Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NASA Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

Earth - South America
This color image of the Earth was obtained by Galileo at about 6:10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Dec. 11, 1990, when the spacecraft was about 1.3 million miles from the planet during the first of two Earth flybys on its way to Jupiter. › Full image and caption
NASA centers across the nation, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., invite journalists and the public to see and hear about the agency's contributions to exploring and protecting our home planet during this year's Earth Day celebrations. A highlight of this year's activities is a weeklong series of exhibits and talks on the National Mall in Washington.

Begun in 1970, Earth Day is the annual celebration of the environment and a time to assess work still needed to protect the natural resources of our planet. NASA maintains the world's largest contingent of dedicated Earth scientists and engineers in leading and assisting other agencies in preserving the planet's environment.

For a comprehensive listing of NASA's Earth Day activities, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/earthday.

All times are local. NASA center events include:

NASA Headquarters, Washington
Sat., April 17 through Sun., April 25 (11 a.m.-5 p.m. EDT) -- NASA is participating in the Earth Day Celebration on the National Mall organized by the Earth Day Network. The NASA Village, adjacent to the Smithsonian Metro entrance on the Mall, will feature exhibits, presentations and opportunities to meet NASA Earth scientists throughout the week.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Thurs., April 22 (10-11 a.m. PDT) -- A live, text-based Earth Day Web chat geared toward students in third through eighth grades will feature Mike Gunson, project scientist for NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission, who will answer questions about how NASA is studying Earth's climate.

Sat. and Sun., April 24-25 (9 a.m.-5 p.m. PDT) -- JPL will join the Earth Day celebration at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif. The event will include exhibits and handouts on NASA's Earth science research.

Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Mon., April 19 (1-8 p.m. PDT) -- Reporters and the public are invited to a Green Earth Forum at the Ames Exploration Center to listen to NASA scientists discuss their research and applications projects.

Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
Wed., April 28 (10 a.m.-2 p.m. PDT) -- Highlights include exhibits and displays from a variety of environmental agencies, public utilities, conservation groups and businesses, and an opportunity to recycle personal electronics.

Glenn Research Center, Cleveland
Sun., April 18 (10 a.m.-5 p.m. EDT) -- Displays at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will focus on the use of space and aeronautics technology for sustainable energy on Earth, including the NASA-led Renewable Hydrogen Today project to construct a hydrogen fueling station at the Great Lakes Science Center.

Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Mon., April 19 (1-2 p.m. EDT) -- Goddard's Digital Learning Network will broadcast a performance of "Bella Gaia" (Beautiful Earth), a multimedia journey across our planet that combines views of Earth from space, scientific visualization and an original score from director and composer Kenji Williams. NASA scientist Christopher Shuman also provides a first-hand look at the changing face of Antarctica. The performance will be broadcast and streamed live on NASA TV's Education channel at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.

Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Thurs., April 22 (4-5 p.m. EDT) -- NASA scientist Thomas Charlock will discuss global climate change with teachers during a live webcast on the Digital Learning Network at: http://dln.nasa.gov/dln.

Sat., April 24 (10 a.m.-3 p.m. EDT) -- Exhibits and speakers will be at the Virginia Zoo's "Party for the Planet: Earth Day at the Zoo" in Norfolk, Va.

Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Thurs., April 22 (10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. CDT) -- Activities on the theme "reducing our carbon footprint" include a talk about energy by an expert from the Tennessee Valley Authority, a tree-planting ceremony and an environmental vendor exposition.

Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Tues., April 27 (8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. CDT) -- An environmental workshop for elementary school teachers, "Helping Our Planet Earth: It's Up to You and Me," includes classroom activities about animal habitats, "green" tips, recycling and other topics.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Lunar Polar Craters May Be Electrified

New research from NASA's Lunar Science Institute indicates that the  solar wind may be charging certain regions at the lunar poles to  hundreds of voltsAs the solar wind flows over natural obstructions on the moon, it may charge polar lunar craters to hundreds of volts, according to new calculations by NASA’s Lunar Science Institute team.

Polar lunar craters are of interest because of resources, including water ice, which exist there. The moon’s orientation to the sun keeps the bottoms of polar craters in permanent shadow, allowing temperatures there to plunge below minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit, cold enough to store volatile material like water for billions of years. "However, our research suggests that, in addition to the wicked cold, explorers and robots at the bottoms of polar lunar craters may have to contend with a complex electrical environment as well, which can affect surface chemistry, static discharge, and dust cling," said William Farrell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Farrell is lead author of a paper on this research published March 24 in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The research is part of the Lunar Science Institute’s Dynamic Response of the Environment at the moon (DREAM) project.

"This important work by Dr. Farrell and his team is further evidence that our view on the moon has changed dramatically in recent years," said Gregory Schmidt, deputy director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "It has a dynamic and fascinating environment that we are only beginning to understand."

Solar wind inflow into craters can erode the surface, which affects recently discovered water molecules. Static discharge could short out sensitive equipment, while the sticky and extremely abrasive lunar dust could wear out spacesuits and may be hazardous if tracked inside spacecraft and inhaled over long periods.

The solar wind is a thin gas of electrically charged components of atoms -- negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions -- that is constantly blowing from the surface of the sun into space. Since the moon is only slightly tilted compared to the sun, the solar wind flows almost horizontally over the lunar surface at the poles and along the region where day transitions to night, called the terminator.

The researchers created computer simulations to discover what happens when the solar wind flows over the rims of polar craters. They discovered that in some ways, the solar wind behaves like wind on Earth -- flowing into deep polar valleys and crater floors. Unlike wind on Earth, the dual electron-ion composition of the solar wind may create an unusual electric charge on the side of the mountain or crater wall; that is, on the inside of the rim directly below the solar wind flow.

Since electrons are over 1,000 times lighter than ions, the lighter electrons in the solar wind rush into a lunar crater or valley ahead of the heavy ions, creating a negatively charged region inside the crater. The ions eventually catch up, but rain into the crater at consistently lower concentrations than that of the electrons. This imbalance in the crater makes the inside walls and floor acquire a negative electric charge. The calculations reveal that the electron/ion separation effect is most extreme on a crater's leeward edge – along the inside crater wall and at the crater floor nearest the solar wind flow. Along this inner edge, the heavy ions have the greatest difficulty getting to the surface. Compared to the electrons, they act like a tractor-trailer struggling to follow a motorcycle; they just can’t make as sharp a turn over the mountain top as the electrons. "The electrons build up an electron cloud on this leeward edge of the crater wall and floor, which can create an unusually large negative charge of a few hundred Volts relative to the dense solar wind flowing over the top," says Farrell.

The negative charge along this leeward edge won’t build up indefinitely. Eventually, the attraction between the negatively charged region and positive ions in the solar wind will cause some other unusual electric current to flow. The team believes one possible source for this current could be negatively charged dust that is repelled by the negatively charged surface, gets levitated and flows away from this highly charged region. "The Apollo astronauts in the orbiting Command Module saw faint rays on the lunar horizon during sunrise that might have been scattered light from electrically lofted dust," said Farrell. "Additionally, the Apollo 17 mission landed at a site similar to a crater environment – the Taurus-Littrow valley. The Lunar Ejecta and Meteorite Experiment left by the Apollo 17 astronauts detected impacts from dust at terminator crossings where the solar wind is nearly-horizontal flowing, similar to the situation over polar craters."

Next steps for the team include more complex computer models. "We want to develop a fully three-dimensional model to examine the effects of solar wind expansion around the edges of a mountain. We now examine the vertical expansion, but we want to also know what happens horizontally," said Farrell. As early as 2012, NASA will launch the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission that will orbit the moon and could look for the dust flows predicted by the team’s research.

This work was enabled by support from NASA Goddard’s Internal Research and Development program and NASA’s Lunar Science Institute. The team includes researchers from NASA Goddard, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Related Link:

› NASA's LADEE mission

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Friday, April 23, 2010

JPL Instrument Sees Disruptive Iceland Volcanic Cloud

Infrared AIRS image of Iceland volanic ash plume

Infrared AIRS image of Iceland volanic ash plume, shown in blue. › Full image and caption
For the second time this month, Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano (pronounced "Aya-fyatla-jo-kutl") erupted. The latest eruption, on Wed., April 14, spewed a cloud of ash into the atmosphere and is disrupting air travel in Northern Europe and around the world.
The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua satellite flew over the volcano at 1:30 p.m. local time (13:29:24 UTC, or 6:29:24 a.m. PDT) on April 15, capturing this false-color infrared image, as well as a visible image of the ash plume. The images show the ash cloud (in blue) enveloping Iceland and moving eastward over the Shetland Islands and onward to Europe. The ash clouds appear to be at an altitude of 3,658 meters (12,000 feet).
NASA works with other agencies on using satellite observations to aid in the detection and monitoring of aviation hazards caused by volcanic ash. More information on this NASA program is at: http://science.larc.nasa.gov/asap/research-ash.html . The ingestion of ash particles from such clouds can result in engine failure for aircraft.
Because infrared radiation does not penetrate through clouds, AIRS infrared images show either the temperature of the cloud tops or the surface of Earth in cloud-free regions. The lowest temperatures (in purple) are associated with high, cold cloud tops. In cloud-free areas the AIRS instrument will receive the infrared radiation from the surface of the Earth, resulting in the warmest temperatures (orange/red).

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

NASA Conducts Successful Parachute Development Test

The jumbo dart used as part of the Ares I parachute test is loaded  into the back of a U.S. Air Force C-17On April 14, NASA conducted a drogue parachute drop test at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Ground near Yuma, Ariz. The 68-foot-diameter drogue and all test hardware functioned properly and landed safely.

The design load limit test will provide engineers with a better understanding of the full structural capabilities of the drogue parachute, currently under development to return next-generation space vehicles safely to Earth.

This was the second in a series of three planned load limit tests designed to place the loads expected in flight on the parachute canopy. The next test series, called overload tests, will subject the parachute canopy to loads greater than what would typically be experienced in flight, to prove the parachute is strong enough to survive some degree of unexpected events.

Future full resolution images of the drogue parachute test will be made publicly available when they are fully processed:


When video from the test becomes available, it will air on NASA Television's Video File. For NASA TV downlink, schedule and streaming video information, visit:


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cassini Finishes Saturnian Doubleheader

Saturn's moon Dione
This image was taken on April 7, 2010 by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The camera was pointing at Saturn. But, by appropriate orientation of the spacecraft, the cameras were able to capture Dione in the sights. › Image and caption
NASA's Cassini spacecraft completed its double flyby this week, swinging by Saturn's moons Titan and Dione with no maneuver in between. The spacecraft has beamed back stunning raw images of fractured terrain and craters big and small on Dione, a moon that had only been visited once before by Cassini.
The Titan flyby took place April 5, and the Dione flyby took place April 7 in the UTC time zone, and April 6 Pacific time. During the Titan flyby, an unexpected autonomous reset occurred and Cassini obtained fewer images of Titan than expected. But the cameras were reset before reaching Dione, which was the primary target on this double flyby.
Scientists are poring over data from Dione to discern whether the moon could be a source of charged particles to the environment around Saturn and material to one of its rings. They are also trying to understand the history of dark material found on Dione.
A fortuitous alignment of these moons allowed Cassini to attempt this doubleheader. Cassini had made three previous double flybys and another two are planned in the years ahead. The mission is nearing the end of its first extension, known as the Equinox Mission. It will begin its second mission extension, known as the Solstice Mission, in October 2010.
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.
More information about the Titan flyby, dubbed "T67," is available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/flybys/titan20100405/.
More information about the Dione flyby, dubbed "D2," is available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/flybys/dione20100407/.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Space Telescope Moves on with One Detector

Artist's concept of Galaxy Evolution ExplorerMission engineers and scientists with NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer, a space telescope that has been beaming back pictures of galaxies for three times its design lifespan, are no longer planning science observations around one of its two ultraviolet detectors.
"The remaining, near-ultraviolet detector is still busy probing galaxies both nearby and distant," said Kerry Erickson, the mission's project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "We've got lots of science data coming down from space."
The Galaxy Evolution Explorer rocketed into space from a jet aircraft in 2003. For four years of its primary mission, it mapped tens of millions of galaxies across the sky in ultraviolet light, some as far back as 10 billion years in cosmic time. Its extended mission began in 2008, allowing it to probe deeper into more parts of the sky, and pluck out more galaxies.
Last May, the spacecraft's far-ultraviolet detector experienced an over-current condition, or essentially "shorted out," via a process called electron field emission. This detector sees higher-energy ultraviolet light, and thus hotter and younger stars within galaxies, than the telescope's other, near-ultraviolet detector. (The far-ultraviolet detector sees light with wavelengths between 135 and 180 nanometers, while the near-ultraviolet detector sees wavelengths between 180 and 280 nanometers.)
The far-ultraviolet detector has contributed significantly to the Galaxy Evolution Explorer's quest to understand how galaxies, including those like our own spiral Milky Way galaxy, blossom into maturity. It specializes in studies of star formation in nearby and distant galaxies. Perhaps the most significant discovery in this area is the identification of a transitional phase of galaxies, the teenagers of the galactic world. Astronomers long knew of young galaxies churning out stars, in addition to older, or dead, galaxies. But they did not know for certain whether the young ones mature into the older ones until the Galaxy Evolution Explorer found the missing links - the transitional galaxies (see http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/galex/galex-20071114r.html).
In addition, one of the far-ultraviolet detector's most stunning finds is the humungous comet-like tail behind a speeding star called Mira. (See picture and article at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/galex/galex-20070815.html).
While the discovery of Mira's tail required the now-offline detector, almost all of the mission's targets could be seen by both detectors. Astronomers used the detectors' observations at different wavelengths to get an idea of a star or galaxy's temperature, age and mass. Much of this research can now be done by comparing near-ultraviolet data from the Galaxy Evolution Explorer with catalogued visible-light data from other telescopes. In addition, the wealth of far-ultraviolet observations to date will continue to be mined for decades to come.
The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena leads the Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission and is responsible for science operations and data analysis. JPL manages the mission and assembled the science instrument. The mission was developed under NASA's Explorers Program managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Researchers sponsored by Yonsei University in South Korea and the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) in France collaborated on this mission. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. 

Graphics and additional information about the Galaxy Evolution Explorer are online at http://www.nasa.gov/galex and http://www.galex.caltech.edu.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

San Diego Team Delivers Camera for Next Mars Rover

Two camera's for MSL (left) and principle investigator Michael   Malin (rght)
The Mastcam instrument for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will use a side-by side pair of cameras for examining terrain around the mission's rover. Right is a sample image from Mastcam 34 of Mastcam Principal Investigator Michael Malin.
Malin Space Science Systems Inc., San Diego, has delivered the two cameras for the Mast Camera instrument that will be the science-imaging workhorse of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, to be launched next year. The instrument, called Mastcam, has been tested and is ready for installation onto the rover, named Curiosity, which is being built at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The two component cameras have different fixed focal lengths: 34 millimeters and 100 millimeters (telephoto) and can provide high-definition color video. NASA is also providing funds for Malin to build an alternative version with zoom lenses on both cameras, in collaboration with movie producer James Cameron, a member of the Mastcam team. If the zoom pair can be completed in time for rover assembly and testing, the fixed-focal-length pair could be swapped out for them. Malin has also delivered the Mars Hand Lens Imager and the Mars Descent Imager for the Mars Science Laboratory.

For more information, see Malin Space Science Systems news release: http://www.msss.com/press_releases/mast_delivery/.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Students Bring Fresh Perspective and New Technology to Webb Telescope

Matthew Bolcar a graduate student from the University of Rochester,  N.Y. now works at Goddard full-timeDeep inside Building 5 at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., graduate students are on the front lines of technology development adjusting lasers and mirrors and spending long hours at a computer terminals. University partnerships are playing key roles in developing new and innovative technologies for NASA missions while creating a pathway for future NASA scientists and engineers.

"Investments in students today help us build what comes after the Webb telescope," said Lee Feinberg, Webb telescope Optical Telescope Element Manager at NASA Goddard. "University professors serve on our advisory boards. It allows us to tap the brightest minds in the country."

Past experience bears out Feinberg's observations.

Six years ago, Matthew Bolcar was a graduate student from the University of Rochester, N.Y. when he started working at NASA Goddard. He has been exploring interesting problems and developing risk-reduction techniques related to aligning segmented mirrors on the Webb telescope.

The Webb telescope primary mirror is composed of 18 segments that will unfold to create a single 6.5-meter (21-foot) mirror system once the observatory reaches orbit and begins operations. To work properly, the mirrors must be perfectly aligned. "If there were a problem, the telescope's operators could adjust the mirrors from the ground to correct for any possible misalignments," said Bruce Dean, group leader of the Wavefront Sensing and Control (WFSC) group at NASA Goddard.

Alex Maldonado is University of Arizona graduate student in  optical engineering working half-time at Goddard as a co-op studentDean's group was charged with developing the software to compute the optimum position of each of the 18 mirrors, and then adjusting and aligning them, if necessary. The work was funded by the Webb telescope technology development program and was patented by Goddard in 2009. Goddard worked together with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in 2005, to develop this flight software for the Webb Space Telescope.

In 2006-2007, a team of engineers from both Goddard and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., successfully tested the WFSC algorithms on a laboratory model of the Webb Telescope, proving they are ready to work in space.

Today, Bolcar is a full-time optical engineer for the Goddard WFSC group. Currently, he is working on the Thermal InfraRed Sensor (TIRS) instrument that will fly on the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), the next in a series of satellites that have remotely sensed Earth’s continental surfaces for more than 30 years. He's also working on an experimental instrument, called the Visible Nulling Coronagraph (VNC) that would be used for exoplanet detection.

The graduate fellowship and co-op programs give NASA time to train students for optical engineering. "It takes four to five years to really train someone in wavefront-sensing technology," Dean added.

University partnerships are a great way to get young engineers and scientists interested in NASA, Bolcar agreed. "When you're a graduate student, wherever the funding is, you are going to develop partnerships and relationships," he added. "There is a potential to go beyond graduate school. It's good for the university and its good for attracting young talent to NASA."

Alex Maldonado, a University of Arizona graduate student in optical engineering, is following in Bolcar's footsteps. He spends half his time working at Goddard as a co-op student and the other half taking classes at the university in Tucson, Ariz. When at Goddard, he researches new techniques for polishing optical lenses to prevent light scattering.

Astronomers need bigger and smoother mirrors that will collect more light to allow scientists to see faint objects farther into the distant universe. A common and effective technique for shaping optical lenses is called diamond-turning, where a diamond tip cuts away the lens material. However, this technique also introduces flaws that can deflect light. Maldonado spends much of his time designing and executing testing procedures to see if new polishing techniques reduce this effect -- efforts that will be applied to the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), a Webb telescope imager.

The University of Arizona is providing the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) to the Webb Space Telescope, an imager with a large field of view and high angular resolution. Prof. Marcia Rieke at the University is the lead for that instrument.

Engineers at Ball Aerospace test the Wavefront Sensing and Control  testbed to ensure that the 18 primary mirror segments and one secondary  mirror on JWST work as oneThe James Webb Space Telescope is the next-generation premier space observatory, exploring deep space phenomena from distant galaxies to nearby planets and stars. The Webb Telescope will give scientists clues about the formation of the universe and the evolution of our own solar system, from the first light after the Big Bang to the formation of star systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth.

"In addition to the students, we work with the professors," according to Dean. Bolcar's graduate professor, James R. Fienup, is a world-renowned expert in optics. "We asked him to help us cover high-risk areas on the Webb telescope," said Dean.

"This is a win-win for the schools and NASA," said Feinberg. "We fund their graduate students, and in return, we get really bright, fresh minds working on NASA's most challenging missions.

Expected to launch in 2014, the telescope is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

For more information about the James Webb Space Telescope, visit:


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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Topography Reflects Baja Quake Site's Complex Geology

Topography surrounding the Laguna Salada Fault
The site of an April 4, 2010, magnitude 7.2 earthquake, the Laguna Salada fault in Baja, California, is clearly shown in this image from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.
The topography surrounding the Laguna Salada fault in the Mexican state of Baja, California, is clearly shown in this combined radar image and topographic view (above) generated with data from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM). On April 4, 2010, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck along this fault about 64 kilometers (40 miles) south of the Mexico-United States border.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the earthquake was the largest to strike this area since 1892. This fault is a probable southern continuation of the Elsinore fault zone in Southern California, and is related to the San Andreas fault zone complex. Aftershocks since the major event have appeared to extend in both directions along this fault system from the epicenter, marked by the red star.
This view combines a radar image acquired in February 2000 during SRTM, and color-coding by topographic height using data from the mission's data. Dark green colors indicate low elevations, rising through lime green, yellow and tan, to white at the highest elevations. The image shows a simulated view toward the southwest, with the topography exaggerated by a factor of two for clarity.
For more information, also see: http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA13016

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NASA Demonstrates Ocean-Powered Underwater Vehicle

NASA, U.S. Navy and university researchers have successfully demonstrated the first robotic underwater vehicle to be powered entirely by natural, renewable, ocean thermal energy.
The Sounding Oceanographic Lagrangrian Observer Thermal RECharging (SOLO-TREC) autonomous underwater vehicle uses a novel thermal recharging engine powered by the natural temperature differences found at different ocean depths. Scalable for use on most robotic oceanographic vehicles, this technology breakthrough could usher in a new generation of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of virtually indefinite ocean monitoring for climate and marine animal studies, exploration and surveillance.
Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, completed the first three months of an ocean endurance test of the prototype vehicle off the coast of Hawaii in March.
"People have long dreamed of a machine that produces more energy than it consumes and runs indefinitely," said Jack Jones, a JPL principal engineer and SOLO-TREC co-principal investigator. "While not a true perpetual motion machine, since we actually consume some environmental energy, the prototype system demonstrated by JPL and its partners can continuously monitor the ocean without a limit on its lifetime imposed by energy supply."
"Most of Earth is covered by ocean, yet we know less about the ocean than we do about the surface of some planets," said Yi Chao, a JPL principal scientist and SOLO-TREC principal investigator. "This technology to harvest energy from the ocean will have huge implications for how we can measure and monitor the ocean and its influence on climate."
SOLO-TREC draws upon the ocean's thermal energy as it alternately encounters warm surface water and colder conditions at depth. Key to its operation are the carefully selected waxy substances known as phase-change materials that are contained in 10 external tubes, which house enough material to allow net power generation. As the float surfaces and encounters warm temperatures, the material melts and expands; when it dives and enters cooler waters, the material solidifies and contracts. The expansion of the wax pressurizes oil stored inside the float. This oil periodically drives a hydraulic motor that generates electricity and recharges the vehicle's batteries. Energy from the rechargeable batteries powers the float's hydraulic system, which changes the float's volume (and hence buoyancy), allowing it to move vertically.
So far, SOLO-TREC has completed more than 300 dives from the ocean surface to a depth of 500 meters (1,640 feet). Its thermal recharging engine produced about 1.7 watt-hours, or 6,100 joules, of energy per dive, enough electricity to operate the vehicle's science instruments, GPS receiver, communications device and buoyancy-control pump.
The SOLO-TREC demonstration culminates five years of research and technology development by JPL and Scripps and is funded by the Office of Naval Research. JPL developed the thermal recharging engine, building on the buoyancy engine developed for the Slocum glider by Teledyne Webb Research, Falmouth, Mass. Scripps redesigned the SOLO profiling float and performed the integration. The 84-kilogram (183-pound) SOLO-TREC prototype was tested and deployed by the JPL/Scripps team on Nov. 30, 2009, about 161 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Honolulu.
The performance of underwater robotic vehicles has traditionally been limited by power considerations. "Energy harvesting from the natural environment opens the door for a tremendous expansion in the use of autonomous systems for naval and civilian applications," said Thomas Swean, the Office of Naval Research program manager for SOLO-TREC. "This is particularly true for systems that spend most of their time submerged below the sea surface, where mechanisms for converting energy are not as readily available. The JPL/Scripps concept is unique in that its stored energy gets renewed naturally as the platform traverses ocean thermal gradients, so, in theory, the system has unlimited range and endurance. This is a very significant advance."
SOLO-TREC is now in an extended mission. The JPL/Scripps team plans to operate SOLO-TREC for many more months, if not years. "The present thermal engine shows the great promise in harvesting ocean thermal energy," said Russ Davis, a Scripps oceanographer. "With further engineering refinement, SOLO-TREC has the potential to augment ocean monitoring currently done by the 3,200 battery-powered Argo floats." The international Argo array, supported in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, measures temperature, salinity and velocity across the world's ocean. NASA and the U.S. Navy also plan to apply this thermal recharging technology to the next generation of submersible vehicles.
To learn more about SOLO-TREC, visit http://solo-trec.jpl.nasa.gov .
For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit: http://www.nasa.gov .

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Colony of Young Stars Shines in New Spitzer Image

A colony of hot, young stars is stirring up the cosmic scene in   this new picture from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope
A colony of hot, young stars is stirring up the cosmic scene in this new picture from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. › Full image and caption
Astronomers have their eyes on a hot group of young stars, watching their every move like the paparazzi. A new infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the bustling star-making colony of the Orion nebula, situated in the hunter's sword of the famous constellation. Like Hollywood starlets, the cosmic orbs don't always shine their brightest, but vary over time. Spitzer is watching the stellar show, helping scientists learn more about why the stars change, and to what degree planet formation might play a role.

"This is an exploratory project. Nobody has done this before at a wavelength sensitive to the heat from dust circling around so many stars," said John Stauffer, the principal investigator of the research at NASA's Spitzer Science Center, located at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "We are seeing a lot of variation, which may be a result of clumps or warped structures in the planet-forming disks."

The new image was taken after Spitzer ran out of its coolant in May 2009, beginning its extended "warm" mission. The coolant was needed to chill the instruments, but the two shortest-wavelength infrared channels still work normally at the new, warmer temperature of 30 Kelvin (minus 406 Fahrenheit). In this new phase of the mission, Spitzer is able to spend more time on projects that cover a lot of sky and require longer observation times.

One such project is the "Young Stellar Object Variability" program, in which Spitzer looks repeatedly at the same patch of the Orion nebula, monitoring the same set of about 1,500 variable stars over time. It has already taken about 80 pictures of the region over 40 days. A second set of observations will be made in fall 2010. The region's twinkling stars are about one million years old - this might invoke thoughts of wrinkle cream to a movie star, but in the cosmos, it is quite young. Our middle-aged sun is 4.6 billion years old.

Young stars are fickle, with brightness levels that change more than those of adult, sun-like stars. They also spin around faster. One reason for the ups and downs in brightness is the existence of cold spots on their surfaces. Cold spots are the opposite of "age spots" - the younger the star, the more it has. The cold spots come and go as a star whips around, changing the amount of light that reaches our telescopes.

Stellar brightness can also change due to hot spots, which are caused by gas accreting onto a young star from the material out of which it formed.

"In the 1950s and 60s, astronomers knew that younger stars varied, and they postulated this had something to do with the birthing process," said Stauffer. "Later, with improved technology, we could see a lot more and learned a great deal about the stars' spots."

Spitzer is particularly suited to study yet another reason why the stars are changing. The telescope's infrared sight can see the warm, dusty disks orbiting around them. These disks are where planets may eventually clump together and form. When the disks are young, they can have asymmetries, possibly caused by forming planets or gravitational disturbances from formed planets. As the skewed disks circle around a star, they block varying amounts of starlight.

By gathering more and more data on these varying disks, Stauffer and his team hope to learn more about how planets develop -- not exactly tabloid fodder, but an ongoing drama of one large, stellar family.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer and http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Houston, We Have an Astronaut

NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, Expedition 24/25 flight engineer,  participates in a training session in an International Space Station  mock-up/trainer in the Space Vehicle Mock-up Facility at NASA's Johnson  Space CenterHouston. It was the first word from the moon, and the city has served as the home of Mission Control and the nation’s human spaceflight program for more than 40 years. But even though Houston has been the home of NASA's astronaut corps for decades, the city has never had a hometown astronaut -- until now.
Shannon Walker, born and raised in Houston, will become the city’s first native to fly in space when she launches to the International Space Station in June. Walker, along with astronaut Doug Wheelock and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, will launch on June 16 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan and will spend six months aboard the orbiting outpost.
Walker’s background is filled with unique events – some by chance and some planned – that led her to become an astronaut. After she graduated from Westbury High School in Houston, Walker attended Rice University. She majored in physics, but wasn’t sure what direction that would take her.
“I was having a hard time getting interest from future employers because of my physics background,” she said. “It seemed all anyone wanted was engineers.”
Walker then happened to meet and interview with a man at NASA, and the subsequent conversation would change Walker’s career path for good. That man was former space shuttle flight director and now senior NASA executive Wayne Hale.
“It was a stroke of luck how it happened,” Walker said. She joined NASA in 1987 as a space shuttle flight controller. She took some time to pursue her doctoral degree in space physics and then returned to NASA in 1993. She worked in both Russia and the United States as the International Space Station came into being, all the while thinking about taking yet another leap. In 2004, Walker applied and was accepted into the astronaut corps.
“When I became an astronaut, I knew I wanted to pursue long-duration flight aboard the station,” She said. “I knew it would be a just a tremendous personal challenge, and I looked forward to it.”
Now that she is approaching her flight, Walker is in the process of completing her final training sessions in both Houston and Star City, Russia. Even though she will leave her hometown behind for six months, she’s going to take a little piece of Houston with her up to the station.
“They’ve given me the key to the city to take with me,” Walker said. She’s also planning on taking up some other personal items as well as some Rice University artifacts. Walker also said she plans on taking up some less tangible things with her – some advice she has received from previous station residents.
“They have all told me to take some time – as busy as it gets – to really enjoy the experience and to take it all in,” she said. “I think that’s probably the best advice I’ve gotten.”

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Opportunity Surpasses 20 Kilometers of Total Driving

Rim  of Bopolu Crater

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity today surpassed 20 kilometers (12.43 miles) of total driving since it landed on Mars 74 months ago.

The drive taking the rover past that total covered 67 meters (220 feet) southward as part of the rover's long-term trek toward Endeavour Crater to the southeast. It was on the 2,191st Martian day, or sol, of the mission and brought Opportunity's total odometry to 20.0433 kilometers. To reach Endeavour, the healthy but aging rover will need to drive about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) farther.

Opportunity's mission on Mars was originally planned to last for three months with a driving-distance goal of 600 meters (less than half a mile).

Since landing, Opportunity has examined a series of craters on the plain of Meridiani, and the journey so far has covered a portion of the plain with negligible tilt. Now, the rover is approaching a portion tilting slightly southward. Recent images toward the southwest show the rim of a crater named Bopolu, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) away.

Meanwhile, Spirit, Opportunity's twin, is continuing minimal operations due to declining solar energy with the approach of winter in Mars' southern hemisphere. Spirit has been communicating on schedule once per week. It is expected to drop to a low-power hibernation mode soon that could prevent communications for weeks at a time during the next several months.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about the Mars rovers, visit http://www.nasa.gov/rovers.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Sheer Delight of Tackling Shear Stress

Tiny but powerful! The sensor compared in size to a Florida state  quarterNASA's commitment to provide aeronautical research opportunities to U.S. universities has led to another success, this time through an inventive student who earned his Ph.D. by creating a tiny sensor that beats anything seen in 20 years.

Vijay Chandrasekharan is a research associate and doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, where he produced a micro-electronic sensor that measures the amount of shear stress created when turbulent air flows over a surface.

The sensor already has proven its usefulness in improving the basic understanding of turbulent flow in gases and liquids, and in characterizing wind tunnels.

When air flows through a wind tunnel, some air molecules stick to the wall of the tunnel while others flow through at the speed of the wind. The difference in speed exerts a drag force on the wall of the tunnel and causes friction in the air. Drag and friction are related to shear stress.

The new sensor can measure a wider range of shear stress than can any sensor of its type before.

Accurate measurements of shear stress are crucial to NASA's and aircraft manufacturers' research into developing more efficient airplanes. Shear stress affects the amount of drag on an aircraft. The more drag there is on an aircraft, the more fuel that aircraft burns.

Vijay ChandrasekharanDesigners can use data from the sensors to design safer and more fuel-efficient aircraft.

There also are potential applications for this sensor in the fields of medical and environmental sciences. In medicine, for example, according to Chandrasekharan, the sensor could measure variations in shear stress along the wall of an artery and help researchers determine the effect those fluctuations have on the development of arteriosclerosis, commonly known as hardening of the arteries.

Chandrasekharan said the shear stress sensor is "one of the most successful efforts on direct shear stress sensors in published literature" and has a real shot at successfully entering the commercial market.

The sensor innovation is the result of a NASA Research Announcement, or NRA, study contract awarded by the Subsonic Fixed Wing Project of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. The directorate awards dozens of contracts for NRA studies to academia each year. This three-year contract with the University of Florida was worth $475,000.

"This collaboration led to an extremely satisfying experience for me as I worked on my dissertation," Chandrasekharan said. "Without NASA’s involvement my Ph.D. could have been strictly an academic pursuit, without subsequent practical, real-world importance."

Experts outside NASA and the aeronautics community already have taken notice of the sensor, its potential, and its inventor. Chandrasekharan recently received one of 13 national postdoctoral entrepreneurial fellowships awarded by the Kauffman Foundation.

The micro-electric sensor flush mounted into a printed circuit  board package"The work done by Vijay and this NRA's principal investigator, Mark Sheplak, is a great example of how NASA can work with a university to overcome fundamental challenges and lead to the improved safety and efficiency of our nation's aircraft," said Project Scientist Richard Wahls.

Chandrasekharan, Sheplak and two associates have filed a provisional patent application for the sensor.

Even as the original effort is lauded, a sequel to the story already is in work. As part of NASA's Graduate Student Researchers Program one student is working to further develop the sensor's electronic interface, while another is working on the wireless version of the sensor and recently performed tests with the sensor in a wind tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

"It's good to see that our initial work has lead to synergistic outcomes at different levels through this NRA and other NASA programs," Chandrasekharan said.

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

GOES Satellite Movie Captures Record-Setting February Blizzards in Washington

During the first two weeks of February 2010, the GOES-12 weather satellite observed a record-setting series of "Nor'easter" snow storms which blanketed the mid-Atlantic coast in two blizzards.
Washington, D.C. normally averages only 16 inches of snow per year, but this year most of the season's snowfall arrived over several days and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite called GOES-12 captured the storms.
NASA's GOES Project created a movie of GOES satellite data from February 1-16, 2010 when two blizzards hit the Baltimore, Md. and Washington areas. The GOES-12 operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) captures images of U.S. East Coast weather continuously. Those images were compiled into a movie by the NASA GOES Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Bruce Jenner, a Golden Retriever not an Olympic medalist, forges  through the snow after the blizzard hit the suburbs of Maryland"It is a pleasure to see the fruits of the hard work and commitment from the NASA and NOAA team," said Andre Dress, GOES N-P NASA Deputy Project Manager, at NASA Goddard. "These images are very impressive and I am excited to think that these were taken with the older satellites. NOAA plans to put into service the newer GOES N-P design, this April. I know we will be seeing better and more exhilarating images this year," Dress said.
During the first two weeks of February, heavy, wet snows semi-paralyzed Washington. Five inches fell on February 3, 24 inches fell on February 6, and 12 inches on February 10. A second storm followed on February 16 that dumped 10 inches on Philadelphia and New York, but spared Washington and Baltimore.
Michael (human), Eddie (terrier mix), and Duncan (Bernese Mountain  dog) from Silver Spring, MD frolic in the deep snow after the Blizzard  of 2010These storms are called "Nor'easters" because the counter-clockwise circulation around a low pressure system on the Atlantic coast pushes moist sea air from the north-east into arctic air over the land. This windy mixture creates a very efficient snow-making machine from Boston to Washington. "The GOES movie illustrates how succeeding storms form along the Gulf coast, travel up the Atlantic coast, pause over the mid-Atlantic states, and finally slide out to sea," said Dennis Chesters of the NASA GOES Project.
This movie was created by overlaying the clouds observed several times per hour by NOAA's GOES Imager onto a true-color map previously derived from NASA's MODIS land-mapping instrument. The infrared channels on GOES detect clouds day and night, which are portrayed as grey for low clouds and white for high clouds. During the day, the visible channel on GOES adds shadow-texture to the clouds and illuminates the snow on the ground.
Duncan, a Bernese Mountain dog whose breed hails from Bern,  Switzerland, feels very much at home in the cold and snow.The movie compresses 16 days into 2 minutes. It illustrates how continental-scale land/sea/air phenomena come together to make large winter storms. NOAA's ground/space-based observing system and numerical weather models did an excellent job of accurately forecasting the location and depth of each East Coast blizzard in this series.
Related Links:
> GOES Blizzard movie> GOES Programs > GOES-15

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Middle School Science Students Prove Visit to NASA Ames Was Anything But a “Drag”

Thirteen-year-old Ajay Ramesh and 12-year-old Prithvi Aiyaswamy,  two seventh grade boys from Chaboya Middle School, San Jose, Calif.,  enjoyed a visit to the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory to learn about  reducing drag with carsThirteen-year-old Ajay Ramesh and 12-year-old Prithvi Aiyaswamy, two seventh grade boys from Chaboya Middle School, San Jose, Calif., were so excited about their visit to the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., that they could barely sleep the night before their visit.
"I sort of slept. I was really excited," Ramesh recalled.
The sleepy-eyed students were prepared to conduct an experiment studying the effects of airflow resistance or "drag" of automobiles for the Santa Clara Valley Science Engineering Fair – 2010 Synopsys Championship held recently.
Ramesh called the education office at NASA Ames and was surprised when he got a phone call back that his visit had been approved. Both Ramesh and his best friend, Aiyaswamy, were invited to visit the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory at NASA Ames to perform their project.
"This is NASA and they called me back. I was surprised. We weren’t expecting them to call back," Ramesh said.
The orange liquid behind the car illustrates the wake, which can  be used to determine drag for the car. The green lines across illustrate  the air moving across the car"I don’t think that they will ever forget this. This is a once in a lifetime experience for them," ventured his father, Ramesh Nagar.
The boys were fortunate to request their visit when the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory was uniquely set up to accommodate their request. Kurtis Long, test engineer at the Fluid Mechanics Lab got permission from Rabindra Mehta, chief of the Experimental Aero-Physics Branch, for the boys to visit and Long donated his time during his lunch hour when the boys performed their test.
"This is the perfect age at which we can effectively help, inspire and guide the next generation towards a future with NASA," said Mehta.
"These boys just happened to ask at the right time. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get what you want. It’s a scary thing to call NASA and ask for help with an experiment,” said Long. “These boys are really amazing and showing great initiative." Aiyaswamy’s life science teacher, Leslie Schafer, said that Aiyaswamy "is very motivated and talks a lot about his experience at Ames."
The two young students both showed up for their experiment with a half dozen toy cars they found at home. "Our project is to find the best design shape that has the least amount of drag," said Aiyaswamy. "As we began the experiment, we realized that cars with a sloping shape perform better."
The boys placed the cars in a pool of water. Dye was added to the water and photos were taken of the dye flowing around the toy cars. "Air and water have the same flow characteristics, but by using water we can slow down time and see the flow more clearly," explained Long. With these photos, the boys could measure the drag of each car. "These are real, no kidding, NASA photos," smiled Long.
Ajay Ramesh, a thirteen year old boy from Chaboya Middle School in  San Jose, Calif., places a truck into the tank of waterThe boys were assisted by Christina Ngo, an intern from the Foothill / De Anza college program. "I wasn’t surprised the students were allowed to visit. They love kids here," said Ngo.
During their visit, the boys learned about aerodynamic principles that will help them with their project. "We learned about separation points and what principles a car has to have for minimum drag," said Ramesh. The boys walked away from their lunch hour experiment with an entirely different hypothesis regarding their experiment. "This is why we do experiments," explained Long.
"I think the coolest part of this is the way that NASA responded. Top scientists showing an interest in two middle school kids from San Jose. That's more impressive than anything else," Nagar said. The boys enjoyed their time with the scientists. "We really enjoyed the whole NASA experience - the people, as well as the lab. It was like being part of the NASA team for a day," Ramesh added.

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Friday, April 2, 2010

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Trades in Moonwalking Boots for Dancing Shoes

Buzz Aldrin in Dancing with the StarsFormer astronaut Buzz Aldrin, one of the original moonwalkers, is now working on other moves as a contestant on the show “Dancing with the Stars.” He’s been rehearsing his steps for more than five hours per day.

"My primary motivation for joining the show is to help bring NASA and the U.S. human spaceflight program to the front of popular consciousness. Until there's a spectacular success or failure, the space program is not on everyone's lips," Aldrin says. "’Dancing with the Stars’ has an audience of millions of followers and it would be great if those viewers became supporters of our space program. I’m hoping that all of my old friends and colleagues in the space community can tune in and cast their vote for the octogenarian on the dance floor!"

During the show’s March 22nd season premiere, Aldrin received a surprise message from more than 220 miles above the Earth. Fellow astronauts recorded a message to wish him good luck from aboard the International Space Station.

The International Space Station, a joint project of five space agencies, is the largest and most complicated spacecraft ever built. Upon completion of assembly later this year, the station’s crew and its U.S., European, Japanese and Russian laboratory facilities will expand the pace of space-based research to unprecedented levels. Nearly 150 experiments are currently under way on the station, and more than 400 experiments have been conducted since research began nine years ago. These experiments already are leading to advances in the fight against food poisoning, new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells and the development of more capable engines and materials for use on Earth and in space.

Learn more about the space station and even learn when it’s flying over your city by visiting the Space Station section.

To learn more about Buzz’s new endeavor, visit his website.

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