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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) gets ready to monitor soil’s freeze, thaw cycles

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Those who feel as though they’ve been living in the never-ending winter of the movie “Frozen” this year may be glad to hear that the spring thaw is now typically arriving up to two weeks earlier in the Northern Hemisphere than it did 20 to 30 years ago.

But the changing date of the spring thaw has consequences far beyond reducing the number of mornings when you have to scrape off your windshield.

One ecosystem where scientists would most like to understand the effects of changing freeze/thaw cycles is boreal forests, the great ring of green covering the land nearest the North Pole.

SMAP will monitor the frozen or thawed state of the global landscape north of 45 degrees north latitude. (UCAR/Carlye Calvin)

SMAP will monitor the frozen or thawed state of the global landscape north of 45 degrees north latitude. (UCAR/Carlye Calvin)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover uses arm to move sample rock powder to analyzing instrument

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its robotic arm Wednesday, March 11th, to sieve and deliver a rock-powder sample to an onboard instrument. The sample was collected last month before the team temporarily suspended rover arm movement pending analysis of a short circuit.

The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) analytical instrument inside the rover received the sample powder. This sample comes from a rock target called “Telegraph Peak,” the third target drilled during about six months of investigating the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop on Mount Sharp. With this delivery completed, the rover team plans to drive Curiosity away from Pahrump Hills in coming days.

This area at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars includes a pale outcrop, called "Pahrump Hills," that NASA's Curiosity Mars rover investigated from September 2014 to March 2015, and the "Artist's Drive" route toward higher layers of the mountain. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

This area at the base of Mount Sharp on Mars includes a pale outcrop, called “Pahrump Hills,” that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover investigated from September 2014 to March 2015, and the “Artist’s Drive” route toward higher layers of the mountain. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveals Ocean on Saturn’s moon Enceladus may have Hydrothermal Activity

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.

“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the universe.”

This cutaway view of Saturn's moon Enceladus is an artist's rendering that depicts possible hydrothermal activity that may be taking place on and under the seafloor of the moon's subsurface ocean, based on recently published results from NASA's Cassini mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This cutaway view of Saturn’s moon Enceladus is an artist’s rendering that depicts possible hydrothermal activity that may be taking place on and under the seafloor of the moon’s subsurface ocean, based on recently published results from NASA’s Cassini mission. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Probe set to launch March 12th

 

Written by Karen C. Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – The Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission is scheduled to launch into space on March 12th, 2015. The mission consists of four spacecraft to observe a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection — which doesn’t happen naturally on Earth all that often, but is a regular occurrence in space.

At the heart of magnetic reconnection is a fundamental physics process in which magnetic field lines come together and explosively realign, often sending the particles in the area flying off near the speed of light.

Solar flares – such as this one captured by NASA's SDO on July 12, 2012, are initiated by a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. (NASA/SDO)

Solar flares – such as this one captured by NASA’s SDO on July 12, 2012, are initiated by a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection. (NASA/SDO)

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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory completes instruments test

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Fresh off the recent successful deployment of its 20-foot (6-meter) reflector antenna and associated boom arm, NASA’s new Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory has successfully completed a two-day test of its science instruments.

The observatory’s radar and radiometer instruments were successfully operated for the first time with SMAP’s antenna in a non-spinning mode on February 27th and 28th.

The test was a key step in preparation for the planned spin-up of SMAP’s antenna to approximately 15 revolutions per minute in late March.

First image from a test of the radar instrument on NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite Feb. 27-28, 2015. The test was performed with SMAP's antenna in a non-spinning mode, which limits measurement swath widths to 25 miles (40 kilometers). (NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

First image from a test of the radar instrument on NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite Feb. 27-28, 2015. The test was performed with SMAP’s antenna in a non-spinning mode, which limits measurement swath widths to 25 miles (40 kilometers). (NASA/JPL-Caltech; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

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NASA’s InSight mission to Mars examines site for landing

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s next mission to Mars, scheduled to launch one year from today to examine the Red Planet’s deep interior and investigate how rocky planets like Earth evolved, now has one specific site under evaluation as the best place to land and deploy its science instruments.

The mission called InSight — an acronym for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport” — is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch period runs from March 4th to March 30th, 2016, and will mark the first California launch of an interplanetary mission.

This map shows the single area under continuing evaluation as the InSight mission's Mars landing site, as of a year before the mission's May 2016 launch. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This map shows the single area under continuing evaluation as the InSight mission’s Mars landing site, as of a year before the mission’s May 2016 launch. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA Scientists recreate Building Blocks of Life by simulating Outer Space Environment

 

Written by Ruth Marlaire
NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – NASA scientists studying the origin of life have reproduced uracil, cytosine, and thymine, three key components of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. They discovered that an ice sample containing pyrimidine exposed to ultraviolet radiation under space-like conditions produces these essential ingredients of life.

Pyrimidine is a ring-shaped molecule made up of carbon and nitrogen and is the central structure for uracil, cytosine, and thymine, which are all three part of a genetic code found in ribonucleic (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acids (DNA). RNA and DNA are central to protein synthesis, but also have many other roles.

Left to right: Ames scientists Michel Nuevo, Christopher Materese and Scott Sandford reproduce uracil, cytosine, and thymine, three key components of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. (NASA/ Dominic Hart)

Left to right: Ames scientists Michel Nuevo, Christopher Materese and Scott Sandford reproduce uracil, cytosine, and thymine, three key components of our hereditary material, in the laboratory. (NASA/ Dominic Hart)

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to enter orbit around Dwarf Planet Ceres on March 6th

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned new images captured on approach to its historic orbit insertion at the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will be the first mission to successfully visit a dwarf planet when it enters orbit around Ceres on Friday, March 6th.

“Dawn is about to make history,” said Robert Mase, project manager for the Dawn mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Our team is ready and eager to find out what Ceres has in store for us.”

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NASA researchers study of Ionosphere may help improve GPS Communications

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – When you don’t know how to get to an unfamiliar place, you probably rely on a smart phone or other device with a Global Positioning System (GPS) module for guidance. You may not realize that, especially at high latitudes on our planet, signals traveling between GPS satellites and your device can get distorted in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, in collaboration with the University of New Brunswick in Canada, are studying irregularities in the ionosphere, a part of the atmosphere centered about 217 miles (350 kilometers) above the ground that defines the boundary between Earth and space.

The Aurora Borealis viewed by the crew of Expedition 30 on board the International Space Station. The sequence of shots was taken on February 7, 2012 from 09:54:04 to 10:03:59 GMT, on a pass from the North Pacific Ocean, west of Canada, to southwestern Illinois. (NASA/JSC)

The Aurora Borealis viewed by the crew of Expedition 30 on board the International Space Station. The sequence of shots was taken on February 7, 2012 from 09:54:04 to 10:03:59 GMT, on a pass from the North Pacific Ocean, west of Canada, to southwestern Illinois. (NASA/JSC)

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NASA Earth science missions provide new insights into planet Earth

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Four new NASA Earth-observing missions are collecting data from space – with a fifth newly in orbit – after the busiest year of NASA Earth science launches in more than a decade.

On February 27th, 2014, NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory into space from Japan. GPM and the other new missions are making observations and providing new insights into global rain and snowfall, atmospheric carbon dioxide, ocean winds, clouds and tiny airborne particles called aerosols. Three of the new Earth missions are managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Over the past 12 months NASA has added five missions to its orbiting Earth-observing fleet - the biggest one-year increase in more than a decade. (NASA)

Over the past 12 months NASA has added five missions to its orbiting Earth-observing fleet – the biggest one-year increase in more than a decade. (NASA)

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