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Topic: NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program

NASA’s Starshade technology to aid observations of far off Planets

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA says the feat of staying highly synchronized while airborne can be appreciated by anyone who’s ever seen aircraft engaged in formation flying. In work sponsored by NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP), engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are taking formation flying to a new extreme.

Their work marks an important milestone within a larger program to test the feasibility of a technology called a starshade. Although starshades have never flown in space, they hold the potential to enable groundbreaking observations of planets beyond our solar system, including pictures of planets as small as Earth.

This artist's concept shows the geometry of a space telescope aligned with a starshade, a technology used to block starlight in order to reveal the presence of planets orbiting that star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows the geometry of a space telescope aligned with a starshade, a technology used to block starlight in order to reveal the presence of planets orbiting that star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program releases 360 Visual tool to Explore Alien Worlds

 

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Explore the plethora of planets outside our solar system with new multimedia experiences from NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP).

In addition to a new Exoplanet Travel Bureau poster celebrating a molten world called 55 Cancri e, space fans can enjoy a 360-degree visualization of the surface of the same planet, a multimedia journey into the life and death of planetary systems, and a major update to the popular Eyes on Exoplanets app.

This Exoplanet Travel Bureau poster illustration shows futuristic explorers gliding in a protective bubble over the red-hot landscape of the exoplanet 55 Cancri e. Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This Exoplanet Travel Bureau poster illustration shows futuristic explorers gliding in a protective bubble over the red-hot landscape of the exoplanet 55 Cancri e. Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA-funded Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer completes study of dust in “Habitable Zone” around a Star

 

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Veils of dust wrapped around distant stars could make it difficult for scientists to find potentially habitable planets in those star systems. The Hunt for Observable Signatures of Terrestrial Systems, or HOSTS, survey was tasked with learning more about the effect of dust on the search for new worlds.

The goal is to help guide the design of future planet-hunting missions. In a new paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, HOSTS scientists report on the survey’s initial findings.

This artist's illustration shows what the sky might look like from a planet in a particularly dusty solar system. Dust that orbits a star in the plane of the solar system is called zodiacal dust, and the light reflected and scattered by that dust is called zodiacal light. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s illustration shows what the sky might look like from a planet in a particularly dusty solar system. Dust that orbits a star in the plane of the solar system is called zodiacal dust, and the light reflected and scattered by that dust is called zodiacal light. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA says Star Trek’s Vulcan may not exist, but Spock’s home system “40 Eridani” is real

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – It takes a little imagination to wish some favorite fictional universes into existence. But, for legions of “Star Trek” fans, they don’t have to wish: one star system really exists in our Milky Way galaxy.

In Star Trek lore, Vulcan is the home of logic, learning and the deeply beloved first officer Mr. Spock. While Vulcan is fictional, the star system it belongs to–40 Eridani–is very real. It’s located only 16.5 light-years away from Earth and its primary star can be spotted with the naked eye.

The green area surrounding 40 Eridani A depicts the habitable zone of the star, the area where temperatures would be right for liquid water, an essential ingredient for life (Vulcan or otherwise). The habitable zone of Vulcan is closer to its dwarf star than the Earth's is to the sun because 40 Eridani A is cooler and dimmer than our sun. (NASA)

The green area surrounding 40 Eridani A depicts the habitable zone of the star, the area where temperatures would be right for liquid water, an essential ingredient for life (Vulcan or otherwise). The habitable zone of Vulcan is closer to its dwarf star than the Earth’s is to the sun because 40 Eridani A is cooler and dimmer than our sun. (NASA)

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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 researchers finds signs of Exomoon

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Titan, Europa, Io and Phobos are just a few members of our solar system’s pantheon of moons. Are there other moons out there, orbiting planets beyond our sun?

NASA-funded researchers have spotted the first signs of an “exomoon,” and though they say it’s impossible to confirm its presence, the finding is a tantalizing first step toward locating others. The discovery was made by watching a chance encounter of objects in our galaxy, which can be witnessed only once.

Researchers have detected the first "exomoon" candidate -- a moon orbiting a planet that lies outside our solar system. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Researchers have detected the first “exomoon” candidate — a moon orbiting a planet that lies outside our solar system. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA Scientists say Rings can form without Planets

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Many young stars known to host planets also possess disks containing dust and icy grains, particles produced by collisions among asteroids and comets also orbiting the star. These debris disks often show sharply defined rings or spiral patterns, features that could signal the presence of orbiting planets.

Astronomers study the disk features as a way to better understand the physical properties of known planets and possibly uncover new ones.

Debris disks around stars naturally form complex structures without the presence of a planet. This image shows the dust density and the growth of structure in a simulated disk, which extends about 100 times farther from its star than Earth's orbit around the sun. At left, the disk is seen from 24-degree angle; at right, it's face-on. Lighter colors show greater dust concentrations. (Image credit: NASA Goddard/JPL-Caltech)

Debris disks around stars naturally form complex structures without the presence of a planet. This image shows the dust density and the growth of structure in a simulated disk, which extends about 100 times farther from its star than Earth’s orbit around the sun. At left, the disk is seen from 24-degree angle; at right, it’s face-on. Lighter colors show greater dust concentrations. (Image credit: NASA Goddard/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope data shows Hot Jupiter Planets are not always Consumed by their Stars

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Planets are pulled by the allure of their stars. Some planets, call Hot Jupiters, are gas giants that form farther from their stars before migrating inward and heating up.

Now, a new study using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope shows that hot Jupiters, despite their close-in orbits, are not regularly consumed by their stars. Instead, the planets remain in fairly stable orbits for billions of years, until the day comes when they may ultimately get eaten.

Researchers using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope have shown that migrating planets stop their inward journey before reaching their stars, as illustrated in this artist's concept. Jupiter-like planets, called "hot Jupiters" are known to migrate from their star's frigid outer reaches in toward the star and its blistering heat. Dozens of hot Jupiters have been discovered orbiting closely to their stars, whipping around in just days. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Researchers using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope have shown that migrating planets stop their inward journey before reaching their stars, as illustrated in this artist’s concept. Jupiter-like planets, called “hot Jupiters” are known to migrate from their star’s frigid outer reaches in toward the star and its blistering heat. Dozens of hot Jupiters have been discovered orbiting closely to their stars, whipping around in just days. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Kepler mission to discover Earth size planets finds 461 New Planet Candidates

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Kepler mission Monday announced the discovery of 461 new planet candidates. Four of the potential new planets are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun’s “habitable zone,” the region in the planetary system where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet.

Based on observations conducted from May 2009 to March 2011, the findings show a steady increase in the number of smaller-size planet candidates and the number of stars with more than one candidate.

This collage includes a compilation of artist's concepts depicting milestones from the Kepler mission. (Image credit: NASA Ames Research Center/W. Stenzel)

This collage includes a compilation of artist’s concepts depicting milestones from the Kepler mission. (Image credit: NASA Ames Research Center/W. Stenzel)

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