|Space Science @ Ames features research in infrared astrophysics, laboratory astrophysics, extrasolar planets, planetary sciences, exobiology, and astrobiology.|
|Earth Science @ Ames features basic and applied research in atmospheric and biospheric sciences, and conducts airborne science campaigns.|
|BioSciences @ Ames features research in fundamental space biology, and provides engineering and payload development for the International Space Station.|
LADEE All-Hands Visit with Geoff Yoder, SMD's Deputy AA for Programs - Photo Gallery
Jan. 14, 2014
Geoff Yoder, the Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs within SMD; Joan Salute, the NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Program Executive and additional Lunar Quest Program representatives visited Ames with the express purpose of congratulating the LADEE team on their continued success.
NASA Ames Center Director S. 'Pete' Worden
Joan Salute, the NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Program Executive
Geoff Yoder, the Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs within SMD
L-R: Geoff Yoder, and Michael D. Bicay, Director of Science
Image Credit: NASA
NASA Observatory Selects Educator Teams for 2014 Science Flights
Jan. 8, 2014
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, will become a flying classroom for teachers during research flights in the next few months.
Twelve two-person teams have been selected for SOFIA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, representing educators from 10 states. Each will be paired with a professional astronomer to observe first-hand how airborne infrared astronomy is conducted. After their flight opportunities, Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors will take what they learn back to their classrooms and into their communities to promote science literacy.
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner fitted with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) effective diameter telescope. The aircraft flies at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers), above the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere, and collects data in the infrared spectrum.
"SOFIA offers educator teams unprecedented access to infrared astronomers and the unique capabilities of an airborne observatory," said John Gagosian, SOFIA program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Previous Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors teams have witnessed SOFIA's world-class astronomical science and have used this experience in hundreds of science, technology, engineering and math teaching opportunities throughout the United States."
SOFIA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors for 2014 are:
"Educators are selected through a rigorous peer-reviewed process for this yearly professional development opportunity," said astronomer Dana Backman, manager of SOFIA's education and public outreach programs at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "To date, the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors' program has flown 15 teams totaling 31 educators from 17 states, and we look forward to working with this new cadre of educators as they take NASA science into their communities."
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., manages the program. Ames manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.
For more information about SOFIA, visit:
For information about SOFIA's science mission and scientific instruments, visit:
By Nicholas A. Veronico
Ames Research Center
By J.D. Harrington
Dryden Flight Research Center
Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas
NASA Kepler Provides Insight About Enigmatic But Ubiquitous Planets, Five New Rocky Planets
January 6, 2014
More than three-quarters of the planet candidates discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft have sizes ranging from that of Earth to that of Neptune, which is nearly four times as big as Earth. Such planets dominate the galactic census but are not represented in our own solar system. Astronomers don't know how they form or if they are made of rock, water or gas.
The Kepler team today reports on four years of ground-based follow-up observations targeting Kepler's exoplanet systems at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington. These observations confirm the numerous Kepler discoveries are indeed planets and yield mass measurements of these enigmatic worlds that vary between Earth and Neptune in size.
Included in the findings are five new rocky planets ranging in size from ten to eighty percent larger than Earth. Two of the new rocky worlds, dubbed Kepler-99b and Kepler-406b, are both forty percent larger in size than Earth and have a density similar to lead. The planets orbit their host stars in less than five and three days respectively, making these worlds too hot for life as we know it.
A major component of these follow-up observations were Doppler measurements of the planets' host stars. The team measured the reflex wobble of the host star, caused by the gravitational tug on the star exerted by the orbiting planet. That measured wobble reveals the mass of the planet: the higher the mass of the planet, the greater the gravitational tug on the star and hence the greater the wobble.
"This marvelous avalanche of information about the mini-Neptune planets is telling us about their core-envelope structure, not unlike a peach with its pit and fruit," said Geoff Marcy, professor of astronomy at University of California, Berkeley who led the summary analysis of the high-precision Doppler study. "We now face daunting questions about how these enigmas formed and why our solar system is devoid of the most populous residents in the galaxy."
Using one of the world's largest ground-based telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, scientists confirmed 41 of the exoplanets discovered by Kepler and determined the masses of 16. With the mass and diameter in-hand, scientists could immediately determine the density of the planets, characterizing them as rocky or gaseous, or mixtures of the two.
These density measurements dictate the possible chemical composition of these strange, but ubiquitous planets. The density measurements suggest that the planets smaller than Neptune - or mini-Neptunes - have a rocky core but the proportions of hydrogen, helium and hydrogen-rich molecules in the envelope surrounding that core vary dramatically, with some having no envelope at all.
The ground-based observation research validates 38 new planets, six of which are non-transiting planets only seen in the Doppler data. The paper detailing the research is published in the Astrophysical Journal today.
A complementary technique used to determine mass, and in turn density of a planet, is by measuring the transit timing variations (TTV). Much like the gravitational force of a planet on its star, neighboring planets can tug on one another causing one planet to accelerate and another planet to decelerate along its orbit.
Ji-Wei Xie of the University of Toronto, used TTV to validate 15 pairs of Kepler planets ranging from Earth-sized to a little larger than Neptune. Xie measured masses of the 30 planets thereby adding to the compendium of planetary characteristics for this new class of planets. The result also was published in the Astrophysical Journal in Dec. 2013.
"Kepler's primary objective is to determine the prevalence of planets of varying sizes and orbits. Of particular interest to the search for life is the prevalence of Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "But the question in the back of our minds is: are all planets the size of Earth rocky? Might some be scaled-down versions of icy Neptunes or steamy water worlds? What fraction are recognizable as kin of our rocky, terrestrial globe?"
The dynamical mass measurements produced by Doppler and TTV analyses will help to answer these questions. The results hint that a large fraction of planets smaller than 1.5 times the radius of Earth may be comprised of the silicates, iron, nickel and magnesium that are found in the terrestrial planets here in the solar system.
Armed with this type of information, scientists will be able to turn the fraction of stars harboring Earth-sizes planets into the fraction of stars harboring bona-fide rocky planets. And that's a step closer to finding a habitable environment beyond the solar system.
Ames is responsible for the Kepler mission concept, ground system development, mission operations, and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and was funded by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.
For more information about the Kepler space telescope, visit:
By Michele Johnson
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Image Credit: NASA Ames
NNASA Mars Spacecraft Reveals a More Dynamic Red Planet
December 10, 2013
These images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show how the appearance of dark markings on Martian slope changes with the seasons.
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is ready to begin collecting science data about the moon.
On Nov. 20, the spacecraft successfully entered its planned orbit around the moon's equator -- a unique position allowing the small probe to make frequent passes from lunar day to lunar night. This will provide a full scope of the changes and processes occurring within the moon's tenuous atmosphere.
LADEE now orbits the moon about every two hours at an altitude of eight to 37 miles (12-60 kilometers) above the moon's surface. For about 100 days, the spacecraft will gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky.
"A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our lunar neighbor will help researchers understand other small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets," said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Scientists also will be able to study the conditions in the atmosphere during lunar sunrise and sunset, where previous crewed and robotic missions detected a mysterious glow of rays and streamers reaching high into the lunar sky.
"This is what we've been waiting for - we are already seeing the shape of things to come," said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
On Nov. 20, flight controllers in the LADEE Mission Operations Center at Ames confirmed LADEE performed a crucial burn of its orbit control system to lower the spacecraft into its optimal position to enable science collection. Mission managers will continuously monitor the spacecraft's altitude and make adjustments as necessary.
"Due to the lumpiness of the moon's gravitational field, LADEE's orbit requires significant maintenance activity with maneuvers taking place as often as every three to five days, or as infrequently as once every two weeks," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames. "LADEE will perform regular orbital maintenance maneuvers to keep the spacecraft's altitude within a safe range above the surface that maximizes the science return."
In addition to science instruments, the spacecraft carried the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, NASA's first high-data-rate laser communication system. It is designed to enable satellite communication at rates similar to those of high-speed fiber optic networks on Earth. The system was tested successfully during the commissioning phase of the mission, while LADEE was still at a higher altitude.
LADEE was launched Sept. 6 on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V, an excess ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. LADEE is the first spacecraft designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at Ames. It also was the first probe launched beyond Earth orbit from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast.
NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington funds the LADEE mission. Ames manages the overall mission and serves as a base for mission operations and real-time control of the probe. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the science instruments and technology demonstration payload, the science operations center and overall mission support. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages LADEE within the Lunar Quest Program Office.
For more information about the LADEE mission, visit:
For more information about Ames, visit:
The full version of this story with accompanying images is at:
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Images: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
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Ames Science Missions
Kepler is a Discovery-class mission featuring a visible-light telescope designed to detect transiting planets around stars. It is expected to detect hundreds of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and will determine the fraction of stars with such terrestrial planets.
|SOFIA is an airborne observatory featuring a 2.5 m infrared telescope fitted aboard a 747 airplane. Flying state-of-the-art instrumentation at altitudes above 40,000 feet, the observatory will study astronomical phenomena in our Solar system, Galaxy and the nearby Universe.|
|The Lunar and Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer will launch in the summer of 2013 and fly at low altitudes to study the thin lunar exosphere before it is perturbed by future humans, and to characterize the lunar dust environment to assess its possible impact on future engineering on the lunar surface.|