Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.
“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The locations in our solar system where extreme environments occur in which life might exist may bring us closer to answering the question: are we alone in the universe.”
Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA – Growing up as a planet with more than one parent star has its challenges. Though the planets in our solar system circle just one star — our sun — other more distant planets, called exoplanets, can be reared in families with two or more stars.
Researchers wanting to know more about the complex influences of multiple stars on planets have come up with two new case studies: a planet found to have three parents, and another with four.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – When you don’t know how to get to an unfamiliar place, you probably rely on a smart phone or other device with a Global Positioning System (GPS) module for guidance. You may not realize that, especially at high latitudes on our planet, signals traveling between GPS satellites and your device can get distorted in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, in collaboration with the University of New Brunswick in Canada, are studying irregularities in the ionosphere, a part of the atmosphere centered about 217 miles (350 kilometers) above the ground that defines the boundary between Earth and space.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed a mission milestone of 40,000 orbits on February 7th, 2015, in its ninth year of returning information about the atmosphere, surface and subsurface of Mars, from equatorial to polar latitudes.
The mission’s potent science instruments and extended lifespan have revealed that Mars is a world more dynamic and diverse than was previously realized. Now in its fourth mission extension after a two-year prime mission, the orbiter is investigating seasonal and longer-term changes, including some warm-season flows that are the strongest evidence so far for liquid water on Mars today.
Written by Karen C. Fox
Greenbelt, MD – There’s a fascinating spot some 932,000 miles away from Earth where the gravity between the sun and Earth is perfectly balanced. This spot captures the attention of orbital engineers because a satellite can orbit this spot, called Lagrange 1 just as they can orbit a planet.
But the spot tantalizes scientists as well: Lagrange 1 lies outside Earth’s magnetic environment, a perfect place to measure the constant stream of particles from the sun, known as the solar wind, as they pass by.
In early February, the United States Air Force will launch a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite called Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR, into orbit around this spot.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope takes photo of three moons transiting the face of Jupiter in rare conjunction
Written by Rob Gutro
Greenbelt, MD -Firing off a string of action snapshots like a sports photographer at a NASCAR race, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured the rare occurrence of three of Jupiter’s largest moons racing across the banded face of the gas-giant planet: Europa, Callisto, and Io.
These so-called Galilean moons, named after the 17th century scientist Galileo Galilei, who discovered them with a telescope, complete orbits around Jupiter with durations ranging from 2 days to 17 days. They can commonly be seen transiting the face of Jupiter and casting shadows onto its cloud tops.
Written by Alan Buis
Pasadena, CA – NASA successfully launched its first Earth satellite designed to collect global observations of the vital soil moisture hidden just beneath our feet.
The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, a mission with broad applications for science and society, lifted off at 6:22am PST (9:22am EST) Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – Researchers studying data from NASA’s Cassini mission have observed that Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, behaves much like Venus, Mars or a comet when exposed to the raw power of the solar wind. The observations suggest that unmagnetized bodies like Titan might interact with the solar wind in the same basic ways, regardless of their nature or distance from the sun.
Titan is large enough that it could be considered a planet if it orbited the sun on its own, and a flyby of the giant moon in December 2013 simulated that scenario, from Cassini’s vantage point.
Written by David Weaver
Washington, D.C. – In 2014, NASA took significant steps on the agency’s journey to Mars — testing cutting-edge technologies and making scientific discoveries while studying our changing Earth and the infinite universe as the agency made progress on the next generation of air travel.
“We continued to make great progress on our journey to Mars this year, awarding contracts to American companies who will return human space flight launches to U.S. soil, advancing space technology development; and successfully completing the first flight of Orion, the next deep space spacecraft in which our astronauts will travel,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We moved forward on our work to create quieter, greener airplanes and develop technologies to make air travel more efficient; and we advanced our study of our changing home planet, Earth, while increasing our understanding of others in our solar system and beyond.”
Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA -NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft makes a comeback with the discovery of the first exoplanet found using its new mission — K2.
The discovery was made when astronomers and engineers devised an ingenious way to repurpose Kepler for the K2 mission and continue its search of the cosmos for other worlds.
“Last summer, the possibility of a scientifically productive mission for Kepler after its reaction wheel failure in its extended mission was not part of the conversation,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s astrophysics division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “Today, thanks to an innovative idea and lots of hard work by the NASA and Ball Aerospace team, Kepler may well deliver the first candidates for follow-up study by the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize the atmospheres of distant worlds and search for signatures of life.”
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