This Week @ NASA

Latest Edition of “This Week @ NASA” (Posted Aug. 11, 2015)

NASA Update

News Highlights

· Solar System & Beyond – Coverage of New Horizons continued last week, including articles from WiredNBC News, and Forbes. The Orlando SentinelThe Washington Post, and The Verge were some of the outlets that covered the discovery of the closest exoplanet. The House Science hearing on exploration of the solar system was covered by several outlets, including the Los Angeles, and USA Today. Images from Cassiniand Dawn were also in the news last week.

· Aeronautics – There were more than 300 articles about NASA’s UAS partnership with Amazon and Google, including pieces from the San Jose Mercury News and Fast Company. Langley’s Cessna crash tests were covered by TimeCBS News, and Popular Science.

· ISS – The newest 4K video from the International Space Station was covered by, and UPI.

· Mars – Several outlets reported on preparations for the arrival of the Insight lander. The latest Curiosity photos were also in the news last week.

· Technology – The “Quest for Quakes” challenge was covered by The Economic Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

· Earth – The NASA report on California’s rain debt was covered by a handful of news outlets.

Press Releases & Web Features July 27 – August 3

Solar System & Beyond

Pluto Opens New Frontiers for Young Scientists – August 3

When Stanford graduate student Will Woods began working for Professor Ivan Linscott three years ago, he knew little of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, or the radio science experiment (called REX) that Linscott leads for the mission. But Woods has since dived into the data that REX is providing on Pluto’s atmosphere, and he can’t say enough about the doctorate studies that have unexpectedly become the opportunity of a lifetime. Woods is one of about two dozen young scientists with important roles on the New Horizons team. Most just earned their doctorates within the last nine years and some, like Woods, are still working on their PhD. But they’re all working side-by-side with some of the top planetary scientists in the world, whose resumes include legendary solar system exploration missions such as Voyager, Galileo, Cassini and, of course, New Horizons.

A second full moon for the month of July is seen next to the dome of the U.S. Capitol on Friday, July 31, 2015.Blue Moon Over Washington – August 1

A second full moon for the month of July is seen next to the dome of the U.S. Capitol on Friday, July 31, 2015 in Washington. In recent years, people have been using the name Blue Moon for the second of two full moons in a single calendar month. An older definition of Blue Moon is that it’s the third of four full moons in a single season.

SOFIA Team Home After Observing the Southern Skies – July 31

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has returned from a six-week deployment to study portions of the universe visible only from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. The flying observatory was based at the National Science Foundation’s U.S. Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch International Airport from June 15 to July 24. “This year’s deployment to New Zealand was hugely successful,” said SOFIA Program Manager Eddie Zavala. “The quality of the astronomical observing conditions in that part of the world is truly exceptional. I expect that there will be numerous science publications once the data have been processed and analyzed.”

Powerful Auroras Found at Brown Dwarf – July 31

Mysterious objects called brown dwarfs are sometimes called “failed stars.” They are too small to fuse hydrogen in their cores, the way most stars do, but also too large to be classified as planets. But a new study in the journal Nature suggests they succeed in creating powerful auroral displays, similar to the kind seen around the magnetic poles on Earth. “This is a whole new manifestation of magnetic activity for that kind of object,” said Leon Harding, a technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author on the study.

Exoplanets 20/20: Looking Back to the Future – July 31

Geoff Marcy remembers the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Paul Butler remembers being dead tired. The two men had just made history: the first confirmation of a planet orbiting another star. The scientists, who would become two of the world’s most famous planet hunters, remember driving down the mountainside together in October 1995. They’d spent four straight nights making their observations. And while further processing would be needed to make the scientific case, their data seemed clear and unmistakable — and almost impossible. A huge planet, at least half the size of Jupiter, was not only orbiting its host star more tightly than Mercury hugs the sun. It was racing around that star, making a complete orbit in just four days.

Hubble Sees a Dying Star’s Final Moments – July 31

A dying star’s final moments A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star’s demise is still quite lengthy by our standards, lasting tens of thousands of years! The star’s agony has culminated in a wonderful planetary nebula known as NGC 6565, a cloud of gas that was ejected from the star after strong stellar winds pushed the star’s outer layers away into space. Once enough material was ejected, the star’s luminous core was exposed, enabling its ultraviolet radiation to excite the surrounding gas to varying degrees and causing it to radiate in an attractive array of colors.

Earth Flyby of ‘Space Peanut’ Captured in New Video – July 31

NASA scientists have used two giant, Earth-based radio telescopes to bounce radar signals off a passing asteroid and produce images of the peanut-shaped body as it approached close to Earth this past weekend. The asteroid appears to be a contact binary — an asteroid with two lobes that are stuck together. The images show the rotation of the asteroid, named 1999 JD6, which made its closest approach on July 24 at 9:55 p.m. PDT (12:55 a.m. EDT on July 25) at a distance of about 4.5 million miles (7.2 million kilometers, or about 19 times the distance from Earth to the moon).

NASA Selects Proposals to Study Neutron Stars, Black Holes and More – July 30

NASA has selected five proposals submitted to its Explorers Program to conduct focused scientific investigations and develop instruments that fill the scientific gaps between the agency’s larger missions. The selected proposals, three Astrophysics Small Explorer missions and two Explorer Missions of Opportunity, will study polarized X-ray emissions from neutron star-black hole binary systems, the exponential expansion of space in the early universe, galaxies in the early universe, and star formation in our Milky Way galaxy.

NASA’s Spitzer Confirms Closest Rocky Exoplanet – July 30

Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers have confirmed the discovery of the nearest rocky planet outside our solar system, larger than Earth and a potential gold mine of science data. Dubbed HD 219134b, this exoplanet, which orbits too close to its star to sustain life, is a mere 21 light-years away. While the planet itself can’t be seen directly, even by telescopes, the star it orbits is visible to the naked eye in dark skies in the Cassiopeia constellation, near the North Star. HD 219134b is also the closest exoplanet to Earth to be detected transiting, or crossing in front of, its star and, therefore, perfect for extensive research.

Telescopes Team Up to Find Distant Uranus-Sized Planet Through Microlensing – July 30

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii have made independent confirmations of an exoplanet orbiting far from its central star. The planet was discovered through a technique called gravitational microlensing. This finding opens a new piece of discovery space in the extrasolar planet hunt: to uncover planets as far from their central stars as Jupiter and Saturn are from our sun. The Hubble and Keck Observatory results will appear in two papers in the July 30 edition of The Astrophysical Journal.

Nearing 3000 Comets: SOHO Solar Observatory Greatest Comet Hunter of All Time – July 30

In 1995, a new solar observatory was launched. A joint project of ESA and NASA, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory – SOHO – has been sending home images of our dynamic sun ever since. SOHO was planned to open up a new era of solar observations, dramatically extending our understanding of the star we live with. . . and it delivered. But no one could have predicted SOHO’s other observational triumph: In the last two decades, SOHO has become the greatest comet finder of all time. In August 2015, SOHO is expected to discover its 3000th comet. Prior to the SOHO launch, only a dozen or so comets had ever even been discovered from space, and some 900 had been discovered from the ground since 1761.

Unusual arc-shaped, reddish streaks cut across the surface of Saturn's ice-rich moon TethysUnusual Red Arcs Spotted on Icy Saturn Moon – July 29

Like graffiti sprayed by an unknown artist, unexplained arc-shaped, reddish streaks are visible on the surface of Saturn’s icy moon Tethys in new, enhanced-color images from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The red arcs are narrow, curved lines on the moon’s surface, and are among the most unusual color features on Saturn’s moons to be revealed by Cassini’s cameras. Images taken using clear, green, infrared and ultraviolet spectral filters were combined to create the enhanced-color views, which highlight subtle color differences across the icy moon’s surface at wavelengths not visible to human eyes.

New Names and Insights at Ceres – July 28

Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers). Scientists continue to analyze the latest data from Dawn as the spacecraft makes its way to its third mapping orbit. Some of these craters and other features now have official names, inspired by spirits and deities relating to agriculture from a variety of cultures. The International Astronomical Union recently approved a batch of names for features on Ceres.

TethysBright Basin on Tethys – July 27

With the expanded range of colors visible to Cassini’s cameras, differences in materials and their textures become apparent that are subtle or unseen in natural color views. Here, the giant impact basin Odysseus on Saturn’s moon Tethys stands out brightly from the rest of the illuminated icy crescent. This distinct coloration may result from differences in either the composition or structure of the terrain exposed by the giant impact. Odysseus (280 miles, or 450 kilometers, across) is one of the largest impact craters on Saturn’s icy moons, and may have significantly altered the geologic history of Tethys.

International Space Station

Weekly Recap From the Expedition Lead Scientist – July 30

In a week highlighted by the arrival of three more crew members on the International Space Station — growing their number from three to six — orbiting astronauts also concentrated on growing protein crystals and vegetables in space. Further work on the VEGGIE hardware validation test (VEG-01) began on Monday when NASA astronaut Scott Kelly photographed the progress of the plants thus far and watered them the next day. Another new crew member, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Kimiya Yui, installed two canisters containing 47 protein samples into the Protein Crystal Research Facility (PCRF). Kelly, with assistance from Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, configured video, the Ultrasound 2 machine, and donned the calf and thigh reference guides for his Flight Day 120 Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training Study (Sprint) Ultrasound.

Terry Virts and antacid-in-water-bubble RED Epic Dragon Camera Captures Riveting Images on Space Station – July 27

The most recent RED camera footage shows astronauts having a little fun in the microgravity environment of space, while they also tested out the new camera that is ideal for science. In the video, astronaut Terry Virts extracts a floating ball of water, into which he inserts an effervescent tablet to watch it dissolve and release gasses in mid-air. Rodney Grubbs, program manager for NASA’s Imagery Experts Program at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, says the footage itself is dynamic for its subject matter, and the detailed, high-resolution makes it especially riveting.


Tropical Storm Guillermo (Eastern Pacific Ocean) – August 3

As Hurricane Guillermo continued moving toward the Hawaiian Islands, NASA’s RapidScat instrument that flies aboard the International Space Station analyzed its surface winds. RapidScat found the strongest winds were on the western side of the storm facing the Hawaiian Islands and helping generate rough surf along eastern-facing shores. Guillermo was moving toward the west-northwest near 10 mph (17 kph) and this motion is expected to continue over the next couple of days with a slight shift toward the west.

image of smoke from West Coast firesSmoke from Fires in Southwestern Oregon, Northern California – August 3

This satellite image shows smoke from several fires in Oregon and California on Aug. 2, 2015. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured an image of smoke from these fires Aug. 2 at 21:05 UTC (5:05 p.m. EDT). The multiple red pixels are heat signatures detected by MODIS. The smoke appears to be a light brown color. InciWeb is an interagency all-risk incident information management system that coordinates with federal, state and local agencies to manage wildfires.

Adele Island, Northwest AustraliaAdele Island, Northwest Australia – August 3

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station took this detailed image of a tiny island on June 11, 2015, with many concentric zones around it. Adele Island, off Australia’s north coast, is only 2.9 km (2 mi) long, but the entire tidal zone with all the concentric zones is 24.5 km (15.2 mi) long, surrounded by extensive sandbanks in the tidally exposed area. The modern island is the dark central area, made up of a series of beach ridges built by sands from the surrounding sandbank during storms. The highest point is little more than 12 feet above sea level on this grassy but treeless island. A solar-powered lighthouse appears as a tiny white dot in the high-resolution image at the north tip of the island (arrowed).

The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the moon.Space Station Lunar Transit – August 2

The International Space Station, with a crew of six onboard, is seen in silhouette as it transits the moon at roughly five miles per second, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, Woodford, VA. Onboard are; NASA astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren: Russian Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka, Mikhail Kornienko, Oleg Kononenko, and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui.

NASA Goddard Technology Helps Fight Forest Pests – July 31

Northeastern forests in the United States cover more than 165 million acres, an area almost as big as Texas. Soon, millions of pine and ash trees in those forests could be wiped out, thanks in part to two types of voracious insects—each smaller than a penny. A joint operation using technology developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will help the U.S. Forest Service understand the impacts of these pests on northeastern trees. The collaboration flies a unique airborne instrument known as G-LiHT, or Goddard’s LiDAR, Hyperspectral and Thermal imager, on a Forest Service airplane. Using G-LiHT to measure signs and symptoms of forest health, scientists from both agencies flew over forests in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island this summer.

A Tale of Two Extremes: Rainfall Across the US – July 31

The United States has seen a tale of two extremes this year, with drenching rains in the eastern half of the country and persistent drought in the west. A new visualization of rainfall data collected from space shows the stark contrast between east and west for the first half of 2015. From the Rockies westward, rainfall has been much sparser over the last six months. California and the southwest received little relief from their punishing drought. The Pacific northwest has received below average rainfall and not enough snowfall which they, like California, rely on for part of their water supply.

Rocky Fire, California: July 30, 2015 – July 31

The Rocky Fire in Lake County, CaliforniaThe Rocky Fire in Lake County, California, is generating enough smoke to be seen from space. The fire is located in Lower Lake, about 30 miles north of Santa Rosa. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Terra satellite captured an image of smoke from the Rocky Fire near Clearlake, California, on July 30, 2015, at18:45 UTC (2:45 p.m. EDT). The multiple red pixels are heat signatures (red) detected by MODIS. The smoke appears to be a light brown color.

California “Rain Debt” Equal to Average Full Year of Precipitation – July 30

A new NASA study has concluded California accumulated a debt of about 20 inches of precipitation between 2012 and 2015 — the average amount expected to fall in the state in a single year. The deficit was driven primarily by a lack of air currents moving inland from the Pacific Ocean that are rich in water vapor. In an average year, 20 to 50 percent of California’s precipitation comes from relatively few, but extreme events called atmospheric rivers that move from over the Pacific Ocean to the California coast. Savtchenko and his colleagues examined data from 17 years of satellite observations and 36 years of combined observations and model data to understand how precipitation has varied in California since 1979. The results were published Thursday in Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmospheres, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

NASA’s MMS Formation Will Give Unique Look at Magnetic Reconnection – July 29

On July 9, 2015 the four spacecraft of NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, mission began flying in a pyramid shape for the first time. The four-sided pyramid shape—called a tetrahedron—means that scientists’ observations will be spread out over three dimensions. MMS will be gathering data to study a phenomenon called magnetic reconnection, which—along with many other places in the universe—happens when the magnetic field surrounding Earth connects and disconnects from the magnetic field carried by solar wind, realigning the very shape of Earth’s magnetic bubble and sending particles flying off at incredible speeds.

Africa and Europe from a Million Miles Away – July 29

Africa is front and center in this image of Earth taken by a NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) sat.Africa is front and center in this image of Earth taken by a NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite. The image, taken July 6 from a vantage point one million miles from Earth, was one of the first taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC). Central Europe is toward the top of the image with the Sahara Desert to the south, showing the Nile River flowing to the Mediterranean Sea through Egypt. The photographic-quality color image was generated by combining three separate images of the entire Earth taken a few minutes apart. 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.

Image taken from space of mountain range with active volcanoesActivity at Klyuchevskoy Volcano – July 27

This photograph, taken by an astronaut onboard the International Space Station, highlights one of the most active volcanic regions on Earth: the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia. The three largest volcanoes visible at image center include Kliuchevskoy, Bezymianny, and Ushkovsky. Klyuchevskoy is the most active volcano, with geologic, historical, and observational data indicating no major quiet periods since the volcano formed approximately 6,000 years ago. A thin ash and steam plume extends to the east-southeast from the summit of Klyuchevskoy, typical of activity reported at the volcano from early May 2015, when the photo was taken. The flanks of Klyuchevskoy are also covered with dark ash deposits, in contrast to the snow-covered flanks of both Bezymianny and Ushkovsky.

Tropical Depression Halola Makes Landfall in Kyushu and Erodes – July 27

A visible-light image of Halola taken on July 26 at 4:53 UTC (12:53 a.m. EDT) from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite or VIIRS instrument aboard NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite showed Halola made landfall in northern Kyushu. Kyushu is the third largest island in Japan, located in the southern part of the country. The VIIRS image revealed the bulk of clouds and showers were southwest of the center and the storm appeared to be unraveling. VIIRS collects visible and infrared imagery and global observations of land, atmosphere, cryosphere and oceans. VIIRS flies aboard the Suomi NPP satellite, which is managed by both NASA and NOAA.


An Orion fairing panel separatesEngineers Test Design Changes to Orion Fairing Panels – July 29

NASA’s prime contractor for Orion, Lockheed Martin, successfully completed two ground-based tests to evaluate how Orion’s fairing panels will separate from the spacecraft on its way to space. The tests incorporated several changes designed to reduce spacecraft mass and help further prepare Orion for its first mission atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to a distant lunar orbit. Lessons learned from last year’s flight test and building the initial spacecraft have provided valuable insight to inform these design improvements.

NASA Mars Orbiter Preparing for Mars Lander’s 2016 Arrival – July 28

With its biggest orbit maneuver since 2006, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will prepare this week for the arrival of NASA’s next Mars lander, InSight, next year. A planned 77-second firing of six intermediate-size thrusters on July 29 will adjust the orbit timing of the veteran spacecraft so it will be in position to receive radio transmissions from InSight as the newcomer descends through the Martian atmosphere and touches down on Sept. 28, 2016. These six rocket engines, which were used for trajectory corrections during the spacecraft’s flight from Earth to Mars, can each produce about 22 newtons, or five pounds, of thrust.


Second Crash Test Harvests Valuable Data to Improve Emergency Response – July 29

With a thunderous rattle, the Cessna 172 aircraft plowed into the soil as its windshield smashed, its wings wrenched and its fuselage flipped — tail over nose — onto its back. It was a startling sight, but one that left researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, pleased. Having been hoisted 100 feet into the air by cables, the aircraft plummeted onto a slab of dirt in a violent but controlled experiment that will help NASA improve aviation emergency response times. “This will provide very good data collection for us,” said Lisa Mazzuca, NASA’s Search and Rescue mission manager. “This is exactly what we wanted. The nose hit the ground first.”

Students Electrify NASA with Future Airplane Designs – July 29

In response to a NASA challenge to design an all-electric propulsion general aviation airplane, five ideas out of the 20 submitted by U.S. universities wowed the judges. The student contest required that the vehicle would go into service in 2020 and be competitive with standard piston engine airplanes that burn aviation fuel. “The research and critical thinking that went into each of these designs was very impressive. It’s clear there is a new generation of aeronautical innovators nearly ready to make their mark on the future of aviation,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics.

NASA Awards Aerospace Propulsion, Communications Research Contracts – July 28

NASA has awarded contracts to 13 companies to provide advanced propulsion and communications system technologies as part of ongoing long-term aerospace research activities at the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. The contractors will develop, demonstrate and verify advanced technologies that support key challenges in the areas of communications, structures and materials, power, propulsion systems for aeronautics vehicles, and propulsion and communications systems for space missions and vehicles.

InstantEye unmanned aircraft systemThe Next Era of Aviation: Unmanned Aircraft Systems Traffic Management Convention – July 27

“The sky could become increasingly crowded as personal and commercial uses of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly called drones, become more popular.” That’s the assessment of Parimal Kopardekar, manager of NASA’s Safe Autonomous Systems Operations project, as innovators constantly conceive new beneficial applications for these aircraft, including goods delivery, infrastructure inspection, search and rescue, and agricultural monitoring. To address the growth of this quickly evolving technology, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognize that a UAS traffic management (UTM) system for low-altitude airspace is needed. This week, July 28-30, NASA is hosting a three-day UTM Convention to bring together a broad domestic and international audience of government and civilian representatives, industry and academia, aviation, agriculture, film and other industries, to understand and define the UAS impact and challenges ahead.


Extreme Access Flyer to Take Planetary Exploration Airborne – July 30

Swamp Works engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are inventing a flying robotic vehicle that can gather samples on other worlds in places inaccessible to rovers. The vehicles – similar to quad-copters but designed for the thin atmosphere of Mars and the airless voids of asteroids and the moon – would use a lander as a base to replenish batteries and propellants between flights. “This is a prospecting robot,” said Rob Mueller, senior technologist for advanced projects at Swamp Works. “The first step in being able to use resources on Mars or an asteroid is to find out where the resources are. They are most likely in hard-to-access areas where there is permanent shadow. Some of the crater walls are angled 30 degrees or more, and that’s far too steep for a traditional rover to navigate and climb.”

Taking the OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Challenge to the Big Screen – July 28

Student teams from third through 12th grade created videos to showcase how they think NASA technology could be spun off, or repurposed for other technological and scientific projects. The contest is the brainchild of the Innovative Technology Partnerships Office (ITPO) at Goddard, who have organized the contest since its inception in 2010. The big prize for the two teams that created the winning videos was the opportunity to make another video, this time with actor Peter Cullen, the voice of OPTIMUS PRIME in a series of “TRANSFORMERS” movies, TV shows and games, including the 2007 “TRANSFORMERS” movie. They worked in the TV studio at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Round of Testing Completed on Webb Telescope Flight Mirrors – July 28

Gold hexagonal mirror segment on large frame with technicians in clean suitsThis July 11, 2015 photograph captures one of the final, if not the final, James Webb Space Telescope flight primary mirror segments to be processed through NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Calibration, Integration and Alignment Facility (CIAF). The mirror is seen here on the Configuration Measurement Machine (CMM), which is used for precision measurements of the backs of the mirrors. These precision measurements must be accurate to 0.1 microns or 1/400th the thickness of a human hair.

NASA Goddard to Host Flight Technology and Capabilities Showcase – July 27

The Innovative Technology Partnerships Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland will host a Flight Mechanics and Propulsion, Guidance, Navigation & Control Technology and Capabilities Showcase on October 8, 2015. NASA Goddard hopes the event will spur partnerships in spacecraft navigation and orbit determination, autonomous systems for navigation (flight and ground systems), low thrust trajectory optimization techniques, advanced modeling of orbit errors, as well as identify opportunities for collaborations in using NASA analysis tools for mission design, orbit analysis, and navigation analysis.