NASA launches Satellite to study Earth’s polar Ice

A Delta II rocket blasted into the space carrying a NASA newest Earth-observation satellite and a CubeSat from Cal Poly into space at Vandenberg Air Force Base early Saturday morning. The Delta rocket carried NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, for a $1 billion mission to measure the thickness of Earth’s polar ice sheets.

For veteran launch team members, Saturday’s blastoff brought mixed emotions. “I’m a little bit sad. I’m thrilled with mission success in that we were able to close the chapter on Delta II with a huge success of an incredibly important science payload,” said Tim Dunn, NASA launch manager. “ICESat-2 is going to do cutting-edge, scientific data gathering.

“The precision measurements it’s going to make from space are just going to be incredible so to be able to say we launched this very important science mission on the final flight of the industry workhorse is just a huge accomplishment for the entire team,” Dunn added.

Satellite separation occurred approximately an hour after the Delta II rocket’s departure. A short time later, the rocket began releasing four small satellites, or CubeSats, built by college students.

One of the CubeSats, called Damping And Vibrations Experiment or DAVE, was built by students at Cal Poly, according to a news release from the university.

The 3-pound satellite, which is about the size of a softball, studies “the behavior of particle dampers in microgravity conditions,” the university said. “Particle dampers could potentially serve as a robust and simple device to eliminate jitter in orbital assemblies or other sensitive scientific equipment.”

Students have performed experiments with the CubeSat “in vacuum and zero gravity but never at the same time — which can only be done in space,” the university said.

NASA officials said the satellite’s primary instrument will pulse its laser at Earth 10,000 times a second and precisely measure the time it takes the beams to bounce off the ground and return to ICESat-2 to determine the elevation below.

“While the launch today was incredibly exciting, for us scientists the most anticipated part of the mission starts when we switch on the laser and get our first data,” said Thorsten Markus, ICESat-2 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“We are really looking forward to making those data available to the science community as quickly as possible so we can begin to explore what ICESat-2 can tell us about our complex home planet,” Markus added.

This was the 155th Delta II rocket to launch from California and Florida with 45 of those flying from Vandenberg for an assortment of NASA, international, commercial and government missions.

A large sticker on the side of the huge launch pad noted the role of workers for the Delta II missions through the years saying “Dedicated to all the Employees, Suppliers, Customers and AF Range personnel who designed, built and launched the Delta II between 1989 and today.”

After the satellite’s separation, ULA’s Tory Bruno announced that an unpurchased Delta II rocket will join the “rocket garden” display at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral Florida.

“The Delta II rocket has been a venerable workhorse for NASA and civilian scientists, the U.S. military, and commercial clients throughout its almost 30 years of service,” said Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “This program comes to a close with the final launch of NASA’s ICESat-2, but its legacy will continue and the Visitor Complex will help us keep the story of the success of this much-revered rocket in the hearts and minds of the public.”

NASA’s visualization of Earth’s Atmospheric Aerosols is beautifully terrifying

As wildfires continue to burn in California, NASA’s Earth Observatory, the arm of the space agency that shares with the public images of the Earth and its climate has created a map visualising the global distribution of aerosols or small specks of solid particles or droplets suspended in the air that illustrates one of the ways in which the fires are affecting the atmosphere.

Aerosols, the millions of solid particles and liquid droplets that exist within the air we breathe, are everywhere. They drift from the Earth’s stratosphere down to the surface and they place a large role in Earth’s climate and on human health—breathing in the wrong ones can be harmful. These particles or droplets emerge out of smoke billowing from a wildfire, ash hurtling out of volcano, or even dust blowing in the wind. This month has seen all three, with the first two happening within the United States.

NASA created a map of the aerosols on on August 23, 2018 as on that day, huge plumes of smoke rose over North America and Africa, three separate tropical cyclones churned in the Pacific Ocean, and large clouds of dust blew over deserts in Africa and Asia.

Black carbon particles from fires are represented by red, although they can also show car exhaust. The purple particles represent dust, and the blue particles represent sea salt aerosols.

To capture their spread, NASA used their Earth-observing satellites Terra, Aqua, Aura and Suomi NPP. You need high-tech equipment to find such microscopic entities, like the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on Terra.

The MODIS has high radiometric sensitivity, meaning that it can visualize within 36 spectral bands in a wavelength of light. Measuring aerosols requires MODIS and Terra to observe how the particles change the way the atmosphere reflects and absorbs visible and infrared light.

After viewing the raw data from these satellites, NASA then turned to its Goddard Earth Observing System Forward Processing model to process the data. Built to show analyses and forecasts based on data collected in real time, the GEOS FP releases data on a wide number of weather-related subjects.

New Zealand Students To Get Internship Chance With NASA

New Zealand tertiary students will be offered the chance to participate in NASA’s International Internships Programme, under an agreement between the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment and NASA.

“Through the programme, high-achieving students will have the opportunity to work in NASA’s best and most advanced research facilities, with access to expert mentors,” Economic Development Minister David Parker said.

“The experience could inspire someone to begin the journey to becoming an astronaut or to follow in the footsteps of great Kiwi scientist Sir William Pickering who led the successful effort to put the first US satellite in orbit.

“We thank the US for making this opportunity available to some of our best students.

“We hope this will galvanize them to think about how their skills could be applied in the space industry. That could be in areas such as Earth observation, data science, astrobiology or robotics,” David Parker said.

“Giving our future innovators, entrepreneurs and scientists opportunities to get a head-start in space-related careers will play a vital role in developing a thriving domestic industry.”

“It also strengthens New Zealand’s connection with global space networks and raises New Zealand’s profile as a location for space activities.

“New Zealand is well-positioned to become a hub for new space activities with its highly-skilled workforce and expertise in physics, energy, engineering and computer science research.”

The Agreement is accompanied by a new scholarship from the New Zealand Space Agency, which sits within the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment.

“The New Zealand Space Scholarship will be available to up to four successful applicants to cover the cost of participation, airfares, accommodation, and other associated expenses,” David Parker said.

U.S. Ambassador Scott Brown joined David Parker in welcoming the internship announcement.

“I’m very excited that New Zealand will be able to send their most promising students to work with leading NASA researchers. Working on the U.S.-New Zealand relationship is one of the best jobs in the universe, and this Agreement shows why.

“The NASA International Internship Programme lets us boldly go even further, giving Americans and Kiwis the chance to foster innovation, develop modern solutions to modern challenges, and advance scientific breakthroughs. The future of the U.S.-New Zealand partnership is, in fact, the future – and this agreement represents one giant leap in our extensive scientific cooperation – from Antarctic research to investments in health, and onwards to the final frontier,” Ambassador Brown said.

The New Zealand Space Agency will accept applications from 10 September and intends to provide NASA with student nominations for the June 2019 internship session.

Presence Of Frozen Water Deposites In Moon:Confirmed By NASA

Scientists have found frozen water deposits in the darkest and coldest parts of the Moon’s polar regions using data from the Chandrayaan-I spacecraft, that was launched by India 10 years ago, NASA said .

With enough ice sitting at the surface – within the top few millimetres – water would possibly be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and even stay on the moon, and potentially easier to access than the water detected beneath the moon’s surface.

The ice deposits are patchily distributed and could possibly be ancient, according to the study published in the journal PNAS.

At the southern pole, most of the ice is concentrated at lunar craters, while the northern pole’s ice is more widely, but sparsely spread.

Scientists used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument to identify three specific signatures that definitively prove there is water ice at the surface of the moon.

M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the moon.

It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we would expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapour and solid ice.

Most of the newfound water ice lies in the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above minus 156 degrees Celsius.

Due to the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.

Previous observations indirectly found possible signs of surface ice at the lunar south pole, but these could have been explained by other phenomena, such as unusually reflective lunar soil.

Learning more about this ice, how it got there, and how it interacts with the larger lunar environment will be a key mission focus for NASA and commercial partners, as humans endeavour to return to and explore the moon.



Hydrogen Walls Surrounding Solar System Are Detected

NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons has found new evidence of a “wall” of hydrogen at the edge of the solar system, encircling all the planets and objects orbiting the Sun.

The “wall” is actually a vast amount of trapped hydrogen atoms caught up in the solar wind, which produce waves of ultraviolet (UV) light and have been detected by the sensors aboard New Horizons, according to NASA.

The phenomenon was first glimpsed by astronomers around 30 years ago, and was called helisphere. However, evidence supporting the theory has remained murky.

New Horizons has been using its on-board detector, known as “Alice”, to look for traces of the celestial interaction. It picked up UV rays with “Alice” seven times from 2007 to 2017, and finally found evidence to verify earlier observations.

“We’re seeing the threshold between being in the solar neighbourhood and being in the galaxy,” astronomer Leslie Young of the Southwest Research Institute and New Horizons team said.

New Horizons will then continue to look for the “wall” about twice a year until the mission reaches its conclusion, which is expected to be around 10-15 years from now on, NASA said.

If the levels of UV light detected ever take a nosedive, it could prove the spacecraft has left the “wall.”

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Completes Six Years

NASA’s Curiosity rover – a mission that has spotted evidence of liquid water as well as potential signs life and habitability on Mars – has completed six years on the red planet.

“I touched down on #Mars six years ago. Celebrating my 6th landing anniversary with the traditional gift of iron oxide. (It puts the red in Red Planet.),” the rover’s social media handle tweeted.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission’s Curiosity rover landed on the red planet’s Gale Crater on August 6 using a series of complicated landing manoeuvres never before attempted.

Curiosity’s mission is to determine whether the red planet ever was, or is, habitable to microbial life.

The rover, which is about the size of a car, is equipped with 17 cameras and a robotic arm containing a suite of specialised laboratory-like tools and instruments.

The specialised landing sequence, which employed a giant parachute, a jet-controlled descent vehicle and a bungee-like apparatus called a “sky crane,” was devised because tested landing techniques used during previous rover missions could not safely accommodate the much larger and heavier rover.

The Curiosity rover is currently experiencing a global storm that has been raging in Mars for weeks.

In 2013, the Curiosity rover found that ancient Mars had the right chemistry to support living microbes.

The rover discovered evidence of sulphur, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon – key ingredients necessary for life – in the powder sample drilled from the “Sheepbed” mudstone in Yellowknife Bay.

The sample collected by the rover also revealed clay minerals and not too much salt, which suggests fresh, possibly drinkable water once flowed there.

Shortly after, smooth and rounded rocks were found by Curiosity, indicating that a steady knee-deep stream of water once flowed on the red planet.

In 2014, the rover detected a background level of atmospheric methane and observed a ten-fold increase in methane over a two-month period.

The finding generated a lot of interest as methane can be produced by living organisms or by chemical reactions between rock and water, for example.

In 2015, organic molecules – the building blocks of life – were discovered on Mars after a long search by the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument in a powdered rock sample from the “Sheepbed” mudstone in “Yellowknife Bay.”

The finding shows that raw ingredients existed for life to get started there at one time.



NASA’s Parker Solar Probe To Launch On August 11

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which is humanity’s first mission to the Sun, has cleared the final procedures ahead of its launch on August 11.”NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has cleared the final procedures in the clean room before its move to the launch pad, where it will be integrated onto its launch vehicle, a United launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy,” the space agency said in a statement.

The mission termed as historic “will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds”, it added.

The Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.

In addition to using the largest operational launch vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, the Parker Solar Probe will use a third stage rocket to gain the speed needed to reach the Sun, which takes 55 times more energy than reaching Mars.

The spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere, about 4 million miles from its surface and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, due to its innovative Thermal Protection System.

The mission will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona.

The mission will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and how processes there ultimately affect near-Earth space, NASA said.


Mars Seems To Be The Closest To Earth Today Among These 15 Years

On the night of 31 July, Mars will be closest to the Earth in 15 years. The red planet will be just 35.8 million miles (57.6 million kilometres) apart on Tuesday. With Mars and the Sun on either sides and Earth in the middle, the three celestial bodies will be in a straight line on Tuesday.

In 2003, Mars and Earth were the closest in nearly 60,000 years – 34.6 million miles (55.7 million kilometres). NASA said that won’t happen again until 2287. The Mars will be closer to the Earth the next in 2020. It will be 38.6 million miles (62 million kilometres) apart then, according to NASA.

Mars which is already brighter than usual, will shine even more and will appear to be bigger on Tuesday. However, a massive dust storm engulfing the Red planet is obscuring the surface details which are normally visible through telescopes.

Part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, Mars Curiosity on Tuesday tweeted: “I feel so close to you right now. Mars and Earth haven’t been this near since 2003, and won’t be again until 2035! Look to the south tonight to see the Red Planet shining bright.”

Each Martian year, moderately large dust storms cover continent-sized areas and last for weeks at a time. Global dust storms – lasting for weeks or months – tend to happen during the spring and summer in the southern hemisphere, when Mars is closest to the Sun and heating is at a maximum to generate winds.

The Mars will be visible in the closest position to Earth in the Southern Hemisphere, not in India. Though visibility won’t be too bad from other parts and hence will be visible from India too. The spectacle can be witnessed online on a YouTube live stream. Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles will be hosting a live stream of the event.


NASA Set To Fly A Car-Sized Spacecraft In August To Study The Sun: NASA, Xinhua News Agency Report

Nasa is preparing to send a probe to Sun closer than any human-made object ever has, revealing multiple mysteries behind the star  than any otheR, enduring wicked heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.  The car-sized spacecraft called Parker Solar Probe is slated to lift off no earlier than August 6 on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, according to NASA, Xinhua news agency reported. The Sun’s atmosphere constantly sends magnetized material outward, enveloping our solar system far beyond the orbit of Pluto.. It is set to fly into the Sun’s corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

“To send a probe where you haven’t been before is ambitious. To send it into such brutal conditions is highly ambitious,” Nicola Fox, a project scientist from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, told a news conference on Friday.

The previous closest pass to the Sun was by a probe called Helios 2, which in 1976 came within 27 million miles (43 million km). By way of comparison, the average distance from the Sun for Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km).

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system. Unpredictable solar winds cause disturbances in our planet’s magnetic field and can play havoc with communications technology on Earth. Nasa hopes the findings will enable scientists to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment.

“It’s of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict this space weather, much like we predict weather here on Earth,” said Alex Young, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “In the most extreme cases of these space weather events, it can actually affect our power grids here on Earth.”

The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under Nasa’s Living With a Star program.

The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments designed to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles. Nasa aims to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetized corona.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive difficult heat and radiation conditions. It has been outfitted with a heat shield designed to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass.