Washington, D.C. – As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, the agency’s quest to seek answers about our solar system and beyond continues to inform those efforts and generate new discoveries. The agency has extended the missions of two spacecraft, following an external review of their scientific productivity.
The missions – Juno and InSight – have each increased our understanding of our solar system, as well as spurred new sets of diverse questions.
Greenbelt, MD – NASA has approved two heliophysics missions to explore the Sun and the system that drives space weather near Earth. Together, NASA’s contribution to the Extreme Ultraviolet High-Throughput Spectroscopic Telescope Epsilon Mission, or EUVST, and the Electrojet Zeeman Imaging Explorer, or EZIE, will help us understand the Sun and Earth as an interconnected system.
Understanding the physics that drive the solar wind and solar explosions – including solar flares and coronal mass ejections – could one day help scientists predict these events, which can impact human technology and explorers in space.
Washington, D.C. – But a neighboring shield may have helped our planet retain its atmosphere and eventually go on to develop life and habitable conditions. That shield was the Moon, says a NASA-led study in the journal Science Advances.
“The Moon seems to have presented a substantial protective barrier against the solar wind for the Earth, which was critical to Earth’s ability to maintain its atmosphere during this time,” said Jim Green, NASA’s chief scientist and lead author of the new study. “We look forward to following up on these findings when NASA sends astronauts to the Moon through the Artemis program, which will return critical samples of the lunar South Pole.”
Greenbelt, MD – NASA says a small but evolving dent in Earth’s magnetic field can cause big headaches for satellites.
Earth’s magnetic field acts like a protective shield around the planet, repelling and trapping charged particles from the Sun. But over South America and the southern Atlantic Ocean, an unusually weak spot in the field – called the South Atlantic Anomaly, or SAA – allows these particles to dip closer to the surface than normal.
Pasadena, CA – On its way inbound for a December 26th, 2019, flyby of Jupiter, NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew in the proximity of the north pole of the ninth-largest object in the solar system, the moon Ganymede. The infrared imagery collected by the spacecraft’s Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument provides the first infrared mapping of the massive moon’s northern frontier.
The only moon in the solar system that is larger than the planet Mercury, Ganymede consists primarily of water ice. Its composition contains fundamental clues for understanding the evolution of the 79 Jovian moons from the time of their formation to today.
Greenbelt, MD – NASA has selected a new pathfinding CubeSat mission to gather data not collected since the agency flew the Dynamics Explorer in the early 1980s.
The new mission, called Dione after the ancient Greek goddess of the oracles, will carry four miniaturized instruments to study how Earth’s upper atmospheric layers react to the ever-changing flow of solar energy into the magnetosphere — the enveloping bubble of magnetic field around Earth that deflects most of the particles that erupt from the Sun. Earth’s upper atmosphere is where most low-Earth-orbiting satellites reside, and their orbits are strongly affected by sudden density changes created by space weather.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – On December 21st, at 8:49:48am PST (10:49:48am CST) NASA’s Juno spacecraft will be 3,140 miles (5,053 kilometers) above Jupiter’s cloud tops and hurtling by at a healthy clip of 128,802 mph (207,287 kilometers per hour). This will be the 16th science pass of the gas giant and will mark the solar-powered spacecraft’s halfway point in data collection during its prime mission.
Juno is in a highly-elliptical 53-day orbit around Jupiter. Each orbit includes a close passage over the planet’s cloud deck, where it flies a ground track that extends from Jupiter’s north pole to its south pole.
Written by Mara Johnson-Groh
Greenbelt, MD – Though close to home, the space immediately around Earth is full of hidden secrets and invisible processes. In a new discovery reported in the journal Nature, scientists working with NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale spacecraft — MMS — have uncovered a new type of magnetic event in our near-Earth environment by using an innovative technique to squeeze extra information out of the data.
Magnetic reconnection is one of the most important processes in the space — filled with charged particles known as plasma — around Earth.
Written by Mara Johnson-Groh
Greenbelt, MD – Sometimes on a dark night near the poles, the sky pulses a diffuse glow of green, purple and red. Unlike the long, shimmering veils of typical auroral displays, these pulsating auroras are much dimmer and less common.
While scientists have long known auroras to be associated with solar activity, the precise mechanism of pulsating auroras was unknown. Now, new research, using data from NASA’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms — or THEMIS — mission and Japan’s Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace — shortened to ERG, or also known as Arase — satellite, has finally captured the missing link thought responsible for these auroras.
Written by Miles Hatfield
Greenbelt, MD – On January 20th, 2018, amateur astronomer Scott Tilley detected an unexpected signal coming from what he later postulated was NASA’s long-lost IMAGE satellite, which had not been in contact since 2005.
On January 30th, NASA — along with help from a community of IMAGE scientists and engineers — confirmed that the signal was indeed from the IMAGE spacecraft. Whatever the next steps for IMAGE may be, the mission’s nearly six years in operation provided robust research about the space around Earth that continue to guide science to this day.
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