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Topic: University of Colorado

NASA’s Mission to Jupiter Moon Europa gets green light

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Beyond Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of present-day life, and a new NASA mission to explore this potential is moving forward from concept review to development.

NASA’s mission concept — to conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate its habitability — has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase known as formulation.

Artist concept of NASA's Europa mission spacecraft approaching its target for one of many flybys. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Artist concept of NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft approaching its target for one of many flybys. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA selects Instruments for mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA has selected nine science instruments for a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, to investigate whether the mysterious icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath a frozen crust of unknown thickness. If proven to exist, this global ocean could have more than twice as much water as Earth.

With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa could be the best place in the solar system to look for present day life beyond our home planet.

This artist's rendering shows a concept for a future NASA mission to Europa in which a spacecraft would make multiple close flybys of the icy Jovian moon, thought to contain a global subsurface ocean. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s rendering shows a concept for a future NASA mission to Europa in which a spacecraft would make multiple close flybys of the icy Jovian moon, thought to contain a global subsurface ocean. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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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’s MAVEN spacecraft discovers Dust Cloud and Aurora in Mars’ Atmosphere

 

Written by Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has observed two unexpected phenomena in the Martian atmosphere: an unexplained high-altitude dust cloud and aurora that reaches deep into the Martian atmosphere.

The presence of the dust at orbital altitudes from about 93 miles (150 kilometers) to 190 miles (300 kilometers) above the surface was not predicted. Although the source and composition of the dust are unknown, there is no hazard to MAVEN and other spacecraft orbiting Mars.

Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora" on Mars. MAVEN observations show that aurora on Mars is similar to Earth’s "Northern Lights" but has a different origin. (University of Colorado)

Artist’s conception of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (IUVS) observing the “Christmas Lights Aurora” on Mars. MAVEN observations show that aurora on Mars is similar to Earth’s “Northern Lights” but has a different origin. (University of Colorado)

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NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope data helps astronomers find old Planetary System with Five Small Planets

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers using data from NASA’s Kepler mission have discovered a planetary system of five small planets dating back to when the Milky Way galaxy was a youthful two billion years old.

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five planets that range in size, with the smallest comparable to the size of Mercury and the largest to Venus. All five planets orbit their sun-like star in less than 10 days, which makes their orbits much closer than Mercury’s sweltering 88-day orbit around the sun.

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disk of their parent star, as shown in this artist's conception. (Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

The tightly packed system, named Kepler-444, is home to five small planets in very compact orbits. The planets were detected from the dimming that occurs when they transit the disk of their parent star, as shown in this artist’s conception. (Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

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NASA launches Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory into orbit around Earth

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA successfully launched its first Earth satellite designed to collect global observations of the vital soil moisture hidden just beneath our feet.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory, a mission with broad applications for science and society, lifted off at 6:22am PST (9:22am EST) Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.

NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory lifts off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, beginning a three-year mission to map Earth's vital moisture hidden in the soils beneath our feet. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory lifts off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, beginning a three-year mission to map Earth’s vital moisture hidden in the soils beneath our feet. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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NASA’s Van Allen Probes discover Impenetrable Barrier in Radiation Belts

 

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

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – Two donuts of seething radiation that surround Earth, called the Van Allen radiation belts, have been found to contain a nearly impenetrable barrier that prevents the fastest, most energetic electrons from reaching Earth.

The Van Allen belts are a collection of charged particles, gathered in place by Earth’s magnetic field. They can wax and wane in response to incoming energy from the sun, sometimes swelling up enough to expose satellites in low-Earth orbit to damaging radiation.

A cloud of cold, charged gas around Earth, called the plasmasphere and seen here in purple, interacts with the particles in Earth's radiation belts — shown in grey— to create an impenetrable barrier that blocks the fastest electrons from moving in closer to our planet. (NASA/Goddard)

A cloud of cold, charged gas around Earth, called the plasmasphere and seen here in purple, interacts with the particles in Earth’s radiation belts — shown in grey— to create an impenetrable barrier that blocks the fastest electrons from moving in closer to our planet. (NASA/Goddard)

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NASA airborne data reveals Methane not being released in high rates in Alaska

 

Written by Alan Buis
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Despite large temperature increases in Alaska in recent decades, a new analysis of NASA airborne data finds that methane is not being released from Alaskan soils into the atmosphere at unusually high rates, as recent modeling and experimental studies have suggested.

The new result shows that the changes in this part of the Arctic have not yet had enough impact to affect the global methane budget.

This photo taken during the CARVE experiment shows polygonal lakes created by melting permafrost on Alaska's North Slope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This photo taken during the CARVE experiment shows polygonal lakes created by melting permafrost on Alaska’s North Slope. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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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 reports Arctic sea ice coverage at Sixth Lowest on Record

 

Written by Tony Phillips
Science at NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Arctic sea ice coverage continued its below-average trend this year as the ice declined to its annual minimum on September 17th, according to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“Arctic sea ice coverage in 2014 is the sixth lowest recorded since 1978,” said Walter Meier, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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