Topic: NASA’s Science Mission Directorate
Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
Greenbelt, MD – On September 8th, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is scheduled to launch for terra incognita: the unknown surface of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. Like expeditions of old, OSIRIS-REx’s mission includes mapping the exotic terrain it explores.
Bennu is part of the debris left over from the formation of the solar system and is pristine enough to hold clues to that very early history. OSIRIS-REx – which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer – will study Bennu in detail and collect a sample to send to Earth for in-depth analysis. The mission also will investigate how pressure from sunlight influences the path of this traveling asteroid.
Written by Nancy Neal Jones
Greenbelt, MD – NASA’s first spacecraft designed to return a piece of an asteroid to Earth arrived Friday, May 20th, at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and has begun final preparations in advance of its September launch.
The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security – Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will undergo final testing and fueling prior to being moved to its launch pad. The mission has a 34-day launch period beginning on September 8th.
After launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and retrieve at least 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of pristine surface material and return it to Earth for study.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD – New findings based on a year’s worth of observations from NASA’s Van Allen Probes have revealed that the ring current – an electrical current carried by energetic ions that encircles our planet – behaves in a much different way than previously understood.
The ring current has long been thought to wax and wane over time, but the new observations show that this is true of only some of the particles, while other particles are present consistently.
Using data gathered by the Radiation Belt Storm Probes Ion Composition Experiment, or RBSPICE, on one of the Van Allen Probes, researchers have determined that the high-energy protons in the ring current change in a completely different way from the current’s low-energy protons.
Written by Steve Koppes
Chicago, IL – The four planets of the Kepler-223 star system appeared to have little in common with the planets of our own solar system today. But a new study using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope suggests a possible commonality in the distant past.
The Kepler-223 planets orbit their star in the same configuration that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune may have had in the early history of our solar system, before migrating to their current locations.
Written by Michele Johnson
Moffett 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.
Written by Felicia Chou
Washington, 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.”
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – During a recent stargazing session, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft watched a bright star pass behind the plume of gas and dust that spews from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. At first, the data from that observation had scientists scratching their heads. What they saw didn’t fit their predictions.
The observation has led to a surprising new clue about the remarkable geologic activity on Enceladus: It appears that at least some of the narrow jets that erupt from the moon’s surface blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn in its orbit.
Written by Felicia Chou
Washington, D.C. – NASA will host a news teleconference at 10:00am PDT (12:00pm CDT) Tuesday, May 10th to announce the latest discoveries made by its planet-hunting mission, the Kepler Space Telescope.
When Kepler was launched in March 2009, scientists did not know how common planets were outside our solar system. Thanks to Kepler’s treasure trove of discoveries, astronomers now believe there may be at least one planet orbiting every star in the sky.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, 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.”
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, 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.
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