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Topic: Solar System

NASA’s Cassini mission works to determine the length of a Saturn Day

 

Written by Jay Thompson
Cassini Public Engagement, NASA-JPL

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Humans sometimes struggle to adjust to Daylight Saving Time, but just measuring the exact length of a Saturn day is one of the big challenges for scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission. Over more than a decade in Saturn orbit, Cassini’s instruments have wrestled with confusing measurements to determine the planet’s precise rotation rate.

The mission’s final year and unprecedented trajectory will carry Cassini to unexplored regions so near to Saturn that scientists might finally answer the question:

Just how long is a day on Saturn?

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 Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory reveals new information about Impact Craters on Earth’s Moon

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – New results from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission are providing insights into the huge impacts that dominated the early history of Earth’s moon and other solid worlds, like Earth, Mars, and the satellites of the outer solar system.

In two papers, published this week in the journal Science, researchers examine the origins of the moon’s giant Orientale impact basin. The research helps clarify how the formation of Orientale, approximately 3.8 billion years ago, affected the moon’s geology.

Orientale basin is about 580 miles (930 kilometers) wide and has three distinct rings, which form a bullseye-like pattern. This view is a mosaic of images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Orientale basin is about 580 miles (930 kilometers) wide and has three distinct rings, which form a bullseye-like pattern. This view is a mosaic of images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

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NASA’s Juno spacecraft enters Safe Mode after last Flyby of Jupiter

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered safe mode Tuesday, October 18th at about 10:47pm PDT (October 19th at 1:47am EDT). Early indications are a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft’s onboard computer. The spacecraft acted as expected during the transition into safe mode, restarted successfully and is healthy.

High-rate data has been restored, and the spacecraft is conducting flight software diagnostics. All instruments are off, and the planned science data collection for today’s close flyby of Jupiter (perijove 2), did not occur.

This artist's concept depicts the Juno spacecraft above Jupiter. The spacecraft will next fly by the planet on Aug. 27th, in the mission's first up-close science pass. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept depicts the Juno spacecraft above Jupiter. The spacecraft will next fly by the planet on Aug. 27th, in the mission’s first up-close science pass. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA looks to use New Material to boost power in Spacecraft Nuclear Cells

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – No extension cord is long enough to reach another planet, and there’s no spacecraft charging station along the way. That’s why researchers are hard at work on ways to make spacecraft power systems more efficient, resilient and long-lasting.

“NASA needs reliable long-term power systems to advance exploration of the solar system,” said Jean-Pierre Fleurial, supervisor for the thermal energy conversion research and advancement group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “This is particularly important for the outer planets, where the intensity of sunlight is only a few percent as strong as it is in Earth orbit.”

Samad Firdosy, a materials engineer at JPL, holds a thermoelectric module made of four thermocouples, which are devices that help turn heat into electricity. Thermocouples are used in household heating applications, as well as power systems for spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Samad Firdosy, a materials engineer at JPL, holds a thermoelectric module made of four thermocouples, which are devices that help turn heat into electricity. Thermocouples are used in household heating applications, as well as power systems for spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA developing systems to utilize resources available in the Solar System

 

Written by Bob Granath
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationFlorida – As NASA continues preparing for the Journey to Mars, the technology now in development is expanding beyond the spacecraft and propulsion systems needed to get there. NASA scientists and engineers also are developing systems to harness abundant resources available in the solar system to support these pioneering missions.

The practice is called in-situ resource utilization, or ISRU. Like early European settlers coming to America, planetary pioneers will not be able to take everything they need, so many supplies will need to be gathered and made on site.

NASA’s Resource Prospector mission, currently being developed, is designed to be the first mining expedition on the moon. Using resources found in extraterrestrial soil, or in-situ resource utilization, will foster more affordable and sustainable human exploration to many deep-space destinations. (NASA)

NASA’s Resource Prospector mission, currently being developed, is designed to be the first mining expedition on the moon. Using resources found in extraterrestrial soil, or in-situ resource utilization, will foster more affordable and sustainable human exploration to many deep-space destinations. (NASA)

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NASA DXL Sounding Rocket data shows where X-Rays come from, discovers new mystery

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – In the last century, humans realized that space is filled with types of light we can’t see – from infrared signals released by hot stars and galaxies, to the cosmic microwave background that comes from every corner of the universe. Some of this invisible light that fills space takes the form of X-rays, the source of which has been hotly contended over the past few decades.

It wasn’t until the flight of the DXL sounding rocket, short for Diffuse X-ray emission from the Local galaxy, that scientists had concrete answers about the X-rays’ sources.

The Diffuse X-ray emission from the Local galaxy, or DXL, sounding rocket launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Dec. 13, 2012, to study the source of certain X-rays observed near Earth. (White Sands Missile Range, Visual Information Branch)

The Diffuse X-ray emission from the Local galaxy, or DXL, sounding rocket launched from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on Dec. 13, 2012, to study the source of certain X-rays observed near Earth. (White Sands Missile Range, Visual Information Branch)

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft data solves the mystery of Pluto’s moon Charon’s red region

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – In June 2015, when the cameras on NASA’s approaching New Horizons spacecraft first spotted the large reddish polar region on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, mission scientists knew two things: they’d never seen anything like it elsewhere in our solar system, and they couldn’t wait to get the story behind it.

Over the past year, after analyzing the images and other data that New Horizons has sent back from its historic July 2015 flight through the Pluto system, the scientists think they’ve solved the mystery.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution, enhanced color view of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, just before closest approach on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft's Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colors are processed to best highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution, enhanced color view of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, just before closest approach on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colors are processed to best highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

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NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory detects first X-Rays from Pluto

 

Written by Molly Porter
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationHuntsville, AL – Scientists using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have made the first detections of X-rays from Pluto. These observations offer new insight into the space environment surrounding the largest and best-known object in the solar system’s outermost regions.

While NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was speeding toward and beyond Pluto, Chandra was aimed several times on the dwarf planet and its moons, gathering data on Pluto that the missions could compare after the flyby. Each time Chandra pointed at Pluto – four times in all, from February 2014 through August 2015 – it detected low-energy X-rays from the small planet.

The first detection of Pluto in X-rays has been made using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in conjunction with observations from NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/JHUAPL/R.McNutt et al; Optical: NASA/JHUAPL)

The first detection of Pluto in X-rays has been made using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in conjunction with observations from NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft.
(X-ray: NASA/CXC/JHUAPL/R.McNutt et al; Optical: NASA/JHUAPL)

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NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft observes Earth’s vibrating Magnetic Field

 

Written by Lina Tran
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – The majestic auroras have captivated humans for thousands of years, but their nature – the fact that the lights are electromagnetic and respond to solar activity – was only realized in the last 150 years.

Thanks to coordinated multi-satellite observations and a worldwide network of magnetic sensors and cameras, close study of auroras has become possible over recent decades. Yet, auroras continue to mystify, dancing far above the ground to some, thus far, undetected rhythm.

An artist’s rendering (not to scale) of a cross-section of the magnetosphere, with the solar wind on the left in yellow and magnetic field lines emanating from the Earth in blue. The five THEMIS probes were well-positioned to directly observe one particular magnetic field line as it oscillated back and forth roughly every six minutes. In this unstable environment, electrons in near-Earth space, depicted as white dots, stream rapidly down magnetic field lines towards Earth’s poles. There, they interact with oxygen and nitrogen particles in the upper atmosphere, releasing photons and brightening a specific region of the aurora. (Emmanuel Masongsong/UCLA EPSS/NASA)

An artist’s rendering (not to scale) of a cross-section of the magnetosphere, with the solar wind on the left in yellow and magnetic field lines emanating from the Earth in blue. The five THEMIS probes were well-positioned to directly observe one particular magnetic field line as it oscillated back and forth roughly every six minutes. In this unstable environment, electrons in near-Earth space, depicted as white dots, stream rapidly down magnetic field lines towards Earth’s poles. There, they interact with oxygen and nitrogen particles in the upper atmosphere, releasing photons and brightening a specific region of the aurora. (Emmanuel Masongsong/UCLA EPSS/NASA)

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft on it’s way to asteroid Bennu

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s first asteroid sampling mission launched into space at 7:05pm EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system.

“Ee celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our solar system, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.”

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft was launched into space at 7:05pm EDT Thursday, September 8th from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (NASA)

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft was launched into space at 7:05pm EDT Thursday, September 8th from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (NASA)

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