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NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft arrives at Pluto

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – After a voyage of nearly nine years and three billion miles —the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its primary target – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation on December 6th for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system.

Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD, confirmed at 9:53pm (EST) that New Horizons, operating on pre-programmed computer commands, had switched from hibernation to “active” mode. Moving at light speed, the radio signal from New Horizons – currently more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth, and just over 162 million miles from Pluto – needed four hours and 26 minutes to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.

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NASA reports Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launches Hayabusa2 Asteroid mission

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – On December 3rd, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched its Hayabusa2 mission to rendezvous with an asteroid, land a small probe plus three mini rovers on its surface, and then return samples to Earth.

NASA and JAXA are cooperating on the science of the mission and NASA will receive a portion of the Hayabusa2 sample in exchange for providing Deep Space Network communications and navigation support for the mission.

Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2” is a successor of “Hayabusa” (MUSES-C), which revealed several new technologies and returned to Earth in June 2010. (JAXA and Akihiro Ikeshita)

Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2” is a successor of “Hayabusa” (MUSES-C), which revealed several new technologies and returned to Earth in June 2010. (JAXA and Akihiro Ikeshita)

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NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter helps researchers discover Volcanoes on the Moon younger than expected

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Back in 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts orbiting the Moon photographed something very odd. Researchers called it “Ina,” and it looked like the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.

There’s nothing odd about volcanoes on the Moon, per se. Much of the Moon’s ancient surface is covered with hardened lava. The main features of the “Man in the Moon,” in fact, are old basaltic flows deposited billions of years ago when the Moon was wracked by violent eruptions. The strange thing about Ina was its age.

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NASA looks at what it will take to land Philae on a Comet

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Generally speaking, space missions fall into one of three categories:  difficult, more difficult, and ridiculously difficult.

Flybys are difficult.  A spaceship travels hundreds of millions of miles through the dark void of space, pinpoints a distant planet or moon, and flies past it at 20 to 30 thousand mph, snapping pictures furiously during an achingly brief encounter.

Going into orbit is more difficult. Instead of flying past its target, the approaching spaceship brakes, changing its velocity by just the right amount to circle the planet.  One wrong move and the spacecraft bounces off the atmosphere, becoming an unintended meteor.

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NASA reports Partial Solar Eclipse to occur on October 23rd

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Sunsets are always pretty.  One sunset this month could be out of this world. On Thursday, October 23rd, the setting sun across eastern parts of the USA will be red, beautiful and … crescent-shaped.

“It’s a partial solar eclipse,” explains longtime NASA eclipse expert Fred Espenak. In other words, the New Moon is going to ‘take a bite’ out of the sun.

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NASA announces 2014 Orionid Meteor Shower to begin Tuesday morning, October 21st

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Waking up before sunrise is a good way to get a head start on the day. On October 21st, waking up before sunrise could stop you in your tracks.

Blame Halley’s Comet. Every year in mid-to-late October, Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris from Comet Halley, and the pre-dawn sky can light up with a pretty display of shooting stars.

“We expect to see about 20 meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Tuesday morning, October 21st,” says Bill Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “With no Moon to spoil the show, observing conditions should be ideal.”

Orionid meteors fly out of a radiant near the shoulder of Orion, the Hunter.  In this sky map, the radiant is denoted by a red dot. Although the meteors emerge from a single point, they can appear anywhere in the sky. (Dr. Tony Phillips)

Orionid meteors fly out of a radiant near the shoulder of Orion, the Hunter. In this sky map, the radiant is denoted by a red dot. Although the meteors emerge from a single point, they can appear anywhere in the sky. (Dr. Tony Phillips)

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NASA Earth Scientists to study Arctic Sea Ice losses effects on Clouds, Weather, Global Warming

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Climate change is a global phenomenon, yet Earth scientists are keeping a wary eye on one place in particular–the Arctic.

“Polar regions are important for us to study right now,” explains Tom Wagner of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington DC. “They are changing rapidly.”

One of the most visible of signs of warming is the retreat of Arctic sea ice. Every year, sea ice waxes and wanes in a normal response to the changing of seasons; the annual sea ice minimum occurs near the end of northern summer. Since the 1970s, researchers carefully watched to see if the rhythm of Arctic sea ice would respond to global warming.

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NASA Scientists use satellite data to find Methane Hot Spot in United States

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – One small “hot spot” in the U.S. Southwest is responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States – more than triple the standard ground-based estimate — according to a new study of satellite data by scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan.

Methane is very efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere and, like carbon dioxide, it contributes to global warming. The hot spot, near the Four Corners intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, covers only about 2,500 square miles (6,500 square kilometers), or half the size of Connecticut.

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan)

The Four Corners area (red) is the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this map showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009 (dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan)

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NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft to investigate disappearance of Mars’ atmosphere

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – After 10-month voyage across more than 400 million miles of empty space, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft reached Mars on September 21st 2014. Less than 8 hours later, the data started to flow.

“Our Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) obtained these false-color images of Mars on September 22nd,” says Nick Schneider who leads the instrument team at the University of Colorado. “They trace the distribution of hydrogen and oxygen in the Martian atmosphere.”

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NASA Satellites, Telescopes ready for Comet Siding Spring’s flyby of Mars

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s extensive fleet of science assets, particularly those orbiting and roving Mars, have front row seats to image and study a once-in-a-lifetime comet flyby on Sunday, October 19th.

Comet C/2013 A1, also known as comet Siding Spring, will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) of the Red Planet — less than half the distance between Earth and our moon and less than one-tenth the distance of any known comet flyby of Earth.

NASA Science Fleet Prepares for Mars Comet. (NASA)

NASA Science Fleet Prepares for Mars Comet. (NASA)

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