|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.|
|Astrobiology is the study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe.|
|Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) addresses basic and applied scientific questions fundamental to understanding the Moon, Near Earth Asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and the near space environments of these target bodies.|
Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth
July 23, 2015
NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the "habitable zone' around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another "Earth.'
The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone -- the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet -- of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030. "On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host
planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0."
Kepler-452b has a diameter 60 percent larger than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.
While Kepler-452b is larger than Earth, its 385-day orbit is only 5 percent longer. The planet is 5 percent farther from its parent star Kepler-452 than Earth is from the Sun. Kepler-452 is 6 billion years old, 1.5 billion years older than our sun, has the same temperature, and is 20 percent brighter and has a diameter 10 percent larger.
"We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth"s evolving environment," said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. "It's awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That"s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.'
To help confirm the finding and better determine the properties of the Kepler-452 system, the team conducted ground-based observations at the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory, the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory on Mt. Hopkins, Arizona, and the W. M. Keck Observatory atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These measurements were key for the researchers to confirm the planetary nature of Kepler-452b, to refine the size and brightness of its host star and to better pin down the size of the planet and its orbit.
The Kepler-452 system is located 1,400 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The research paper reporting this finding has been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.
In addition to confirming Kepler-452b, the Kepler team has increased the number of new exoplanet candidates by 521 from their analysis of observations conducted from May 2009 to May 2013, raising the number of planet candidates detected by the Kepler mission to 4,696. Candidates require follow-up observations and analysis to verify they are actual planets.
Twelve of the new planet candidates have diameters between one to two times that of Earth, and orbit in their star's habitable zone. Of these, nine orbit stars that are similar to our sun in size and temperature.
"We've been able to fully automate our process of identifying planet candidates, which means we can finally assess every transit signal in the entire Kepler dataset quickly and uniformly,' said Jeff Coughlin, Kepler scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who led the analysis of a new candidate catalog. "This gives astronomers a statistically sound population of planet candidates to accurately determine the number of small, possibly rocky planets like Earth in our Milky Way galaxy.'
These findings, presented in the seventh Kepler Candidate Catalog, will be submitted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. These findings are derived from data publically available on the NASA Exoplanet Archive.
Scientists now are producing the last catalog based on the original Kepler mission's four-year data set. The final analysis will be conducted using sophisticated software that is increasingly sensitive to the tiny telltale signatures of Earth-size planets.
Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Felicia Chou Headquarters, Washington 202-358-0257 Felicia.firstname.lastname@example.org
NASA Satellite Camera Provides “EPIC” View of Earth
July 23, 2015
A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.
The color images of Earth from NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) are generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters — from ultraviolet to near infrared — to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these Earth images.
“This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “As a former astronaut who’s been privileged to view the Earth from orbit, I want everyone to be able to see and appreciate our planet as an integrated, interacting system. DSCOVR’s observations of Earth, as well as its measurements and early warnings of space weather events caused by the sun, will help every person to monitor the ever-changing Earth, and to understand how our planet fits into its neighborhood in the solar system.”
These initial Earth images show the effects of sunlight scattered by air molecules, giving the images a characteristic bluish tint. The EPIC team now is working on a rendering of these images that emphasizes land features and removes this atmospheric effect. Once the instrument begins regular data acquisition, new images will be available every day, 12 to 36 hours after they are acquired by EPIC. These images will be posted to a dedicated web page by September.
“The high quality of the EPIC images exceeded all of our expectations in resolution,” said Adam Szabo, DSCOVR project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The images clearly show desert sand structures, river systems and complex cloud patterns. There will be a huge wealth of new data for scientists to explore.”
The primary objective of DSCOVR, a partnership between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Air Force, is to maintain the nation’s real-time solar wind monitoring capabilities, which are critical to the accuracy and lead time of space weather alerts and forecasts from NOAA.
“These new views of the Earth, a result of the great partnership between NOAA, the U.S. Air Force, and NASA, give us an important perspective of the true global nature of our spaceship Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The satellite was launched in February and recently reached its planned orbit at the first Lagrange point or L1, about one million miles from Earth toward the sun. It’s from that unique vantage point that the EPIC instrument is acquiring science quality images of the entire sunlit face of Earth. Data from EPIC will be used to measure ozone and aerosol levels in Earth’s atmosphere, cloud height, vegetation properties and the ultraviolet reflectivity of Earth. NASA will use this data for a number of Earth science applications, including dust and volcanic ash maps of the entire planet.
In addition to space weather instruments, DSCOVR carries a second NASA sensor — the National Institute of Science and Technology Advanced Radiometer (NISTAR). Data from the NASA science instruments will be processed at the agency’s DSCOVR Science Operations Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. This data will be archived and distributed by the Atmospheric Science Data Center at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
The Air Force provided the Space X Falcon 9 rocket for the mission. NOAA operates DSCOVR from its Satellite Operations Facility in Suitland, Maryland, and processes the space weather data at its Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.
NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.
For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:
For more information about DSCOVR, visit:
Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI Staff
NASA's Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto Reaches Historic Encounter<
July 14, 2015
After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.
"I'm delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space," said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA's multifaceted journey of discovery continues.”
"The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match."
The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system — and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of New Horizons' Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI). That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto's surface, may still be geologically active today.
Moore and his colleagues base the youthful age estimate on the lack of craters in this scene. Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered — unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.
"This is one of the youngest surfaces we've ever seen in the solar system," says Moore.
Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.
"This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds," says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. The mountains are probably composed of Pluto's water-ice "bedrock."
Although methane and nitrogen ice covers much of the surface of Pluto, these materials are not strong enough to build the mountains. Instead, a stiffer material, most likely water-ice, created the peaks. "At Pluto's temperatures, water-ice behaves more like rock," said deputy GGI lead Bill McKinnon of Washington University, St. Louis.
The close-up image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 47,800 miles (770,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.
A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon's crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon's curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep.
Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon. South of the moon's equator, at the bottom of this image, terrain is lit by the slanting rays of the sun, creating shadows that make it easier to distinguish topography. Even here, however, relatively few craters are visible, indicating a relatively young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.
In Charon's north polar region, a dark marking prominent in New Horizons' approach images is now seen to have a diffuse boundary, suggesting it is a thin deposit of dark material. Underlying it is a distinct, sharply bounded, angular feature; higher resolution images still to come are expected to shed more light on this enigmatic region.
The image has been compressed to reduce its file size for transmission to Earth. In high-contrast areas of the image, features as small as 3 miles (5 kilometers) across can be seen. Some lower-contrast detail is obscured by the compression of the image, which may make some areas appear smoother than they really are. The uncompressed version still resides in New Horizons' computer memory and is scheduled to be transmitted at a later date.
The image has been combined with color information obtained by New Horizons' Ralph instrument on July 13. New Horizons traveled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto system.
The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world.
“Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer's son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system."
New Horizons' flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system's Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.
New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, says the mission now is writing the textbook on Pluto.
“The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system," Stern said. "This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve."
New Horizons' almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space — the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.
Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could incapacitate the spacecraft. Once it reestablishes contact Tuesday night, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data – 10 years' worth — back to Earth.
New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple rovers exploring the surface of Mars, the Cassini spacecraft that has revolutionized our understanding of Saturn and the Hubble Space Telescope, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. All of this scientific research and discovery is helping to inform the agency's plan to send American astronauts to Mars in the 2030's.
"After nearly 15 years of planning, building, and flying the New Horizons spacecraft across the solar system, we've reached our goal," said project manager Glen Fountain at APL "The bounty of what we've collected is about to unfold."
APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.
For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:
Posted by: Soderman/SSERVI Staff
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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 International Space Station is now being utilized for science and engineering research. Ames conducts space biology experiments on ISS, while designing and developing the next generation of analytical laboratory hardware for ISS.|
NASA Invites Media to 2015 Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Convention
Participants will include representatives from the UAS community, industry, conventional aviation, government and academia. Attendees will discuss the latest developments in unmanned aerial systems technology, solutions for privacy concerns and issues, safety and security, and the future impact of low-altitude flight on the emerging business sector.
The convention also includes a public day where registered guests will have the opportunity to listen to experts and share comments that will help define future goals to ensure UAS safety and acceptance in everyday applications.
To learn more about UAS traffic management research at NASA, visit:
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.