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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,