Topic: Solar Wind
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.
NASA’s MAVEN orbiter observes Comet Siding Spring create havoc with Mars’ Magnetic Field during flyby
Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
Greenbelt, 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.
Pasadena, 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.
Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Washington, 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.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, 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.
Washington, 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.
Written by Tony Phillips
Washington, 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.”
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.
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