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Topic: NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope used to determine distance between Young Stars and their Protoplanetary Disks

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Imagine you want to measure the size of a room, but it’s completely dark. If you shout, you can tell if the space you’re in is relatively big or small, depending on how long it takes to hear the echo after it bounces off the wall.

Astronomers use this principle to study objects so distant they can’t be seen as more than points. In particular, researchers are interested in calculating how far young stars are from the inner edge of their surrounding protoplanetary disks. These disks of gas and dust are sites where planets form over the course of millions of years.

This illustration shows a star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration shows a star surrounded by a protoplanetary disk. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA begins planning new Mars Orbiter with advanced communications and imaging technology

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA is soliciting ideas from U.S. industry for designs of a Mars orbiter for potential launch in the 2020s. The satellite would provide advanced communications and imaging, as well as robotic science exploration, in support of NASA’s Journey to Mars.

The orbiter would substantially increase bandwidth communications and maintain high-resolution imaging capability. It also may use experimental cutting-edge technologies, such as high-power solar electric propulsion or an optical communications package, which could greatly improve transmission speed and capacity over radio frequency systems.

About 1000 Viking Orbiter red- and violet-filter images have been processed to provide global color coverage of Mars at a scale of 1 km/pixel. (NASA/JPL/USGS)

About 1000 Viking Orbiter red- and violet-filter images have been processed to provide global color coverage of Mars at a scale of 1 km/pixel. (NASA/JPL/USGS)

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NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer discovers free floating Planets in our Milky Way Galaxy

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – In 2011, astronomers announced that our galaxy is likely teeming with free-floating planets. In fact, these lonely worlds, which sit quietly in the darkness of space without any companion planets or even a host sun, might outnumber stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

The surprising discovery begged the question: Where did these objects come from? Are they planets that were ejected from solar systems, or are they actually light-weight stars called brown dwarfs that formed alone in space like stars?

A new study using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, WISE, and the Two Micron All Sky Survey, or 2MASS, provides new clues in this mystery of galactic proportions.

A young, free-floating world sits alone in space in this illustration. The object, called WISEA J114724.10?204021.3, is thought to be an exceptionally low-mass "brown dwarf," which is a star that lacked enough mass to burn nuclear fuel and glow like a star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A young, free-floating world sits alone in space in this illustration. The object, called WISEA J114724.10?204021.3, is thought to be an exceptionally low-mass “brown dwarf,” which is a star that lacked enough mass to burn nuclear fuel and glow like a star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft captures images of Luminous Craters on dwarf planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Craters with bright material on dwarf planet Ceres shine in new images from NASA’s Dawn mission.

In its lowest-altitude mapping orbit, at a distance of 240 miles (385 kilometers) from Ceres, Dawn has provided scientists with spectacular views of the dwarf planet.

Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers), shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim. Smooth material and a central ridge stand out on its floor.

Ceres' Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers), shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Ceres’ Haulani Crater, with a diameter of 21 miles (34 kilometers), shows evidence of landslides from its crater rim. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory studies Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS

 

Written by Molly Porter
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationHuntsville, AL – For millennia, people on Earth have watched comets in the sky. Many ancient cultures saw comets as the harbingers of doom, but today scientists know that comets are really frozen balls of dust, gas, and rock and may have been responsible for delivering water to planets like Earth billions of years ago.

While comets are inherently interesting, they can also provide information about other aspects of our Solar System. More specifically, comets can be used as laboratories to study the behavior of the stream of particles flowing away from the Sun, known as the solar wind.

Recently, astronomers announced the results of a study using data collected with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of two comets — C/2012 S1 (also known as “Comet ISON”) and C/2011 S4 (“Comet PanSTARRS”).

The Comets ISON and PanSTARRS in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ . of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach ( damianpeach.com ))

The Comets ISON and PanSTARRS in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ . of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach ( damianpeach.com ))

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft encounters dust from Interstellar Space

 

Written by Emily Baldwin
European Space Agency

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected the faint but distinct signature of dust coming from beyond our solar system. The research, led by a team of Cassini scientists primarily from Europe, is published this week in the journal Science.

Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, studying the giant planet, its rings and its moons. The spacecraft has also sampled millions of ice-rich dust grains with its cosmic dust analyzer instrument. The vast majority of the sampled grains originate from active jets that spray from the surface of Saturn’s geologically active moon Enceladus.

Of the millions of dust grains Cassini has sampled at Saturn, a few dozen appear to have come from beyond our solar system. Scientists believe these special grains have interstellar origins because they moved much faster and in different directions compared to dusty material native to Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Of the millions of dust grains Cassini has sampled at Saturn, a few dozen appear to have come from beyond our solar system. Scientists believe these special grains have interstellar origins because they moved much faster and in different directions compared to dusty material native to Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope takes infrared image of The Spider Nebula

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A nebula known as “the Spider” glows fluorescent green in an infrared image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS).

The Spider, officially named IC 417, lies near a much smaller object called NGC 1931, not pictured in the image. Together, the two are called “The Spider and the Fly” nebulae. Nebulae are clouds of interstellar gas and dust where stars can form.

The Spider Nebula lies about 10,000 light-years away from Earth and is a site of active star formation. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS)

The Spider Nebula lies about 10,000 light-years away from Earth and is a site of active star formation. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS)

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NASA reports Cassini spacecraft orbit unaffected by theorized undiscovered Planet 9

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Contrary to recent reports, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is not experiencing unexplained deviations in its orbit around Saturn, according to mission managers and orbit determination experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Several recent news stories have reported that a mysterious anomaly in Cassini’s orbit could potentially be explained by the gravitational tug of a theorized massive new planet in our solar system, lurking far beyond the orbit of Neptune.

Saturn as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2008. Long-term tracking of the spacecraft's position has revealed no unexplained perturbations in Cassini's orbit. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Saturn as seen by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in 2008. Long-term tracking of the spacecraft’s position has revealed no unexplained perturbations in Cassini’s orbit. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope given new mission to discover exoplanets in the center of Milky Way Galaxy

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers have made great strides in discovering planets outside of our solar system, termed “exoplanets.” In fact, over the past 20 years more than 5,000 exoplanets have been detected beyond the eight planets that call our solar system home.

The majority of these exoplanets have been found snuggled up to their host star completing an orbit (or year) in hours, days or weeks, while some have been found orbiting as far as Earth is to the sun, taking one Earth year to circle.

As an exoplanet passes in front of a more distant star, its gravity causes the trajectory of the starlight to bend, and in some cases, results in a brief brightening of the background star as seen by a telescope. The artistic animation illustrates this effect. This phenomenon of gravitational microlensing enables scientists to search for exoplanets that are too distant and dark to detect any other way. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

As an exoplanet passes in front of a more distant star, its gravity causes the trajectory of the starlight to bend, and in some cases, results in a brief brightening of the background star as seen by a telescope. The artistic animation illustrates this effect. This phenomenon of gravitational microlensing enables scientists to search for exoplanets that are too distant and dark to detect any other way. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle)

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NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover spots Dust Devil on Mars

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – From its perch high on a ridge, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil twisting through the valley below. The view looks back at the rover’s tracks leading up the north-facing slope of “Knudsen Ridge,” which forms part of the southern edge of “Marathon Valley.”

Opportunity took the image using its navigation camera (Navcam) on March 31st, 2016, during the 4,332nd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.

From its perch high on a ridge, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil twisting through the valley below. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

From its perch high on a ridge, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil twisting through the valley below. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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