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Topic: NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA’s Mars Odyssey Spacecraft data provides new information about Mars Equator

 

Written by Laurie Cantillo / Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Scientists taking a new look at older data from NASA’s longest-operating Mars orbiter have discovered evidence of significant hydration near the Martian equator — a mysterious signature in a region of the Red Planet where planetary scientists figure ice shouldn’t exist.

Jack Wilson, a post-doctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, led a team that reprocessed data collected from 2002 to 2009 by the neutron spectrometer instrument on NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft. In bringing the lower-resolution compositional data into sharper focus, the scientists spotted unexpectedly high amounts of hydrogen — which at high latitudes is a sign of buried water ice — around sections of the Martian equator.

A new paper suggests hydrogen-possibly water ice-in the Medusa Fossae area of Mars, which is in an equatorial region of the planet to the lower left in this view. (Steve Lee (University of Colorado), Jim Bell (Cornell University), Mike Wolff (Space Science Institute), and NASA)

A new paper suggests hydrogen-possibly water ice-in the Medusa Fossae area of Mars, which is in an equatorial region of the planet to the lower left in this view. (Steve Lee (University of Colorado), Jim Bell (Cornell University), Mike Wolff (Space Science Institute), and NASA)

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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 New Horizons mission examines Pluto’s jagged ridges of Methane Ice

 

Written by Frank Tavares
NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMountain View, CA – NASA’s New Horizons mission revolutionized our knowledge of Pluto when it flew past that distant world in July 2015. Among its many discoveries were images of strange formations resembling giant knife blades of ice, whose origin had remained a mystery.

Now, scientists have turned up a fascinating explanation for this “bladed terrain”: the structures are made almost entirely of methane ice, and likely formed as a specific kind of erosion wore away their surfaces, leaving dramatic crests and sharp divides.

Pluto’s bladed terrain as seen from New Horizons during its July 2015 flyby. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Pluto’s bladed terrain as seen from New Horizons during its July 2015 flyby. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope helps produce new Weather Model for Brown Dwarfs

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Dim objects called brown dwarfs, less massive than the Sun but more massive than Jupiter, have powerful winds and clouds — specifically, hot patchy clouds made of iron droplets and silicate dust. Scientists recently realized these giant clouds can move and thicken or thin surprisingly rapidly, in less than an Earth day, but did not understand why.

Now, researchers have a new model for explaining how clouds move and change shape in brown dwarfs, using insights from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Giant waves cause large-scale movement of particles in brown dwarfs’ atmospheres, changing the thickness of the silicate clouds, researchers report in the journal Science.

This artist's concept shows a brown dwarf with bands of clouds, thought to resemble those seen at Neptune and the other outer planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows a brown dwarf with bands of clouds, thought to resemble those seen at Neptune and the other outer planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope discovers Exoplanet with Stratosphere

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Scientists have discovered the strongest evidence to date for a stratosphere on a planet outside our solar system, or exoplanet. A stratosphere is a layer of atmosphere in which temperature increases with higher altitudes.

“This result is exciting because it shows that a common trait of most of the atmospheres in our solar system — a warm stratosphere — also can be found in exoplanet atmospheres,” said Mark Marley, study co-author based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “We can now compare processes in exoplanet atmospheres with the same processes that happen under different sets of conditions in our own solar system.”

This artist's concept shows hot Jupiter WASP-121b, which presents the best evidence yet of a stratosphere on an exoplanet. (Engine House VFX, At-Bristol Science Centre, University of Exeter)

This artist’s concept shows hot Jupiter WASP-121b, which presents the best evidence yet of a stratosphere on an exoplanet. (Engine House VFX, At-Bristol Science Centre, University of Exeter)

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NASA’s Eclipse Balloon Project to simulate life’s ability to survive beyond Earth

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Steps forward in the search for life beyond Earth can be as simple as sending a balloon into the sky. In one of the most unique and extensive eclipse observation campaigns ever attempted, NASA is collaborating with student teams across the U.S. to do just that.

A larger initiative, NASA’s Eclipse Balloon Project, led by Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University, is sending more than 50 high-altitude balloons launched by student teams across the U.S. to livestream aerial footage of the August 21st, 2017, total solar eclipse from the edge of space to NASA’s website.

This picture of Montana was taken from the stratosphere (84,000 feet or 25,000 meters) during one of Montana Space Grant Consortium's high-altitude balloon tests on April 19, 2014. (Montana State University)

This picture of Montana was taken from the stratosphere (84,000 feet or 25,000 meters) during one of Montana Space Grant Consortium’s high-altitude balloon tests on April 19, 2014. (Montana State University)

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NASA says second Star in System can make Planets look smaller

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – In the search for planets similar to our own, an important point of comparison is the planet’s density. A low density tells scientists a planet is more likely to be gaseous like Jupiter, and a high density is associated with rocky planets like Earth. But a new study suggests some are less dense than previously thought because of a second, hidden star in their systems.

As telescopes stare at particular patches of sky, they can’t always differentiate between one star and two. A system of two closely orbiting stars may appear in images as a single point of light, even from sophisticated observatories such as NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

This cartoon explains why the reported sizes of some exoplanets may need to be revised in cases where there is a second star in the system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This cartoon explains why the reported sizes of some exoplanets may need to be revised in cases where there is a second star in the system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s SOFIA to Study Kuper Belt Object for Next New Horizons Flyby

 

NASA Ames Research Center

SOFIA Science Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – On July 10th, researchers using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, will attempt to study the environment around a distant Kuiper Belt Object, 2014 MU69, which is the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

When New Horizons flies by it, MU69 will be the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft, over a billion miles farther from our sun than Pluto. This ancient Kuiper Belt object is not well understood because it is faint, small (likely 12-25-mile (20-40-kilometer across, or possibly even smaller according to recent ground-based observations), and very far away (approximately 4.1 billion miles from Earth).

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) takes off from Palmdale, California at sunset. SOFIA is a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR); NASA and DLR have collaborated on a range of activities and signed agreements on June 16 to work together to reduce aircraft noise and advance research into rotorcraft. (NASA / Greg Perryman)

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) takes off from Palmdale, California at sunset. SOFIA is a partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR); NASA and DLR have collaborated on a range of activities and signed agreements on June 16 to work together to reduce aircraft noise and advance research into rotorcraft. (NASA / Greg Perryman)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope finds 219 new Planet Candidates

 

Written by Michele Johnson
NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMountain View, CA –  NASA’s Kepler space telescope team has released a mission catalog of planet candidates that introduces 219 new candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star’s habitable zone, which is the range of distance from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

This is the most comprehensive and detailed catalog release of candidate exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, from Kepler’s first four years of data. It’s also the final catalog from the spacecraft’s view of the patch of sky in the Cygnus constellation.

NASA's Kepler space telescope team has identified 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s Kepler space telescope team has identified 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and in the habitable zone of their star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy discovers thick dust surrounding active Black Holes

 

SOFIA Science Center
NASA Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – Researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio using observations from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, found that the dust surrounding active, ravenous black holes is much more compact than previously thought.

Most, if not all, large galaxies contain a supermassive black hole at their centers. Many of these black holes are relatively quiet and inactive, like the one at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. However, some supermassive black holes are currently consuming significant amounts of material that are being drawn into them, resulting in the emission of huge amounts of energy. These active black holes are called active galactic nuclei.

Artist illustration of the thick ring of dust that can obscure the energetic processes that occur near the supermassive black hole of an active galactic nuclei. The SOFIA studies suggest that the dust distribution is about 30 percent smaller than previously thought. (NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

Artist illustration of the thick ring of dust that can obscure the energetic processes that occur near the supermassive black hole of an active galactic nuclei. The SOFIA studies suggest that the dust distribution is about 30 percent smaller than previously thought. (NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

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