Tag Archives: nasa

NASA Visualization of Solar Winds Reaching The Solar System’s Depths

Solar winds stream through the vacuum of space at an awesome 400 kilometers per second (over one million miles per hour). To help understand the effect of these gusts on the space environment, NASA developed this hypnoticvisualization.

The sun is continually producingsolar winds, although they can vary in strength, temperatureand consistency. They consist of charged particles of electrons and protons that are thrustforward by the thermal energy and magnetic fields of the Suns atmosphere. The effect of the Aurora Borealis (or the Northern Lights) is the result of solar winds as they hit the Earths atmosphere. The swirling shape of the winds you see in the video comes from the rotation of the Sun.

Scientists at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, made this visualizationusing data fromNew Horizons and models of solar winds.As you can see by the little date and clock on the bottom right, these solar winds can take months and months to reach Pluto despite their stunning speeds.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/nasa-visualization-solar-winds-reaching-solar-systems-depths

Warp Drive May Be More Feasible Than We Thought


A warp drive to achieve faster-than-light travel — a concept popularized in television’s Star Trek — may not be as unrealistic as once thought, scientists say.

A warp drive would manipulate space-time itself to move a starship, taking advantage of a loophole in the laws of physics that prevent anything from moving faster than light. A concept for a real-life warp drive was suggested in 1994 by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre, however subsequent calculations found that such a device would require prohibitive amounts of energy.

Now physicists say that adjustments can be made to the proposed warp drive that would enable it to run on significantly less energy, potentially brining the idea back from the realm of science fiction into science.

“There is hope,” Harold “Sonny” White of NASA’s Johnson Space Center said at the 100 Year Starship Symposium, a meeting to discuss the challenges of interstellar spaceflight.

Warping Space-Time

An Alcubierre warp drive would involve a football-shape spacecraft attached to a large ring encircling it. This ring, potentially made of exotic matter, would cause space-time to warp around the starship, creating a region of contracted space in front of it and expanded space behind.


Meanwhile, the starship itself would stay inside a bubble of flat space-time that wasn’t being warped at all.

“Everything within space is restricted by the speed of light,” explained Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit group of scientists and engineers devoted to pursuing interstellar spaceflight. “But the really cool thing is space-time, the fabric of space, is not limited by the speed of light.”

With this concept, the spacecraft would be able to achieve an effective speed of about 10 times the speed of light, all without breaking the cosmic speed limit.

The only problem is, previous studies estimated the warp drive would require a minimum amount of energy about equal to the mass-energy of the planet Jupiter.

But recently White calculated what would happen if the shape of the ring encircling the spacecraft was adjusted into more of a rounded donut, as opposed to a flat ring. He found in that case, the warp drive could be powered by a mass about the size of a spacecraft like the Voyager 1 probe NASA launched in 1977.

Furthermore, if the intensity of the space warps can be oscillated over time, the energy required is reduced even more, White found.

“The findings I presented today change it from impractical to plausible and worth further investigation,” White told SPACE.com. “The additional energy reduction realized by oscillating the bubble intensity is an interesting conjecture that we will enjoy looking at in the lab.”

Warp-Drive Laboratory Tests

White and his colleagues have begun experimenting with a mini version of the warp drive in their laboratory.

They set up what they call the White-Juday Warp Field Interferometer at the Johnson Space Center, essentially creating a laser interferometer that instigates micro versions of space-time warps.

“We’re trying to see if we can generate a very tiny instance of this in a tabletop experiment, to try to perturb space-time by one part in 10 million,” White said.

He called the project a “humble experiment” compared to what would be needed for a real warp drive, but said it represents a promising first step.

And other scientists stressed that even outlandish-sounding ideas, such as the warp drive, need to be considered if humanity is serious about traveling to other stars.

“If we’re ever going to become a true spacefaring civilization, we’re going to have to think outside the box a little bit, were going to have to be a little bit audacious,” Obousy said.

Image courtesy of Harold White

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/warp-drive-may-be-more-feasible-than-we-thought/

Scott Kelly To Retire From NASA After Spending A Year In Space

There are many impressive ways to bow out of your job, but perhaps breaking the record for the longest single U.S. spaceflight and becomingone of the first two humans to spend a year aboard the International Space Station (ISS) tops them all.

Yes, NASA has announced that one-year crew member Scott Kelly, 52, will retire from being an astronaut with the agency as of April 1 this year. He will still take part in research related to his year-in-space mission, namely the Twins Study in partnership with his brother Mark, but his days of actually going to space are now over.

This year-in-space mission was a profound challenge for all involved, and it gave me a unique perspective and a lot of time to reflect on what my next step should be on our continued journey to help further our capabilities in space and on Earth, Kelly said in a statement.

Kellys career was glittering, to say the least. In total, he spent 520 days in spacethe most for any American astronaut (so far), across four missions. It was his latest mission that really threw him into the limelight, though, where Kelly became known not only for his prolific tweetingfrom space (700 in total), buttogether with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kornienko, he alsobecame the first to spend 12 months on the ISS. Previous missions lasted just six months.

Missions like this are a vital step towards sending humans to Mars, and NASA has more plans for similar (oreven more ambitious) missions on the ISS in the future. Our universe is a big place, and we have many millions of miles yet to explore, Kelly said in a personal blog post onFacebook.

Kelly is seen here during a spacewalk on November 6, 2015. NASA

His 520-day record wont last forever, though, as NASA astronaut Jeff Williams is set to launch to the ISS on March 18, and on this mission he will reach a total of 534 days.

Nonetheless, Kellys achievements, particularly with regards to setting humans towards Mars, will not be forgotten. When honoring Kelly, perhaps NASA Administrator Charles Bolden summed it up best:

When the first Americans set foot on Mars, they will be following in the footsteps of one of the finest astronauts in the history of the space program, my friend, Commander Scott Kelly. After spending an American record 520 days in space including his Year in Space I can think of no one more deserving of some well-deserved rest and time on the same planet as his family and friends.

Photo Gallery

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/scott-kelly-retire-nasa-after-setting-humanity-course-mars

See the Rare Photo of Neil Armstrong on the Moon


There is only one photograph of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, and in it, he has his back to the camera.

The first man to set foot on a planetary body other than Earth was not camera shy. It was just that for most of the time he and Buzz Aldrin were exploring the moon in July 1969, the checklist called for Armstrong to have their only camera.

When the news broke Saturday that Armstrong, 82, had passed away, it is likely that many people’s memories of the first man on the moon were of black and white television images or color film stills. If they did recall a photo captured during the Apollo 11 moonwalk, it was almost certainly one of Aldrin, whether it was of him saluting the flag or looking down at his bootprint.

In fact, perhaps the most iconic photo taken of an astronaut on the surface of the moon is also of Aldrin. A posed shot, he is facing the camera with the reflection of his photographer, Armstrong, caught in Aldrin’s golden helmet visor.

Of course, there were photographs taken of Neil Armstrong at other points during the moon flight, and on his previous mission, Gemini 8. Cameras were ready when he was named an astronaut seven years before walking on the moon, and were more than ever present after he returned to Earth as a history-making hero.

A few of those other photos ran alongside obituaries in the numerous newspapers that told of Armstrong’s death in their Sunday editions. But they — the photos, not necessarily the obituaries — only told part of the story. A great many lesser seen photos capture Armstrong as the research pilot, astronaut, engineer and, as his family described in a statement, “a reluctant American hero.”

To help illustrate that record, collectSPACE.com asked RetroSpaceImages.com to search its extensive archives of NASA photographs and pick out those that showed the Armstrong that the public didn’t always get to see. The three dozen photos they chose have been presented chronologically, with one exception: The gallery begins with the rare photo of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. Where are space shuttle Atlantis’ launch director and mission management team today? Continue reading at collectSPACE.com.

This article originally published at Space.com

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/27/rare-photo-neil-armstrong/

Want to Run Code on the ISS? There’s a Competition For That


Any high school-aged coders with a love for space and NASA out there? Read on.

Zero Robotics, a robotics programming competition set up through MIT, is entering its fourth year — and there’s still a day left to register.

Here’s how it works: Students can sign up in teams for free on the website. Over the course of the semester, they compete head-to-head with other teams in writing programs — sort of situational, scenario-based challenges. Gradually, the challenges get more difficult. Then, after several phases, finalists are selected to compete in running code for the International Space Station (ISS) — which is broadcast live by an astronaut on board the ISS.

Since 2009, the competition has allowed participants to compete in a series of coding challenges through an online platform.

“There’s a whole ranking system that tells them how well they’re doing as they’re going through it,” said Jake Katz, co-founder of the competition and research assistant in the Space Stations laboratory at MIT. “And throughout the course of the season, the game gets slightly more complex. They start out in two dimensions and then they will soon, around Oct. 5, be going into 3-D competition — then we add some additional challenges towards the end.”

The original kick off for this year’s competition was on Sept. 8. But, Katz said, there’s still a day left to register.

“There have been people participating so far, and are already off and running with it, but it’s still possible to join in and make a submission for the first phase,” he said. “We have 75 teams so far, and that’s just from the U.S.”

There are an additional 43 teams from 19 other countries, he said.

The competition is sponsored by NASA, DARPA, TopCoder, Aurora Flight Sciences, CASIS and MIT. TopCoder, a programming company, designed the platform the games are played on.

“In 2009, when we started, we had just two teams competing against each other,” Katz said. “Just two years later, we had about 100 teams from all over sign up.”

Check out the promotional video below:

What kind of code would you write to run on board the ISS? Let us know in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/26/zero-robotics-mit/

Incredible New Images Of Jupiter Reveal Details Behind Shrinking Great Red Spot

Jupiter: Are you ready for your close-up? A collection of images of the gargantuan planet, taken by Hubble, have been amalgamated into a planetary portrait, the first in a series of annual portraits of the gas giant members of the Solar System. Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot, its dramatic cloud cover, and even a new elusive wave-like structure comprised of gas have been documented in incredible detail by NASA.

Collecting annual images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune will help both current and future scientists observe how these enormous worlds change over time in fine detail, including any alterations to their weather patterns and atmospheric chemistry. Using Hubbles high-resolution Wide Field Camera 3, two global maps of Jupiter have been produced.

Video credit: NASA

Unfortunately, theres some bad news: The famousGreat Red Spot, that vast anti-cyclone with wind speeds of up to 644 kilometers per hour (400 miles per hour), is shrinking. This isnt breaking news for planetary scientists this storm, which can fit three entire planet Earths within its boundaries has been shrinking for perhaps the last four centuries. In the last 200 years, it has shrunk by over 50%. An unusual wispy structure has also been observed spanning almost the entire width of the Great Red Spot, rotating and distorting itself throughout the 10-hour-long image sequence span taken by Hubble.

Every time we look at Jupiter, we get tantalizing hints that something really exciting is going on, Amy Simon, a planetary scientist at NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. This time is no exception.

This persistent hurricane which probably gets its orangey-red color from ammonium hydrosulfide chemically reacting with cosmic rays is still far older than any terrestrial superstorm, which normally last no longer than a week or so. Jupiters atmosphere is mostly comprised of hydrogen and helium, with a liquid ocean of hydrogen surrounding its relatively small rocky, icy core. As there is little solid ground to provide friction for the tumultuous atmosphere, storms and winds can continue unimpeded for centuries at the very least.

Simons research team think that the Great Red Spot is shrinking because smaller cyclones and anti-cyclones are feeding into the gigantic hurricane, distorting its vortex and causing a chaotic distribution of its internal energy. These parasitic storms could possibly one day sap enough momentum from the hurricane to cause its disintegration.

Up in Jupiters North Equatorial Belt, the existence of a second phenomenon, which was discovered only once decades earlier during the Voyager 2 mission, has been confirmed. This stealthy wave, found within the planets atmosphere at a latitude frequented by cyclones and anti-cyclones, appears similar in appearance to atmospheric waves on Earth. These terrestrial waves, so-called baroclinic waves,tend to appear when cyclones are beginning to form.

This elusive wave pattern on Jupiter has likely remained hidden for so long because it is often concealed beneath the clouds; when it emerges, wave crests are formed in the upper atmosphere, leaving a trace of its path.

A false-color image of the elusive wave pattern, with its wave crests indicated by the white arrows. Image credit: NASA

The long-term value of the Outer Planet Atmospheres Legacy program is really exciting, said co-author Michael H. Wong of the University of California, Berkeley, in the same statement. The collection of maps that we will build up over time will not only help scientists understand the atmospheres of our giant planets, but also the atmospheres of planets being discovered around other stars, and Earths atmosphere and oceans, too.

Think of the annual planetary portraits as the yearly school photograph for our very own Solar System. Just like a schoolchild being asked to sit still, Jupiter simply refuses.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/portrait-jupiter-reveals-detail-behind-shrinking-great-red-spot

New Tool for Hurricane Trackers: Drones


Federal hurricane trackers this year will be experimenting with powerful new tools: unmanned boats and aircraft, including a massive drone more known for spying on battlefields than monitoring nature’s violence.

Researchers at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are hoping a pair of military-surplus Global Hawk spy drones can provide new insight into the storms that routinely ravage the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

The aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, won’t be keeping an eye on Hurricane Isaac, which barreled down on the Gulf Coast on Tuesday. That storm is being monitored by more traditional means, including manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, but officials expect to have the drones up and running in time for the height of hurricane season.

On Friday, the first of two Global Hawk aircraft is scheduled to arrive at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with a shakedown flight scheduled to happen as soon as Monday. The second aircraft is expected to arrive in coming weeks with officials hoping for a first flight in mid-September.

The aircraft, built by Northrop Grumman, were among the first batch to be tested by the military. When the military sought upgraded aircraft, the drones ended up in the hands of NASA researchers, who, along with their counterparts at NOAA, have now fitted them with specialized sensors for monitoring storms.

Weather researchers have used or experimented with various unmanned vehicles for years (not to mention the original unmanned vehicles: weather satellites). But officials are now taking the technology to new levels.

NASA’s Global Hawks, for example, were first used for a limited number of experimental flights in 2010, but technical issues have kept them from gathering hurricane data until now, said Scott Braun, a NASA investigator who helps oversee the Global Hawk program.

The three-year program is just starting, and for now NASA’s plan is focused on basic research, rather than real-time forecasting. Still, with a 116-foot wingspan and an ability to stay in the air for nearly 30 hours, the Global Hawk promises to be extremely useful for observing hurricanes.

But don’t look for drones to replace the famous manned “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft that fly directly into the middle of hurricanes anytime soon.

Researchers have small UAVs that can survive the forces inside a hurricane, but they are too small to carry a wide range of sensors, Braun said. Larger aircraft like the Global Hawk, meanwhile, can’t handle such extreme weather. While manned flights into hurricanes can seem dangerous, only four such aircraft have been lost since 1943, the last one in 1974.

“We are still a long ways away from replacing manned flights,” he said. Instead, the UAVs will supplement manned flights by flying at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet, thousands of feet above the thrashing winds and rain. One aircraft is designed to gather data about the environment around a storm, while the other UAV will study the storm itself.

It’s not the first time NASA has turned to spy aircraft for weather research. Since the 1970s, the space agency has used a version of the military’s U-2 aircraft to conduct a range of observations on everything from wildfires to migratory birds, as well as hurricanes. (During the 1960s, NASA unsuccessfully tried to help cover up Francis Gary Powers’s failed U-2 spy mission in the Soviet Union by claiming he got lost while conducting weather research.)

Like the military, NASA and NOAA are now looking to unmanned vehicles to either replace or bolster more traditional vehicles.

While Global Hawks may soon be a regular fixture above hurricanes, NOAA is experimenting with small, unmanned watercraft to penetrate storms at sea level.

The Wave Glider is a solar-powered floating platform that can take measurements from both the air and sea. Wave Gliders have been used for a range of weather and climate research, but now NOAA is experimenting with placing the craft in the path of oncoming hurricanes.

Unlike other craft, in theory, the Wave Glider can stay out indefinitely thanks to its solar panels, said NOAA’s Alan Leonardi. “The idea is to position a string of these in the path of a hurricane and gather data in a way we haven’t been able to before,” he said.

Also in the expanding NOAA arsenal of unmanned research vehicles is EMILY, a 65-inch watertight unmanned surface vehicle outfitted with a range of sensors and a high-definition camera. This year, scientists hope to remotely guide the craft into the center of hurricanes to gather data in some of the most dangerous areas of the storms.

“With unmanned craft, we’re not risking anybody’s life,” said Justyna Nicinska, program manager for NOAA’s EMILY, which was originally developed to help lifeguards with tricky sea rescues. Like other officials, Nicinska expects EMILY to compliment, rather than replace current systems. “EMILY will really fill gaps in our observation,” she said.

Image of Hurricane Isaac courtesy of NASA.

This article originally published at National Journal

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/28/hurricane-trackers-drones/

Stunning New 1.5 BILLION Pixel Photograph Of Andromeda Galaxy Released

The Hubble Space Telescope has been used to take a 1.5 billion pixel image of the Andromeda Galaxy.

You can see an overview of the image below, but that doesn’t do the full image justice. Most monitors display less than two million pixels, so when you look at the whole image you are probably losing almost 99.9% of the resolution.

To take full advantage of the effort NASA and the European Space Agency have put into creating this image, you need to go to the Hubble site where it is possible to zoom into patches of the galaxy, seeing the extraordinary detail come to life every time you click. What may have seemed like a single star is revealed as a dense cluster or a giant surrounded by hundreds of others too faint to make out in the wider view. 


Also known as Messier 31, or M31, the Andromeda Galaxy is the only member of the Local Group of galaxies that has more mass than our own Milky Way. More than 100 million of its estimated trillion stars are visible in this image, provided you go deep enough.

Most of Andromeda’s stars are simply too faint to be seen at this distance, even with a telescope as powerful as Hubble. However, the image also doesn’t take in the full width of this mighty galaxy. The part photographed is 40,000 light-years across, but represents only one side of the galaxy, since the left hand end only just captures the galactic center. The outermost regions have also been excluded with the galaxy’s full diameter estimated at 3-5 times this size

While the effort may launch a thousand screensavers and wall posters, it is more than good PR for the space program. The Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury (PHAT) project imaged Andromeda from near-ultraviolet wavelengths to the near-infrared, with both red and blue filters. This level of detail across such a range will be used to test theories about the structure of spiral galaxies, and interpret results for more distant spirals.

H/T Cosmos

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/one-and-half-billion-pixels-andromedan-magnifcence

5 Craters That Look Like Other Things


What Is This Weird “Snail Trail” Found On Pluto?

NASAs New Horizons spacecraft has beamed down an image appearing to show a snail trail across Plutos icy wilderness.

The image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was taken on July 14,2015, however the data only reached Earth on Christmas Eve 2015. The image shows Sputnik Planum, the 20-kilometer-wide (12-mile-wide)icy plain of Pluto.

Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t think the blob is actually a snail. They say the black cosmic-gastropod is actually a dirty block of water ice being pulled through denser solid nitrogen by currents caused by density differences.The X junction is most likely to be ridged margins,according to NASA, which are raised by about 100 meters (328 feet).

This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp,if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as, and even deeper than, Hudson Bay, William McKinnon, deputy lead of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, said on the NASA website.

You can check out the full-sized mosaic of Plutos icy plain imageshere.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/space/what-weird-snail-trail-found-pluto