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quarta-feira, 7 de dezembro de 2016

NASA WEB-NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission.

NASA JPL latest news release
Cassini Beams Back First Images from New OrbitNASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn's atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere, including the planet's intriguing hexagon-shaped jet stream.
Cassini began its new mission phase, called its Ring-Grazing Orbits, on Nov. 30. Each of these weeklong orbits -- 20 in all -- carries the spacecraft high above Saturn's northern hemisphere before sending it skimming past the outer edges of the planet's main rings.
Cassini's imaging cameras acquired these latest views on Dec. 2 and 3, about two days before the first ring-grazing approach to the planet. Future passes will include images from near closest approach, including some of the closest-ever views of the outer rings and small moons that orbit there.
"This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn. Let these images -- and those to come -- remind you that we've lived a bold and daring adventure around the solar system's most magnificent planet," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team lead at Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
The next pass by the rings' outer edges is planned for Dec. 11. The ring-grazing orbits will continue until April 22, when the last close flyby of Saturn's moon Titan will once again reshape Cassini's flight path. With that encounter, Cassini will begin its Grand Finale, leaping over the rings and making the first of 22 plunges through the 1,500-mile-wide (2,400-kilometer) gap between Saturn and its innermost ring on April 26.
On Sept. 15, the mission's planned conclusion will be a final dive into Saturn's atmosphere. During its plunge, Cassini will transmit data about the atmosphere's composition until its signal is lost.
Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons. Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within the moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on another moon, Titan.
For details about Cassini's ring-grazing orbits, visit:
https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/news/2966/ring-grazing-orbits
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

sábado, 12 de novembro de 2016

NASA WEB Earth from Space: Virunga Mountains, Central Africa


Earth from Space: Virunga Mountains, Central Africa

©ESA
Earth from Space: Virunga Mountains, Central Africa.
This Sentinel-1 radar composite image features the Virunga Mountains in East Africa: a chain of volcanoes stretching across Rwanda's northern border with Uganda and east into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
While most are dormant, two of the eight volcanoes are active, with the most recent eruptions in 2006 and 2010.
The mountains are on the Albertine Rift, where the Somali Plate is splitting away from the rest of the African continent. The area is one of Africa's most biologically diverse regions, but high human population density, poverty and conflict pose a challenge to conservation. Across the mountain range, however, a series of national parks has been established to protect the fauna and flora.
In this image, we can easily identify the delineation between the protected and non-protected lands - the green, orange and yellow dots indicate changes in the surface of non-protected lands between the radar scans that make up this composite image. These changes are primarily in vegetation as the land surrounding the mountains is blanketed with agricultural plots.

sexta-feira, 11 de novembro de 2016

NASA WEB · NASA Space Telescopes Pinpoint Elusive Brown Dwarf

Illustration depicts a newly discovered brown dwarf

Artist's illustration of two space-based telescopes
This illustration depicts a newly discovered brown dwarf, an object that weighs in somewhere between our solar system's most massive planet (Jupiter) and the least-massive known star. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech 
› Full image and caption
In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, NASA's Spitzer and Swift space telescopes joined forces to observe a microlensing event, when a distant star brightens due to the gravitational field of at least one foreground cosmic object. This technique is useful for finding low-mass bodies orbiting stars, such as planets. In this case, the observations revealed a brown dwarf.
Brown dwarfs are thought to be the missing link between planets and stars, with masses up to 80 times that of Jupiter. But their centers are not hot or dense enough to generate energy through nuclear fusion the way stars do. Curiously, scientists have found that, for stars roughly the mass of our sun, less than 1 percent have a brown dwarf orbiting within 3 AU (1 AU is the distance between Earth and the sun). This phenomenon is called the "brown dwarf desert."
The newly discovered brown dwarf, which orbits a host star, may inhabit this desert. Spitzer and Swift observed the microlensing event after being tipped off by ground-based microlensing surveys, including the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE). The discovery of this brown dwarf, with the unwieldy name OGLE-2015-BLG-1319, marks the first time two space telescopes have collaborated to observe a microlensing event.
"We want to understand how brown dwarfs form around stars, and why there is a gap in where they are found relative to their host stars," said Yossi Shvartzvald, a NASA postdoctoral fellow based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, andlead author of a study published in the Astrophysical Journal. "It's possible that the 'desert' is not as dry as we think."
What is microlensing?
In a microlensing event, a background source star serves as a flashlight for the observer. When a massive object passes in front of the background star along the line of sight, the background star brightens because the foreground object deflects and focuses the light from the background source star. Depending on the mass and alignment of the intervening object, the background star can briefly appear thousands of times brighter.
One way to understand better the properties of the lensing system is to observe the microlensing event from more than one vantage point. By having multiple telescopes record the brightening of the background star, scientists can take advantage of "parallax," the apparent difference in position of an object as seen from two points in space. When you hold your thumb in front of your nose and close your left eye, then open it and close your right eye, your thumb seems to move in space -- but it stays put with two eyes open. In the context of microlensing, observing the same event from two or more widely separated locations will result in different magnification patterns.
"Anytime you have multiple observing locations, such as Earth and one, or in this case, two space telescopes, it's like having multiple eyes to see how far away something is," Shvartzvald said. "From models for how microlensing works, we can then use this to calculate the relationship between the mass of the object and its distance."
The new study
Spitzer observed the binary system containing the brown dwarf in July 2015, during the last two weeks of the space telescope's microlensing campaign for that year.
While Spitzer is over 1 AU away from Earth in an Earth-trailing orbit around the sun, Swift is in a low Earth orbit encircling our planet. Swift also saw the binary system in late June 2015 through microlensing, representing the first time this telescope had observed a microlensing event. But Swift is not far enough away from ground-based telescopes to get a significantly different view of this particular event, so no parallax was measured between the two. This gives scientists insights into the limits of the telescope's capabilities for certain types of objects and distances.
"Our simulations suggest that Swift could measure this parallax for nearby, less massive objects, including 'free-floating planets,' which do not orbit stars," Shvartzvald said.
By combining data from these space-based and ground-based telescopes, researchers determined that the newly discovered brown dwarf is between 30 and 65 Jupiter masses. They also found that the brown dwarf orbits a K dwarf, a type of star that tends to have about half the mass of the sun. Researchers found two possible distances between the brown dwarf and its host star, based on available data: 0.25 AU and 45 AU. The 0.25 AU distance would put this system in the brown dwarf desert.
"In the future, we hope to have more observations of microlensing events from multiple viewing perspectives, allowing us to probe further the characteristics of brown dwarfs and planetary systems," said Geoffrey Bryden, JPL scientist and co-author of the study.
JPL manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. NASA's Swift satellite was launched in November 2004 and is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

sábado, 5 de novembro de 2016

NASA WEB ·ALERT-DAY IN REVIEW NASA JPL latest news release NASA, FEMA Hold Asteroid Emergency Planning Exercise

DAY IN REVIEW
NASA JPL latest news release
NASA, FEMA Hold Asteroid Emergency Planning ExerciseWhat would we do if we discovered a large asteroid on course to impact Earth? While highly unlikely, that was the high-consequence scenario discussed by attendees at an Oct. 25 NASA-FEMA tabletop exercise in El Segundo, California.
The third in a series of exercises hosted jointly by NASA and FEMA -- the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- the simulation was designed to strengthen the collaboration between the two agencies, which have Administration direction to lead the U.S. response. "It's not a matter of if -- but when -- we will deal with such a situation," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "But unlike any other time in our history, we now have the ability to respond to an impact threat through continued observations, predictions, response planning and mitigation."
The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to show how it would collect, analyze and share data about a hypothetical asteroid predicted to impact Earth. Emergency managers discussed how that data would be used to consider some of the unique challenges an asteroid impact would present-for preparedness, response and public warning.
"It is critical to exercise these kinds of low-probability but high-consequence disaster scenarios," FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. "By working through our emergency response plans now, we will be better prepared if and when we need to respond to such an event."
Exercise attendees included representatives from NASA, FEMA, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Department of Energy's National Laboratories, the U.S. Air Force, and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
The exercise simulated a possible impact four years from now -- a fictitious asteroid imagined to have been discovered this fall with a 2 percent probability of impact with Earth on Sept. 20, 2020. The simulated asteroid was initially estimated to be between 300 and 800 feet (100 and 250 meters) in size, with a possibility of making impact anywhere along a long swath of Earth, including a narrow band of area that crossed the entire United States.
In the fictitious scenario, observers continued to track the asteroid for three months using ground-based telescope observations, and the probability of impact climbed to 65 percent. Then the next observations had to wait until four months later, due to the asteroid's position relative to the sun. Once observations could resume in May of 2017, the impact probability jumped to 100 percent. By November of 2017, it was simulated that the predicted impact would occur somewhere in a narrow band across Southern California or just off the coast in the Pacific Ocean.
While mounting a deflection mission to move the asteroid off its collision course had been simulated in previous tabletop exercises, this particular exercise was designed so that the time to impact was too short for a deflection mission to be feasible -- to pose a great future challenge to emergency managers faced with a mass evacuation of the metropolitan Los Angeles area.
Scientists from JPL, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and The Aerospace Corporation presented predicted impact footprint models, population displacement estimates, information on infrastructure that would be affected, as well as other data that could realistically be known at various points throughout the exercise scenario.
"The high degree of initial uncertainty coupled with the relatively long impact warning time made this scenario unique and especially challenging for emergency managers," said FEMA National Response Coordination Branch Chief Leviticus A. Lewis. "It's quite different from preparing for an event with a much shorter timeline, such as a hurricane."
Attendees considered ways to provide accurate, timely and useful information to the public, while also addressing how to refute rumors and false information that could emerge in the years leading up to the hypothetical impact.
"These exercises are invaluable for those of us in the asteroid science community responsible for engaging with FEMA on this natural hazard," said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. "We receive valuable feedback from emergency managers at these exercises about what information is critical for their decision making, and we take that into account when we exercise how we would provide information to FEMA about a predicted impact."
NASA provides expert input to FEMA about the asteroid impact hazard through the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. NASA and FEMA will continue to conduct asteroid impact exercises and intend to expand participation in future exercises to include additional representatives from local and state emergency management agencies and the private sector.

sexta-feira, 4 de novembro de 2016

NASA WEB ·Curiosity Mars Rover Checks Odd-looking Iron Meteorite

NASA JPL latest news release
Curiosity Mars Rover Checks Odd-looking Iron MeteoriteLaser-zapping of a globular, golf-ball-size object on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover confirms that it is an iron-nickel meteorite fallen from the Red Planet's sky.
Iron-nickel meteorites are a common class of space rocks found on Earth, and previous examples have been seen on Mars, but this one, called "Egg Rock," is the first on Mars examined with a laser-firing spectrometer. To do so, the rover team used Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument.
Scientists of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) project, which operates the rover, first noticed the odd-looking rock in images taken by Curiosity's Mast Camera (Mastcam) at at a site the rover reached by an Oct. 27 drive.
"The dark, smooth and lustrous aspect of this target, and its sort of spherical shape attracted the attention of some MSL scientists when we received the Mastcam images at the new location," said ChemCam team member Pierre-Yves Meslin, at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology (IRAP), of France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Toulouse, France.
ChemCam found iron, nickel and phosphorus, plus lesser ingredients, in concentrations still being determined through analysis of the spectrum of light produced from dozens of laser pulses at nine spots on the object. The enrichment in both nickel and phosphorus at some of the same points suggests the presence of an iron-nickel-phosphide mineral that is rare except in iron-nickel meteorites, Meslin said.
Iron meteorites typically originate as core material of asteroids that melt, allowing the molten metal fraction of the asteroid's composition to sink to the center and form a core.
"Iron meteorites provide records of many different asteroids that broke up, with fragments of their cores ending up on Earth and on Mars," said ChemCam team member Horton Newsom of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. "Mars may have sampled a different population of asteroids than Earth has."
In addition, the study of iron meteorites found on Mars -- including examples found previously by Mars rovers -- can provide information about how long exposure to the Martian environment has affected them, in comparison with how Earth's environment affects iron meteorites. Egg Rock may have fallen to the surface of Mars many millions of years ago. Researchers will be analyzing the ChemCam data from the first few laser shots at each target point and data from subsequent shots at the same point, to compare surface versus interior chemistry.
Egg Rock was found along the rover's path up a layer of lower Mount Sharp called the Murray formation, where sedimentary rocks hold records of ancient lakebed environments on Mars. The main science goal for Curiosity's second extended mission, which began last month, is to investigate how ancient environmental conditions changed over time. The mission has already determined that this region once offered conditons favorable for microbial life, if any life ever existed on Mars.
Curiosity was launched five years ago this month, on Nov. 26, 2011, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It landed inside Gale Crater, near the foot of Mount Sharp, in August 2012.
The rover remains in good condition for continuing its investigations, after working more than twice as long as its originally planned prime mission of about 23 months, though two of its 10 science instruments have recently shown signs of potentially reduced capability. The neutron-generating component of Curiosity's Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument, designed for working through the prime mission, is returning data showing reduced voltage. Even if DAN could no longer generate neutrons, the instrument could continue to check for water molecules in the ground by using its passive mode. The performance of the wind-sensing capability from Curiosity's Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) is also changing, though that instrument still returns other Mars-weather data daily, such as temperatures, humidity and pressure. Analysis is in progress for fuller diagnosis of unusual data from DAN, which was provided by Russia, and REMS, provided by Spain.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, developed ChemCam in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by the French national space agency (CNES). Mastcam was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science MIssion Directorate, Washington, and built the project's Curiosity rover. For more information about Curiosity,

quinta-feira, 27 de outubro de 2016

NASA WEB -Studies Offer New Glimpse of Melting Under Antarctic Glaciers

NASA JPL latest news release
Studies Offer New Glimpse of Melting Under Antarctic Glaciers
Fast Facts:
› Related studies of three West Antarctic glaciers have measured the intense melting on their floating undersides and how fast the glaciers are coming unstuck from bedrock.
› The fastest-changing glacier of the three (Smith Glacier) is melting nearly six times as fast as a previous estimate for this region, losing up to 230 feet in ice thickness each year.
› Smith's fast retreat and thinning are likely related to the shape of its underlying bedrock. The other two glaciers studied are on differently shaped beds and are retreating more slowly.
Two new studies by researchers at NASA and the University of California, Irvine (UCI), detect the fastest ongoing rates of glacier retreat ever observed in West Antarctica and offer an unprecedented direct view of intense ice melting from the floating undersides of glaciers. The results highlight how the interaction between ocean conditions and the bedrock beneath a glacier can influence the glacier's evolution, with implications for understanding future ice loss from Antarctica and global sea level rise.
The two studies examined three neighboring glaciers in West Antarctica that are melting and retreating at different rates. Smith, Pope and Kohler glaciers flow into the Dotson and Crosson ice shelves in the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica, the part of the continent with the largest loss of ice mass.
study led by Bernd Scheuchl of UCI, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters on Aug. 28, used radar measurements from the European Space Agency's Sentinel-1 satellite and data from the earlier ERS-1 and ERS-2 satellites to look at changes in the glaciers' grounding lines -- the boundary where a glacier loses contact with bedrock and begins to float on the ocean. The grounding line is important because nearly all glacier melting takes place on the underside of the glacier's floating portion, called the ice shelf. If a glacier loses mass from enhanced melting, it may start floating farther inland from its former grounding line, just as a boat stuck on a sandbar may be able to float again if a heavy cargo is removed. This is called grounding line retreat.
Scheuchl's team found a rapid retreat of Smith Glacier's grounding line of 1.24 miles (2 kilometers) per year since 1996. Pope retreated more slowly at 0.31 mile (0.5 kilometer) per year since 1996. Kohler, which had retreated at a slower pace, actually readvanced a total of 1.24 miles (2 kilometers) since 2011.
These differences motivated Ala Khazendar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California -- a coauthor of Scheuchl's study -- to measure the ice losses at the bottoms of the glaciers, which he suspected might be underlying the changes in their grounding lines. Khazendar's study, published Oct. 25 in the journal Nature Communications, used measurements of changes in the thickness and height of the ice from radar and laser altimetry instruments flown by NASA'sOperation IceBridge and earlier NASA airborne campaigns. Radar waves penetrate glaciers all the way to their base, allowing direct measurements of how the bottom profiles of the three glaciers at their grounding lines changed between 2002 and 2014. Laser signals reflect off the surface, so for the floating ice shelves, laser measurements of changes in surface elevation can be used to infer changes in ice thickness.
Previous studies using other techniques estimated the average melting rates at the bottom of Dotson and Crosson ice shelves to be about 40 feet per year (12 meters per year). Khazendar and his team, using their direct radar measurements, found stunning rates of ice loss from the glaciers' undersides on the ocean sides of their grounding lines. The fastest-melting glacier, Smith, lost between 984 and 1,607 feet (300 and 490 meters) in thickness from 2002 to 2009 near its grounding line, or up to 230 feet per year (70 meters per year). Those years encompass a period when rapid increases in mass loss were observed around the Amundsen Sea region. The regional scale of the loss made scientists strongly suspect that an increase in the influx of ocean heat beneath the ice shelves must have taken place. "Our observations provide a crucial piece of evidence to support that suspicion, as they directly reveal the intensity of ice melting at the bottom of the glaciers during that period," Khazendar said.
"If I had been using data from only one instrument, I wouldn't have believed what I was looking at, because the thinning was so large," Khazendar added. However, the two IceBridge instruments, which use different observational techniques, both measured the same rapid ice loss.
Khazendar said Smith's fast retreat and thinning are likely related to the shape of the underlying bedrock over which it was retreating between 1996 and 2014, which sloped downward toward the continental interior, and oceanic conditions in the cavity beneath the glacier. As the grounding line retreated, warm and dense ocean water could reach the newly uncovered deeper parts of the cavity beneath the ice shelf, causing more melting. As a result, "More sections of the glacier become thinner and float, meaning that the grounding line continues retreating, and so on," he said. The retreat of Smith might slow down as its grounding line has now reached bedrock that rises farther inland of the 2014 grounding line.
Pope and Kohler, by contrast, are on bedrock that slopes upward toward the interior.
The question remains whether other glaciers in West Antarctica will behave more like Smith Glacier or more like Pope and Kohler. Many glaciers in this sector of Antarctica are on beds that deepen farther inland, like Smith's. However, Khazendar and Scheuchl said researchers need more information on the shape of the bedrock and seafloor beneath the ice, as well as more data on ocean circulation and temperatures, to be able to better project how much ice these glaciers will contribute to the ocean in a changing climate.
Scheuchl's study is titled "Grounding Line Retreat of Pope, Smith, and Kohler Glaciers, West Antarctica, Measured with Sentinel-1a Radar Interferometry Data." It was published in Geophysical Research Letters. Khazendar's paper, titled "Rapid Submarine Ice Melting in the Grounding Zones of Ice Shelves in West Antarctica," was published in Nature Communications.
NASA collects data from space, air, land and sea to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

sexta-feira, 7 de outubro de 2016

NASA WEB ·Hubble Detects Giant 'Cannonballs' Shooting from Star

NASA JPL latest news release
BRASIL-EJA OS ANUNCIOS-OBRIGADO.
Hubble Detects Giant 'Cannonballs' Shooting from StarGreat balls of fire! NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has detected superhot blobs of gas, each twice as massive as the planet Mars, being ejected near a dying star. The plasma balls are zooming so fast through space it would take only 30 minutes for them to travel from Earth to the moon. This stellar "cannon fire" has continued once every 8.5 years for at least the past 400 years, astronomers estimate.
The fireballs present a puzzle to astronomers, because the ejected material could not have been shot out by the host star, called V Hydrae. The star is a bloated red giant, residing 1,200 light-years away, which has probably shed at least half of its mass into space during its death throes. Red giants are dying stars in the late stages of life that are exhausting the nuclear fuel that makes them shine. They have expanded in size and are shedding their outer layers into space.
The current best explanation suggests the plasma balls were launched by an unseen companion star. According to this theory, the companion would have to be in an elliptical orbit that carries it close to the red giant's puffed-up atmosphere every 8.5 years. As the companion enters the bloated star's outer atmosphere, it gobbles up material. This material then settles into a disk around the companion, and serves as the launching pad for blobs of plasma, which travel at roughly a half-million miles per hour.
This star system could be the archetype to explain a dazzling variety of glowing shapes uncovered by Hubble that are seen around dying stars, called planetary nebulae, researchers say. A planetary nebula is an expanding shell of glowing gas expelled by a star late in its life.
"We knew this object had a high-speed outflow from previous data, but this is the first time we are seeing this process in action," said Raghvendra Sahai of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, lead author of the study. "We suggest that these gaseous blobs produced during this late phase of a star's life help make the structures seen in planetary nebulae."
Hubble observations over the past two decades have revealed an enormous complexity and diversity of structure in planetary nebulae. The telescope's high resolution captured knots of material in the glowing gas clouds surrounding the dying stars. Astronomers speculated that these knots were actually jets ejected by disks of material around companion stars that were not visible in the Hubble images. Most stars in our Milky Way galaxy are members of binary systems. But the details of how these jets were produced remained a mystery.
"We want to identify the process that causes these amazing transformations from a puffed-up red giant to a beautiful, glowing planetary nebula," Sahai said. "These dramatic changes occur over roughly 200 to 1,000 years, which is the blink of an eye in cosmic time."
Sahai's team used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) to conduct observations of V Hydrae and its surrounding region over an 11-year period, first from 2002 to 2004, and then from 2011 to 2013. Spectroscopy decodes light from an object, revealing information on its velocity, temperature, location and motion.
The data showed a string of monstrous, superhot blobs, each with a temperature of more than 17,000 degrees Fahrenheit (9,400 degrees Celsius) -- almost twice as hot as the surface of the sun. The researchers compiled a detailed map of the blobs' locations, allowing them to trace the first behemoth clumps back to 1986. "The observations show the blobs moving over time," Sahai said. "The STIS data show blobs that have just been ejected, blobs that have moved a little farther away, and blobs that are even farther away." STIS detected the giant structures as far away as 37 billion miles (60 million kilometers) away from V Hydrae, more than eight times farther away than the Kuiper Belt of icy debris at the edge of our solar system is from the sun.
The blobs expand and cool as they move farther away, and are then not detectable in visible light. But observations taken at longer, sub-millimeter wavelengths in 2004, by the Submillimeter Array in Hawaii, revealed fuzzy, knotty structures that may be blobs launched 400 years ago, the researchers said.
Based on the observations, Sahai and his colleagues Mark Morris of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Samantha Scibelli of the State University of New York at Stony Brook developed a model of a companion star with an accretion disk to explain the ejection process.
"This model provides the most plausible explanation because we know that the engines that produce jets are accretion disks," Sahai explained. "Red giants don't have accretion disks, but many most likely have companion stars, which presumably have lower masses because they are evolving more slowly. The model we propose can help explain the presence of bipolar planetary nebulae, the presence of knotty jet-like structures in many of these objects, and even multipolar planetary nebulae. We think this model has very wide applicability."
A surprise from the STIS observation was that the disk does not fire the monster clumps in exactly the same direction every 8.5 years. The direction flip-flops slightly, from side-to-side to back-and-forth, due to a possible wobble in the accretion disk. "This discovery was quite surprising, but it is very pleasing as well because it helped explain some other mysterious things that had been observed about this star by others," Sahai said.
Astronomers have noted that V Hydrae is obscured every 17 years, as if something is blocking its light. Sahai and his colleagues suggest that due to the back-and-forth wobble of the jet direction, the blobs alternate between passing behind and in front of V Hydrae. When a blob passes in front of V Hydrae, it shields the red giant from view.
"This accretion disk engine is very stable because it has been able to launch these structures for hundreds of years without falling apart," Sahai said. "In many of these systems, the gravitational attraction can cause the companion to actually spiral into the core of the red giant star. Eventually, though, the orbit of V Hydrae's companion will continue to decay because it is losing energy in this frictional interaction. However, we do not know the ultimate fate of this companion."
The team hopes to use Hubble to conduct further observations of the V Hydrae system, including the most recent blob ejected in 2011. The astronomers also plan to use the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile to study blobs launched over the past few hundred years that are now too cool to be detected with Hubble.
The team's results appeared in the August 20, 2016, issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

quinta-feira, 6 de outubro de 2016

NASA WEB Study Predicts Next Global Dust Storm on Mars

NASA JPL latest news release
Study Predicts Next Global Dust Storm on MarsGlobal dust storms on Mars could soon become more predictable -- which would be a boon for future astronauts there -- if the next one follows a pattern suggested by those in the past.
A published prediction, based on this pattern, points to Mars experiencing a global dust storm in the next few months. "Mars will reach the midpoint of its current dust storm season on October 29th of this year. Based on the historical pattern we found, we believe it is very likely that a global dust storm will begin within a few weeks or months of this date," James Shirley, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
Local dust storms occur frequently on Mars. These localized storms occasionally grow or coalesce to form regional systems, particularly during the southern spring and summer, when Mars is closest to the sun. On rare occasions, regional storms produce a dust haze that encircles the planet and obscures surface features beneath. A few of these events may become truly global storms, such as one in 1971 that greeted the first spacecraft to orbit Mars, NASA's Mariner 9. Discerning a predictable pattern for which Martian years will have planet-encircling or global storms has been a challenge.
The most recent Martian global dust storm occurred in 2007, significantly diminishing solar power available to two NASA Mars rovers then active halfway around the planet from each other -- Spirit and Opportunity.
"The global dust storm in 2007 was the first major threat to the rovers since landing," said JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity. "We had to take special measures to enable their survival for several weeks with little sunlight to keep them powered. Each rover powered up only a few minutes each day, enough to warm them up, then shut down to the next day without even communicating with Earth. For many days during the worst of the storm, the rovers were completely on their own."
Dust storms also will present challenges for astronauts on the Red Planet. Although the force of the wind on Mars is not as strong as portrayed in an early scene in the movie "The Martian," dust lofted during storms could affect electronics and health, as well as the availability of solar energy.
The Red Planet has been observed shrouded by planet-encircling dust nine times since 1924, with the five most recent planetary storms detected in 1977, 1982, 1994, 2001 and 2007. The actual number of such events is no doubt higher. In some of the years when no orbiter was observing Mars up close, Mars was poorly positioned for Earth-based telescopic detection of dust storms during the Martian season when global storms are most likely.
Shirley's 2015 paper in the journal Icarus reported finding a pattern in the occurrence of global dust storms when he factored in a variable linked to the orbital motion of Mars. Other planets have an effect on the momentum of Mars as it orbits the solar system's center of gravity. This effect on momentum varies with a cycle time of about 2.2 years, which is longer than the time it takes Mars to complete each orbit: about 1.9 years. The relationship between these two cycles changes constantly. Shirley found that global dust storms tend to occur when the momentum is increasing during the first part of the dust storm season. None of the global dust storms in the historic record occurred in years when the momentum was decreasing during the first part of the dust storm season.
The paper noted that conditions in the current Mars dust-storm season are very similar to those for a number of years when global storms occurred in the past. Observations of the Martian atmosphere over the next few months will test whether the forecast is correct.
Researchers at Malin Space Science Systems, in San Diego, post Mars weather reports each weekbased on observations using the Mars Color Imager camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. A series of local southern-hemisphere storms in late August grew into a major regional dust storm in early September, but subsided by mid-month without becoming global. Researchers will be closely watching to see what happens with the next regional storm

sexta-feira, 30 de setembro de 2016

NASA WEB · Final Descent Image from Rosetta Spacecraft

NASA JPL latest news release
Final Descent Image from Rosetta SpacecraftA new image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta spacecraft shortly before its controlled impact into the comet's surface on Sept. 30, 2016. Confirmation of the end of the mission arrived at ESA's European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, at 4:19 a.m. PDT (7:19 a.m. EDT / 1:19 p.m. CEST) with the loss of signal upon impact.
The final descent gave Rosetta the opportunity to study the comet's gas, dust and plasma environment very close to its surface, as well as take very high-resolution images.
The image was taken from an altitude of 167 feet (51 meters) above the comet's surface by the spacecraft's OSIRIS wide-angle camera on Sept. 30.?The image scale is about two-tenths of an inch (5 millimeters) per pixel. The image measures about 9 feet (2.4 meters) across.
The decision to end the mission on the surface is a result of Rosetta and the comet heading out beyond the orbit of Jupiter again. Farther from the sun than Rosetta had ever journeyed before, there would be little power to operate the craft. Mission operators were also faced with an imminent month-long period when the sun is close to the line-of-sight between Earth and Rosetta, meaning communications with the craft would have become increasingly more difficult.
The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission was launched in 2004 and arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Aug. 6, 2014. It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet and escort it as it orbits the sun. On Nov. 4, 2014, a smaller lander name Philae, which had been deployed from the Rosetta mothership, touched down on the comet and bounced several times before finally alighting on the surface. Philae obtained the first images taken from a comet's surface and sent back valuable scientific data for several days.
U.S. contributions aboard the Rosetta spacecraft are the Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO); the Alice spectrograph; the Ion and Electron Sensor (IES), part of the Rosetta Plasma Consortium Suite; and the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer (DFMS) electronics package for the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion Neutral Analysis (ROSINA). They are part of a suite of 11 total science instruments aboard Rosetta.
Comets are time capsules containing primitive material left over from the epoch when the sun and its planets formed. Rosetta is the first spacecraft to witness at close proximity how a comet changes as it is subjected to the increasing intensity of the sun's radiation. Observations will help scientists learn more about the origin and evolution of our solar system and the role comets may have played in the formation of planets.
Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta's Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by the German Aerospace Center, Cologne; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen; French National Space Agency, Paris; and the Italian Space Agency, Rome. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, a division of Caltech, manages the U.S. contribution of the Rosetta mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL also built the MIRO and hosts its principal investigator, Mark Hofstadter. The Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio and Boulder, Colorado), developed the Rosetta orbiter's IES and Alice instruments and hosts their principal investigators, James Burch (IES) and Alan Stern (Alice).
For more information on the U.S. instruments aboard Rosetta,

NASA WEB-Curiosity Finds Evidence of Mars Crust Contributing to Atmosphere



Processes in Mars' surface material can explain why particular xenon (Xe) and krypton (Kr) isotopes are more abundant in the Martian atmosphere than expected, as measured by NASA's Curiosity rover. Cosmic rays striking barium (Ba) or bromine (Br) atoms can alter isotopic ratios of xenon and krypton. Credit: NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech
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NASA's Curiosity rover has found evidence that chemistry in the surface material on Mars contributed dynamically to the makeup of its atmosphere over time. It's another clue that the history of the Red Planet's atmosphere is more complex and interesting than a simple legacy of loss.
The findings come from the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, instrument suite, which studied the gases xenon and krypton in Mars' atmosphere. The two gases can be used as tracers to help scientists investigate the evolution and erosion of the Martian atmosphere. A lot of information about xenon and krypton in Mars' atmosphere came from analyses of Martian meteorites and measurements made by the Viking mission.
"What we found is that earlier studies of xenon and krypton only told part of the story," said Pamela Conrad, lead author of the report and SAM's deputy principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "SAM is now giving us the first complete in situ benchmark against which to compare meteorite measurements."
Of particular interest to scientists are the ratios of certain isotopes - or chemical variants - of xenon and krypton. The SAM team ran a series of first-of-a-kind experiments to measure all the isotopes of xenon and krypton in the Martian atmosphere. The experiments are described in a paper published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.
The team's method is called static mass spectrometry, and it's good for detecting gases or isotopes that are present only in trace amounts. Although static mass spectrometry isn't a new technique, its use on the surface of another planet is something only SAM has done.
Overall, the analysis agreed with earlier studies, but some isotope ratios were a bit different than expected. When working on an explanation for those subtle but important differences, the researchers realized that neutrons might have gotten transferred from one chemical element to another within the surface material on Mars. The process is called neutron capture, and it would explain why a few selected isotopes were more abundant than previously thought possible.
In particular, it looks as if some of the barium surrendered neutrons that got picked up by xenon to produce higher-than-expected levels of the isotopes xenon-124 and 126. Likewise, bromine might have surrendered some of its neutrons to produce unusual levels of krypton-80 and krypton-82.
These isotopes could have been released into the atmosphere by impacts on the surface and by gas escaping from the regolith, which is the soil and broken rocks of the surface.
"SAM's measurements provide evidence of a really interesting process in which the rock and unconsolidated material at the planet's surface have contributed to the xenon and krypton isotopic composition of the atmosphere in a dynamic way," said Conrad.
The atmospheres of Earth and Mars exhibit very different patterns of xenon and krypton isotopes, particularly for xenon-129. Mars has much more of it in the atmosphere than does Earth.
"The unique capability to measure in situ the six and nine different isotopes of krypton and xenon allows scientists to delve into the complex interactions between the Martian atmosphere and crust," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Discovering these interactions through time allows us to gain a greater understanding of planetary evolution."
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to determine if life was possible on Mars and study major changes in Martian environmental conditions. NASA studies Mars to learn more about our own planet, and in preparation for future human missions to Mars. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

segunda-feira, 26 de setembro de 2016

NASA WEB ·Hubble: Possible Water Plumes on Jupiter's Moon Europa




This composite image shows suspected plumes of water vapor erupting at the 7 o'clock position off the limb of Jupiter's moon Europa. The plumes, photographed by NASA's Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, were seen in silhouette as the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Credits: NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center
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Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.
The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa's ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.
"Europa's ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system," said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa's subsurface."
The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth's oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice.
The team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa's limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.

The original goal of the team's observing proposal was to determine whether Europa has a thin, extended atmosphere, or exosphere. Using the same observing method that detects atmospheres around planets orbiting other stars, the team realized if there was water vapor venting from Europa's surface, this observation would be an excellent way to see it.
"The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it," Sparks explained. "If there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter."
In 10 separate occurrences spanning 15 months, the team observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter. They saw what could be plumes erupting on three of these occasions.
This work provides supporting evidence for water plumes on Europa. In 2012, a team led by Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio detected evidence of water vapor erupting from the frigid south polar region of Europa and reaching more than100 miles (160 kilometers) into space. Although both teams used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph instrument, each used a totally independent method to arrive at the same conclusion.
"When we calculate in a completely different way the amount of material that would be needed to create these absorption features, it's pretty similar to what Roth and his team found," Sparks said. "The estimates for the mass are similar, the estimates for the height of the plumes are similar. The latitude of two of the plume candidates we see corresponds to their earlier work."
But as of yet, the two teams have not simultaneously detected the plumes using their independent techniques. Observations thus far have suggested the plumes could be highly variable, meaning that they may sporadically erupt for some time and then die down. For example, observations by Roth's team within a week of one of the detections by Sparks' team failed to detect any plumes.
If confirmed, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.
Scientists may use the infrared vision of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, to confirm venting or plume activity on Europa. NASA also is formulating a mission to Europa with a payload that could confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys.
"Hubble's unique capabilities enabled it to capture these plumes, once again demonstrating Hubble's ability to make observations it was never designed to make," said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This observation opens up a world of possibilities, and we look forward to future missions -- such as the James Webb Space Telescope -- to follow-up on this exciting discovery."
The work by Sparks and his colleagues is published in the Sept. 29 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
Planetary scientist Kevin Hand of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, co-authored the new paper.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency.) NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, conducts Hubble science operations.