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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft data used to analyze Lakes and Seas on Saturn’s Moon Titan

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau / Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Saturn’s moon Titan is home to seas and lakes filled with liquid hydrocarbons, but what forms the depressions on the surface? A new study using data from the joint NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) Cassini mission suggests the moon’s surface dissolves in a process that’s similar to the creation of sinkholes on Earth.

Apart from Earth, Titan is the only body in the solar system known to possess surface lakes and seas, which have been observed by the Cassini spacecraft. But at Titan’s frigid surface temperatures — roughly minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 180 degrees Celsius) — liquid methane and ethane, rather than water, dominate Titan’s hydrocarbon equivalent of Earth’s water.

Radar images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft reveal many lakes on Titan's surface, some filled with liquid, and some appearing as empty depressions. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS)

Radar images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveal many lakes on Titan’s surface, some filled with liquid, and some appearing as empty depressions. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS)

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NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft to complete 60,000th trip around Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft will reach a major milestone June 23rd, when it completes its 60,000th orbit since arriving at the Red Planet in 2001.

Named after the bestselling novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Arthur C. Clarke, Odyssey began orbiting Mars almost 14 years ago, on October 23rd, 2001. On December 15th, 2010, it became the longest-operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars, and continues to hold that record today.

Odyssey, which discovered widespread water ice just beneath the surface of the Red Planet, is still going strong today, serving as a key communications relay for NASA’s Mars rovers and making continued contributions to planetary science.

Gale Crater, home to NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, shows a new face in this image made using data from the THEMIS camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. The colors come from an image processing method that identifies mineral differences in surface materials and displays them in false colors. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

Gale Crater, home to NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, shows a new face in this image made using data from the THEMIS camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter. The colors come from an image processing method that identifies mineral differences in surface materials and displays them in false colors. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

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NASA reports Rosetta’s Philae Lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko stirs from hibernation

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The European Space Agency’s Rosetta’s lander (Philae) is out of hibernation. The signals were received at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany at 22:28 local time (CEST) on June 13th. Since then, more than 300 data packets have been analyzed by the teams at the Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center.

“Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of minus 35 degrees centigrade and has 24 watts available,” said the German Aerospace Center’s Philae Project Manager Stephan Ulamec. “The lander is ready for operations.”

The European Space Agency's Rosetta's lander "Philae" awoke from its cometary hibernation on June 13th. (ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta’s lander “Philae” awoke from its cometary hibernation on June 13th. (ESA)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has close flyby of Saturn’s Moon Dione

 

Written by Preston Dyches / DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Dione on June 16th, coming within 321 miles (516 kilometers) of the moon’s surface. The spacecraft made its closest approach to Dione at 1:12pm PDT (4:12pm EDT) on June 16th.

During the flyby, Cassini’s cameras and spectrometers observed terrain that includes “Eurotas Chasmata,” a region first observed 35 years ago by NASA’s Voyager mission as bright, wispy streaks. After the Voyager encounter, scientists considered the possibility that the streaks were bright material extruded onto the surface by geologic activity, such as ice volcanoes.

Cassini's penultimate encounter with Saturn's moon Dione is slated for June 16th. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Cassini’s penultimate encounter with Saturn’s moon Dione is slated for June 16th. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA to include Two CubeSats on the next mission to Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – When NASA launches its next mission on the journey to Mars – a stationary lander in 2016 – the flight will include two CubeSats. This will be the first time CubeSats have flown in deep space.

If this flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA the ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after it lands on Mars.

The twin communications-relay CubeSats, being built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, constitute a technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO). CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies.

NASA's two small MarCO CubeSats will be flying past Mars in 2016 just as NASA's next Mars lander, InSight, is descending through the Martian atmosphere and landing on the surface. MarCO, for Mars Cube One, will provide an experimental communications relay to inform Earth quickly about the landing. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA’s two small MarCO CubeSats will be flying past Mars in 2016 just as NASA’s next Mars lander, InSight, is descending through the Martian atmosphere and landing on the surface. MarCO, for Mars Cube One, will provide an experimental communications relay to inform Earth quickly about the landing. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope discovers Planets with Clouds of Helium

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – They wouldn’t float like balloons or give you the chance to talk in high, squeaky voices, but planets with helium skies may constitute an exotic planetary class in our Milky Way galaxy.

Researchers using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope propose that warm Neptune-size planets with clouds of helium may be strewn about the galaxy by the thousands.

“We don’t have any planets like this in our own solar system,” said Renyu Hu, NASA Hubble Fellow at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author of a new study on the findings accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “But we think planets with helium atmospheres could be common around other stars.”

Planets having atmospheres rich in helium may be common in our galaxy, according to a new theory based on data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Planets having atmospheres rich in helium may be common in our galaxy, according to a new theory based on data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft captures new images of Bright Spots on dwarf planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – New images of dwarf planet Ceres, taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, show the cratered surface of this mysterious world in sharper detail than ever before. These are among the first snapshots from Dawn’s second mapping orbit, which is 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above Ceres.

The region with the brightest spots is in a crater about 55 miles (90 kilometers) across. The spots consist of many individual bright points of differing sizes, with a central cluster. So far, scientists have found no obvious explanation for their observed locations or brightness levels.

The brightest spots on dwarf planet Ceres are seen in this image taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on June 6, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

The brightest spots on dwarf planet Ceres are seen in this image taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on June 6, 2015. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s RoboSimian takes 5th place at DARPA Robotics Challenge

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Showing off its robustness and versatility, the ape-like RoboSimian robot, developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, took fifth place in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) Finals, held June 5th through 6th in Pomona, California.

RoboSimian squared off against 22 other robots in the international robotics competition, which promoted the development of robots that could respond to disaster scenarios too dangerous for humans.

JPL's RoboSimian exits its vehicle following a brief drive through a slalom course at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. (JPL-Caltech)

JPL’s RoboSimian exits its vehicle following a brief drive through a slalom course at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. (JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter discovers Glass in Impact Craters on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has detected deposits of glass within impact craters on Mars. Though formed in the searing heat of a violent impact, such deposits might provide a delicate window into the possibility of past life on the Red Planet.

During the past few years, research has shown evidence about past life has been preserved in impact glass here on Earth. A 2014 study led by scientist Peter Schultz of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, found organic molecules and plant matter entombed in glass formed by an impact that occurred millions of years ago in Argentina.

Researchers have found deposits of impact glass preserved in Martian craters, including Alga Crater, shown here. The detection is based on data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona)

Researchers have found deposits of impact glass preserved in Martian craters, including Alga Crater, shown here. The detection is based on data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) completes second test flight with flying colors

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Engineers are poring over the data following the second experimental landing technology test of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) project. The saucer-shaped LDSD craft splashed down at 11:49am HST (2:49 PDT/5:49pm EDT) Monday in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

During this flight, the project team tested two decelerator technologies that could enable larger payloads to land safely on the surface of Mars, and allow access to more of the planet’s surface by assisting landings at higher-altitude sites.

The balloon-aided liftoff kicked off the second test flight of the LDSD system. (NASA JPL-Caltech)

The balloon-aided liftoff kicked off the second test flight of the LDSD system. (NASA JPL-Caltech)

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