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Topic: Solar Wind

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter discovers clues to swirling patterns on the Moon

 

Written by Bill Steigerwald
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, 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.

This is an image of the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA LRO WAC science team)

This is an image of the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. (NASA LRO WAC science team)

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NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory studies Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS

 

Written by Molly Porter
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationHuntsville, 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”).

The Comets ISON and PanSTARRS in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ . of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach ( damianpeach.com ))

The Comets ISON and PanSTARRS in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. (X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ . of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach ( damianpeach.com ))

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NASA tests E-Sail Tech that would use Solar Wind to propel a Spacecraft

 

Written by Tracy McMahan and Kimberly Newton
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationHuntsville, 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.

In this concept, long, very thin, bare wires construct the large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving solar protons. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft’s thrust. (NASA/MSFC)

In this concept, long, very thin, bare wires construct the large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving solar protons. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft’s thrust. (NASA/MSFC)

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NASA’s MAVEN orbiter observes Comet Siding Spring create havoc with Mars’ Magnetic Field during flyby

 

Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – Just weeks before the historic encounter of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) with Mars in October 2014, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft entered orbit around the Red Planet.

To protect sensitive equipment aboard MAVEN from possible harm, some instruments were turned off during the flyby; the same was done for other Mars orbiters. But a few instruments, including MAVEN’s magnetometer, remained on, conducting observations from a front-row seat during the comet’s remarkably close flyby.

A close encounter between a comet and Mars in 2014 flooded Mars with an invisible tide of charged particles. The comet's strong magnetic field temporarily merged with, and overwhelmed, the planet's weak magnetic field, as shown in this artist's depiction. NASA's MAVEN mission monitored the effects. (NASA/Univ. of Colorado)

A close encounter between a comet and Mars in 2014 flooded Mars with an invisible tide of charged particles. The comet’s strong magnetic field temporarily merged with, and overwhelmed, the planet’s weak magnetic field, as shown in this artist’s depiction. NASA’s MAVEN mission monitored the effects. (NASA/Univ. of Colorado)

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NASA scientists explain the Carbon loss in Mars’ Atmosphere

 

Deborah Williams-Hedges
California Institute of Technology

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Mars is blanketed by a thin, mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere — one that is far too thin to keep water from freezing or quickly evaporating. However, geological evidence has led scientists to conclude that ancient Mars was once a warmer, wetter place than it is today.

To produce a more temperate climate, several researchers have suggested that the planet was once shrouded in a much thicker carbon dioxide atmosphere. For decades that left the question, “Where did all the carbon go?”

The solar wind stripped away much of Mars’ ancient atmosphere and is still removing tons of it every day. But scientists have been puzzled by why they haven’t found more carbon — in the form of carbonate — captured into Martian rocks. They have also sought to explain the ratio of heavier and lighter carbons in the modern Martian atmosphere.

This graphic depicts paths by which carbon has been exchanged among Martian interior, surface rocks, polar caps, waters and atmosphere, and also depicts a mechanism by which it is lost from the atmosphere with a strong effect on isotope ratio. (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

This graphic depicts paths by which carbon has been exchanged among Martian interior, surface rocks, polar caps, waters and atmosphere, and also depicts a mechanism by which it is lost from the atmosphere with a strong effect on isotope ratio. (Lance Hayashida/Caltech)

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NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft discovers Mars’ Atmosphere being stripped by Solar Wind

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.

MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the November 5th issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

Artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet's upper atmosphere. (NASA/GSFC)

Artist’s rendering of a solar storm hitting Mars and stripping ions from the planet’s upper atmosphere. (NASA/GSFC)

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NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft data reveals clues to Interstellar Space Mystery

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft made history in 2012 by entering interstellar space, leaving the planets and the solar wind behind. But observations from the pioneering probe were puzzling with regard to the magnetic field around it, as they differed from what scientists derived from observations by other spacecraft.

A new study offers fresh insights into this mystery. Writing in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, Nathan Schwadron of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, and colleagues reanalyzed magnetic field data from Voyager 1 and found that the direction of the magnetic field has been slowly turning ever since the spacecraft crossed into interstellar space.

This artist's concept shows NASA's Voyager spacecraft against a backdrop of stars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Voyager spacecraft against a backdrop of stars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sees Pluto’s atmosphere being stripped away by Solar Wind

 

NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has discovered a region of cold, dense ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto — the planet’s atmosphere being stripped away by the solar wind and lost to space.

Beginning an hour and half after closest approach, the Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument observed a cavity in the solar wind — the outflow of electrically charged particles from the Sun — between 48,000 miles (77,000 km) and 68,000 miles (109,000 km) downstream of Pluto.

Artist’s concept of the interaction of the solar wind (the supersonic outflow of electrically charged particles from the Sun) with Pluto’s predominantly nitrogen atmosphere. Some of the molecules that form the atmosphere have enough energy to overcome Pluto’s weak gravity and escape into space, where they are ionized by solar ultraviolet radiation. As the solar wind encounters the obstacle formed by the ions, it is slowed and diverted (depicted in the red region), possibly forming a shock wave upstream of Pluto. (NASA/APL/SwRI)

Artist’s concept of the interaction of the solar wind (the supersonic outflow of electrically charged particles from the Sun) with Pluto’s predominantly nitrogen atmosphere. Some of the molecules that form the atmosphere have enough energy to overcome Pluto’s weak gravity and escape into space, where they are ionized by solar ultraviolet radiation. As the solar wind encounters the obstacle formed by the ions, it is slowed and diverted (depicted in the red region), possibly forming a shock wave upstream of Pluto. (NASA/APL/SwRI)

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NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft detects Auroras around Mars

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – One day, when humans go to Mars, they might find that, occasionally, the Red Planet has green skies.

In late December 2014, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft detected evidence of widespread auroras in Mars’s northern hemisphere. The “Christmas Lights,” as researchers called them, circled the globe and descended so close to the Martian equator that, if the lights had occurred on Earth, they would have been over places like Florida and Texas.

“It really is amazing,” says Nick Schneider who leads MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument team at the University of Colorado. “Auroras on Mars appear to be more wide ranging than we ever imagined.”

A map of MAVEN's Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) auroral detections in December 2014 overlaid on Mars’ surface. The map shows that the aurora was widespread in the northern hemisphere, not tied to any geographic location. The aurora was detected in all observations during a 5-day period. (University of Colorado)

A map of MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) auroral detections in December 2014 overlaid on Mars’ surface. The map shows that the aurora was widespread in the northern hemisphere, not tied to any geographic location. The aurora was detected in all observations during a 5-day period. (University of Colorado)

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NASA reports NOAA to launch Deep Space Climate Observatory to measure the Sun’s Solar Wind

 

Written by Karen C. Fox
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, 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.

The solar arrays on NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft, or DSCOVR, are unfurled in the Building 1 high bay at the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Florida, near Kennedy Space Center. (NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

The solar arrays on NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft, or DSCOVR, are unfurled in the Building 1 high bay at the Astrotech payload processing facility in Titusville, Florida, near Kennedy Space Center. (NASA/Ben Smegelsky)

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