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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover completes two Martian Seasons monitoring Weather on Mars

 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has completed its second Martian year since landing inside Gale Crater nearly four Earth years ago, which means it has recorded environmental patterns through two full cycles of Martian seasons.

The repetition helps distinguish seasonal effects from sporadic events. For example, a large spike in methane in the local atmosphere during the first southern-hemisphere autumn in Gale Crater was not repeated the second autumn. It was an episodic release, still unexplained.

This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist concept features NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars’ past or present ability to sustain microbial life. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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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 announces Kepler Space Telescope discovers 1,284 new planets

 

Written by Felicia Chou
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s Kepler mission has verified 1,284 new planets — the single largest finding of planets to date.

“This announcement more than doubles the number of confirmed planets from Kepler,” said Ellen Stofan, chief scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This gives us hope that somewhere out there, around a star much like ours, we can eventually discover another Earth.”

Analysis was performed on the Kepler space telescope’s July 2015 planet candidate catalog, which identified 4,302 potential planets. For 1,284 of the candidates, the probability of being a planet is greater than 99 percent – the minimum required to earn the status of “planet.”

The image is a concept piece depicting select Kepler planetary discoveries made to date. (NASA Ames/W. Stenzel)

The image is a concept piece depicting select Kepler planetary discoveries made to date. (NASA Ames/W. Stenzel)

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NASA Satellite Data shows High Altitude Clouds shifting to Earth’s Poles

 

Written by Ellen Gray
NASA’s Earth Science News Team
NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, D.C. – A new NASA analysis of 30-years of satellite data suggests that a previously observed trend of high altitude clouds in the mid-latitudes shifting toward the poles is caused primarily by the expansion of the tropics.

Clouds are among the most important mediators of heat reaching Earth’s surface. Where clouds are absent, darker surfaces like the ocean or vegetated land absorb heat, but where clouds occur their white tops reflect incoming sunlight away, which can cause a cooling effect on Earth’s surface.

The Hadley cells describe how air moves through the tropics on either side of the equator. They are two of six major air circulation cells on Earth. (NASA)

The Hadley cells describe how air moves through the tropics on either side of the equator. They are two of six major air circulation cells on Earth. (NASA)

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NASA’s SOFIA flying observatory sees Atomic Oxygen in Atmosphere of Mars

 

Written by Kassandra Bell, SOFIA Science Center
NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – An instrument onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars for the first time since the last observation 40 years ago. These atoms were found in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere known as the mesosphere.

Atomic oxygen affects how other gases escape Mars and therefore has a significant impact on the planet’s atmosphere. Scientists detected only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere.

SOFIA/GREAT spectrum of oxygen [O I] superimposed on an image of Mars from the MAVEN mission. The amount of atomic oxygen computed from this SOFIA data is about half the amount expected. (SOFIA/GREAT spectrum: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/MPIfR/GREAT Consortium/ MPIfS/Rezac et al. 2015. Mars image: NASA/MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission)

SOFIA/GREAT spectrum of oxygen [O I] superimposed on an image of Mars from the MAVEN mission. The amount of atomic oxygen computed from this SOFIA data is about half the amount expected. (SOFIA/GREAT spectrum: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/MPIfR/GREAT Consortium/ MPIfS/Rezac et al. 2015. Mars image: NASA/MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovers evidence of Ancient Volcanoes on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Volcanoes erupted beneath an ice sheet on Mars billions of years ago, far from any ice sheet on the Red Planet today, new evidence from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter suggests.

The research about these volcanoes helps show there was extensive ice on ancient Mars. It also adds information about an environment combining heat and moisture, which could have provided favorable conditions for microbial life.

Sheridan Ackiss of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and collaborators used the orbiter’s mineral-mapping spectrometer to investigate surface composition in an oddly textured region of southern Mars called “Sisyphi Montes.”

This graphic illustrates where Mars mineral-mapping from orbit has detected minerals that can indicate where a volcano erupted beneath an ice sheet. The site is far from any ice sheet on modern Mars, in an area where unusual shapes have been interpreted as a possible result of volcanism under ice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/ASU)

This graphic illustrates where Mars mineral-mapping from orbit has detected minerals that can indicate where a volcano erupted beneath an ice sheet. The site is far from any ice sheet on modern Mars, in an area where unusual shapes have been interpreted as a possible result of volcanism under ice. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/ASU)

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NASA reports three planets similar to Venus and Earth found orbiting Dwarf Star

 

NASA’s Johnson Space Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationHouston, TX – Astronomers using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory have discovered three planets with sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth, orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth.

Michaël Gillon of the University of Liège in Belgium, leading a team of astronomers including Susan M. Lederer of NASA Johnson Space Center, have used the TRAPPIST telescope to observe the star 2MASS J23062928-0502285, now also known as TRAPPIST-1.

They found that this dim and cool star faded slightly at regular intervals, indicating that several objects were passing between the star and the Earth.

This artist’s impression shows an imagined view of the three planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. In this view, one of the inner planets is seen in transit across the disc of its tiny and dim parent star. (ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org))

This artist’s impression shows an imagined view of the three planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. In this view, one of the inner planets is seen in transit across the disc of its tiny and dim parent star. (ESO/M. Kornmesser/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org))

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NASA Researchers are developing new technologies to discover Earth-like Planets beyond our Solar System

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – We humans might not be the only ones to ponder our place in the universe. If intelligent aliens do roam the cosmos, they too might ask a question that has gripped humans for centuries: Are we alone?

These aliens might even have giant space telescopes dedicated to studying distant planets and searching for life. Should one of those telescopes capture an image of our blue marble of a planet, evidence of forests and plentiful creatures would jump out as simple chemicals: oxygen, ozone, water and methane.

The vacuum chamber at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, used for testing WFIRST and other coronagraphs. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The vacuum chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, used for testing WFIRST and other coronagraphs. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA scientists research ways to discover habitable planets

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Scientists are getting closer to finding worlds that resemble our own “blue marble” of a planet. NASA’s Kepler mission alone has confirmed more than 1,000 planets outside our solar system — a handful of which are a bit bigger than Earth and orbit in the habitable zones of their stars, where liquid water might exist.

Some astronomers think the discovery of Earth’s true analogs may be around the corner. What are the next steps to search for life on these potentially habitable worlds?

This illustration shows the prototype starshade, a giant structure designed to block the glare of stars so that future space telescopes can take pictures of planets.

This illustration shows the prototype starshade, a giant structure designed to block the glare of stars so that future space telescopes can take pictures of planets.

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft examines Methane Sea on Saturn’s moon Titan

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Of the hundreds of moons in our solar system, Titan is the only one with a dense atmosphere and large liquid reservoirs on its surface, making it in some ways more like a terrestrial planet.

Both Earth and Titan have nitrogen-dominated atmospheres — over 95 percent nitrogen in Titan’s case. However, unlike Earth, Titan has very little oxygen; the rest of the atmosphere is mostly methane and trace amounts of other gases, including ethane. And at the frigid temperatures found at Saturn’s great distance from the sun, the methane and ethane can exist on the surface in liquid form.

Sunlight glints off of Titan's northern seas this near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho)

Sunlight glints off of Titan’s northern seas this near-infrared, color mosaic from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. (NASA/JPL/Univ. Arizona/Univ. Idaho)

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