Thursday, July 31, 2014

NASA Selects Science Instruments for Mars 2020 Rover

Michael Meyer, lead scientist, Mars Exploration Program, gives remarks during a press briefing where it was announced what instruments will be carried aboard the agency’s Mars 2020 mission, Thursday, July 31, 2014 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The next rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 will carry seven carefully-selected instruments to conduct unprecedented science and exploration technology investigations on the Red Planet. NASA announced the selected Mars 2020 rover instruments Thursday at the agency's headquarters in Washington. Managers made the selections out of 58 proposals received in January from researchers and engineers worldwide. Proposals received were twice the usual number submitted for instrument competitions in the recent past. This is an indicator of the extraordinary interest by the science community in the exploration of the Mars. The selected proposals have a total value of approximately $130 million for development of the instruments. "Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.” While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond. Mars exploration will be this generation’s legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans' journey to the Red Planet."

Hubble Shows Farthest Lensing Galaxy Yields Clues to Early Universe

The farthest cosmic lens yet found, a massive elliptical galaxy, is shown in the inset image at left. The galaxy existed 9.6 billion years ago and belongs to the galaxy cluster, IRC 0218. Image Credit: NASA and ESA

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have unexpectedly discovered the most distant cosmic magnifying glass, produced by a monster elliptical galaxy. Seen here as it looked 9.6 billion years ago, this monster elliptical galaxy breaks the previous record holder by 200 million years. These "lensing" galaxies are so massive that their gravity bends, magnifies, and distorts light from objects behind them, a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. The object behind the cosmic lens is a tiny spiral galaxy undergoing a rapid burst of star formation. Its light has taken 10.7 billion years to arrive here. Seeing this chance alignment at such a great distance from Earth is a rare find. Locating more of these distant lensing galaxies will offer insight into how young galaxies in the early universe built themselves up into the massive dark-matter-dominated galaxies of today. Dark matter cannot be seen, but it accounts for the bulk of the universe's matter.

Fermi Space Telescope Reveals New Source of Gamma Rays

These images show Fermi data centered on each of the four gamma-ray novae observed by the LAT. Colors indicate the number of detected gamma rays with energies greater than 100 million electron volts (blue indicates lowest, yellow highest). Image Credit: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration

Observations by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope of several stellar eruptions, called novae, firmly establish these relatively common outbursts almost always produce gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. "There's a saying that one is a fluke, two is a coincidence, and three is a class, and we're now at four novae and counting with Fermi," said Teddy Cheung, an astrophysicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, and the lead author of a paper reporting the findings in the Aug. 1 edition of the journal Science. A nova is a sudden, short-lived brightening of an otherwise inconspicuous star caused by a thermonuclear explosion on the surface of a white dwarf, a compact star not much larger than Earth. Each nova explosion releases up to 100,000 times the annual energy output of our sun. Prior to Fermi, no one suspected these outbursts were capable of producing high-energy gamma rays, emission with energy levels millions of times greater than visible light and usually associated with far more powerful cosmic blasts.

Tidal Forces Gave Moon Its Lemon Shape, Study Shows

The shape of the moon deviates from a simple sphere in ways that scientists have struggled to explain. A new study by researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz shows that most of the moon's overall shape can be explained by taking into account tidal effects acting early in the moon's history. The results, published July 30 in Nature, provide insights into the moon's early history, its orbital evolution, and its current orientation in the sky, according to lead author Ian Garrick-Bethell, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz. As the moon cooled and solidified more than 4 billion years ago, the sculpting effects of tidal and rotational forces became frozen in place. The idea of a frozen tidal-rotational bulge, known as the "fossil bulge" hypothesis, was first described in 1898. "If you imagine spinning a water balloon, it will start to flatten at the poles and bulge at the equator," Garrick-Bethell explained. "On top of that you have tides due to the gravitational pull of the Earth, and that creates sort of a lemon shape with the long axis of the lemon pointing at the Earth."

Russia Close to Sending Sustainable Mission to Mars

The 'Rocknest' site, which has been selected as the likely location for first use of the scoop on the arm of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity. Credit: NASA

Russia has come closer than other countries to launching sustainable long-term manned space missions, an expert said on Wednesday. “We expect positive results from experiments. Then we will be able to say whether or not we know how to provide for the vital life sustenance of cosmonauts during a long mission,” Vladimir Uiba, head of the Federal Medical and Biological Agency told ITAR-TASS. He said man would fly to Mars and beyond in the future, but “without experiments like those we are doing on Foton [satellite] no one can say how to provide sufficient supply of oxygen, food and so on for such a long flight”.

Giant Asteroids Battered Early Earth

An artistic conception of the early Earth, showing a surface pummeled by large impact, resulting in extrusion of deep seated magma onto the surface. At the same time, distal portion of the surface could have retained liquid water. Image Credit: Simone Marchi

New research shows that more than four billion years ago the surface of Earth was heavily reprocessed – or melted, mixed, and buried – as a result of giant asteroid impacts. A new terrestrial bombardment model, calibrated using existing lunar and terrestrial data, sheds light on the role asteroid collisions played in the evolution of the uppermost layers of the early Earth during the geologic eon called the "Hadean" (approximately 4 to 4.5 billion years ago). An international team of researchers from academic and government institutions, including NASA's Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, published their findings in a paper, "Widespread Mixing and Burial of Earth's Hadean Crust by Asteroid Impacts" in the July 31, 2014 issue of Nature. "A large asteroid impact could have buried a substantial amount of Earth's crust with impact-generated melt," said Yvonne Pendleton, SSERVI Director at Ames. "This new model helps explain how repeated asteroid impacts may have buried Earth's earliest and oldest rocks."

Mercury's Magnetic Field Tells Scientists How Its Interior Is Different from Earth's

Artist's impression of MESSENGER spacecraft in Mercury's orbit. Credit: NASA

Earth and Mercury are both rocky planets with iron cores, but Mercury's interior differs from Earth's in a way that explains why the planet has such a bizarre magnetic field, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) planetary physicists and colleagues report. Measurements from NASA's Messenger spacecraft have revealed that Mercury's magnetic field is approximately three times stronger at its northern hemisphere than its southern one. In the current research, scientists led by Hao Cao, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar working in the laboratory of Christopher T. Russell, created a model to show how the dynamics of Mercury's core contribute to this unusual phenomenon. The magnetic fields that surround and shield many planets from the sun's energy-charged particles differ widely in strength. While Earth's is powerful, Jupiter's is more than 12 times stronger, and Mercury has a rather weak magnetic field. Venus likely has none at all. The magnetic fields of Earth, Jupiter and Saturn show very little difference between the planets' two hemispheres.

Finding NEEMO 18: Aquanauts Complete Underwater Mission

Four ‘aquanauts’ pose for an photo during their underwater NEEMO 18 training mission. Credit: NASA

Four astronauts splashed up from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean on July 29, bringing to a successful close the 18th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) expedition. “Splashup” took place at 11:40 a.m. EDT Tuesday. Accompanied by two lab technicians, the crew, commander Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, NASA’s Jeanette Epps and Mark Vande Hei, and Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency, spent nine days living and conducting research 62 feet below the surface in Florida International University’s Aquarius Reef Base undersea research habitat off the coast of Key Largo, Fla. They investigated tools, techniques and technologies that will benefit spacefarers aboard future International Space Station and long-duration exploration missions.