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Topic: Planets

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft prepares to approach Pluto

 

Written by Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s Deep Space Network Helps With ‘Optical Navigation’

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft recently began its long-awaited, historic encounter with Pluto. The spacecraft is entering the first of several approach phases that culminate July 14th with the first close-up flyby of the dwarf planet, 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from Earth.

“NASA’s first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”

Beam Wave Guide antennas at Goldstone, known as the "Beam Waveguide Cluster." Each antenna is 111.5-feet (34-m) in diameter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Beam Wave Guide antennas at Goldstone, known as the “Beam Waveguide Cluster.” Each antenna is 111.5-feet (34-m) in diameter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA reports Saturn and it’s system of Moons mapped with high accuracy

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Scientists have paired NASA’s Cassini spacecraft with the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio-telescope system to pinpoint the position of Saturn and its family of moons to within about 2 miles (4 kilometers).

The measurement is some 50 times more precise than those provided by ground-based optical telescopes. The feat improves astronomers’ knowledge of Saturn’s orbit and benefits spacecraft navigation and basic physics research.

Researchers have determined the location of the Saturn system's center of mass to within just a couple of miles (or kilometers), a factor of 50 improvement over previous knowledge. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Researchers have determined the location of the Saturn system’s center of mass to within just a couple of miles (or kilometers), a factor of 50 improvement over previous knowledge. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope discovers it’s 1,000th Exoplanet

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study — the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets. The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.

Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA's Kepler, eight are less than twice Earth-size and in their stars' habitable zone. All eight orbit stars cooler and smaller than our sun. The search continues for Earth-size habitable zone worlds around sun-like stars. (NASA Ames/W Stenzel)

Of the more than 1,000 verified planets found by NASA’s Kepler, eight are less than twice Earth-size and in their stars’ habitable zone. All eight orbit stars cooler and smaller than our sun. The search continues for Earth-size habitable zone worlds around sun-like stars. (NASA Ames/W Stenzel)

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NASA uses Keck Observatory telescopes to determine dust will likely not to block images of star’s Planets

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Planet hunters received some good news recently. A new study concluded that, on average, sun-like stars aren’t all that dusty. Less dust means better odds of snapping clear pictures of the stars’ planets in the future.

These results come from surveying nearly 50 stars from 2008 to 2011 using the Keck Interferometer, a former NASA key science project that combined the power of the twin W. M. Keck Observatory telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

A dusty planetary system (left) is compared to another system with little dust in this artist's conception. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A dusty planetary system (left) is compared to another system with little dust in this artist’s conception. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA researchers discover dusty star system similar to our solar system

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Researchers studying what appears to be a beefed-up version of our solar system have discovered that it is encased in a halo of fine dust. The findings are based on infrared data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, in which NASA is a partner.

The dusty star system, called HD 95086, is located 295 light-years from Earth in the constellation Carina. It is thought to include two belts of dust, which lie within the newfound outer dust halo.

This artist's concept depicts giant planets circling between belts of dust. Scientists think the star system HD 95068 may have a planetary architecture similar to this. While the star system's two dust belts are known, along with one massive planet, more giant planets may lurk unseen. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept depicts giant planets circling between belts of dust. Scientists think the star system HD 95068 may have a planetary architecture similar to this. While the star system’s two dust belts are known, along with one massive planet, more giant planets may lurk unseen. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA releases 3D image from Rosetta spacecraft of Philae’s landing on Comet

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A 3D image shows what it would look like to fly over the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The image was generated from data collected by the Rosetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS) aboard the European Space Agency’s Philae spacecraft during the descent to the spacecraft’s initial touchdown on the comet November 12th.

The stereographic image was generated using two images acquired by ROLIS when Philae was a little less than 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the surface.

 

This 3D image shows what it would look like to fly over the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was generated by data collected by the ROLIS instrument aboard the European Space Agency's Philae spacecraft during the decent to the spacecraft's initial touchdown on the comet Nov. 12. (ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR)

This 3D image shows what it would look like to fly over the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was generated by data collected by the ROLIS instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Philae spacecraft during the decent to the spacecraft’s initial touchdown on the comet Nov. 12. (ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR)

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope observes Asteroids circling a Young Star collide

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the formation of planets.

Scientists had been regularly tracking the star, called NGC 2547-ID8, when it surged with a huge amount of fresh dust between August 2012 and January 2013.

“We think two big asteroids crashed into each other, creating a huge cloud of grains the size of very fine sand, which are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star,” said lead author and graduate student Huan Meng of the University of Arizona, Tucson.

This artist's concept shows the immediate aftermath of a large asteroid impact around NGC 2547-ID8, a 35-million-year-old sun-like star thought to be forming rocky planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows the immediate aftermath of a large asteroid impact around NGC 2547-ID8, a 35-million-year-old sun-like star thought to be forming rocky planets. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes’ data used to measure Exoplanet with amazing accuracy

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Barely 30 years ago, the only planets astronomers had found were located right here in our own solar system. The Milky Way is chock-full of stars, millions of them similar to our own sun. Yet the tally of known worlds in other star systems was exactly zero.

What a difference a few decades can make.

As 2014 unfolds, astronomers have not only found more than a thousand “exoplanets” circling distant suns, but also they’re beginning to make precise measurements of them.

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NASA says Comet Siding Spring and Mars’ Atmospheres may Collide in October

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – On October 19th, 2014, Comet Siding Spring will pass by Mars only 132,000 km away–which would be like a comet passing about 1/3 of the distance between Earth and the Moon.

The nucleus of the comet won’t hit Mars, but there could be a different kind of collision.

“We hope to witness two atmospheres colliding,” explains David Brain of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). “This is a once in a lifetime event!”

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NASA observes Three Large Volcanic Eruptions on Jupiter’s Moon Io

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Three massive volcanic eruptions occurred on Jupiter’s moon Io within a two-week period in August of last year. This led astronomers to speculate that such “outbursts,” which can send material hundreds of miles above the surface, might be much more common than they thought.

“We typically expect one huge outburst every one or two years, and they’re usually not this bright,” said Imke de Pater, professor and chair of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of one of two papers describing the eruptions. “Here we had three extremely bright outbursts, which suggest that if we looked more frequently we might see many more of them on Io.”

Jupiter's moon Io saw three massive volcanic eruptions within a two-week period last August. (Katherine de Kleer/UC Berkeley/Gemini Observatory)

Jupiter’s moon Io saw three massive volcanic eruptions within a two-week period last August. (Katherine de Kleer/UC Berkeley/Gemini Observatory)

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