Written by Sarah Schlieder
Greenbelt, MD – Retrieving an asteroid sample is no easy task. Doing the job blindfolded is even more challenging. That’s why scientists equipped the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft with a set of eyes to watch it all unfold.
NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) launched September 8th, 2016, and is traveling to a near-Earth asteroid known as Bennu, to harvest a sample of surface material, and return it to Earth for study. A trio of cameras will capture it all.
Washington, 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.
Written by Molly Porter
Huntsville, 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.
Written by Lina Tran
Greenbelt, 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.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Like cosmic ballet dancers, the stars of the Pleiades cluster are spinning. But these celestial dancers are all twirling at different speeds. Astronomers have long wondered what determines the rotation rates of these stars.
By watching these stellar dancers, NASA’s Kepler space telescope during its K2 mission has helped amass the most complete catalog of rotation periods for stars in a cluster. This information can help astronomers gain insight into where and how planets form around these stars, and how such stars evolve.
Written by Sarah Schlieder
Greenbelt, MD – NASA’s Juno spacecraft will make its long anticipated arrival at Jupiter on July 4th. Coming face-to-face with the gas giant, Juno will begin to unravel some of the greatest mysteries surrounding our solar system’s largest planet, including the origin of its massive magnetosphere.
Magnetospheres are the result of a collision between a planet’s intrinsic magnetic field and the supersonic solar wind. Jupiter’s magnetosphere — the volume carved out in the solar wind where the planet’s magnetic field dominates –extends up to nearly 2 million miles (3 million kilometers).
Washington, D.C. – Pluto behaves less like a comet than expected and somewhat more like a planet like Mars or Venus in the way it interacts with the solar wind, a continuous stream of charged particles from the sun.
This is according to the first analysis of Pluto’s interaction with the solar wind, funded by NASA’s New Horizons mission and published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research – Space Physics by the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
Written by Bill Steigerwald
Greenbelt, MD – A powerful combination of observations and computer simulations is giving new clues to how the moon got its mysterious “tattoos” — swirling patterns of light and dark found at over a hundred locations across the lunar surface.
“These patterns, called ‘lunar swirls,’ appear almost painted on the surface of the moon,” said John Keller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “They are unique; we’ve only seen these features on the moon, and their origin has remained a mystery since their discovery.” Keller is project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, which made the observations.
Written by Molly Porter
Huntsville, AL – For millennia, people on Earth have watched comets in the sky. Many ancient cultures saw comets as the harbingers of doom, but today scientists know that comets are really frozen balls of dust, gas, and rock and may have been responsible for delivering water to planets like Earth billions of years ago.
While comets are inherently interesting, they can also provide information about other aspects of our Solar System. More specifically, comets can be used as laboratories to study the behavior of the stream of particles flowing away from the Sun, known as the solar wind.
Recently, astronomers announced the results of a study using data collected with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory of two comets — C/2012 S1 (also known as “Comet ISON”) and C/2011 S4 (“Comet PanSTARRS”).
Written by Tracy McMahan and Kimberly Newton
Huntsville, AL – Testing has started at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on a concept for a potentially revolutionary propulsion system that could send spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.
The test results will provide modeling data for the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS). The proposed HERTS E-Sail concept, a propellant-less propulsion system, would harness solar wind to travel into interstellar space.
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