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Topic: NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory discovers First Type of Molecule that ever formed in the Universe

 

Written by Kassandra Bell and Alison Hawkes
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA says the first type of molecule that ever formed in the universe has been detected in space for the first time, after decades of searching. Scientists discovered its signature in our own galaxy using the world’s largest airborne observatory, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, as the aircraft flew high above the Earth’s surface and pointed its sensitive instruments out into the cosmos.

When the universe was still very young, only a few kinds of atoms existed. Scientists believe that around 100,000 years after the big bang, helium and hydrogen combined to make a molecule called helium hydride for the first time.

Illustration of planetary nebula NGC 7027 and helium hydride molecules. In this planetary nebula, SOFIA detected helium hydride, a combination of helium (red) and hydrogen (blue), which was the first type of molecule to ever form in the early universe. This is the first time helium hydride has been found in the modern universe. (NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit/D.Rutter)

Illustration of planetary nebula NGC 7027 and helium hydride molecules. In this planetary nebula, SOFIA detected helium hydride, a combination of helium (red) and hydrogen (blue), which was the first type of molecule to ever form in the early universe. This is the first time helium hydride has been found in the modern universe. (NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit/D.Rutter)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover data shows Asteroids, Hydrogen Atmosphere could have produced ingredients for Life

 

Written by Timothy Childers
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – A new study reveals asteroid impacts on ancient Mars could have produced key ingredients for life if the Martian atmosphere was rich in hydrogen. An early hydrogen-rich atmosphere on Mars could also explain how the planet remained habitable after its atmosphere thinned.

The study used data from NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars and was conducted by researchers on Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument team and international colleagues.

Data from NASA's Curiosity Mars rover were used in a new paper studying how asteroids impacting the ancient Martian atmosphere could have produced key ingredients to life. Those data were provided by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Data from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover were used in a new paper studying how asteroids impacting the ancient Martian atmosphere could have produced key ingredients to life. Those data were provided by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars instrument. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA uses Cassini Spacecraft data to determine length of a Day on Saturn

 

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Using new data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, researchers believe they have solved a longstanding mystery of solar system science: the length of a day on Saturn. It’s 10 hours, 33 minutes and 38 seconds.

The figure has eluded planetary scientists for decades, because the gas giant has no solid surface with landmarks to track as it rotates, and it has an unusual magnetic field that hides the planet’s rotation rate.

The answer, it turned out, was hidden in the rings.

A view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft shows Saturn's northern hemisphere in 2016 as that part of the planet nears its northern hemisphere summer solstice. A year on Saturn is 29 Earth years; days only last 10:33:38, according to a new analysis of Cassini data. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

A view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft shows Saturn’s northern hemisphere in 2016 as that part of the planet nears its northern hemisphere summer solstice. A year on Saturn is 29 Earth years; days only last 10:33:38, according to a new analysis of Cassini data. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

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Citizen Scientists use NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope data to discover New World

 

Written by Francis Reddy
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – Using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, citizen scientists have discovered a planet roughly twice the size of Earth located within its star’s habitable zone, the range of orbital distances where liquid water may exist on the planet’s surface. The new world, known as K2-288Bb, could be rocky or could be a gas-rich planet similar to Neptune. Its size is rare among exoplanets – planets beyond our solar system.

“It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon,” said Adina Feinstein, a University of Chicago graduate student who discussed the discovery on Monday, January 7th, at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.

The newfound planet K2-288Bb, illustrated here, is slightly smaller than Neptune. Located about 226 light-years away, it orbits the fainter member of a pair of cool M-type stars every 31.3 days. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy)

The newfound planet K2-288Bb, illustrated here, is slightly smaller than Neptune. Located about 226 light-years away, it orbits the fainter member of a pair of cool M-type stars every 31.3 days. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Francis Reddy)

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NASA explored Venus for the first time, 40 years ago

 

NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMountain View, CA – Slightly smaller than Earth, Venus is our closest planetary neighbor. Despite its proximity, relatively little was known about the planet in the late 1970s, especially its lower atmosphere. All that changed, though, when the most comprehensive study of the Venusian atmosphere began 40 years ago with the NASA Pioneer Venus project. 

NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley managed the project, consisting of two spacecraft built by the Hughes Aircraft Company in El Segundo, California.

Left: Pioneer Venus Orbiter during assembly. Middle: Pioneer Venus Multiprobe undergoing final assembly and checkout. Right: Model of the Venera 11 and 12 lander (left) and entire spacecraft (right). (NASA)

Left: Pioneer Venus Orbiter during assembly. Middle: Pioneer Venus Multiprobe undergoing final assembly and checkout.
Right: Model of the Venera 11 and 12 lander (left) and entire spacecraft (right). (NASA)

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NASA research shows Sugar Molecule may exist in Interstellar Space

 

NASA’s Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMountain View, CA – When we think of sugar, it’s in the form of a holiday sweet or a reason to head back to gym after New Year’s Eve — we don’t usually think of the complex varieties that form the structural backbones of our very genetic code. And we certainly don’t think of sugar floating around in the vast darkness of space.

New research suggests that the sugar molecule that puts the “D” in DNA — 2-deoxyribose — could exist in the far reaches of space. A team of NASA astrophysicists were able to create DNA’s sugar in laboratory conditions that mimic interstellar space.

This enormous mosaic of the Milky Way galaxy from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows areas of interstellar space where dozens of dense clouds, called nebulas, are forming into new stars. (NASA)

This enormous mosaic of the Milky Way galaxy from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows areas of interstellar space where dozens of dense clouds, called nebulas, are forming into new stars. (NASA)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope captures last moments of dying Star

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – In a galaxy far away, an old star exploded and became a supernova. About 170 million years later on February 4th, 2018, the light emanating from the explosion was received by an arsenal of high-powered telescopes.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope detected the unfurling light of SN 2018oh, as it has been labeled. The first ground-based facility to identify the signal was with the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernova and soon observatories around the globe were monitoring the supernova as part of a unique scientific experiment designed to help solve the mystery of how stars explode.

This image scenario leading to a particular kind of Type Ia supernova in which a single white dwarf siphons off so much material from its companion star that it can no longer sustain its own weight and blows up.  It is one theory explaining the data from SN 2018oh. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This image scenario leading to a particular kind of Type Ia supernova in which a single white dwarf siphons off so much material from its companion star that it can no longer sustain its own weight and blows up. It is one theory explaining the data from SN 2018oh. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope mission ends

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – On Thursday evening, NASA’s Kepler space telescope received its final set of commands to disconnect communications with Earth. The “goodnight” commands finalize the spacecraft’s transition into retirement, which began on October 30th, 2018 with NASA’s announcement that Kepler had run out of fuel and could no longer conduct science.

Coincidentally, Kepler’s “goodnight” coincides with the anniversary of the death of its namesake, German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion and died 388 years ago on November 15th, 1630.

This artist's concept shows NASA's Kepler Space Telescope on its K2 mission. In July 2016, an international team of astronomers announced they had discovered more than 100 new planets using this telescope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope on its K2 mission. In July 2016, an international team of astronomers announced they had discovered more than 100 new planets using this telescope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA SOFIA telescope helps scientists unravel Star Cluster Formation Mystery

 

NASA Ames Research Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationMoffett Field, CA – The sun, like all stars, was born in a giant cold cloud of molecular gas and dust. It may have had dozens or even hundreds of stellar siblings – a star cluster – but these early companions are now scattered throughout our Milky Way galaxy.

Although the remnants of this particular creation event have long since dispersed, the process of star birth continues today within our galaxy and beyond. Star clusters are conceived in the hearts of optically dark clouds where the early phases of formation have historically been hidden from view.

Illustration of a star cluster forming from the collision of turbulent molecular clouds, which appear as dark shadows in front of the background galactic star field. (NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

Illustration of a star cluster forming from the collision of turbulent molecular clouds, which appear as dark shadows in front of the background galactic star field. (NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope runs out of fuel

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets – more planets even than stars – NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations.

NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.

NASA's Kepler space telescope, shown in this artist's concept, revealed that there are more planets than stars in the Milky Way galaxy. (NASA)

NASA’s Kepler space telescope, shown in this artist’s concept, revealed that there are more planets than stars in the Milky Way galaxy. (NASA)

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