Written by Sarah Frazier
Greenbelt, MD – The first total solar eclipse in the continental United States in nearly 40 years takes place on August 21st, 2017. Beyond providing a brilliant sight in the daytime sky, total solar eclipses provide a rare chance for scientists to collect data only available during eclipses. NASA is funding 11 scientific studies that will take advantage of this opportunity.
“When the moon blocks out the sun during a total eclipse, those regions of Earth that are in the direct path of totality become dark as night for almost three minutes,” said Steve Clarke, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “This will be one of the best-observed eclipses to date, and we plan to take advantage of this unique opportunity to learn as much as we can about the sun and its effects on Earth.”
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – A new device on the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii has delivered its first images, showing a ring of planet-forming dust around a star, and separately, a cool, star-like body, called a brown dwarf, lying near its companion star.
The device, called a vortex coronagraph, was recently installed inside NIRC2 (Near Infrared Camera 2), the workhorse infrared imaging camera at Keck. It has the potential to image planetary systems and brown dwarfs closer to their host stars than any other instrument in the world.
Written by Felicia Chou
Washington, D.C. – Searching for planets around other stars is a tricky business. They’re so small and faint that it’s hard to spot them. But a possible planet in a nearby stellar system may be betraying its presence in a unique way: by a shadow that is sweeping across the face of a vast pancake-shaped gas-and-dust disk surrounding a young star.
The planet itself is not casting the shadow. But it is doing some heavy lifting by gravitationally pulling on material near the star and warping the inner part of the disk. The twisted, misaligned inner disk is casting its shadow across the surface of the outer disk.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Like anthropologists piecing together the human family tree, astronomers have found that a misfit “skeleton” of a star may link two different kinds of stellar remains. The mysterious object, called PSR J1119-6127, has been caught behaving like two distinct objects — a radio pulsar and a magnetar — and could be important to understanding their evolution.
A radio pulsar is type of a neutron star — the extremely dense remnant of an exploded star — that emits radio waves in predictable pulses due to its fast rotation.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA has selected two missions that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system – a time less than 10 million years after the birth of our sun. The missions, known as Lucy and Psyche, were chosen from five finalists and will proceed to mission formulation, with the goal of launching in 2021 and 2023, respectively.
“Lucy will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, while Psyche will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is what Discovery Program missions are all about – boldly going to places we’ve never been to enable groundbreaking science.”
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s NEOWISE mission has recently discovered some celestial objects traveling through our neighborhood, including one on the blurry line between asteroid and comet. Another–definitely a comet–might be seen with binoculars through next week.
An object called 2016 WF9 was detected by the NEOWISE project on November 27th, 2016. It’s in an orbit that takes it on a scenic tour of our solar system. At its farthest distance from the sun, it approaches Jupiter’s orbit.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, which has been in service at Mars since October 2001, put itself into safe mode — a protective standby status — on December 26th, while remaining in communication with Earth.
The Odyssey project team has diagnosed the cause — an uncertainty aboard the spacecraft about its orientation with regard to Earth and the sun — and is restoring the orbiter to full operations.
Washington, D.C. – Humanity’s great leap into the space between the stars has, in a sense, already begun. NASA’s Voyager 1 probe broke through the sun’s magnetic bubble to touch the interstellar wind. Voyager 2 isn’t far behind. New Horizons shot past Pluto on its way to encounters with more distant dwarf worlds, the rubble at the solar system’s edge.
Closer to home, we’re working on techniques to help us cross greater distances. Astronauts feast on romaine lettuce grown aboard the International Space Station, perhaps a preview of future banquets en route to Mars, or to deep space.
Written by Arielle Samuelson
Washington, D.C. – In the “Star Wars” universe, ice, ocean and desert planets burst from the darkness as your ship drops out of light speed. But these worlds might be more than just science fiction.
Some of the planets discovered around stars in our own galaxy could be very similar to arid Tatooine, watery Scarif and even frozen Hoth, according to NASA scientists.
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.
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