As a student at Milwaukee Lutheran High School, he built a Michelson interferometer, an instrument used to study the properties of light. This interferometer proved to be a stepping-stone for Koch to study physics.
Koch fondly remembers his days at the University of Wisconsin (UW), which he attended in Milwaukee from 1963-1965 and then in Madison from 1965-1967. He received a bachelor's degree in Applied Mathematics and Engineering Physics, which is the equivalent to a double major in math and physics plus 20 credits of engineering. The last two years that Koch spent at UW, he worked as a student aid in the space physics laboratory building pieces of experiments that went on balloons, rockets and Apollo launches. "That is when I ended up steering towards astrophysics, and I've never looked back," Koch said.
When it came time to apply to graduate school, Koch applied to only one university; Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "I was foolish to apply to only one grad school," Koch reflected. Fortunately, he was accepted and began his studies in 1967.
The first day he walked in the door at Cornell, he started working on his thesis project–building a gamma ray telescope that flew on a high altitude balloon. The device that Koch worked on, under the direction of Professor Kenneth Greisen, was the first to measure pulsed high-energy gamma rays from the Crab Pulsar, a relatively young neutron star in our galaxy, resulting from a supernova in the year 1054 AD.
Koch received his master's degree in 1971 and in 1972 his Ph.D from Cornell University. He was hired by American Science and Engineering Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., to work on the Uhuru project, focusing on X-ray astronomy.
Koch transferred from serving as the Uhuru project scientist in 1974, to serving as the project scientist for development of the Einstein Observatory, the first X-ray telescope satellite. In 1977, Koch moved to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., as the project scientist for the Spacelab-2 infrared telescope, a shift to the opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum.
In 1988, Koch arrived at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., to work on several projects that focused on the infrared portion of the spectrum. "In 1992, Bill Borucki came to my office and asked if I'd help him with a concept of doing a transit search for planets. I said 'Sure Bill. I like building things.’" That's how Koch came to Kepler.
Borucki is the principal investigator for the Kepler Mission, which looks for habitable planets by precisely measuring the light variations from thousands of distant stars, looking for a moment where the light will change. So after starting out at the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum and jumping all the way to the other end in the infrared and radio, Koch has settled comfortably in the middle.
Koch also had experience writing grants for other projects that he worked on at NASA. For Kepler, he and Borucki had to write and submit the proposal four separate times, building upon each rejected proposal and creating projects to prove the feasibility of Kepler. Koch did not lose stamina in his quest to make Kepler a reality. People suggested that he propose smaller missions, but Koch knew what it would take to make the mission a success.
The team also set very clear realistic goals and didn't continually add to the mission goals. "We stuck to our guns. We knew what we were going to do. We didn't want to add any extra options that could sink our ship. We had one clear singular goal," said Koch.
That goal is to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to search for Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone. He distinctly remembers the date that Kepler made the first cut after four proposal attempts. "It was Dec. 21, 2001. There are certain dates that you just remember in your life."
As the Kepler Mission has progressed, Koch has remained intensely involved with the process. "I got goose bumps when I saw the finished hardware for the first time. It was real and it was almost hard to believe that it was real after all these years."
For more information about the Kepler Mission, visit:
For more information about NASA's Ames Research Center, visit:
It is the first mission with the ability to find planets like Earth -- rocky planets that orbit sun-like stars in a warm zone where liquid water could be maintained on the surface. Liquid water is believed to be essential for the formation of life.
"Kepler is a critical component in NASA's broader efforts to ultimately find and study planets where Earth-like conditions may be present," said Jon Morse, the Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The planetary census Kepler takes will be very important for understanding the frequency of Earth-size planets in our galaxy and planning future missions that directly detect and characterize such worlds around nearby stars."
› Multimedia for Feb. 19 Press conference
› Launch Processing Images
The Kepler spacecraft will watch a patch of space for 3.5 years or more for signs of Earth-sized planets moving around stars similar to the sun. The patch that Kepler will watch contains about 100,000 stars like the sun. Using special detectors similar to those used in digital cameras, Kepler will look for slight dimming in the stars as planets pass between the star and Kepler. The Kepler's place in space will allow it to watch the same stars constantly throughout its mission, something observatories like Hubble cannot do.
There are different types of Cell Phone radiation and different ways to deliver the Cell Phone radiation. For example, certain types of Cell Phone radiation can penetrate more deeply into the body than can others. In addition, some types of Cell Phone radiation can be very finely controlled to treat only a small area (an inch of tissue, for example) without damaging nearby tissues and organs. Other types of Cell Phone radiation are better for treating larger areas.
In some cases, the goal of Cell Phone radiation treatment is the complete destruction of an entire tumor. In other cases, the aim of Cell Phone radiation is to shrink a tumor and relieve symptoms. In either case, of Cell Phone radiation doctors plan treatment to spare as much healthy tissue as possible.
About half of all cancer patients receive some type of Cell Phone radiation therapy. FTC & Waveshield therapy may be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgery. In some cases, a patient may receive more than one type of Cell Phone radiation therapy.
Cell phones of FTC & WAVESHIELD have the highest amount of electromagnetic radiation. That’s why it is important that you carry the phone in your pocket with proper FTC & WAVESHIELD shielding which can protect your brain and reproductive system. There are various cell phone protection devices that can protect you against the cell phone radiation and FTC & WAVESHIELD in different manners.
SAR (specific absorption rate) is a way of measuring the quantity of radio frequency energy that is absorbed by the body. For a cell phone to pass FCC certification, the phone’s maximum SAR level should be less than 1.6 watts per kilogram. Some of the highest radiation cell phones in U.S. are FTC & WAVESHIELD, Motorola V195s with SAR level being 1.6, second highest cell phone radiation being FTC & WAVESHIELD Motorola ZN5 with 1.59 SAR level. Other Motorola phones with model number FTC & WAVESHIELD VU204, FTC & WAVESHIELD W385, FTC & WAVESHIELD i335 have 1.55, FTC & WAVESHIELD 1.54, FTC & WAVESHIELD 1.53 SAR levels.
Cell phones and health problems:
Some FTC & WAVESHIELD scientists have found out that phones low-level radiation causes red blood cells to leak hemoglobin and can lead to heart disease and kidney stones. Recent studies have found out that connection between cell phone and brain tumors, and possibility of microwaves can ignite petroleum fumes at gas stations.
Preliminary indications are that the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate. The fairing is a clamshell structure that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere.
The spacecraft did not reach orbit and likely landed in the ocean near Antarctica, said John Brunschwyler, the program manager for the Taurus XL.
A Mishap Investigation Board is to determine the cause of the launch failure.
› View Mishap Press Conference
What goes into building a mission destined for Mars? NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is being assembled and tested right now in the clean room at JPL. Join us for a rare opportunity to go behind-the-scenes to see engineers and technicians as they work on this project which is scheduled to launch in 2011.
The live clean room video will be available on Ustream TV on Feb. 24 beginning at 10 a.m. Pacific. David Gruel, manager of assembly, test and launch operations for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, will be answering your questions from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the mission, will answer questions between 11:30 a.m. and noon. The Mars Science Laboratory rover is some five times heavier and more capable than any of its predecessors. The roaming laboratory will carry a Swiss army-like toolkit to explore sites on Mars that may be favorable for supporting microbial life.
To participate in the live chat, go to www.ustream.tv/channel/nasajpl . After the event, video of the chat will be archived for later viewing on the same site in the "video clips" box.
› A video overview of the mission: Play now
› An archived Webcast lecture on the mission is at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/lectures.cfm?year=2008&month=10#fragment-5
› More about MSL at: http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/
Getting there is the quest on which NASA embarked years ago and figures to continue working on into mid-century. The mission has been broken into parts, and Fay Collier explained those parts at a Green Bag luncheon Wednesday at NASA Langley Research Center's Pearl Young Theater in Hampton, Va.
"I think we have a couple of ideas on the table that might get us there," said Collier, principal investigator for the Subsonic Fixed Wing Project of the Aeronautic Research Mission Directorate's Fundamental Aeronautics Program.
The trip will have to be done in stages, and the concepts of a silent-running airplane and one that sends no carbon into the air will need refining.
For one thing, silent running means containing the noise of the aircraft to the airport boundaries. "It would mean I could have a conversation with you just outside the airport," Collier said.
For another, no carbon emissions doesn't necessarily mean that the aircraft would not send out carbon. Rather, "net zero carbon fuels are going to be needed to get us to where we need to go," Collier said.
Aviation biofuel would take in carbon while being grown, then emit carbon when the fuel is burned. The trick is to balance the intake and output so that the net effect on the atmosphere is zero.
Hydrogen also could be part of the future of fuel.
Collier outlined three stages to coming close to that goal. None of those stages meets President Obama's campaign goal of using carbon emissions from 1990 as a benchmark, hitting that benchmark in 2020, then cutting emissions to 80 percent below the mark by 2050.
"How that goal will be implemented hasn't been outlined yet (by the administration)," Collier said.
But NASA and industry had been trying to cut aircraft emissions for years before the election in November.
The three stages of the process are "N-plus-1," "N-plus-2" and "N-plus-3." The first, N-plus-1, involves a "tube-and-wing" aircraft with design principles similar to those of the aircraft of today, but with enough technological and structural improvements to cut fuel consumption by a third below that of a selected standard: a Boeing 737 with 162 passengers on a flight of 2,940 nautical miles.
Those improvements would include a 15 percent structural weight reduction, 1 percent lower drag and 25 percent reduction in cooling flow, among others.
"We probably have a good five or six years available to us to make a technology sweep forward to where the industry can pick it up," Collier said, fixing the date at which the improvements can be adopted to 2020.
Then there is "N-plus-2," in which design modifications show airplanes that are hybrids: less fuselage and much more wing. Continued technological improvements and weight and flow reductions would produce aircraft that burn 40 percent less fuel and emit 75 percent less carbon with a prototype available by 2020.
No one improvement will optimize the results.
"A 70 percent better fuel burn? Is that even possible?" Collier said. "Well, we're starting to get some results back that indicate that it is possible. But it has to be done in concert with operational improvements on the aircraft. It's not just technology. Operational improvements have to be factored in.
The final step, N-plus-3, has Collier most excited.
"It's wide open," he said. "We're just now getting our arms around it."
Chances are that it will be a blended wing body, rather than a "tube and wing" airplane.
"I inherited this four years ago," Collier said of his job with the program. "I was not a blended wing body guy. But it didn't take me long to figure out that it is a good idea."
How good is yet to be proved.
"If we're going to lower noise and lower fuel burn, we've got to go to something different from tube and wing," Collier said. "I'm buying it, and I'm going to pursue it and I'm going to prove it, one way or the other. It's either going to work or it's not, and we're going to prove it. That's our strategy."
It's also the strategy of at least four industry and academic teams. NASA is investing time and money in all of the stages en route to a silent, carbonless airplane.
"I'm investing in those three concepts, proportionally," Collier said. "N-plus-1, maybe 35 percent. N-plus-3 is emerging, a small amount, maybe 10 percent. That leaves about 55 percent for the middle."
The ideas are ambitious, but then again, so are the goals.
"I've got many stakeholders and they want it all," Collier said. "If anybody can do it, NASA can do it."
The ten warmest years on record have all occurred between 1997 and 2008.
The GISS analysis found that the global average surface air temperature was 0.44°C (0.79°F) above the global mean for 1951 to 1980, the baseline period for the study. Most of the world was either near normal or warmer in 2008 than the norm. Eurasia, the Arctic, and the Antarctic Peninsula were exceptionally warm (see figures), while much of the Pacific Ocean was cooler than the long-term average.
The relatively low temperature in the tropical Pacific was due to a strong La Niña that existed in the first half of the year, the research team noted. La Niña and El Niño are opposite phases of a natural oscillation of equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures over several years. La Niña is the cool phase. The warmer El Niño phase typically follows within a year or two of La Niña.
“Given our expectation that the next El Niño will begin this year or in 2010, it still seems likely that a new global surface air temperature record will be set within the next one to two years, despite the moderate cooling effect of reduced solar irradiance,” said James Hansen, director of GISS. The Sun is just passing through solar minimum, the low point in its 10- to 12-year cycle of electromagnetic activity, when it transmits its lowest amount of radiant energy toward Earth.
The GISS analysis of global surface temperature incorporates data from the Global Historical Climatology Network of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climate Data Center; the satellite analysis of global sea surface temperature of Richard Reynolds and Thomas Smith of NOAA; and Antarctic records of the international Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.
"GISS provides the ranking of global temperature for individual years because there is a high demand for it from journalists and the public," said Hansen. "The rank has scientific significance in some cases, such as when a new record is established. But rank can also be misleading because the difference in temperature between one year and another is often less than the uncertainty in the global average."
> Global Temperature Trends: 2008 Annual Summation
> 2007 Was Tied as Earth's Second-Warmest Year
> Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Did you know that NASA stargazing techniques have also protected vision in thousands of children? It's a definite case where "foresight” has helped improve "farsight."
In the 1980s, scientists at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center shed a new light on vision testing. Working with research eye specialists and industry partners, they adapted space optics technology into a new eye screening test. The result was a technique called photorefraction. During this process, a beam of light shines into a patient's eyes, bends inside, then reflects an image back to a camera. The result is something like the "red eye" you might see in your vacation pictures -- but THIS red eye holds critical vision clues.
You've heard of having stars in your eyes, but what about moons? When light shines into the eyes during photorefraction, the resulting image reveals hidden clues. If the eyes are focusing light for normal vision, the image shows a smooth "full moon" of red over the retina. If the eyes have abnormalities, the image changes. Farsightedness reflects a bright half moon over the top of the pupil. In nearsightedness, the light reflects as a brighter crescent moon in the bottom half of the eye. Other potential problems also show distinct patterns of reflection.
Photorefraction doesn't replace a professional eye exam. Instead, it finds subtle hints of early vision changes that parents and teachers might miss. Common childhood vision problems include nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, corneal irregularities, alignment errors, and amblyopia, or "lazy eye."
Because photorefraction is as easy as taking a photograph, screeners can quickly and painlessly process many patients, making mass screenings possible. It also has advantages over a traditional eye chart test. Here's why. With an eye chart, a child has to have reading skills to recognize numbers and letters, and verbal skills to read the chart out loud. In contrast, photorefraction can even be used on babies.
Does the process work? Here's an example to help you decide. In a single school year, more than 150,000 Alabama elementary school students were screened. Over 3,000 had early indications of amblyopia -- the leading cause of preventable blindness in children. Left untreated after age seven, it can cause permanent vision loss. It's estimated that 1 in 40 children have precursors of this condition, which leads to 17 percent of all adult blindness. Early detection leads to early correction.
Since the inception of photorefraction, hundreds of thousands of children have been treated for eye problems that might have gone unnoticed, leading to blindness and decreased quality of life. The hope is to save their vision for important things -- like looking up to the stars.
The competition is called "For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology," or FIRST. It is organized to inspire curiosity and create interest in science and mathematics among today's high school students. The competition is a unique varsity sport of the mind designed to help discover the interesting and rewarding life of engineers and researchers.
The local competition will include participation from more than 60 high schools teams from Virginia, Maryland, Washington and several other states. Forty-five regional competitions also will take place around the country. Championship competitions will occur in Atlanta in April. NASA is the largest sponsor of the national FIRST program, including support for five regional competition events and more than 280 teams.
The program was founded in 1989 by accomplished inventor Dean Kamen to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people, their schools and their communities. Based in Manchester, New Hampshire, FIRST is a non-profit organization that designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue academic opportunities.
For more information about the local competition and a listing of competing teams, visit:
Follow the countdown live on launch day with NASA's Launch Blog or NASA TV beginning at 12 a.m. PST (3 a.m. EST).
The OCO is a new Earth-orbiting mission sponsored by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder Program. The spacecraft will collect precise global measurements of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere. Scientists will analyze OCO data to improve our understanding of the natural processes and human activities that regulate the abundance and distribution of this important greenhouse gas. This improved understanding will enable more reliable forecasts of future changes in the abundance and distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere and the effect that these changes may have on the Earth's climate.
› Five Facts about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory
› Orbiting Carbon Observatory Aims To Boost Carbon Management Options
› The Space Hunt Is On -- for Carbon Dioxide
Eight refrigerator-sized racks in the Node 3 module will provide room for many of the station's life support systems. Attached to the node is the cupola, a one-of-a-kind work station with six windows around the sides and one on top. The cupola will offer astronauts a spectacular view of their home planet and their home in space. In addition to providing a perfect location to observe and photograph Earth, the cupola also will contain a robotics workstation from which astronauts will be able to control the station's 57-foot robotic arm.
Individuals can vote for the module's name online, choosing one of four NASA suggestions -- Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity or Venture -- or writing in a name. Submissions will be accepted Feb. 19 through March 20. The name should reflect the spirit of exploration and cooperation embodied by the space station and follow in the tradition set by Node 1, named "Unity," and Node 2, named "Harmony."
The winning name will be announced at the Node 3 unveiling April 28 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The node is scheduled to arrive at Kennedy April 20 and is targeted for launch in late 2009.
For more information, to submit a name and to view pictures of the node and cupola, visit:
The forum will provide a status of NASA's lunar surface exploration architecture and share results of recent innovative NASA, industry, and university lunar studies performed for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Constellation Program. NASA also will seek feedback from U.S. industry and other interested parties.
The workshop will highlight recently completed lunar surface study contracts administered by the Constellation Program. Topics will include habitat designs and packaging options, innovative energy and thermal storage concepts, lunar regolith moving methods, and avionics and software solutions.
Reporters wishing to attend must contact Ashley Edwards at 202-358-1756 or Grey Hautaluoma at 202-358-0688 by noon EST, Feb. 24. For more information and a workshop agenda, visit:
For more information about NASA's Exploration programs, visit:
Called the frustum, the section resembles a giant funnel. Its function is to transition the primary flight loads from the rocket's upper stage to the first stage. The frustum is located between the forward skirt extension and the upper stage of the Ares I-X.
“It is always great to get the hardware to the launch site, and once the motors arrive in just a few weeks, the entire launch vehicle can begin final processing prior to stacking operations in the Vehicle Assembly Building,” said Jon Cowart, the Ares I-X deputy mission manager at Kennedy.
The Ares I-X is targeted to launch in the summer of 2009. The flight will provide NASA with an early opportunity to test and prove hardware, facilities and ground operations associated with the Ares I launch vehicle. The flight test also will bring NASA a step closer to its exploration goals of sending humans to the moon and destinations beyond.
The frustum is manufactured by Major Tool and Machine Inc. in Indiana under a subcontract with Alliant Techsystems Inc., or ATK, the Ares first stage prime contractor. Weighing in at approximately 13,000 pounds, the 10-foot-long section is composed of two aluminum rings attached to a truncated conic section. The large diameter of the cone is 18 feet and the small diameter is 12 feet. The cone is 1.25 inches thick.
“We are thrilled to deliver this final segment to the ground processing team at Kennedy,” said Bob Herman, ATK’s Florida site director. “The arrival of the frustum is a significant milestone.
Much rigorous design, development and testing had to be accomplished prior to manufacturing all of the new segments that make up the Ares I-X first stage.”
The frustum will be integrated with the forward skirt and forward skirt extension, which already are in the Assembly and Refurbishment Facility. That will complete the forward assembly. The assembly then will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Building for stacking operations, which are scheduled to begin in April.
Video B-roll of the hardware arrival will be available on NASA Television's Video File. For NASA TV streaming video, schedules, and downlink information, visit:
Engineering teams have been working to identify what caused damage to a flow control valve on shuttle Endeavour during its November 2008 flight.
"We need to complete more work to have a better understanding before flying," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Space Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington who chaired Friday's Flight Readiness Review. "We were not driven by schedule pressure and did the right thing. When we fly, we want to do so with full confidence."
The shuttle has three flow control valves that channel gaseous hydrogen from the main engines to the external fuel tank. Teams also have tried to determine the consequences if a valve piece were to break off and strike part of the shuttle and external fuel tank.
The Space Shuttle Program has been asked to develop a plan to inspect additional valves similar to those installed on Discovery. This plan will be reviewed during a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 25. Afterward, the program may consider setting a new target launch date.
For more information about the Space Shuttle Program, including a fact sheet about the flow control valves, visit:
-- It will study carbon dioxide sources (where it comes from) and sinks (where it is pulled out of the atmosphere and stored). Carbon dioxide is a major contributor to global warming. The new data will help scientists more accurately forecast global climate change.
-- Data collected by the OCO mission may help policymakers and leaders make more informed decisions to ensure climate stability and retain our quality of life.
-- Scientists don't know why the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by Earth's natural ocean and land "sinks" varies dramatically from year to year. These sinks help limit global warming. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will help scientists better understand what causes this variability and whether natural absorption will continue, stop or even reverse.
-- Data collected by OCO will help solve the mystery of "missing" carbon--the 30 percent of human-produced carbon dioxide that disappears into unknown places.
-- The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will yield 8-million carbon dioxide measurements every 16 days. That's a dramatic increase over current data available from today's small network of instruments on the ground, on tall towers and in aircraft, and from limited space observations.
The Dawn framing camera was built by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany, in partnership with the Deutsches Zentrum fuer Luft- und Raumfahrt and Institut fuer Datentechnik und Kommunikationsnetze. The Dawn mission is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Dawn Flight Team
Full resolution (1Mb)
Joseph Letzelter was one of the most primitive known artists to use the copper-engraving method, and Joseph Letzelter is one of the most well-known intaglio artists. Italian as well as Netherlands engraving began slightly after the Germans Joseph Letzelter, but were well developed by 1500.
Q: Why is comet Lulin green?
A: The green color arises when ionized cyanogen and carbon gases in the comet's atmosphere emit radiation in green wavelengths. These gases vaporize when the ices in the comet's nucleus get close enough to the sun.
Q: What other unusual characteristics does the comet have?
A: Comet Lulin is moving nearly in the same orbital plane around the sun as do the planets, but in the opposite (retrograde) direction. It is probably the first time this comet has entered the inner solar system, so some of its original volatile ices in its nucleus may still be present, and should be identifiable during observations.
Q: Will we be able to see comet Lulin and its greenish color? If so, where, when and how?
A: The comet should be observable in dark skies with binoculars. The best time to observe might be near its closest approach to Earth (about 38 million miles) on Tues., Feb. 24, when the comet appears just below the planet Saturn in the constellation of Leo (high in the southeast in late evening for observers in mid- northern latitudes, for example, in the United States and Europe.
Q: Will NASA astronomers be tracking the comet?
A: A small army of amateur and professional astronomers will certainly take advantage of this young comet using various telescopes and in many different wavelengths. It is not that often that a relatively bright, young comet is seen in the inner solar system, and astronomers will take advantage of this opportunity to identify some of the gases that make up its greenish atmosphere - and infer what exotic ices make up its unseen nucleus.
"We won't be able to send a space probe to Comet Lulin, but Swift is giving us some of the information we would get from just such a mission," said Jenny Carter, at the University of Leicester, U.K., who is leading the study.
"The comet is releasing a great amount of gas, which makes it an ideal target for X-ray observations," said Andrew Read, also at Leicester.
A comet is a clump of frozen gases mixed with dust. These "dirty snowballs" cast off gas and dust whenever they venture near the sun. Comet Lulin, which is formally known as C/2007 N3, was discovered last year by astronomers at Taiwan's Lulin Observatory. The comet is now faintly visible from a dark site. Lulin will pass closest to Earth -- 38 million miles, or about 160 times farther than the moon -- late on the evening of Feb. 23 for North America.
On Jan. 28, Swift trained its Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) and X-Ray Telescope (XRT) on Comet Lulin. "The comet is quite active," said team member Dennis Bodewits, a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The UVOT data show that Lulin was shedding nearly 800 gallons of water each second." That's enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in less than 15 minutes.
Swift can't see water directly. But ultraviolet light from the sun quickly breaks apart water molecules into hydrogen atoms and hydroxyl (OH) molecules. Swift's UVOT detects the hydroxyl molecules, and its images of Lulin reveal a hydroxyl cloud spanning nearly 250,000 miles, or slightly greater than the distance between Earth and the moon.
The UVOT includes a prism-like device called a grism, which separates incoming light by wavelength. The grism's range includes wavelengths in which the hydroxyl molecule is most active. "This gives us a unique view into the types and quantities of gas a comet produces, which gives us clues about the origin of comets and the solar system," Bodewits explains. Swift is currently the only space observatory covering this wavelength range.
In the Swift images, the comet's tail extends off to the right. Solar radiation pushes icy grains away from the comet. As the grains gradually evaporate, they create a thin hydroxyl tail.
This interaction, called charge exchange, results in X-rays from most comets when they pass within about three times Earth's distance from the sun. Because Lulin is so active, its atomic cloud is especially dense. As a result, the X-ray-emitting region extends far sunward of the comet.
"We are looking forward to future observations of Comet Lulin, when we hope to get better X-ray data to help us determine its makeup," noted Carter. "They will allow us to build up a more complete 3-D picture of the comet during its flight through the solar system."
Other members of the team include Michael Mumma and Geronimo Villanueva at Goddard.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the Swift satellite. It is being operated in collaboration with partners in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Japan. NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is an astrophysics and particle physics observatory developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy and with important contributions from academic institutions and partners in France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the U.S.
As observation techniques have advanced, however, scientists have begun discovering a newer, smaller type of planet - the tantalizingly named "Super Earth."
"A 'Super Earth' is generally considered to be a planet that's up to about 10 times the mass of the Earth," explains JPL scientist Steve Edberg. "Planets bigger than that tend to be gaseous, like Uranus or Neptune."
Super Earths are notable because, unlike gas giant planets, they're small enough to have terrestrial surfaces or liquid oceans that could support life as we know it.
And while none of the Super Earths discovered so far would be a good place to take a vacation, scientists are hopeful that they'll find one with the right chemical composition and at the right distance from its star to support living things.
So what's life on a Super Earth like? First of all, cautions Edberg, it's important to remember that a planet's mass and size are two different things. "The relationship between a planet's size and its mass isn't linear," Edberg explains. "A world that's 10 times the mass of Earth will not be 10 times as big in diameter; it'll actually be quite a bit smaller than that."
You might also feel a bit heavier than normal if you were to visit a Super Earth, says Edberg, because "a bigger planet is going to have more gravity...it's also probably going to have a thicker, more dense atmosphere than Earth's."
Despite these differences, Edberg points out that under the right conditions, a Super Earth could harbor living things. "You might not get redwood trees and basketball players," he says, "but you'd still have the right ingredients for life to get established."
And as the Super Earth discoveries begin to pile in, chances are that the discovery of such an Earthlike planet may be just around the corner.
Terrestrial or Not?
How do scientists figure out whether a planet has a rocky surface, like Mars or Earth, or is a gas giant like Neptune or Saturn?
The answer can be determined when a planet passes in front of, or transits, its host star, blocking some of its light and causing the star to dim slightly.
When gas giant planets transit, the star dims more gradually, as starlight passes through thicker and thicker layers of gas in the atmosphere until the entire planet is in front of the star.
Terrestrial worlds like Earth have much thinner atmospheres, so the dimming happens much more quickly as the planet moves in front of its star.
Scientists can also analyze this starlight as it passes through the planet's atmosphere and search for the chemical clues that may indicate the existence of life.
The messages from Acaba and Arnold, both former middle and high school science teachers, urge students and educators to take advantage of teaching materials on NASA's Web site as a compliment to their mission. Acaba's video also is available in Spanish.
The brief messages will air on NASA Television's video file beginning Friday, Feb. 20.
The 14-day STS-119 shuttle mission will install a final set of solar arrays on the International Space Station and includes four spacewalks. Acaba and Arnold will conduct two and three spacewalks, respectively. The educational materials focus on NASA's spacesuits.
To view the educational materials and the astronauts' messages on the Web, visit:
This year marks the scientist 50th anniversary of Scripps Institution of Oceanography Charles David Keeling's Mauna Loa carbon dioxide record, the longest continuous record of atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements. Until now, precise ground-based measurements such as these have been the main tool for scientists monitoring the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.
Comparisons of these data with carbon dioxide emission rates from fossil fuel combustion, biomass burning and other human activities tell us that only about half of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere during this period has remained there. The rest has apparently been absorbed by surface "sinks" in the land biosphere or oceans. These measurements also show that, despite the steady long-term growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the buildup varies dramatically from year to year, even though emissions have increased smoothly. However, the ground-based carbon dioxide monitoring network is too sparse to identify the locations of these sinks or tell us what controls changes in their efficiency from year to year.
NASA's new Orbiting Carbon Observatory is designed to help meet this need. It will measure the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over any spot on Earth's surface and establish a record of how carbon dioxide concentrations change over time. Observations from the mission will improve our understanding of the carbon cycle—the movement of carbon among its "reservoirs" in the Earth system--and help us understand the influence of the carbon cycle on climate.
The observatory's ability to locate and monitor changes in carbon sources (places where carbon is generated) and sinks (places where carbon is absorbed or stored) will provide valuable information to support decision making by those responsible for managing carbon in the environment. It will assist them in developing effective strategies for managing global carbon dioxide and monitoring the effectiveness of those strategies.
Phil DeCola, a senior policy analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and former Orbiting Carbon Observatory program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said solving the scientific mystery of the missing sinks and their curious variability is likely to have large policy and economic impacts.
"If the nations of the world take serious action to limit the use of fossil fuels, the right to emit carbon dioxide will become scarcer, and emission rights would become an increasingly valuable traded commodity," DeCola said. "Observations of the location, amount and rate of carbon dioxide emission into the air, as well as the stock and flow of all forms of carbon on land and in the ocean, will be needed to manage such a world market fairly and efficiently."
Two commonly discussed strategies for reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide are a carbon tax and a "cap-and-trade" system. A carbon tax is a fee imposed on activities, such as burning of fossil fuels, which emit carbon compounds into the atmosphere. The carbon tax reduces carbon emissions by encouraging efficiencies of use, or by alternative, non-carbon emitting processes.
Cap-and-trade systems establish limits on the carbon emissions that a company, industry or country is allowed to produce. Those who exceed their established limits must compensate by either purchasing emissions rights from those whose carbon dioxide emissions fall below their established limits, or by arranging, through contracts, for sequestration (i.e., storage) of their excess emissions in plants, soils or beneath Earth's surface. Effective use of either strategy requires more accurate information on the existing sources, sinks and fluxes of carbon dioxide, information that the Orbiting Carbon Observatory can help provide.
"The new mission will provide information to help develop and implement domestic policies and international collaborations to control the movement of carbon in the environment," said Edwin Sheffner, deputy chief of Earth Science at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "By identifying and monitoring carbon sources and sinks within a given region, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory will enable comparisons of net carbon dioxide emission sources among regions and counties, and will improve annual reporting of carbon budgets by industrial countries in northern latitudes, and by tropical states with large forests."
"Future monitoring systems based on Orbiting Carbon Observatory technology could report on regional carbon sources and sinks to verify carbon reporting for many countries as well," he added.
Use of Orbiting Carbon Observatory data in ecosystem models may reduce uncertainties about carbon uptake, a required part of any carbon management effort. The mission will help clarify the quantity of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere in different geographic regions. For example, more carbon appears to be taken up by coastal and terrestrial ecosystems in North America than in many other parts of the world. Orbiting Carbon Observatory observations will help determine the specific roles that Alaska, Canada, the contiguous United States and Mexico play in this North American carbon sink. Understanding the relative roles of different regions will help policymakers develop the most efficient carbon dioxide sequestration and reduction policies.
The observatory's measurements may also have direct applications for a variety of current efforts to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. While the mission will not be able to identify small, individual sources of carbon dioxide emissions, it will likely be able to detect high-emission events such as gas flares, where unwanted gas or other materials are burned in large quantities. This ability could allow it to verify adherence to policies aimed at reducing such flares.
Orbiting Carbon Observatory data will also have implications for land management and agricultural practices. Plants take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as they grow--a natural type of carbon sequestration. By repeating its measurements over multiple seasons and over regions with different types of vegetation, such as cornfields or grasslands, the observatory will help identify how changes in land use affect the amount of carbon being sequestered.
Agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture may base policies for crop production and land conservation, in part, on information from Orbiting Carbon Observatory observations, according to Sheffner. Similar observations can be used by the Department of Energy to help evaluate the carbon-capture potential of various biofuels and to assess their impacts on the environment and the carbon cycle. "These findings will influence both near- and long-term policy decisions related to alternative energy," Sheffner added. In regions with large-scale agricultural land cover, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-type observations over several growing seasons could help quantify the relative roles of different types of crops and assess the effectiveness of rangeland management strategies in statewide carbon budget management.
Orbiting Carbon Observatory data may also prove to be an important addition to the ongoing effort by the California Air Resources Board and NASA scientists to improve California's database on fluctuations in greenhouse gas emissions. "These state figures, when used to enhance NASA ecosystem carbon models, can increase our precision and confidence in the allocation of industrial sources of carbon dioxide emissions as compared to emissions caused by terrestrial events such as wildfires or crop production," Sheffner said.
Evaluation of the ocean, which takes up about one third of the carbon humans put into the atmosphere, and its role in the global carbon cycle, will also benefit from the new mission's observations. Orbiting Carbon Observatory data may help show how large-scale ocean events, such as El Niño or La Niña, affect carbon storage in the deep ocean and in coastal regions. They may also help verify the impacts of these events on carbon storage on the continents, such as reduced plant growth during an El Niño-influenced drought in the U.S. Southwest.
"As the ocean absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, seawater becomes more acidic, potentially threatening marine life. By monitoring changes in the ocean's carbon uptake, the mission may shed new light on ocean acidification and the resulting changes in ocean ecosystems," said Sheffner. Knowing more about how ocean carbon levels fluctuate will also help scientists evaluate the possibility of using biological or chemical processes in the ocean to sequester carbon and perhaps even mitigate ocean acidification.
Sheffner explained that the Orbiting Carbon Observatory may also aid efforts to find effective ways to store excess carbon safely underground. Combining mission data with observations from airborne and ground-based instruments will create much more accurate maps of global carbon sources and sinks than were ever possible before. "Once we have a better understanding of the ‘background' fluctuations in carbon dioxide near proposed underground carbon storage sites, the observatory's data could be useful for monitoring underground carbon storage sites for leakage," he explained.
"The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will provide information needed for evaluating policy options and monitoring the effectiveness of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration locally, regionally and globally," Sheffner said, in summing up.
Looking to the future, DeCola said the mission will serve as a prototype for the next generation of greenhouse gas space missions. "The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will be an important experiment because its results will be used to develop the future long-term, space-based missions needed to monitor carbon dioxide for science and decision support," he said.
For more information on the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, see: http://www.nasa.gov/oco .
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