This study also gave new insight into how these micrometeoroid showers can shape Mercury’s very thin atmosphere, called an exosphere. 

Scientists used models along with earlier findings from the MESSENGER mission to shed light on how certain types of comets influence the micrometeoroids that preferentially impact Mercury on the dawn side of the planet. Here, data from the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer, or MASCS, instrument is overlain on the mosaic from the Mercury Dual Imaging System, or MDIS. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

Scientists used models along with earlier findings from the MESSENGER mission to shed light on how certain types of comets influence the micrometeoroids that preferentially impact Mercury on the dawn side of the planet. Here, data from the Mercury Atmosphere and Surface Composition Spectrometer, or MASCS, instrument is overlain on the mosaic from the Mercury Dual Imaging System, or MDIS. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

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NASA’s SOFIA Observatory to study atmosphere of Neptune’s moon Triton

 

NASA Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – Researchers on the flying observatory SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, are preparing for a two-minute opportunity to study the atmosphere of Neptune’s moon Triton as it casts a faint shadow on Earth’s surface. This is the first chance to investigate Triton’s atmosphere in 16 years.

On October 5th, as Triton passes in front of a faraway star it will block the star’s light in an eclipse-like event called an occultation. During the celestial alignment, the team aboard the specially equipped Boeing 747SP aircraft will make observations of the distant star’s light as it passes through Triton’s atmosphere.

The borders of Triton's shadow across Earth's surface are indicated by black lines on this map, while the orange line is the path of the shadow's center. SOFIA’s flight path is represented by the red line; the point of the crucial, two-minute observation of Triton as it aligns with the star is marked by the airplane. The red and blue dots represent the ground-based telescopes that will also observe Triton. (DSI/ Karsten Schindler (Map data, Google))

The borders of Triton’s shadow across Earth’s surface are indicated by black lines on this map, while the orange line is the path of the shadow’s center. SOFIA’s flight path is represented by the red line; the point of the crucial, two-minute observation of Triton as it aligns with the star is marked by the airplane. The red and blue dots represent the ground-based telescopes that will also observe Triton. (DSI/ Karsten Schindler (Map data, Google))

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NASA’s MAVEN Orbiter observes Global Aurora on Mars Surface

 

Written by Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – An unexpectedly strong blast from the Sun hit Mars this month, observed by NASA missions in orbit and on the surface.

“NASA’s distributed set of science missions is in the right place to detect activity on the Sun and examine the effects of such solar events at Mars as never possible before,” said MAVEN Program Scientist Elsayed Talaat, program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington, for NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission.

The solar event on September 11th, 2017 sparked a global aurora at Mars more than 25 times brighter than any previously seen by the MAVEN orbiter, which has been studying the Martian atmosphere’s interaction with the solar wind since 2014.

These images from the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph on NASA's MAVEN orbiter show the appearance of a bright aurora on Mars during a solar storm in September 2017. The purple-white colors shows the intensity of ultraviolet light on Mars' night side before (left) and during (right) the event. (NASA/Univ. of Colorado)

These images from the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph on NASA’s MAVEN orbiter show the appearance of a bright aurora on Mars during a solar storm in September 2017. The purple-white colors shows the intensity of ultraviolet light on Mars’ night side before (left) and during (right) the event. (NASA/Univ. of Colorado)

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