Rho Ophiuchi might look like an abstract painting, but this splash of colors is in fact a busy star-forming complex. WISE, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Explorer captured the picturesque image of the region, which is one of the closest star-forming complexes to Earth. The amazing variety of colors seen in this image represents different wavelengths of infrared light.
Also seen in this image are some of the oldest stars in our Milky Way galaxy.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
This false-color image shows the circular mark created where the tool exposed the interior of the rock Gagarin at a target called "Yuri." The circle is about 1.8 inches (4.5 centimeters) in diameter. Gagarin is at the edge of a highly eroded, small crater that was informally named Vostok for the spacecraft that carried Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in the first human spaceflight, on April 12, 1961.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ASU
NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully completed its second-closest encounter with Saturn's icy moon Helene on June 18, 2011, beaming down raw images of the small moon. At closest approach, Cassini flew within 4,330 miles (6,968 kilometers) of Helene's surface. It was the second closest approach to Helene of the entire mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
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NASA has declared full mission success for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). LRO changed our view of the entire moon and brought it into sharper focus with unprecedented detail.
NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) operated the LRO spacecraft and its instruments during the one-year mission phase. Now that the final data from the instruments have been added to the agency's Planetary Data System, the mission has completed the full success requirements. The data system, which is publicly available, archives data from past and present planetary missions as well as astronomical observations and laboratory data.
The rich new portrait rendered by LRO's seven instruments is the result of more than 192 terabytes of data, images and maps, the equivalent of nearly 41,000 typical DVDs.
"LRO is now in the very capable hands of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, with ongoing, near continuous acquisition of science data," said Douglas Cooke, associate administrator of ESMD at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Exploration will be well served by the LRO science mission, just as the LRO exploration mission has benefited lunar science."
The primary objective of the mission was to enable safe and effective exploration of the moon. "We needed to leverage the very best the science community had to offer," said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist of ESMD. "And by doing that, we've fundamentally changed our scientific understanding of the moon."
The most precise and complete topographic maps to date of the moon's complex, heavily cratered landscape have been created from more than four billion measurements, which are still coming in, taken by LRO's Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). LOLA has taken more than 100 times more measurements than all previous lunar instruments of its kind combined, opening up a world of possibilities for future exploration and for science.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) revealed stunning details after imaging nearly 5.7 million square kilometers of the moon's surface during the mission's exploration phase. That is roughly the same amount of land as all contiguous states west of the Mississippi River. Though earlier missions also imaged the moon, what sets LROC apart is its ability to image with surface pixels that are only 1.5 feet in size, small enough to distinguish details never before possible.
"With this resolution, LRO could easily spot a picnic table on the moon," said LRO's Project Scientist Richard Vondrak of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
While studying the Hermite crater near the moon's north pole, LRO's Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment found the coldest spot in the solar system, with a temperature of minus 415 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 248 degrees Celsius or 25 kelvins).
To further explore these regions, LRO's Lyman Alpha Mapping Project, which can "see" in the dark, is imaging the shaded areas, while LOLA's precise measurements map solar illumination. This work has provided new insight into the shadowed regions and also revealed areas that receive nearly continuous sun. Because sunlight itself is a resource on the moon, knowing there are areas that get sun for approximately 243 days a year and never have a period of total darkness for more than 24 hours is extremely valuable.
Complementing those efforts are both the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) and the Miniature Radio Frequency advanced radar, which are searching for deposits of water ice. LEND also seeks hydrogen, which could be used potentially as fuel. LRO's Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation is studying the lunar radiation environment, which is important to keep astronauts healthy and safe.
LRO launched aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 18, 2009.
The spacecraft was built and is managed by Goddard.
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WASHINGTON -- Analysis of samples returned by NASA’s Genesis mission indicates our sun and its inner planets may have formed differently than scientists previously thought.
The data revealed slight differences in the types of oxygen and nitrogen present on the sun and planets. The elements are among the most abundant in our solar system. Although the differences are slight, the implications could help determine how our solar system evolved.
The air on Earth contains three different kinds of oxygen atoms, which are differentiated by the number of neutrons they contain. Nearly 100 percent of oxygen atoms in the solar system are composed of O-16, but there also are tiny amounts of more exotic oxygen isotopes called O-17 and O-18. Researchers studying the oxygen of Genesis samples found that the percentage of O-16 in the sun is slightly higher than on Earth, the moon, and meteorites. The other isotopes’ percentages were slightly lower.
"The implication is that we did not form out of the same solar nebula materials that created the sun -- just how and why remains to be discovered," said Kevin McKeegan, a Genesis co-investigator from the University of California, Los Angeles and the lead author of one of two Science papers published this week.
The second paper detailed differences in the amount of nitrogen on the sun and planets. Like oxygen, nitrogen has one isotope, N-14, that makes up nearly 100 percent of the atoms in the solar system, but there also is a tiny amount of N-15. Researchers studying the same samples saw that when compared to Earth's atmosphere, nitrogen in the sun and Jupiter has slightly more N-14, but 40 percent less N-15. Both the sun and Jupiter appear to have the same nitrogen composition.
"These findings show that all solar system objects, including the terrestrial planets, meteorites and comets, are anomalous compared to the initial composition of the nebula from which the solar system formed," said Bernard Marty, a Genesis co-investigator from Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques in Nancy, France and the lead author of the second new Science paper. "Understanding the cause of such a heterogeneity will impact our view on the formation of the solar system."
Data were obtained from analysis of Genesis samples collected from the solar wind -- the material ejected from the outer portion of the sun. This material can be thought of as a fossil of our nebula because the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the outer layer of our sun has not changed measurably for billions of years.
"The sun houses more than 99 percent of the material currently in our solar system so it's a good idea to get to know it better," said Genesis principal investigator Don Burnett of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "While it was more challenging than expected we have answered some important questions, and like all successful missions, generated plenty more."
Genesis launched in August 2000. The spacecraft traveled to Earth’s L1 Lagrange Point about 1 million miles from Earth, where it remained for 886 days between 2001 and 2004, passively collecting solar-wind samples.
On Sept. 8, 2004, the spacecraft released a sample return capsule, which made a hard landing as a result of a failed parachute in the Utah Test and Training Range in Dugway, Utah. This marked NASA’s first sample return since the final Apollo lunar mission in 1972, and the first material collected beyond the moon. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston curates the samples and supports analysis and sample allocation.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed the Genesis mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Genesis mission was part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver developed and operated the spacecraft. Analysis at the Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques was supported by the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales and the French National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.
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WASHINGTON -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on track to begin the first extended visit to a large asteroid. The mission expects to go into orbit around Vesta on July 16 and begin gathering science data in early August. Vesta resides in the main asteroid belt and is thought to be the source of a large number of meteorites that fall to Earth.
"The spacecraft is right on target," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "We look forward to exploring this unknown world during Dawn's one year stay in Vesta's orbit."
After traveling nearly four years and 1.7 billion miles (2.7 billion kilometers), Dawn is approximately 96,000 miles (155,000 kilometers) away from Vesta. When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit, there will be approximately 9,900 miles (16,000 kilometers) between them. They will be approximately 117 million miles (188 million kilometers) away from Earth.
After Dawn enters Vesta's orbit, engineers will need a few days to determine the exact time of capture. Unlike other missions where a dramatic, nail-biting propulsive burn results in orbit insertion around a planet, Dawn has been using its placid ion propulsion system to subtly shape its path for years to match Vesta's orbit around the sun.
Images from Dawn's framing camera, taken for navigation purposes, show the slow progress toward Vesta. They also show Vesta rotating about 65 degrees in the field of view. The images are about twice as sharp as the best images of Vesta from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, but the surface details Dawn will obtain are still a mystery.
"Navigation images from Dawn's framing camera have given us intriguing hints of Vesta, but we're looking forward to the heart of Vesta operations, when we begin officially collecting science data," said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator, at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). "We can't wait for Dawn to peel back the layers of time and reveal the early history of our solar system."
Dawn's three instruments are all functioning and appear to be properly calibrated. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, for example, has started to obtain images of Vesta that are larger than a few pixels in size. During the initial reconnaissance orbit, at approximately 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers), the spacecraft will get a broad overview of Vesta with color pictures and data in different wavelengths of reflected light. The spacecraft will move into a high altitude mapping orbit, about 420 miles (680 kilometers) above the surface to systematically map the parts of Vesta's surface illuminated by the sun; collect stereo images to see topographic highs and lows; acquire higher resolution data to map rock types at the surface; and learn more about Vesta's thermal properties.
Dawn then will move even closer, to a low-altitude mapping orbit approximately 120 miles (200 kilometers) above the surface. The primary science goals of this orbit are to detect the byproducts of cosmic rays hitting the surface and help scientists determine the many kinds of atoms there, and probe the protoplanet's internal structure. As Dawn spirals away from Vesta, it will pause again at the high-altitude mapping orbit altitude. Because the sun's angle on the surface will have progressed, scientists will be able to see previously hidden terrain while obtaining different views of surface features.
"We've packed our year at Vesta chock-full of science observations to help us unravel the mysteries of Vesta," said Carol Raymond, Dawn's deputy principal investigator at JPL. Vesta is considered a protoplanet, or body that never quite became a full-fledged planet.
Dawn launched in September 2007. Following a year at Vesta, the spacecraft will depart for its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres, in July 2012. Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are part of the mission team.
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KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. -- NASA's next Mars rover has completed the journey from its California birthplace to Florida in preparation for launch this fall.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover, also known as Curiosity, arrived Wednesday at NASA's Kennedy Space Center aboard an Air Force C-17 transport plane. It was accompanied by the rocket-powered descent stage that will fly the rover during the final moments before landing on Mars. The C-17 flight began at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., where the boxed hardware had been trucked from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.
The rover's aeroshell -- the protective covering for the trip to the Red Planet -- and the cruise stage, which will guide it to Mars, arrived at Kennedy last month. The mission is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18. The car-size rover will land on Mars in August 2012.
"The design and building part of the mission is nearly behind us now," said JPL's David Gruel, who has managed Mars Science Laboratory assembly, test and launch operations since 2007. "We're getting to final checkouts before sending the rover on its way to Mars."
The rover and other spacecraft components will undergo more testing before mission staff stack them and fuel the onboard propulsion systems. Curiosity should be enclosed in its aeroshell for the final time in September and delivered to Kennedy's Launch Complex 41 in early November for integration with a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
Curiosity is about twice as long and more than five times as heavy as any previous Mars rover. Its 10 science instruments include two for ingesting and analyzing samples of powdered rock delivered by the rover's robotic arm. During a prime mission lasting one Martian year -- nearly two Earth years -- researchers will use the rover's tools to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.
JPL built the rover and descent stage and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch management for the mission is the responsibility of NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy.
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Samathou wrote:I love black holes.
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On June 10, 2011, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter angled its orbit 65° to the west, allowing the spacecraft's cameras to capture a dramatic sunrise view of the moon's Tycho crater. A very popular target with amateur astronomers, Tycho is located at 43.37°S, 348.68°E, and is about 51 miles (82 km) in diameter.
The summit of the central peak is 1.24 miles (2 km) above the crater floor. The distance from Tycho's floor to its rim is about 2.92 miles (4.7 km). Tycho crater's central peak complex, shown here, is about 9.3 miles (15 km) wide, left to right (southeast to northwest in this view).
Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
Rhea emerges ... After being occulted by the larger moon Titan. Occultation is a celestial event in which a larger body covers up a distant object. Observations such as this one, in which one moon passes close to or in front of another, help scientists refine their understanding of the orbits of Saturn's moons. Titan is about 621,000 miles (1 million kilometers) from Cassini in this image.
Rhea is about 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from Cassini. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Oct. 27, 2009. Image scale is 4 miles (6 kilometers) per pixel on Titan and 9 miles (14 kilometers) per pixel on Rhea.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Mars could be spotted with many more patches of carbonates than originally suspected. Carbonates are minerals that form readily in large bodies of water and can point to a planet's wet history. Although only a few small outcrops of carbonates have been detected on Mars, scientists believe many more examples are blocked from view by the rust. The findings appear in the Friday July 1, online edition of the International Journal of Astrobiology.
"The plausibility of life on Mars depends on whether liquid water dotted its landscape for thousands or millions of years," said Janice Bishop, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center at the SETI Institute at Moffett Field, Calif., and the paper's lead author. "It's possible that an important clue, the presence of carbonates, has largely escaped the notice of investigators trying to learn if liquid water once pooled on the Red Planet."
Scientists conduct field experiments in desert regions because the extremely dry conditions are similar to Mars. Researchers realized the importance of the varnish earlier this year when Bishop and Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at Ames investigated carbonate rocks coated with iron oxides collected in a location called Little Red Hill in the Mojave Desert.
"When we examined the carbonate rocks in the lab, it became evident that an iron oxide skin may be hindering the search for clues to the Red Planet's hydrological history," McKay said. "We found that the varnish both altered and partially masked the spectral signature of the carbonates."
McKay also found dehydration-resistant blue-green algae under the rock varnish. Scientists believe the varnish may have extended temporarily the time that Mars was habitable, as the planet's surface slowly dried up.
"The organisms in the Mojave Desert are protected from deadly ultraviolet light by the iron oxide coating," McKay said. "This survival mechanism might have played a role if Mars once had life on the surface."
In addition to being used to help characterize Mars' water history, carbonate rocks also could be a good place to look for the signatures of early life on the Red Planet. Every mineral is made up of atoms that vibrate at specific frequencies to produce a unique fingerprint that allows scientists to accurately identify its composition.
Research data were similar to observations provided by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft, as it orbited an ancient region of Mars called Nili Fossae. The area revealed the strongest carbonate signature ever found. Although MRO recently detected small patches of carbonates, approximately 200-500 feet wide, on the Martian surface, the Mojave study suggests more patches may have been overlooked because their spectral signature could have been changed by the pervasive varnish.
"To better determine the extent of carbonate deposits on Mars, and by inference the ancient abundance of liquid water, we need to investigate the spectral properties of carbonates mixed with other minerals," Bishop said.
The varnish is so widespread that NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, used a motorized grinding tool to remove the rust-like overcoat on rocks before other instruments could inspect them. In 2010, scientists using data collected by Spirit also identified a small carbonate outcrop at a crater called Gusev. NASA's newest and most capable rover, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity is schedule to launch in November. It will use tools to study whether the Mars had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.
Launched in 2006, MRO observes Mars' surface, subsurface and atmosphere in unprecedented detail. Opportunity and Spirit completed their three-month prime missions on Mars in April 2004, but continued to collect data. NASA ended operations for Spirit this year to focus only on Opportunity activities. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages MRO, Mars rovers and Curiosity for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The Cassini spacecraft observed three of Saturn's moons set against the darkened night side of the planet in this image from April 2011. Saturn is present on the left this image but is too dark to see. Rhea (1,528 kilometers, or 949 miles across) is closest to Cassini here and appears largest at the center of the image.
Enceladus (504 kilometers, or 313 miles across) is to the right of Rhea. Dione (1,123 kilometers, or 698 miles across) is to the left of Rhea, and is partly obscured by Saturn. This view looks toward the northern, sunlit side of the rings from just above the ringplane.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
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